THE RENEGADE LADY SHERIFF by bsoiree C-SRE 2005 Sequel to “Fetchin’ Cousin Minnie” and subsequent to “Willy’s Present.”
Disclaimer: This story is fictional though some of the places are real. Physical descriptions of the characters may vaguely remind you of two others, but they aren’t them. Certainly any similarity between anyone living or dead is entirely coincidental. All characters are the sole possession of the author and the story may not be reproduced, posted or sold without the author’s consent.
Subtext: This story depicts a loving relationship between consenting adult women. If you are underage or this type story is illegal where you live, don’t read it.
Violence: It’s a western--those were times of customary wildness and, all too often, violence.
For the Lady whose smile warms my soul.
The Renegade Lady Sheriff
Section I ~ Voices from the Past
City of Denver, Territory of Colorado
She thrust the pump handle up and down several more times till the kettle was nearly full. Should be more thankful, I suppose. Having a pump inside the house was considered the height of ease for today’s citizens. Still, her thoughts were not so generous.
I’ll be glad when we move and can hire some servants to do this. It wasn’t that she hadn’t grown up doing her share of work in the kitchen, she certainly had. But the last six years or so her parents had hired servants, and she’d gotten used to having them. They, however, remained back at her parents’ big, lovely home in Virginia City, state of Nevada.
A pot holder in one hand and some sticks of kindling from the box in the other, she carefully opened the metal door to the kitchen range firebox and threw the wood in, shutting the heated door immediately. Smoke poured from the open area on the range surface. Oh, horsefeathers, hurry! she admonished herself. She didn’t want her hair to smell like smoke. She’d already washed and scented it to make a good impression.
Minnie used the pot holder to grab the removable handle on the stove top and replaced the cast iron circle in its place, stopping the flow of smoke. Then she flapped the air with the pot holder to disperse any residue. Phew! Miserable primitive won’t draw unless you open everything just so, even after burning all day. She was tempted to give the stove a good kick.
But she knew her most profound problem was now seated in the next room. What a fool I was to agree to this, she grumbled to herself. She no longer could just up and do what she wanted or even speak as she chose. Six months as a newlywed and she found herself uncharacteristically uncertain in regard to the unfathomable rules and unwieldy responsibilities of married life.
It wasn’t her husband, exactly. It was the promise she’d made to her father that she would try her best to follow her husband’s lead in their married life. Fool, fool, fool! Why didn’t I require that Mr. Baxter follow MY lead instead? She scrunched her nose. Now she was forced to make sure her husband led where she wanted to follow. And so far, that wasn’t proving to be nearly as easy as she had anticipated.
How would cousin Gaine handle this? Minnie could hear her spouse chortling and wondered with a smile what he was reading now. Gaine wouldn’t have married in the first place, the young woman snickered to herself, knowing that was undoubtedly still true. Gaine always did have a touch of the renegade about her.
And what of you, darling Emily? she wondered sadly. I’ve missed you so. She touched her bodice where Emily’s last letter resided. I wonder what you’re doing this very moment. Are you dealing with the implacability of your own husband?
Emily was Minnie’s most cherished friend. From the beginning they’d been unbelievably close, until Emily’s father passed away, leaving Emily and her mother destitute. The only viable solution Emily’d found to support her mother had been to marry. And that meant moving the two of them to Chicago with her new husband. Now nearly a year later the two friends were forced to maintain their friendship by post.
Life isn’t always fair, Minnie sighed. She firmly disliked being glum, so she brushed aside those thoughts for another time, a time perhaps when she was alone.
Minnie looked with some defiance toward the parlor door. I suppose Mr. Baxter has his mind set. Instantly devilment twinkled in her eyes. But then the world is full of men with their minds set, isn’t it, Minnie girl? You were raised among some, poor dears. The trick is to have them set their minds the way one wants them set. She grinned. All right, time to work my plan. The next thing you know, we’ll both be off to visit cousin Gaine, and Mr. Baxter’ll be wondering what in the world happened.
Visiting Gaine. Her eyes sparkled in remembrance. The two girls had been inseparable as children. A warm feeling always accompanied thoughts of this cousin, even though they hadn’t seen each other in fifteen long years. Of all her family members and all her friends but Emily, Gaine still sat closest to Minnie’s heart, a kindred spirit.
When their families lived together, the two young girls were perpetually in some kind of mischief, the bane of everyone else’s existence, particularly their brothers’. Minnie had been daring, allergic to rules and regulations, and perky. Gaine had been quiet, brave, adventurous, and never took sass from brothers, cousins or town children, no matter how much older they might be. She always protected Minnie, and if Gaine fought, she didn’t stop till she won. Those days there were few dares Minnie couldn’t get Gaine to take and vice versa. All these years later Minnie still modeled her behavior after that childhood prototype.
She had almost made it back to the ranch at Barden’s Corner last summer, back where she’d been so happy, back to dearest Gaine. If she hadn’t met Mr. Baxter when she did, and if he hadn’t appeared to be as close as a man could get to having the progressive open mindedness of her father... well, Gaine would never know how close her cousin had come to moving in with her.
But she couldn’t delude herself. The decision to meet Gaine again would not have been all that simple, either. She had known only too well that if she had gone to Gaine’s, there was the distinct possibility that she might never have chosen to return home. In truth, that knowledge of herself had frightened her. Looking back at that time, she decided her father would have missed her terribly, and she him. After all, of all his children, she was his favorite. And she adored him.
Being swept off her feet by Mr. Bradley Baxter had changed everything. And now she was surprised to find that marriage hadn’t dimmed her longing to see her dear cousin at all. But then, that wasn’t so great a problem, was it? Mr. Baxter was going Gaine’s direction anyway. He merely needed to be convinced to take her along with him.
Ah, but you’re going to be difficult about it, aren’t you dear heart? She thought of her husband in the parlor. It was true she had waited a long time to wed, put it off year after year despite her mother’s constant badgering. She’d waited to the grand old age of twenty-six, long enough to turn her mother’s hair grey with worry that her youngest, most strikingly lovely daughter would never marry and settle down.
