He has to let go of his wounded past and she has to teach him how to love again. But how can they live under God’s light when they have to fight the shadows?
Judy is a Christian young woman who takes care of her siblings after the tragic death of her father. She spends the last years at the orphanage and she also works at the local saloon. When the owner mistreats her though, she prays, and she decides it’s time to leave. She becomes a mail-order bride and she moves to Texas with her two siblings. Judy tries hard to approach her husband because she can see that he’s a wounded soul. This is when she slowly falls in love with him. However, she also struggles to find the balance between running a ranch, looking after her siblings and her husband’s own daughter as well. How can she cure him by showing him God’s way when he’s just so detached?
Elliott is a proud sheriff and an emotionally guarded man. He hasn’t recovered yet from his wife’s sudden death. He also finds it difficult to connect with his daughter. He places a mail-order bride ad in order to find a capable young woman who can help him with the ranch and his daughter while he’s away working. But meeting the determined Judy completely changes his life. She’s devoted to God and she’s resilient—she manages to take care of three children while struggling to have the ranch in order. She’s a beautiful soul and he falls in love with her. How can he listen to his heart’s calling when he’s just too stubborn to let God in his life again?
To save their newfound family and love, Judy and Elliott should first learn how to trust each other and then let go of their trauma. But, when Judy’s dark past comes back threatening them, how can they reach for God’s light?
Dawn was breaking over the sleepy town of Belleville, Illinois, the mountains shimmering in the distance and the first signs of life emerging to begin another day, but all that Judy Carmichael could think about was her bed and a milky cup of cocoa. It had been a long night at the saloon, and she was walking wearily back toward the orphanage, her body racked with exhaustion, her head bowed low.
She yawned, thinking back to the night before and trying her best to banish thoughts of the unpleasantries she had endured at the hands of her employer, Dallas Rawlings. It had been the usual taunts, the sly comments, the insinuations and Judy was exhausted. She would have gladly slept all day, though she knew the best she would manage would be a few hours.
There were her two siblings to see to, not to mention the chores around the orphanage. It was rare that Judy ever had a moment to herself, time to be alone and take stock of all that happened in her short life, a life which so far had been filled with much heartache and sorrow. With a sigh, she came in sight of the orphanage, glancing around her lest one of the sisters should chastise her for some misdemeanor or other.
Saint Joseph’s Orphanage was a large brick-built edifice on the edge of town, surrounded by a high wall and with a small chapel attached to one side. It had been Judy’s home ever since the tragic accident which had killed her father and left her and her brother and sister as orphans.
The sisters who ran the orphanage were by no means unkind, but they had a certain disciplinarian nature to them, one which Judy had often come up against. She was a free-spirited sort, not given over to rules and regulations, preferring to make her own way in life, and this was often the source of much disagreement.
“Your piety will not always make up for your waywardness,” Sister Perpetua would say, for Judy had a strong and deep faith, one which had seen her through many a trauma.
But Judy would just smile and offer up a prayer, knowing that one day, by some means, she and her siblings would escape the orphanage and begin a new life somewhere else. As she came around the corner, Judy’s weary face turned to delight at the sight of the mail wagon pulling up outside the orphanage, and quite forgetting her exhaustion she broke into a run, coming to the driver’s side just as he was climbing down from the outboard.
“Now then, missy, you’re in something of a hurry there, aren’t you?” he said, and Judy nodded.
“Are there any letters for Judy Carmichael?” she asked, and the driver laughed.
“Now, you know what the Mother Superior says, all letters are to be checked first. I have to take this bundle inside and give it to the sister on duty, and if there’s a letter for you then I’m sure you’ll get it,” he said, shaking his head and beginning to rummage in one of the mail sacks.
“But I’m expecting a letter,” Judy said, and the man laughed.
“Just like last week and the week before,” he replied, shaking his head.
“And you found them for me then, didn’t you, Mr. Gillespie, please,” she said, smiling her sweetest smile at him.
“All right, it fell out on the ground and you picked it up––quite by chance,” he said, rolling his eyes and pulling out an envelope from the pile he now had in his hand, “but don’t tell the sisters or I’ll be on penance for six months,” and he went off laughing.
