Sometimes Beauty is Better Seen with the Eyes Closed
Lillian Rauling is among four English women on a ship bound for matrimony. She’s the orphaned daughter of a once-famous opera singer, and her beauty has been nothing but a curse. This time that curse has driven her to flee the authorities and avoid prison by escaping to America. She daydreams that a rugged cowboy will await her on the moonlit horizon and that he’s able to see past her lovely face and into her lonely heart.
Not until she hears a voice so magnificent that it steals her breath away does she realize that true happiness lies in her own willingness to look past a cowboy’s outward appearance and into his Godly heart.
“I heard some men in town talking about getting wives.”
Zachariah Keane’s jaw froze as he looked at his partner, Molly Crammer. He’d bet she’d waited for him to take a mouthful of her delicious beef hash before making that statement. He chewed, swallowed—and intended to put an end to the subject fast. “Ain’t interested in a mail-order bride.”
She scowled. “You ain’t heard everything I have to say.”
“Heard enough.” He filled his mouth again.
Molly and Zachariah were the most unlikely team on the cattle trail, and had settled under a rain-battered tarp for supper. She was a widow, sixty-eight years young, lean as a maypole, but strong-boned, with an even stronger will. He was twenty-two years old and single.
She heaved the cast iron frying pan off the coals. “It ain’t mail order,” she said. “It’s a scientific matchmaker doing the hitching. He takes a strand of hair and looks at it under a microscope so he can find the compatibilities between a gal and a feller.”
“A strand of hair?”
“It’s satisfaction guaranteed.”
Satisfaction? “Your hash is going to cool off,” he said.
Molly gave him a hard look. “You deserve yourself a good woman just as much as that old goat-faced Malachi Moore.”
As far as Zachariah was concerned, if old Malachi wanted a wife, that was his business. But maybe he could use Malachi to get her mind off him. “Now Molly, name calling ain’t Christian-like.”
“Ain’t Christian-like, huh? If I said Malachi looked like a stallion, that’d be Christian-like, wouldn’t it? So if God made the horse, and God made the goat, what makes one creature better than the other?”
“Malachi’s got a suiting place for a lady to live.”
“You call that a suiting place?” Molly said. “I call it an outhouse. Besides, your ma left you a fine home.”
Gone months at a time with money spent on women, whiskey, and making a rumpus, typical cowboys didn’t have a home.
But Molly and Zachariah weren’t typical cowboys. They had Ramsden, Texas to call home.
Molly would return to the house her late husband Danny had built for her.
Zachariah had recently started fixing up his mother’s old house, which had been abandoned for eleven years to the wrath of storms and the ravages of just plain neglect, while he’d been away cowboying. “The place needs a lot of work.” He bit off the food on his fork.
“Just needs a few comely touches, like some curtains and maybe a tablecloth.”
“And maybe an upstairs that ain’t all rotted out, and some windows that ain’t busted-”
“You need yourself a wife.”
He pushed an empty dish at her. “I need myself more of that hash.”
Slinging more chuck into his dish still didn’t make her drop the subject. “Good Book says that a feller who finds himself a wife finds a good thing.”
“I got myself something better,” he said. “I got you. You do my cooking, you do my wrangling, and you do my nagging.” He filled his mouth and mumbled, “You’re real good at that last one.”
“I ain’t going to live forever,” she said. “Besides, it ain’t good for a young man to be spending his days with an old lady and a bunch of cows.”
“First of all,” he said, “I reckon you’ll live another hundred years ’cause God’s enjoying the peace. And second,” he gave her a long look, “I ain’t the one complaining.”
“Yup,” she said after a pause, “that’s right. You ain’t the one complaining. You ain’t never the one complaining.”
“That’s right.” He always made it a point to act as if he was satisfied with his lot in life, even when that lot wasn’t so satisfying.
At nine years old, he’d lost his pa to a wagon accident, and two years later, lost his ma to tuberculosis. Just as he was getting up the gumption to ask his sweetheart to marry him, he’d lost her to a fire. A big piece of his heart got cut out with each loss. Especially the last one. He rubbed the rough skin on his face over a scar the fire had left on him.
Lonely. It seemed his lot in life was to be alone, and the scar was fate’s way to keep him that way. He thanked God for Molly’s—albeit meddling—company.
Molly heaved a sigh. She had a look on her face he didn’t like. She was up to something.
The sea breeze rustled Lillian Rauling’s dress as she stood on the deck of a ship, bound for matrimony.
Night had fallen, and the vessel swayed soothingly. Waves slapped in a restful rhythm. The full moon cast a glow over the ocean. It would have been so calm, so romantic, except for one thing.
She was here because she had solicited the services of a matchmaker. Worse, it was a matchmaker who referred to himself as The Love Doctor.
“If the lady don’t like the chap,” one of her cabin mates and fellow brides had said, “she’s got to pay him back every penny for the fare and the Love Doctor’s services—plus damages.”
Lillian had learned that what those so-called damages entailed was vague and determined entirely by the gentleman. But those were the terms of the contract she’d so hastily signed.
“If she ain’t got the money,” the girl said, “that constitutes stealing, and she’ll wind up in the clink.”
Prison. Lillian felt a chill beyond that of the crisp night air. She clutched her shoulders, wishing she had a shawl in which to wrap herself.
