Love Comes Softly: The Weary Man and the Magical Wagon

Love Comes Softly: The Weary Man and the Magical Wagon March 15, 2019

Love Comes Softly, chapter 8

Guess what? It’s now Saturday. I’m pretty sure it’s only been like three days since Clem died. Maybe four. Let’s see, on day 1 with Clark Marty washed her quilts, on day 2 she scrubbed the kitchen walls, and on day 3 she washed the curtains in the sitting room. That means Clem died on Monday, and we first joined Marty on Tuesday. And now it’s Saturday.

Saturday means Clark is taking a trip to town. I genuinely do not understand why Marty can’t go with him. It’s like Oke never considers this. Marty hasn’t been to the town, she would probably enjoy seeing what else is around, and it’s not like someone has to stay home to take care of the outdoor chores, because Marty doesn’t do that. Marty should go to town.

Marty gives Clark a list of things to buy in town—mostly foodstuffs. Oke tells us Ma Graham helped her create this list, and that it’s lengthy because the winter is coming, which can mean going several weeks between trips to town. Marty expects Clark to be taken aback by how long the list is, but he isn’t.

This is one of many hints that makes me guess Marty grew up poor, but Oke never actually says this. I think it’s because her point in making comments like these isn’t to tell us about Marty; it’s to tell us about Clark. Clark is successful. Very successful. Why? Because he’s honorable, hard working, and basically everything a good Christian should be. And therefore, he is successful.

With that, Clark leaves.

Marty sighed in relief at another day without him about and turned her thoughts to planning what she would do with it.

There are no chickens to feed, no cows to be milked, no milk to be churned. There are no pigs to be fed, no eggs to be gathered, no horses to be let out into the pasture. Clark does all that. (Unless the animals on this farm are all magic animals, which I suppose is a possibility).

She’d finish her cleaning, she decided. First she’d put water on to heat so she could wash the bedding. Then she’d do the window, walls, and floor in the bedroom, and if time still allowed, she’d do the shed.

So, she gets to work.

A nagging fear raised its head occasionally. If she finished all the hard cleaning today, what would she do tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that?

OH NOES.

Guys. Guys, it really is this explicit. I’m not reading anything into it when I poke fun at Oke for not knowing that running a farm takes work and that a woman like Marty would have been busy from dawn to dusk even without this kind of make-work.

She decides to make biscuits and vegetable stew for supper. Despite Marty’s overflowing larders, she is apparently only able to make this because Ma brought some meat broth with her. Handy.

When supper is almost ready, Clark gets home.

She noticed that Clark looked weary when he came in form his chores. He gave Missie a warm hug before he sat down at the table, but Marty thought his shoulders seemed to droop a bit. Was shopping really that hard on a man, or had she made the list too long and spent all his money?

Marty. Honey. You don’t know how to read Clark. For the love of God, stop trying. Either ask him, or let it be, but the guessing and guessing wrong really isn’t helping anything.

“A lot of the stock supplies will go up in the loft over the kitchen,” Clark went on. “Ya reach it by a ladder on the outside of the house.”

Marty felt her eyes widen. “I didn’t know there’d be a loft up there.”

My God, Clark. How was she supposed to make a list when she didn’t even have the information she needed to check what she already had? Would a tour have been that hard?

Finally, they get everything unloaded.

At last it was all done. The cupboards were bulging. Imagine if she and Clem could have stocked up like that. Wouldn’t it have been like Christmas and picnics and birthdays all wrapped up in one?

It was never going to happen, Marty.

For readers who have asked—I actually don’t think Oke knows that Clem wouldn’t have made it. Marty certainly never acknowledges that, and Oke doesn’t include anything to suggest that Marty was deluding herself about this.

Marty was tucking Missie in for the night, wondering if Clark was going to come hear the little girl’s prayers as he usually did, when she heard him struggling with a rather heavy load. Marty’s curiosity led her back to the kitchen to investigate. Clark, hammer in hand, was removing a crate enclosing some large object. She stood watching silently from the door while Clark’s tools unmasked the contents. Her breath caught in her throat, for there, shining with metal and polished wood, stood the most wondrous sewing machine she had ever seen.

What I’m reading suggests that sewing machines were first marketed to American households in the 1850s, but that they were outrageously expensive (around $100, which back then was a small fortune). The price did go down over time, but I’m pretty sure this book is set in the 1850s or 1860s, and Clark being loaded is kind of part of the point here.

It’s here that Marty learns why Clark looked weary.

“I ordered it some months back as a surprise fer my Ellen. She liked to sew an’ was al’ays makin’ somethin’ fancy like. It was to be fer her birthday. She would have been twenty-one—tomorrow.” Clark looked up then. “I’d be proud if ya’d consider it yourn now. I’m sure ya can make use of it.”

