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Stagecoach driver Emerson Clark isn’t looking for love. But he knows life is better with a partner by your side- like a good team of horses supporting one another around the ruts in the road and along the narrow paths. As long as she’s practical, he’ll be happy.
Carrie Town, Texas – September 1891
“Two things I hate: interruptions to my schedule and losing.”
Emerson Clark -- Stagecoach Driver
“Over the years working as a stagecoach driver, you become more akin to the wheels on the stagecoach with each passing day. You’re always on the move. Will you be happy settling down in one place?”
Emerson Clark leaned on the railing of the front porch, removed his pocket watch to check the time, then met the eyes of his best friend, Moses Montgomery. “It’s a good question.”
The sounds of laughter and good-natured jesting flowed back and forth among his friends, the Montgomery family. Although not related by blood, they were the closest thing to relatives he could imagine. It felt good to spend a Sunday afternoon in their company.
The rhythmic click of the chain from the porch swing roused him from his thoughts. Em returned his attention to Moses and his wife Bethany, swaying back and forth with their six-year-old niece who was staring at a picture in her fairy-tale book. His mouth lifted at the sight of the heart-shaped design of the wrought iron swing. Moe’s sister had created the pattern and their father had hammered out the perfect symbol of a family working together and displaying their commitment toward one another.
“Is that the watch the stagecoach company awarded you, Em?” Michael Montgomery, the patriarch of the family and town blacksmith, asked.
“Yes sir, in appreciation of what you might call a poor attempt at a robbery. It didn’t take but a crack of my whip and a few shots to send those bandits packing.” Emerson unfastened the clasp, removing his gold chain and pendant from his vest, then placed it in the massive hands of the man so instrumental in honing his skills in the trade of blacksmithery.
“Solid gold, too.” Moses whistled. “Been a long time since anyone attempted robbing your stage.”
“Used to be a regular thing, seeing a masked man pointing his gun somewhere along the roadside. But most bandits find trains a more lucrative field these days.” Em shrugged. “Stagecoach travel is becoming less lucrative in a lot of ways.”
“Is that why you're thinking of giving it up?” Moses’ dark eyebrows drew together.
Em straightened and turned his attention toward the laughter coming from the side yard. The sun was bright in the autumn sky and Moses’ mother and sister fanned themselves while meandering along the lawn. The years Moses’ brothers spent working alongside their father in the forge was evident as they easily hammered posts into the ground in preparation for a game of horseshoes. Squeals and laughter from the children playing kick the can sent a feeling of pleasure as welcome as the slight breeze.
“There are still remote areas without rail service that need packages and people delivered. Plenty of common folk will still rely on the stage.”
A burst of wind sent a tumbleweed bouncing across the L-shaped porch rolling over his pointy-toed boots. The invasive weed’s appearance was as unwelcome as the memory it brought. Despite the warmth of the autumn day, he shivered. The trembling body of a young boy hiding behind a mound of the troublesome weed vivid, his stomach so empty it ached as he cried out to God for sleep to relieve him from his pain.
Em circled his head around his shoulders and rubbed his chest. “The truth is, I want a place to call home.”
Moses’ eyebrows narrowed. “You often refer to yourself as a tumbleweed and say how much you enjoy driving the stage and traveling places. Don’t you think you would miss the excitement?”
“Maybe, on occasion.” Em rubbed the back of his neck. “But the stage company has offered me a promotion that is causing me to reconsider. The job is mine provided I agree to an additional requirement. They prefer a married man to manage their home station.”
Moses whistled. “Stationmaster would be a perfect fit since you have all the skills of a blacksmith and farrier as well as a driver.”
“If I accept, I will manage the stage stop about an hour’s ride from here. The catch is, the contract runs out in three years or sooner if the railroad merger goes through as planned. In the meantime, I take over running the Home Station, which requires I fill in as driver, as necessary.”
Moses reached for the watch and opened the pendant. “I can see you standing there scowling at the drivers for being a minute late.”
“Not with that watch, I won’t.” Em grimaced. “There are still a lot of nefarious characters traveling by coach. No point in tempting one of them to do something stupid. No sir, this is my Sunday go-to-meeting pendant.”
“What happens when they close the station?”
“That’s the intriguing and most persuasive part. If I accept the position, Wooten’s Lodge and the adjacent farm are mine. Or shall I say the bank is giving me the first right of refusal.”
“Old Man Wooten’s place?”
“Yep, since the railroad came through, the inn has lost most of its business. The land is mortgaged, and the owner is looking to cash in while he still can. There are 120 acres divided into pasture, with about a quarter for planting. In time, it could become a self-sustaining farm even without the income from the boarders.”
“You will make a fine husband and father.” Moses’ father puffed his cigar, sending an alluring stream of small circles wrapped with the rich scent of cinnamon. “Now, it is simply a matter of you finding the right woman to settle down with.”
“Which brings us back to where we started.” His eyes darted to the Gothic Revival-style house with its pointed arches and window shapes. He took in a deep breath, knowing the structure symbolized his desire to recreate the comfort of family for himself. “Men must outnumber women thirty to one in this part of Texas.”
“As well we know, which is why I sent your application to the matrimonial agency run by our childhood friend last year. Mrs. Shelby’s advice is a godsend for this family. Otherwise, we would not have the lovely new daughter-in-law joining us here this afternoon.” Mr. Montgomery motioned with his Sunday cigar. “Your delay in completing the questionnaire is the reason you don’t have a bride of your own.”
