A Promise for Spring
by Kim Sawyer
A Promise for Spring
Next stop—Mo-o-o-oreland, Kansas ... Next stop, Moreland!"
Emmaline Bradford's heart pounded in the top of her head. Moreland ... My stop ... She peeked over her shoulder and watched the conductor move slowly up the aisle, his gait swaying with the motion of the train. When he reached Emmaline's seat, she held out her gloved hand and whispered, "E-excuse me, sir."
The conductor paused, his feet set wide, and peered down at her. The gray hair of the man's bushy eyebrows splayed out in every direction, nearly covering the top half of his round spectacles. It gave him a fierce look.
Emmaline licked her dry lips. "Can you tell me ... how much longer to Moreland?"
He pulled on a loop of chain hanging across his well-filled brocade vest, freeing a gold pocket watch from its hiding spot. A flick of his broad thumb opened the cover on the gold disk. He squinted at the watch's face for a moment, causing his thick brows to slip briefly behind the circles of his eyeglasses. Then he gave a brisk nod of apparent satisfaction and his face relaxed. "Less'n fifteen minutes, miss." He gave a single, emphatic nod. “Yes, miss, oughtta be pullin' into Moreland right on schedule—three-fifteen on the dot."
Emmaline's stomach turned over, and her palms grew moist within the confines of her cotton gloves. "Th-thank you, sir."
The conductor tipped his hat before moving on.
Less than fifteen minutes and she would step off this train into a new life. For nearly eight weeks she had traveled, dreading this moment, and now it was upon her. The high, white muslin collar of her dress choked her, and she slipped one glove-covered finger beneath its edge and pulled, trying to give herself room to breathe. It didn't help. She gripped her hands together and pressed them into her lap. Tears stung behind her nose, but she set her jaw against them. Crying would accomplish nothing.
Oh, why was she here on this foul-smelling train, covered in coal dust, heading to what was sure to be some cheerless hovel on an empty plain? She looked out the window again, her heart sinking in despair at the sight of the nearly treeless, rolling plains of dry brown grass. No green meadows or fields of daisies or cobblestone streets like at home.
Despite her efforts to refrain from weeping, a tear slipped free of its perch on her lower lid and trailed down her cheek. The strong breeze coursing through the open window dried it before Emmaline had a chance to sweep it away. Oh, how she missed her home.
It hadn't been her idea to leave Yorkshire County in England—it was Father's. Mother hadn't wanted her to go, either. But Father had insisted it was best, and when Father insisted, everyone had to agree or be made to feel miserable.
Well, Emmaline reasoned as she blinked rapidly against more tears gathering in her eyes, she could not possibly be more miserable in England facing Father's disapproval than she was right now, sitting in this uncomfortable berth, facing a bleak future in a bleak land with a man she hadn't seen since she was a child of seventeen. What had Father been thinking to send her here?
In a pocket hidden in the seam of her wide skirt she carried the letter that had started it all. Father had said, "Take it with you, Emmaline, and show it to your Geoffrey in the event he should not recognize you." The way he'd said "your Geoffrey" had sent a knife of terror through her breast. Father must have seen the fear in her eyes, because he added in a surprisingly kind tone, "I do not believe there will be a question, Emmaline. It is merely a safeguard." And she had nodded in unwilling acquiescence, not daring to tell Father what she truly feared. How could she think of this stranger as "her" Geoffrey? She barely remembered the man!
If perchance he should fail to recognize her, would she be allowed to return to her beloved England? Every night since Father had made his announcement that Great-Uncle Hedrick would accompany Emmaline to America to become, at long last, the bride of Geoffrey Garrett, she had prayed fervently. Prayed for release from the arrangement made when she was too young to fully appreciate the consequences. Prayed for understanding from Father. But Father had never wavered in his resolve to send her away.
"A Bradford honors his word," he'd insisted, ignoring Emmaline's tearful pleas. It hadn't seemed to matter that Geoffrey had not honored his word. Hadn't he promised on the day he set sail that he would return in a year's time to exchange wedding vows in the little chapel their families had attended? But five years slipped by, and then instead of returning, he had merely summoned her with the directive that they would wed in Kansas. They would live in Kansas. Away from family and friends.
During each leg of the journey, she had begged God to allow her to turn around and go home again. Still the ship and the trains had moved her relentlessly toward Kansas and her waiting groom. Groom—what a frightening word that was. Better she should say her "waiting stranger," for that is what Geoffrey Garrett was—a complete and utter stranger!
"Prayers are no more effective than tears," she moaned softly, clutching the letter in her pocket with trembling fingers. "Neither prayers nor tears do any good."
She quickly brought up her fingers to swish away the moisture on her cheeks. Taking her hands from her face, she looked at her gloves and wanted to cry again. Dust had changed the once-pristine whiteness to a dingy gray. With dismay, she realized that she must be covered from head to toe in the awful dust emitted from the coal-burning engine. She consoled herself with the thought that at least on her black dress it would be less noticeable than on her gloves.
