Love Comes Softly: A Deeply Contrived Bargain

Love Comes Softly: A Deeply Contrived Bargain February 1, 2019

Love Comes Softly, chapter 1 part 2

And we’re back! As Marty sits there pondering her complete lack of options, out of the blue a man approaches her with an offer.

“Ma’am, I know thet this be untimely—ya jest havin’ buried yer husband an’ all. But I’m afraid the matter can’t wait none for a proper-like time an’ place.”

He cleared his throat again and glanced up from the hat in his hands.

“My name be Clark Davis,” he purred on, “an’ it ‘pears to me thet you an’ me be in need of one another.”

A sharp intake of breath from Marty made him pause, then raise a hand.

“Now, hold a minute,” he told her, almost a command. “It jest be a matter of common sense. Ya lost yer man an’ are here alone.” He cast a glance at the broken wagon wheel, then crouched down to speak directly to her.

“I reckon ya got no money to go to yer folks, iffen ya have folks to go back too. An’ even if thet could be, ain’t no wagon train fer the East will go through here ’til next spring. Me, now, I got me a need to.”

He stopped there and his eyes dropped. It was a minute before he raised them and looked into her face. “I have a little ‘un, not much more’n a mite—an’ she be needin’ a mama. Now, as I see it, if we marries, you an’ me”—he looked away a moment, then faced her again—“we could solve both of those problems.”

Marty’s initial response? I’d rather die than marry you—or any man. Get out. Go away. She only thinks it and doesn’t say it, of course. Clark explains that he wouldn’t expect her to share a bed, that he’d sleep in the lean-to and that he’d give her fare to travel home in the spring:

“I’ll promise ya this, too. When the next wagon train goes through headin’ east to where ya can catch yerself a stagecoach, iffen ya ain’t happy here, I’ll see to yer fare back home—on one condition—thet ya take my Missie along with ya.” He paused to swallow, then said, “It jest don’t be fair to the little mite not to have a mama.”

What in the world?!

When went to I reread the book last week, I assumed that the deal Marty struck would make sense. I remembered it making sense when I read the book as a teen, after all. There were plenty of times when people married for reasons other than love, because they had to survive—especially in the the West, where things often went wrong.

But this deal does not make sense at all. 

First, I don’t buy that Marty has no other options. This isn’t presented as her choosing which option seems least bad to her. It’s presented as though this is her only option. Last week, one commenter noted that even filing for a claim required cash money, which she ought to still have. And then there’s the town—she could board there in exchange for work. She’s talented at sewing, it’s not like she’s without skills.

But no. None of that is available. This is her only option. And frankly, that makes this weird. It’s presented as though she has no choice. None. I’d be a lot happier with this setup if she considered several options—including boarding in town in exchange for work—and decided that she liked this option best, perhaps because it lacks the uncertainty. But no.

This is apparently her only option.

Second, and this is a bit of a spoiler, but Marty later learns that when Clark’s wife died, Ma Graham offered to take in his daughter Missie and raise her along with her own children. And Clark turned her down. Clark also turned down another local couple, who had been unable to have children and dearly wanted to adopt Missie. But Clark is willing to ship Missie off to God knows where, with a woman he hasn’t met before today, and never see her again? That makes no sense at all!

If Clark thinks Missie needs a mama, he could give her to the childless couple that wanted her. Then, he’d at least get to see her sometimes. Or he could give her to Ma Graham, and Ma Graham would be her mama—he respects Ma Graham an awful lot, so why on earth not?

Added to all of this, Clark has made giving Marty funds for traveling east contingent on her taking Missie with her. This means that if Marty tells Clark she doesn’t want to take Missie—that she doesn’t want to raise her—she won’t be given money to travel back East. Which means in theory, Marty might find herself pretending to like Missie just to get the travel funds, and then dumping her at the nearest orphanage.

Clark has no reason to assume that Marty is a good person, that she would make a good mother, or that she wouldn’t dump Missie in the nearest orphanage. He doesn’t know any of this.

Now maybe this is all just a gamble. Maybe Clark thinks there’s no way Marty will want to leave after spending the winter with him, because he’s just that studly. I find that implausible, both because it’s never suggested as such, and because it does not fit with Clark’s character at all. And even if it were a gamble—who gambles with their kid like that?

Finally, there is nothing said about getting the marriage annulled in the end. I thought I remembered something about annulment, but it’s not there in the text. I must have made it up in my head, but without it, this makes even less sense. Let’s say Marty goes back East. Now, neither of them can get married again. Ever. This is a terrible idea.

To top it all off, we later learn that there are at least two girls of marriageable age in the area, both of whom marry in the course of this book. One of these matches is already in the works at this point, but the other isn’t—that young lady is still available at this point. Besides, there are surely more girls of marriageable age in town. If Clark so badly wants a mama for Missie, why not remarry the ordinary way?

