The preacher’s visit has at last arrived. He comes to town on Easter Sunday specifically—how lucky for our plucky settlers! All of Clark and Marty’s neighbors gather at the Graham house for the weddings, and Easter Sunday service.
With winter behind them and feeling of spring in the air, [Marty] was restless to get out somewhere—for something.
Marty does know there’s a town to visit, right?
She was also curious about the church service and what the preacher would have to say. Her only connection with church had been for marriages and funerals…
It would have been nice to know this a while back, is all I’m saying.
She felt happiness for Sally Anne with the sparkle of love on her face, but her heart ached for Laura. After Ma had confided the reason for their consent to the marriage, Marty shared Ma’s deep concern over the coming union and felt such helplessness, knowing there was nothing any of them could do to prevent further heartache for this strong-willed girl or her family.
Is Marty aware that Laura is only one year younger than her? She sounds like she has aged considerably since meeting Ma.
Marty busied herself embroidering two sets of pillowcases for the new brides. She was fearful lest her true feelings show themselves even in her stitching. The one pair was so much joy to work. The other made her fingers feel as heavy as her heart.
Has Marty actually talked to Laura about literally any of this? This whole section is maddening. For all the feelings of compassion she has for Mrs. Larson, Marty’s doing literally nothing to reach out to Laura or invite her into her circle.
Marty shouldn’t assume Ma’s a reliable narrator. Ma isn’t God.
So. Remember that super beautiful dress Marty whipped up in less than a day but never felt comfortable wearing around Clark? Yeah, that dress. Well, she’s finally comfortable to wear it.
Clark did look at her with admiration, and she found she didn’t mind it. She felt herself flush under his gaze.
See? She’s warming up to him.
So that’s cool.
Anyway, Clark and Marty drive the wagon to the Graham’s house. Marty spends the entire ride admiring the countryside—she’s awfully attached to the west for someone who is about to leave it and head back east. Clark gets all proud showing baby Clare’s growth off to the Grahams—he’s awfully attached to this kid for someone who’s shortly going to have to say goodbye to him forever.
The Stern family arrived, causing Sally Anne to flush a becoming shade. Marty was glad to see Jason look at her with pride and love in his eyes.
Always with how beautiful Sally Anne is.
Just before the service was to begin, Milt Conners appeared, looking cocking and troublesome as ever. The men sociably made room for him on the bench, but Marty could understand the distress of the Grahams. She could not feel at was about this man, either.
Okay first, I’m not confident in Marty’s ability to tell cocky from proud/excited, especially given that she was already told by other’s that Milt is a no-good. But second, I’m bothered by this magic ability to recognize an abuser. Real life doesn’t work that way, and if you think it does, you’re going to miss things. Finally, it’s super handy that you can tell who’s a bad guy in this book by whether they’re on time.
Anyway, before the weddings, there’s a whole Easter service. And this is where Marty gets saved. Yes, really.
Marty’s heart was torn as she listened. She had heard before how cruel men of Christ’s day had put Him to death with no just cause, but never before had she realized it had anything at all to do with her. Now to hear the fact that He personally took the punishment for her sins, as well as for the sins of all mankind, was a startling and sobering discovery.
I didn’t know—I jest didn’t know thet ya died fer me, her heart cried as she sat on one of the benches, Clare held tightly in her arms and Missie and Clark on either side. I’m sorry—truly I am. Lord, I asks ya to be doin’ what yer intendin’ in my heart. Tears slipped from her eyes and down her cheeks. She didn’t even bother to wipe them away. She couldn’t feel Clark’s eyes on her when he occasionally glanced her way.
So yeah, that happened.
She reached over and slipped her hand into Clark’s. When Clark looked at her, she returned his gaze. He must have read the difference in her face, and the big hand firmly squeezed her smaller one. Marty knew he shared her joy, as she now shared his God. It was enough.
