Main character: Sam
Sam Cain glanced around his office with a satisfied grin. It was one of those days that a marshal of a growing town like Sweetwater needed. Barnett was walking the streets, the saloon was quiet for a Saturday, and there weren't any prisoners occupying any jail cells that needed looking after. Giving a satisfied sigh, Sam leaned back in his chair and lifted his feet, ready to plant them on top of his desk.
"Marshal Cain! Marshal Cain! They got her!"
Sam grabbed for the edge of his desk at the same time his chair slid out behind him. His feet landed heavily on the floor as he found himself now squatting down where he'd been sitting only a moment ago. With an annoyed look on his face, he looked to the man standing in between his now open office doors. "You sure know how to startle a man, Roberts." He slowly got to his feet.
"Sorry, Marshal, but I was in a hurry." Suddenly realizing he was standing inside with his hat on, Roberts quickly took his bowler off and began to nervously twirl it in his hands.
"So it seems." Sam noted the man's nervous gesture and how he seemed so out of breath. "Now what were you going on about?"
"Marshal Cain, they got her!"
That phrase could mean a hundred things and not all of them bad but not one to take any chances until he had all the facts, Sam headed to the coat rack by the front door. "Who's got who?" he asked as he took his gun belt off one of the pegs and began to strap it on.
"I don't know."
Sam glanced up, his hands stilled on his buckle. "You don't know who was taken?"
Ethan Roberts gave an exasperated sigh in the direction of the lawman. "I know who was taken; I just don't know who did the taking. All I know is she wasn't there."
"Alright, let's start with who 'she' is." Sam sat back down at his desk, thinking that letting his thoughts wander moments ago was probably the cause of ruining his happy peace.
"She's my fiancé, Miss Caroline Greevey."
Sam sat back in his chair and looked up at the gentleman who wasn't more than a year or two older than Sam himself. "Roberts, I didn't know you were engaged. Congratulations!"
"Thank you," the bank owner beamed. "I know I can make her real happy … but I need her first to do that."
"Oh yeah, right." Sam stood up once more and headed toward the door. "Let's start at where you last saw her. Maybe she just went for a long walk or somethin'."
"I didn't see her."
"You didn't see her? Then how do you know she was taken?"
"Because she wasn't there!"
Sam ran his hand down his face. "And where exactly is 'there'?"
"The stage. Now we're gettin' somewhere." He'd seen it roll into town not ten minutes ago. Normally on days when he was bored, he might have ventured outside and watched the passengers disembark, taking note of who was now in his town but he just hadn't had the will-power to leave his chair, that is until the chair had left him. "You sure she was on it."
Roberts nodded his head. "The driver confirmed it. He said one minute she was there and the next she was gone."
"Alright, you head on back to the bank and I'll go talk to Wally about it. I'll come see you soon as I find out anythin'." He waited until the banker had reluctantly walked out onto the boardwalk then closed both doors behind them. With a nod of his head, he walked down the steps and headed in the direction of the general store. His steps slowed then stopped as a thought came to his mind. Sam turned around to look at the other man once more. "Oh, what does she look like?"
Ethan Roberts glanced at the ground and muttered, "I don't know."
"You don't know?" Sam walked a few steps closer, wondering if he'd heard correctly. "You mean, you haven't seen her in a long time and she might have changed?" He didn't think changing beyond recognition was a possibility but then men could seem to change from being on one side of the law to the other within a day's time so he figured anything was really possible.
"No, I've never seen her or met her. She's a mail order bride."
"Heard we were gettin' a shipment of them … I mean, I knew they were arriving, just didn't know it was today. Just didn't think you were that sort of man, you know, not courting a woman first. I've just never personally known a man to order a wife. You couldn't catch a bride the normal way, Roberts? You're decent lookin' for a man, I guess, certainly got money and a nice house; any girl'd be proud to call you her husband. No offense of course to your Miss Greevey."
"None taken. And I did court her; it was just done long distance." Roberts paused and glanced around to be sure no one else was within hearing distance. "I'm good with talking business but not good at talking romance, if you know what I mean." He looked away shyly.
"No … oh …. OH!" Sam nodded his head a few times too many as realization suddenly dawned on him. "Ain't no reason to feel embarrassed 'bout that. Shows you're good with a pen and I'm just the opposite." He laughed to try to show he had his own faults as well but cut the laugh short and cleared his throat as he realized it wasn't having the effect he thought it would. "Well she'll be lucky to have you anyway."
