by Leah Wyett
I apologize for the continued lack of a photograph on my part. I can tell you that I have black hair and brown eyes. I am tall, over six foot and I am not fat nor am I overly thin. I have muscles from hard work. I have run into difficulty with getting an appointment with the photographer in Browning. I will have one by the next letter, even if I have to go to Lubbock and get it done.
So, you like to read adventure stories? This makes me wish that my letters were more adventurous, in hopes of keeping you hooked. I like to read, too, everything I can get my hands on. I’ve been an avid reader since the age of four. When I send the next letter, perhaps I will tell you about my trip to Mexico. Hopefully something exciting will happen for me to relay, or I suppose I could tell you about my most recent brush with cattle rustlers. It got downright ugly though, and I am not sure that it’s an appropriate topic to discuss with a lady. Maybe you can offer me more insight into that. My mother was the only real lady I ever knew. She schooled me in reading and writing and I had a male tutor for arithmetic. We have some ladies in town, of course. I usually only see them at church these days because my mother was called home to Heaven and I wouldn’t dare think about telling the church ladies about chasin’ rustlers. So you tell me if that’s something you would like to hear about or not.
In the meantime, please tell me more about yourself, dear Hazel. I can’t wait to know everything about you. I know you say your town is boring, but the thought of having a canal that practically runs through your backyard with ships coming and going from the Lake Erie and going all the way to the Hudson in New York does seem a little exciting to me. I can’t imagine all of the interesting people that would have to bring into your cozy little town.
I hope to know all there is to know about you, as I have decided to only correspond with you for I am sure that I have found The One. Again, I am new at this, so I hope it wasn’t too soon to say that.
God be with you and your family.
Hazel re-read the part about how he thought he had found “The One” over and over. It made her belly tickle. It was a feeling that she had never experienced before, and she liked it. Hazel and her sister were home schooled by her mother. The school in town was too far for them to walk to and from every day and more often than not, their father would be out working and unable to take or pick them up. Pa preferred it that way anyway. He worried about the girls constantly, more so since Billy died.
OUTSIDE BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS
Heath had just sat down at the table to eat his breakfast when Sally, the new housemaid, came in. Greta, his old housemaid, called her “the junior.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Heath.” she said, with her eyes cast down to the floor. “Mr. Lee wanted me to give you this letter. He said you’d be wanting it right away.” Mr. Lee was his houseman and if it weren’t for him, Heath doubted the house would run at all.
Heath did want it indeed. He had told Lee to notify him the second any letter from Hazel arrived. “Thank you, Sally.” he told her. Sally laid the letter in front of him and with a quick curtsy, she tried to scurry away. “Sally…” he called after her. The girl turned back toward him, but still didn’t look at his face. “If working here is going to be too difficult, I’m sure that I could manage to place you with one of the other families in town.” Heath wasn’t trying to threaten the girl; he really was concerned for the comfort of his staff. He wouldn’t blame her and she wouldn’t be the first if that was the case.
She looked him in the eye then. He saw the subconscious flinch that he had long since grown accustomed to when she did.
“Oh, no, sir. I’m sorry if it seems that way.” she said, forcing herself to look at him the entire time. “You are so kind and generous to your staff. I would be honored and I’ll try so much harder if you allow me to stay.”
Heath smiled. He usually tried not to because he knew that made the condition of his face look that much worse. “You’re doing fine, Sally.” he told her. “I was only concerned about your comfort.”
“Thank you, Mr. Heath.” she said. Then she left him alone with his letter. Heath forgot about his breakfast and went into the parlor to read it. He sat in the comfortable chair by the window. The same chair that his mother used to sit in when she read to him every night when he was a boy. He opened the letter and read:
I cannot tell you how pleased I was to receive your letter. I would love to have a photograph of you, but what you look like is not as important to me as who you are. I think it’s better this way to learn about each other through these letters. It gives us a chance to see the other person’s heart, rather than a brown pair of eyes or black hair or a nice smile, which I am sure that you have.
