Authors: Kirsten Osbourne
Mail Order Maternity
Book Six in the Brides of Beckham
By Kirsten Osbourne
Copyright 2013 Kirsten Osbourne
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The happiest day of Esther’s life quickly becomes a nightmare when she finds her husband dead in their fields. Now she is pregnant with no way to provide for her unborn child and her in-laws will soon evict her from her home. Becoming a mail-order bride will meet her needs, but will it allow her to find love and happiness?
Thomas is surprised to read the letter he receives from a young widow who is pregnant. He agrees to marry her, but wonders immediately what he’s gotten himself into. Was marrying a pregnant woman really the best idea?
Esther touched her stomach and smiled. Dinner was ready, a special dinner she’d worked hard on for half the day. The table was set perfectly with a small vase of wildflowers in the middle. Now she just had to wait for Charlie to get home from the fields. She fussed with the napkins she’d laid on the table and made sure they were perfect. She wandered to the window and looked out at the rows of corn fields.
Her waist length long, brown hair was pulled back into an intricate hairdo she had spent hours perfecting. She wore her best dress, a lavender calico. Since she’d gotten home from the doctor’s office that morning, she had worked ceaselessly to get everything ready for when Charlie finished work and came home for dinner. She knew her green eyes were dancing with excitement as she finished fussing with everything and declared it perfect.
Not only was it six months since they’d married, but also she’d found out she was pregnant just that morning. They both badly wanted a baby, and it was finally happening for them. She’d spent the small amount of money in their household budget to see the doctor that morning to confirm. She couldn’t wait to see his eyes when she told him the news. He was going to be as excited as she was. They’d always talked about having a baby right off, and it was happening for them. She couldn’t wait to see his face when she told him.
She picked up her sewing basket and took out a pair of his work pants, sewing tiny stitches carefully as she mended them. It was June, and when the harvest was in this August, she was going to be able to make him a brand new pair of work pants and throw this heavily mended pair away. She was excited at the idea of making him a pair of new pants. They’d had little money for new fabric, but in August, she’d be able to buy enough for new pants and new shirts for him and even a couple of dresses for her.
She mended the pants, wondering what was taking him so long. He was rarely late. He knew she timed the meal with the end of his work day, which was usually around five. She glanced at the clock on the mantle of their small house. “It’s already six-thirty. He should have been home long ago.”
She put the pants down and wandered to the window again. Still no sign of Charlie. She was glad she’d left dinner in the oven to keep it warm instead of having it sitting out.
When eight rolled around with no sign of Charlie, she decided to go look for him. There wasn’t much daylight left, and she needed to find him before the sun set completely.
Grabbing her shawl, she hurried out the door and into the fields. He’d told her at lunchtime that he was spending the afternoon weeding. He shouldn’t be that hard to find. She went to the barn and saw that he’d taken their riding horse, Bart, with him. If he was taking the horse, that meant he was working far from the house, so she decided to start with the furthest fields and work her way toward the house.
She was halfway to the field she was looking for when she saw Bart, grazing on the grass beside the cornfield. She smiled and called Charlie’s name, certain they’d be together. There was no answer. She looked down the straight rows of corn, but didn’t see her husband. She wandered down a little further. Still no Charlie. She was getting annoyed by that point. Didn’t the man have the sense to come in when it was time for dinner? Why would he risk her ruining dinner that way? They didn’t have enough money to waste on a meal they’d just throw away.
Finally, she reached the furthest field. She’d looked down every row of corn for him since she’d spotted Bart. She called his name again. “Charlie! Are you here?”
There was again no answer. For the first time, Esther felt her throat tighten, starting to worry. Where could he be? He loved to eat too much to be too far away. She walked along the edge of the field, peeking down each row of corn to try and see him. About halfway down, she spotted what looked like a pile of rags lying on the ground. She walked into the field to investigate, pushing the corn out of her face as she walked.