Did I marry to still Mother’s nagging or because Mr. Baxter warranted it? At the time she’d have said it was because of Mr. Baxter. True, her heart hadn’t pitter patted at the sight of him any more than any other suitor, but he’d been impressive. His ideas had been so much like her father’s. Now she wasn’t so sure. Granted, theirs wasn’t the romance of the century, not in the dreamy way spoken of by her other girl friends, but for the most part she liked him. And in many ways they were compatible.
The piece de resistance in his courtship had been his progressive opinions. None of her other beaux had them. At the time they made him seem worth the risk. After that she had crossed the Rubicon and now found herself in her current position. Regrets? No. Don’t believe in them. She threw off the idea, moved to the parlor door and looked in.
Wiggy was the first word that came to mind as Minnie studied her new spouse through the doorway. Funny--he hadn’t seemed so stuffy before we wed. She wiped her hands on her apron and cheerily headed inside the room. They would have to hurry. The dinner invitation was for eight and it was already after five.
Bradley sat in the tiny parlor reading the paper, his wire framed spectacles attached to his face and his well-trimmed blonde mustache twitching as the article he read either pleased or displeased him. He was certainly not a bad looking man with his wavy blonde hair and carefree blue eyes, although he never let anyone else see him wearing spectacles.
No matter what, Minnie fancied, my husband’s suave and boyishly good-looking.
And looking boyish was not easily accomplished by someone in their thirties. The suit he’d worn all day showed few wrinkles. He was careful with his clothing. His new frock coat and heavy outer fur coat were neatly hanging in his traveling wardrobe trunk and his padded silk lounging jacket was pulled over his crisp, white shirt with its clean attached collar, pant trousers held by braces and a matching vest. A silk tie was tied around his collar, bowed and meticulously tucked in the top of his double breasted vest.
He’d had each item hand tailored for himself. For tonight’s dinner, he’d change into his new formal evening wear...tails. He was outstandingly dashing in those. And he’d be anxious to impress his latest employers.
So far he seemed to be working well in double harness with the group. From the appraising gazes she received from the young British Lord and his cohorts who ran the multifaceted company, Minnie knew she had already done her part and made a favorable impression on the head men in her husband’s new firm. Her father had told her she would.
Bradley’s overstuffed chair in their Denver home sat close to the potbellied parlor stove running so hot at the moment that it almost glowed red. Still this modest clapboard house in the right part of town was drafty, so much so that candles couldn’t be used. Instead coal oil lamps were lit, though there were rumors of gaslights eventually being added. They had them in the streets of town.
“Ho!” he exclaimed. “Lookit this! There’s an article here about Henry Wilson.” He shot her a glance, “He was Grant’s Vice President, dear.”
She hated that. She lived in this country, too, and knew all about Henry Wilson and his death last month. She even knew Henry Wilson wasn’t the name the man was born with. And unlike her father, she firmly believed he, General Grant and the Congress had mishandled the economy, creating today’s depression. She and her father constantly discussed politics. For that reason she religiously kept up with the news and didn’t need her husband’s condescension on such topics. But she’d made a promise to her dear father, so with difficulty she held her tongue, smiling sweetly as her mother had instructed.
“Poor chap died just weeks ago. Was gonna give Grant a run for the Republican nomination this time.” Bradley looked over the top of his spectacles, “Even as one of the founders of the Party, he didn’t really have that much of a chance. Says here his health suddenly took a turn for the worst. Well, that’s how it happens, isn’t it? One minute you’re healthy, the next...WHAP...you’re dead. Providence. Visits us all.” He put a hand on his heart to reassure himself of its steady beat before returning his attention to the paper.
Minnie smiled indulgently like a mother with her favored child. She settled comfortably into her warm overstuffed chair on the other side of the stove and looked across at him. Mr. Baxter has the unerring ability to turn every news article into something that has to do with him personally. She found it endearing--most of the time.
“By Jove! Here’s an article on that old reprobate ex-President Johnson finally getting reelected, this time to the Senate. After that big Presidential who-ha of his, the rotted old codger...”
“Goodness, how old is your paper?” Minnie remarked without thinking. It was only recently that the train had begun bringing fresh newspapers from the east westward, sometimes depositing them within the week of current happenings while local papers continued to get their abbreviated eastern news by wire. And Mr. Baxter prided himself on perusing only the latest editions of all the news. “The man passed on already, for heaven’s sake--after he was elected. It’s said they even buried him with his old worn copy of the Constitution. When was that? Last July?”
Minnie’s reply drew a fierce look from her husband that forestalled her further comments and brought her up short. She paused. Oops! Her husband did not seem to welcome her political knowledge as her father did. He’d even mumbled lately that such comments seemed ‘unwomanly.’ He scowled at her before reburying his face in the paper.
She calmed her sudden ire rising from his reaction. Minnie knew she wasn’t likely to spend her life holding her tongue. She doubted she’d be able to do it much longer, in fact. But for the time being she reminded herself again of her promise to her father and silently narrowed her brows. I can hardly wait until my parents move here, and we move in with them. Then Poppa and I can talk politics again.
“I was going to say that about Johnson,” Bradley sulked, “the old fool. Shouldn’t speak unkindly of the dead, I guess. Still... he was a Democrat. Humpf.” He read in silence for a minute before lowering the paper with a reinstated smile. Fortunately his funks never seemed to last long, which Minnie considered admirable though not entirely redeeming. “I remember well where I was when he was impeached. Well, not the day he was actually impeached, of course, but when we’d heard he was impeached.”
I do, too, Minnie thought, But I guess you don’t want to hear about that. With growing difficulty she remained quiet, forcing a smile, putting her hands toward the stove to take the chill off. December in Denver was snowy and cold, but Virginia City where she’d previously lived often was too. Silently she complimented herself on how quiet and dutiful she was being. Oh Emily, can you believe this? Me being the quietly dutiful wife, she chuckled silently. Emily would find it most amusing.
“The boys and I were having another round of drinks at the Sweetwater Saloon when someone rode in with a newspaper,” her husband continued from behind the paper. “Course, I was far from being married then,” he lowered the page to flash her a quick smile. “Footloose and fancy free.”
