Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The following is the first chapter of my novella in American Dream which was published in 2000 by Barbour Publishing. My novella is entitled "I Take Thee, A Stranger." This is my first published work of Christian fiction. I'll always love this story.

"I Take Thee, A Stranger" in American Dream
By Kristy Dykes

“Wharfor say I t’ye, Be-na sair fash’d wi’ cark and care anent yere life--what ye are to eat and what ye are to drink! nor yet for yere body, hoo ye are to be cleedit! Isna the life mair nor the meat? and the body mair nor the cleedin? For o’ a’ thae things div the Nations seek eftir; but yere Heavenlie Faither kens weel that ye n eed a’ thae things.” (Matthew 6:25, 33) Scots’ Rendition of Guid Buik (Good Book)


Massachusetts--Large Hill Place

"Oh Galen, please don't die." Corinn McCauley hovered over the still form of her husband, wiping his brow with a wet cloth. He had lain under their red plaid wedding coverlet for eleven days now, never stirring, her hoping and praying the whole time that he would open his twinkly blue eyes and say as he’d said many a time, Corinn, my Scottish lass, all will be well. You'll see. Things will go better for us.

She sat down by the bed and took his lifeless hand in hers, caressing his wrist, trailing her finger across his palm. "Those calluses, Galen," she choked out. "All for our future. You worked so hard since we came to America. We were going to start a new life . . . a prosperous one."
She had worked, too, toiling from daybreak to dark, taking in washing and ironing and sewing, baking pies and cakes, recaning chair bottoms--anything that would put dollars in the jar at the back of the drawer.

But between the company boarding house and the company mercantile, the level of dollars was always low.

She pleated, then unpleated the edge of the wedding coverlet that lay over her husband, staring at the dingy wall. "Granny Jen, you never dreamed the wedding coverlet you so lovingly made two years ago would one day be a . . . a death blanket."

Tears gushed down her face, but she ignored them and reached for the cloth, dipped it in a basin of water, squeezed it, and placed it back on her husband's forehead. If only she could do something more, anything to help him, but there was nothing she . . . nor anyone could do.
When the men from the foundry had brought her husband to her and told her he would be dead within hours, she’d refused to believe them.

Even when one of the soot-blackened men had said, This happened to Albert Rowe and he died before daybreak, she’d made a quiet resolve that the same plight would not befall her husband.

Her tears nearly blinding her now, she wiped her face with her apron, then continued dabbing at her husband’s forehead, forcing a drop of water between his parched lips, fluffing the small pillows wedged on each side of his head.

Soon it would be time to change his bandage and after that, Dr. Robbins would come--as he had each day her husband had lain here. Every long worry-filled day . . . and night, she’d never given up hope.

Now . . . now . . .

"No," she shrieked, slumping to her knees, pounding the hard wooden chair with her fists, not caring if anyone heard through the thin walls. "I won't let you leave me, Galen McCauley. We've loved each other too long. We had plans, remember? We were going to live in a fine home one day, and our sons and daughters were going to be upstanding American citizens. One of our grandsons was going to be the president of this mighty nation. Oh Galen, my heart is breaking in two."

She heard him stir and looked over at him, her soul soaring with joy. “Praise be, you’ve come back to me.” Fresh tears--joy tears--sprang to her eyes, and she jumped up, smiling then laughing.

She leaned over him.

And went cold with fear.

It was the death rattle.


Ten days after her husband's burial, Corinn stood on the doctor's doorstep at dusk, wondering why he’d summoned her. He already had a housekeeper, the position she was seeking.

After Mrs. Mullins showed her to the parlor and excused herself, Corinn settled in a chair and timidly thrust her feet toward the hearth, enjoying the warmth. Nearly every night, she went to bed with cold feet--something that had greatly amused Galen.

Tuck them beneath my legs and get them warm, my Scottish lass, he had whispered as he pulled her close each night.

A sob caught in her chest, and a tear threatened to spill over. Oh Galen, my bonnie prince . . .

The door creaked open, and the elderly doctor shuffled toward her. For the first time she noticed how stiff were his movements, how slow was his gait.

"Good evening, Mrs. McCauley," he said.

"A pleasant evening to you, sir." She made a movement to stand in respect, but he waved her down.

"No need to get up." He shook her hand and sank into the chair opposite hers, pulling an envelope from his coat pocket. "I’ve an important matter to discuss with you." He pulled several pages from the envelope and studied them a moment, then looked up. "I'm concerned about you, Mrs. McCauley. I know where some women end up, when given your circumstances. You're an immigrant, and a widow at that. You've no income and no prospects of a job. Soon, you'll be without a roof over your head--"

"How did you know?"

"I made a point of finding out."

She swallowed hard. This kind man cared what happened to her?

