A/N: This was originally written for Jayeliwood's sexy-eddie contest, but I received several very encouraging reviews. For that reason I decided to give it a try and expand the one shot into a longer story. I hope you like it and since it's my first ff, please review and let me know what you think!!
A New Frontier
It was still dark outside, probably 4 in the morning, when the boarding house matron began yelling. Ugh. Time to get up and go to work, another awful day at the mill. I was stiff and sore from sleeping; sharing a mat with 4 other girls was impossible. I stood up and stretched my aching muscles and waited my turn at the wash basin, not that it would do me any good. Once my face felt cleaner than last night, I wrapped my hair up in a bun and set off to the Newton Cotton mill in St. Louis.
I was down to my last few pennies, I had just enough to buy some bread and an apple. That's all I would get for the day. As I quickly made my way down the street I saw my friend Angela. She was the only person who I felt like knew me. She was generous and kind and always had a listening ear.
"Hello Angela!" I said, catching her by the elbow. "Bella! How are you this morning?" She smiled.
"Tired and sore!"
"I know what you mean. I can never get any rest on those awful mats." She looked over and her smile faded as she surveyed my rations for the day. "Is that all you have to eat Bella?"
"It's enough, I'll be fine." I tried to smooth over her concern, but she still looked worried.
We got to the mill and began our climb to the 4th floor looms. We squeezed our way down the cramped aisles to our station and began the tedious process of stringing the looms with cotton thread. Before long we were quietly zooming the shuttles back and forth alternating the pedals in a steady rhythm.
It was back breaking work, hunched over the loom all day. We took our half hour breakfast at 7 and got right back to work. I coughed frequently because of all the cotton dust in the air. None of the windows opened, so it was especially hot and uncomfortable in the summer months. When Angela and I took our dinner break at mid-day, she pulled out a small card and a penny sweet.
"Here you go Bella! Happy Birthday!" She passed me the small gift and when I scowled at her, she just giggled and rolled her eyes.
"Angela, you didn't have to do this! You need to save your money as much as I do!"
"Nonsense! It's your 18th birthday and you should have at least one present!"
I reached over and gave her a hug, quickly popping the sweet into my mouth. It was a delicious honey butterscotch flavor, my favorite. So I tucked it in the side of my check so I could savor the taste for as long as possible. We headed back into the mill and worked until 7 that night. On our way out of the building the foreman, Mike, stopped me. He leered at me while rubbing his sweaty hand up and down my arm.
"Ah Miss Swan, the boss would like to speak to you."
"Oh, alright. Is there a problem?" I glanced nervously at Angela who just shrugged her shoulders. "I'll wait outside for you Bella," she said quietly.
I followed Mike into the main office where Mr. Newton, Mike's father, was turned away from the door. As he heard us approaching he spun around to face me, but never really looked me in the eye.
"Miss Swan is it? Yes, well, your productivity seems to be down and things around here right now are a bit tight, so we're going to have to let you go. You can pick up your final days wages from the cashier at the front."
"But I have to work, I...I need a job!" I was panicking. What on earth was I going to do? I hadn't finished school, I didn't have any money to get any clothes nice enough to apply for fancier jobs, I wouldn't have anywhere to stay by tomorrow. My eyes started stinging and tears began to stream down my face. "Please Mr. Newton, please."
"So sorry Miss Swan, times are tough for everyone." He waved his hand dismissing me. Mike followed me out to the cashiers office. As I waited, I could feel his greedy eyes raking over me.
"I can think of something for you to do Miss Swan," he said suggestively.
"That's quite alright. I'll figure something out myself." I ran out of the building with my last dollar and twenty cents. Angela was waiting for me with a worried look. When she saw the state I was in she came running to my side.
"Bella, what happened? What's wrong?" All I could do was burst into tears again. She wrapped her arms around me and I sobbed into her shoulder. When I had regained a bit of composure, I explained what had happened. We walked silently back to the boarding house. I told the matron I'd be out tomorrow and paid the 25 cents for the night.
I woke up the next morning and washed in the communal basin quickly. My eyes were still red and puffy from crying most of the night. I gathered my few belongings into a bag, gave Angela a hug, and headed out into the unforgiving streets of St. Louis.
The next couple of weeks were hard. I slept in alleys, or doorways, anywhere I could find. I spent my days begging for anything people would give me. It was humiliating. I would inquire at different shops if they needed any hired help. I was willing to do almost anything, but they would take one look at my ragged appearance and quickly turn me out. One day while walking, I passed a storefront with a large map in the window. It caught my attention so I stopped to read what the sign in the window said.
ADVENTURE LIES IN THE WEST
HELP SETTLE THE NEW WESTERN TERRITORIES
HARD WORKING MEN SEEKING WOMEN TO MARRY
ENJOY SECURITY AND A BETTER LIFE!
