A WEDDING IN MONTANA
By John McDonnell
Claire Shannon looked out at the passing country, and thought how different it all looked from anything she’d seen before. It didn’t look at all like Ireland, where she’d grown up, for it was too brown and dry, and there were no green valleys, or misty mountains off in the distance. There were mountains, all right, but they were jagged peaks that rose up as if they were trying to pierce the sky with their sharp edges.
The landscape didn’t look like what she’d grown accustomed to in New York city, either. There were no cities crowded with people, horses and carriages, with tall buildings blocking out the sun and the smells of smoke, horse dung, foods of every description, and the masses of people all shouting and hurrying on their way. There were no cities at all out here, actually, just a few small dusty towns that the train would pull into every once in awhile, then push off again after a few people got on or off.
She was heading West, to a land she’d never seen, and she was excited and nervous, mostly because she was going to meet a man she’d never met before, but who might very well turn out to be the man she would marry.
She’d answered an ad in Matrimonial Times, a newspaper that catered to men who were looking for a wife. She hadn’t done it without giving it careful consideration, because it was a foreign idea to a woman raised in County Cork. Back in Ireland men didn’t put advertisements in newspapers to say that they were looking for a wife. She wasn’t in Ireland anymore, though, she was in America, and things were different here.
Claire had come over by ship just five years before, when she was a girl of 17. She’d come with her mother and sister Maura, and they were joining their father Patrick, who’d come over five years before that.
It was 1890, and there was no work in Ireland, so many families were coming to America to make a better life. Claire moved into a tiny apartment in a tenement house, and found work sewing women’s dresses in a factory in the garment district of New York. She was a good seamstress, and she did well at her job, but the hours were long and she came home tired each day. She found the city oppressively crowded, noisy, and dirty, and she was homesick for the green fields of Ireland.
Within a year after she arrived her father died in a factory accident, and her mother never recovered from the grief. She sat in a chair by the window and barely moved from it, refusing all but a little food and drink. Before long, she was gone too.
Then it was just Claire and Maura. Claire longed to meet a man to marry, but despite all the people in the city, it was hard to meet men. Perhaps it was her personality -- Claire always had a hard time controlling her temper and her tongue, and men didn’t like a woman who had those problems. The years passed without Claire finding a romantic relationship. Her sister met a nice Irish man named Liam and got married, moving out to a different section of the city. That left Claire alone, and she grew sad about her situation.
She prayed to God nightly to help her find a husband, but things didn’t change. Then one night on her way home from work she stopped at a newsstand and saw a copy of Matrimonial Times hanging on the rack. On an impulse she bought it, and back in her room she scanned the advertisements. There were all sorts of men advertising, but one caught her eye.
It was from a man named Fergus O’Toole, a good Irish name, and she liked the way he described himself. “A godly man who wants a woman to bring out the best in him and share his life.”
He wrote of his desire to start a family, and “have a proper home in the wilds of Montana,” as he called it. Claire wrote a letter to him that very day, and she took it to the Post Office. In two weeks she had a reply, and they corresponded for several months, growing closer with each new letter. Claire poured out her heart to Fergus, telling him of her childhood in Ireland, her trip across the ocean to New York, and her wonder at all the big city had to offer. But she also told him she despaired of ever finding a godly man there. “The men here want only to talk about themselves and their accomplishments,” she wrote. “They do not care about the simple things, like sharing a home together and raising a family, under God’s love and protection. I get lonesome sometimes, even in the midst of all these people.”
“It’s lonesome out here also,” Fergus wrote. “I have a store where I sell dry goods to the men who work in the copper mines, and I make a good living, but there are hardly any women in these parts, and I get lonesome for a woman’s tender presence. I am tired of being around so many rough and tumble men out here, and I long for a woman’s touch in my life.”
But Fergus was not a man of many words, and he finally wrote, “I believe I have said all the words I have in me. I think I know enough about you that I would like to pay for you to come out and visit. It would be a chance for us to get to know each other. I have enclosed some money in this envelope, for you to buy a train ticket.”
Claire looked at his words with a mounting excitement. This is what she had prayed for, but now that it was becoming a reality, she realized she was nervous. The first problem was that she had not told him about her temper. She wondered if it would be a problem for him. The second thing is that she had not told him she was very tall for a woman. She was nearly six feet tall, lean as a whip, and in perfect health, but still, taller than most women.
Well, it's too late now, she thought, as the train rolled on. If he doesn’t like me, I’ll just have to go back to New York and live out my life as a spinster. I can’t go through this again with another man -- getting my hopes up and then having to deal with crushing disappointment.
The train screeched to a stop at a small, dusty station that was surrounded by a few stores, a ramshackle hotel, and a saloon, with mountains off in the distance.
Claire knew this was her stop, and she got up and pulled her battered valise from the floor with a feeling of butterflies in her stomach. She resisted the urge to look at the few people standing outside on the platform, not wanting to be disappointed if Fergus did not look how she’d envisioned him. He’d told her he would be wearing a wide-brimmed brown hat with a red bandana tied around it, and as she came down the steps from the train on to the platform, she looked for a man fitting that description.
But he was not there.
She scanned the platform anxiously, but there was just an old man greeting his daughter, who got off the car behind Claire, and a few Indians who greeted another Indian at the other end of the platform.
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Claire Shannon is heading west, to answer a call of love from a mail order bride ad. Join her on this western romantic period piece adventure!