Some "Comfort and Joy" to Escape
Posted by Adrienne on January 23, 2008
Today is one of those days I would rather write fiction than comment on anything related to real life. There are so many things to comment on, but I haven't the heart; not today. If you listen to media, we should all hang ourselves because the Earth would be better off without us, and frankly there's nothing good anyway. I don't believe that, I refuse to. However, I'm just not in the mood to give my earnest opinion on anything today. I just want to stop and think. SOoooo. I want to post a long-finished fanfiction. Yes, I said fanfiction. I'm am an avid fan of fan fiction, but not Star Trek of Harry Potter. No, I'm a fan of L.M. Montgomery-based fanfic and Jane Austen fanfic. You can read my works here, and you can visit a community I helped create to discuss it here. I started to give all of my chapters names and numbers, but I can't remember them all, and the website is down. Anyway…
"Comfort and Joy”
By Adrienne Gilbreath
Chapter One: From Void To Light
She didn’t know what made him so different from any other of the multitudes of soldiers she had nursed in the past year. Yet there was something special about him. Maybe it was his dark hair and soft features that drew her to him. He was a great deal like Albert, and Albert’s well-being was of paramount importance to her. Whatever the reason, his welfare mattered more to her than any other of her patients, and she had yet to even speak to him.
He should have woke up days before, yet he lay there, silent, still, sleeping. She didn’t even know his name. He had no identification when they found him. By all accounts and purposed, he was probably listed somewhere as either missing or dead after that horrendous battle. Someone was probably missing him and possibly even mourning him. Someone so like him definitely had to have left people who loved him. She prayed that they would soon be spared their pain, and that he would wake up and eventually return to them, wiped his dark brow with a cool, damp cloth, and took the seat where she had encamped for two weeks, holding on to his seemingly gentle hand.
He did finally awake, unbearably conscious of the throbbing in his head. He breathed in, and the air seemed stale and pained him the farther it entered his body. He tried to open his eyes, yet his dry eyelids only managed to scratch his eyes like sandpaper. It was tempting to just fade back into the blackness, that void in which he had been lost
Then suddenly, he realized that something was touching him; a hand. It was soft and somehow reassuring; like the embodiment of love
It gave him courage and strength to try to escape the void. He endured the painful scratching and opened his eyelids. He couldn’t focus as the light slowly began to flood into the open slips of his eyes. The more he opened his eyes, the more he noticed that things were very foggy. Yet through the haze, he looked to where the softness of someone else’s hand was holding onto his own.
The only word to explain the hand is dainty; long finders connected to a small hand with a slender wrist. He looked beyond that hand that carried so much meaning, to its owner. Rays of sunlight shone, highlighting brilliant, golden hair and illuminated the depths and sparkle of brilliantly emerald eyes.
A single tear fell away from one of those emerald eyes, and then he experienced a new sensation; the sound of a soft and loving voice. “Good morning. I am very glad to see that you are awake. I was beginning to think that I would never get to meet you.” He tried to say something in return, but couldn’t because his throat and mouth were too dry. She obviously knew that this would be and sweetly put her soft fingertips to his lips. “No, don’t try to speak. You must rest. There are all sorts of questions that we all will have when you are stronger. I must get the doctor now, to attend you.”
Then she left, leaving the angelic sound of her voice playing in his head, making the throbbing much more bearable. She returned soon with a doctor. He soon found himself being examined inch by inch, trying to listen to the mutterings between doctor and nurse. Then the doctor spoke, “You seem to have come through it all right. You may be weak for a while. An explosion apparently knocked you unconscious two weeks ago, causing some trauma to your brain. We have searched for some sort of identification on your person, but have found none. Could you possibly tell us who you are so that we can notify your commanding officer?”
He thought about it. He thought very hard about it, but all that he could remember was the void and then waking up and seeing her. He looked to the doctor and then to her, waiting, wanting to know, and all he could do was shake his head no.
“Well son, do you know from where you came?” Again, he could only shake his head no.
Both the doctor and his nurse were obviously disheartened by this lack of news, yet they continued on. The doctor thought a moment and then said, “Well, this could still be just a temporary circumstance. However, we do need a name for the records, so for now, you will remain John Doe. I must attend to other patients. Nurse Darcy will remain if you require anything. Good day, Nurse Darcy, he nodded to the nurse then headed out of the room.
The nurse took her seat next to him again and took his hand again. “You don’t mind my holding onto your hand do you?” she asked.
He shook his head no. “Is that the only answer you know?” she asked. He smiled and shook his head no again.
