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Times are difficult in Missouri after the Civil War. Families struggle to keep their property from creditors and outlaws. The desire of Ralph Wade’s heart is to marry the girl of his dreams, beautiful Leann Clark, but many obstacles stand in their way. Ralph finds love is not enough to persuade Leann’s father to give his permission for their marriage. John Clark wishes more than love for his daughter. He wants her husband to provide a good living with a secure future. Ralph is much too hot-tempered and unreliable in John’s eyes. Leann desires the dashing Ralph and defies her father to be with him. She believes her love is strong enough to see them through the hard times. Through adverse circumstances, the young couple struggles to keep the fires of their love and faith burning.
Heaven Must Wait, Part II
“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Psalms 27: 14
Ralph pulled the loaded pistol from his overall pocket, took careful aim, and discharged the barrel. Jed neighed and jumped at the sound. Ralph patted the faithful horse’s warm nose. A large rattler squirmed, shook its rattles, then lay still in the warm earth not far from the horse’s hoofs. Picking up the snake by the tail, he threw it into the woods, then replaced the pistol in his pocket. The weapon’s weight made carrying it difficult, but too many outlaws roamed the Missouri countryside these days after the war, decimating the farms with their thieving and killing.
Ralph tugged at his hat, pulled a large bandana from his pocket, and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. The afternoon heat felt oppressive, and the summer just beginning. Gosh, he missed Leann. Visions of her loveliness raced through his mind while he made plans to see her. The first opportunity would be at church on Sunday. He had not attended services for a while—since all the trouble began with her father and the summer activities of farming kept him so busy.
On Saturday afternoon, Ralph decided to attend church services in Cuba the next day. Seeing Leann during church was the safest way and sure to bring approval from John Clark, her pa. Ralph fed and watered the livestock, gathered eggs and fed the chickens, then brought the large number two washtub into the kitchen. He drew water from the sink pump he had installed in his kitchen several months before to fill the tub and heated more water on the stove. When the water was heated, he added it to the tub water, located a clean towel in the bedroom, and picked up the small bar of chamomile soap beside the bedroom’s washbasin. Leann had used most of the chamomile bar on Pearl’s hair. Paying good money to buy soap didn’t sit well with Ralph. He liked to use the lye soap his mother provided that made his hair unruly. He used a lot of hair oil that soon vanished to let stiff strands wander down his forehead into his eyes.
Ralph found clean underwear, trousers, and a shirt in the bureau placed the towel and soap on top of the bundle, then made his way to the kitchen. He threw the soap into the tub making water splash out onto the kitchen floor, and placed his clothing on a kitchen chair. He removed his work clothes, tossing them into a pile by the back door. They would be washed on Monday with the rest of his dirty clothes. The heat of summer and the amount of perspiration deposited on his clothing made frequent laundering necessary.
Ralph took a step toward the tub and slipped on a puddle of water. Arms and legs twisted in all directions and his buttocks landed squarely on the kitchen floor. The back of his head hit the floor next. All went black for a moment, then he opened his eyes and saw two of everything. He lay unclothed and still on the floor for a while, trying to get his bearings. Angry with himself for being so careless, he finally sat up and felt the back of his head. Blood covered his hand.
“Doggone. How stupid can I be?” he spoke aloud.
“I don’t know, but seems you’re mighty dumb to slip and fall in your own kitchen,” a voice spoke and a large hand reached down to help him to his feet.
Ralph rose to look into the eyes of his brother, Sonny. “Hello, Sonny.” He put an arm around the man’s neck.
Sonny gave Ralph a pat, then turned him around to look at the cut on the back of his head. Shaking his head, Sonny sat Ralph down in a chair, found a clean dishtowel, wet it with the bathwater, and applied it to Ralph’s head, washing the blood away from the wound.
“Man, do you always leave your door open when you take a bath? What if Ma or some other woman walked in?” Sonny rubbed Ralph’s head.
He winced. “Don’t rub so hard. No one’s ever walked in before. I live by myself, you know.”