To be fair to Clark, remarrying the ordinary way would require him to be intimate with and a husband to a new young woman, something he may not be ready for yet. He’s still mourning his wife. This arrangement with Marty offers him someone to care for Missie and his home without having to give of himself on a personal level. It’s too bad propriety wouldn’t have allowed him to hire someone on to do these things.

There’s also no reason he can’t give Missie to Ma Graham temporarily. Ma Graham lives nearby, he could see Missie all the time. That would give him time to grieve, and then he could remarry in the ordinary way. Instead, he’s making a deal that has at least a 50/50 chance of costing him not only his daughter but also his ability to ever remarry.

This entire scenario is contrived.

Clark makes his offer to Marty and then says he’ll give her some time to think it over, and walks away. I like this about Clark—the offer he’s laid out is contrived, but he doesn’t stand there and talk at her. He gives her space. He does this throughout the book.

Marty is angry and upset.

What a situation to be in. No one, nothing, out in this Godforsaken country. Family and friends were out of reach, and she was completely alone. She knew he was right. She needed him, and she hated him for it.

“I hate this country! I hate it! I hate him, the cold, miserable man! I hate him! I hate him!” But even as she stormed against him, she knew she had no way around it.

During the entire beginning of this book, Oke insists that Marty hates Clark. This feels forced to me. It’s not so much that she dislikes him as it is that she’s angry at her situation. She never actually lays any of it on him. This does not mean that her attitude toward him does not change—it takes a while before she realizes that he’s still dealing with a loss as big as hers. But her avowed hatred of Clark, in this section, feels more about the situation.

Let’s talk a bit about Clark. Besides the contrived nature of the whole thing, I do object to one specific piece of Clark’s presentation: His statement that Marty had no other options.

Throughout this book, Oke portrays Clark as an honorable man. And, unlike in Farris’ books, Clark actually seems like a genuinely good and kind person. Given that no one else presents Marty with viable options either, Clark’s failure to give Marty options feels more like a failing of Oke’s than a failing of Clark’s.

Clark presents it like this:

“I reckon ya got no money to go to yer folks, iffen ya have folks to go back too. An’ even if thet could be, ain’t no wagon train fer the East will go through here ’til next spring.”

For some reason, Clark is the only one who knows that Marty has no money. When Marty doesn’t react well to his proposition, Clark backs up his statement about lack of options:

He must have recognized in her face the sheer horror Marty was feeling.

“I know. I know,” he stammered. “It don’t seem likely, but what else be there?”

When I reread the book, this part of Clark’s proposition made me worry that Clark might prove to be manipulative in other parts of the book. After all, given that there’s a town nearby, given that the farmers could take up a collection, given that someone ought to be able to offer something—this feels more like one possible option than it does like Marty’s only option. And in hammering in that it’s her only option, Clark pressures her to take the deal he’s offering.

He could’ve just said “hey, I want to make this offer, I need this and you need that and we could help each other,” and then she could have said “what the hell, that’s better than begging in town.”

Because Clark isn’t manipulative in the rest of the book—because he turns out to be a genuinely decent person—I’m going to assume that this is on Oke, who wanted Marty in a position where she was so pressured to marry Clark that she literally didn’t have a choice. What I don’t understand is the motivation for that.

Oke takes away Marty’s agency. I could see Marty choosing Clark’s bargain over begging for a place to stay in town—Oke describes her as proud. I could see Marty choosing Clark’s deal over, say, boarding with another family because that family gives her a weird feeling that sets off warning bells. As it is, we don’t get to see Marty make a choice, because we’re told she doesn’t have one.

The only choice she makes is this:

She wiped her tears and got up from the shady grass. She wouldn’t wait for him to come back in his lordly fashion for her decision, she thought stubbornly, and she went into the wagon and began to pack the few things she called hers.

As I sat here about to wrap up this post, it occurred to me that Oke is depriving Marty of agency now so that she can have it later. It makes no sense that Clark would ask her to marry him and tell her that she could leave in the spring and go back East. This would deprive either of them from being able to marry again. By creating this bizarre bargain, though, Oke postpones Marty’s choice.

Later in the book, we learn that Ma Graham was widowed before she married Ben. We learn that she chose to marry Ben because both of them had young children, and they needed each other. I wasn’t able to put my finger on why Marty’s deal with Clark felt different from Ma Graham’s decision until just now: Ma Graham made her decision to be committed to Ben when she married Ben; Marty marries Clark without having to decide whether she wants to commit to him until spring, after six months of marriage.

Oke wanted Marty married to Clark, but not committed to staying married to him. Why? Ma Graham says she fell in love with Ben over time, and the same happens with Marty and Clark. But what function is played by having them married but not committed? This must play some function, because there’s no way to do it otherwise. It creates a tension in the story, I suppose—an end point when Marty will have to make a decision. It forces them to decide how they feel about each other.

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