After I got used to going to school way back when I was 6, I discovered that my school mistress (the same teacher all my brothers and sisters sat under) was always full of stories. One day when I was about 8, Miss Hall was standing in the schoolyard during noon recess with a funny little smile on her face. I could tell she was bursting to tell us something . . . it usually involved her family back East.
We rushed over and gathered around. "What is it, Miss Hall?" Cory burst out.
"Oh, just the most unusual thing I've heard in a long, long time," she said mysteriously.
"Tell us!" I said, grinning.
"Please do!" Melinda added her voice. It appeared that even the older pupils liked Miss Hall's stories.
She waved her hand away, as if her ramblings were of no account. It took 5 minutes of pleading for the schoolmarm to give in.
She laughed softly. "Do you youngsters know what a mail-order bride is?"
Everybody nodded. Even I knew that lonely bachelors out West often placed ads in the "lonely hearts" column in Eastern newspapers. Young ladies came out West and married these young (or old) fellows). It sounded chancy to me.
"Well," Miss Hall continued, "my baby sister, Ella, answered one of those ads recently. I was so excited to hear she would be coming to California!" She sighed, then shook her head. "But it didn't turn out exactly like she hoped."
"What happened?" Melinda asked. So many things could go wrong on a trip from the States to faraway California.
"Did the stagecoach break down?" Cory asked.
"Did Indians attack?" Jack piped up.
"I bet it was outlaws--"
"Hush, children." Miss Hall laughed.
We quieted right down.
"The stagecoach was traveling from Colfax to Grass Valley, up in the northern part of the state. Aboard were 11 male passengers and one Miss E. Hall, my sister. Ella was on her way to marry a wealthy miner, sight unseen, whom she had met through a lonely hearts column in the newspaper back in Indianapolis. On that trip, the Wells Fargo stagecoach had a strongbox aboard that contained $7,078 in gold coin."
I gasped. "$7,000!"
Miss Hall nodded. "That's not unusual for Wells Fargo. Anyway, after crossing the Bear River, the stagecoach was stopped by five masked bandits who removed the passengers and placed explosive charges on the treasure box."
"Did they blow up the stage?" Cory wanted to know.
"Patience, Cory," Miss Hall said.
Johnny Wilson poked Cory. "Let her tell the story without all the interruptions!"
Miss Hall smiled. "Like the gentle woman she is, Ella engaged the scoundrels in conversation. She nicely asked the robbers to spare her luggage. It contained all her possessions, and the crooks had no immediate interest in it. One thief gallantly agreed to bring it down for her. As he pulled the trunk from atop the coach, my sister caught a glimpse of his face. She knew it might help to identify the outlaws later when the posse went after them."
We nodded. Smart lady.
"Explosives opened the treasure box," Miss Hall continued. "And the outlaws faded into the forest with the money. Wells Fargo stagecoaches are very well made, and the coach survived the blast. The passengers and crew continued on to Grass Valley, where they told the story and went on with their lives.
"Ella made it to her destination and waited a short time for her unknown fiancé. He came to call a few hours later and brought a preacher to marry them."
Cory shuffled his feet, and I yawned. This story wasn't as exciting as I had hoped. It would have been better had she told us more about the exploding strong box and catching the thieves.
"The groom was unusually shy and kept his head down," Miss Hall said. "But when the minister declared the couple married, he faced Ella for the first kiss."
Jack made a gagging noise. None of the boys in our school wanted to hear about any kissing.
"But low and behold! My sister Ella recognized his face—it was the scalawag who had robbed the stagecoach only a few hours before! She screamed and fled the room."
"The sheriff was able to track down the outlaw, a man named Louis Dreibelbis, and got the full confession with names of all his partners. They all paid for their crime in prison."
Miss Hall finished her story with a sad smile. "Ella, meanwhile, was able to take some comfort in the fact that the marriage was not official—she did not have to bear the pain of being married to a criminal. She returned to her hometown in Indiana and married her childhood sweetheart."We all returned to class, stunned. Not even a paperback writer of those new dime novels could think up a story more incredible than this. Like Miss Hall said, "Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction."