Ray sat in the parlor of the church parsonage, hat in his hand, fingering it's crown. Mrs. Case was in the kitchen making lemonade, leaving him alone with his thoughts. He checked his watch. At any moment, Reverend Willard Case would return from La Junta, bringing with him Miss Olivia Dunne, of Denver. In less than an hour, Ray and Olivia would be married. Trying to steady his nerves, he thought about the events that brought him here today.
(a few weeks earlier)
Reverend Case sat back in his chair, pondering the letter he had just recieved. It was from Rev. John Dunne, an old friend from seminary school.
He had not seen John in years. He remembered him as a disciplined man, steadfast in his faith and morals. His quiet, sweet wife had balanced his strict ways in raising their daughters, but sadly she had passed away the previous winter. He knew a little about their girls from occasional letters. Abby had always struck him as flighty and precocious, while Olivia was a rather bookish girl, devoted to her parents. He knew she had been in college until her mother became ill. Well, he would talk to Marion about this and together they would pray for guidance.
I am writing you with a heavy heart. Because you are a trusted friend and colleague, I have prayed over this matter and hope that you can help me. I have no where else to turn.
My eldest daughter Olivia is expecting a child. Sadly, she is neither married nor betrothed. I have little knowledge of the man who fathered this infant...only that he was a soldier on leave and does not know the consequences of his actions. Olivia refuses to discuss adoption and is willing to keep this baby. I can barely look at her, seeing only the shame and humiliation she has brought to this household. I hesitate to think about my position here, should my congregation become aware of this sinful situation.
I must insist that she leave Denver before a scandal erupts. My only recourse is to send her away. I would hate to resort to a home for girls, and was hoping that she could stay with you and Marion until she delivers. It is my greatest wish that someday she might find a man willing to marry her and to legitimize this child. Until then I cannot accept her in my home.
It is my fervent hope that you can help me. I am in desperate need of a speedy reply. With God's help and yours, I pray we can salvage her reputation and save this child's future. I will await your answer.
In God's Service..
That night after dinner, he discussed the letter with his wife. It didn't take long for her to voice her opinion. She put her knitting in her lap and shook her head. "Well of course we will take her in! The poor thing! How can her father be so cold and heartless? These things happen, they have since the beginning of time. For heaven's sake, she is not the first girl to find herself in trouble, and won't be the last!" Reverend Case smiled. Leave it to Marion to put things in perspective!
After a few thoughtful moments, she spoke again. "You know, dear, I would like nothing more than having Olivia and her baby in this house." She glanced at her husband to gauge his reaction to her next words. "In all honesty, dear, the ideal solution would be for Olivia to be married quickly, before this child is born. It would certainly save her further embarrassment and pacify her father." Reverend Case began to fidget in his chair. "Marion, we've been married for nigh on 40 years...I know that look in your eye! Now what are you thinking?" She smiled. 'Willard, you know that I have been asking God to bless Raymond Singleton for so long! Don't you see? This is His answer! I just know that this is meant to be! Would you at least talk to him?"
By the end of the evening, they had a plan. They figured out exactly how to approach Ray about the possibility of marrying Olivia. Tomorrow, the Reverend would go for a drive....
Part 2 the visit
Ray Singleton looked up from working on his tractor. He was pleasantly surprised to see Reverend Case's car coming up the drive. He waved him towards the house...might as well stop for a bite to eat while they visited. He had known this man near all his life and could talk to him about anything. He had seen Ray through some dark times and helped fill the void left by the loss of his parents and brother.
They met up on the porch.
"Come on in Reverend. Can I get you some coffee or a co'cola? I can cut you a slice of Mrs. Pratt's buttermilk pound cake, if you like."
Ray washed up at the sink while the minister took off his jacket and sat at the kitchen table.
"You bet, Ray! Coffee and some of that delicious cake would hit the spot. We both know that Marion's baking doesn't hold a candle to Mrs. Pratt's!"
Ray gave the man a crooked smile. He fixed their plates and sat down. While they ate, they talked about this season's crops, the weather and news from town. After Ray refilled their coffee cups, Reverend Case folded his hands on the table.
"Ray, I want to talk to you about something. All I ask is that you hear me out and think about what I am suggesting before you give me your answer."
Ray nodded, somewhat puzzled. Whatever the reverend needed, he would do his best to help him out.
He began to tell Ray about Reverend Dunne's letter. Ray listened intently, imagining how this poor girl must feel. Her father sounded harsh, more worried about how things looked for him than what his daughter needed.
"Ray, Marion and I are more than willing to take Olivia into our home. She needs someone to care for her now more than ever. She was extremely close to her mother, nursing her until her death late last year. She's a smart girl, bright, in graduate school no less. I suspect she must have been traumatized by grief to end up in this situation."
The Reverend sipped from his cup. "Ray, you work hard keeping this farm productive. I know what a toll it's taken on you, first your parents' passing, and then Daniel's. And I know how badly it hurt when Amy Cooper broke things off with you....."
Ray looked away. It had been years, but it still hurt to think about Amy.
"You're a good man, strong in your faith. You come from dependable, hardworking stock. It must be lonely for you out here and I know you'd like to have a family of your own to fill this house."