"I'm the lucky one, Marshal. She's real pretty."
"She told you that? I mean, I'm sure there's something real special about her that separates her from other women." Sam could understand women being desperate enough to marry to travel half way across the country to find a husband but what he couldn't understand was why men weren't satisfied with just having good friends if they didn't have luck in the romance department.
"She told me what she looked like so I would know who to look for when the stage got here. Caroline has dark hair and green eyes and she's average height for a woman. She said she'd been wearing a green dress that matches her eyes."
"A green dress, alright that'll help." He went up to the banker and placed his hand on the man's shoulder. "You take it easy, Roberts, go count some money or something and I'll get to the bottom of where your fiancé is." With a nod he headed toward the general store once more.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Well, Sam, I was gonna go see ya as soon as I got everythin' unloaded but that rich fella said he'd tell ya what was goin' on so I figured I would head over here and you'd find me in time."
By the time Sam had gotten to the store, the stage driver and guard were no where to be seen. Knowing they would be making a return trip and heading out of town in an hour, Sam figured they were probably getting food. His guess was right as he'd found both about to dig into two big hunks of steak. The lawman sat down at the table with the stage men and waved off a waitress that headed in his direction.
"Wally, you never lost a passenger before, right?"
"Not even to injuns." Wally shook his head no. "Sam, I been doin' this job a long time and it's the first time that a passenger up and disappeared on me. At first I thought she might be answerin' the call … you know, so I figured I'd give her some privacy. But when almost ten minutes had gone by and the other passengers were back in the coach and beginnin' to complain quite loudly, I decided to go look for her. Thought maybe she'd fallen into a gopher hole and twisted her ankle or somethin' but I looked and looked for another ten minutes and she wasn't anywhere. Finally had to think about the other ladies and made the decision to come here and tell you what had happened." He finally stopped talking and placed a big chunk of beef in his mouth.
"Did she cause you any trouble any time during the ride?" Sam asked as his mind began taking mental notes that would lead to her whereabouts.
Wally gave another shake of his head while he finished chewing then answered, "All them ladies were, well, perfect ladies. It was nice havin' 'em around for the three days they were with me. They kept thankin' us for any little thing we did; got to the point we were doin' more than usual just to hear their nice voices." Wally's guard nodded in agreement.
"I knew we had less than two hours to go to make it into town but we hadn't stopped since mornin' so I let 'em stretch their legs for a bit and get some water by the stream. Nothin' out of the ordinary happened there. Saw those two boys we see now and again but that was it."
"What two boys?" Sam's interest was instantly peeked.
"Those raggy lookin' fellas that always head into the mountains that the stream runs at the base of. Look to be about nineteen or so but they're a friendly sort; wave to us each time we pass by. Seen 'em in town a time or two and they wave to us then too. Only difference was this time they didn't hang around like usual until we were on our way again."
Sam leaned on the table and stroked his chin as his brow furrowed in thought. Finally he looked from one man to the other. "The Jeffries brothers? They lived with their pa in a cabin half way up the mountain but ever since they're pa died, I ain't seen them in town but once or twice. Wasn't even sure if they still lived there. If you saw them today then maybe they know where this gal went to."
"Had someone called Mountain Man Jeffries help me out with a broken wheel a dozen or so years ago. He had two small boys with him; never gave it a thought those boys might be the same young 'uns. They're awful shy, Sam. I think if they saw a lady come toward them they'd run for the hills." He hit his guard on the back as he began to laugh at his own joke.
"You might be right there but I ain't ever heard of them doin' any wrong so it seems to make sense they'd help someone in trouble, like their pa helped you way back when. And even if they were too scared to help her, maybe they saw what direction she went in." He got up from the table. "Well thanks for the information, Wally. You two have a safe ride back now." With a tip of his hat, Sam left the saloon.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Well I found out the last place she was seen and that some men were in the area just before it so I'm gonna head out there now and see what I can find out."
Sam stood in the small back office of the Sweetwater Bank. He'd been there on more than one occasion, usually when needing to be informed of large shipments of money or gold coming through town but this type of meeting didn't sit right with him acting all business like. They'd talked on more than one occasion; they might not be close friends but they were acquaintances at least and Sam could be himself around the man. Ethan Roberts was hurting and Sam could understand that. If Emma ever came up missing, he'd be throwing a fit in any one's face who tried to act all calm about where she might be.