I’m not sure I have enough words to fully discuss this. Is it believable that she’d never heard the idea that Christ came to take the punishment for her sins? I’m actually going with yes on that one, in part because not every denomination teaches it like this. It’s entirely possible that whatever church she was closest to the orbit of as a child didn’t believe this.
Is it plausible that one sermon could have changed things for her so completely? Again, I’ll go with yes. We have plenty of stories from this period where just that happened.
I just realized that Stepping Heavenward was written in 1869, write about the period this book is set. Now I feel like I need to go reread it. There’s a section toward the front where she hears something—a sermon? I can’t remember—and gets all convicted about what a selfish person she is, and how she’s not really living her life as God would have her, and so forth. That’s a different sort of conversion moment, but it involves similarly strong feelings.
It’ll be interesting to see how and in what way (and whether) this actually changes Marty’s actions and view of the world.
Laura and Milt stood together first in front of the pastor. Sally Anne had wanted it that way.
What the heck?! First off, did Laura want it that way? Why is what Sally Anne wanted the only thing that matters here? And second, Laura is the older of the two! It only makes sense they’d do her first! Why is this some sort of gift by Sally Anne?
By the way, I really appreciated all of the comments on last week’s installment. So many of you had fascinating analyses’ of what’s going on between Laura and Sally Anne. Whoever it was who said that Sally Anne is the golden child and that Laura is stuck in a situation where nothing she does is ever good enough, that was spot on.
Milt looked at his feet, shifting back and forth with regularity. He looked rather careless in demeanor and attire, though he had trimmed his beard and had a haircut.
What in the heck does that mean? What was careless in Milt’s demeanor and attire? The only details Oke actually mentions are the steps Milt took to look nice!
Laura looked shyly at him in a way that made Marty hope maybe, with the help of a good woman’s love, this man could indeed change.
This has to be the saddest sentence in this book.
And of course, Jason and Sally Anne are utterly perfect.
I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.
Jason and Sally Anne stood next, and Marty knew the joy and love showing on their faces was reflected in the Grahams’ as well as her own heart. How easy it was to share in their happiness.
So, after the ceremony. The Larsons finally show up—just in time for the food. (This book is so predictable it’s boring.) Marty runs over to greet them.
“Ya all be welcome. So glad ta see ya agin’,” Marty said softly. The woman did not lift her eyes, but a small spot of color appeared in each cheek as she nodded in answer. “The good Lord has done so much fer all of us,” Marty continued, reaching out to tousle each child’s hair. “Preacher talked ’bout it this mornin’, how God can clean up folks’ hearts and change their ways.
Oh yeah, that’ll help. She’s become that friend.
Also, what has Mrs. Larson done that’s so very bad? I mean I guess sure, everyone is a sinner and all that, but later when Mrs. Larson dies (of a mysterious illness) she says something about having done terrible things. What things? Does she steal things? Is she sleeping with some other woman’s husband? What things?
So, cool. Just like that Marty has switched from feeling compassion for Mrs. Larson’s abject poverty to being concerned about her soul. Fun.
Anyway, next chapter.
Back to it being spring, Clark working in the barn, and Marty in the kitchen baking and reminiscing about way back when when she could only make pancakes.
Sally Anne was well settled in. She and Jason had driven over one evening to return the saddle horse. Jason’s eyes shone with pride as he boasted of how Sally Anne had hung the curtains, spread the rugs, and set her little kitchen in order.
Damn. It really is 1955.
Then her thoughts shifted to Laura. How was Laura really doing? she wondered. Clark had seen her recently when he had driven over the brow of a hill, and there was Laura walking down the road. She had seemed startled at his sudden appearance, he said, and had turned sharply away. When he stopped the team to offer her a lift, she looked back at him to say, “No thanks, walkin’ be right good for me.” But her eyes looked troubled and there was a bruise on her cheek. He had gone on his way, but as he related his story to Marty that evening she could tell he was deeply troubled by it. Poor Laura, Marty thought, shaking her head. To be expecting a child with this man and seeming so unhappy and alone. Her heart ached for her—and for Ma Graham.