Judy’s hand was shaking somewhat, as she held the envelope and looked down at the spirally writing in which the address was written. She knew precisely who it was from, the writing unmistakably that of Elliott Duval, the twenty-nine year old sheriff of Broadridge, Texas with whom she had been corresponding these three months past.
It had been an advertisement in the personal’s column of The Illinois Reporter that had attracted her attention. She had seen it in the saloon one night, carefully tearing it out and hiding it in her pocket. The advertisement had listed Mr. Elliott Duval as a widower in search of a wife, a respectable man who sought a young lady to join his household and begin a new life in Texas. It had seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up.
Judy had written to Elliott, half expecting not to receive any reply. She had explained that she was an orphan, desperately seeking a way out of her current predicament. She and her siblings would gladly make the journey to Texas––they had nothing to keep them in Illinois and would be glad of a new adventure.
But a reply had been forthcoming, one which suggested Elliott was keen to meet Judy and make her acquaintance. Over the course of the next few months their correspondence had become more intimate and the final preparations for them to at last meet were now being finalized. She stood just outside the orphanage gate, where none of the sisters would see her, and ripped open the letter.
My Dear Judy,
How happy I was to hear from you today and I wanted to reply by return mail to tell you that I am eagerly awaiting your arrival here in Broadridge. You and your brother and sister will be very welcome here, I know it. We, that is Grace and I, along with my housemaid Louisa, are so looking forward to welcoming you. I enclose the necessary funds for your journey and hope that you can make the arrangements just as soon as possible for I am eager to finally meet you and begin our new life together …
The letter continued in a similar vein and was signed, ‘with much affection, Elliott,’ words which made Judy smile, imagining what he might be like in person when they finally met. He had sent her a photograph of himself and Grace, standing in the orchard behind their house and she had kept it with her ever since it arrived. He had appeared handsome, tall, with square shoulders and a lanky build, a chin strap beard and an oblong face, and a pleasant smile which had instantly attracted her. Little Grace had appeared more reserved, standing next to her father with only the hint of a smile on what should have been a pretty face, her hair tied back and hands clasped in front of her.
There had been something natural and easy in their correspondence so far and Judy felt as though she already knew Elliot in person and not just through his letter. But there was one snag in the proceedings, a matter which, given the arrival of funds to pay for tickets to the South, now pressed heavily upon her. Judy was yet to tell the sisters that she was leaving the orphanage, yet to tell them she was to be married, and yet to tell them that it was to a man she had not yet met. The matter would be a delicate one and Judy knew there would be considerable opposition, not only from her sister but from her employer Dallas Rawlings.
It was he who owned the orphanage, as well as the saloon, and he kept an iron grip upon his business interests, drinkers, and orphans, each a commodity to be exploited. Judy knew that he would not take kindly to the thought of her leaving but, now that she had come of age, there was little anyone could do to prevent her and Judy knew her future lay in Broadridge and in life with Elliott Duval.
“Now, Judy, we do not need to be tardy now, do we?” Sister Perpetua said, standing at the orphanage door and pointing up at the clock on the chapel tower which said five past seven.
“No, Sister,” Judy replied, stuffing the letter into her pocket before the nun could see it.
“Attend to your prayers and then to bed with you,” Sister Perpetua said, her spectacles sliding down onto the end of her nose.
She was an elderly nun, the strictest of them all and Judy knew there would be no point in mentioning Elliott to her, not if she wished her blessing. Instead, Judy bobbed her head and hurried into the orphanage, joining the throng of children making their way into the chapel for early morning prayers.
“Judy, we missed you,” a voice behind her said, and Judy turned to find her sister Lyla and her brother Wesley.
“You know where I was, I’ve been working all night,” Judy said, yawning.
“Sister Perpetua made us take a bath,” Wesley said, and Judy smiled.
“I thought you smelled fresh, Wesley, it looks like she combed your hair too,” Judy replied.
“It hurt,” Wesley said, as they took their seats in the chapel.
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” Lyla said, in her best impression of Sister Perpetua, which caused Wesley to laugh uncontrollably, just as the nuns began to file in.
“Quiet, you two,” Judy whispered, but she could not help but smile at her brother and sister, a comical pair if ever there was one.
Wesley was a blond-haired little boy with bright blue eyes and rosy red cheeks. His sister’s hair was the same color, though her eyes were green and wide, a pretty sight to behold, taking after their mother. Judy herself was of similar looks, though her hair was a darker blonde and her eyes a gray blue, which gave her the look of one older than her years, attractive to many a man.