Em placed his hand over the weight of the envelope in his vest pocket. “I'm praying this opportunity and this desire to put down roots are God’s prompting to move forward.”
“Tennessee has the opposite problem from Texas. The lure of land and gold fever send most of the eligible young men in the area west.” Moses’ wife tapped her finger along her cheek. “Several of my friends who grew up in the children’s home adjacent to my grandparents’ farm are participating with the agency. What type of woman do you see yourself married to in the coming years?”
“Be careful how you answer, my friend. If the women are friends of my wife’s, her grandfather probably taught them to be beekeepers and goat herders.”
“What is wrong with that?” Bethany elbowed her husband good-naturedly.
“Ouch!” Moses rubbed his side, then placed a kiss on his wife’s cheek. “Make sure you specify her personality should be docile and not saucy like this one.”
Em chuckled. “Other than the fact she’s a beekeeper and you hate bees; you seem well suited.”
“There is also the little matter of my allergy to alfalfa.” Bethany gave her husband a sideways glance. Em’s mouth opened then closed as he watched his friend’s shoulder shake with mirth. “You raise horses and run the livery stable, and your wife is allergic to hay? You two aren’t making me feel better about this matrimonial agency.”
“Imagine how boring life would be if your wife’s temperament and interests were the same as yours. No, a bit of variety is good.” Mr. Montgomery grinned as he leaned forward. “I’ve heard you often complain about the society misses who travel on your stage. Trust your instincts and remember Rebekah was chosen by God; not for looks, wealth, or skills but because of her kind heart.”
“Yes, a kind woman and not someone only worried about themselves and their appearance. Someone practical and focused.” Em cleared his throat. “I have few memories before I came west on the orphan train. But somewhere in the back of my mind, there was a family farm I called home. Sometimes I can almost hear the clanging of a dinner bell and my mother’s voice telling me to wash up for supper. Her mouth is turned up in a smile while she scans the horizon, searching for my father. I can see an outline of a man making his way towards the house from a field of wheat. There’s an aroma coming from the kitchen hinting at a savory stew, and I’m filled with a feeling of a family who love and support one another.”
He let out a ragged breath. “Maybe it’s only a dream. But I want to experience the feeling again. Not sure what that looks like when it comes to describing the personality of an ideal wife.”
“Loyal, loving, giving, and generous.” Bethany’s blue-gray eyes met his. “Emerson, I'd like to tell you about a special friend of mine.”
“Uh oh, is she a beekeeper or a goatherder?” Em forced a smile.
“No to the goat-herding skills. But Selah certainly knows her way around a beehive, and she can garden and tend to farm animals. The orphanage trained the children to raise their own food and to handle the job from start to finish. She is smart, plays the piano, sings, and is currently working as a baker’s apprentice.”
“Sounds resourceful, and she must be a good cook. I like to eat.” Em rubbed his stomach. “If your friend agrees to come, I’ll make sure she has plenty of help and can spend time on her music. I’ve worked hard these past years and can afford to support my wife and any children that might come along, and then some.”
“Hold on a minute now. From what you tell me about Selah, she sounds kind of sassy.” Moses winked, “fair warning, friend.”
“Sassy? I believe a better description is tenacious and spontaneous.” Bethany twisted her hands in her lap. “Even though the children’s home was a good one, the slightest tendency to be docile could leave someone wanting at the dinner table.”
Drumming his fingers absently on the Peacemaker resting on his hip, Em nodded. “An orphan has to grow up quick, that’s for sure. A certain amount of grit is necessary for survival.”
“My friend is far more likely to speak up about the needs of others before she would voice a desire of her own.” Bethany stared into the distance. “Her father was a doctor. Both her parents lost their lives tending to the sick during the yellow fever epidemic. My grandmother often says that Selah inherited her intelligence from her father and her loving nature and talent for music from her mother.”
“I knew a gal by the name of Selena once. But I can’t recall hearing the name Selah before. Is it a nickname or short for something?”
“It's a reference mentioned often in the Bible in the book of Psalms. Most of the time, it’s at the end of the verse.” Mr. Montgomery reached for his Bible and flipped through the pages. “Here’s one, Psalms 32:7. ‘Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.’”
Em felt the blood run from his face. “Was there a reason why you turned to that section in particular?”
“It’s one of my favorite verses.” Mr. Montgomery’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he extended the worn Bible and pointed at the underlined scripture. “Perhaps the word ‘Selah’ is adding value to the verse, like a good Hallelujah or Amen.”
Moses’ dark eyes twinkled. “Remember that girl we went to school with named Hallie? I wonder if her name was short for Hallelujah?”
“Hallie Simmons.” Em shuddered. “If she wasn’t the epitome of ‘don't judge a book by its cover,’ I don’t know what is. Pretty on the outside, she smiles and coos, intent on getting her own way no matter the cost. Let’s hope your friend is nothing like her.”
The slamming of the screen door interrupted the conversation, and Moses’ youngest brother, Malachi, appeared carrying plates filled with cookies. “Don’t go agreeing to nothing before you see a picture, Em. My brothers have both been fortunate to marry women who are as sweet as they are pretty. The odds are the next mail-order bride is bound to be as ugly as a mud fence and probably cranky to boot.”
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