And for Ma Graham??
So guess what? Marty never goes and visits Laura. I mean really, does “maybe I should check in on her” honestly never cross her mind? Clark clearly thinks something odd. I’m not sure whether he was concerned by Laura’s random walking (to where, exactly?) or by the bruise, or both. Either way, he’s concerned, and so is Marty. And yet neither of them do anything.
There’s nothing to do, I guess. Laura has made her bed and she has to lie in it. At least, that seems to be the mentality.
Now. It’s time for Marty to plant the garden. That’s women’s work, see—the vegetable garden. But the problem is that she doesn’t know how. She tells Clark that her ma never had a garden because “’twas a nuisance” and “she’d as leave buy off a neighbor or from the store.” Seriously? I don’t think that’s how it worked. What extra, leftover money did her mother use for this unnecessary expenditure?
Why not say she grew up in town and people didn’t have gardens? Or in a city? This entire book would make a lot more sense if Marty grew up in a tenement without indoor cooking facilities. But no. Her mother just didn’t like to garden!
“I know thet the garden be a woman’s work, but I was wondering’ …” She hesitated. “Jest this one time, could ya show me how to plant seeds an’ all?”
Clark thinks this entire situation his hilarious. He starts teasing Marty about it—not making fun of her, directly at least. It’s things like this:
Clark looked as though he was trying not to smile and answered slowly, “I reckon I could … this once, mind.”
Clark and Marty tease each other back and forth, clearly comfortable with each other. That afternoon they go out to the garden to do planting, in a jovial mood. Clark shows Marty the seeds and tells her what they’re for—“He knew so much, Clark did, and as he talked about the seeds, they seemed to take on personalities right before her eyes”—and then, well, this happens:
Clark squatted down to carefully pat earth over the sweet corn Marty had just dropped in the ground. Seeing his rather unstable position, Marty sneaked up behind him and gave him a playful shove. He went crawling in the loose dirt as he took a quick look rather trying to hide her laughter behind her hands.
Clark runs at her and grabs her. He holds her in his arms while she squirms and tries to get away, wracked in laughter; he tries to drop corn down her dress but he can’t, he’s laughing so hard. And then they both realize how close they are.
Marty was conscious of his nearness in a way she had never been before. The strength of the arms that held her, the beating of the heart against her cheek, the clean smell of shaving soap that still clung to him—everything about this man sent warm tingles all through her.
She turns and looks up at him and for a brief moment, you expect them to kiss.
The breath caught in her throat a as strangely familiar emotion swept through her. The expression on Clark’s face was somehow changing from teasing to something else.
But alas! There is to be no kiss! Marty abruptly announces that she hears Clare—she doesn’t—and makes a run for the house, “cheeks aflame.” She just almost kissed the man who is her husband. Shock! Romance! Drama!
And that’s the end of that. Marty collects herself indoors, trying to puzzle out the reasons for her “throbbing heart and troubled spirit.” End scene.
I’ll be honest—I’m finding the contrast between Marty and Clark’s blossoming love and Laura’s imminent demise disturbing. I find myself wanting to relax into their sudden pleasure and happiness, but I can’t. I’m too worried about Laura. It also doesn’t seem fair. Why does Marty get this happiness, while Laura doesn’t? I feel like I’m missing a piece of the plot. Did Laura do something to deserve this that I missed?
And most of all—how did I totally forget about this plot after I read this book in high school? I remembered Ma Graham, and the pancakes. I remembered Mrs. Larson, and the baby bibs. I even remembered this corn scene. How did I forget about Laura?
If you’re heading to the comments to comment on everything that happened this week, don’t forget that we in addition to witnessing Marty’s growing … feelings … for Clark and feeling a growing sense of doom over Laura’s fate, we also saw Marty converted in these chapters. Marty is now a Bible-speaking evangelical Christian, and she’s here to tell you that God can change folks’ hearts and minds. She’s even finally learning the words to hymns! Glory!
But she’s still not going to go visit Laura.
I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!