Just then, one of the sisters rapped hard on her stall and called the congregation to order. There was much shuffling of prayer books and the first note came on the organ, the nuns beginning to intone the daily office as they did every day, morning, noon, evening, and night. Judy sat and listened, allowing the tone of the psalms to wash over her, her mind wandering far and wide, praying, as she always did, for their safe deliverance and a happier life ahead.
“Oh, Judy, perhaps you could be a dear and help me with this. You take that end and hold it while I press it and fold,” she said, smiling at Judy who nodded and took up the other end.
“Sister, there’s something I need to talk to you about,” Judy said, as she held the altar cloth taut and Sister Thompson began to fold it.
“Anything, dear, is something bothering you? I noticed you’ve been distracted from your prayers a little lately,” she said, and Judy shook her head.
“No, it’s not that,” Judy replied, for if anything God was making her future very clear, though she was unsure if Sister Thompson would see it like that.
“Your brother and sister then? Wesley is at that age now …” Sister Thompson said, and again Judy shook her head.
“No, it’s something else. You see, I’ve decided to leave Saint Joseph’s, leave Illinois,” she said, and the sister looked at her in surprise.
“What do you mean? You can’t just leave,” she said, laying down the hot iron and fixing Judy with a hard stare.
“I’m of age now, Sister, and I’m ready,” she said, and Sister Thompson tutted.
“But you’ve nowhere to go, and what would you do?” she asked, and Judy rummaged in her pocket.
“Well, you see, for the past few months I’ve been corresponding with a gentleman in the South ,” she said, and Sister Thompson let out a shrill cry of horror.
“Corresponding? Oh, Lord, preserve us, when a woman corresponds with a man it only means trouble,” she said, and she snatched the letter from Judy’s hand and began to read.
“He’s a gentleman, the sheriff of a town called Broadridge in Texas,” Judy said, beginning to regret having taken Sister Thompson into her confidence.
“Sheriff? Oh, may the good Lord preserve us. A sheriff is just another way of saying outlaw, and as for this,” Sister Thompson said, holding up the letter in horror.
“It was an advertisement in The Illinois Reporter,” Judy said, as though that were enough to give the right air of respectability.
“You’re telling me you’ve been writing to this man for months and now he wants you to marry him? To move out South and start a new life,” Sister Thompson said, and Judy nodded.
“That’s exactly what he wants,” she said, and the nun let out another shriek of horror.
“And did you not think it right to inform us, the ones who care for you, about this flight of fancy? And what about Mr. Rawlings––you have your job at the saloon to think about. You have responsibilities here, Judy. You can’t just cast those aside for some flight of fancy. How do you know what this man is like? He could be a monster and you could be stepping into the jaws of death,” Sister Thompson said, shaking her head and pulling out a handkerchief to mop her brow.
But whatever Elliott was like, he could not be worse than Dallas Rawlings and, taking a deep breath, Judy began to explain what had been in her mind these many months past. It had taken much courage to arrive at this point, but Judy knew she had to explain, if only to make Sister Thompson understand why she was leaving.
“I don’t owe him anything,” she said, and the nun looked at her in surprise and anger.
“You owe him a great deal, we all do. If it weren’t for the generosity of Mr. Rawlings then there’d be no orphanage, no jobs, no convent, no nothing. I dread to think what would have happened to you and your brother and sister if we hadn’t taken you in and you have Mr. Rawlings to thank for that,” Sister Thompson said, shaking her head.
“He’s not what you think he is, he’s not what any of you think he is. He keeps his temper in check and he’s always so kind and pleasant around you and the other sisters, but to the orphans he’s a devil,” Judy said.
“I will not hear such words used against a good and saintly man,” Sister Thompson said, shaking her head in utter disbelief.
“It’s true, he has such a fiery temper on him and he isn’t shy of using his fists when he wants something. Do you know what I’ve had to endure at his hands?” Judy said, and Sister Thompson’s face fell.
“He puts food on our table and money in our pocket, he makes sure we can take care of you all,” Sister Thompson said, her voice faltering.
“Ask any of the orphans, though they’re probably too scared to say anything,” Judy replied.