“I can see that you are going to make my life very interesting Mr. Doe.” She replied. He thought about what she was saying and more than he wanted to regain his memory, more than anything, he knew that he wanted to do just that and so he gave her a different answer; he nodded his head.
She looked down at this man, this body in which he found on the battlefields of Courcelette and managed to get to this makeshift hospital in a war-torn church, and couldn’t help but feel extreme gratitude. There was just something about him with his raven black hair and now that she could see them, his silvery gray eyes that she couldn’t stop thinking about.
She turned to a table next to the bed and poured water from a pitcher into a glass. She put the glass to his lips and said, ‘This may feel strange, but you must be very thirsty and you need this.”
The water did feel odd in his dry mouth, but it felt good. She continued giving him sips of the wonderful water as he was allowed to listen to her voice some more.
“I have been waiting a fortnight to see those eyes of yours. I must say they are quiet remarkable. You are quite remarkable; to have survived such an explosion with no life-threatening injuries. I may bore you, but you see, I have helped keep you alive these two weeks, and so now you are my prisoner and must listen to me drone on and on. I don’t normally just drone on and on. I like to think that I am often more of an observer of human behavior, and that often requires one to keep quiet and let others make all of the noise. In this circumstance though, you cannot make the noise because your throat has been parched. I know nothing of you, so I do not know what you would like for me to talk about, so I will just tell you something about myself.
My name is Katherine Victoria Darcy, Katie for short. You must think my accent is odd. I’m from the United States you see, Oklahoma. My parents were both born in Derbyshire, England though. My grandfather Darcy owns one of the biggest estates in Derbyshire. I’m not bragging, it’s just part of my story.
He and my father had a falling out of great magnitude before I was born. My mother was the daughter of a tenant farmer, and my grandfather wanted my father to become a barrister or take some sort of noble profession fitting for a Darcy. My father was the youngest child of the Darcy clan. Though my grandfather, Henry, has no designs yet on departing this life, my father's eldest brother, Edward was supposed to inherit the estate. Unfortunately, he and his wife, Isabella, died in a horrible shipwreck a few years ago. Their son, William, is now heir. My father's second brother, Charles, is now a captain in the navy. His sisters both married well-respected men. My father was expected to fall into the Darcy mold and didn’t. He wanted to own land of his own in the United States. He had read in a newspaper about how they were giving away land for free in America, in a newly opened territory called Oklahoma. This seemed to him to be the most wonderful offer in the world.
He and my mother eloped and caught a ship to the States. They made it to the Oklahoma Territory eventually, though not during the first land run. They ended up living around this place that was called Tulsey-Town by the Cherokee Indians. Now it is called Tulsa, and I believe that it will be a prominent place soon, it already has boomed a great deal.
Oil was discovered there. Oil was discovered on my parent’s modest ranch, and they have been capable of giving my twin brother, Albert, and I a very good life. My grandfather also somehow came to the conclusion that my father was living the life that was meant for him and actually doing quite well. Ties were reestablished with the family, and my brother and I spent a few wonderful summers in Derbyshire with them.
Albert decided that he wanted to study the law, and my grandfather helped him obtain entrance in Oxford. He and my cousin William attended University together and quickly became the best of friends. When the war began, neither one thought twice about enlisting. Somehow, they have both managed to stay alive, though I cannot help but worry constantly about them. We have already lost our cousin, Harry.
Back at Dovedale, the home my parents built in Oklahoma, I grew tired of waiting for the States to enter into the war. I wanted, needed to do something to help my family in their time of need. I finally talked my father into giving his permission for me to join the V.A.D.’s. He knew that I would not take no for an answer. I would have lost my mind staying at home, waiting, waiting, waiting.
Anyway, I turned twenty-three not that long ago, and was sent to the field, where we found you. I haven’t heard from Albert or William in a couple of weeks. I know that information is hard to come by right now, with all of the advancing and retreating, but some word, any word would be good.”
She stopped her tale as the tears started to fall from her eyes and choke her voice. John Doe’s guardian angel was beginning to falter. He needed to do something to help her., though he didn’t know what. He reached out, gently grasped her hand, and using all the strength that he had in his body, managed to cough out a single word, “Katie.”
Chapter Two: Rebels and Friends
“You’re going to see him again, aren’t you?” Lydia asked as her exhausted body plunged down upon the tiny cot.
“Is there something wrong with that?” Katie asked defensively.
Lydia sighed. She was tired from pulling a double-shift in surgery. The casualties of the Somme front never seemed to slow, but she felt somewhat protective of Katie and didn’t wish to see her hurt. She was a good nurse, and they couldn’t afford to lose her to a broken heart. “I don’t know. You spend every free moment you have at his bedside. You’re getting too close to him.”