“I just walked in on you, and it’s a good thing I did. There’s a first time for everything, especially when you leave your door open.” Sonny rinsed the towel in the bathwater and reapplied it to Ralph’s head.
“You’re getting my water bloody and I have to take a bath in it.”
“You need one too. I smelled you from the front door.” Sonny popped Ralph’s shoulder with the wet towel. “Get in the tub, then, and wash that head. You may need a stitch in it.”
“I don’t think so. I’m not going into town to see the doctor this afternoon,” Ralph said, climbing into the tub of now tepid water.
He lathered his entire body with the soap, making the cut on his head sting and his eyes water. He tried to soap his back, but couldn’t reach the very middle. Sonny walked to the tub and took the soap from Ralph’s hand, then lathered it across his back. His brother’s scrubbing felt good until he applied the soap to the cut again.”
“That’s enough,” Ralph said, then bent forward and ducked his head under the water.
When he came up, Sonny handed him a towel and looked at the cut again, examining it closely. “You may get by with just a bandage and some tincture of iodine, but you’ll have to shave the hair around the cut so tape will stick. Good thing I happened along to take care of you, Little Brother,” he said with emphasis on, little. “Get your gauze, tape, and iodine. I’ll fix you up.”
Ralph finished drying and wrapped the towel around his waist. He started for the bedroom to get the medicinal supplies from the room’s commode shelf. He kept supplies handy because they were needed on a regular basis on the farm.
“Oh yeah, bring your razor. I’ll need to shave the back of your head,” Sonny called.
“What a mess,” Ralph said under his breath as he made his way to the bedroom, found the needed supplies, then came back to the kitchen.
Ralph placed the articles on the table in front of Sonny. “When did you get home?”
“Yesterday. Thought I’d drop in to see how things are going for you since you struck out on your own. Seems you could be better at the moment. Why don’t I shave your head in the yard so hair won’t get all over everything.” Sonny picked up the razor, handed Ralph the wet dishtowel to hold on his bleeding head, and walked toward the door. Ralph followed.
When they reached the porch, Sonny grabbed a porch chair and took it to the yard. Ralph sat on the chair while Sonny began to shave his head. Ralph watched hair fall to the ground around him. Anger with himself churned his stomach. What would Leann and her family think now? Probably that he had been in another fight.
“You want me to shave your whole head? You’re gonna look funny with just the back shaved.” Sonny worked meticulously around the wound.
“Yeah, go ahead. Serves me right for being so careless.”
“You have a sore back here already that’s just getting well. What did you do to get that one? Get kicked by a mule?”
“It’s a long story and I don’t have time to tell it all.” He didn’t want to go into detail about the fight with Wesley Snipes in the Golden Goose Saloon.
“Have it your way if you want to keep secrets from your brother, but now you are going to have two scars on the back of your head.” More hair fell around Sonny’s feet.
With the job done, Ralph replaced the porch chair while holding the towel to the back of his head. The two men went inside. Sonny took the towel from Ralph, pushed him down on a kitchen chair, and rinsed the bloody towel at the kitchen pump. Sonny applied the towel with sufficient pressure to finally stop the bleeding. He painted tincture of iodine on the cut and Ralph yelped.
“Hold still,” Sonny said when Ralph squirmed.
His brother took too much pleasure in Ralph’s discomfort. Finally, the bandage was applied to the cut and Sonny sat down at the table across from Ralph.
“I just came to get a cup of coffee and see how you’re making it farming on your own. I didn’t intend to get into the doctoring business.” A broad grin broke across his handsome face. Sonny had grown a mustache, making him look like an outlaw. Maybe he had turned rogue. One could never tell about this wayward brother. “You look real cute with no hair.”
Ralph stared at his brother for a moment then ran his hand over his bare head. The stubble of hair felt soft under his palm. “I’ll be wearing my hat for a while, and I wanted to go to church, tomorrow.”
“I didn’t know you’re a church-going man.” Sonny looked astonished.
“I like to go to church. You’re the heathen of the family.”
Sonny’s eyes narrowed. “You have a girlfriend going to that meeting house?”
Ralph felt heat rise to his face. His brother could always read his mind. “Maybe.”
