God has blessed their destiny with love. How can a woman who doubts her worth and a man who punishes himself be guided by His Light to discover the warmth of intimacy?
May has devoted her life to her mother who is full of bitter words and cruelty. When she passes away though May is lost and alone. She prays for new beginnings and with the help of a good friend she travels West to become a mail order bride. But her husband’s grumpy demeanour and abrupt attitude wound her deeply. How can she help Edgar see that their union is ordained by God when she is afraid to trust in herself?
Edgar is no longer the pious, loving man he once was. The untimely death of his family has shattered his faith in God and has filled him with despair. May’s sparkling eyes though, make his heart beat again and long-forgotten feelings rise to the surface. How can he let go of his fears and accept his love for May when he believes that God has abandoned him?
When a sheep and cattle war starts brewing at their doorstep, Edgar and May must face their insecurities or risk losing each other forever. Will they realise that God’s divine providence has brought them together for a reason?
Stevensville, Montana Territory
The spring morning dawned dark and dreary. Montana’s verdant hills and mountain peaks were turning to mud after days of rain, the formerly proud wildflowers bowing under the weight of the water that continually pelted them.
May Loftin begrudgingly sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. The rain on the roof sounded pretty, a cacophony that could easily lull her back to sleep with its relaxing tune, but this was not the morning to slide back into the warmth of her grandmother’s handmade quilts. She had done that yesterday, but today required May to not only leave her bed, but also her house.
She sighed, her heart and mind heavy. She knew should hurry, but she pulled the quilt over her head, searching for the strength to start the day. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in, welcoming the familiar scent of Grandmother’s quilt as it filled her nose. It smelled like home. Her lashes lifted; as she traced the seams of the patchwork with her finger, she could hear Grandmother’s shrill voice dramatically correcting young May’s needlework on this very quilt. Eventually, Grandmother grew tired of May’s dawdling and finished the quilt herself. She still gave young May credit, though, when they gifted the quilt to May’s mother on her birthday. Though Grandmother kept the secret from her daughter, she never wasted an opportunity to remind her granddaughter of this selfless deed. May rolled her eyes and smiled at the memory, missing her pistol of a grandmother.
Resentfully, she threw the blanket from her head and sat up, slid her glasses off her bedside table, settled them on her nose, and allowed herself to sit for one last cozy moment as she contemplated the day. She had laid out her best dress the night before, assuring herself that it fit just fine and would not be too tight or in any way indecent. It was a lovely shade of dark green that May thought complimented her bright green eyes and highlighted her dark red hair.
She fingered her long auburn braid now, a thick and heavy mass of strands that she dreaded pinning. She just had so much of it that her hands hurt by the time she had enough pins in to hold it all up, and there always seemed to be at least one hairpin stabbing into her scalp. She knew better than to attempt to locate and remove the offending pin, however, as it would inevitably be the one that was holding the entire hairstyle together and removing it would mean destroying her hard work and starting all over again.
Heavy powder blue curtains hung over the windows to the right of the bed. In the morning May would usually wake to a soft ray of light peeking through the fabric, shining on the hardwood floors and the wood slat walls. Any other morning, that light would turn the dark brown wood into a deep and rich amber. This wasn’t the case today. Today, the light on the other side of the window was barely visible from May’s dark room. Swinging her legs over the side of the feather tick, May got up from her bed and pulled the curtains all the way open, hoping to let more light in. Staring out the window, she realized her hope was in vain. The rain clouds were far too heavy to allow the warm glow she longed for, so she did her best to find comfort in the cold gray and blue hues before her.
May turned toward her vanity, which had been carved by her grandfather as a wedding gift to her mother. So well-used and loved was the vanity that the intricate details that were once so prominent were now worn down, looking more like tiny smooth hills than the ivy design they used to be. May looked in the mirror carefully. She had her mother’s emerald eyes and her full lips, but her auburn hair, button nose and rounded chin belonged to her father.
May felt a lump rise in her throat as she held her gaze on her reflection. A memory played behind her eyes: ten-year-old May was seated on the floor at the foot of this vanity while her mother sat on its cushioned bench.