"It seems promising I'll find out something about her. It's in the middle of nowhere so she couldn't have gotten far on foot." Sam tried to be encouraging to boost the man's spirits up a little. At least they knew more than the last time they'd talked.
"How much money do they want?" Roberts asked as he began to walk toward a picture on the wall. As he went to take it down Sam lifted his hands up to stop him.
"Mr. Roberts, I told you men were seen in the area. I don't know for sure they got your fiancé. She could have wandered away from the stage as she stretched her legs then forgot which direction was the way back and got too far away to hear the driver callin' to her. Maybe the boys ran into her then. They could just be helping her to get back to town. Time's awastin' so I need to be goin'. You keep your money where it is; you'll be needin' it for that fine weddin' women are always wantin'."
The two men went back out into the main room of the bank. Sam glanced around the small building, surprised to see it so empty for a Saturday. He had to hand it to Roberts for being so young and already running the only bank a growing town like Sweetwater had. It still amazed him that the man needed an article in a newspaper to find a bride. Find a bride … catch a bride … take a bride …
"Roberts, you take it easy until you see me again." With a tip of his hat, Sam practically ran to the livery to get his horse. He was having crazy thoughts at the moment and wouldn't rest until he'd found out if he could be right or not.
* * * * * * * * * *
"I sure appreciate you boys comin' along with me." Sam glanced toward his two companions. After getting his horse and letting Barnett know what was going on, he'd rode out to Emma's place and asked Teaspoon if he could spare any of the boys. The only two not on rides or scheduled to take one were Jimmy and Kid so Sam had eagerly accepted their help. He wouldn't admit it to the boys but he was thankful it was the two of them because if his hunch was right, their skill with a gun might come in very handy.
"We're happy to help, Sam," Kid told him. "You really think those brothers took that bride?" Sam had told them the whole story of the woman missing and also revealed his hunches about where she might be.
"I can't be sure. I've seen the boys in town now and again but it's been a while. They were always a harmless twosome, polite, keeping to themselves. But they're not too smart, no formal book learnin', and I'm afraid they could be easily influenced by what they see."
"You mean findin' a girl all alone and they might think they get to keep her then?" Jimmy asked. "You think they're that desperate?"
"I don't know but thinkin' back to what Wally told me about how they were in the same area as Miss Greevey and how they usually stay around watching until the stage is out of sight but didn't this time then she winds up missing; I just can't put anything past anyone at this time. I know they're pa had guns so I'm sure they know how to shoot but I would never peg them for the sort to use a gun to get something they don't have. 'Course maybe bein' alone for so long has taken it's toll on them and they're not all there in the head." He shrugged his shoulders as he'd been having a battle in his mind ever since leaving the saloon about what the brothers could or could not be capable of and the outcome was always that he just couldn't be sure with them.
"That poor lady; she must be so scared bein' all alone in the wilderness with a pair of mountain men," Kid said as he led his horse up the trail Sam turned onto. "First she travels half way across the country to marry a man she's never even met and now to wind up being taken by two men who could do heaven knows what to her at any time." He shook his head at the thought of what they might find.
"I still say they must be awfully desperate to take someone like her," Jimmy said.
"What's that mean?" Kid asked. "If they want a bride that badly I don't think it would matter to them what the person was like."
"Yeah but it's not like they have the chance to find someone else so they decide to get the first girl they can get their hands on and unfortunately for them she happens to be well, you know, a bit on the homely side."
"What?! It's a good word, means a lot of things."
"It's just not nice considering you've never even seen the lady. Besides, every one is attractive in their own way," Kid told him.
"I ain't sayin' anythin' bad about her
Sam shook his head at the antics of the two boys. He'd been just like them when he was younger but he knew they had good hearts, that they were just taking up time until they reached their destination. He rounded a bend in the path they were riding on and put up his hand as he pulled on the reins of his horse.
Kid and Jimmy glanced at each other then Sam as they followed suit and stopped alongside him. They followed the marshal's eyes and saw the reason he'd told them to halt. A clearing held a log house, a barn, corral, smoke house, and garden. Smoke was coming out of the fireplace; the yard and house looked orderly and well maintained.
