What Blanche sees in him is a man worthy of love. What Raymond sees in her, is a fragile dove in need of protection. She literally falls onto his arms. Will their hearts listen to God’s calling before it’s too late?
“And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” Genesis 29:20
Blanche is trapped in her father’s big ranch—he’s corrupted and a bully and she wants out. When she escapes from her balcony, she falls onto Raymond’s hands, the captivating ranch hand that always looked her from afar. To keep her honour unspoilt, they hastily get married and she moves to his smaller ranch with his sweet family. How can she let her heart open to this Godsent man and his lovely siblings when she’s terrified of her father’s wrath?
Raymond is a hardworking man who only dares to watch the beautiful Blanche from afar. He works day and night to pay back his debt to Blanche’s father and take care of his siblings. Romance doesn’t seem an option to him until the day he realizes that God works in mysterious ways. Now, marrying the beautiful lady that landed literally into his arms is the only way to get away from his oppressor. How can he overcome the fear of rejection and confess his true feelings for her?
God works in mysterious ways and by pairing these two, He has a plan in mind. Raymond and Blanche will realize that the man who forced their union is not who appears to be. Will they let God’s word guide them together and chase away Darkness?
Dodge City, Kansas, 1887
Blanche hugged her knees to her chest and tried to stifle her sobs, so her father wouldn’t hear them. She managed to lower her voice, but she couldn’t quite stop her sniffling or the ragged breaths that forced their way out every few seconds. In the storage cellar, the noise sounded almost unbearably loud. She hoped it wasn’t so noticeable upstairs.
When her father was sober, he was a decent enough man. He was far from affectionate, but he was attentive to Blanche, and so long as she abided by his rules, he was fair. He certainly provided for her. She had dresses and boots and bonnets and even jewelry, more, to be honest, than she cared for. Still, she recognized his generosity as the best way he knew how to express his love, and she was grateful for it, whatever he might think when he was drunk.
He was drunk often lately. At one point, Hugh Beaudoin had been poised to become the most powerful landowner in the territory. Then a series of bad deals and a short but devastating gambling addiction wiped out most of his wealth. He quit gambling and got out of the deals quickly enough to preserve a modest fortune, but his dreams of lordly riches were gone.
That’s when he turned to drink. At first, it was only a couple of shots of whisky at Bolton’s on the weekend. Then it was a couple of shots a day. Then half a bottle. Then it seemed he was constantly drinking. It got bad enough, Blanche finally confronted him one day. “I can’t recall the last time I saw you without a drink in your hand.”
In response, her father slapped her, hard. Blanche could still remember the way the blow jarred her teeth and shook her through to the soles of her feet. She’d wanted to cry but kept quiet, unnerved by the force of the blow. She wasn’t sure, then or now, two years later, just how far he would go if pushed.
Tonight, as soon as he walked inside the house, he stumbled to the kitchen and found Blanche was sweeping. He stared at her a moment, swaying unsteadily on his feet. His hands were rough, a working man’s hands, and his shoulders were still strong, but his belly had grown paunchy from years of drinking. She smiled through her trepidation and asked, “How was work today, Pa?”
He didn’t answer right away but only continued to stare with that sour look. She tried to fill the silence with small talk. “Church bake sale’s in two weeks. I thought I could make some sweet cornbread and drizzle it with some of that maple syrup Mrs. Crenshaw has stocked at the general store. I could—”
“Yer’n ungrateful li’l hussy, you know that?” her father interrupted.
Blanche’s heart began to beat rapidly. She swallowed and said, “Pa, that’s not a very Christian thing to say. Besides, I’m very—”
“Don’ tell me how to be Christian,” Pa said. His voice rose in volume, and he took a shuffling step forward. “Just cuz yer in the choir don’ make you a saint. I took you in, give you a good home, ‘n yer gonna say I’m not Christian?”
He took another step toward her, and she backed away. She looked around for a path to escape. If she could make it from the parlor to the front door before he caught her, she could outrun him once outside. In his drunken state, it was unlikely he would have the stamina or the inclination to run after her for long.
The problem was that getting through the parlor wasn’t as simple as running in a straight line. The room was so richly appointed, she would have to worry as much about the furniture as her father. Besides the richly upholstered sofa, there was an occasional table of solid mahogany, two smaller tables of the same wood, and two highbacked chairs as richly upholstered as the sofa.