“Us womenfolk must always keep up our appearances, May. Men do not want masculine women as wives, and other women do not want to befriend a masculine woman, either.” Her mother leaned down to cup her daughter’s chin in her hand, examining her face. She sighed. “You are the spitting image of your Pa. But the good Lord blessed you with two of my best features. You just have to know how to use them. Come here, let me show you how to apply your rouge.”
A heat burned across May’s chest, but she wasn’t quite sure if it was grief or anger that scorched her. Regardless of what it was, she needed to cool this heat. She stood up, shook her head, and opened the window, staring at the mountains in the distance as she inhaled the fresh air. Dim sunlight filtered through the rain and clouds, lighting the day with a faint glow that served more to illuminate the spring shower than to provide any warmth or cheer to the day.
Why should there be any cheer today? May thought. Today I shall bury my mother. Today I shall begin a new life, all alone.
She had never had siblings or many friends, but she’d never been completely alone before. Even after her father had passed, May always had her mother. She felt her heart race at the thought of staying on this ranch forever without a single companion, and heavy tears began to well in her eyes. She blinked them away, composing herself. Mother would not have approved of this childish behavior. She was a strong and efficient woman and instilled in May the importance of those two qualities in a wife. Her mother taught her that a good Christian woman should be the emotional strength for her husband, and therefore should not be weakened by minute concerns.
May did her best to swallow the knot in her throat as she began her morning ablutions. She took her time washing her face with the water from the pink and white ceramic pitcher that sat upon her dresser. She looked at herself in the mirror, frowning at her pudgy cheeks and the smattering of freckles sprinkled across the middle of her face. She sucked her cheeks in and turned her head from side to side, imagining what it must be like to be thin enough to have visible cheekbones.
She could hear her mother’s voice again in her head, “You’re too chubby. No man is going to want a woman bigger than he is.”
May turned to the side and looked at her shape in the mirror. She carefully examined the billowy curves of her hips, chest, belly, and thighs. There was a time (when she was much younger and far more naïve) when she had found a sense of beauty in her softness. In her rounded hips and chest, she saw femininity; in her plump arms and thighs, she saw strength that was earned after long hours of ranching. May knew better now though and took care to heed to her mother’s warnings, which rang like a constant bell between her ears. She was large, she knew, but surely God did not make her this way to leave her alone for her whole life. There must be a man out there who would want her.
She knew she had other positive attributes, even if she was not much to look at. She was a hard worker, a good cook, and knew a lot about how to run the ranch. She had been forced to learn and do all of those things after her father had died when she was fifteen. For six years, May had taken care of her aging, frail mother while also running the family sheep farm.
Edward Loftin had been a kind, cheerful man, and May’s best friend. He never had an uncharitable word to say about anyone, and when May’s mother would criticize her daughter’s weight, he would say, “Now, Bertha, the Lord has made her unique and beautiful. There is nothing wrong with His creation.” Then he would smile and wink at his plump daughter, letting her know she was loved.
She used to spend hours on horseback with her father, rounding up sheep and discussing life. He told her stories about the early days of Stevensville, the first town settled in the Montana Territory when the Jesuit missionaries arrived and taught the Native Americans about the Lord. They shared their favorite Bible stories and verses and talked about the glory of God’s creation and abundance. Edward taught his daughter how to care for the animals and the land, a gift most men would only bestow upon sons — a gift that her mother made clear she did not approve of.
When her father died in an accident, May had been left alone with her mother, with no buffer between herself and her mother’s scathing remarks. But now, after a lengthy illness, her mother was gone, too. Her mother may not have used the gentlest words, but she prided herself on teaching her daughter to be the perfect Christian wife. She wanted the best for May: she wanted to see her married to a good, God-fearing man. Now, her mother would never see the fruits of her labor. May was still single, she had still never been courted or called on by a suitor. May had failed her mother. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to fill the cavity she felt in her chest.