“Those were the days, eh?” she replied. He didn’t see the far-off glint that momentarily flashed in her eyes.
“Indeed. The mining Godfrey brothers were there,” he continued. “Important men! I remember we absolutely devoured the news, even though we were several sheets in the wind at the time. Couldn’t read the sordid details fast enough.” He wiggled his mustache, “Kept in office by one vote--One! Next thing you know the man’s term as President is over and he’s elected to the Senate with fourteen of the very same Senators that tried him. Imagine that. And twelve of them had voted against him.” He gave a small snort and buried his face behind the pages again.
“That must have been uncomfortable for him,” Minnie remarked, deciding a neutral remark wouldn’t challenge any of his thinking. Pure rubbish that impeachment nonsense--nothing but mean-tempered partisan politics, she opined in silence. She repined an errant strand of black hair into the loose chignon at the back of her neck.
Aargh! she screamed to herself as he continued reading. It was harder than she’d ever imagined having to avoid stating her views. She’d never bothered before. And the advice her mother had given her on how to behave seemed wholeheartedly disingenuous. But she had a plan to put in motion and didn’t want to unduly antagonize her husband beforehand. She’d save her political thoughts for her father over the holidays. He’d give her some reflective replies to consider. He always took her views seriously.
Bradley didn’t look up, but made a “harumph” sound instead. “What’s the time?” He pulled out his new gold pocket watch and checked. “We haven’t long before we should get ready.”
“Yes,” she said cheerfully, glad to be off the topic of politics, “I can hardly wait.” She loved his company’s dinners--extravagant to the extreme, most unusual in frontier entertaining. Served at the finest inn in town, the men would be in formal dinner wear, the ladies in their most beautiful gowns. And the foods shipped in by rail--decadent!
“My dear,” warm, appreciative eyes indulged her this time, “I’ll have the most beautiful woman there on my arm.” He noted her classical features, stylish sense and general poise and commended himself on the wonderful match he’d made before his attention slipped back to the printed words on the page before him.
“Ho!” he exclaimed. “Says here that times are getting so hard people are down to flannel weddings.” He gave a snort, three soft “ho, ho, ho’s” under his breath and wiggled his mustache. “Flannel indeed.” That idea had tickled him. Minnie smiled in return. He could be quite cute. He continued, “Oh, and wedding journeys are out of style now. I guess people can’t afford them.”
“We got ours in just in time, then,” Minnie knew it was time to begin her campaign. She would need to get his undivided attention. Minnie rose, moved before her new husband, pushed his paper aside and gracefully sat herself on his lap with a merry laugh, slipping one arm around his neck.
A pleasantly surprised expression filled his features. She wondered how long the flicker of her skirts would be enough to set his heart in a tumult. She kicked her feet up a little in joyance, rendering a fluttering of her fashionable red and black striped, wool balmoral petticoats and stocking-covered ankles above high-topped, buttoned shoes. Petticoats and ankles-that should get your attention! “Ready for a surprise?” she teased coyly.
“Minnie!” he scolded with a whisper, “What in heaven’s name are you doing? One would think you were a girl of very free and easy manners.”
Dare you to make me get up, she thought in devilment. She lifted a brow, ran a finger across his mustache and smiled with a certain brilliancy. She knew how much he secretly liked having her do something “bawdy.” And this was certainly that. Why, her mother would faint dead away if she knew what Minnie was doing. Even Emily might be stunned. When my parents move here and we move in with them, I’ll need to find a different way to set his moods.
“We’re the only two here, Mr. Baxter. No one can see me on your lap” she said roguishly.
“Nonetheless,” he tried to frown, but the twinkle in his eyes gave him away, “it’s not the behavior of a well brought up Christian woman. What if someone from my firm were to come to the door?”
Perhaps he protested too much since he dropped his paper and let his large hands come around her waist, just touching finger to finger and thumb to thumb. The measure of a perfect woman...if her husband’s hands could reach around her waist. Yes, Minnie was perfect. And her corset was tight, though he was not aware of how tight.
“We would hear their sleigh bells long before they arrived.” Some people are always so afraid of being caught at something. Goodness. She brushed her lips to his forehead then added without thinking, “Besides, after what I’ve heard your company’s head men say, they’d have no right to complain about anything we do.”
Without weighing her comment’s outcome, she tapped a finger softly to the end of his nose, hopped up from his lap with a jaunty flounce and fluffed her floor-length skirts. Seeing his starkly inquisitive look, she added, “I’ve heard them say shocking things.”
His bushy blond brows met in a furrow of perplexion. “Whatever do you mean? When have you heard anything inappropriate come from any of their lips? They are proper gentlemen. They wouldn’t say anything inappropriate.”
Oh no? Are you saying I made this up? Then Minnie realized her blunder. Fiddle, I can’t guard my tongue every minute. “At the last dinner,” she advised firmly. She reached to retrieve his paper. “Perhaps the Squire had over imbibed and was talking in his cups. In any case, when all you gentleman had adjourned to the bar, he told a very racy story...” She put the paper in her husband’s hands, moved with a swish of her gown to her warm chair and sank into it delectably, “about some farmer and his daughter...”
“Wha..? Minnie!” he swept his spectacles from his face with an incredulous gasp, “How do you know? By gad, we were in the BAR!” he sputtered.
“Correct.” Oh, Mr. Baxter, she could not force herself to feel the slightest regret, surely you know your wife doesn’t begin to cherish the idiotic precepts others adore. I never have and I told you as much when we courted. Life’s too short to be so...so...wiggy.
His scowling visage, however, demanded immediate enlightenment from her.
“I was there,” she shrugged. Again she knew her mother would require the salts if she heard her daughter say those three simple words in reference to a bar. Minnie’s eyes twinkled boldly, rising above the surface of the parlor stove. Mr. Baxter sat gasping like an out of water fish. “I was curious,” she continued, “I wanted to hear what you gentlemen talked about when you adjourned to the bar. I heard you all clearly.”
“Impossible!” her husband bellowed, surprising himself with a deep roar much like his father’s imposing voice, the one he’d always hated. In his shock, Bradley nearly rose completely from his chair.
Minnie watched with an air of bemused interest.