Sonny’s grin lit his face again. “Thought so. What’s her name?”
“You know her. Leann, Leann Clark.”
Suddenly, Sonny rose, walked to the door, picked his hat up off the floor where he had thrown it on seeing Ralph, and put it on. Ralph didn’t know what to think. Had he said something wrong? Sonny was acting strange, but unusual behavior was not new to this brother since he came home from the war.
“I’ve got to go. Take care of yourself and don’t take any more baths with your door open.” Sonny walked to his horse, mounted, and rode toward the town of Cuba.
Ralph supposed Sonny was going to the Saloon, which was his usual practice when in town. He would be gone in a day or two and the family wouldn’t see him again for several months or a year.
Leann’s spirits sang as she rushed around tiding up the parlor. Maybe Ralph would come for a visit since Tuesday was his usual time to come calling. She felt a keen disappointment when he had not attended church on Sunday, and didn’t want to get her hopes up too high. He seemed so unreliable lately, not showing up when he promised. Of course, the incident with Pearl last week could not have been avoided, but Pearl was gone, and hopefully, gone from Cuba.
“Leann, Ralph’s here.” Stu’s voice called from the front porch where the family had gathered after the supper meal.
She felt excitement course from the top of her head to the bottom of her toes. Her heart pumped viciously. Heat rose to her face. Ralph kept his promise. He loved her after all. She rushed out of the door and arrived on the porch just as he dismounted from Maude and tied her reins to the oak tree not far from the house. She stopped, not wanting him to see her excitement.
“Your boyfriend’s here,” Mary Jane said with a giggle. Sue joined her with another giggle.
“You girls stop teasing Leann,” Ma scolded.
Leann felt her father’s eyes watching her as she went down the steps to meet Ralph. She stopped in front of him. He seemed reluctant to go any closer to the house and her family.
“I need to talk to you, Leann. In private,” he said, then spoke to her parents, “Mr. and Mrs. Clark. How are you on this fine night?”
“We’re fine, Ralph. Come up on the porch and have a seat,” Pa answered.
“If you don’t mind, Mr. Clark, I’d like to walk with Leann to that big oak over there.” Ralph took her hand.
“Just stay in my sight, son.”
“Yes, sir. We will. Just to the oak over there.” Ralph led her to the oak where Maude was tied.
The mare whinnied when they approached her. He released Leann’s hand and stroked Maude’s muzzle, then turned back with a grin. She returned his smile. She couldn’t help noticing his shaven head peeping from under his hat. “What happened to your hair? Is your head shaved?”
His face flushed. She had never seen Ralph blush before. What could have possibly made him shave his nice thick, brown hair?
“That’s why I didn’t get too close to your parents. I don’t want them to see my head. He turned around and lifted his hat for Leann to see the bandage. A hand flew to her mouth as she gasped. “I was getting ready to take a bath Saturday night, getting ready for church, when I slipped in some water on the kitchen floor. I fell on the back of my head and cut it open and was knocked out.”
“Did you go to the doctor?” She felt relief he was not hurt any worse and that he was getting ready for church.
“No, Sonny came for a visit and found me. He shaved and bandaged my head, then left.” Ralph searched her eyes.
Leann tried to remain calm and spoke over a lump forming in her throat. “Sonny was here?”
“Yeah, funny thing. I told him I wanted to meet you at church, and he got up and left. Don’t know when we’ll see him again. It may not be for months, but I’m sure glad he happened by Saturday night.”
Leann turned away from Ralph’s scrutinizing eyes. Maybe her imagination read too much into his gaze, but she suddenly felt uncomfortable talking about Sonny. He meant nothing at all to her anymore, so why should the mention of his name make her heart beat faster and her palms perspire?