The other option was the root cellar. If she could get to the cellar and close the door, it was unlikely he would attempt to follow her down the ladder. She slowly turned, leading him away from the door.
“Where you goin’?” he asked. “I’m just try’n to talk to ya. You can’t talk to yer old man?”
“Pa,” Blanche replied softly, “You’re drunk.” She fought to keep her fear from showing. In the past, showing fear had only angered him further, something she definitely didn’t want to do right now.
Her father took his hat off and threw it onto the table. It made a sharp cracking noise as it bounced off and landed upside down on the floor.
“Well, course I’m drunk!” he said. “I work hard, every day, so you can be happy. I buy you jewelry and nice dresses ‘n you don’t wear them. Why do I even try with you?”
“Pa, they’re very nice, and I like them, I do,” Blanche insisted. “I just don’t feel right parading around in finery every day. I feel vain.”
“Vain? You should feel grateful, you, you… hussy!”
Being called a hussy twice in one evening pushed Blanche to the breaking point. She looked her father in the eyes and said, “For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and—”
She didn’t get a chance to finish the verse. With astonishing speed, her father closed the distance between them and slapped her across the face, so hard her teeth rattled, and her vision dimmed a moment. When she came to, her father was holding her by her blouse and had pulled her up, so she was inches from his face. His breath was acrid with drink, and his eyes wild and bloodshot. “Poverty? You ain’t seen poverty, Blanche. I give you a good life here. You have everything you could ever want. Don’t call me poor. You ain’t seen poor!”
He raised his hand to strike her again, and she pulled herself out of his grasp. He reached for her but stumbled and fell. Blanche ran out of the kitchen, looked around wildly for somewhere to hide, and finally remembered the cellar. She reached the trap door and lowered herself inside just as her father finally stumbled to his feet and lumbered out of the kitchen after her.
“Blanche!” he roared. “Get back here. I ain’t done with you!”
So now Blanche found herself cowering in a corner of the cellar while her father tore the house apart in a drunken rage. A tear coursed down her cheek, stinging the skin where her father had slapped her. She lifted her hand to her cheek and pressed her palm against the skin. Fresh tears flowed, and her shoulders shook once more with stifled sobs.
Why, God? she thought. Why? I’ve always been a good daughter to him. Why is he punishing me?
A flush of anger ran through her, and she balled her hands into fists and whispered, “I hate alcohol! I hate when he drinks! I hate it!”
The anger passed as quickly as it came, leaving only sadness and a tinge of remorse for her harsh words. Hate only made things worse. If she and her father were to heal, the only answer was love.
“God, I need your strength,” she whispered. “Please.”
She realized then that it had been several minutes since she’d heard her father. She sat stock still for several more until she was absolutely sure he was asleep. When she was confident the alcohol had knocked him out, she slowly crept from her hiding place and up the ladder to the main house.
As she suspected, the house was torn apart. There were chips and splinters in the walls where furniture had impacted them. The occasional table in the living room lay overturned, along with several chairs her father had apparently thrown from the dining room. The mantel was canted to one side, the other side having torn from its nails. The oil lamp that sat on the mantel had fallen and shattered, its oil staining the bearskin her father would proudly claim belonged to a bear he shot himself though Blanche clearly remembered the day five years ago when he bought it from a traveling merchant.
On top of the shattered lantern lay two tintype photographs—one of Blanche, and one of her father. Blanche said a quick prayer of thanks that they had avoided contact with the lamp oil.
A loud snore sounded behind Blanche, and she turned to see her father passed out on the sofa, an empty bottle in his hand. Apparently, when he’d finished destroying the house, he’d decided to drink himself unconscious. That was fine by Blanche.
She carefully collected the photographs and took them to her room. She would buy new frames for them later. She returned to the living room and looked over the mess. She sighed. What was the point of all those chores if her pa was just going to tear the house apart?
No point in complaining, though. She’d managed to avoid his wrath, mostly at least. That was enough of a victory for one day.
