Go West Child
9It was late fall when she first saw the advertisement: SEVEN BROTHERS SEEK BRIDE, followed by the address to write for more information.
She had carried the clipping for a week before she had sat down with her nicest stationery and wrote to inquire. This wasn't the first ad she's answered, she hopes, as she does every time, it will be the last.The market for Brides to move west was huge, but so were the dangers.
Traveling west as a woman alone came with more danger than just crossing indian lands, once you got there you were alone and if your husband wasn't a good man you had nowhere to turn. There was also finding the whole thing just a scam, and you're now the property of a frontier whore house.
She had every reason to doubt they were legitimate but something about Carter had felt genuine.
In the letters exchanged over the next year he painted a picture of the west that she had only ever dreamed of in story books. Rolling green hills and tall beautiful trees, snow that came down over night and left the world painted a brilliant white. He promised she would have land for a garden and there was even a Ladies Association in town where Beau, the oldest, was Sheriff. His sister Mabel lived in town with her husband, who owned the General Store so she would have plenty of reason to head to town, even if she's just gotten cross and needed her own space. He wanted to take her riding and dancing.
He told her about his family, his sister Mabel, and all his brothers, Beau, Daniel, Markus, Silas, Luke, Adam, and Will. There was a real, deep, love for his family in those letters. Even so, when the offer comes she hesitates.
She carries the letter in her pocket while she works, and sleeps with it tucked beneath her pillow. She wants to accept, but there's so much unknown still, and so many dangers persist.
It isn't until the next letter comes, in a gentler hand than the last, that she finally makes up her mind.
Dearest Sarah Jane,
I know it may seem odd to receive a letter from a woman you don't know, but I feel as if we must be the dearest of friends, as I have heard nothing but your name at every family dinner since your first letter arrived. The boys have become well acquainted with precisely how long it takes once the post leaves to reach Boston and for your answer to return. Please do not feel any pressure to respond if you are not ready, but in all of my twenty one years I have never known all of my brothers to sit so quietly at a meal as they have this Sunday past. The two prevailing theories are that you have been scared completely away and they should have waited before declaring love undying, the other theory is that you’ve written back and it's been lost somewhere between the general scum and smog of Boston and the great wide open of the territories. If it is the former or you’re simply unsure how to answer I ask that you write me back so I may at least end the misery of uncertainty. If it is the latter, as I hope, I would like to be the first to tell you the Ladies Auxiliary is very much looking forward to having a new member. We’ve been collecting feathers and hope to have enough for a feather bed before the wedding. We are also looking forward to planning the wedding. Josephina just came in and asked me if you would be so kind as to include a description of what Ladies back east are wearing this fall. She misses the fashion of Virginia and the men do not find it of importance.
All my love,
Mrs. Mabel Jennings.
Within the hour she wrote three letters by the light of her last candle, one to Carter accepting his proposal, one to Mabel outlining her plan to travel east and one to her boss Miss Jameson at the dress shop.
She posts the first two on the way to work the next day, the third she is holding when she walks in the door. Something must have shown on her face because Miss Jameson heaves a deep sigh before she ever makes it as far as the counter.
“You’re going to end up murdered or worse you know.”
“I could get murdered right here in Boston too.”
“What about that nice knocker boy? He had such a shine for you.”
“He was sixteen and now he's in love with Claire Daniels.”
“Being an old maid isn't as bad as everyone makes it out to be.”
“I'll write. His sister Mabel needs a fashion expert to make sure all the ladies of Last Leg keep up with the fashion.”
“I told you that's a stupid name for a city.”
Miss Jameson takes the letter with a pinched frown.
“Well go on then. You ain't free of me,you still owe me a bit of work yet.”
That night when she goes to leave there's a bundle sitting beneath her jacket.
She unwraps it carefully and finds a note on top of Miss Jameson’s purse pistol that she keeps in the bank bag.
Shoot first. Ask questions later.
She tucks it away in her hand bag with a smile.
Six weeks later Sarah Jane Arnold is stepping off the train onto a platform that doesn't even have a station connected. Just a small stone building that the man on the mail train drops a canvas sack into by way of a chute
“Excuse me, I thought there was a town here.” She calls up to the conductor.
