Desert Isle Keeper
The Wives of Bowie Stone
Could you tell from the title that Bowie Stone is a bigamist? Well, he is, to put it bluntly, but don’t let that put you off. While I’m not much for men with more than one wife, after reading The Wives of Bowie Stone I will be happy to become Bowie’s third wife and not give one hoot about the other two.
That’s not quite true. I give more than a hoot for Rosie Mulvehey. A more disgusting and mannish woman cannot be found in Romanceland. We first meet Rosie when she’s suffering from a major hangover – a daily occurrence – and trying to choose a husband from the four poor souls who currently have a noose around their necks. Since the end of the Civil War, there has been a loophole in the law at Passion’s Crossing, Kansas: any man can be saved from a hanging if a woman from the town agrees to marry him. Rosie needs an extra set of hands to help her plant her crop and turn a profit for once in the farm’s history. The easiest and cheapest way is to take a husband in name only.
Bowie Stone is an ex-cavalry major who was dishonorably discharged from the army for a rather honorable act. While making his way back to his home in Washington, D.C., Bowie is stalked by a man and ultimately shoots him in self-defense. However, the judge didn’t see it that way and sentenced him to hang. In walks Rosie with her dirty face, dirtier clothes, an even dirtier farm, and a smell that could knock your socks off to save his miserable life. Bowie might be resigned to die but he numbly goes through the marriage before he realizes exactly what the consequences will be.
Meanwhile, wife #1, Susan Stone, lives a posh and pampered life in her father-in-law’s D.C. home. Bowie deposited her there, along with her son, shortly after they married and he went off to the military. At the news of Bowie’s court martial and death sentence, his father dies. In his will, he disinherits Susan and has her shut out of his house with a meager amount of money. Because a death certificate hasn’t been sent from Kansas, Susan cannot lay claim to Bowie’s estate. With nothing left and nowhere to go she responds to an ad from a man in Wyoming who needs a bride. She travels there with her three-year-old son and is surprised when her prospective groom is displeased. Gresham Harte wanted a strong woman who could be as much a partner as a wife, not a small lady with an equally small son who looks more suited to throwing tea parties than living on the frontier.
While Susan is trying to make a home for herself and her son in Wyoming thinking her husband is dead, Bowie is honoring his vow to help Rosie turn a profit with her crop before he leaves to resume his duties in Washington. He didn’t expect to find a beautiful woman with a heart of gold in the guise of a dirty drunk who shoots up the local saloon every Saturday night. Rosie has been hurt in the past by a truly despicable stepfather and turns to whisky to hide the pain of her past. Rosie hides under dirt and frumpy clothes and is convinced she is ugly. Bowie slowly changes her way of thinking while falling hard for her.
Rosie and Bowie share most of the spotlight. Their love for each other grows slowly and believably. Even if the two never uttered those three little words to each other, I wouldn’t have doubted what was never said. Rosie can never be considered delightful, but I found her fascinating. I always roll my eyes when an “ugly” heroine does her hair, dons a fancy dress and is suddenly beautiful, but Rosie’s disguise is so effective that I can easily believe no one saw what was underneath.
Susan and Gresham’s Wyoming romance isn’t as powerful, focusing more on Susan’s growth as a woman. Maggie Osborne turned Susan from an obnoxious girl who had no idea how to raise her own son into a strong, intelligent woman who deserved every bit of happiness she could lay her hands on. The scene where she is reunited with Bowie and finds out exactly what he had been doing, when he was supposedly dead, is testament to that. Susan shows a great deal of maturity instead of throwing a fit, as she would have earlier in the book.
There are many hilarious moments as well as moments that will bring a tear to your eye. Maggie Osborne’s classic The Wives of Bowie Stone is a novel to be treasured and very worthy of a place on my Keeper shelf.