He saw her mischievous expression and put a hand to his twitching mustache. Oh, bosh, I hadn’t wanted to react so forcefully. He sunk back into his chair. She was vexatious, this beauty of his, but what she was describing was hardly the proper behavior for a married woman--or even an unmarried woman. Is she just being frolicsome, testing my good nature? Yes. That’s it. She wouldn’t actually do such a thing. No decent woman would. She’s of far better breeding than to be seen anywhere near the bar.
With some relief he settled back in his chair. Of course he was willing to do some progressive thinking, but this? No, this was unheard of. Although his boss really had told such a story. She must have heard that such a story had been imparted. “Decent women are not allowed in the bar, of course,” he remarked with a calming sigh.
He cast a startled look her way. What was so funny? Waiting so long to wed, his wife had become used to speaking her mind, saying outrageous things. She must be trying to shock him, the mischievous rascal. He scowled fiercely in her direction. Well, once she realized he didn’t approve, she would immediately shrink within herself and school herself to proper female behavior, as his mother had always done with his father. It was a husband’s job, after all, to direct Minnie’s comportment.
Minnie continued to watch him in almost brassy amusement.
“Everything is in a good beginning,” his father’s words echoed in his mind. Indeed, I must be stern with her. His face became very exacting, “I myself saw you sitting in the dining room speaking with the other ladies, Minnie. Drop this nonsense. I find it unseemly.”
She neither weighed his words nor his cautionary manner. “Nonsense? It’s not nonsense, Mr. Baxter. I was in the dining room earlier, that’s true. Once you were gone long enough, however, I excused myself and moved to the pantry--you know, where they keep the extra kegs. It wasn’t hard getting in from the back door. No one saw me. It was dark. I had to hold the material from my skirts very tight so they didn’t get any stains from those filthy barrels I was forced to stand between. They only had a cloth for a door into the bar. I could hear every word you gentlemen said.” And let me tell you, it was very cold there.
“You were standing behind the storage room curtain? By Jove!” Now he was on his feet. His face was flushed. His wife was in the bar? A woman bearing HIS name? His hand moved to his heart. His paper and spectacles were dropped onto the floor, and he stood staring at her in total disbelief. Who was this outrageously bold female he’d taken to wife?
“Oh, sit, sit,” she advised in soothing tones. “Calm your voice, dear. You’ll give yourself a catarrh.”
“I demand you tell me this isn’t so!” he commanded, his eyes studiously examining Minnie across the stove.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Mr. Baxter. Of course, it’s so.” She laughed gaily. “Surely you wouldn’t want me to lie to you.” She fluttered her eyelashes. Where’s your sense of adventure, dear boy? You had it before we wed.
She was not the least recalcitrant, he could see that. “By Jove!” It startled him to consider what must have gone into the making of a rash demeanor such as hers. Here was a woman perfectly at ease with her misbehavior. And his consternation was having no effect on her deportment whatsoever.
A feeling of despondency overtook him as he slowly lowered himself into his chair. “Why, in heaven’s name? Why? I don’t understand.”
“I wanted to know,” she said simply. “You gentlemen always seem to have such fun in the bar, I wanted to know what you discussed.”
Bradley stared at her in silence. What would his father think of this situation and how he was handling it? His father had ruled their home with an iron fist. And Bradley had hated it, telling himself he would never be that way. He’d decided he would never raise his voice, or make unreasonable demands. But now his mind was filled with upset and doubt.
“The important thing...” Minnie’s voice brought him back to the parlor, “I heard your chairman, the young Earl,” she paused, not sure if that was what she should call him. The Denver newspapers had raved about “the British Lord” and “the Squire” who’d set up a company just outside town. He was young for any title, she decided, since he was only two years older than she. “I heard him talk about the plans they have for you. It was inconsiderate of you, Mr. Baxter, not telling me all about this long trip you’ll be taking. I’ve given you ample opportunity to inform me.”
“Wha..., tell you abou...pfft. Whatever are you talking about?”
“Sir, I’m your wife. Have you forgotten before we married? Remember laissez-faire...liberalistic ideas? You agreed that as a married couple, not only would we discuss things, but I would have some say...”
“Not regarding my job! Oh, no!” While courting and on her mother’s advice he had tossed around such gibberish, that was true, but he’d never imagined it meant usurping his job. Running their household, of course he’d let her view her opinions on that, but not his job. That was out of the question. “Wha... bu..no..no, no,” he sputtered, “And what if they’d found you out? Behind that curtain. By gad, I’d have been ruined! RUINED!”
Minnie began to chuckle, “Fiddle. They’d have thought you had a highly-spirited, curious wife. That’s all. Besides, no one found out.” He started to sputter again and Minnie cut him off with a wave of her hand. This wasn’t going as she’d planned. “Should I get you a brandy, to settle your nerves?” She rose. Goodness, he’s taking everything so seriously. Maybe a drink will help. Without waiting for a reply she moved to pour him one.
He looked at her retreating figure with total disbelief. What in the world am I up against here? She’s not taking guidance in the least like Mother. He desperately needed to talk with Minnie’s mother.. She seemed to have workable strategies for dealing with her daughter. She could pilot him again. It was her guidance that had won him Minnie’s hand to start with.
Now he questioned the wisdom of seeking this unruly woman as his wife in the first place. He sighed, wiping a handkerchief across his brow. On the other hand, Minnie was wealthy, beautiful and stylish. But, by Jove, her behavior is so illy proportioned to her social standing. His eyes raised to the heavens. Can any man ever understand the weaker sex?
Minnie returned with a glass of brandy. “I’ve tried since that dinner to get you to tell me about your upcoming trip, Mr. Baxter,” She handed him the glass. “I am your wife. But all you’ve said is that they’re sending you on a long sales trip to California. Surely you’ve noticed my hinting.”
She tilted her head and watched his expression. Her husband blinked several times. She’d been hinting? He hadn’t noticed. He wiggled his nose, his mustache twitching as he did so. What hogwash had he agreed to before they’d married? Her mother would remember. But hadn’t she warned that Minnie could be a handful? She was certainly correct.