“There is, after a fashion, it's still bout three miles north. Town didn't wanna move and train couldn't reach it so… stations here. You might catch a ride up with the mail coach. Should be by soon enough or you can walk the ways."
She had thought they would meet her and the idea of having to walk three miles into town was daunting.
"Train goin back comes past in three days iffin you change your minds." He tips his hat as he steps back on the train.
"It might be an option. Well, thank you anyway."
"Still time to get back on the train Miss."
A wagon turns the corner coming down the road and she breathes a sigh of relief.
"No thank you, I'm just fine where I am."
"Very well Miss. ALL ABOARD!" He cries and the train sets off once more. The wagon comes to a stop some minutes after the train clears, and the two men sitting in the front just stare at her like she's got three heads.
"I don't suppose you're Carter are you?"
"Holy fuck. Are you Sarah Miller?" The younger man declares in open mouthed amazement. The older man hits him hard enough across the chest to topple him backwards into the cart.
"So you've heard of me. I assume then, that this hasn't been an elaborate scam then."
"You're going to have to excuse the boy Miss Miller. It's just, a bit of a surprise is all. I suppose a letter or two got lost then. Ronnie, help Miss Miller with her bags." The boy crawls out of the back of the wagon and hoists her trunks up like they weighed nothing.
"You sure are about the prettiest thing I ever seen. And that's saying something cuz Jack Raymond took me down to the whore house in Doddlin, and they weren't half so pretty as you. And they pretty by way of a livin!"
She's unsure how to respond to that.
"You better be damn fuckin thankful your mama dead. She'd of whipped the skin off your ass for that one." The man unlocks the padlock on the mail shed and takes up the sack.
"What? It's true. She's prettier than anything!"
"You don't talk to ladies like that! Especially if you want to get deputised next time we gotta ride out."
"Maybe leave off the bit about the whores next time Mister Ronnie." Sarah says, trying to be polite.
"Then you're gonna think the prettiest girl I ever seen was Missus Jacobs and she ain't nothing much to look at these days."
"Mister Ronnie, sometimes it's better to say nothing at all. So maybe the three of us can just pretend you didn't say it at all."
"That sounds about the best idea I heard all day. You're in the back you fool boy. Make sure don't nothing slides out." The older man barks.
They set off back up the trail and Sarah can't help but stare at the green all around them. Carter didn't embellish, if anything he didn't nearly do it justice.
The driver begins to ramble as they go.
"Beau said the whole year long you weren't never gonna actually come out. Said woman needa be half daft ta want the Carter Boys such as it were. But the day they got to waiting on that last letter what never come, he turnt a kinda sour I had forgotten he could get up to."
"So you must be John Moorely. The blacksmith and sometimes deputy. Carter said you were the closest thing Beau could really call a friend."
"Seems as you ain't the only one that's been heard of. Don't believe nothin they said. They're liars to the last."
"I was told you were an honest, good, and dear friend, and that the town would be quite a mess without you."
She watches John blush bright red.
"Well I suppose there's some things they ain't lied about at least."
It still takes the better part of an hour to reach the town. There's a city hall and the Mayor's house that sit at either ends of the main street. In between there's a saloon, the smithy, the general goods store, a gambling house that looks closed, the sheriff's office, a stable, and a barber. They pull up right outside the Sheriff's office and Ronnie comes around to help her step down. No sooner has she hit the walk then the front doors of the Saloon burst open and a man falls backwards out of them. He's followed closely by a tall man in a brown vest badly in need of a shave.
"Now I told you. If I had to come get you one more time this week, I was gonna beat the ever lovin shit out of you. So stand up and take it like a man."
The man in the street staggers to his feet.
"You're just a two bit son of a whore you yellow-" The taller man cuts him off with a right cross that throws him back into the dirt.
"You dirty sumbitch-" The drunk grumbles and pushes to his feet. He dives at the tall man again, who hits him several times in the stomach before knocking him out cold in the street.
The whole exchange happens faster than John can get the horses tied off and hustle around the wagon.
"Let's get you on inside. No one should have to see that in their man." He hustles her inside and back into an office. She assumes it belongs to Beau.
She pulls her bonnet off as she looks around. There's an unmade cot in the corner and a wash basin whose water needs to be refilled. The percolator on the stove is nearly dry and she takes it off to keep it from burning. There's a single framed photo on the wall. An old man surrounded by children. Seven boys and a single girl. It must be his brothers and sister. She hears the front door open.
