Effie Lane walked into her parents’ elegant Victorian home and set her packages down. After removing her gloves, she unpinned her hat with a sigh and smoothed her hair. Shopping without her friend Amelia was decidedly boring. On a daily basis, Effie regretted helping her slip away and head west to Seattle. Thank goodness she still had Grace, although Grace’s mother was such a stickler for proper behavior, the only time they had any fun was when they were in their secret garden.
The three girls had been best friends forever. Their parents’ property bordered each other’s with Effie’s home being on the corner lot. Around the time the girls turned ten years old, their fathers got together and made them a garden surrounded by thick hedges. It was accessible from each piece of property by an iron gate, for which each girl had her own ornate key. Inside was a clearing, the gardens tended by alternating gardeners each week. It was there the girls met to discuss various topics of an important nature. Who was courting whom, whose turn it was to compliment Mrs. Pettigrew, thereby insuring a pleasant week at Mrs. Pettigrew’s School for Young Ladies, or what to do about the hideous ostentatious frock Grace’s mother wanted her to wear to the Ice Cream Social.
As the years passed, their discussions became much more involved. The Emancipation of Women and Women’s Rights were always stimulating topics, as was the temperance movement. They discussed fashions, gossiped and generally enjoyed one another’s company.
The garden was where they’d first hatched the Mail Order Bride scheme, pouring over advertisements and laughing hysterically at the absurd requirements of some of the ads. It was also where their dear friend, Amelia Westcott, informed them she’d answered such an ad.
Shocked, they studied the photograph of Amelia’s intended, Mr. H. Jordon. An attractive man, he stated he owned a thriving timber business, and before any time at all had passed, Mr. Jordon sent Amelia passage to San Francisco, where he would meet and marry her before taking her on to his home in the Northwest Territory?Seattle, to be specific.
After several hours of discussion, during which Amelia would not be dissuaded, Effie got caught up in the moment. Oh, the excitement of it all, the daring, the romance. Before she knew it, she was arranging a trip to Albany to visit her Aunt Maude, thus giving Amelia an escape plan.
Effie regretted it nearly from the moment she got off the train in Albany and waved good-bye to Amelia as she left the station, heading for, Chicago, Omaha and finally San Francisco. She even wrote a somewhat stern and threatening letter to Mr. H. Jordon informing him he’d better take good care of her dear friend or Effie would pay them a visit, albeit a long and arduous one. In the letter, Effie told the gentleman she was an excellent shot and would not hesitate to bring her pistol along.
So far, she and Grace had received two letters from Amelia. One letter described the incredibly long and lonely eight day trip to San Francisco. The other letter telling them although she had reservations, she intended to go through with the marriage having met Mr. Jordon and deemed him acceptable.
That was the last time either of them heard from Amelia.
Effie kept a close watch on the postman, checking the silver tray that held the mail several times a day. Sighing, she checked the tray again, shocked to see a letter as well as a small package addressed to her. Lifting her skirts she grabbed her packages and raced upstairs.
“Effie, slow down,” her mother scolded as Effie raced past the parlor.
“I finally got a letter,” Effie called over her shoulder as she flew up the stairs. Reaching her room she dropped her packages on the floor and climbed up onto the bed. The handwriting on the letter was in a bold scrawl she didn’t recognize. She opened the letter first.
My Dear Miss Lane,
I am responding to your letter to set your mind at rest. My brother, Hugh, is still in San Francisco. I assume he is attending to your friend Amelia. Although I am unsure how long they will remain in that city, I am convinced they will return married. Hugh is a man of conviction, quite determined once he sets his mind to something and he has gone to retrieve and wed Amelia Westcott. I have no doubt he will succeed. As his bride, and my sister-in-law, she will be well cared for.
I must confess I found your letter somewhat amusing. I am a well-traveled man, yet had no idea that the east was comprised of gun-toting females. Your concerns for Amelia’s welfare are admirable but unfounded, your threats, ridiculous. Might I suggest a smaller pistol for someone of your stature? Should you deem to fire that one, you would most likely end up on your behind.
Feel free to visit our home in Seattle at your convenience to ascertain Mrs. Jordon’s wellbeing for yourself. I’m sure you will find it satisfactory. However, a word of advice, while your behavior may be tolerated in Massachusetts, you will find it viewed quite differently out here in the Pacific Northwest. Men here frown on that sort of conduct. For instance, if you should pull a weapon such as that and point it at me, you would be over my knee learning some appropriate manners very quickly. I promise you, you would not enjoy the experience.
Good day to you, Miss Lane.
Effie snorted. If that big buffoon thought to scare her, he was sadly mistaken. She was an excellent shot. The old dueling pistol may have been a bit of an overreach when she’d been photographed holding it; she wanted him, well not him, his brother, to know she was serious. A little gun may have gone unnoticed in the folds of her dress. She readily admitted the photograph she sent was far from flattering. After arguing with the photographer for an eternity about the pose, by the time he finally agreed, and that may have had something to do with the angle of the pistol, her hair was untidy and she was scowling.