Ray nodded slowly, as the Reverend continued talking. "You know, there just aren't many single girls in the area. They've either married right out of school or gone to work in the factories."
The minister hesitated. "What I am trying to say is...what I am asking you to consider... is marrying Olivia."
Ray stopped, his coffee mug halfway to his mouth, and looked over the rim. His eyebrows were raised in surprise. The Reverend hurried on before Ray could say anything.
"I know this is complicated. She is expecting another man's child. I wouldn't think of approaching anyone else about this. But I know you Ray, and I know that you and Olivia could make a fine life together. You have so much to offer each other---you would gain a companion, a helpmate and she would have a strong, supportive husband. Ray, you could give that innocent child your name...the three of you would be a family. I really believe it could be a blessing for all of you."
Ray looked down, his hands wrapped around his cup. He didn't know what to say.Reverend Case rose from the table and put his jacket on. Ray stood and the two of them walked outside.
"Well, I just want you to think about it. I have prayed over this matter. For some reason, finding a husband for Olivia seems like the best solution. You Ray,... I just kept thinking that you would be perfect for her and how this could work."
Ray looked out over his land, taking a moment to answer. "Well, Reverend, I appreciate you coming out here to talk to me about this. I understand that you are trying to help Miss Dunne, and are looking out for me, too. Let me think about all this...I'll get back to you in a few days."
They shook hands, and the minister squeezed Ray's shoulder. "Son, you know I only want the best in life for you." Ray stood on the porch, watching till the minister's car was out of sight.
Ray finally went about his afternoon. He finished his chores, settled the animals for the night and came back to the house. He wasn't very hungry, thinking about all that the Reverend had said to him. He sat on the porch. It was lonely out here, and he did want a family, but like this? He wanted to be a real husband, a good father....he wanted a loving relationship like his parents' had been. He remembered his daddy telling how his mama wouldn't give him a second look when they first met! He had convinced her he would be a good husband and father and she grew to love him. In the end, they were devoted to each other.
Lord, what was the Reverend thinking?
How would he get along with this girl, so educated, and used to the social whirl of Denver?
He led a simple life. He suspected she would find him backward and uninteresting, after all, he'd never excelled in school. And though he enjoyed reading, it had always been his intent to farm with his daddy. He did not consider himself a handsome man, or one comfortable around women -- he hadn't courted a girl since Amy. What did he have to offer this woman, besides his name and home? Sure, his farmhouse was sturdy and comfortable, but it had long ago lost his mama's warm touch.
He thought about going over to see Martha and Hank, and asking their advice. But he knew that he alone had to make this decision. That night before bed, he prayed that God would guide him, help him find an answer. By the next morning, that answer had come to him with great clarity...he knew in his heart that this was God's will. That His plan for Ray included Olivia and her baby.
On Saturday, he went into town and told Reverend Case his decision...he would be honored to marry Olivia and he would love this baby as his own. When Reverend Dunne got word of this arrangement, he was relieved that his daughter's child would not be born out of wedlock. He was not concerned in the least how Olivia felt about all of this...he knew what was best for her and she would do as he said. If Reverend Case thought this was a good solution, that was good enough for him. It was decided that Olivia would come to Wilson as soon as possible. Ray was confident he was doing the right thing, and after telling Hank and Martha about it, they offered him their love and support. He was looking forward to being Olivia's husband, and a good daddy to their baby. He knew it would take time, but he would wait as long as he had to. He was determined to make her happy. He hoped that eventually they would have other children. That she would come to love the farm and the land as he did.In the time before Olivia's arrival, Ray tried to ready the farmhouse for her. He regretted that he did not have time to paint. He had let the house become the obvious dwelling of a single man, but maybe Olivia could brighten things up after she got here. Right now, his biggest concern was getting the indoor plumbing finished. He was so proud that he had put it in for her! Now he wouldn't worry about her falling in the dark, or slipping on ice when she was near to having the baby. Afterward, it would be more convenient for her with a toddler. The time flew by, and before he knew it, the day of his wedding had arrived.
So here he was. He glanced again at the pocket watch he carried, comforted by it's steady ticking. It had belonged to his daddy, and he brought it today for luck. In a little while, he would be heading home, a different man, a man with a family. Silently, he sent up a quick plea,
"Dear God, let her meet me halfway, so we can make this marriage work. Guide me so that I am a strong and worthy husband. Let us be good, nurturing parents to our baby. Help us learn to love each other."
He looked up at the sound of footsteps in the hall---this was the moment. He was about to meet Olivia, his future, his destiny. . his wife. He took a deep breath, his heart pounding. He rose, buttoning his jacket as she stepped into the room with Reverend Case, who introduced them. He was stunned...his mouth was so dry, he couldn't utter a word. He could barely manage a glance in her direction. She was a fine woman, so lovely and graceful. What in the world must she think of him? Just a farmer, and he couldn't begin to imagine what they would have in common. What they would talk about that night, let alone the rest of their lives. She said to call her Livy, and he couldn't wait to try the sound of her name on his lips. First he had to calm his nerves. In the few minutes they were able to talk alone, they agreed to proceed with the wedding.
As they walked into the church, Ray decided to put their fate in God's hands. Only He knew what the future held for them, and with His help, they would face it together.
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