What a sight I must be. Perhaps Father was wise to send the letter with me—Geoffrey might indeed have difficulty recognizing me under this covering of soot.
The conductor weaved his way down the aisle again, calling in a deep tone, "Next stop is Moreland, folks."
Moreland. Where Geoffrey would be waiting.
Pressing her hand to the square of paper in her hip pocket, she closed her eyes and prayed once again for deliverance.
Geoffrey Garrett stood in the stiff Kansas breeze, his focus on the parallel lines of track disappearing over the horizon. His heart thrummed rapidly. Each passing minute brought her closer. Emmaline—the daughter of his father's best friend, the sweet girl who had filled his dreams since he left Yorkshire County five years ago, the woman who would be his bride.
The broadcloth of his best suit felt strange after wearing well-worn work trousers and cotton shirts for so long. He fought the temptation to remove the string tie and open the top button of his cambric shirt. But how would Emmaline recognize him if he were dressed as a common ranch hand? She would need to see Geoffrey Garrett, the gentleman. Then she would know she had reached her groom.
Bride ... Groom ... He had been anticipating this day—been praying for its arrival—for so long it hardly seemed conceivable that it was truly here. Soon he and Emmaline would stand before Reverend Stanford and recite their vows. And then the sweetest of his dreams would become reality—he would take his Emmaline to the home he had prepared.
"So, Geoff, she's comin' today, huh?"
The greeting pulled Geoffrey's gaze away from the silver trails of track. He glanced over his shoulder, then waved when he spotted Harvey Rawson's thin, friendly face peering out from the depot's window. With firm steps, Geoffrey crossed to the window and shook the depot manager's hand.
"Yes, Harvey, today my Emmaline arrives."
Harvey snorted. "You look ready for a wedding, all right—or a funeral! Those are pretty fancy duds for a rancher."
Geoffrey looked down his length, scowling briefly. "Perhaps not appropriate for herding sheep, but I think I am perfectly attired for meeting my future bride."
Harvey chuckled. "Nervous?"
Geoffrey considered the question. He had known Emmaline since she was a baby—had actually pushed her pram on lengthy walks through their small village with their mothers when he was a young boy. Letters from her father had kept her very much a part of his life during the years he had been in Kansas, getting his ranch started. What he felt was excitement and anticipation, not nervousness.
"No, Harvey, I am not nervous."
Harvey laughed again, leaning his bony elbows on the counter and grinning widely. "Well, you're an uncommon man, then, not nervous on his wedding day."
"I have nothing about which to be nervous," Geoffrey insisted. "Emmaline's family and mine have been friends since well before my birth. We grew up together—her older brother Edward was my best chum." A distant, shrill whistle drifted across the plains. He spun toward the sound. Here she came!
The Union Pacific engine chugged steadily toward the depot, its shiny black stack sending up puffs of gray smoke into the clear blue sky. The ground beneath Geoffrey's feet vibrated as the train neared. When the huge black engine was within several hundred feet of the depot, the brakes screeched loudly enough to make the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. A pressure built in his chest as the powerful locomotive drew ever nearer. And then, finally, the train squealed to a stop in front of the depot, the engine sputtering and heaving in exhaustion before it quieted with a release of white steam.
The engineer and his fireman hopped down from the tall engine and hollered a greeting to Harvey. Geoffrey's gaze bounced along the lines of square windows on the three boxy passenger cars. At last a blue-suited conductor appeared in the open doorway of the middle car, and Geoffrey moved on unexpectedly shaky legs in that direction.
He pressed his hand against his suddenly jumping stomach. Perhaps I am a bit nervous. The conductor hopped out and placed a wooden step on the ground in front of the exit before lifting his hand toward the train car. Geoffrey's breath caught, his footsteps slowing, when a slim, glove-covered hand emerged, stretching daintily to meet the hand of the conductor.
Geoffrey swept the hat from his head and took off at a run. He should be the one to take her hand and help her down. But he was moments too late. As he came to a stop beside the conductor, Emmaline stepped to the ground with her head lowered. Immediately her hands became lost in the folds of her skirt as she grasped the voluminous black muslin and shook it mightily. The flapping released a cloud of gray dust that swirled around her, and he took one involuntary step backward.
She must have seen his feet, because the swishing abruptly stopped. Her face lifted slowly, and her eyes—the gentle, nut brown eyes he remembered so well—seemed to travel from his boots up the length of his suit until they finally met his welcoming smile. He sought words that would convey all of the longing and dreaming of the past five years while he had waited for her to grow up and come to him. But something lodged in his throat, and he had to swallow hard before he could speak. When he opened his mouth, only one hopeful word was uttered—one word that held everything his heart felt: "Emmaline "