Petite and pretty, Berta Hess had endured a rotten and childless marriage in Detroit before divorcing her husband and heading as far west as her funds and contacts would take her. Staying with a relative in Longmont, she was hired as a butcher shop clerk by Jim Penney, her junior by two years . After closing time, Penney began walking Berta home before returning to work. When the shop failed and Penney began clerking for Tom Callahan, Berta found other employment and Penney continued their walks. In time, the evening strolls took longer and longer and it became harder and harder for the couple to part. Occasionally, Berta would only return at dawn to bathe at a basin and change. One such morning they arrived at the relative's front porch to find Berta's bags packed, her few newly acquired belongings neatly on top.
In Longmont, she had been able to hide her divorce status and thus avoid the mean-spirited prejudices of the time. Now, as she took a room and the relative began gossiping, life in Longmont became difficult. She lost her job and took whatever temporary employment she could find, usually as a barmaid, where her "reputation" gave her a special allure. She hated her work, hated the gossip, and would have gladly moved on but for one complication. She was in love.
Life in Longmont got worse for Berta when her love moved 400 rail miles west-northwest to Evanston. Then she found out that she was pregnant.
Jim's duties were so demanding at the new Golden Rule that he was only able to see Berta once a month and for only half a day before getting back on the train for Evanston. She never said a word about her condition and Jim remained innocentuntil she finally began to show and on his next trip he jumped up, aghast. "You're pregnant? "
"Yes, my Jim. But I'll manage."
"Pregnant?" he kept repeating, his eyes wide with fear. Penney missed the next month's trip and failed to write. Berta thought the worst, that she had somehow misjudged Jim Penney and would never see him again. She was not sure what to do, where to turn . She knew returning to Detroit was out of the question; her reputation therewithout a bastard childwas already in tatters. Night after night she pored over her address book, preparing one difficult letter after another to shirttail relatives. She had no real expectation that someone would extend a helping hand, and the letters piled up, sealed but not posted.
Never did she write a word to Penney, however, because she believed there was nothing about her feelings that he did not already know. And if he now chose to forget her, nothing in her power could change that.
Another month passed and there was a knock at her door. It was Jim, looking grave. Her heart sank. "I'm sorry, Miss Hess," he said. "I can't forgive myself ." He stared at her. "I am so late. Here." He produced a small engagement ring. "I love you and want to marry you. Do you accept my proposal?" She nodded, extending her hand but unable to speak. Tears came. They were on the train within two hours, headed for Cheyenne and a simple, private marriage ceremony. Having never once allowed herself to cry when she was despairing alone in Longmont, now she cried all the way to Cheyenne. "I'm so happy," she said.
"I'm glad you told me," he grinned, holding her protectively. "You had me wondering."
They had a glorious if short honeymoon, enjoying each other and some of the Frontier Days festivities before heading due west across the breadth of Wyoming to Evanston, to the birth of their first child a few months later and to Jim's secret fears.