Who was the woman in the picture?
Luke wiped the last of the gravy in the chipped plate with his bread and stuffed it into his mouth. Anne watched every movement from her end of the pine table.
From the time Luke entered the log cabin the air felt charged. He hadn't spoken more than a scoopful of words to her since the door slammed shut behind him.The movements of his muscular body usually comforted her, but tonight she was edgy. Luke jerked to his feet, the table shook and the empty cup fell on its side, “Damn it woman, why did you lie to me?” His mahogany colored hair tumbled over his broadcloth collar as he leaned on his arms, palms curled on the table.
“Lie? What lie?” Anne carefully stood, smoothing her rough, dry hands over her calico dress. Her heart pounded as she picked up her plate of stew and half eaten biscuit. She scraped it into the slop pail.
“You know what lie I'm talking about.” His boots thundered as he followed her to the sideboard. He dug a faded, wrinkled envelope from his pocket and slapped it next to her trembling hand. She could feel his anger wash over her. His body crowded hers.
“Look at it!” he demanded. She picked up the envelope, a cold feeling washed through her at the sight of the familiar return address. “You know where this came from.” It was a statement, not a question.
Anne gently stepped sideways and turned her back to Luke. He didn't allow her the luxury as he grabbed her arm and whipped her around to face him. Anne glared up at him, her eyes never leaving his of ice blue. “I can’t read it if you are going to hold on to my arm.”
He didn’t move for a moment, then dropped the offending arm. He didn’t step away.
Anne stilled her shaking insides, lifted the flap, and pulled the parchment from its prison. She unfolded the paper to reveal a photograph. The woman stood in an empty lot in front of a workhouse. The chill continued to invade Anne’s body. She knew the woman in the picture. Gently her fingers touched the face and the hat. Tears began to gather. She forced her thoughts to the present.
“Look at the back.” Luke ordered gruffly.
Anne didn’t need to look, but did so to please her husband. ‘Anne McCaffrey’ scrawled in faded script. A smile crept to her lips.
“What’s so funny?” He practically ripped the photo from her hand. “If this is Anne McCaffrey, then who are you?”
She turned to the sideboard and put the scraped plates into the boiling water.
"I deserve an answer," he growled.
Turning, she hid her red hands behind her back. "Luke, you may not like what you are going to hear, but I will not have you hovering over me whilst I tell it.” She waited.
She heard his fast breaths flow over her bent head. He took a deep breath then spun on his heel and went to his chair.
What would she do if he rejected her? She loved him. From the moment the letters came for Anne she'd loved him. It was Anne he chose; laughing at her funny questions about life out west. She forced back the tears she felt were near to escaping down her cheeks.
“This is Anne McCaffrey.” She pointed to the picture in front of him. “She'd just bought the navy blue coat and dress. She found that hat on our way back to the barracks and fell in love with it.“
“Barracks? You were in the military?” Luke's eyes searched her face for the truth.
A laugh burst out in spite of the seriousness of the conversation. “Oh no, we lived in a women’s barracks and sewed clothes for the rich.”
“I knew you were good at it.” He fingered the shirt he wore. His pride showed even though there were still questions.
“Luke, we didn’t mean to trick you. Anne got sick. It started as a cold and the cough grew worse. Eventually the coughing could not be hid and the House Mother called for a doctor, who immediately sent her into quarantine. We couldn’t talk or see each other, but your letters kept coming, so I wrote back, as Anne, she would not have wanted you to worry.” The tears dropped unheeded from her brown eyes to her dress. The spots on her dress drew Luke’s eyes to her ample breast. He shook his head to clear it.
“What happened to her?” Resignation sounded in his voice.
“She passed. The same day your train ticket came.” Her eyes pleaded for forgiveness. "I just wanted to get away from the sweat shops. I didn't know she had sent you a picture. Look how long it took to get here. Maybe it was her way of approving of this union." She tried to keep the pleading from her tone.
Luke stood and walked across the room to the fireplace. He added a couple of logs and poked them into position. Anne came to stand just behind him. “Do you want me to leave?” she whispered.
“You lied to me. You came here under false pretenses. What do you think I should do? I don’t even know your name, your real name.”
“My name is Samantha Ann Macomber.” She turned to go to their bedroom.
“Where do you think you are going?” Luke’s voice snapped.
She turned to face him, but kept her eyes lowered. Her arm smeared the tracks of tears across her cheek.
There were heavy footsteps on the porch and she sagged where she stood, like a half a bag of corn.
“Samantha Ann, I've had this letter for over two weeks now.” Anne’s head jerked up as he came to stand in front of her. “I figured something like this must have happened. I telegraphed my detective friend in New York who told me everything you did.” He tilted her chin and bent to kiss her trembling lips. His voice softened."Don’t you think I should be married to Samantha, not Anne?"
A fist pounded on the door.
"The preacher has arrived.” he grinned.
Samantha kissed him hard.