Follow Your Heart is a poignant tale of newlyweds, Leann and Ralph Wade, and their struggle to overcome difficulties during the early years of marriage in post Civil War Missouri. The novel tells of a love strong enough to survive the hard times with the cords of family values and faith intertwined throughout the story.
“Beautiful love story of a young couple just starting their lives together and the struggles they face. They learn to read the Bible and pray for guidance as they seek God’s will. I am ready for the next book!!! It is very well written.”
Follow Your Heart
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9
A chilly gust of wind pushed through the open window and past the lace curtains, jerking the wrinkled, faded paper from Leann’s hand, sending it to the floor. She shivered then rose to close the window.
Sue picked the paper up and examined it. “Are you still reading this letter from Sonny Wade, when you’re marrying his brother in two days? I thought you threw it away ages ago.”
“Hand that to me.” Leann had not heard her sister enter the room. She snatched the letter from Sue’s hand, tearing the fragile paper. “Really, Sue, my letter is none of your business. I should have thrown it away, but I felt sorry for Sonny, being in the war and a Union prison camp. And besides, I forgot about it.”
“You were hiding that letter.” Sue’s eyes narrowed when she looked directly into Leann’s.
“I didn’t hide it. You and the family read it.”
“Several years ago. You’ve been hiding it ever since and probably secretly reading it.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Have you seen Sonny since he got out of the army? Or do you just read his letter and dream about the handsome man?”
“No, to both questions. He works on a Mississippi River steamboat and has only been home a couple of times. Pa told me he saw Sonny in town last year. They talked for awhile, then Sonny headed for the saloon when Pa walked away.”
“Well, you should have thrown it away. What if Ralph finds out you secretly kept his brother’s love letter?” Sue’s locks bobbed with her shaking head.
Leann tore the already ripped paper into tiny pieces and threw them into a small trash basket sitting beside the bedroom door. She could not explain to herself or to her sister why the letter had remained in the drawer for years. “Are you happy now? It wasn’t a love letter. You read it. He only wrote about the war and being homesick. I didn’t answer, so he never wrote again.”
Leann grabbed her younger sister by the arm, looking directly into the girl’s green eyes. Sue stared back with the same intensity. “And don’t you tell anyone about me keeping the letter. I forgot about it until I started packing. Do you want to cause trouble with Ralph or the family?”
“I won’t tell, if you will let me keep your pretty green parasol when you leave.” Sue pushed Leann’s arm off her own.
“That’s my only good one. It matches my green voile dress. I won’t have anything to take to the socials.”
“Make your husband buy you a new one.” Sue was unrelenting.
“Okay. I will leave my green parasol with you. Just don’t tell I kept the letter. Sonny Wade means nothing to me.”
“Well, he must mean something, or you would have thrown his letter away. He may not have put in writing that he loved you, but he came around here pretty often before he joined the army and gave Ralph room to move in.”
“I was only thirteen when he left.”
“I’m thirteen, and I love Johnny Townsend. I plan to be married when I’m eighteen, just like you. What if Sonny hadn’t gone to war? Would he have won your heart instead of Ralph?”
Would he have won her heart? Maybe. She had felt an attraction for him. He always seemed so adventurous and daring. She was shy and timid, so daring excited her. “No. I’ve always loved Ralph and always will.”
“Well, let’s hope so. After all, you’re marrying him, not Sonny. Ma wants you to come help with breakfast. She said we have a lot to do today, with finishing your wedding dress so you can wed your beloved.” Sue gave a small giggle, opened the door, and headed downstairs to the kitchen. Leann followed.
How could she have been so careless as to let Sue see Sonny’s letter? It should have been thrown away years ago. She forgot it lay hidden in the back corner of her undergarment drawer, until she began packing her things to take to her new home. She loved Ralph, and the excitement of becoming his wife filled her heart and soul. Hopefully, Sonny would stay away forever and she would never have to face him again.
Ralph Wade stared at the ceiling. Sleep would not come. The farm’s coffers were poorer than they were after the war when he first started farming. Gosh, he was getting married in two days. His ma said he worried too much and should turn his troubles over to the Lord, but saying and doing are two different things. After their marriage, Leann would be his responsibility. Could he take care of her properly?
Her family, well-to-do before the conflict, now suffered financially, along with everyone else in the south, but was still doing better than most. Her father had managed to sell some cattle to pay for the wedding. Ralph had nothing to contribute but the farm, his strong back, and a willingness to work his hands to the bone to make a good living for her. If only his crops would produce sufficiently and he could find a buyer for them.
Leann may not want to marry him if she knew he was broke. Just thinking such a thing did a grave injustice to their love. She loved him for himself, he felt sure, and would share his struggles. Leann told him she wanted a large family, and her desire became his desire. He had loved her for as long as he could remember, but children cost money.
Dear Lord, those were hard years of waiting. In two days she will be his wife. He hadn’t prayed much in his life, not that he didn’t believe in the Lord, he just didn’t have the time. Now he needed to earnestly seek the Lord’s blessings on this new life he would share with Leann. He could use the Lord’s help with his finances too.