"Women in dire straits sometimes wind up as women of ill repute . . ." He lowered his eyes and stared at the flames. "Or kept women."

She felt her cheeks growing hot and stared into the fire too.

"I don't want you to suffer a fate like that." He looked directly into her eyes with fatherly concern. "You are a good woman, one of the kindest and . . . and most industrious I’ve ever met."

She fidgeted in the chair. She wasn't used to compliments. Everybody worked hard, didn't they? That was what one was supposed to do.

"I’ve been impressed with your loyalty to your husband, your diligence . . ."

She fidgeted again.

"Your fortitude, your courage . . . "

She shrugged. “All Scots are brave. It’s legendary.”

"I’ve no openings in my household." He hit a sturdy side table with his fist, and it made a loud thwacking sound. "If I were a rich man, I’d help you . . . but that will never be. I’m tired and old. Soon--"

"I’d never ask you for charity--” she thrust her shoulders back stiffly “--even if you were wealthy."

"Yes, I know." He held up the letter, the thin papers rustling, his faded gray eyes lighting up. "I have a solution for you--in these pages. It’s a simple matter, really. This letter is from a young man who needs a wife. You are a young woman who needs a husband."

She grasped the arms of the chair, willing herself not to cry out against this travesty, then scolding herself for being outraged. Dr. Robbins was only doing this out of concern. She stared at the framed landscape above the mantle, not focusing on the details, barely hearing the doctor's words.

He talked on and on, something about how his nephew had gone to Florida, how his mate had recently died from pneumonia, how there were few unattached females in that part of the raw, young state, how he needed a wife. Did his uncle know of a worthy woman who could meet this challenge? In return, he would offer the woman a home--and affection besides. Could the doctor find him such a woman?

“As I said, here is a young man who needs a wife--” Dr. Robbins thumped the pages and they rustled at his touch “--and you are a young woman who needs a husband. This is the solution to your plight."

"No, Dr. Robbins," she finally said, thoughts of her beloved Galen filling her head and heart.

"Please take time to think about this before you refuse. My nephew is Philadelphia-born and bred and well educated. He’s hobnobbed with high society since he was a suckling. Whatever he puts his mind to, he succeeds. Now, it appears he’s put his mind to acquiring land in Florida. One day he’ll be an elected official, mark my words."

She looked down at her worn skirts, at her patched hightop shoes, at her threadbare shawl made of red plaid with a wide band of green. The plaid was her clan's tartan for generations and said by them to be John Knox’s tartan--the Great Reformer of Scotland. What man would want her, especially one with the social standing Dr. Robbins had spoken of? If she looked in a mirror right now, she knew what she’d see--not an elegant lady of high society garbed in silks and satins--but a small-statured female with uneven features, thin brown hair, and speckles across her nose.


The familiar taunt of her schoolmates filled her head, hammering, hammering, hammering. Galen had fallen in love with her when she was a wee sparkly lass, before she’d reached womanhood. Even after she’d passed the bloom of childhood, Galen had still loved her, despite her plainness.

"Won't you give some serious thought to what I’m offering--what my nephew is offering--Mrs. McCauley? I have no doubt you could fill the role admirably."

She rubbed her temples in circles, staring at the flames. What had Dr. Robbins called it? A role? Yes, that's what it would be--a role and nothing more--to be married to a stranger. She rose to her feet. "Earlier, I said I could never ask for charity. Something else I could never do is marry a man I don't know, let alone a man I don’t love. I may be poor and I may be uncomely, but I still have my wits. And I'm young and strong and . . . and . . . hopeful." She faced him squarely. "All will be well, as my husband often said. Things will go better."


Two months later . . .

Corinn made her way down the busy street at dusk.

All wasn't well.

Things hadn't gone better.

She knew what she must do.

She passed a woman wearing bold face coloring, dressed in a gown of flimsy fabric that revealed bare arms and a brazen décolletage. A woman of ill repute.

She felt herself blushing and fanned with her handkerchief. What was the other type of woman Dr. Robbins had referred to? A kept woman. Last evening, when her laird, no, landlord they called them here . . . when her landlord had evicted her, he’d made her an offer. She fanned more furiously, remembering his abominable words.

Another woman of ill repute passed her on the sidewalk.

Yes, she knew what she must do.

Woodenly, she plodded down the street, her empty stomach making a thundersome noise.

She trudged up the steep steps.

She grasped the door knocker on Dr. Robbins’s front door.

A strange man in Florida didn't seem nearly as frightening as the prospects here.


At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kristy, you've drawn me into this story so quickly, I'm amazed. I'm completely captivated by Corrin's plight and desperation. I "canna" wait to read the rest!

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Thanks, Ane, for your kind words. Conflict, conflict, conflict. That's the name of the game! Or, more apropos, the heart of a story.


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