Katie smoothed the frayed hair that had escaped from the bun she had worn since arriving at the field hospital. “I’ve got to do something with my time other than stay holed up in this miserable place, dwelling on the despair of what seems like the entire world. I can’t go outside because it isn’t safe. What am I to do? Besides, he’s so lost and needs someone to befriend him.”
“A friend is one thing everyone needs, but a lover is something neither of you does. “
“I have no intentions of falling in love, Lydia!” Katie exclaimed so exuberantly that she even believed it herself.
Lydia laughed a sad and rather tormented laugh, remembering when she once when she had no intention of falling in love and sometimes wished that she hadn’t. “A great many of us never intend to fall in love, Reb, we just do. We find someone who is a friend; we share thoughts, dreams, and even tears. What starts as a friendship can often grow into more before we know it.”
Katie sat beside Lydia, “Is that how it happened with Oliver?”
A tear began to form in Lydia’s eye, “Yes it is. He was my best friend in the world, and the love of my life. I cannot close my eyes without seeing the lifelessness in his once lively blue ones when they brought him in from the gas-filled battlefield at Ypres.”
“He is in a better place now.” Katie tried to comfort the only friend she had made in her time at the front.
“Believe that if you wish, Rebel. I have difficulty believing in a higher being or even Heaven when all I ever see is Hell around me.”
Lydia made Katie uncomfortable with her agnostic talk. “I do believe that there is a Heaven and that one day, God will set everything straight again.”
Lydia ran her hand, rough from hard work along Katie’s angelic yet tired face. “You are so young and innocent. Tragedy has yet to touch you personally. Maybe you can have enough faith for the both of us?”
Katie nodded and held her friend’s hand a moment, and Lydia turned the subject back to Katie’s new friend. “He will break your heart, Reb. You will befriend him, you will grow closer, and then you will fall in love with him. Just when you know how much you love him, he will remember who he is. He will remember his family and possibly his wife or sweetheart. What will you have then when he returns to them and leaves you empty-handed and broken-hearted?”
“If he was married he would be wearing a wedding band,” Katie lowly said.
“See, you’ve been thinking about it already,” Lydia warned her.
“I do wonder where he’s from, Lydia. There’s something wonderful and mysterious about him. He also has dark hair like Albert. You see, he reminds me of Albert.”
“You can tell yourself that you have only sisterly feelings toward him, but I don’t believe it. I can tell where he’s from, sort of also.”
“By his accent, I would say that he is a Canadian like me, only from the Maritime Provinces, not the West.”
“At least we know he’s from our side,” Katie though aloud.
“I don’t think many Huns know proper English, Reb. Johnny Doe, he speaks all proper and educated. He’s probably a college-boy. Trust me; he must be someone’s son, brother, and even lover. Now go ahead and see him. I know you will anyway. That rebel heart of yours won’t do otherwise, and leave me to my nightmares,” she shooed Katie away. She was getting too close to the Rebel from America.
Katie thought about all Lydia had told her. She knew in her heart that Lydia had a point, in her own cynical way. Yet, she couldn’t resist seeing him. He seemed to improve every time she visited. That meant he would soon be shipped away, and she had to see him while she could.
She found him asleep on the cot that was his hospital bed. She didn’t wish to wake him, so she opened the only possession she brought with her to the front other than a small Bible, a book of Tennyson that her father had given her for a birthday long past. He looked as if he was having a nightmare himself, which worried her some.
All in all, his health was coming along splendidly. Two weeks after waking from his deep, impenetrable sleep, he was able to stand and walk around for short periods of time. His progress was very splendid indeed; if only he could remember who he was. There was talk of transferring him to a hospital in England. He knew it was time. His bed was needed for some other soldier, one that knew who he was, and had injuries far worse than his.
The thought of leaving the field hospital terrified him. It was the only place he knew, and from what he could gather of the outside world, it was a far from friendly place at the present time. It also meant that he would have to leave her, and she was the only person with whom he felt comfortable.
There was something different about her than all the other nurses. When he looked into most of their eyes, he saw walls. Walls built to keep them from getting too attached to their charges. With her, with Katie, there were no walls; at least not with him.
Everything about her was so beautiful. He had seen enough hideous things since waking to know that he detested the ugliness this war created from what once where beautiful, living creatures; now mangled messes or shell-shocked jumbles of incoherent nervousness. Somewhere, the world must be beautiful for someone like her to exist. Yet, for him to find that someplace would mean leaving her. What if she was the only truly beautiful creature that existed? What if the entire world was nothing but the filthy wreckage of life that lay all around him, groaning in wretched misery? What if he never saw her again? What if he was forever lost in the labyrinth of his own mind, and separated from the one person who seemed to stimulate his memory?