The closer she got, the more she hurried. Was that? It couldn’t be. Charlie? She was running by the time she reached him, dropping to her knees in the dirt beside him, uncaring of the fact that she was wearing her best dress. Her eyes traveled over him as her fingers shook his shoulder slightly. “Charlie? Wake up! It’s dinner time. Charlie? Charlie!”
The shaking and yelling didn’t wake him at all. She brushed his hair from his face tenderly, thinking she needed to give him a haircut before church on Sunday morning. When she drew her hand back, there was blood all over her fingers. “Where did that come from?” She moved his hair and found the spot. He’d been hit on the head by something! A rock? Bart may have kicked him. Did it matter how he was hurt?
She reached down to touch his neck, feeling for a pulse with shaking fingers. He couldn’t die on the day she was going to tell him she was pregnant, could he?
Nothing. There was no pulse. There was no sign of life at all. How long had he lain there in the dirt dead, while she’d been angry with him for not coming in to dinner on time? How could she have been so angry with her dead husband who’d done nothing wrong?
She stood slowly, the world spinning slightly. The dizziness and nausea had been what sent her to the doctor in the first place. She walked to the edge of the field, looking for someone, anyone, who could help her. Of course, there was no one. They lived two miles outside of Beckham, Massachusetts. She began the trek into town to get the doctor, hoping she would be able to get him back before dark so Charlie wouldn’t be on the ground all night. She was afraid to even touch the horse because she was almost certain he’d killed her husband.
There were no tears as she walked as quickly as she could toward town. There was only numbness. She kept expecting Charlie to call out her name any moment to tell her he was fine, but he never did. She went to the doctor’s house on the edge of town. There were two doctors in Beckham, but this doctor was the one who didn’t mind driving out to the surrounding area and treating animals.
She knocked on his door, and he opened it with a smile. “Esther! What are you doing here? One of the animals sick?” He’d just seen her that morning and there was nothing wrong.
She shook her head, feeling the tears finally come as they pricked at the back of her eyes. “Charlie,” was all she was able to get out before she crumpled at the doctor’s feet, sitting on his front porch stoop, crying like a baby.
Dr. Bradford knelt beside her. “Esther. What’s wrong with Charlie?” He noted the blood on her fingertips for the first time. “Is he hurt?”
Esther shook her head, her sobs loud enough to bring the doctor’s wife running. “Dead.”
Dr. Bradford sucked in a breath. “Is he at home?” Esther shook her head, her face buried in her hands. “Can you take me to him?”
Esther nodded, and allowed herself to be helped to her feet. She was led to the doctor’s buggy and she took his hand as he helped her inside. She saw the mud on the knees of her best dress, and the blood on her fingers. She knew her hair must be falling from her tight bun. How was she going to go on without him? Was life worth living without Charlie?
Dr. Bradford drove along the private roads until Esther indicated he should stop. She pointed toward the field and indicated the row where she’d found Charlie. The doctor tied off the horses and jumped down. “Wait here, Esther.”
Esther nodded, staring straight ahead, unwilling to get another glimpse of her husband lying dead on the ground. She sat quietly wringing her hands together, praying she’d been wrong. That somehow she’d just missed the pulse and Charlie wasn’t really dead. She stroked her hand over her flat stomach, as if she could soothe the baby within her womb. “It’s going to be okay. Daddy’s fine,” she whispered, tears falling down her face.
Dr. Bradford was back within minutes. “I’m going to take you back to your house and leave you there while I get another man to help me get him to my buggy.” His hand grasped Esther’s. Esther had been his patient since she was a small child and had known him all her life. If she had to be with anyone at this difficult time, she was glad to be with Dr. Bradford.
He dropped her off at her house and she went in, forcing herself to eat some of the special dinner she’d fixed. If she hadn’t been pregnant, she would have gone without food, but knowing the child was within her she ate.
Once she’d cleaned the kitchen, she sat in the rocking chair Charlie had made her as a wedding gift and picked up her mending basket. The first thing she picked up was another pair of Charlie’s work pants. Instead of working on them, she buried her face in them and cried. How could Charlie be dead? He was only twenty. He was much too young to die!