She retrieved the waste bin from the kitchen and began to gather the larger pieces of glass and splintered wood strewn over the floor. When that was done, she returned to the kitchen for the broom and swept up the smaller pieces of glass. She righted the occasional table and took the chairs back to the dining room one by one. Then she set to work scrubbing and polishing everything.
It took nearly three hours for her to finish, and it was well past sunset when she finally completed the last of it. Her father was still spread out on the sofa where he would no doubt remain until at least midday tomorrow. She walked to the well and filled a bucket of water, then took it behind the house and began to wash.
The cool night air was frigid but strangely pleasant against her skin, and she felt somewhat invigorated when she toweled off and returned to the house. Her cheek still stung but not so much as earlier. Once again, the house and Blanche herself were barely the worse for wear after her father’s latest episode.
She returned to her room, exhausted, looking forward to the few hours of sleep that remained available to her. She lit a candle and set it on the night table beside her bed. Like the armoire, the dresser, the vanity and the bed, it was made of ornately carved maple. She knew she should be grateful. Very few people had the privilege of living in such luxury.
She should be grateful, but she wasn’t. The expensive furniture seemed like a monument to her father’s glory more than a monument to God’s glory or a sign of any affection for Blanche. She sighed and prepared for bed. Before she slept, she knelt by her bedside and said a prayer.
“Father, please help me. I’m so scared and so lost. My father is a good man, but he’s lost his way. He’s fallen so far from your grace, I fear he may never find it again. Please help him to return to you. Give him the strength to rest in you so that he no longer turns to drink when he feels afraid or overwhelmed.
She paused a moment before continuing. “I only want to be with someone who loves me. Please send me someone who will love me.”
She could hear no voice in response, but a warmth settled over her, and the tension in her shoulders relaxed. She smiled softly and said, “I know you love me, Father. I know that should be enough, but… I just wish my pa would love me, too.”
Her prayer finished, she got into bed and snuffed out the candle on the night table next to her. Talking to God made her feel better as it usually did, but tonight she couldn’t quite dispel the sadness that fell over her. As she drifted off, she repeated once more, “God, please send someone to love me.” Then she slipped into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Dodge City, Kansas 1891
The midday sun shone brightly overhead. Blanche adjusted her bonnet, so it blocked the harshest of the sun’s rays and gazed across the wide expanse of pasture that formed the heart of the Beaudoin Ranch. The grass glistened with the remnant of last night’s rain. In the sun, the pasture shone like a sea of gold. The cattle lowed happily as they grazed, and Blanche smiled softly. The ranch truly was beautiful.
Her smile faded. The ranch was beautiful, but like many beautiful things, it hid a rottenness underneath. Her father had founded the ranch after the failure of his property business four years ago. Though not as lucrative as his former business, it was quite successful and allowed them to avoid bankruptcy and live a comfortable lifestyle.
She passed one of the cattle pens. Several hands were in the process of branding the yearling cattle who were now grown enough to withstand the painful ordeal. Those not actively involved in holding cattle tipped their hats to her as she rode past, and she nodded and smiled back. She knew many of the hands by name, and though they kept a respectful distance from her as lady of the house, they all liked her.
One of the men, Raymond, stared at her as she rode past. She smiled at him, and he colored, then quickly looked away. She covered her mouth to stifle her laughter and rode on.
She was used to that reaction from men. She knew she was beautiful. She had soft, fair skin, straw-blonde hair and bright green eyes. She was tall and slender and possessed naturally good posture.
Of course, Raymond was quite a handsome figure himself. Tall and broad-shouldered, with strong arms and a chiseled jawline, he was the picture of toughness but had the kindest eyes Blanche had ever seen. She would have loved to get to know him better, but her father didn’t approve of her socializing with the ranch hands.
Leah whinnied underneath Blanche, and Blanche leaned forward to pat her cheek. “Everything okay, girl?”
Leah whinnied again and stared plaintively in the direction of the small orchard Blanche had planted when she and her father first arrived here. “Oh, I see,” Blanche said. “You want an apple.”
Leah was a stocky sorrel mare, nearly seven years old, thick-chested and strong. She wasn’t bulky or powerful like a draft horse, but she wasn’t lithe like a quarter horse either. Leah was a good, sensible working horse, which made it all the more hilarious to Blanche that she behaved so much like a filly, especially around food.