He drew his hand through his thick, blonde, wavy hair before taking a large drench of the expensive burning liquid. He must remain firm, he reminded himself. For such a beauty, she was a decidedly difficult, willful woman. He remembered how his married friends handled their wives, “You must never do that again, Minnie. I forbid it!”
He didn’t see the flash in Minnie’s eyes as she moved to her chair, nor did he remember her mother suggesting that making outright demands of Minnie were best avoided. They’d be like waving a red flag at a bull.
“I am a progressive woman, Mr. Baxter,” she stated in eerily calm tones. “You needn’t speak so.” Of course, a husband had the right to forbid his wife many things, but Minnie had never been one to stand by such conventions. She’d told him so when they’d courted. She preferred to find ways to do as she pleased. Of course, she hadn’t mentioned that.
Minnie did recall her promise to her father, however. Drat! Still, she wanted to go to California, so alternate plans began to form in her mind, plans not involving Mr. Baxter’s participation. Her voice remained controlled, “Remember when you were willing to not tell my parents we’d gone on a buggy ride unchaperoned when they thought we were at church? You said people must be willing to take risks. What happened to that daring fellow?”
“I’m the same as always,” he pouted. That, of course, had been a completely different circumstance.
“Are you? You didn’t hear any of my hinting about your upcoming trip.”
“As I told you already, Minnie,” he took another burning swallow then sat back with the intent now of ending this conversation, “I shall be gone often. It’s my job. I’m a salesman. I travel for the best interests of my firm. As my wife you should wait and plan for my eventual return. You should not expect to go with me, so don’t bother your pretty little head with such trifles.”
“Ah, but I should accompany you on this trip,”she replied. And maybe others. “I can be extremely helpful to you.” There, her full intentions had been voiced. How it was to be accomplished would depend on his replies.
He snorted, “Ridiculous!” This unbefitting idea from an albeit attractive woman whose highjinks in the bar could have scandalized both our families forEVER. He reached for his spectacles from the floor and hooked them on. Would Minnie’s father find her behavior in the bar appalling or amusing? His own father would be horrified. Bradley felt out of sorts and rather out of his depth dealing with this aspect of his new wife.
“Isn’t it enough that I’ve agreed that we may take the train tomorrow and spend the holidays with your parents?” Petulantly he drank down the last of his brandy and put the empty glass on the table to the side. The warmth in his belly did help calm him, he decided.
Minnie raised her brows at his remark. Her father’d financed their wedding journey, had presented Mr. Baxter with a healthy dowry at their wedding, was paying for the train tickets for this holiday trip and had bankrolled not only her wedding trousseau but his expensive wardrobe for his new job. She felt he should be trying harder to keep her father in his good graces.
His lips narrowed primly, “Speaking of your father, I’m leaving you in his benevolent care in Virginia City when I go on to California to see about sales. I’ve already written him.”
Oh, Mr. Baxter, don’t try and play Poppa against me. It won’t work. Minnie’s expression displayed such a mysterious authority of carriage that Bradley added firmly, “This matter is settled. There’ll be no further discussion.
Oh, no, husband of mine, it’s far from being settled. And since you’ve forbidden it, I must definitely go whether you agree or not. You don’t really understand that about me, though, do you? Why, offhand I can think of at least three ways that I might get where I want to go without your assistance. Sorry, Poppa, I’m sure you never wanted me to pretend to be someone I’m not.
Minnie paused, Course, if Emily were still in Virginia City, I might consider staying there. She raised her eyes to her husband, But she isn’t. “Of course,” Confident, powerful blue-grey eyes focused on the object of her annoyance, “we don’t have to discuss it, Mr. Baxter.”
The way she said it brought a shiver down his back. He remembered now that her mother had said not to make outright demands of Minnie. She would feel compelled to rebel. He hunkered down and waited.
“But,” she purred ominously, “I thought you’d want to hear about the surprise Father and I have put together for you.”
“Oh yes, the surprise.” She and her father? This has to do with her father, the great Teague Sargos?
“It does touch on this topic, but I think you’ll want to hear about it.” She gazed at her hand, wondering if she should change the color of gloves she’d already set out to wear for this evening’s soiree. She had so many beautiful pairs to choose from. No. She’d made the right choice. Besides, she didn’t like to second guess herself.
“What sort of surprise?” Her new husband viewed her suspiciously. He now sat straight up, his spectacles on his nose and his eyes all that much larger because of them. He knew he didn’t dare fail to consider anything his father in law was involved in, but how surprised could he stand to get?”
“Actually it’s a wonderful surprise. After the last dinner I got so enthused by your opportunities in this firm that I wrote Poppa and told him all about your trip, about how propitious your opportunities were, and how I could be of more help to your success than anyone else in the entire world. Poppa firmly believes in success, you know.”
Oh, dear heavens! They’ve corresponded by dispatch. Blasted railroad gets letters delivered across the country in a heartbeat these days! Bradley cleared his throat. “Yes, uh, I know he does.” That old man demands success. Premonitions can be vivid things. One now swept over him. He felt remarkably like someone who had been strapped down on steel rails, his beautiful new wife at the controls of a puffing, runaway iron horse with a full head of steam, it’s large kerosene headlamp highlighting the tracks before it and a coach filled with mail bags behind, all barreling towards him. He shut his eyes.
“Well, I mentioned to Poppa that as a special surprise I would accompany you as you traveled through California so I could introduce you to everyone important. I told him to buy our train tickets to San Francisco then to book passage on the “Arcadia” for both of us sailing from there to that small southern town...uh, San...what was it?...San Diego.” Then she laughed, “You thought I was going to say the City of the Angels, didn’t you? Well, both are about the same size. But I heard your boss say you should visit San Diego first.”
Bradley’s mustache was absolutely aflutter. She saw the flush rise in his face, a vein on his forehead popped out and she worried momentarily that he might be prone to stress-induced brain fevers or even congestion of the brain. Finally he managed to bumble, “You’ve written your father.? You’ve discussed my trip with your father? You’re married now, Minnie. You’re supposed to direct all questions to your husband...me.”
“I didn’t direct any questions to father, dear, I told him it was to be a surprise for you. And I couldn’t tell you until it was ready. You don’t discuss a surprise with the object of the surprise or it’s not a surprise.”
