Size: a a a a    Colour: a a a

by Susan Thomas


"Sheriff, thar's a ruckas at the hotel."

The sheriff frowned, he had calmed the town down considerably since he'd taken the job; bad elements had been cleared out and the town worthies were eager to continue that trend. They wanted it to be a place attractive to women and families. The pioneering days were gone; time to become respectable.

He strode across the road, newly made up so that in rainy weather it wasn't a mud bath which no lady could cross, and quizzed his informant as he went. It seemed a man had a woman confined in a room, and there was shouting. Someone thought they'd overheard the woman threatening to shoot the man, behavior the town worthies definitely didn't want. The owner, Bob Giles, was waiting anxiously in the lobby for his arrival, and he was led upstairs to the door of what was undoubtedly the best room.

There was indeed a loud and passionate argument going on, and he could hear in her voice that the woman had been crying. He banged the door loudly.

"Sheriff here, open up."

The argument was silenced, suddenly the door was flung wide open and an angry man waved him in.

"Come in Sheriff, perhaps you can talk some sense into her very stubborn head."

Chapter 1

"No Grandfather, I will not marry Mr. Monroe."

"Ellen, you will do as you're told. You are only eighteen and I make these decisions. Mr. Monroe is a highly respected and wealthy businessman. It will be a good match."

"Mr. Monroe is in his forties!"

Her grandfather snorted. "A perfect age. He will not be led astray, not with a beautiful young wife at home. Now that is an end to it. You will begin to prepare for your wedding day."

Ellen faked a solicitous manner. "Grandfather, your hearing is not beginning to go is it?"

"What do you mean, girl?"

"I said that I would not marry Mr. Monroe."

"Damn you, girl. I'll take a switch to you for your impertinence! You will damned well do as you're told! You'll marry Hector Monroe if I have to drag you down the aisle myself."

"You'll naturally want a society wedding, Grandfather."

Her grandfather eyed her suspiciously. The wretched girl suddenly seemed very docile. "Of course, all the best people must be there. The union of our two families will be an important event."

"I expect you will want the cathedral, Grandfather?"

"Of course."

"Picture me standing next to Mr. Monroe, all the 'greatest and good' of the city present. The minister will turn to me and say, 'Do you Ellen Mary Standish take Hector Monroe to be your lawful wedded husband?' or words to that effect. And I will say, 'no I don't, I am being bullied into this by my grandfather.'"

Her grandfather slammed his fists down onto his desk and rose abruptly to his feet, his face purple with rage. "You wretched girl, you will do as you are told. You will marry Hector Monroe. You will be confined to your room until you stop being so stubborn, and do not be surprised to see me at your door with a switch in my hand."

The old man rang his bell violently and the housekeeper came bustling in looking very worried. The sound of shouting had not stopped at the door to his study.

"You rang, sir."

"Yes, Mrs. Flynn. Take Miss Ellen to her room and lock her in. She is to be confined there until she comes to her senses."

"Oh dear!" Mrs. Flynn's involuntary exclamation sent her hand flying to her mouth. She expected her employer to turn on her for her impertinence, but he said nothing.

Ellen glared at him and then stalked out, head held high. Neither would have conceded that they were very alike in many ways, although Ellen had a strong vein of kindness in her that was totally lacking in her grandfather.

Mrs. Flynn and Ellen were close. The housekeeper had practically been Ellen's mother over the years, so she had a license denied to others.

"Oh dear, why do you defy him so? Would Mr. Monroe be such a bad husband? You have to marry someone."

"No I don't, Flynnie. There is no law that says a woman has to marry. I have a huge inheritance and I can, if I wish, be an independent woman. Besides, I don't see why any man should tell me what to do merely because he is a man. As for Hector Monroe, the man is in his forties, I'll be tying his shoelaces for him before many years are out. Besides which I don't care for him at all, nor he for me. As far as he and my grandfather are concerned it is a good business deal."

"Oh dear! What was all that about a switch? Is he going to switch you?"

"You heard all that did you? Oh, take no notice, he won't do that; he never has and he won't start now. I expect he'd like to, but he'd have a fight on his hands and Grandfather knows his limitations. Well you'd better do as he tells you. Lock me in and we'll see who gives in first!"

Ellen heard her beloved Flynnie lock the door and then promptly put the whole wedding idea from her mind. She had no intention of allowing that to happen, so as far as she was concerned, there was no point in thinking about it. The problem that was of far more importance to her was finding her older brother, Andrew. Andrew had been her hero. Six years older than her and a real boy; handsome, strong, athletic but kind hearted and generous. He and their grandfather had clashed terribly. Andrew did not want to go into the family business; he wanted a different sort of life altogether. He didn't believe money and profit should come before people, and so at eighteen Andrew had simply walked out and not been seen since.