Leah whinnied again and stamped her hoof, prompting a laugh from Blanche. “Okay, Leah. No need to be dramatic. We’ll go get you an apple.”
Blanche tugged the reins to turn her, but Leah had already veered off the path and begun to trot to the orchard. She seemed ready to break into a gallop, but a glance backward reminded her that she had a rider who might not appreciate a sudden burst of speed without warning. She slowed reluctantly to a canter, but not before casting a reproachful look Blanche’s way.
Blanche laughed as Leah crossed the remaining distance to the apple orchard and very carefully selected an apple from one of the lower branches, biting into it gently before tugging it from the tree. She carefully lowered the apple to the ground and began to eat it in small bites, as daintily as a princess.
Blanche laughed again and patted Leah’s neck. “I swear you’re smarter than most people, Leah.”
Leah snorted agreement and Blanche laughed once more before dismounting. She sat under the shade of one of the apple trees, her back to the trunk, and watched while Leah finished her first apple and took a second one from the tree.
If only life could always be this beautiful.
Blanche’s smile faded. When the ranch grew into a modest success, and her father was able to repay the bulk of his debts, Blanche hoped it would signal the end of her father’s drinking as well. Unfortunately, Pa’s flirtation with the bottle had grown into a full-blown obsession. Worse, he had become quite skilled at passing himself off as sober when he wasn’t, so she could no longer count on work to keep him dry five days out of the week. He hadn’t become violent with her again since that night four years ago when he had slapped her, but his constant belittling and insulting behavior had worn Blanche down to the point where she dreaded his return home. Her happiest moments lately seemed to come on those rare occasions when her father was out of town on business.
She prayed silently, the same prayer she’d made every day for four years now. “Lord, please send me someone who will love me.”
A Bible verse came to mind, one of Mrs. Reed’s favorites. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”
Her smile returned slightly. Mrs. Reed had been her Sunday School teacher since she was seven years old. She was a gentle old woman and treated Blanche kindly. She also had extensive knowledge of scripture and a deep faith in God.
She’d worked tirelessly to inspire the same faith in Blanche. Blanche was grateful for it. At times it seemed like Blanche’s faith in God was the only thing she had to hold on to. Now, though, years of abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father–with no prospect of a better future had dampened her faith.
She tried hard to be a good Christian. She read her Bible, attended church, treated others with kindness, and submitted to her father’s will in spite of his drunkenness. She’d done all this but received nothing in return but sorrow and loneliness.
Leah whinnied an inquiry, and Blanche looked up and smiled at her. “Nothing, Leah. Just daydreaming is all.” She stood and brushed the dirt off of her riding outfit. “All right, Leah. I reckon it’s time we headed on home now.”
Leah whickered reproachfully and glanced at the apples. Blanche patted her cheek and said, “I know girl, but you’ve had enough apples for one day. If you eat any more, you’ll spoil your dinner.”
Leah cast one more longing glance toward the apples before allowing Blanche to mount her and reluctantly trudging back to the path. Blanche took a different route home, crossing the cleverly named Left Pasture, which lay fallow this season and so was bare of cattle and ranch hands. Because it lay fallow, the vegetation was sparse but well-grown, with no herd to trim its length. Wild grasses and flowers dotted the landscape, including a patch of sandwort, its petals a perfect snowy-white.
Blanche smiled at the bloom, but her smile carried a strong current of wistfulness. All of the joyful things in her life seemed tinged with sadness lately. She knew she should be grateful for the gifts God bestowed, but it was hard to ignore the trials she endured.
Her father was not likely to get better. She knew she shouldn’t give up hope. She knew she should have faith in God and trust that He would protect her, but the problem was that it wasn’t entirely up to God. God chose to allow men free will, which meant He chose to allow her father to choose to drink.
She knew it wasn’t God’s fault that people constantly chose to abuse His grace and treat Jesus’ sacrifice as a license to sin, but she sometimes wished He would try a little harder to nudge people the right way.
She sighed and said a quick prayer for forgiveness for her ingratitude, then added a request for strength to endure her father’s sin and remain a devout servant of Christ. Mrs. Reed had taught her that the best response to sinful thoughts was to immediately pray for forgiveness and guidance. This time it didn’t dispel her anger. Why should she always have to suffer? She followed the rules. Was it too much to ask a little freedom and happiness in return?