Sister Thompson’s expression wavered as though she were almost willing to believe what was being said, though she could not bring herself to bear it.
“But why now? Why are you telling me all this now? You’ve worked at the saloon for over a year now. You could have said something much earlier. Why now?” Sister Thompson asked.
“Because I’d no choice but to stay before. Now, I can leave and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop me,” Judy said, taking the letter back hurriedly from Sister Thompson and placing it safely in her pocket.
“But we don’t want you to leave, Judy. You’re part of our family here at Saint Joseph’s, I’ll miss you, so will the other sisters,” Sister Thompson said, and Judy shook her head.
“I don’t think Sister Perpetua will, besides, there’s another reason I can’t stay, I found something,” Judy said, and Sister Thompson raised her eyebrow.
“You found something? What sort of something?” she asked, and Judy took a deep breath.
“Dallas has me see to the bookkeeping at the saloon and I was going through the files and found something that didn’t look too pretty,” Judy said, glancing behind her lest anyone else be listening.
“Go on,” Sister Thompson said.
“It was a list of names, the names of orphans who’d been placed in saloons and gambling halls across the state. They’re working for nothing, because Dallas Rawlings says they owe him, they’ve got nothing of their own” Judy replied.
“You went through Mr. Rawlings’ personal documents, that’s a wicked thing to do, Judy, shame on you!” Sister Thompson said.
Judy could not believe that the sister was siding with Dallas against her, not after what she had told her. The list of names had been a chilling discovery, one which had proved that Dallas Rawlings was interested only in profit and saw the orphanage children as a commodity, rather than a charitable cause.
“I couldn’t help seeing what I saw, Sister. And he caught me doing it, he threatened me, and he threatened Wesley and Lyla too. He said that if I breathed a word of any of this then he’d have them sent away and I’d never see them again. Well, now we’re leaving, it doesn’t matter and I’m telling you what I know to be true,” Judy said, as Sister Thompson shook her head.
“I can’t believe you, Judy, I simply can’t. I’ve known Mr. Rawlings for many years, ever since I made my final profession, and he’s never been anything but a good and decent man, an upstanding citizen, and one I’mI’ proud to know. Now, you just forget about all this, you hear me. More prayers and less gossip, that’s what this orphanage needs,” she said, taking up her iron once again.
“But aren’t you happy for me? Don’t you think it’s right I should get married? I don’t want to be a burden to anyone anymore,” Judy said, and the sister sighed.
She smiled at Judy and shook her head, turning to gaze wistfully out of the laundry window and into the cloister outside.
“I suppose I’m happy for you, Judy, of course I am. But it’s just come as a shock, that’s all. We’ll miss you terribly when you’re gone and all this nonsense about Mr. Rawlings, come now,” she said, and Judy grimaced.
“It isn’t nonsense, Sister, it’s true. But if you won’t believe me then it’ll just keep going on. I doubt any of the other sisters would listen if I told them any of this,” Judy said, and Sister Thompson nodded.
“They’d say the same thing as me, that Mr. Rawlings is a good and honest man, a man with morals and decency to him. He’s given orphans like you jobs and seen to it that you have a roof over your head. Now, what more can you ask for?” she said.
“A little freedom, and that’s what I’m going to have,” Judy said.
Sister Thompson’s expression softened for a moment and she smiled, shaking her head and laughing.
“You’ve always been the most determined of girls, Judy, and I suppose now you’re a woman and you need to make your own decisions. If marrying this man is what you want, then so be it. We won’t stand in your way but promise me you’ll pray about it and that you’ll think twice before accusing a man like Mr. Rawlings of such wicked things. Now, off you go, you’ve got a lot to prepare,” she said, pointing to the door and beginning to hum to herself.
Judy left the laundry and walked ponderously along the corridor toward the orphanage dormitories. A considerable weight had been lifted from her mind and she felt as though there were a spring in her step. But one thing still irked her, and it was the thought of Dallas Rawlings and his unpleasant ways, behaviour he would continue to get away with just as long as others believed in his false veneer.
“Judy, Judy,” Lyla said, hurrying toward her, “why were you talking to Sister Thompson for so long?”
“Well, I’ve got a surprise for you,” Judy said, turning to her sister, and, taking a deep breath, she began to explain what the future held for them all.
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