I have to tell you that my ma and pa have some concerns about me writing to you with the hopes that someday we will be married. I assume that is a normal reaction for parents who are thinking about their children leaving home. My pa is especially protective, which is, in part, why I feel so confined here in this little corner of the world. Also, my brother, Billy, was killed in the war when he was only eighteen. He would be twenty-four next month if he had lived, and losing him was the hardest thing my parents had ever gone through they say. I can imagine if it hurt my heart so badly to lose my brother, how much it would have hurt theirs to lose a son. So if ever I don’t write back, I’d like you to know now that it’s not about you, but about my family situation. I am hoping that with time they will understand what I already do. I believe strongly that fate sent that paper and your ad to me. I can feel our souls mingling already, waiting for our humanly bodies to meet. I hope that doesn’t sound too silly or little girl like. I just don’t know how else to describe it. My mother says I “suffer” from magical thinking. I’m not sure I would call it suffering, however.
As far as myself, I will tell you what there is to know (which isn’t much). I was born Hazel Lynn Morgan to Irish immigrant parents on August 15th in 1852, right here in Erie County, Ohio. I had one older brother, William Reese Morgan, who died on May 8, 1864 at the battle of Spotsylvania in Virginia. He was an enlisted man in the Union Army and he died a hero, rescuing his commanding officer. I loved him very much and I miss him terribly. I have a little sister. Her name is Laura Harriett Morgan and she’s ten. She’s a lot of fun to be around, all sunshine and smiles most of the time. She only annoys me when I read and she won’t stop asking questions. She is a curious one.
I grew up on a farm. My pa grows wheat and pumpkins. That sounds like an odd combination, but the pumpkins are only for the contest he enters at Harvest Festival every year. Pa has a partner who lives on the farm that borders ours. The family’s name is O’Donnell. They came from Ireland about the same time as my parents and they all moved here from New York before any of us children were born. They have a boy about my age, who everyone always thought I would marry. Unfortunately, I have no more feelings toward Bobby O’Donnell than I would a fly that I shoo away from my book, and Bobby has no more than that for me. The most unfortunate part is that I don’t believe Bobby has those feelings for anyone. He’s a strange sort.
I was home-schooled with my brother and then my sister by my ma, and my family has always attended the First Presbyterian Church of Ohio. My pa is a quiet, God-fearing man, but he doesn’t fear much else. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him scared in seventeen years of life. My ma is the best example of a mother I can think of and for the most part, our family is happy, albeit with a hole in us now that Billy is gone.
You asked if a man should speak to a “lady” about cattle rustling so I wanted to tell you a couple of things. First of all, I hope to someday be a lady like my ma is. She is gentle and kind and she cares a whole lot more about others than she does herself. For now though, I’m still a work in progress and I hope that it doesn’t count against me for you to know that I would love to hear a story about cattle rustl
ers. Like I said in my previous letter, I love to read about adventure.
I have to go now, it’s harvest season and that’s when Pa needs help the most. If I don’t get out to the field, he’ll be looking for me and then likely to be reading my letter and censoring it before I get it to the mail. (Smiles, sort of)
I hope you are well and stay well, Heath.
Heath read the letter three times. He smiled each time he got to the part where she said she “hoped it doesn’t count against me” about wanting to hear a cattle rustler story. He thought that made her sound more interesting, and cute. He put the letter down and went to get his pen and ink and stationary. If she wanted to hear a story, then he would tell her one. He still hadn’t yet figured out what to do about the picture. He had intended to tell her the truth, and her words about looks not making a difference were encouraging to him, but he had yet to find the courage. Maybe after he wrote the letter he would go into town…Or maybe he would just find John.
ERIE COUNTY, OHIO
“But Pa, I don’t want to go to the dance with Bobby. Tomorrow is my birthday, you know.”