Ellen still missed him dreadfully, and had written hundreds of letters trying to track him down. She thought he might have joined the army, so she persuaded old General McCormack to check, even to the point of seeing if he had enlisted as an ordinary soldier, but there was no trace of him. She used their connections to check the navy too, but with the same lack of success. A year ago she remembered how Andrew had once talked in glowing terms about going west... being a pioneer or an Indian fighter or something with real life to it. So she had begun to write letters and send them out west, but the replies she got were all in the negative. Now she began a new set of letters hoping for a lead of some sort.

Ellen was confined to her room for a week, and every day her grandfather sent Mrs. Flynn to ask her if she had come to her senses and every day he got the same reply, "There is nothing wrong with my senses and I shall not be marrying Mr. Monroe."

After a week and two days, Mr. Monroe arrived demanding to know why a date had not been set. A heated and extremely loud discussion ensued which stopped all the servants working and sent them to various vantage points to listen in. Switches and hairbrushes were talked about but in the end Mr. Monroe stormed off without bothering to wait for anyone to show him out. Half an hour later Mrs. Flynn burst into Ellen's room in a state of high anxiety.

"Oh Ellen, I think your grandfather may be dead."

Ellen remained calm and walked downstairs calming various clucking servants on the way. She found her grandfather stretched out on the floor on his back, his face a very nasty grey color. She knelt and listened carefully for a heartbeat. Servants crowded the room not daring to get too close to the old man.

"He's alive," she announced. "Send for a doctor immediately. Someone get something to cover him with and a cushion for his head."

The old man, once a formidable presence, lingered for several days between death and life before finally slipping quietly away. Ellen found to her surprise that she was grieving.

It was not a surprise to Ellen to find that her grandfather had disinherited Andrew. What did surprise her was that the normally highly organized old man had not assigned her a guardian. She simply inherited everything.

"Typical," she said to Flynnie, "he probably thought he'd live forever. This is the last outcome he would have wanted. Well I'd better knuckle down and see what makes up my empire."

Mr. Dermot O'Reilly was her grandfather's chief manager. It took some blunt talking on Ellen's part to get him to take her seriously, but finally he sat down with her and began to go through the vast array of different holdings that was her grandfather's empire, now her empire. It wasn't long before he was disabused of the idea that women had no head for business, especially this young woman. Ellen was sharp, incisive and every bit as formidable as her grandfather. He kept to himself the thought that she needed a strong man to take her in hand.

Ellen had a very different approach to her grandfather. "Why are we foreclosing on this business?"

"Well, they're not keeping up the loan payments."

"Hardly surprising, that is a very high rate of interest and this is quite a new business. What's going on?"

"No one would loan them any money as it was believed they would fail. Your grandfather could see it would be successful given a few years, as indeed it is, so he loaned the money but at a very high rate. He reasoned they would fail to keep up the payments and then he could seize the business for himself, they having done the hard start up work."

Ellen's look of contempt for this strategy told Mr. O'Reilly that there was a strong wind of change blowing.

"Right, inform them that the interest rate is cut back to normal rates. I think they can then pay off the arrears in six months, so tell them they have six months to do so. We still get a good return and they will succeed. I am not prepared to make money by destroying others."

"Very well, Miss Standish."

More orders followed and after two days Mr. O'Reilly felt exhausted by the energetic Miss Standish. He could see that there was no future in working against her. His job depended on him running everything the way she wanted. He wasn't averse to doing so for he had often disliked the old man's methods.

Mr. Hector Monroe was the next to find that Miss Standish was a formidable young lady. "You were promised to me and I expect you to fulfill that promise and become my bride."

"Am I a horse?"

"A horse! Whatever do you mean? Of course you're not a horse."

"Am I a house?"

"Have you taken leave of your senses, girl? Of course you're not."

"Well if I am not a horse or a house, perhaps you imagine I am some other sort of chattel that might be given over without thought. However, I assure you I am not. My grandfather had no right making such a promise. It certainly was not with my knowledge or consent and there is no court in the land that will support it. I shall not marry you."

"Be careful girl, I can destroy you. If I put the word about that you are feckless, the society mothers would enjoy tearing your reputation to pieces. Best marry me, I shall not be a bad husband, although if you carry on as you have been, you may find yourself on the wrong side of a hairbrush."

© Susan Thomas
Not to be reposted, reproduced or distributed, in part or whole.