“Leann! It’s time to go. Ralph Wade will have my head if you’re late. He’s been pestering me about this day for years,” Pa called from the bottom of the stairs.
“We’re coming, John,” Ma called back from the girls’ bedroom, where she assisted Leann in putting on the finishing touches of her wedding attire.
Leann gazed into the full-length mirror on the bedroom wall one last time and approved of her image.
“You’re very pretty. Ralph’s a lucky man.” Ma gave the soft ivory broadcloth skirt of the dress one last smoothing stroke with her hand then stood back to look at Leann’s reflection.
“Thank you, Ma, for everything you’ve done to make my wedding beautiful—ordering the pattern and material for my dress from Mr. Samuels and helping me sew it.” Leann embraced her mother. She would miss this loving woman who taught her so much about life and living.
Ma returned the embrace. “You’re welcome, dear. I did it because I love you and want your wedding to be very special.”
“I love you, Ma.”
Leann fingered the delicate lace of a matching color that graced the high collar around her throat and the cuffs of the long narrow sleeves. Small buttons covered with the same fabric lay in a neat row down the front of the bodice to the skirt. The full pleated skirt almost touched the floor hiding white cotton stockings and beige leather high-topped shoes. She had a new bonnet and pink wool shawl to complement the outfit.
Leann turned to her sisters who stood behind her admiring the work they had done on their older sibling’s hair. “And thank you for brushing my hair and helping me pin it.” The girls had arranged her hair into a neat bun with small curls framing her face.
“Washing your hair in rainwater sure makes it shine,” Sue commented. She patted her own head. “My mousy brown hair won’t shine like yours.”
Leann smiled at the young girl. “You have beautiful hair, Sue.”
“I just wish I had some red highlights in it like yours.”
Leann placed a matching pearl handled comb, brush, and hand mirror into the satchel. Before packing the small bottle of lilac toilette water Ralph had given her, she opened the bottle releasing the sweet aroma and dabbed some behind both ears.
Ma started out of the room. “I’m going on downstairs. Hurry and finish up. Your pa and the boys are waiting for us. Is this ready to go?” She picked up the satchel from Leann’s bed.
“Yes, Ma.” Leann ran her hands down the front of the wedding dress one last time.
Sue placed the bonnet on Leann’s head and tied the ribbons under her chin in a neat bow.
Mary Jane clapped her hands and said, “You look beautiful, Leann. I can hardly wait to see Ralph Wade’s face when he sets eyes on you. I’ll bet his heart skips a beat or two.”
“I don’t want you to leave. I’ll miss you.” Sally sat watching.
Leann went to the little girl and gave her a hug. “I love you, Sally. I’ll be coming home often, and you can come to see me.”
“It won’t be the same around here without you.”
“Don’t be so sour on Leann’s wedding day, Sally,” Mary Jane scolded. “You want to make her cry and mess up her face? Ralph may not like that.”
The two older girls giggled, making Sally smile. Leann loved her sisters and would miss them terribly. She looked in the mirror one last time to make sure the bonnet sat straight.
“Come on, Leann. Do you want to be late for your own wedding?” Luke called from the bottom of the stairs with a gruff voice.
He had to ride in the wagon with the other kids while Tom rode the family’s third horse.
Leann grabbed her new shawl and rushed down the stairs with the girls. When she stepped from under the cover of the porch roof, a large drop of cold water splashed on top of her new bonnet, penetrating the fabric to her hair and feeling cold.
“Thank goodness the rain’s over.” The persistent rain shower kept her from sleeping most of the night.
She stopped for a moment to gain her composure and gaze at the lovely rainbow forming across a brightening sky—a perfect picture in every way. The rain had washed the fields of the Missouri countryside to a vivid green and gold. Tall hardwoods cloaked in the beginning of fall colors and interspersed with green firs bordered the fields. Dark gray clouds began turning to fluffy white.
“God’s creation is so beautiful,” she whispered. “He’s so good.” Her heart filled with a sudden joy.
Ma and Stewart waited in the wagon while Pa stood beside the horses and held the reins. He looked handsome but uncomfortable in the new black serge suit and black felt hat. When she came down the porch steps, he handed the reins to Ma, removed his hat, and then met her with a warm embrace.
“You’re a beautiful bride, sweetheart.” He held her at arm’s length with his bright brown eyes creased at the corners and sparkling.
“Thank you, Pa. I’m awful nervous.”
“Well, you’re starting on a great big adventure—a new life.” Pa called to the rest of the family, “This whole bunch looks mighty fine in their new clothes today. Mighty fine.”
“Ralph and I have only been engaged a year, Pa,” Leann said while he helped her to the wagon seat beside her mother. He searched her eyes. “You said he’s been pestering you for years about this day.”
“Well, he’s been hanging around so long, I’ve lost count of the years.” Pa grinned.
Pa’s the biggest tease of all. I wonder if Ralph and I will have as much fun with each other and our kids. Ralph is awfully serious at times, but so am I.
