The Stolen Bride

Milton Cust

© Copyright 2022 by Milton Cust

Photo by Jaye Haych on Unsplash
Photo by Jaye Haych on Unsplash

     “I’m going to raise me a whole passel of cattle, horses and kids, but not necessarily in that order.” Len James started bragging from the moment he arrived in Riviere Que Barre.

     He was a young bachelor who arrived in the small community to claim a homestead in 1933. It was the heart of the great depression and most people in the area had nothing but the clothes on their back and the will to carry on until things got better.

     Len was in the same boat as everybody else. He lived in a small wooden shack he had built on his newly acquired land a few miles outside of town and supported himself by doing odd jobs for the more established farmers in the area. He rarely got paid in cash. Instead, he was paid with whatever produce the farmer could afford to give him. It didn’t seem to bother Len who cheerfully performed any task given to him and always had enough chicken, beef, pork, and vegetables to keep himself well fed.

     My dad first met him when they were helping a local farmer with his harvest. They would often sit and talk in the shade of a tree while eating their lunch.

     Since it was what was called the dirty thirties, the farmers had much machinery so good work horses, like the ones my dad owned, were in great demand during harvest season. Dad also had a pair of lighter horses which were said to be the fastest in the area. He had no idea the team would soon be used to help Len steal his bride.

     It was during the harvest season when Len first set his eyes on Loretta Horner. She was a pretty, buxom girl with long, black hair. She was also the daughter of the man for whom he worked for. Every day at noon she would drive a buckboard out to the field with lunch for the harvest crew. Then she would have to sit around and wait until everyone had finished eating so she could gather up the dishes and take them back to the house.

     My dad realized one day that Len was more interested in eating his lunch with pretty Loretta than him. From the moment the buckboard stopped he was talking to her.. He seemed to be doing pretty well with her too, at least Loretta never complained about his presence. In addition, she often seemed to take an extra-long time gathering up her dishes. The harvest crew caught on quickly to what was going on and began speculating about whether or not they were witnessing young love blossoming.

     It wasn’t long before Len and Loretta were an item in the small village.

     Everybody agreed the signs were all there and that there would soon be a wedding in the town church. The rumors grew when Len became a regular Sunday afternoon guest at the Horner farm.

     However, the prediction was only partially correct. There would be a wedding all right but not like anybody expected.

     There’s an old saying. “True love never runs smooth.” Len and Loretta were about to discover the full meaning of that phrase

     The rumors about a pending wedding had barely started before Loretta’s mother proceeded to throw up a monumental roadblock for the young lovers.

     She thought Loretta could do better, and she complained to anybody that would listen that Len was just a poor farmer, and not near good enough for her daughter.

   “The poor boy might be nice enough, but he’s still struggling to make a living for himself, so how can he build a proper house for my precious daughter?” She would ask her friends and neighbors.

   Mrs. Horner also thought it was embarrassing and rude for Len to be claiming he was now going to make good his boast of raising a bunch of horses, cattle, and kids. She complained that Len was too crude and vulgar for Loretta.

     She cast her eye around the village for an eligible bachelor who was more suitable for her daughter. She thought she found one in young James McKenzie who was in the process of establishing a brand-new store in the community. After a little investigation she concluded that if her daughter was darn anxious to get married, James would be much better suitor than Len.

     James was what the locals called a ‘dandy.’ He always wore a suit, starched white shirt and tie. He liked to call himself James T. McKenzie because he felt it was more distinguished. Len, on the other hand, was just known as Len or Lenny, and his daily attire of work pants, shirt and work boots paled in comparison to James’ fancy clothes. However, Loretta didn’t seem to mind, and she had her heart set on marrying him. The first confrontation with her mother occurred when she informed Loretta that she should stop inviting Len for Sunday dinner.

   “For heaven’s sake, mother why.?” Loretta exclaimed. “Don’t you know how I feel about Len? Most times I can hardly wait for him to arrive.”

   “Nonsense, pure nonsense,” her mother snapped in irritation. “I’ve found somebody much more suitable for you..I’ve decided that James T. McKenzie is going to be our Sunday afternoon guest, so you can tell Len you’re too busy to see him.”

Mother you’re crazy if you think I’m going to choose James over Len,” Loretta argued. When James arrived for the Sunday dinner guest, she locked herself in her room, and refused to leave it until James had left.

     The battle between mother and daughter went on several more months before Loretta relented and gave into her mother’s wishes. For in those days, a daughter was considered duty bound to obey her mother. There was hardly ever any thought of a proper young woman rebelling and going her own way.

     So, for several months James and Loretta spent Sunday afternoons together and Mrs. Horner beamed with pride and was quite pleased with her match making.

   She boasted to her friends that James was such a wonderful catch for her daughter. What she didn’t know was that Loretta was seeing Len on the sly. In fact, every moment she could get away from her mother she was sneaking away to be with him, often sneaking out of the house at night or disappearing for most of a Saturday afternoon.

    When Mrs. Horner found out she was so furious with her daughter that she began insisting that Loretta not only stay completely away from Len, but that she marry James immediately to get “anymore nonsense out of her head.”