Nevertheless, it had the desired effect. Despite his statements to the contrary, Samuel Jordon took the time to issue his own threat, even if it was one he would never get the pleasure of carrying out. By doing so, it proved to Effie she had his attention regarding her friend’s welfare.
“Over his knees, indeed,” she scoffed aloud. The man was a blowhard.
Effie opened the package carefully. Inside was a wedding photograph unlike any she’d ever seen. In it, Amelia was sitting on a man’s lap as he tipped her back and kissed her. Studying it, she wasn’t certain if Amelia’s hands were holding onto his shoulders or trying to push him away.
He was very attractive she had to admit, but also quite large and obviously strong. If her friend was trying to get away from him, she wouldn’t stand a chance.
Putting both the letter and the photograph in her top drawer, Effie took care of her purchases. She was meeting Grace in the garden tomorrow afternoon. They could discuss it then and she would see what Grace thought of the letter. As a rule, Grace was very level headed and logical.
Actually, there was no good reason they couldn’t travel to Seattle for a visit. Neither of them was seeing anyone special and other than missing a few social engagements, what would be the harm. Of course getting Grace’s controlling mother to agree would be difficult, but Grace was of legal age. Effie seemed to recall Grace saying something about her parents taking a trip abroad.
Perhaps she could convince Grace to go after her mother was aboard the ship. Tomorrow she’d broach the subject and see what could be done. Maybe the letter from Mr. Jordon’s pompous brother would tip the scale in Effie’s favor. Grace abhorred arrogant men. There was nothing she’d like better than to teach Mr. Samuel Jordon a lesson of her own regarding East Coast females.
* * * * *
Promptly at one o’clock, Grace unlocked the gate and entered the garden. It was her turn to bring lunch and she carried the basket in one hand, a quilt tucked under her other arm. Effie had not yet arrived, so Grace set her things down and waited.
It was quite warm she decided, pushing her escaping red curls off the nape of her neck. Spreading the quilt on the ground she made herself comfortable. A photograph of Amelia and her new husband had arrived in the morning post and Grace took it out of the basket, studying it in awe.
Mr. Jordon was a fine figure of a man. Seated on a chair, Amelia stood beside him, her hand resting on his shoulder. For a moment Grace wondered why he was sitting and her friend was standing, but after giving it some thought, she realized had their positions been reversed his head would have likely been cut off in the photograph. They were nearly the same height this way.
Amelia looked lovely. Grace knew her well enough to see a bit of apprehension in her slight smile, but her eyes showed no sign of fear. It appeared her dear friend had done very well for herself, indeed. If Mr. Jordon was as kind as he was attractive, Amelia would have a happy marriage.
Grace poured a glass of lemonade. It was slightly bitter and not nearly as good as Margaret’s. One of the things they had to give up since Amelia’s departure was lunch provided by the Westcott’s wonderful cook. Both girls missed the apple turnovers she’d frequently tucked into Amelia’s picnic basket. Peering inside her basket, Grace noted the slices of runny rhubarb pie and heavy sandwiches made from cold beef. Sighing, she shut the rattan cover.
“Sorry I’m late,” Effie apologized. Dropping to the blanket, she took the glass of lemonade Grace offered, barely suppressing a shiver as the bitterness hit her. “Is it worth looking inside?” she asked, eyeing the basket.
Grace shook her head.
“Not as far as I’m concerned, you go ahead if you want to.”
“No, I think I’ll skip it. Have you heard from Amelia?”
“No letter, but I did get a wedding picture,” Grace replied, passing over the photograph. “She looks happy.” Grace put her arms slightly behind her and tilted her face to the sun, closing her eyes. Lord, Mother would pitch a fit if she could see me now, she thought with a smile.
“I got a picture and a letter.”
“You did?” Grace cried, bolting upright.
“Actually, the letter was from Samuel Jordan, Amelia’s husband’s brother. The picture was from Amelia. I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Effie replied, hiking her skirts up and exposing her legs to the sun.
“What do you mean?”
“The pose,” Effie said, handing the photograph to her friend. “It’s far different from the one you received.”
Grace took the photograph and studied it, blushing as she did so.
“This is nothing like the one I got,” she said. “He seems a very passionate man.”
“Or forceful,” Effie responded, “a very forceful man.”
“Yes, I do see that as a possibility. Are you concerned for her safety?”
“Here is the letter I received from Samuel Jordon. Tell me after reading it if you think I have cause for concern.”
Grace quickly read the letter and handed it back.
“Gracious, Effie, what did you write the man? He seems to be implying you threatened him.”
“Not him,” Effie replied, “his brother.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a threat,” Effie explained. “I simply said it would behoove Mr. Jordon to take very good care of my friend, Amelia.”
“Or what?” Grace demanded.
“Or I would come out west and make sure he did,” she admitted with a grin as she pointed her finger at Grace and pulled an imaginary trigger.
“With a gun?”
“If need be,” Effie snapped, lifting her damp blonde hair from her neck and fanning herself.
“Oh Effie, sometimes you do the most outrageous things,” Grace said with a giggle. “One of these times you’re going to get yourself into real trouble.”
“It was a very nice letter, with just a bit of a warning for Amelia’s husband,” she insisted. “I wanted him to know Amelia has friends who care deeply for her. How was I to know his brother would open it and take offense?”
“Dear, I think just about any man would take offense if he were threatened by a female with a gun.”
“Maybe,” Effie said, shrugging her shoulders. “In any case, he needn’t have been so rude with his reply, especially as it wasn’t intended for him.”
“Yes, he was exceedingly rude,” Grace said, patting Effie’s hand in commiseration. “Especially the part about turning you over his knee for a spanking,” she continued sympathetically before bursting into laughter. “I must confess, Effie, that is something I would pay money to see.”
“Grace! How can you say such a thing?” Effie cried, giving her a shove that sent her sprawling back on the ground where Grace continued to giggle.
Effie flopped down on her back and closed her eyes against the bright sun.
“It is kind of funny,” she finally admitted softly. “Grace, have you ever been spanked?”
“Once when I was about seven, I went into my mother’s room and got into her dusting powder. I wanted to see what my hair would look like if it wasn’t red, so I powdered my head until it was white. Mother discovered what I’d done and ordered Father to spank me.”
“And did he?”
“Well, he took me to my room and swatted my behind over my clothes. It was only one swat and didn’t hurt at all, but I was mortified and I think he was too. I threw myself into his arms crying and he carried me down the back stairway and had the cook give me some cookies. Have you ever been spanked, Effie?”
“No, but I found myself wondering about it after I read Mr. Jordon’s letter. What do you suppose it feels like to lie across a man’s lap like that? You would be helpless, of course, unable to get away from a man who was strong and determined. Would he lift your skirts?”
“I really don’t know,” Grace admitted softly. “I suppose if he was your husband he would be within his rights to chastise you, possibly on the bare, don’t you think?”
“I guess, but what if he was no relation? What if he was just an acquaintance, he couldn’t lift your skirts then?”
“Not unless he wanted to marry you,” Grace said thoughtfully. “Once a man saw you like that, I think he’d have to marry you.”
“Unless he was a cad and didn’t care about the girl’s reputation.”
They were quiet for a while, lost in their own thoughts and enjoying the warmth of the sun. Finally Effie turned on her side and looked at Grace.
“Your freckles are coming out,” she teased, tickling Grace’s nose with a blade of grass.
“Heaven’s,” Grace squealed, sitting up. “Mother will kill me.”
“Did you tell me your parents are going abroad?”
“Yes, at the end of the month,” Grace replied, plopping her sun hat on her head.
“Do you have plans?”
“No, but why do I have the feeling you have plans for me?” Grace sighed, eyeing Effie suspiciously.
“Oh, they’re nothing definite,” Effie said with a smile. “I’m just a little worried we haven’t had a letter from Amelia. Her new brother-in-law is obviously an opinionated man and not opposed to physical violence. Suppose everything isn’t wonderful in Seattle? Suppose they are keeping Amelia from writing to us and asking for help?”
“You should be a novelist,” Grace said with a laugh as she stood and stretched. “You have a wonderful imagination, Effie Lane.”
Effie rose too and smoothed her skirts.
“I’m not saying anything is certain, but if I don’t hear from Amelia soon, I’m thinking about paying a visit to Seattle.”
“Going to collect on your spanking?” Grace teased.
“Certainly not, I just want to make sure everything is as it should be and visit for a week or so. Once I’m assured of Amelia’s happiness, I’ll return home. Would you come with me?”
“Oh, I don’t know. My mother would never approve.”
“We’ll go as soon as your parents have boarded their ship and be back before they return. Your oldest brother is already in France, isn’t he?”
“Well yes, but”
“And the other two are away at school. We’ll say you’re going with me to visit my Aunt Maude.”
“I believe you used that one when you helped Amelia get away. They’d never believe it.”
“Well I have another Aunt in Pittsburg, Aunt Agatha. She hasn’t been well. We’ll use that one,” Effie said happily. “Come on, Grace. It will take two weeks to get there and two weeks to get home. If we stay for two weeks, that’s six weeks at the most. No one will question a six week visit to my sick aunt.”
“Except your sick aunt,” Grace drawled. “I don’t know Effie. Maybe we should wait to hear from Amelia. I’m sure everything’s fine.”
“I’m not. In fact, after receiving that letter I’m more uncertain than ever,” Effie said as she helped Grace fold the quilt. “I may have to go by myself if you won’t come with me.”
“Let me think about it,” Grace sighed. “Meet me here the day after tomorrow.”
“All right, but I want you to really think about it. If it were you, Amelia and I would come and find you. One of us should have gone with her in the first place instead of staying here and worrying ourselves sick.”
“If I’d gone, my mother would have had the Pinkerton’s on our trail before we got out of the state,” Grace said stiffly.
“That’s why this is the perfect time,” Effie insisted excitedly. “They’ll be gone in a week and you’ll be home, safe and sound before they get back. She’ll never even have to know.”
Grace looked doubtful as she leaned in and kissed Effie’s cheek.