"Nice place they got here," Jimmy mumbled as Kid nodded his agreement.
"They can't be all that bad if they keep it in this kind of shape," Kid added.
"Well let's see what we can find out." Sam swung out of the saddle and led his horse over to a tree that would be hidden from anyone standing in the clearing. He wrapped the animal's reins around a branch then waited for the riders to do the same. The lawman then led the way through the brush to try to get closer to the house.
Kid and Jimmy swatted at branches that pulled on their clothing and hair as they followed the marshal. Kid ended up trailing behind as a bramble snagged on his shirt. He nearly ripped the fabric in his hurry to get himself free. Hearing a noise from nearby, he looked up then called out in the loudest whisper he dared, "Sam!" When he had the others' attention, Kid pointed toward the house.
What he'd heard was the front screen door slamming shut as a woman came out onto the porch. All three of them then saw two blonde haired men about Kid and Jimmy's age come out after her. They watched as the three of them seemed to have an animated conversation then the boys appeared to stomp across the porch and head down some side steps. The woman sat down in a rocking chair and began to sway back and forth as she watched the men leave her.
Sam glanced at the two boys. The woman didn't seem hurt not did she seem particularly scared but then looks could be deceiving. The boys had looked nervous and maybe anxious if their actions were any indication.
Noting the dark hair and green dress, Sam whispered, "That's her alright."
"That's the mail order bride?" Kid gawked. "She certainly ain't homely, is she?"
"See I told you it was a good word." Jimmy then grinned at the awe struck look on Kid's face. "Aren't you only supposed to have eyes for one girl?"
"I do … I mean, I don't …" Kid felt his face grow warm and he gave the other rider a flustered look. "I wasn't lookin' at her the way you or Cody would look at her! And keep quiet about you know who!" He nodded his head in the marshal's direction.
Jimmy softly laughed as he knew Kid was spilling hot air in his protests. "I will admit she does seem mighty fine looking. Definitely didn't see that comin'. Now why would someone like her be advertisin' herself as a mail order bride?"
"There's a lot of things ain't right here 'cause if they were helping her to get back to town, we'd have met them on the road here and they wouldn't be lookin' all cozy like sittin' at home. So they've obviously taken her and think it's safe enough to leave her alone since they're so high up the mountain and she'd get lost if she wandered anywhere around here." Sam edged forward until he was now at the edge of the clearing. He drew his gun then waited for the boys to do the same.
"John and Josh Jeffries! This is Sam Cain, marshal of Sweetwater. I have you surrounded; come out with your hands up!"
Kid and Jimmy took aim at the barn, where the brothers had disappeared to, not taking any chances that they wouldn't come out shooting. But what the boys did do took all three men totally by surprise.
With hands raised and waving high above their heads and running as if they were in a race, both brothers headed toward them, shouting in unison at the tops of their voices, "Marshal Cain! Marshal Cain! Get her away from us!"
"Wh - what?" Sam stammered in surprise. When he didn't see any guns, he stood up to meet the boys as they came toward him. Once they were in front of him, he couldn't help but see that they were not only out of breath but both seemed to be cowering close to him and kept glancing toward the porch. "Now hold on a minute." He held up his hands to get control of the situation. "Jimmy, Kid, watch them."
Noting that Miss Greevey was heading their way, he went toward her. "Ma'am, are you alright?"
Caroline Greevey walked slowly across the yard until she was in front of the marshal. She gave him a big smile. "I'm fine, Marshal, thank you for asking."
"Don't believe anything she says!"
Sam looked from the woman to the brothers in confusion. "She's not fine?"
"No, she is tellin' the truth about that; we didn't touch her," Josh said as he glanced at his brother then took a step toward the lawman. "But everythin' else she says is a lie." When Sam still didn't seem to understand, Josh sighed then went on, "All we were doin' was takin' a ride then watchin' the stage but she interrupted that. She called to us and waved us to come to her. Johnny and me thought she was lost and just needed help to get back to the stage but then she … she … she made us take her home with us! All those big words she uses, they confused us. She wouldn't let us take her to town; she just wanted to stay here."
"We tried to ride away, knowin' the law would help us," John continued, "but she stopped us as we saddled the horses. And pa always said not to be mean to a woman so we did as she asked of us and stayed put, even though we didn't wanna."