Ralph didn’t know Sonny had visited the Clark farm on several occasions and sought her out before he left for the war. She had just turned thirteen and was much too young to keep company with a boy. He came under the pretext of visiting with Tom, but always managed to speak to her and maybe chat for a while. Once she had taken a walk to the creek at the back of their farm and he found her there. She wondered how he knew where to find her. Maybe Tom had told him. Sonny said he had joined the militia and would be fighting Yankees, and wanted to say goodbye. He asked if he could kiss her and she said he could. He removed his hat and brushed her lips with a small kiss. After all, he was going to fight Yankees, and may not come back. She touched her lips several times after he left. Tom told her a couple of days later that Sonny was gone. She remembered feeling sad and forlorn. Ma thought she was sick.
Several months later, Ralph left bashful adolescence and found enough nerve to speak to Leann instead of watching from afar. He was handsome, like Sonny, yet more settled, more serious. Leann loved Ralph and his practical, logical thinking. He had a kind heart, but his temper flared with little provocation. Pa said Ralph’s temper would keep him in trouble if he didn’t learn to control it.
Ralph took Leann’s hand and pulled her to face him. “Are you all right?”
She looked into the pools of his deep, brown eyes. “Yes. I love you is all. I’m worried about your head. Do you want Ma to look at it? She and Pa will be pleased to know you were getting ready for church.”
Ralph sighed. “No. Sonny did a good job. It’ll be well in a few days. I’ll get Ma to change the bandage.”
“Do you want to take a walk? I’ll ask Pa if we can walk to the creek. He shouldn’t mind.” Leann squeezed Ralph’s hand.
“Yes. I would like to be alone with you for a little while if John will let us.” A line creased his brow as he turned toward the porch. “He’s watching us like a hawk right now.”
Leann pulled on his hands. “Come on. Are you afraid of Pa?”
She laughed and jerked his hand. “Then come on, scaredy cat. Pa won’t bite you.”
Ralph followed along. “I’m not so sure about that.”
Leann giggled at his timidity. Pa seemed to be the only person around who could intimidate Ralph. They walked hand-in-hand to the porch. Trying to lighten the situation, Leann swung their arms, but Ralph jerked them to a stop. He was not in a playful mood. She looked up into his somber face and realized he dreaded speaking to her father. He glanced down at her. She smiled, but his brows remained knit together. Maybe he thought Pa would ask about his shaved head.
Pa looked up from his wood carving, and Ma from her crocheting when Leann and Ralph approached the porch. Her sisters were inside playing checkers. She could hear their laughter coming from the kitchen. The boys were probably in the barn milking the cow and taking care of chores. Pa always helped with the work, but not this afternoon. He must feel the need to keep an eye on Ralph.
Ralph squeezed Leann’s hand and swallowed hard before speaking. “Mr. Clark, do you mind if Leann and I walk to the creek?”
Pa didn’t answer. He made a cut in the wood. Ma put her crocheting in her lap and looked at him. Ralph squeezed Leann’s hand until a pain shot through her fingers. She looked up to see a jaw muscle twitch.
Pa stopped whittling and looked up at Ralph. “What happened to your hair?”
Ralph hesitated, then told her parents the story of his fall on the kitchen floor while trying to take a bath so he could attend church. Pa laughed.
Ma gave him a strong look. “Stop laughing at the boy, John. He was hurt bad.” She turned to Ralph. “Come up here and let me take a look at your head.”
Ralph obliged her and climbed the steps to the porch with Leann in tow. She pulled her hand from his and gave it a small shake to get circulation back into her fingers. Ralph stood in front of Ma and removed his hat then turned around. She stood on her tiptoes to look, but with Ralph being so much taller, could not see the back of his head very well.
“Sit down on the steps and let me get a good look,” she told Ralph.
He did as she said and sat on the top step. Leann stood beside Ma so she could see the wound. Pa left his chair and took a place behind Ma, looking over her shoulder. Ma turned to glance at him and he nodded toward Ralph. Ma gently lifted the tape from Ralph’s head. He didn’t cry out but winced. She tried to remove the gauze, but it was caked with blood and stuck to his head. She didn’t want to pull too hard.
“I can’t get this dressing off without making the cut bleed again. You need to go see Dr. Reynolds and let him take care of it,” she said.
“Can’t you soak it off, Polly?” Pa asked.
“Yes, but soaking it off will take time. Do you have time for me to soak this old bandage off and put on a clean dressing?” Ma bent down to look at Ralph.