When she woke up the following morning, Esther simply went through the motions. She fixed her breakfast and made the dishes, dreading going to see Charlie’s parents, but knowing it was her job to do so. Once she was finished with her chores, she went out to the barn and hitched up the horses to the farm wagon. She climbed up and drove down the street to her in-laws’ farm.
She climbed down out of the wagon carefully, making certain she didn’t fall and cause anything to happen to the baby. She went to the door and took a deep breath, raising her hand to knock.
“Well, were you going to stand there all day or were you going to knock?” the shrewish woman asked. Mrs. Perry, Charlie’s mother, had black hair and brown eyes. She could have been a pretty woman if she hadn’t had such a mean look on her face at all times.
“May I come in?” Esther asked softly. She knew this visit would be the hardest for her, because Mrs. Perry had always thought her son was too good to marry Esther. Charlie’s family had better land and more money than her own parents, and they’d never let her forget it. Mrs. Perry let Esther know as often as she could that Charlie could have done better than Esther.
Mrs. Perry yanked the door open wider and waved her inside without a word. She crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for whatever Esther might say.
“Can we sit down, please?” Esther didn’t want to have to tell her mother-in-law her son was dead, but she especially didn’t want to risk the woman fainting. She’d feel the need to try to catch her and she just wasn’t doing that in her condition.
Mrs. Perry walked to the small sofa in the parlor and left Esther to take the chair beside it. “Spit it out, girl. You come to tell me you’re breeding?”
Esther sighed. She wasn’t about to tell her mother-in-law she was pregnant. Now that Charlie was dead, she would consider the baby her only family, and Esther wasn’t going to let the woman get her hands on her child. “No, I came to tell you that Charlie was killed last night. He was kicked in the head by a horse.” She’d meant to find a better way to tell her, but with the way she was being treated, Esther wasn’t sure what that better way might have been.
Mrs. Perry stared at her for a moment. “Why are you lying to me? Charlie’s not dead.” Her face gradually grew redder and redder as she clenched her fists at her side, obviously furious with Esther.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Perry.” Tears sprang to Esther’s eyes and she dashed them away angrily. “He is dead. The doctor came out and confirmed last night.” She had promised herself she wouldn’t cry in Mrs. Perry’s presence. The woman wouldn’t care one whit that she was hurting about her husband’s death. She’d think only of herself as she always did.
Mrs. Perry jumped up and slapped Esther across the face. “Why are you lying to me? Why would you do something so hurtful?”
Esther stood and ran from the house. She wasn’t going to sit there and let the woman abuse her. She’d done nothing wrong except not consider who her mother-in-law would be before she married.
Esther hurried to her wagon and jumped up on the seat. She wouldn’t come back here for any reason, she decided. There was no way she would ever talk to that evil woman again. She’d send someone to tell her when the funeral would be, out of courtesy, but she wouldn’t lift another finger for her.
Esther drove into town to the doctor’s office, stopping her wagon in front of his house and going to the door. When Mrs. Bradford opened the door before she knocked and simply held the door wide for her, she followed the older woman inside. “Are you doing okay, Esther?”
Esther nodded. “I need to find out what I need to do to arrange a funeral for Charlie. I’ve never considered having to do anything like that, so I have no idea where to start.” She knew the kindly couple would have an answer for her.
Dr. Bradford entered the parlor from his office, rubbing his hand over his face. “Don’t worry about any arrangements, Esther. I’ll handle everything. We’ll be at the cemetery at two tomorrow afternoon. Will that work for you?”
Esther nodded. “What about the coffin? I know I’ll need to pay for the coffin.”
Dr. Bradford shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it handled for you.” He led her to the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow at two. Is there anything else I can do for you before you go?”
Esther bit her lip, considering. “Would you be willing to send a note to Charlie’s mother about the time of the funeral? She refuses to believe anything from me.”
“Of course I will.” He patted her back. “She’ll believe me.”
Esther walked out to the wagon and made the drive to the farm she’d shared with the man she loved. She’d live for the child she carried and nothing more. How could she not? Her baby needed to have at least one parent who loved him.