Luke helped the girls into the wagon bed. The frown on his face deepened while he worked to sit between Stu and Leann’s trunk. He crammed the small satchel into a space next to the trunk. Pa climbed onto the seat beside Leann and Ma handed him the reins. Leann straightened her dress. She didn’t want to look wrinkled today, of all days.
Pa smiled. “I don’t imagine Ralph’s going to mind if you’ve got a wrinkle or two in your dress.”
Ducking her head, Leann felt heat rise to her face.
“Quit teasing the girl, John. You’ll get her all flustered before the wedding,” Ma said.
“I’m not teasing, Polly. Ralph Wade won’t be looking at Leann’s dress today.”
The children laughed at their father. Ma shushed them to quietness, but they continued whispering and laughing among themselves. Leann listened to their sweet voices and laughter. She would miss her siblings.
The wagon bounced and jostled down the dirt road. Rain from the night before made the road soft in places. The wheels of the wagon ground through muddy water, splashing it to the top of the sideboards.
“Pa, watch out. You almost splashed mud on me,” Sue cried.
“I’m trying to be careful, Sue.” Pa kept his eye on the road while carefully driving the horses.
Tom rode ahead and far to one side of the wagon so the muddy water wouldn’t slosh on him. He wore leather chaps to keep the bottom of his pants dry. The children laughed and talked. Leann could not hear all they said, but could hear the happiness and excitement in their conversation. Their excitement added to hers, lessening the tension she felt over the condition of the road.
She hummed the hymn, “My Faith Looks Up To Thee”. Music eased her mind when she became anxious. Ma began singing the words of the song in her sweet, high voice. Pa joined in the singing with his deep bass voice. The younger children, except for Luke, sang the chorus.
The trip into town along the muddy road seemed longer than usual. The horses strained in their traces. With taut arms and strong hands encased in heavy brown leather gloves, Pa pulled hard on the reins while guiding the horses through the large mud holes. Lumber wagons from the sawmill in town had left deep ruts that were now filled with water.
His forehead beaded with perspiration until he pulled the wagon to a stop, removed his coat, and handed it to Ma. Large wet rings appeared under the arms of his clean, freshly starched and ironed white shirt. Leann twisted the end of her shawl and looked at her mother’s drawn face. Ma stared straight ahead. The children were quiet. Luke rose to his knees so he could see the road. Tom rode behind the wagon now. He would stay close in case of trouble.
The town of Cuba finally came into view. Leann spotted the steeple of the church. Tom now trotted down Main Street ahead of the wagon. She saw wagons and horses tied in front of the church with people going into the building. Some of the men stood around in the churchyard getting a last chew of tobacco while others watched Ralph’s friends, Mac Henry and Tell Springer, roast a pig over an open pit at the side of the church. Several children ran and played, squealing with laughter. All turned to see who rode down the street.
Tom reached the church before the wagon. He dismounted the dapple-gray mare and tied her to a tree. Pa finally relaxed the reins and walked the tired horses to the church. Leann slipped her arm inside his. He turned to look at her and smile.
“We made it okay, daughter. You’ll get married to that young man after all.”
Rising slightly, she kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Pa, for working so hard to get me here. You’re my hero.”
“Well, we can’t disappoint your groom. He’s been waiting a long time for this day.” Pa laughed.
“Oh, Pa. I’m going to miss your joking and fun.”
He patted her hand as the wagon pulled into the churchyard. She rested her head on his shoulder before the horses came to a stop beside the mare. Leann sat up as people gathered around the wagon. Luke jumped out and tied the horses to the hitching post in front of the church. Stewart climbed out of the wagon bed then helped his sisters to the ground while Pa helped Leann then Ma out of the wagon. Leann smoothed her dress and hair. Ma handed Pa his coat. He slipped it on over a sweaty shirt.
Leann caught sight of Ralph’s parents coming out of the church. Katherine and Joe Wade quickly made their way to the family. The Wades greeted her parents.
Katherine hugged her and then held her at arm’s length. “You’re beautiful, Leann. Ralph is so very excited and nervous.”
“You sure are a pretty bride.” Joe moved his wife out of the way and embraced Leann. “My son’s a lucky man.”
Katherine took Leann’s elbow. “Joe, tell Ralph that Leann’s here. Polly and I will take her to the antechamber off the church vestibule so she can freshen up. The wedding will be starting on time. I think he’s still in Brother Daniels’ office with Joe Jr. and Sonny.
A gasp escaped Leann’s throat. Katherine turned to look at her.
“Are you all right, dear? You look a little pale. You must be feeling the jitters on your wedding day.”
“Sonny came to the wedding?” Leann managed.
“Yes. Actually, we were all surprised. Ralph wrote to Sonny and told him about your marriage, but we didn’t hear from him. Then he showed up yesterday.” Looking into Leann’s eyes, Katherine added, “I told Ralph it would only be proper to ask Sonny to be his best man since he’s the oldest. I hope you don’t mind. You were expecting Joe Jr. to do the honors.” Katherine smiled. “Do you mind, Leann?”