He turned toward her. “Thanks all the same, Polly, but I’ll let my ma take care of it in a couple of days. It’s okay for now.”
Ma repositioned the tape on Ralph’s head and gave each piece and extra rub. Ralph stood and put his hat on.
He faced Pa. “May Leann and I have that walk to the creek, now?”
Pa shook his head. “I guess so. You sure are a persistent pest.” He smiled, but the smile vanished quickly. “Just remember, if you want to keep on seeing Leann, you better be on your best behavior.”
Ralph grabbed Leann’s hand and said, “Yes, sir. I promise to be on my best behavior.”
He led her out to the yard and across the meadow. The creek was about a half mile from the house, but the walk with Ralph was pleasant. Her heart sang with the meadow lark. They dodged the cow patties in the tall grass and kept an eye out for Tanner, the bull. Tanner didn’t like intruders in his pasture. Hopefully, he was getting a drink of fresh water from the trough at the barn.
They reached the copse of willow, oak, and hickory trees beside the creek. Limbs of the willow hung low over the water, sporting light green and yellow leaves. The majestic oaks stood tall with the hickory nested close by. Brown hickory nuts in their hard shells covered the ground underneath. Leann had a favorite spot in a clearing that gently sloped to the water. The boys and Pa had worn the grass down from their fishing excursions. Sometimes the family brought a picnic lunch and spent the day. During the summer months, they waded and swam in the water. Pa let the girls go without petticoats and swim in a blouse and light skirt. The boys swam in short cutoff pants without shirts. Leann thought this arrangement was unfair. She had seen swimsuits for women in Godey’s Lady’s Book, but Pa would not let them have one. He said they were immodest.
The creek water looked cool and inviting after the swift walk, so Leann sat down on a log and began removing her shoes. Ralph did the same, rolling up his pants legs. They waded the cold, shallow waters. Leann held Ralph’s hand with one of hers and pulled up the bottom of her dress with the other. They listened to a robin sing in a willow tree. Leann bent to watch the minnows nibble at her toes. A fish splashed in the deeper middle water.
“I need my fishing pole,” Ralph said when the fish splashed the second time.
“Pa and the boys caught four big bass and several small perch the other day. They seem to be biting now. We had a great fish fry.” Leann’s mouth watered just thinking about the good fried fish and potatoes.
“You’re making me hungry.”
“Did you eat supper before you came?” She stopped and turned to look up at Ralph.
His eyes met hers, lingering for a while, then he looked around. “I wonder if John followed us? Because I’m about to kiss you right now.”
Ralph bent his head over hers and found her lips with his. He released her hand, pulling her close. She closed her eyes, letting her skirt fall to the water, then put her arms around his neck and returned his ardent kiss, matching the fervor. They lingered in the kiss and embrace for longer than usual until the sound of a throat clearing broke the silence. Both dropped their arms and turned toward the sound. Tom stood on the bank with a fishing pole in his hand.
“Did Pa send you to spy on us?” Leann’s voice rose a pitch.
“No. I finished my chores. I didn’t know you were here, although Pa did say it was a nice afternoon for fishing.” Tom grinned.
Leann looked down at her skirts. “Now my dress and petticoats are wet. You gave us a scare, Tom.”
“I’m sorry. Looks like you were enjoying the creek.” Tom’s smile spread across his face.
“Well, don’t you tell Pa.” Leann began wading toward the bank with Ralph’s help.
“I won’t tell Pa nothing. What you and Ralph do is your business, but you need to be careful around the family. Luke and Stu are right behind me. Those two would probably tell Pa if they saw you kissing.” Tom opened a small leather bag he carried and pulled out a worm. He put the worm firmly on the hook attached to the line on his cane pole, then threw the line into the water.
Leann and Ralph sat on a nearby log watching Tom for a while before Luke and Steward appeared. They spoke to Ralph, fixed their lines with a worm, and threw them into the creek not far from Tom.
“We saw a big fish splash out there in the deep water just a little while ago. You need to throw your bait out as far as you can,” Ralph said, while watching the fishermen.
