Inside the privacy of the bedroom, Naomi coaxed Maggie to get comfortable and allow Madame Wilkerson to examine her most private area. She had still been bleeding slightly, off and on, all night, but not to the extent that she bled yesterday during the day.
The woman then tapped her fingers all over on the young woman’s lower midsection, listening to the soft thuds. Apparently the healer had gleaned quite a bit from these seemingly simple, strange methods of deduction, because she nodded her head once, definitively, and looked at Maggie. “Ms. Stern, my dear, you are pregnant! By my calculation, I would estimate you to be about five months along now!” She declared triumphantly. Maggie’s mouth fell open in shock and Naomi covered her mouth in horror, her worst fears confirmed. It was as she had suspected for the past few months. The constant nausea, the fainting, the increased appetite, the mid-day fatigue, and then most recently, the unexplained bleeding. It all adds up now. Oh God, help us. She thought desperately, as Maggie wailed loudly and reached for her. Naomi held Maggie as she sobbed, stroking her hair soothingly. Madame Wilkerson looked slightly befuddled, like she did not know why it this news was so terrible. Most other women rejoice when they hear they are expecting a little one! “Is this not good news my dear?” The healer asked. “Surely your husband who is waiting outside would like to hear the news.” She stood as if to go outside and deliver the news herself, and Naomi and Maggie both lunged at her, screaming, “No!” Startled by their outburst, Madame Wilkerson sat back down on the edge of the bed, eyes wide.
Naomi gathered herself then spoke. “Thank you very much for your time, Madame Wilkerson, but we will share the good news when we are ready. Let me take you out to the kitchen where my change purse is, and you can be on your way.” Naomi led the woman out into the main part of the house, quickly paid her for her service, and closed the door firmly behind her when she stepped outside. She hurried back into the bedroom where Maggie sat, half-upright, stunned into silence. Naomi clutched her hands. “My dear, I have suspected this for weeks now, but I was sincerely hoping I would be wrong. I experienced many of the same symptoms myself when I was pregnant with my son, God rest his soul.” The name of God brought Maggie’s eyes to meet Naomi’s. “How could God do this to me? How could this be a part of His plan?” Her eyes filled with hot tears. “I am supposed to carry a rapist’s child in my womb? God wants me to raise this illegitimate child as if I wanted it? How can I do that?” She grabbed for her handkerchief as a thought crossed her mind. Joel. What about Joel? “Oh God!” She wailed. “How can I tell Joel that I am carrying another man’s baby? How can I ask him to be a father to a child that is not his? What if he does not want it? What if it makes him not want me?” She began sobbing anew, shoulders shaking.
Naomi gripped her shoulders tightly. “Okay my dear, okay. Yes, it is a gamble you will have to make. But you love Joel and he loves you, so you must tell him. If it is not his child then he deserves to know, and if it is his, then this will be his opportunity to confess to the rape and to take up responsibility of the child. But either way, you must tell him, or else he will found out on his own eventually! Trust me, my dear, this is not something you want to wait to tell him until it pops out of you!”
Maggie sniffled and wiped her eyes. “So Joel either has to confess that he raped me and destroy our relationship, or he has to agree to father someone else’s child?” Naomi nodded somberly. “It is a devastating, horrible situation to be sure, and I do not know how you should proceed, but I do know that if you love Joel, you cannot keep this news from him. You must tell him what happened to you, and that you are now pregnant, and then let him make his choice. You must trust that God will help you say the right words and that Joel will make the right decision.” Maggie nodded in understanding but tears still ran down her face. “I am scared, Naomi.” The older woman placed her hand on the young woman’s head. “I know my sweet, I know. I am scared, too. Let me say a prayer for us.”
After Naomi ended their prayer for help, she hugged Maggie, saying “Be strong, child, for the Lord is with you,” and left the house. She found her husband and Joel in the barn readying the harvesting tools by sharpening them. They ceased their work when she approached. “Joel,” Naomi spoke softly, “Maggie is asking for you in the house.” Joel nodded, set his tools down and wiped grime off his hands with a nearby rag. He made his way to the house, and into Maggie’s bedroom.
Naomi grasped Tom’s hands as he looked at her intently. She had news, and it was certainly not pleasant. “Is Maggie pregnant?” Tom asked, and his wife nodded, eyes filling with tears. She spoke in a tight voice. “Madame Wilkerson estimates that poor Maggie is about five months along now.” Her voice finally broke, and Tom wrapped her in a tight squeeze. “Oh, Lord, what will we do?” She whispered brokenly. “Poor Maggie! Carrying a wicked man’s child! She is going to reveal to Joel that she was raped, and see what he says. This is his chance to confess and repent if it was him. If it was he who took Maggie’s virtue and brought this upon her, then she will never be able to trust him again. But if he is innocent of the crime, then that means that most likely Gus is guilty. But we can never know for sure one way or the other. Unless the man himself comes forward and confesses, then we can never know.” She sobbed miserably and clutched Tom, who gently shushed her. “Shh my love, it will be okay, you will see. We need to trust that God will change hearts and allow the truth to be known eventually. We have to trust that the guilty man will see his error and confess sooner or later, then we will deal with the implications when that time arrives.” He wiped Naomi’s eyes. “We all must be strong for Maggie and Joel, for their fledgling relationship is about to be tested to its limits. We need to pray for them, that their bond can survive and somehow even deepen during this time of tribulation.” Tom looked into Naomi’s eyes. “Darling, most importantly, we need to remember that God brought Joel into Maggie’s life for a specific reason. God thinks that Joel is the right man for Maggie, and even though we may disagree, we need to help him flourish and become the man God already believes him to be.” Naomi nodded in understanding. “I know you are right, my love, that Joel is here for a reason, but I just cannot yet fully trust him. There is something about him, and maybe it is simply his rebellious past, but I cannot bring myself to trust him or accept that he is the perfect man for Maggie.” Tom chuckled and touched her cheek. “I understand your hesitations, my dear, but it is not you or I who will make the final decision as to whether or not Joel is the right man for Maggie. That decision is for the Lord and Maggie to make, not us. And despite Joel’s shady past, he is a good man now who sincerely loves Maggie. He is here, on this farm, for a good reason, and our job now is to wait and discover what that reason is.”
Naomi nodded and wiped her eyes as Tom stood. “Come now, wife, shall we take a stroll and soak up some sunshine on this glorious day?” She nodded and took his hand.
Joel softly knocked twice on Maggie’s closed bedroom door. “Enter,” came her soft reply. She hoped her eyes were not too red and swollen from crying. He entered and came to her side, cupping her face in his work-roughened hands. “My dear, how are you feeling? Is something wrong?” Worry etched his handsome face as he knelt at her bedside. She seemed to be absorbed in her own thoughts. She took a deep breath, steadying herself. It would be most prudent to just come right out with it. She thought. “Joel,” she began, heart racing, “I have something very important to tell you, some news that is most disturbing.” The color drained from his face. He suddenly became terrified that she was about to tell him that she had an advanced illness and was on the verge of death.
Instead, she gulped and took his hand. “About five months ago, a little time after you came to the farm, I was asleep in this bed one night when a man entered the room and forcibly took my virtue.” She took a deep breath to continue, and Joel’s heart stopped as he realized that horrible moment that he had been dreading for months had finally arrived. She had somehow figured out that it was him and was about to accuse him of the crime. He was about to lose her.
She continued, clarifying, “This man raped me, Joel, and I have not had the nerve to tell you until now. I was afraid that you would think of me as damaged goods or someone else’s castoff, and I simply could not bear for you to view me that way.” She loosened her grip on his hand slightly and looked away as if shamed. “And also, I am ashamed to admit, I partially suspected you of the crime for a long while, but I no longer suspect you of anything. I know you now to be a good, kind, honest man who loves me and would never commit such an abominable act.”
Joel’s mouth fell open in shock and he could not think clearly. All brain function seemed to leave him. This was the moment he had been desperately praying would never come. He had, he was ashamed to admit, often prayed the illogical prayer of begging God to somehow make Maggie forget what he had done to her so as to save both of them the grief of having to relive what had happened. But in truth, he was just so terrified of her finding out that it was him and her banishing him from the farm and out of her life forever. Then he would once again be alone and adrift in this world, cut off from another woman in whom he had invested so much of his heart and life. But no, he refused to lose Maggie like he had lost Natalie. He could not face such rejection again. He had almost not survived after Natalie left him, and he knew he would certainly not survive if he lost Maggie. He would count the cost and make whatever sacrifice needed to keep Maggie in his life, even if that means lying to her and not admitting his guilt. If he confessed, even if he swore that he was a changed man and that not a drop of alcohol had touched his lips since that terrible night, Maggie would still be crushed and would cause the utter ruin of their relationship. He would never be allowed to touch her again, to hold her, to marry her and live together as man and wife, or to father her children.
Then, he realized in horror, word would spread across town and he would forever be labeled as a rapist and a wicked man, and would not be allowed to worship in church, businesses would refuse his patronage, and women would urge their children to the other side of the street if they saw him walking towards them. He could even get accused of other rapes in the area and be imprisoned or hung for crimes he did not commit. His terror of all that he would lose and all the horrors that could befall him if he confessed, ran through his mind and immobilized him.
Joel stared at Maggie’s face, unable to speak or move, as the love of his life pressed forward, tears filling her eyes. “I’m so sorry, my love, to have ever suspected you. I now believe the culprit to be Gus, and appropriate actions will be taken against him. Please, honey, can you ever forgive me for thinking that you could do such a heinous thing?” She gazed into his face with pleading, loving eyes. Moving his neck seemed to be the only thing he could manage, so he numbly and dumbly nodded his head. Maggie smiled in apparent relief. “Oh thank you, my love. But I’m afraid what I have to share with you does not stop there. I have more unpleasant news, and it relates to why Madame Wilkerson was here this morning.”
Joel was slowly coming out of his stupor, now that the moment of truth for him had passed and he had come through it unscathed and had avoided accusation. Muscular function returned to his hands, so he gripped Maggie’s hand. “What is it darling? You are not ill, are you?” He asked, worried. She shook her head. “No, not in a manner of speaking, anyway. But something is happening to me physically that involves my health.” She paused so long to gather herself before continuing that Joel thought he would explode in dreaded anticipation. She finally spoke again, voice tight, again on the verge of tears. “I am afraid that what I am about to say will ruin our relationship, Joel, and I do not want to lose you!” She exclaimed and he leaned in to clutch her to himself.
He was so relieved to hear that she was not dying and that she seemed in fact to be in relatively good health. He sighed in great relief as he held her quaking form, unnerved that she was so upset over something that did not seem to warrant such intense emotion. If she is not sick, then what is so wrong? He thought, at a loss. She remained in his arms, head nestled against his strong chest, and said softly, “What I am so hesitant to tell you, my love, is that I just learned that I am expecting a baby.” Joel sucked in a quick breath and pulled her away from him to look at her. “You are pregnant?!?” He exclaimed in joy. He realized that he was not as terrified of the idea of being a father as he thought he would be. He was actually excited about creating a family with Maggie. She nodded and sniffled, a little startled by his positive response. “Yes, Joel, I am carrying a baby, and the father is the wicked man who raped me. This is what is so difficult to tell you, because I am so afraid that you will leave me now that I am blemished by this bastard child. I am keeping the child to raise as my own, and I will love it, but I cannot ask you to do the same for someone else’s child. It is your choice to decide whether or not you can be a father to and love a child that is not yours.” She looked at him, love and sorrow mixed in her eyes. She was expecting him to flee but desperately hoping he would stay.
Joel remembered that she still believed him to be innocent and most likely believes Gus to be the father of the child, so he tried to control himself and not look to relieved or elated. He touched her face gently and spoke. “My sweetheart, I have wanted to marry you and have a family with you for quite some time now, and that has not changed. Nothing you could ever say will change the fact that I love you so very much. I promise never to leave you, no matter what, and this is no exception. I will be honored to raise this child and call him or her my child.” Maggie gasped joyfully at his words and leapt into his embrace. She cried tears of joy for her newly-formed family, and Joel’s eyes filled with tears of joy as well, but also relief. A great sense of relief settled over him, and for the first time in a long time, he felt like everything would be alright.
Joel held Maggie’s shoulders as she wiped her eyes, then giggled like a little girl. But then a thought crossed her mind. “Oh dear, we would need to get married soon, because my belly will be growing larger and larger, and I will not be able to hide it for much longer. No one can find out that I got pregnant before we were married! I would be exiled from church and shamed! I would become an outcast with an illegitimate child who would not be welcome anywhere in town!” Joel quieted her. “But what about the fact that you were raped without your consent? It was not your fault! Doesn’t that matter at all?” Maggie shook her head. “My dear, that little fact, unfortunately, would not matter to them. I would still bear the mark of sexual indiscretion on my body, like a sign, and people would go out of their way to avoid me. As a matter of fact, I am already five months pregnant, so it would not matter if we got married soon, I will give birth to the baby in four more months, and we will obviously have not been married for that long, so people will still know that I must have gotten pregnant before we were wed.”
Joel stood, refusing to let the woman he loved ever have to endure such public shame and ridicule, the very thing he himself had narrowly avoided only moments ago. “Well, my love, we will just have to lie a little and tell folks that we in fact secretly got married a few months ago, and we can make up some silly reason like how we did not have much money, or did not want to make a big to-do out of it, so we secretly went off and got married, and kept it to ourselves.”
Maggie seemed unsure. “So we would just lie about when we got married?” Joel nodded. “Honey, I think it is okay if we tell these townspeople a white lie about us, considering they will ostracize you if they know the truth. We would lie to them to protect you from their hypocrisy!” He gestured grandly, reminding himself of when he used to say dramatic things to manipulate lesser-thinking people. He had always figured that if they were not smart enough to see through his ridiculousness to the lie underneath, then they deserved to be manipulated. But he never wanted to manipulate or lie to Maggie ever again, but he was still willing to lie to self-righteous, hypocritical church folk if it would save Maggie from their judgment.
He squeezed her shoulders, convinced he was doing this for her. “Maggie, let’s fix this, today. Let us go into town and get married, right now! Let me make you my wife!” Maggie sputtered in shock. “Today? Right now? Are you sure?” She could not believe his willingness to join himself to her for all eternity, especially after just hearing such unpleasant news. He nodded, intently looking at her. “Today. Right now. I want to be your husband. I want us to be a family.” He placed his hand gently over her small belly that had just a hint of roundness to it. She giggled again and touched her hair. “Okay, but I need to wash up first!” They laughed, and he realized he should do the same. “Okay, you wash up in here and put on your best dress, and I will wash up outside and wear my best suit. We will leave for town in about twenty minutes!” She squealed in joy as he pecked her on the lips and ran outside.
He ran to the water pump and splashed invigorating cold water on his face. I am finally doing it. I am marrying Maggie! I cannot believe this is actually happening! The fact that he had basically just lied to Maggie by not confessing his guilt and letting Gus take the fall for his crime did not cross his mind. He shook those negative thoughts out of his head, convincing himself that none of that matters now, now that him and Maggie were about to be wed. It would truly be a new start; a second chance for him to get his life right. This was a God-given opportunity, and to hesitate would be to waste it. He would not allow this opportunity to be wasted, and he would not allow the chance for a life with Maggie to fall through his fingers when he was so close. So close to having a family, so close to having a reason to live a good life. So close to actually having a blessed life for once.