Today the service and burial were both scheduled. Despite her feelings and pestiferous rain, May had to make an effort to get dressed and pin up her enormous mass of hair. She felt as if she had to look her absolute best to prove to her mother one last time that she could be attractive, no matter what Bertha had thought.
Turning her back to the mirror, she donned her corset, stockings, and petticoats, then slipped the emerald green gown over the top. Glancing out of the window at the dwindling rain, she determined that boots would be necessary for keeping her feet dry and free from mud; and so she slipped on her sturdy, black leather boots and laced them up tightly.
She then returned to her hair, untying the braid she wore for bed and running her fingers through the long strands. She methodically twisted and pinned the auburn locks to the back of her head, smoothing out any stray pieces that stuck out from her head.
After pinching some color into her cheeks, she was fairly pleased with her appearance. She never felt fully confident in how she looked — she was too plump all around, her cheeks too round and hips too broad — but she had to work with what the Lord gave her. And this morning, she thought she had done a pretty good job.
May made her way to the kitchen of the small ranch house. It was quaint but comfortable, with an oven, a small worktable, and a wood burning stove all cornered in the far-left side of the room. The stove was old, slightly rusted and covered in white ash, but held memories of warming up by the fire after a hard winter day of working in the fields with her father. In the middle of the kitchen floor sat a round table with three chairs, two of which were covered by small burgundy and cream cushions, made by her mother’s hand. The third chair was her father’s, which hadn’t needed a cushion for years. I suppose only one chair will be used now, May thought to herself, picking up the small pillow from her mother’s seat and setting it on the table. Her father’s old cushion had been repurposed into a sack for the kitchen, so she figured she should do the same with her mother’s now. She could hear her mother’s voice reminding her “waste not want not.”
May made her way to the worktable to gather some provisions for her ride to the church. She filled a small leather satchel with two slices of the fresh bread she had made yesterday, some salt pork, and a handful of early spring berries. She would eat her breakfast as she rode.
The ride into town on the back of her favorite horse, Freddie, was thankfully dry. She did her best to clear her mind of the reality of what she was riding toward and kept her eyes on the dreary scene before her, determined to find some of God’s beauty within this darkness. The clouds had not dissipated, leaving the day overcast and glum, but the rain had stopped, and the honeysuckle was especially fragrant from being stirred up by the storm. The land was still and peaceful.
May loved the smell of the land after it had rained — that particular scent of wet earth and grass that reminded her of a childhood spent in the outdoors, her favorite place. Her mother had always criticized her desire to be outside rather than in the house. “A man wants a woman who can cook and clean and tend to the children, not one who can muck a stall or shear a sheep.”
So, May had learned to do those things too, and do them well. Anything to lessen the constant criticism from her mother. May knew that her mother meant well, everything she did was to make May suitable for marriage; but the more her mother spoke, the more May disliked herself. The more her mother critiqued her figure, the less May could bring herself to look in the mirror. Calling her mother’s attention to her homemaking skills rather than her physique made it easier for May to find things that she liked about herself, and on rare occasions, things she was even proud of. If May could not do much to change her looks, she could at least hope to catch a man with her delicious apple tarts or cottage pie.
If those talents still failed her… May couldn’t bring herself to think of the shame that her poor mother would have felt. Of course, there were women who never married, and May had seen them around town. But she always heard about them long before she saw them. The townsfolk spread rumors about the spinsters and poked fun at them, refusing their business or avoiding giving the women theirs. They were scarcely able to financially support themselves. May shuddered at the thought — she didn’t want to be alone, but she definitely didn’t want to be alone and unable to care for herself.
As she approached the small white church on the edge of town, May saw a few townspeople entering the sanctuary for the prayer service and Pastor Garrison standing on the small front stoop greeting them as they did.
She tied Freddie to the hitching post out front and waved to the minister. “Good morning, Pastor,” she called.