I shook my head and kept walking. That was not something I would do. How ridiculous to run off thousands of miles away to a man you'd never met.
Days went by and I was barely able to get enough food to eat. I could sometimes find scraps left after the market vendors cleared out of the square, but usually any food left over had been trodden upon by horses and ruined.
It was September 27th 1862, the worst day of my life. It began to rain, just a drizzle at first, but soon it began to pour. I frantically searched all my usual spots, but they were already occupied by others just as destitute as I was. I stole under an awning and crumpled to the sidewalk. I was crying into my arms when I heard loud guffaws coming from the saloon across the street. I looked up and recognized a very unwelcome sight. Mike Newton came stumbling across the road towards me. I was so tired and weak from lack of nourishment, I didn't even try to run away.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Miss Swan. So how are things working out for you?" He sneered at me with lustful eyes. I didn't look at him, I just shrugged my shoulders. "Looks like you could use some food, and a nice place to sleep, now couldn't you?"
"I'm fine," I stubbornly replied. He just laughed at me and pulled me up to my feet. "I told you I could find something for you to do," he said licking his lips hungrily stepping closer to me. I cringed at the smell of alcohol and tobacco that his clothes reeked of. "Now why don't you be a good girl for me, and I'll give you some supper and a dry bed." He already had a hold of my arm, and I was so weak, so hungry. My shoulders lifted and fell in defeat. This is what I had been reduced to-my body for food. How much worse could my life get?
He took me to his apartment and gave me some soup. When I was finished, he took hold of my shoulders and pushed me into his bedroom. "Take it off!" He commanded, motioning to my dress. I quickly removed my dress and under things. He undid his pants, and pushed me onto the bed. He was still drunk, I could taste the alcohol on his mouth as he roughly kissed me. I turned my head as silent tears fell from my eyes. He wasn't gentle, he didn't care that I had never done that before. It was painful and terrifying. All I wanted to do was get out of there. But the wind and lightening were deafening. He passed out on the bed and I got up as quietly as I could and redressed myself. It was still the middle of the night when the rain finally stopped, and I ran. I got out of there and ran. I managed to find a semi-dry place to sit until morning came. As I sat there, I thought about my parents, how sad they would be if they could see me now. I began to sob, something I'd been doing a lot of lately. When all the tears were spent and I could cry no more, something inside of me snapped. I couldn't stay here anymore. I had to leave, but where would I go? How would I get there?
As dawn approached, I began to walk and again passed the window with the giant map inside. I turned and walked into the office.
"Can I help you?" A friendly older woman asked without looking up.
"I...um...I...How do I sign up for this?" I asked pointing to the sign in the window.
"Well, dear, first you fill out...OH MY! Are you alright dear? You look a mess!" She had just noticed my gaunt and bedraggled appearance and came from behind the desk to appraise my appearance more closely.
"I haven't had the best of situations these last few weeks. That's why I want a change of scenery, someone to take care of me." She nodded and led me to a seat.
"Well now we've got a new printing coming out soon, so you're just in time. We should be able to get a notice placed for you in this next flyer." We began to create an ad that would hopefully take me away from this horrible situation I was in.
Isabella Swan, brown-eyed beauty, is looking for a kind hearted husband to look after. I am 23 years old. I am a hard worker and willing to go just about anywhere. I am very domestic and want to make a home in the west. You would be my first husband. I await your swift reply.
Mrs. Cope, the agency woman, was very pleased with the add, though I was a bit hesitant. It implied things about me that just weren't so, but she reassured me that that is what the men were looking for. Since I was desperate I went along with it. She also explained to me that they had a few beds in the back of the building that girls in my situation could use until they had found a match. I just had to keep the office clean and other daily tasks.
Several weeks went by. I spent my days tidying up the office, running errands for Mrs. Cope, and the other woman who worked in the office. I saw numerous women young and old coming through. The agency would receive payment from the potential husband, enough to cover the commission to the agency and transportation for the intended woman. She'd receive her travel arrangements and off she'd go. Sometimes, large groups of women would all go to one destination where hundreds of men would be waiting to pick out a bride. I especially didn't like that idea; not that I liked what I was doing much better.
I was sorting through the post when I saw a letter addressed to me. I gasped, and looked again at the envelope.
"Something interesting in the post today?" Mrs. Cope inquired, her eyebrows raised. She and I had forged a sweet friendship over the last few weeks. She was very much like a mother to me and I appreciated her genuine care for me.
Dumbstruck, I showed her the envelope. "Well, open it already!" She smiled an shook her head lightly. I carefully tore open the envelope and gently removed the paper inside. It was covered in a most elegant script. I smiled as I ran my fingers down the page.