Leah whickered, and Blanche snapped out of her reverie. She realized they had arrived at the barn, where Leah and a few other horses used for the ranch’s personal business were allowed to live separately from the other animals at the main stable.
She dismounted and led Leah into the barn. A few of the other horses snorted greetings. After removing Leah’s saddle and brushing her, Blanche led her horse to her pen and gave her a quick embrace. “Goodbye for now, Leah.”
Leah nudged her gently in farewell, then trotted into her pen. Blanche shut the door and walked back to the house. Though still a quarter-mile distant, it loomed large, its unusually large two-story frame reminding Blanche of a medieval fortress. The sun gleamed off the rich brown oak, polished to an impressive sheen. Her father took great pride in owning the only two-story ranch house in Dodge City and insisted that it remain clean and polished rain or shine. He tasked Murphy, his ranch foreman, with maintaining the house, and Murphy absorbed the direction with his usual stoicism, though Blanche was sure he and the other men would rather do anything than polish the entire exterior of the ranch house every week.
Blanche reached the house and walked inside, taking care not to allow the heavy oak door to slam into its frame. She removed her riding boots and jacket and gazed at the massive oak beams, polished mahogany tables and lushly upholstered sofa.
The whole house screamed pretense to Blanche. She felt another pang of guilt that she should be ungrateful to live in what was admittedly a quite luxurious house, but to her, it was a symbol of her father’s arrogance more than home.
She walked to her room and changed into a simple cotton dress and apron before slipping on an old pair of canvas shoes. The outfit was worn and faded but comfortable, and Blanche felt a strange sense of relief at taking off the expensive woolen riding dress and putting on the cheap work outfit. It seemed more suited to a humble Christian woman than the finery her father insisted she wear in public.
As she completed her chores, she imagined she wasn’t alone but in her own home with her own family. Her husband, just returned from a long day of work in the fields, sat on the porch, smoking his pipe. She didn’t approve of the vice, but he only indulged in one pipe a day after work and no smoke on Sundays, so she tolerated it provided he washed up after, so he didn’t smell like smoke in front of the children. Her children, a boy and two girls, played outside in the courtyard. They got on well, and all her friends said how lucky she was to have such a loving husband and such beautiful children. Blanche would always answer humbly that it was God’s grace that allowed her such blessings.
She thought of her dream husband and smiled softly to herself. He was handsome, of course, and strong. He was well-liked and respected by his neighbors but very humble despite that, always giving the glory to God. And he was kind to her. Her smile faded slightly. All she wanted was someone who would treat her with kindness and affection. Her father had never shown her those emotions. He would buy her expensive clothing or perfume or jewelry, but he never had a kind word or a smile for her.
Her husband would speak kindly to her. Her husband would smile for her. She held on to that hope. Until then, she would endure the cold cruelty of her drunk father who would almost certainly fail to thank her for cleaning his mess but just as certainly point out every fault he could find with her efforts.
She entered her father’s room to tidy it. As soon as she entered, she let out a sigh. No fewer than three whiskey bottles lay empty on the floor. One of the bottles was still wet around the mouth, and Blanche knew it had been opened that morning. It seemed her father had wet his whistle before heading off to Tucson to meet with the client. She sighed and began to clean.
Fifteen minutes later, she’d cleared the trash from the floor, made the bed, and gathered her father’s laundry into the hamper. She had taken the feather duster from her pocket and begun to dust when a sheaf of paper on her father’s desk caught her eye. It was the weekly newsletter, opened to the personal advertisements. She picked it up and glanced through the ads curiously. Had her father decided to advertise for a bride?
She scanned the ads, but none seemed to belong to her father. She was about to put the newsletter down when an ad near the bottom of the page caught her eye. She held it up and read:
WANTED: A HARDWORKING YOUNG LADY
James Dawson, 36, seeks a hardworking young woman of even temperament for the position of cleaning lady in his new boardinghouse at Bedrock, Kansas. A qualified respondent can expect a comfortable room, including board, and a modest salary. Exceptionable work ethic is a must. Interested parties may respond to Dawson, James; Bedrock, Kansas.
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