BRIDES OF BANFF SPRINGS
Monday, May 27th, 1935. It should be spring yet snow still dusted the mountain framed in the railway station’s open doorway. The pine-scented breeze wafted across the woman’s cheek and tugged a curl of hair from beneath her hat. Going through that doorway meant stepping into a new life. The possibilities intrigued and frightened her in equal measure.
She hesitated, dragging her feet a little as she exited the railway station. Now she was here, all the excitement and pride of being accepted for a position at the Banff Springs Hotel evaporated. Despite the late May sunshine, chills rippled through her. Why had she allowed herself to be persuaded to leave? Couldn’t she have found work in Medicine Hat or Calgary? There were hotels in both cities. But no, here she was, stranded miles from anywhere, still able to hear the fading rattle and clack of wheels on the rails as the train sped on to its next stop.
All she knew, all she had ever known, lay in a quarter section of farmland in southeastern Alberta, one hundred and sixty acres in sight of the Cypress Hills. Now the farm, seared by years of drought and the ensuing debt from one crop failure after another was, like her parents, gone, leaving her to provide for herself as best she could.
Her vision blurred momentarily. In the recesses of her mind she heard her mother's disapproving admonishments and her father’s slightly softer, “Now, now, Tilly, tears don’t solve problems.” She blinked quickly to dispel them and squared her shoulders.
That’s enough of that Matilda Margaret McCormack, she admonished herself.
There was nobody come to meet or greet her, nor had she expected there to be, but that fact brought a sudden lump to her throat. The weight of being alone in a strange place bore her down. She swallowed hard and took a couple of deep breaths to reorient herself.
The chug of a motor followed by the blare of its horn drew her over the doorstep and onto the boardwalk. She was too late. Her hesitation had cost her a seat on the last automobile that might have taken her to the hotel. It chugged out of the station yard, its horn blaring and she watched with dismay as it gathered speed and disappeared from view.
The hopeful butterflies that had assailed her stomach when she got on the train in Medicine Hat were now jangling nerves. How could she have ever thought making this move was a good idea? If someone walked up to her right now and gave her a ticket, she would leave on the next train and go home.
Except there is no home, she reminded herself. There is no family, nor anyone who would be happy to see her again.
She stood on the boardwalk and stifled the sigh that built up in her. Well, she was here now and would just have to make the most of it. The only form of transport that remained in the yard was a wagon being loaded by a young man. The ease with which he lifted and stowed boxes and trunks in its bed indicated a muscular frame beneath his open-necked shirt. From the style of his hat and his worn, dusty boots, Tilly thought he might be a cowboy. He was no stranger to manual labor that was for sure. As if he felt her gaze on him, he looked over his shoulder and flashed a grin.
“Are you going to the Banff Springs Hotel?” he called.
Tilly walked towards him. “Yes. Do you know how far it is?”
“It’s about a twenty minute ride but far enough that it would be a good walk. I'm headed there myself and can take you if you like.” He heaved a trunk into the back of the wagon then turned to her, holding out his hand. “The name's Ryan, Ryan Blake.”
She liked his friendly grin and twinkling brown eyes and took his hand in her own. He had a warm, firm grip. “Tilly McCormack, and thank you. A ride would be much appreciated.”
“Hop up then.” Ryan indicated the driver's seat. “I've only a few more boxes to load. Is this your first time in Banff?”
“First time anywhere.” Tilly tossed her suitcase into the wagon and clambered up by way of the wheel.
Ryan, having finished stowing the last trunk, climbed up beside her. “Where have you come from?”
“Medicine Hat.” Tilly tilted her head a little so that she could see Ryan from the corner of her eye. The brim of his hat shaded the upper part of his face, but she could see the wedge of auburn sideburn inching down his cheek and sprouting into day-old fuzz across the line of his jaw.
“I hear it’s been a tough time for ranchers and farmers around the Hat and across the prairies.”
“Very tough,” Tilly lapsed into silence as Ryan picked up the reins and slapped them on the rump of the patient old bay horse in the traces. Small puffs of dust rose up from the horse's hide in protest at this treatment.
Ryan guided the horse out of the station yard, yet Tilly sensed the animal knew its job well enough as it trotted along the route the automobile had taken. She glanced over her shoulder at the load of expensive looking trunks and valises in the wagon bed. Luggage labels declared they had visited London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, and Bombay. Places she had read about but could barely comprehend. Her own battered grip, a relic of her father's World War 1 service, fared poorly in comparison but she imagined it had its own stories to tell despite not bearing labels advertising its journeys.