This week, we’ve moved on to The Officer and the Southerner.
To set this up just a little, 2nd Lt. Jack Walker has submitted an extremely vague ad for a mail-order bride. Ella Davis has just been publicly embarrassed again and while trying to make her feel better, her sister reads her Jack’s ad and Ella decides to answer it:
I am writing in response to your ad in the local newspaper. I am nineteen and without any attachment other than to my family, who owns a cotton plantation. I come to a mark just below five-foot-three, but have never been confused for a Weak Nellie—although my name is Ella. Well, actually, it’s Elinor, but everyone calls me Ella… What I mean to say is that I may not be much to look at in regards to size, but I am strong, determined, able to cook, clean, and sew, and a little outside work now and again isn’t going to put me off.
I do have a question for you, kind sir:
Just how warm is “warm”?
Jack stared in awe at the crisp white sheet that had arrived for him. Someone had finally replied. Well, not just someone, but someone who was finally interesting and sent more than just a request for her fare to be arranged or pages upon pages of nonsense. He scowled at the stack of other missives. Some touted their talents and beauty; others had neglected to mention anything about themselves. Could that be because they were homely? He shook his head. All of their letters had been short and bland or longwinded and tedious. This one, though neither overly long nor very serious—either in tone or her intentions, it would seem—sparked his interest for some reason.
Throwing a glance over his shoulder to ensure he was still alone, he snatched up his quill from his desk and began to pen a response.
I hope you don’t mind that I used your first name, but if we are to one day marry…
As for your question:
Warm is just that. It’s not cool nor is it completely intolerable in the summer months. Of course, there is plenty of shade out here, not in the form of a large number of sizable trees, I’m afraid, but still plenty of shade when the sun is shining on the side of our home. Not to mention, you will have more than enough room to store your fans and parasols should you decide to bring them. Which you should, of course, since it does get “warm” in the summer.
Now I have a question for you:
Shall I make arrangements for your travel?
Ella’s heart nearly stopped. He’d written her back! The day after she’d mailed the letter, she’d spent the entire afternoon at the post office trying to get it back. She’d seemed so silly in her reply to his ad. Not only had her message been a tad on the lacking side, but she was fairly certain he’d had scores of replies—all by ladies who were actually ready to pack their trunks, travel to his land and become his bride.
And yet a month later, she was holding the thick vellum of his response. And not only had he responded, but he’d mentioned arrangements for her travel! Her heart skipped a beat. Then she frowned and hid his letter when she heard Michaela coming down the hall. Likely Michaela would chide her for actually writing to the man in the first place. Then she might try to dissuade Ella by being cynical and saying that he’d only responded and offered to book her fare because he hadn’t received any other replies. It wasn’t that Michaela tried to be negative. She was just very realistic. That, and for some reason Ella failed to understand, Michaela still had no interest—fleeting or otherwise—in any of the men they’d met.
Some hours later when dinner was over and the sun’s light was gone, Ella lit a lamp and turned the wick to render the lowest glow possible that still allowed her to see and began to write.
I hope you do not mind my use of your first name, as I have not yet agreed to marry you. I don’t believe I even know your age! Just that you’re a “younger man”.
Your home sounds…large…and so does your land. Tell me, kind sir, if you live on one hundred and sixty acres and earn steady pay, what exactly is it that you do?
Jack chuckled at her response. Clever girl, she was. He glanced over at the ever growing stack of letters he’d received from other young ladies. None of which intrigued him like this one though. Not that he’d ever placed an ad before this one, or since. From the other letters he’d received, he’d come to believe that his original assumptions were true. A man posted an ad, and then an interested woman replied with similar statements about herself and sent along her consent, so he could make arrangements for her to join him if he thought they’d make a good match.
Apparently, Miss Ella Davis was unaware of this custom.
Not that he minded so much.
He wanted a wife. Someone to rub his aching shoulders and warm his bed—and as a man of four-and-twenty, his mind came up with all sorts of enjoyable ways for her to do the latter. He shifted in his chair.
All he had to do was reply to one of the dozens of other letters he kept stored under the false bottom in the drawer of the desk that he shared with Lieutenant McCorkle. But for some reason, he wasn’t ready to end his connection with Ella yet.
I have no qualms with your using my given name, as I hope it is a sign that you are giving serious thought to marrying me. I suppose because you’re giving it consideration, I should toss my pride aside and inform you of an indelicate matter. I am currently four past twenty and swiftly approaching my next birthday.
As for my land, fear not, it is nothing that needs to be tilled, plowed, or harvested. It is just a large open area of land and my steady pay comes from work I do for the Army.
Do you wish to know anything else? Or shall I send your fare? That would make a wonderful belated birthday present…
Ella couldn’t hide her grin as she closed the door to the room she shared with Michaela and sat down by the desk. He’d written to her again. Though he hadn’t offered to make arrangements for her to join him, he’d written back and given her the hope that if she replied once more, he’d also respond again.
She had no idea why she kept writing to him—or why he continued to answer her. She’d casually mentioned to her father that with the close of another marriage season, perhaps she should start searching the newspaper for mail order bride ads. She wasn’t sure which was worse: his fist slamming on the table as he thundered that his daughter would not become a mail order bride, to be reduced to a common whore by a conniving brothel owner, or the imploring look on her sister’s face.
Ella idly combed her fingers through her long black hair. Her father wasn’t a bad or cruel man, just…protective. While most fathers didn’t wish to acknowledge the ugly side of life, her father, General Samuel Davis, had no qualms about reminding her and her sisters that a woman was only one poor decision away from a life of pain and ruin.
She shivered. What was the point in writing to Jack again? She hardly knew anything about him. Their letters had consisted of just a few sentences—nothing really about him. How did she know that he wasn’t one of those vile men her father warned her about?
With a sigh, she sat down to pen what would have to be her final letter to him. There was no use in keeping his interest if she had no intention of making good on her promise; but for selfish reasons alone, she had to send just one more and get one more response. Then she’d stop.
I hope your birthday was pleasant. Mine is nearing, as well, and falls each year on the first of January. I shall accept your lack of present for me as the present I never sent you and consider us on equal grounds this year!
I know this will reach you after the holiday has passed, so I shall not bore you with the pleasantry of wishing you a Merry Christmas; but since you asked if there was anything else I’d like to know, I do have one final question: How and with whom do you spend your holidays?
P. S. With no plowing, tilling, planting, and reaping, I wonder how the grass stays short enough to keep the furry critters at bay…
Jack stared down at the paper. Was this some sort of test? If it was, he’d come up lacking.
He raked his hand through his black hair and continued to stare blankly at the paper. With a shrug, he picked up his pen and wrote the first thing that came to mind.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. As lonely as living out here can be, Christmas is one of the few times during the year that I don’t mind being here alone.
My holidays are spent with military men. Colonel Lewis usually invites me and a handful of other commissioned officers: Captain Wes Tucker (accompanied by his wife, Allison, who is all but physically attached to his hip), Captain Grayson Montgomery (better known as Gray) and Lieutenant Bryce McCorkle to his home, where his wife prepares a meal for us as if we are all kings.
Following the meal, we all exchange gifts.
This Christmas, we men received new coatees and scarves from the Lewises, and Mrs. Lewis gave Allison a new winter gown.
Allison made pastries with our favorite fillings for the men and presented Mrs. Lewis with a new tablecloth.
Wes claimed his part of the gift was being made to suffer the delicious smells and having his hand smacked for trying to pilfer a pastry.
McCorkle gave us each two cigarettes—though none of us smoke. He was quite happy to re-collect.
Gray is the worst gift-giver of them all and gave us all the same gift he gives us each year. Unfortunately, I cannot explain what it is or you might never write back!
In a strange way that doesn’t involve blood or last names, we are all brothers of a sort and have no problem playing the part. Gifts are unimportant out here as none of us have much to offer the others except friendship.
This tradition of spending the day with the Lewises started before I arrived, and I cannot imagine spending the holiday any other way. I suppose you should know that I have no other relations out here with me. No mother or sister for you to turn to for support, sadly. But I’m sure if you decide to come that Mrs. Lewis and Allison (and even Sarah Ridgely) will be your family.
P.S. Fear not, my darling, the grass doesn’t require a sickle to stay short and groomed. I have a special pair of scissors I’ll teach you to use to maintain it if you don’t wish to make a new furry friend. Although I must admit, I thought females liked things that were soft and furry…
Ella’s heart lurched as she reread the missive over and over again. While Jack’s earlier letters had been amusing, this one was different.
This one was him. Not just a simple answer to her question. This was original. Real.
From behind where she sat out in the middle of a grassy field on a mild mid-February day, she heard the wheels of a wagon and folded and stuffed the letter into her bodice.
This was it. Time to make a choice. She either needed to heed her father’s urging to find a husband this year among the Mitchell boys, who’d bought the plantation thirty miles north of Savannah, or defy his wish, betray her sister and scandalize the whole county by becoming a mail order bride…
The choice was easy; the execution, however, might not be.
Walking around and pretending to look over and cultivate the soil in the modest kitchen garden she’d planted in front of her home, she formed a plan; then once dinner was finished, she penned her final letter to Jack.
I should have enough time to pack all of my parasols and fans to prepare for your “warm” weather by the time your next letter arrives. All I shall need then is some direction of where to go…
P.S. I shall be sure to pack an extra pair of kid gloves so my fingers do not blister while using those scissors you mentioned to snip the grass. This female’s love for “all things soft and furry” ends at anything smaller than my purse.
Unintentionally, Jack crumpled her letter in his strong hold and grinned like an eight-year-old boy who’d just spotted a pie cooling in the window. She was coming!