The Silent Bride and the Bandits

By Emerson Spencer

The overland stage jostled to a halt, rousing the sleepy passengers. Mr. Simonds, the drummer, shifted his weight on the hard seat and discovered a few new aches and pains; he wondered about how his sample case of buttons and ribbons was faring on top the stage, and hoped it was still in one piece. Mrs. McMeen, a portly older lady on her way to see her daughter and grandchildren in Denver, stretched in a ladylike way and smoothed the road dust off her dress. She was hungry, and hoped that this stop would allow for a little breakfast at whatever eatery might be in this little town where they had stopped. Young Jonas Bowers, all of 16, yawned and stretched his long legs as best he could in the small space the inside of the stage provided. He, too, felt his stomach rumble, and asked groggily,.         …..“I sure do hope we can get us something to eat here.”.                                   ….. As if in answer to his question, the driver clammered down from his seat in front and announced, “Half an hour for breakfast. Be back here eight o’clock sharp or get left behind.”.                                                   …..Breakfast was uneventful at the small cafe across from the stage stop, just bacon and eggs and coffee, but it might as well have been a royal banquet, as far as the hungry travelers were concerned. When they made their way back to the stage, they found they had a new passenger.             …..She was a slim young woman, primly dressed in a pale calico dress and knitted shawl. A small bonnet decorated with little silk flowers and ribbons sat atop her strawberry blonde curls, and she smiled at her fellow passengers before handing them a small card which said: “MY NAME IS REBECCA WORTHINGTON. I AM MUTE. THANK YOU.”                            …..All three read the card, and nodded. Mrs. McMeen asked softly, “I know you cannot speak, but can you hear?”                                                                …..The young woman nodded her head and smiled again, and then the driver and shotgun climbed up into their perch in front and picked up the reins.   “All aboard,” the driver announced, and the passengers loaded themselves into the stage.                                                                                   …..They had rumbled along for about twenty minutes or so when Mrs. McMeen asked Rebecca, “Are you going far, my dear?”.                       …..Rebecca Worthington pulled out a small book and a stubby pencil and scribbled a reply. She passed it to Mrs. McMeen, who read it aloud. “To Denver, to get married.”.                                                                                      …..Mrs. McMeen smiled and said, “Oh, how lovely! Is your groom—?”   Mrs. McMeen never got to finish her question. The sound of gunfire and galloping horses cut her off, and all four terrified passengers began looking out the small windows to try to see what was happening. The stage ground to a halt again, the driver calling to the horses as they stopped. Soon three men on horseback, their faces hidden behind bandanas, were circling the stage.                                                                                                                         …..One of the bandits rode by and reached down to pull the stage door open.  “Okay, everybody out! Don’t nobody be a hero, you hear?”.             …..The four passengers disembarked and lined up beside the stage, their hands in the air. The driver and shotgun joined them, all of them waiting in frightened silence as the bandits held them at gunpoint. One dismounted, holding a flour sack.  “Put your valuables in this here bag,” he said. “Don’t be stingy, or do somethin’ stupid. If you do, we’ll shoot you stone dead.” …..Another of the bandits had climbed atop the stage and was going through the baggage up there, throwing clothes and possessions out on the ground as he searched. He took one lolok inside Mr. Simonds’ sample case, and tossed it to the ground where it landed with a clatter. Cards of buttons and ribbon samples scattered into the dust.                                                     …..Mr. Simonds winced, but bit his tongue. He contributed his cufflinks and a ring to the flour sack, plus a wallet. Mrs. McMeen was stripped of her earrings, a bracelet, and a demure little cameo at the neck of her dress. All Jonas had was a few silver dollars, money he had saved for months to make this trip to start a new life in Denver.  He surrendered them with a clanking sound as they fell to the bottom the flour sack.                                               …..The bandit with the flour sack came up close to Rebecca, and said, “And what do you have for us, girlie?”.                                                                                      …..“She is mute,” Mrs. McMeen said. “She can’t answer you.”.             …..“Huh?” the bandit asked.                                                                               …..“She is mute,” Mrs. Simonds repeated, and then explained, “She can’t speak.”.                                                                                                                    …..“Oh, a dummy!” he laughed. “Well, come on, dummy, give what you can.”.                                                                                                                               …..Rebecca pulled off a bracelet that looked more expensive than it had really been; fake gold that had cost her just a fraction of her wages at the store where she had worked. Her brooch was about the same quality, and she gladly dropped both items in the bag.                                                     …..“Okay, now all of you get down and kiss the dirt,” the bandit with the bag ordered them. All four passengers, the driver, and the shotgun laid face down on the road. This could be the moment that they all got shot…or not!  It was all in the hands of their assailants. They laid in a silent row, afraid to look up, amid the wreckage  of their baggage, and waited . . . and waited, breathlessly.                                                                                                              …..All three mounted up again, and in a few seconds they were charging at full speed down the road, disappearing down a trail that led off into the trees. It took a moment or two for the victims of the robbery to come to their senses.  Was it safe enough to get up and dust off?.                           …..“Well, all in all, I’d say we were pretty darn lucky,” Mr. Simonds said, before Mrs. McMeen exclaimed, surveying the scattered sample items  “But, oh, dear, look at your sample case!”.                                                   …..“Here, I’ll help you pick everything up,” Jonas offered, getting to his feet.                                                                                                                            …..“I’ll help, too,”Rebecca said as she stood up and carefully removed a small object from her mouth.  She placed a fine band of gold in the palm of her hand, delicately engraved with dainty little flowers.                               ….“Oh, my goodness, you can speak!” Mrs. McMeen gasped, as the other three looked at her in stunned silence.                                                                   “I talk just fine,” Rebecca smiled. “But back in town I heard rumors about bandits along this piece of road, and I just couldn’t risk losing my wedding ring. My Samuel saved his money for months to buy it for me, and I wasn’t about to hand it over to a bunch of yahoos like them.”