You can’t exactly not feel for Clark, here. This is also the moment Marty finally feels for him—not love, I mean. Just—this is where she realizes he has feelings, and that he’s suffering too.

Only then did she realize that this tall man before her was fighting for control. His lips trembled and as he turned awaits he was sure she saw tears in his eyes. Marty brushed by him and went out into the coolness of the night. She had to think, to sort things out. He had ordered the machine for his Ellen, and he was weeping. He must be suffering, too, she thought, stunned by the realization. The weary sag of his shoulders, the quivering lips, the tear-filled eyes. He … he must understand something of how I’m feeling. Somehow she had never thought of him as carrying such deep sorry. Hot tears washed down Marty’s cheeks.

I’d fault Marty for this, except that grief does have a way of bottling a person up, so maybe it’s believable that she hadn’t realized—really realized—that Clark lost someone too.

This is also where we learn Marty’s age—nineteen—because she thinks in musing about how young Ellen was to die, how close to her own age. She’d never really thought about what Clark’s wife had been like, Oke tells us. She hadn’t even known her name. Now she feels it.

She had assumed she was the only one who bore that kind of sorry, but it wasn’t so.

It’s a mean world, she mused as she turned her face upward.

“It’s mean an’ wicked an’ cruel,” she said out loud as she gazed upward.

The stars blinked down at her from a clear sky.

“It’s mean,” she whispered, “but it’s beautiful.” What was it that Ma Graham had said? “Time,” she’d said, “it is time that’s the healer—time an’ God.” Marty supposed she meant Clark’s God.

This whole thing feels off. Marty doesn’t seem to actually have any opinion at all on God—which is odd, given that she just declared the world mean and wicked and cruel. In books like this, you usually have some sort of tension surrounding religion. You might expect Marty to decide that Clark can do what he wants, but she’s not going to humble herself to a God who took Clem away from her. But no, we don’t have that at all.

It’s almost refreshing, in  away.

When Marty goes inside, she finds something on the table.

On the kitchen table was a large package wrapped with brown paper and tied with store twine. Clark motioned toward it.

“I’m not sure what might be in there,” he said. “I told Missus McDonald at the store to make up whatever a woman be needing’ to pass the winter. She sent this. I hope it passes.”

Marty took a deep breath. Just what did he mean? She wasn’t sure.

Clark carries it to her room, and Marty unwraps it in private.

There was material for undergarments and nighties and enough lengths for three dresses. One piece was warm and soft looking in a pale blue-gray; already her mind was picturing how it would look done up. It would be her company and visiting dress. It was beautiful. She explored further and found a pattern for a bonnet and two pieces of material. One lightweight and one heavier for cold weather.

There was lace for trimming, and long warm stockings, and even a pair of shoes, warm and high for the winter, and a shawl for the cool days and evenings, and on the bottom, of all things, a long coat. She was sure no one else in the whole West would have clothing equal to hers. Her cheeks were warm and her hands trembled.

Okay, but I have a question. I get that the point here is that Clark is loaded, and a good provider, who takes care of those people subsumed under his legal status (coverture and all that jazz), but wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense for Marty to have gone to town with Clark so that she could have picked out these things herself? What if she had a favorite color?

I get that Mrs. McDonald picked these things out, not Clark, but it still feels a bit too close to Clark dressing up his own little woman for comfort.

This is not, of course, Marty’s reaction.

“Ya little fool,” she muttered.

Say what? This what:

“Ya can’t be takin’ all this. Do ya know thet iffen ya did, ya’d be beholden to thet man fer years to come?”

I can almost see why she feels this way, because Marty isn’t doing a whole lot of meaningful contributing to the household. If this was the actual West and not the fake West, Marty would be working herself to the bone on the work of the farm every day, contributing more than her weight in worth. But no. Instead she’s washing curtains and trying to think of something to do with her copious amount of time and abject boredom. She doesn’t even seem to be paying all that much attention to Missie, which is supposed to be her job.

Resentment filled Marty. She wanted the things, the lovely things, but oh, she couldn’t possibly accept them. What could she do? She would not humble herself and be beholden to this man. She would not be a beggar in his home. Tears scalded her cheeks. Oh, what could she do? What could she do?

My god. Go talk to Clark. Tell him this feels like too much. Listen to what he has to say. Clearly, Clark doesn’t think that her using these goods will make her “a beggar in his home.” This genuinely is all in Marty’s head. Clark saw that her clothes were falling to pieces—which they literally were—and he knew she would die in the winter to come given that she didn’t even have a coat (not that she really needs one, given that she doesn’t seem to ever go outside).

Marty finally comes to the worst conclusion possible:

“We are not fancy, but we try an’ be proper” came back again to haunt her.