A couple came out on the deck as romance drew them to the side. They looked at the moonlight magic, and then kissed.
Would the man she married hold her like that? Who was the man waiting for her beyond the shimmering ocean? Could he be a godsend? Someone who would put an end to the chaos her life had become?
If the so-called Love Doctor had taken any note of her upon her visit to him in London—other than the fact that she had unusually black hair—her chosen match would likely be an accountant or a man of some profession. Her gentility would dictate such an arrangement. And that’s all it would be. An arrangement. Indeed, the last thing she wanted was a business partner.
She drew near to the warmth of a mounted oil lamp with a chimney of etched glass and a brass cherub base. She stared into a flame glowing through a globe as transparent as her own heart felt. The core of her being burned with loneliness.
But she knew what she wanted. She wanted someone who was brave and kind and uncomplicated. Someone with smiling eyes who would draw her out and strong arms that would catch her as she passionately threw herself into them. Most of all, she wanted someone who would see past the pretty globe and into the caged fire that was Lillian Rauling.
She could hear a pianist in the dining hall playing, most appropriately, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It brought back memories of a time long past when she was learning to play such pieces, before she’d been forced to live with her aunt and an uncle who couldn’t keep his hands to himself. Before she’d been sent away to school. The memory that stirred was back in a time when she was simply Lilly, her father’s delight, talkative and expressive, and proud as could be of him.
Papa performed in opera houses all over Europe—in Stuttgart, Vienna, and Paris—and on several occasions entertained royalty. He was the sunshine in her life, and without him, every day seemed dreary. Unfortunately, month-long engagements were common for the well-known tenor.
She couldn’t wait until he was home, when she’d run into his arms, and he’d catch and twirl her. One day when she was eight years old, he returned with some sheet music. It was a song he’d written especially for her, and he asked her to play and sing it for him.
“Papa, you sing it,” Lilly said. “You have the best voice in the world.”
“Not so, my darling.” His eyes filled with tenderness, and he perched her on the piano bench.
Perhaps he sang so often that he was tired of doing so. So she pressed her hands to the ivory keys and played with the hesitant chords of a beginner, and sang with the small voice of a child.
When it’s cold,
And skies have turned to grey,
When the sun that’s been shining in my world
Has suddenly gone away,
I close my eyes and see with the eyes of my heart
Because I know
God’s given me a promise
And sealed it with a rainbow.
Her father assigned her to play “Sealed with a Rainbow” once a day every time he went away, until he returned. “That’s to remind you that your Father in Heaven is always watching over you, even when your earthly father can’t be.”
When troubles rise and flood beyond the brim,
I stand my ground, I close my eyes
I put my trust in Him.
I know He’s up in Heaven
And watching me below,
I know because He promised
And He sealed it with a rainbow.
Lillian’s body was still on the ship’s deck, but her spirit had gotten caught up in the fond memory. So much so that the words to the song slipped through her lips, and she sang toward the moonlit horizon.
“When storms are over,
I always lift my eyes
Sometimes I can see it there
His name up in the sky.
It reminds me of His promise
That my longings will come true
He sealed it with His rainbow,
So I know He will come through.”
It was too late in the evening for rainbows, but the moonlight glistened over the water just as magically. Her eyes and heart became fixed upon the softly glowing blue-black horizon. She could swear she saw in the moonlight the silhouette of a tall, gallant cowboy, with her name in his pocket.
Molly finished washing the dishes in a bucket she’d set out to catch the rainfall off the tarp.
A gap in the clouds to the west allowed the sun to break through for a while before more rainclouds rolled in.
She spotted Zachariah on the crest of a hill overlooking the river valley. He was a fine figure of a man, majestic on horseback against the slate gray sky. He had a secret he shared only with the animals, with her, and with the Almighty.
That grand singing voice.
At the end of each day, he’d ride to the highest point and sing a hymn. His voice would spread over the valley like a blanket of peace. But watching him up there singing, alone and solitary, made her heart ache. That’s why she’d done it.
She’d snatched a hair from his hat when Zachariah had come over for Sunday gathering before they’d left on the cattle drive. Selling her old piano gave her enough money to pay the Love Doctor’s wages and the girl’s fare. Even though Molly no longer had the one piece of furniture she had insisted her late husband drag across the country forty years ago, she smiled contentedly as she watched Zachariah on the hilltop.
It didn’t matter if a hymn was meant to be sung soft throughout. He sang each verse the way his heart said it ought to be sung.
The beauty of his voice filled Molly with so much awe that she couldn’t take her gaze off him.
The air was still. The cattle and horses grazed calmly. She bet that even the angels had settled among the bluebonnets on the hillside to listen.
Zachariah was as close to God as a man could get.
She hugged her shoulders anticipating the end of the hymn. He always gave a grand finale that gave her goose bumps.
Zachariah finished the hymn, but Molly continued to stand there spellbound. “If that don’t beat all.” Amazed, she rubbed her shoulders and shook her head at a rare phenomenon, which held her in holy awe. Zachariah’s back was to it, so she knew he didn’t see what she was looking at.
From where she stood, he was standing right underneath the arch of a rainbow—so that it looked as though God had painted a big, glorious circle around the man.
Question 1: Is this the title you've chosen? The Cowboy In Moonlight? You could also do "Cowboy in the Moonlight"