"She kidnapped you?!" Jimmy asked in shock. "She held you prisoner without usin' a gun or anything, just her mouth?"
Josh nodded his head. "She's kept us here the whole day just 'cause she didn't wanna ride the stage no more." He wrung his hands together as he looked at Caroline.
"I think it was more than that," Sam gently told the nervous boy. "How about you explain why you correspond with a man half way across the country, agree to marry him, and then take a detour when you're two hours away from meeting your future husband."
"Because I don't want to get married," Caroline began. "I used Ethan to get away from my father's prodding. He wanted to stop being responsible for caring for me and the only way that would happen was if I got married. I told him I signed up to be a mail order bride and he was the happiest I'd ever seen him. So I met Ethan through his letters; we corresponded and I asked him when he was going to ask me to marry him. He did but not right away then I had to wait until the organization had enough women to send us out west. I figured once I got to Sweetwater, I would tell Ethan I didn't love him and wasn't ready to get married." She paused and seeing the hard looks she was getting, began to plead with the three new men.
"I wasn't trying to hurt him; I just wanted to get away from my father. I can take care of myself; it wasn't that I needed Josh and John to do that. I was starting to get nervous the closer we got to town so when we stopped, I went for a walk to try and clear my head. When I saw these young men at the base of the mountain, I decided if I could get them to take me with them then maybe I could avoid seeing the hurt look on Ethan's face when I told him I didn't want to marry." Caroline looked away sadly before turning back to Sam. "I guess I went about it the wrong way and hurt a lot of people in the process."
"I'd say so," Sam agreed.
* * * * * * * * * *
"I never meant to hurt you, Ethan." Caroline glanced around the small bank office. He'd told her about his job, his house, the life they would have together. It had all sounded wonderful but it just wasn't for her, not yet anyway. She'd played along with his feelings and she felt awful about it.
"I know." Roberts gave her a sad smile. He'd sat behind his desk and listened to her explain her feelings and why she'd led him on with hollow words then used those two young men Marshal Cain had told him about. He couldn't fault her for being honest. The last thing he wanted was a fake marriage. The banker had fallen in love with her through her letters so he felt his heart breaking with each word she spoke to him. "What matters is your happiness and you wouldn't be happy with me."
Caroline smiled at him and shook her head in wonder. "Your letters showed what a charming man you are but they were nothing to meeting you in person. You're quite wonderful and I don't deserve you." She glanced at the clock on the wall. "I should be going."
Ethan nodded and got up. He led her out of his office then through the front lobby of the bank, ignoring the curious looks from his employees. He opened the door and held it for her as she stepped out onto the boardwalk. They walked side by side as they headed toward the general store. He was supposed to be walking next to her but in the opposite direction as they walked away from the stage and toward a new life together.
The mail order bride noticed lots of attractive women throughout town and also how some of them looked not only in their direction but at only Ethan. She smiled at the man beside her. "I'll give you a little hint on how to catch yourself the right bride - don't hide behind a piece of paper. Let them see the real you, the one talking to me right now, and you'll be married before you know it."
They stopped walking in front of the store, where Sam, Jimmy and Kid were standing, waiting for them. "Where will you go now?" Roberts asked her.
"My mother's sister lives in St. Louis and always wanted me to come visit her. Maybe I'll get a job then a place of my own. My father always said I was too independent for my own good. I like the idea of making my own way in life. I can take care of myself just fine."
"Those words sure sound familiar to me," Jimmy whispered in his bunkmate's ear. "They sound like somethin' you've heard before, Kid?"
"More times than I wanna count," Kid muttered.
Ethan reached for her hand and gave her a light kiss. Not letting go, he guided her into the coach. The bank owner closed the door then when she leaned out the window, he took her hand one more time and gave it a squeeze. "I hope you find what you're looking for, Caroline."
"Well you've given me a start so thank you." Ignoring a call from the driver that they were about to leave, she didn't let go of his hand until the stage lurched forward.
Sam joined Ethan as he walked into the street to watch the stage. He stood there until it disappeared from sight. "I'm sorry it turned out the way it did, Roberts, I really am."
"Thank you for all your help, Marshal. Hopefully the next time I come see you it'll be to invite you to my wedding."
"I'll be there on one condition - just make sure the only thing needin' to be caught that time around is the bouquet!"