Leann knew he longed to throw a line in the water. “Do you want to go get a pole from the house?”
“I wouldn’t have time before dark and I need to get on home,” he said, rising from the log, then taking her hand to help her up. He pulled a little too hard so that she pressed against his chest. After looking around at the boys who had their attention fixed on their fishing lines, Ralph kissed her forehead. She wanted to stay close to him, but he squeezed her hand and began walking toward the house.
They walked slowly across the pasture while watching the sun paint colors of gold, pink, and lavender across the western sky. The heady smell of grass and cattle filled her nostrils. Leann felt close to Ralph, a joining of their spirits, and knew as long as she had breath she would belong to him.
They heard Luke yell from the creek bank, “I got ‘im. I’ve got the big one.”
Leann and Ralph turned around, but the trees blocked their view of the activity at the creek.
Ralph squeezed her hand. “I’m coming back with my fishing pole for sure.” He looked down at her with a broad smile. “And to see you, of course.”
She returned his smile. “Yes. I’m glad you added that. I wouldn’t like being second to a fish.”
They reached the house, climbing the steps to the porch. Pa and Ma had gone inside. Leann opened the screen door and pulled Ralph inside. Her parents sat on their chairs in the parlor. Ralph removed his hat but kept it in his hand. Pa read his Bible and Ma looked at a catalog.
“Ralph’s leaving now,” Leann said.
Pa looked up. “Did the boys disturb your walk by the creek? I saw them heading that way with their fishing poles.”
Ralph spoke up, “No, sir, they didn’t, and I think Luke caught a big bass. We heard him shout while we were walking back to the house.”
“I tell you, Ralph, there are some big ones in that little creek. They love that deep hole out in the middle. I’ll probably join the boys tomorrow afternoon.”
Ma put her book down. “Why don’t you come a little early next Tuesday, and we’ll have a fish fry if John and the boys can catch enough.” She looked at Pa and grinned.
“We might take a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon fishing, then fry the ones we catch for supper. Can you take an afternoon off and join us?” Pa asked, putting his Bible on the table beside his chair and rising. Ma did the same.
Ralph’s grin reached from ear to ear. “Yes, sir, I’ll be here with my fishing pole a little before noon.”
“Well, we’ll see you next Tuesday.” Pa smiled at Leann and then shook Ralph’s hand.
Ralph nodded to Ma. “Goodnight, Mrs. Clark.”
Ma said, “Goodnight to you, Ralph. We’ll see you next week.”
Leann felt she couldn’t be happier. Her parents seemed to have forgiven Ralph and were making friendly overtures toward him. She knew Pa expected both she and Ralph to act responsibly, and she determined not to break his trust. Her heart sang as they walked to the oak tree where Maude waited patiently.
Ralph put his hat on, then untied his mare. “I love you, Leann. I’ll see you next week.”
“I love you. I can hardly wait ’til next Tuesday.” She looked toward the house, then stood on her tiptoes and lightly kissed his lips.”
He quickly glanced toward the house, bent down and planted a firmer kiss on her lips, then mounted Maude. Without saying anything more, he turned his horse toward home. She stood watching until he rode out of sight. With a heart bursting with love for Ralph, Leann made her way back to the house.
“Goodnight, Ma and Pa,” she said as she crossed the parlor to the stairs.
“Goodnight, Leann,” Ma answered.
“Well goodnight, sweetheart,” Pa said. “I was hoping for a hug before you went up.”
She turned back and gave both her parents a big hug. “Thanks for inviting Ralph to our picnic and fishing trip.”
“I want to be where I can keep an eye on you two, rather than letting you wonder down there by yourselves,” Pa said.
Leann shook her head and turned to ascend the stairs to the bedroom she shared with her sisters. They were already in bed reading books. She soon joined them and grabbed her own book on the bedside table. She pretended to read, but could not concentrate. Her thoughts centered around Ralph. She pictured his face with its broad smile and white even teeth. His brown eyes sparkling with laughter, and his voice ringing out, calling her name. She soon drifted into sleep.