Could it be that he was embarrassed by her shabbiness? Yes, she decided, it could well be. Again her chin came up.

Okay, she determined, she’d take it—all of it. She would not be an embarrassment to any man. She would sew up the clothes in a way that would be the envy of every woman around. After all, she could sew. Clark need not feel shame because of her.

But the knowledge of what she knew—or thought she knew—drained much of the pleasure from the prospect of the new clothes.

*headdesk*

The thing is, I don’t feel like Oke is setting any of this up as “this is why communication is so important in a relationship” sort of advice. Instead, she seems to be primarily interested in throwing roadblocks in to keep the two apart, until they can finally come together and fall in love. Having just lost her husband isn’t enough, apparently, to keep her from immediately falling for Clark—so she has to completely misunderstand him too.

Fine. This is standard romance novel fare. It’s still really annoying, though. I want to shake the both of them and tell them to just talk to each other already.

Here, at the end of the chapter, we get something so rare that it feels out of place. We get to enter Clark’s head.

In his lean-to bedroom, Clark stretched long, tired legs under the blankets. It had been a hard day for him, fraught with difficult memories.

It used to be such fun to bring home winter supplies to Ellen.

So Ellen wasn’t allowed to go to town either, huh?

She had made such a fuss over them. Why, if she’d been here today she would have had Missie sharing in the game and half wild with excitement. Well, he certainly couldn’t fault Marty, only five days a widow.

Um. Dude. Widowhood or not, you still couldn’t fault her, because she is not Ellen. Expecting her to act just like Ellen would make no sense. She’s a different person. 

He couldn’t expect her to be overly carried away about salt and flour at this point.

Not everyone gets excited over groceries. More to the point, though, she was excited—he just couldn’t see it because she didn’t display it in the same way Ellen did. And because she’s not talking to him. And he’s not talking to her, either—so there’s that.

He didn’t even show her the loft over the kitchen for gracious sake.

He muses that it takes a long time to “get over a loss like that” and that he hasn’t gotten over losing Ellen himself yet so he can’t really help her with that. And then we get this:

The thought of wanting another woman had never entered his head since he’d lost Ellen. If it weren’t for Missie, this one wouldn’t be here now; but Missie needed her even if he didn’t, and one could hardly take that out on the poor girl.

The “poor girl” being Marty, I assume.

At firs the had resented her here, he supposed—cleaning Ellen’s cupboards, working at her stove—but no, that wasn’t fair, either. After all, she hadn’t chosen to be here.

I damn well hope she did choose to be there, because the alternative—what, did he have a gun to her head when he asked her?—is seriously uncomfortable to contemplate!

It’s going to be harder for Marty, he thought, as she is all alone. She didn’t have a Missie, or a farm, or anything really.

Okay first, that’s kind of insulting. But also—does he not remember that he told Marty she’d need to take Missie with her in the spring, if she decides to head back East? Does he not know that that is currently her plan? He has really not thought this through.

He hoped Mrs. McDonald had selected the right items for Marty. She really was going to need warmer things for the winter ahead.

I feel like, if this were in a book by Michael Farris or Debi Pearl, there’d be a point to this. Silly women, always reading things into everything and having emotions, it would go. Men are so much more straightforward and uncomplicated, and that’s what makes them better. 

But this isn’t Farris or Pearl or even Rivers. I feel like this is standard romance novel fair—our two main characters operating on different wavelengths and always missing each other—and not meant to have any other point.

And then we get this:

The idea that he was doing anything special for her in getting the things she needed did not enter his thinking. He was simply providing what was needed for those under his roof, a thing he had been taught was the responsibility of the man of the house when he was but a young’un tramping around, trying to keep up with the long strides of his own pa.

Wait. Clark had a pa?! He didn’t just sprout from the earth fully formed?! I have to say, I’m disappointed! I’ve enjoyed our fan theories! Wait. Maybe these are implanted memories.

What I should be focusing on is Clark’s sexist gender norms. It’s just that imagining Clark as a warlock or some other magical creature is so much more fun. 

I liked Clark better when he bought those things for Marty because she needed warm things, and not because he’s the man of the house, dammit, and that means it’s his job to properly clothe all the people he owns. Or something like that.

Is he aware that sending Marty thousands of miles away with a two-year-old child and no means to support herself—or legally get remarried—is perhaps not in keeping with this emphasis on caring for those he’s responsible for? Not that I’m a fan of his sexist ideas about family function and structure—but he really does not seem to have thought this through.

More pertinently—what can possible be the motivation behind Clark’s refusal to take either Marty or Ellen to town with him? Does he have a mistress in town that he visits? Or—even better!—is he not actually going to town? Is he perhaps driving out into the wilderness, carrying out an elaborate ritual, and then watching while the wagon magically fills with goods?

I must know!

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