He certainly looked surprised.
He shivered with a foreboding of defeat. He knew Minnie’s father would never refuse her anything. The old man doted on her. However, he didn’t seem to take to Bradley. He’d been unusually reluctant regarding their marriage. It was her mother who had facilitated his courtship, offering various tactics. It hadn’t been easy. Minnie’d had many fervent beaux. It was her mother who suggested he dare her to marry him. And in the end Minnie’d chosen him. She needed to remember that. A woman was her husband’s responsibility. It was her duty to heed him, surprise or not. “No, no, no....”
“Don’t be upset, Mr. Baxter,” she said softly, “It could be very pleasant...just like our wedding journey, only I’ll be able to give you all kinds of introductions to the right people.”
“No, Minnie. That thinking is so like a female. It would not be at all like our wedding journey. Do you have any idea how dangerous this trip is? That’s wild, untamed, violent country, full of rustlers, bandits and border ruffians...and Lord knows what all. Your father could not possibly approve of your going there. It is not the place to take a woman.”
“I lived out that way as a child. It isn’t all that dangerous.”
“You did not live in all the places I’m being sent. They are dangerous, wild, untamed localities I tell you!”
“Well, I’d be with you. You’d be my shield and buckler.”
“Nonsense, if we went together, I would need to spend every moment protecting you and not doing my job. It’s positively overrun with outlaws. It’s not civilized like it is here. Think, Minnie, think!”
Minnie chuckled. They had gas street lights and patrol officers on horseback. Yet Denver was still a territorial frontier camp town while California and Nevada had long since become sovereign states. Certainly Denver had its share of win-or-die brawls, though she found it safe enough. Besides, she’d been raised in Virginia City when it was a boomtown, a rip-roaring town of gold seekers, gambling halls, immoral women and wall-to-wall wild saloons. She knew all about the influences of uncivilized people.
“Your company wants to develop land there and move families out. If it’s safe for them, it’s safe for me.”
“No. It’s not safe. It...is...not...safe!” Bradley’s mustache quivered.
“Well, don’t worry. You won’t have to watch over me. I’ve written my brother, Michael, and told him to meet us at the dock.”
“Your brother?” That confused him. Who was this man she was calling a “brother?” “Your parents never mentioned your having a brother there. I would have remembered that.”
“Actually he lives in the City of the Angels.”
“I’ve not heard of any brother there, either.” Bradley scowled, “And that place, that Los Angeles place has ten killings each and every day!”
Minnie snickered, “So does New York City, Mr. Baxter, but you wouldn’t expect us not to visit there.”
“That’s entirely different, and you know it.”
“Dead is dead, Mr. Baxter. Besides, you’re planning to go. And I won’t be alone. I’ll have Michael.” Is chivalry so out of date? she wondered.
“Out of the question!” Why can’t this woman heed her place? He raised the paper to his face but had difficulty concentrating on the print.
Now Minnie pouted. Perhaps I’ll need to get one of my brothers to escort me. They’d do it. Or I’ll have Gaine come to Virginia City and fetch me. Mother would have a fit, but there’s more ways to do this than just going with you, Mr. Baxter. Barden’s Corner is where I want to go. I can skip the other places.
Minnie studied her husband’s stiff posture. She wouldn’t mention other options. One might need to serve as a later surprise for him, and it would be best that he not be able to forestall it.
Michael could even meet me at the dock in San Diego and take me there, she continued her thoughts. I’m not afraid to travel that far by myself. It would be a wonderful adventure...she scowled, though father would definitely object to my going that far alone. No, I’d have Michael meet me in Sacramento and escort me from there. I know they wouldn’t object to my taking either the train or the stage to Sacramento by myself.
She looked at the newspaper barrier her husband had raised in front of himself. “Mrs. Custer travels with her husband to untamed Indian country. I don’t see the problem with my accompanying you to California.”
He lowered the paper. “General Custer has the whole blasted Army behind him! That’s the difference.” His face flushed with frustration still he was struck by how supremely admirable she looked, daring even, as she held out firmly against him without a hint of backing down. He did have a place in his heart for saucy women.
“Well, I’ll have Michael.” Minnie flashed a charming smile,.”Isn’t that a wonderful surprise? He’s a well known attorney there. I can get my brother Michael to introduce you to anyone you might want to meet.”
It was clear to Minnie that Mr. Baxter wasn’t convinced. Her mother’s face popped into her mind, forcing Minnie to examine the downside of not traveling with her spouse. Her mother would be furious, then her mother would upset her father and he’d already be upset because of Minnie’s broken promise to him. Minnie sighed. Can life never be easy? For the hundredth time she wished she’d never made the promise to her father.
Might as well make this work with Mr. Baxter, then mother can’t object. “I know you’re thinking I don’t have a brother there, Mr. Baxter, but I do.” I don’t know why you can’t just believe me when I tell you something. “But you mustn’t mention Michael around Mother. She’s disenfranchised him. I don’t know why. You can ask father whether he exists, if you don’t trust your own wife’s word.”
Her husband stared at her blankly.
She smiled, “Aaaand there’s more to your surprise, Mr. Baxter.”
Involuntarily his hand went to his heart. More of this surprise?
“You’ll like this. I’ve also written my cousin in Barden’s Corner to expect us sometime in February. She runs a cattle ranch there. The largest in the area. A cattle ranch, Mr. Baxter. Think of it. It’s perfect. She’ll know all kinds of the right people you might want to meet.”
“Her husband will, you mean,” he corrected.
“No, she will. She’s not married.”
Now her husband was again shocked, Minnie could see that. “An unmarried woman who runs a cattle ranch? Impossible!”
Well, Minnie thought, I’ll save the information that Gaine is also the Sheriff of that county for another time. May as well not put everything off on the poor boy at once. After all, what is life without a few surprises?
Married life is not nearly as easy as they make it sound, Bradley grumbled to himself. The realization had struck that a firm ‘no’ would probably never suffice with Minnie as it ought. He should have suspected as much. Women from wealthy families were not nearly as easy to direct. But he still couldn’t believe her father would go along with such a dangerous, harebrained idea.
