Single Title, Historical Western
“Betrothed…you can’t be serious!”
Calvin O’Donnell watched his daughter jump to her feet, knocking the chair to the floor. He knew this would be difficult and she would be unhappy, to say the least, but even so, he was shocked by her outburst of anger.
“Now, Mairin, lass, calm down.” He had to be firm or else he’d never go through with it.
She stood just in front of his desk, arms perched on her hips, waiting for his explanation. He noticed she wore those Godforsaken clothes again. The kind the common women wore. She looked more like a Mexican peasant than the well brought up daughter of the most successful ranch owner this side of the Rio Grande. He’d have Rosa speak to the lass about her choice of dress again. He couldn’t have his daughter going around looking like a poor peasant woman.
But not now. Not today. Not after the news he’d just sprung on her.
“I don’t understand. How can you do this? This isn’t Mexico, for God’s sake. This is Texas. The United States of America-and to my knowledge, a free country. Things just aren’t done that way here!”
Her cheeks flushed a rosy pink, and seemed to grow darker by the second. Her blue-green eyes flashed, and tears threatened to spill. She stared at him with disbelief and Calvin’s heart twisted in his chest.
He opened his desk drawer and reached for a bottle of whiskey. Damn, it was more than half-empty. He’d need more than a few swallows to get through this.
Calvin had always thought of himself as a hard man. A man that could take anything that came his way. He’d fought and almost lost his life in the Mexican war. He’d done his part in the War Between the States, which, thank the good Lord above, finally came to an end this past year. In the early days, as a Texas Ranger he’d fought bandits, Comanche’s, Apaches and Commancheros. He’d be more than glad to do any of those things over again if it meant he could take back the promise he’d made in regard to his only daughter.
“Marin, ’twas decided a long time ago. Before you were born.” He pulled the cork from the bottle and took a swig of whiskey. “You have to understand, lass, ’tis just the way it is.”
“But Da, I’ve never even met Don Garcia de Quintanilla. He may be my grandfather, but I don‘t know him. How can you send me to Mexico to live with this…stranger?” Her voice increased a notch and her chest heaved with anger. “How can he decide who I will marry?” She asked, a look of total disbelief on her pretty face.
“I won’t do it, I won’t!” She stamped her foot so hard the pins fell from her hair, releasing thick, waist-length auburn tresses.
“I’ll run away. I’ll go to Ireland. We have family there. I’ll…”
Calvin slammed the bottle of whiskey on the desk and jumped to his feet. “Hells fire, girl, you’ll do no such thing!” He leaned forward, arms braced on his large, oak desk, his face inches from hers.
“You listen to me girl, and you listen good. In one month’s time you’ll go to Mexico and marry the man your grandfather has chosen for you, and that be the end of it!”
His ire was up now as well. Father and daughter, so much alike glared at one another, each unwilling to back down.
“I won’t do it. Do you hear me, I won’t!” Mairin ran from his study, slamming the door behind her.
A warm flush crept up Calvin’s neck, spread over his face and his hands began to tremble. With an effort he eased his tired body into his chair and stared at the door.
He felt old. The leg wound he’d received in the Mexican War pained him more and more these days. Not to mention the everyday aches and pains that came with old age. He took a good, long swig of his Irish whiskey and ran his fingers through his once red hair, now peppered with gray.
If it weren’t for the promise he’d made his dear departed wife, Angelina, God rest her soul, he’d never have allowed this. But how could one refuse a dying woman’s wish? He never was able to refuse anything Angelina asked of him.
Dammit. Calvin swore. He wished he’d never made Angelina that promise. But he did, and it was done.
He was a man of his word.
Leigh here:.Carol, you’ve got an interesting and classic twist on the forced-marriage theme. Though it’s a story type which has been used over and over again, there’s a reason why we have so many forced-marriage stories – it’s because readers love them and the setup offers such good potential for conflict, for sensuality, and for emotion. And this is a delightful piece of writing – it’s well-constructed, and it gives us a wonderful portrait of a character.
At first I thought this was a prologue, setting up the rest of the story by giving the background of what makes Mairin run away, or maybe setting up how she gets sent to Mexico regardless of her wishes. Of course, I’m assuming here that Mairin is the heroine and it’s her story.
But then I realized it’s Chapter One instead, and that left me with some questions. The main one is why we’re in Calvin’s head, getting his POV, rather than in Mairin’s – especially if the story is about her going to Mexico, because in that case her father really has no continuing role in the story once he has set events in motion.
I really like Calvin, and I sympathize with him – dealing with a daughter he’s no doubt spoiled rotten by raising her alone after the death of his wife. I like getting hints about his history, which tell me a lot about the sort of man he is. I really like that he’s a man of his word, and I like that he regrets being a man of his word.
But unless Calvin’s the hero and the story is about his falling in love with the widow next door or with the housekeeper after he sends his unruly daughter off to Mexico, then why am I getting all this detail about him?
I suspect that you really want me to be sympathizing with Mairin instead. But that’s hard to do when I’ve only been able to see her from the outside. I’ve watched her yell at her father and stamp her foot and threaten to run away, and that’s all I have to go on, so she looks spoiled and a bit childish. Since I don’t know what’s going on inside her, I don’t know if this is typical behavior for her.
Because you’ve created Mairin, you know what a lovely person she is – how charming, how loving, how delightful. But the reader only knows what you show her, and as yet, what you’ve given us is a picture of a great dad who’s caught between his promise and his difficult daughter. We’d like to sympathize with Mairin over the ridiculous idea of someone she’s never met choosing her husband, but our initial emotional response rests with Calvin instead, because you’ve made him a much more three-dimensional character than she is.
This isn’t an uncommon problem, because when we look at what we’ve written, we don’t just see the words on the page (which is all the reader can judge by) but we remember what we were thinking and feeling as we wrote it. It’s one of the reasons that writers need editors or critique groups – because what we think we put on the page isn’t always what the reader actually sees, and only a new reader can tell us that.
I’m betting that when you wrote this you were feeling Mairin’s outrage. If the readers are allowed inside her head, we’d feel it too.