A Blessed Song for Their Love by Olivia Haywood
Baxton Kansas 1870
6 months earlier
The candlelight flickered, casting ominous shadows across the bed as
Thomas Stratton stared at his wife over his clenched hands, his intertwined fingers white from the pressure of his grip. His lanky frame was hunched over, his elbows rested on his knees as he brooded.
The hours of bedside prayer had left him exhausted, and his usually neat, sandy hair was messy from the constant frustration as he had attempted to nurse her back to health.
The old floorboards creaked as he gently rocked back and forth in thought on the old rocking chair he had managed to squeeze into the corner of the small room facing the bed.
Only yesterday she had seemed better, but this morning she had taken a turn for the worse. He never left her side, refusing to let anyone take his place.
She had still worsened, despite his best efforts, and her breathing had now become erratic. Her once beautiful features were drawn and listless. Her golden blonde curls clung to her face, curls she had passed on to Robbie, their infant boy who lay down the hall in his crib, unaware of how close his mamma was to death.
It was hard to believe that just a few days ago she had been playing with their 6-month-old son, laughing in the summer breeze that blew through the ranch.
He should never have allowed another person into the house, even if it was just the midwife, but caution had overruled his better judgment.
Childbirth could be tricky at the best of times, you never knew when help would be needed, even in the face of an epidemic, he had reasoned with himself.
So many had fallen. Cholera had come to Baxton just a few years earlier, sweeping through the town and surrounding ranches like a plague. Since then they had experienced a non-stop onslaught of the disease. At any given time, at least one person was dying, if not more. It never stopped. There was hardly anyone that survived once they caught it.
Death reached its boney fingers into their community and took as it pleased.
He looked at the words of one of his mother’s favorite verses as they hung next to the old wooden door. His wife had embroidered the cloth by the dim light of the paraffin lamp, adding a tiny yellow butterfly at the end because she loved them so much. She always said that yellow butterflies were a sign of a loved one's peace and blessings. Stitch by stitch, hour after hour as she held vigil by his mother’s side, she had stitched the cloth.
(Romans 8:28) “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”
He shut his eyes against the memory of his mother lying in this very bed only two years prior. It was separate from the other rooms and they had set it aside in case anyone fell ill. It was small and sparse enough to keep clean, yet comfortable enough to allow the sick to rest. Once the sewing room at the end of the hall, they had removed the machine and brought in a simple wooden frame with a mattress. A bedside table held the water jug and medicines needed to nurse the sick.
His wife had nursed his mother with care and dedication. She had wiped her brow and changed the linens as the disease took its foul course. No matter how much you cleaned, you never quite got rid of the smell. The sickly sweet stench of an outhouse combined with dying. The smell of cholera.
A groan from the bed drew his attention back to the present. He pushed himself out of the rocking chair, making the floorboards creak even louder. His usually proud posture drooped under the burden of his worries, and he had to drag himself to the bedside table. The lack of sleep was beginning to take its toll.
Dipping the corner of the rag into the cool water, he bent over the bed and dabbed at her cracked lips.
“Shhh. It’s going to be okay. Save your strength,” he whispered tenderly.
She tried to speak again, but all he could make out was “Robbie,” amidst the moans.
“He’s well. My father is seeing to him. You just rest Mary, that’s all you need to concentrate on.”
She groaned again before her eyes fell shut and her breathing resumed its rattling course through her chest.
He knew all too well what that sound meant. How could he not? His mother had sounded the same towards the end. He resumed his position in the rocking chair as she lapsed back into a fitful sleep, afraid to fall too deeply asleep. The doctor had warned him that fits were a possibility towards the end, and he needed to be awake to calm her.
He clenched his fists once more as her frail limbs jerked.
How could this happen? he asked himself over and over again in his mind. They were so happy together.
A tear rolled down his cheek as he remembered the way they laughed together whenever Robbie made a silly face or gurgled contently. She had wanted a baby so badly. He remembered the night she had given birth. The terrible screams, followed by pure joy when he came into the room and saw her cradling his son close to her chest.
She was the most attentive mother and wife any man could ever have hoped for.
God couldn’t possibly take someone as pure as his wife.
“Please don’t take her, Lord,” he pleaded under his breath, his eyes never leaving her for a second. “We need her. I need her. I can’t raise a child on my own. He needs his mother.”
The sun had long since set. Thomas had accidentally fallen asleep, his body giving in to the demands of exhaustion, only to be awoken in the early hours of the morning by his wife’s violent fits knocking over the glass of water next to her bed.
Her body jerked as he leaped to her side and grasped her hand. “Please stay with me, he begged, trying to hold her still.
Thomas quickly reached for the smallest bottle next to the bed, knocking the others over in the process. The doctor had said it would ease the fits. He struggled to steady her head as he spilled half of the liquid onto the pillows, leaving trails of sticky brown liquid.
His father came rushing into the room, his grey hair tousled and messy from bed. “What’s happening? Is it Mary?” he asked, his voice rough with sleep. “Oh Lord, no.” he gasped as he took in the scene. He rushed to his son’s aid and tried to hold her limbs. But it was too late.
She gave a final jerk as her breathing eased and her eyes stared blankly ahead. “No, it can’t be.” Thomas’ honey brown eyes pleaded desperately as he sought his father’s for help.
Arthur Stratton gently picked up her wrist and felt for a pulse. When he couldn’t feel one he gently closed her eyes, pain etched into his face.
Thomas fell back onto the pillows and stared down at his wife lying limp against his chest, his beautiful, darling wife. Her eyes had sunk into their sockets and her cheeks were hollow.
“She is at peace now.” His father laid a rough hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “She’s with God.”
“You speak of God”, he said in a monotone, shifting himself off the bed and gently laying his wife on the pillows as Robbie began to howl in his crib down the hall.
“What kind of God would do this?” he asked and walked to the door. “What kind of loving God would leave a child without his mother and a man without his wife?” He paused as he reached the door. “Never speak to me of God again. He does not exist in this house.” He ripped the embroidered cloth off the wall and threw it at his father’s feet.
Thomas watched as his father knelt and retrieved the torn verse without saying a word.
He knew that his father’s heart was breaking too, but he could not bring himself to offer any form of comfort.
Robbie lay crying in his crib, screaming for a mother who would never again come to him as the sun rose over the ranch.