“Poppa wrote me...,” Minnie said quietly. She had her husband’s full attention.
“What did he say?” Mr. Baxter wore an uncertain scowl. When the great Teague Sargos speaks, sons-in-law best listen, he thought sarcastically.
Minnie folded her hands in her lap. “He approved. He thought it was encouraging that I’m wanting to devote my efforts to working for my husband’s advancement. He thinks that’s an admirable activity for a new bride. He wants to support me fully so he said he’s already booked the transportation and written to Michael. He expected you would be extremely pleased. But he warned not to tell mother about Michael.”
She decided there was no sense relating the questions regarding her safety that her Poppa had raised. She’d reminded him by return mail of the early days their family had spent in Virginia City, and how she had easily survived those. Nothing could have been more dangerous than that. He should get that letter before they arrived there.
Bradley sighed heavily. Minnie’s father had agreed, fully agreed? Was that possible? Well, that was it, then. His arguments were doomed.
Minnie’s contacts would be beneficial, of course, although as a patron of certain amusements having to do with various sporting women, he didn’t like to feel “restricted” by the responsibility of a wife when traveling, even as beautiful a one as Minnie. He could hardly tell her that, of course. And certainly he couldn’t explain it to her father, the man who worshipped the ground his daughter walked on.
He ran a nervous hand through his hair again, followed by a short sigh. He could ignore many things, but not her father. He saw no way out. There was nothing to do but go along with it. He sighed heavily, his allusions of the perfect marriage he thought he’d contracted taking on an ungenerous aspect.
She saw it in his expression. She’d won. Now she needed to do everything to keep her victory from showing in her face. Normally vivacious, she had to quell that enthusiasm. She cast her eyes down into her lap as her mother had tried to teach her. But submission had never been her forte, and she knew she was failing miserably at the attempt. Oh well. She looked up with a pleasant smile.
A feminine mind isn’t supposed to contain such logic, Bradley pouted, Every man knows that. He looked at her again, his eyes showing his umbrage. “I believe nature has been very ungenerous with you, my dear,” he said, “by placing such mannerisms into a beautiful woman’s head.”
It was meant as a reproach. Minnie took it otherwise.
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Baxter!” She leapt out of her chair. “I’m so glad you like your surprise. You’ll have more sales than you ever thought possible. Your company will be amazed. Just wait. I’ll introduce you to absolutely everyone. You are my knight-errant.” Minnie laughed cheerily, bending over to give him and his paper a quick squeeze. Well, that’s settled.
Her mind went to tonight’s dinner. It was the kind of situation she adored. Her beautiful gown, her expensive jewelry, everything was perfect. If nothing else, this twirl in high society on a stately husband’s arm made marriage almost seem magical. Envious glances would be turned on them. The simple pleasure of possession would vacate the basal perplexities she too often felt. And she already had both their steamer trunks packed for a long journey including their trip to Virginia City the next day. They could stay out late tonight and not worry.
Now she allowed herself to think of the velvet traveling dress she had set aside for train travel, her gorgeous new ermine-lined cape and her fashionable, wide, flaring brimmed velvet hat with its ruche of cock’s feathers, not to mention the matching parasol. She’d be the height of fashion and make Mr. Baxter proud she was on his arm as they stepped on the train.
Her husband tried to press a grave visage her direction but in the end, he couldn’t help smiling at her exuberance. What had just happened? Blessed female wiles! This wife of his was a puzzle. Her combination of elegance, exuberant health and outrageous verve had undone him. He glanced at her. With the flush on her cheek from the hot parlor stove, he thought in amazement how much she had the appealing look of a young Diana just in from the chase. A beautiful woman. The envy of every other man.
Then the thought of her hiding in the bar storeroom eavesdropping on the men’s conversation snapped him back. He would need to do a better job of molding her comportment. It would take a highly concerted effort since that behavior would never do. Never. Perhaps her mother could advise him.
He pulled out his pocket watch and looked at it. “By Jove, it’s time.” He stood and folded the paper, surreptitiously examining the date near the headline. Only a few weeks old. Very up to date. He placed it across the room on the table.
She gave him a long look. He’s being a gentleman about this. I knew he would be. At least that much has held true about him. But it bothered her that it had been as difficult as it had been. Perhaps it was just a matter of training him. But she couldn’t help wondering what had happened to all his sweet talk, all his claims of liberal thinking, of women’s advancement and partnership in choices that he’d expressed during their courtship? Where had that progressive thinking gone?
She had often discussed women’s emancipation with her father, and when Mr. Baxter’s views were remarkably similar, Minnie knew none of her other suitors could come close to that. Then, as if reading her psyche, he’d playfully dared her to marry him. There seemed so little amiss in the man. Charmed by the challenge, and never one to pass up a dare, she’d accepted. What has happened since then? she wondered. Now he often seems no different than the others. Although his temperament is certainly workable. That’s a plus.
In a letter Emily had reminded her that he had a reputation as a philanderer. Minnie knew that was true, but she felt marriage would change him. In fact she’d felt it was almost as though Emily didn’t want her to marry him. Ah, dearest Emily. Minnie worried so about her beloved friend and confidant. Chicago had had a disastrous fire just four years earlier. She fondly fingered her friend’s last letter tucked inside her bodice. In it Emily had begged Minnie to forgive the tears she’d shed, to forgive her boldness in aspiring to remain in the company of so lovely a creature as Minnie. Minnie was to blame, she’d said, because of her many charms and sparkling repartee sufficient to inspire unremitting respect.
Emily had cried at their parting nearly a year ago, Emily, who devoutly sent long loving letters and heartfelt poetry. Minnie had never seen the stalwart woman even come close to crying before that day, even though her friend’s father’s death gave her an opportunity to do so. Minnie, of course, had wept freely at their parting. They’d wept in each other’s arms. But the deed was done, and Minnie had been forced to move on. How difficult that had been. How both their hearts had ached.