When Len heard the news of Loretta’s pending wedding, he was so enraged over the idea of losing his beloved Loretta, he tried to convince her to elope with him, but she refused. She claimed she just couldn’t go against her mother’s wishes. Len grew so desperate he decided he needed to take more drastic measures.

     One day he came over to my dad’s place in a desolate mood, and over a couple of beers, spilled out his tale of woe. He said he had a secret plan that might work if he could borrow my dad’s team of light horses.

     When dad asked what he needed them for Len looked furtively around to see if anybody was nearby and whispered, “I intend to steal James’s bride right off the church steps on the day of her wedding.”

     “All you have to do, John, is to make sure your horses and a buggy are left behind the church on the wedding day, and I’ll do the rest.”

     My dad was doubtful about the success of the plan, but since he was always willing to help a friend in need, readily agreed. On the morning of Loretta’s wedding day, he drove his horses up behind the church and left them there.

     He then walked around to the front of the church to see what would happen next.

     According to custom, the groom arrived first. James was dressed in his finest attire for the occasion. He wore a three-piece suit, shiny shoes with buckle, and a top hat. He barely took time to greet the well-wishers gathered outside the church before he disappeared inside.

     Shortly after that Loretta arrived with her mother and father. She looked beautiful in a white wedding gown and as she waited on the church steps for the Here Comes the Bride tune.

     Loretta and her dad were still waiting for their cue to enter the church when Len suddenly appeared with dad’s horses and buggy. He stopped directly in front of the church and hollered at Loretta.

     “You aren’t really going to marry that pompous ass, are you? “Come away with me instead.”

     The shocked bride turned towards Len and suddenly realized how right he had been all along. She knew marrying James would be the biggest mistake of her life. To hell with what her mother wanted.

     She suddenly threw her bouquet of flowers over her shoulders, not caring where they landed. She ran down the church steps as fast as she could in her wedding gown and climbed aboard the buckboard beside Len.

     Loretta was barely seated before Len had the horses moving. In a few moments he had them going at a full gallop with Loretta holding onto her wedding veil with one hand and clutching a bar on the buggy with the other.

     In the meantime, somebody had rushed into the church and told James about what had just happened, and he rushed out furious and determined not to let Len get away with stealing his bride.

     He felt that Len had made him the laughingstock of the whole village. He could see the snickers on the faces and hear the hoots of laughter ringing in his when he ran out of the church.

     James quickly climbed into his buggy that had been decorated with just married signs, ribbons, flowers and a string of tin cans. The cans bounced loudly and some of the flowers and ribbons were blown from the buggy as he raced his team through the town in hot pursuit of Len and his bride.

     Several miles outside the village, Len turned his head to look back. He could see the dust from James’ buggy. James appeared to be in far behind them, but Len knew it would be coming fast, and wouldn’t give up the chase.

     “Have to keep going,” he informed Loretta who was still clinging to the buggy for dear life. Len kept the horses at a run for another couple of miles and just when he was thinking he had managed to outrun James, trouble occurred.

     The buggy’s rear axle started smoking, and Len knew if he drove it much further the wheel would probably fall off. They happened to be right at a farmer’s driveway, so they drove the buggy up to the house.

     A frantic Len leaped off the buggy and quickly explained the problem to the woman who came to the door.

     “Can you help us? We need grease so we can fix the wheel before James catches up to us.”

     The amused wife listened to their story and said she would be willing to help but informed them there was no grease available.

     “But I do have some lard from our pigs and some turkey fat. Will that do?” she asked.

     “It’ll have to,” Len replied.

     The housewife went to get it while Len got the buggy ready.

     He had the wheel off by the time the pig lard and turkey fat arrived. Now, his bride to be showed her mettle. Without a concern about ruining her wedding dress, she helped the housewife plaster the axle while Len held the buggy up.

     In no time Len had the wheel back on and they were tearing out of the farmer’s yard. They could see the dust from James’ buggy. It was much closer, so they knew he was so coming fast, he had almost caught up with them.

     “He’s still chasing us, but our horses are fresh because they had a rest, so there’s no way he can catch us now,” Len announced

     He drove the buggy into the next town where Len had arranged for a minister to be waiting for them. The couple rushed into the church. Loretta only took a few minutes to wipe some of the mess off her wedding gown. It was only then that she realized she had lost her veil during the wild buggy ride. It didn’t bother her in the least. She rushed to the altar and recited her marriage vows without it.

     Just as the newly married couple was leaving the church, James arrived but he was too late, there was nothing he could do about it.

     “You were right, they are the fastest team around,” Len told my dad when he brought back his horses.

     He then took his bride on a honeymoon. By the time they returned, Loretta’s mother had calmed down, and was ready to accept Len as part of the family.

     As for Len’s boast? He and Loretta had thirteen children, and a big ranch with lots of horses and cattle.

 I am a former journalist who enjoys writing stories. I have written numerous short stories and a few novels. One, called Accidents Happen, is self published on Amazon. My submission is a true story my dad told me about a young man he loaned his team of horsesto, so he could steal his bride off the church steps. Like the story says. She was about to be marry somebody else.

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