Hal Morgan was exasperated with his daughter. Hazel had always been dreamy and Hal had accepted that she wasn’t like the other children. She expected more out of life because of her dreams and the things she read in her books.
“Hazel, I’m not asking you to marry the boy. I’m only asking you to go to the harvest dance with him.” His parents expected Bobby to take her and Hal Morgan didn’t want to look bad to his partner.
“Pa, he’s strange and I don’t like him.”
“Hazel Morgan! We don’t say that we don’t like our neighbors. The O’Donnell’s have been very good friends to us for many years.”
“I didn’t say I don’t like the O’Donnell’s, Pa, just Bobby.” Hal sighed. The sad part was that Hazel was right, he was strange. If he had been anyone else, Hal wouldn’t be pushing for her to go.
“It’s one dance, Hazel. Please, go to the dance and be nice for one evening. Then, I will promise to leave you alone about Bobby O’Donnell from now on.”
“About everything, Pa? You won’t expect me to marry him any longer?”
“Yes, Hazel, about everything.” he promised. He didn’t tell her, but he had always hoped that she would refuse to marry the strange boy in the end. He wasn’t sure what kind of grandchildren Bobby would have given him.
“Okay, I’ll go to the dance.” she said.
“Thank you, Hazel.” her pa said. “Do you want to come into town with me and I’ll buy you a new dress?” He was feeling guilty now about making her go.
Hazel didn’t really care to have a new dress, but going into town would mean being able to go by the post office and seeing if there was a letter there from Heath. It seemed it was all she looked forward to anymore.
“Okay, Pa.” she agreed.
“Go on and get the list of things your ma needs from the general store and I’ll hitch the team.”
When Hazel found her mother, she said, “I’m going into town with Pa for a new dress for the dance tomorrow. Do you have a list of what you need, Ma?”
Harriett looked at her daughter suspiciously. “You agreed to the dance?”
Hazel shrugged. “I didn’t have much choice. Pa had his heart set on it. I guess it would embarrass him to Mr. O’Donnell if I told Bobby no.”
“And while you’re in town buying a new dress, might you also be going by the post office?”
“Well, Miss Becky’s store is right there next to it, Ma. I don’t mind going in for you if you’d like me to.” Hazel said with a sly grin.
Harriett sighed. “You like this man a lot, don’t you?” she said.
“I really do, Ma.” Hazel said. “It’s a lot about the opportunity to get out of this place. But it’s also about him. He seems so kind and genuine. You’ve read the letters, don’t you think so?”
Harriett smiled at her daughter and said, “I hope so, dear. For your sake, I really do.”
Hazel and her pa made small talk on the way to town. They went to the general store together and got the things her ma needed. Hazel noticed that some of it was the ingredients her ma use to make Hazel’s favorite lemon cake. She must be making it for her birthday. Pa had to go to the hardware store so he gave Hazel the money for her dress and told her to go on over to Miss Becky’s and pick out her dress. Hazel took the money and sweetly thanked her pa before heading down the street. She looked over her shoulder and made sure that he had gone inside the hardware store before she slipped into the post office.
“Hi, Mr. Jenkins.” she said to the postmaster.
“Why, Hazel Morgan, I haven’t seen you around here for a while. I do see your name on a lot of letters though.” The postmaster was a nosy sort, and he liked to gossip. Sarah didn’t care to give him any more information than was absolutely necessary.
“Yes, sir. It’s nice to see you. My pa is waiting for me though so if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to pick up our mail.”
“Of course.” he said, going into the back. He came out a few minutes later with several envelopes. “Another one from Texas.” he said.
Hazel smiled but tried not to look too excited as she said, “Oh, good, my cousin wrote back.”
“Oh…It’s your cousin.” he said. “I’m glad. I was worried that you got caught up in all of that mail order bride nonsense that goes on out there in the west.”
“No, sir.” she lied again. “Just my cousin.” She hoped he didn’t talk to her pa…At least for a while.
He handed her the letters finally and she thanked him and left. She looked down the street again, hoping her pa was still in the hardware store. She was relieved that she didn’t see him as she slipped into the dress shop. By the time her pa caught up with her, she was just paying for the green dress she’d bought. Her ma always told her that with her dark hair and green eyes that green was her color.
“Have everything you need, Hazel?” he asked her, after saying hello to Miss Becky.
“Yes, Pa.” she said. He waited until they were back up on the buckboard to say,
“Was there any mail for me and your ma, or was it all for you today?”
Abashed, Hazel said, “Yes, sir. There was a letter from Aunt Louise and another letter for you.”
Her father gave her a sideways look. He didn’t look mad, but she wasn’t sure how to interpret the look. At last, he said, “Tomorrow, you’re going to be eighteen. Your ma and I have talked about this, and if corresponding with that rancher in Texas is what you want to do, then we ain’t gonna put a stop to it. But eighteen or not, if and when you decide to go out there, I’m coming with you to meet him.”
Hazel thought about poor Heath having to face her giant of a father and cringed. For now, Pa was giving her carte blanche with her letters and she was willing to take what she could get.
“Thank you, Pa.” she said with a smile. “You and Ma trusting me to make my own decisions means an awful lot to me.”
“I still don’t like it none.” he said. The rest of the ride home was silent. Hal was thinking about how soon it would be before his little girl was taken away from him, and Hazel couldn’t think about anything else except the letter in her pocket.
Hazel thought she was going to combust by the time they got home and she was able to get alone for five minutes and read her letter. First, she had to help Pa unload everything, and then she had to help Ma put it away. Then, of course, Ma wanted to see her new dress and Laura had a million questions about the dress and the dance…Finally, about an hour before dinner time, she was able to sneak out back with her letter and sit under the old willow tree and open her letter. When she did, a little cabinet card fell out. It was a photo of a very handsome young man with black hair that came just to his shoulders. He had a mustache in the picture but his description hadn’t said
anything about a mustache so Hazel thought it must be old or new. He told her his eyes are brown. In the picture, of course, there was no way to tell except that they looked dark…It was a very handsome picture, but something about it gave Hazel a strange feeling. She felt like she was looking at a stranger, yet Heath no longer felt like a stranger to her…She told herself that once again, her imagination was working overtime. She opened the letter and read:
My dearest Hazel,
I was overjoyed to receive your last letter. I fear I have worn it out by reading it over and over again. I want to start this one out by wishing you the happiest of birthdays. I have sent a package that I hope you will accept. Just a small token of my affections and a promise of my intentions to spend the rest of your birthdays with you, eating cake and toasting to your good health from the next one to eternity. I’ve begun to imagine a life with you, dear Hazel, and I have come to be unable to imagine it without you. I don’t mean to cause you to blush so I will stop there with the mushy stuff and go on to tell you a tale of cattle rustlers as promised.
My ranch hands and I noticed several months ago that when we were out on the pasture, the cattle did not appear to be as plentiful as they should. We checked the fences, hoping to find one broken, which would mean that perhaps they had wondered away. We didn’t find any fences down, however, so we came to the conclusion that the cattle were being taken.
That night, two of my men and I camped out on the edge of my ranch. It was on the edge of the property where they would most likely be entering from and herding the cattle away from. We sat quietly in the dark, our guns ready. It was cold but we didn’t dare risk a campfire that could be seen or smelled. The rustlers, however, weren’t quite that smart, or resilient. I could see puffs of smoke coming from a secluded area near the river. Leaving my man to look out in our spot, I went to take a look. I eased up to a point where I could observe but not be seen. I saw two men, watering their horses. The puffs of smoke I had seen were not from a campfire but from cigars they must have gotten in Mexico because they were the fattest ones I had ever seen. The cattle, my cattle, were waist deep in the river.