"Get the cell for me will ya John."
"Beau, there's something you should know."
"Did you get a lead on those boys what hit the train two weeks ago?"
"Well no but-"
"Did something happen with the mail run?"
"Not exactly but-"
"Then you can stow it until-"
The tall man from the bar opens the office door, and catches Sarah standing behind his desk looking at the photo of his family. Up close he's a bit older than she is and already dusting grey at his temples. His sheriff's star is pinned neatly to his chest, and the knuckles on his right hand are bloodied from the fight. Without a word he slams the door again.
"Miss Sarah Jane Miller came in with the train. It looks like they did lose two letters in a row after all."
"I am going to kill you John. Can you just- yeah. Thank you. Jesus fuck. Well ain't nothin for it now."
"Already knocked a man out in a fight where she could see and slammed a door in her face. You're not doin' real good there. I sent Ronnie up to fetch your brothers. In the good news she's got a set of tits that look hand crafted by God Almighty himself, so he must be looking out for you."
"She can hear you John. She's in my office." Beau says flatly.
Sarah stifles a laugh at that.
"Oh, right. Cuz the… welp I'm goin home. Good luck."
The front door opens and closes again. A moment later the office door opens. This time Beau is wearing a coat and his hand has been quickly wrapped in a kerchief.
"I'm so sorry about that Miss Sarah Jane. I wish that you hadn't seen none of that. It's just, we ain't had a letter since Will decided to ask you to marry us and well, we just assumed you didn't want nothing more to do with the lot of us. Then after you didn't answer Mabel neither. Well I suppose we knew from the beginning it was a lot to ask of a girl, to marry all seven of us."
He steps toward her but her mind stays caught on what he just said.
Will asked you to marry us.
All seven of us.
Things fall into place quickly after that.
A woman would need to be half daft to want the Carter Boys .
There are only seven boys in the photo, not eight. There is no Carter Carter.
Seven Brothers seek Bride.
The man she thought was Carter never talked about himself, there were a thousand stories of his family but that was just the lot of them trying to let her get to know each of them.
"Miss Sarah? Are you alright? You're looking a bit pale."
He steps around the desk and pulls out the chair which she gladly sinks into.
"I think, I think I've been mistaken about something. Um, who have I been writing to?"
"Well, Will's got the best hand so he's been doing most of the actual writing but, all of us. We worked out what to say together. Well, there was one letter this winter. I wrote back on my own because they all got snowed in for a few weeks and if I waited we were gonna miss the post running past."
"Oh no." She covers her mouth horrified at her own mistake.
Beau backs up until his knees hit the back of his cot. He gives it a quick glance and tosses the blanket up over it.
"I am such an idiot." She whispers.
"I don't think-" He tries to interject.
"I have been in love with a man who doesn't exist." It comes out on a hysterical laugh. "Ms. Jameson said that there was something odd about it, but I was just so head over heels…" she trails off staring at the old photo.
"I'm not sure I follow."
She barks out a laugh, perhaps a bit too harshly. "I thought I was coming west to marry a man, one man, named Carter Carter. God, I am such a fool. You're just looking for something cheap and easy to pass around. Son'ova'whore." She curses her own fool's luck.
She can see the steel run down his spine as he sits up straighter and Sheriff Beau Carter clenches and unclenches his hands a few times staring at the floor.
"I see. Well it's going to be a few days before the train runs back east again. I can go arrange for you a room in the meantime and I'll pay for your ticket back. Also you might want to put on a shawl or the like. Only girls round here wear a neckline like that are trying to sell you a tumble. Excuse me, I think I'm gonna go see about that room now." He walks out slamming the door so hard behind him it fails to latch and starts to swing open again.
It feels like her dreams are shattering around her. Her own home with her own garden, long rides out through the woods, being a respected member of the Ladies Auxiliary, it all vanishes into so many smoke and mirrors, because it never existed at all. Instead they were just looking for a glorified whore. She picks her bonnet back up. Ms Jameson would still be holding her job, because she always counts on people falling flat on their face. This time it will work in her favor. She'll have to listen to quite a bit of 'I told you so' and find a new room to rent. The one she had in the boarding house is likely long gone by now.