It had taken her several months after Emily left town, but finally she had given in to her mother’s urging and began entertaining beaux again. After all, marriage was expected. Well, by her mother at least. Her father’s disinterest in women marrying went clear back to a girl he had loved, wooed and lost to another. She had died in childbirth with her very first child when she’d married his good friend instead of him. That had frightened her father more than anyone else knew, so he never pressed his darling Minnie to wed and give him grandchildren.
But her mother did. Always had. Pressed hard. Minnie had resisted. In her more wild moments she had pictured herself as a beautiful spinster, rollicking, free of domination by anyone, leading a totally unfettered life except for taking care of her parents as they aged, with perhaps Emily at her side to help. They would work together for important women’s causes. She always felt her father would support them in that.
Minnie’s mother had never cared for Emily. But that didn’t matter. When the overwhelming debts of Emily’s father were made known and Emily and her mother were forced to sell their home, even Minnie’s father had been unable to find a way to aide them in their situation, though Minnie had begged his help for her dearest friend.
So Emily had been forced to wed. She left town, leaving Minnie heartbroken and alone. That was when Minnie decided to visit daring, delightful Gaine, even if she hadn’t seen her in years. Gaine hadn’t married. She’d found a way to support herself.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” her mother had said, “of course you want to find a proper man, get married and raise a family.” She’d always wanted children, there was no question of that. So she guessed her mother was right--she wanted a husband, too, because you couldn’t have one without the other. Not and remain decent. Besides, Emily was already married.
Well, she had found a husband, although she’d put it off a very long time, if her mother was any judge. She watched Mr. Baxter laying out his evening wear.
He does look courtly all dressed up. My husband...the newly hired representative of the Elwood Cattle and Land Development Company of Denver, Colorado, a company whose board of directors is swarming with British peers of the realm, all of whom have invested huge sums in this venture. And Mr. Baxter’s told me he intends to make a huge success of this job, and I intend to see that he does. I love that he looks so gallant. I’m the envy of everyone. I should be very happy. And..I...I am. Yes, I am.
Being on Mr. Baxter’s arm was stylishly romantic. But, of course, in a few months time she might be too large to be seen in public unless she learned how to disguise her figure. Eventually she’d be forced to stay at home.
Showing was months away, however. She was not going to think about that. There was no need to tell Mr. Baxter about it now, either, since he finally understood that she’d be going with him on his long trip. With any luck it would be months before he discovered her secret and too late for him to send her home when he did.
He felt her eyes on him and glanced her way, “What?” he asked.
She gave her head a small tilt, “You’ll look handsome in that,” she said.
“Do you think so?” he smiled, running a hand across his mustache, knowing he looked particularly dashing in his newly tailored evening wear.
“Yes,” she pulled out her own dress from the wardrobe and laid it beside his outfit on the bed. “I put on some water to heat for us to wash up. I’ll get it.”
“Hurry,” he began to undress. “We don’t want to be late.”
Tonight the dinner, tomorrow we’ll be on the train to Virginia City and my family. I’ll be heading home tomorrow, Emily, Minnie thought as she drew out clean petticoats from her closet. How I wish you were still there. I know I just wrote you about the horrible, horrible blaze they’ve had in Virginian City. Poppa says the town still reeks of the smoke, but their house wasn’t touched. It was one of the few. His store did burn to the ground, though. What is it about me that fires seem to threaten everyone to whom I’m devoted?
“Minnie?” Her husband stood staring at her, his hand on the pitcher on their dresser.
“Yes?” She whipped her face his direction.
He scowled. “The heated water?”
“Oh, of course.” She hurried to the kitchen to get the kettle. Then we’re heading out to California, Emily dear, she continued the discussion in her head, Mr. Bradley and I. What fun we’ll have visiting... She paused, not letting herself think of Emily in the same breath as Gaine.
Neither her mother nor Emily had seemed very pleased with her feelings toward her cousin Gaine. She discontinued her silent discussion with her dear friend and thought solely of Gaine. I wonder if you’ll be surprised to see what I’ve grown into, dear cousin of mine? Will you think I’m pretty? Did you grow into a beauty? Your parents wrote mother that you had. That was years and years ago. I wonder if you still have that unbelievable accent your parents had, and my Poppa had too.
Minnie’s father had had an accent, but her mother had insisted that he rid himself of it. That meant speaking like a Yankee. So he’d spent a long time learning to speak ‘correctly’. Now you had to listen hard to hear the very slightest drawl when he talked.
A smile came unbidden. Minnie had always loved Cousin Gaine deeply, like the dearest of sisters she’d told her mother when the older woman’d argued against Minnie going for a visit there. Her mother never seemed to approve of anyone Minnie fancied with the exception of Bradley Baxter.
Feeling her daughter might rebel should she challenge her daughter too much, she had reasoned with Minnie that she had enough sisters of her own already. She said Gaine undoubtedly had her own life that didn’t need disrupting. She said it was time for both of them to leave the past to their fond childhood memories.
Maybe mother’s right, but I intend to go anyway. I wonder what Gaine’ll think of Mr. Baxter? Will she be jealous of him? Just a little? Though wishing jealousy on someone was an unkind thought, it gave her some degree of comfort. Or does Gaine have a beau? That thought disturbed her more than she liked, and she had no clear idea why.
Because I can’t imagine any man being good enough for her, she decided at last. No, she doesn’t have a beau. I’ll dare her not to, she laughed.
She shook her head to rid herself of such thoughts, grabbed the kettle and hurried to get ready. She and her husband had an important dinner to attend. She’d try to find out exactly what his company expected of him. She was going to do everything in her power to make sure he was successful. After all, his success was her success. Minnie was a progressive woman and she wanted her beloved cousin to view her life as outstandingly noteworthy.
“What would you have done if I hadn’t agreed to allow you to accompany me on this trip?” Bradley wondered aloud as they dressed.
“I’d have gone on my own, of course,” she replied without question, not seeing the look of utter shock returned her direction.
No, he decided at last. She’s just trying my patience again. She wouldn’t have gone on her own, even if she is one of the most determined women I’ve ever met! He sighed. She definitely was one of the most strong-willed, tenacious women he’d ever met. A beauty, perhaps, but unfaltering in her stalwartness. Oh yes. That and then some.
Continued in Chapter 3, Section I ~ Voices from the Past
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