“Hello, dear,” he replied, stepping forward to address her personally. He moved carefully across the wet field stones that created a small courtyard in front of the church, watching his feet as he did so. His body was aged and fragile, and his short, stout physique undoubtedly made balance difficult for him. Admittedly, May had always likened Pastor Garrison to a buttermilk dumpling: his voice was soft and delicate, his bald head and body were round and pale, and there was a sense of comfort that he brought to everyone he met. May stifled a giggle at the thought — it was inappropriate to make such a comparison about a pastor, let alone at a time like this, but May couldn’t help but appreciate the brief relief from sadness.
“I believe we’ll have a small group here today, and so we can begin whenever you’re ready. I think the rain may have kept some people away.” He offered an uncomfortable smile. It was clear that he knew this wasn’t the reason for the low attendance, but his voice was kind and empathetic.
May nodded, smiling sadly at Pastor Garrison. She too was certain that the rain had done no such thing. It was no secret that Bertha hadn’t had many friends, and even fewer since May’s father had died. Bertha had rarely left the ranch in the last six years, except to attend church services every Sunday. Even then, she spoke to very few people.
The pastor ushered May into the small church, leading her to the front pew of the sanctuary before making his way to the pulpit to begin a short prayer service in honor of the life of May’s mother. “Welcome, friends and family of Bertha Loftin,” he began.
May furtively glanced around the room, noticing that the only people present were the old women who seemed to attend every event at the church. The only one May would consider a friend of Bertha’s was Dorothy Fordham, who nodded her head solemnly at May and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief as the pastor spoke.
“Bertha was a fine, upstanding, godly woman. Since I became pastor here in Stevensville, she never missed a Sunday service or a holy day.” He bowed his head. “It is a sad day today, when we bury a friend and a mother, but we know that she is at peace now with her eternal Father.”
He led the meager congregation in a short prayer for Bertha’s soul, and then invited everyone to follow him out of the sanctuary and into the churchyard where two gravediggers were waiting to lower Bertha into the freshly dug hole beside the plot where May’s father lay.
It seemed as though it took years for the men carrying her mother’s casket to make their way to the grave. With each step, May felt heavier and heavier. She could feel herself sinking lower into the ground, as if her body were begging for her to join her parents beneath the mud and the worms. Her heart began to race. Lord, what am I going to do without her? Without her guidance, shall I be a spinster forever? What shall I do without her company and conversation? She could feel the panic rising in her chest. I’m going to be alone forever, she thought.
May did her best to stifle the trepidation and tried to let her mind go numb. Through clouded eyes, she watched the last bit of her mother disappear into the dark, damp earth. She wiped her tears before grabbing a handful of dirt to sprinkle over the grave. As her fingers released the loose dirt, May felt a shift inside her. She stood back and watched as the rest of the congregation follow suit, lining up to say their goodbyes. As each set of fingers rained earth over the grave, that shift within May grew, until she finally recognized the feeling.
She felt her shoulders lift and her back straighten. She felt lighter. She was sad about the death of mother, but she also felt a little guiltily relieved. No longer would she have to endure the voice of someone always telling her that she was not good enough, that she was too fat, that she would never find a husband and would always be alone. Here she was, alone and though nervous for the future, she was feeling quite at peace about it. She could continue to run her ranch and live in her house quite happily by herself.
As the minister said a closing prayer to complete the burial service, May once again glanced around at the sparse faces. She noticed a new face, a man in a dark suit glancing at a pocket watch and hovering beneath a tree at a distance from the mourners. Not only had this man not been in the church a few moments before, but May did not recognize him at all, which was unusual. Stevensville was a very small town.
When Pastor Garrison closed his prayer book and bid everyone a good day, May nodded her thanks to the kind older man and remained by her parents’ graves for just a few minutes to say goodbye. While most of the attendees patted her on the back or said a few kind words and wandered back to their homes, the man in the dark suit came forward.
Once he was within speaking distance, he greeted her. “May Loftin?”
Her brows drew together in surprise and confusion, causing her glasses to slide down her nose. She pushed them back into place with one finger. How did he know her name? “Yes, sir? I’m May Loftin. Can I help you?”
“I have a very important matter to discuss with you. It’s about your ranch.”
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