I sat up tall in my saddle. There was just something so satisfying about surveying the land around me. My land. I was proud of the life I'd built from scratch. I had come out west initially
for the gold. Everyone was coming for the gold and the silver. When I finally arrived, though, I saw the many men broken and defeated by stolen claims, bogus claims, unscrupulous partners and the like, that I decided to look into livestock and homesteading.
I was able to purchase a hundred acres, built a cabin, and most of the furnishings inside of it. I purchased a hundred fifty head of cattle and have had good success over all. I had a good life. A milk cow, and a goat, some chickens. I had a good bull named Emmett– he was excellent stud material. Upon hearing of my success my Uncle and Aunt, Carlisle and Esme, also made the move to the wild west. They had a homestead not too far from mine. We'd work together when calving season came, or when we had to round up the heard for sale. I was glad to have them so close by.
"C'mon Jasper, let's get back down to the ranch, there's chores to be done." I clucked at my horse, and he peacefully ambled back down the gentle rise we'd been on and slowly walked back to the ranch. I set about the chores around the house whistling a mellow tune. Rose needed milking, Alice and Jasper's stalls needed mucking out. And the chickens and goats needed feeding. I had some of the best animals around. Jasper and Alice were the best team of horses around. I could always count on Jasper to be steady, while Alice was always a spirited one. Though together, they made a formidable team.
It was while I was going about my day that I began to feel that longing feeling again. As I leaned up against Rose's side I began milking, starting with our usual pleasantries.
"So Rose, how's the barnyard today?" She replied with her usual snuff of breath as she continued to chew on her cud.
"It sure would be nice to have to human company in these parts don't you agree?" I smiled when she turned her head to look at me. My smile faded though, and I recognized the longing I had been feeling for so long, I was lonely. I had no one to talk to, no one to share this beautiful life with. I wanted to marry, but the chances of finding a suitable wife in the Nevada territories was about as likely as finding the mother lode of gold in my back yard. "Ahhhh I don't know when that will happen Rose. Soon I hope."
With the chores done, I harnessed up Jasper and Alice and took the wagon into town for some supplies. I had just about concluded all my business at the trading post, when a paper of sorts caught my eye. The title of it was for the Midwest Matching Agency. As I looked closer, the smaller print is what really caught my interest. Men! Are you a prospector looking for some female company of a more permanent sort? Having trouble finding a suitable wife? Let us help!
I picked up the paper and quickly scanned through the different advertisements. There were ads from woman after woman looking for a husband. This was exactly what I needed. I read through the whole flyer thinking all the while, too old, don't want someone else's children, not what I want. I was about to toss the whole thing away when an ad at the bottom caught my eye.
Isabella Swan, brown-eyed beauty is looking for a kind hearted husband to look after. I am 23 years old. I am a hard worker and willing to go just about anywhere. I am very domestic and want to make a home in the west. You would be my first husband. I await your swift reply.
This was exactly what I needed. A hardworking, domestic woman, who didn't mind living in the middle of nowhere. I hoped the beauty part was true, but I wouldn't be prideful. But she must be lovely just by the sound of her name. And she was the same age as me, which was perfect. I decided right then that I would post a letter of interest.
"Hey Tyler," I called to the proprietor of the general store, "you got some paper and a pen and ink? I want to post a letter." He smiled and looked at what I was holding. "Found something you like did you? I pulled a big grin and replied, "I think I just might have." I set down in a corner and began to compose what I hoped would be the letter that would bring my wife to the wild west.
I offer my most humble and cordial greetings. I was lucky enough to see the flyer including your information, and I felt compelled to write to you. I desire to learn more about you, I would be so honored if you would write to me and tell me more about yourself; your likes and dislikes, your dreams, your redeeming qualities.
What I can tell you about myself is not very interesting. I came west some 5 years ago from Chicago. I was of course seeking my fortune in Gold, but was happily diverted to the life of ranching and homesteading. I have a sturdy cabin, and a respectable size heard of cattle. I work hard and try my best in all that I do. As you stated in your ad, I feel like I do have a good heart. What I don't have is a good woman to share this life with.
I hope you will consider this as my offer and invitation for you to come and join me in Nevada. I would be most pleased to have your response in the positive, but would understand if you are by chance already engaged, or are simply not interested.
Yours most Truly,
I folded the paper and took it to the post office, paid the postage, and set off back to my ranch with a bounce in my step and a much happier tune on my lips. Now all I could do was wait and hope that this Isabella Swan would have me.
A/N: Okay so there it is, the first chapter. I hope you like the beginning. What do you think about all of Edwards animal friends? I just couldn't figure out how to weave the human friends into the story, since Ed and Bella will be on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. It's not like a college dorm or an apartment where they can all be hanging out togther. So they're still part of his "family" just not in the human sense.
I would love to have your reviews so please please let me know what you think!