She sat there, quietly reading to him as he slept. It had become a bit of a habit for her, reading to him while he was unconscious. For some reason, it was a habit that she didn’t wish to break, and as she read, the upset look that covered his face slowly relaxed.
“On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road run by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott,” she quietly read from her favorite poem. His eyes opened upon recognition of her voice.
”Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot…” She was unable to finish the stanza alone because a new voice joined her as she read.
“Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.
Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the beared barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly;
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, " 'Tis the fairy
The Lady of Shalott."
She stopped and stared at him in amazement. “You know this poem?”
“I suppose that I do. I didn’t know that I knew it; it just came to me as you read it aloud. Could you please read some more?” he asked, his gray eyes shining brighter than they ever appeared before to her.
She nodded and began reading again. After a couple of lines, he was reciting the poem again, word for word. When they finished, she closed her book and just stared at him in awe and wonder.
“You know every word of this poem?”
“I guess that I do. It’s very beautiful. Does it have a name?”
“It’s” The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.”
“Has he written any more poems?” He asked.
She nodded her head. “Oh yes. He’s my favorite poet. This is actually my favorite poem. I used to pretend that I was The Lady of Shalott.,”
“I’m sure you were beautiful doing it,” he told her.
“Probably not,” she shyly told him. “Do you remember anything else?”
He thought a while, remembered one thing, but only said, “No. I wish that I did, but I don’t.”
She could tell that he wasn’t telling her the entire truth. “You act like your hiding something from me. What else do you remember?”
“It’s nothing really,” he tried to dissuade her.
“Anything is something. What is it?”
“It’s really not much. It’s more disturbing that anything else, and of course, I can’t remember why.”
“Is it what you were dreaming of when I got here?” she asked.
“Maybe. I don’t really know. I just sometimes see a pair of blue eyes that seem to stare straight into my soul.”
Lydia’s words rang in Katie’s ears. She didn’t want to ask him, but she desperately needed to know the answer to her next question. “Do you think that they’re the eyes of your wife?”
Abruptly, upon hearing her question, he sat up. “No! No! It can’t be! I would be wearing a wedding band! I would know if I was married!”
“Could it be someone you care for; possibly even love?”
He looked at her; green eyes shining in the flickering lamplight. He knew that if he harbored any feelings for someone else, they had to pale in comparison to what he felt for her. She was his everything; his light in the dark world he woke up to. He shook his head and smiled letting his grey eyes show his feelings. “No. I couldn’t have really been in love with anyone or I would remember. I know that if I felt anything as strongly as I feel…” He stopped himself from revealing any more of his feelings for her. “What was it I heard Nurse McGinnis call you earlier today?”
She knew he was changing the subject. Something in her heart told her that he was about to declare his love, possibly for her. She wasn’t sure what to do if he did think he loved her. Lydia was right about so much. Yet, if he was a free man, what would be so terribly wrong in falling in love? She tried to push those romantic sensibilities out of her head. She was headstrong and obstinate as her father often liked to tell her. She was there to help the effort of the war in which her brother and cousin were fighting. She didn’t break her parents’ hearts, join the V.A.D, and volunteer for duty on the front to fall in love. She had a job to do. She wasn’t working then though, so she saw nothing wrong with answering him.
“Lydia calls me Reb or Rebel.”
He watched her try to overcome modesty and slight timidity with charm and grace. “You don’t seem like much of a rebel to me. You’re more like an angel. Why does she call you that?”
Katie laughed and recalled her introduction to Lydia to him. “My first day here, she showed me my bed, then asked me what I was doing here since the United States has yet to join the war. I explained how my brother was studying in England with my cousin, Will, when the war broke out and how they both joined up. I told her how I was frustrated living in a neutral country when my twin brother was out fighting evil, and how I finally persuaded my father to let me join the V.A.D.’s because I was going to anyway. She said, ‘You’ve got a lot of spunk, Yank,’ referring to my homeland. I told her, ‘I’m no Northern Yankee!” She looked me up and down, sizing me up, then said, “I guess you are more of a Southern Rebel, aren’t you?’ That, is how I acquired my nickname.”
“Why would you be a Southern Rebel?” he asked really wanting to know.
“You’ve got a lot to learn if you don’t remember. The United States fought a bitter Civil War just over fifty years ago. The Northern faction is still considered Yankees, and the Southern faction, since they were the ones who rebelled, are…”
He finished for her, “The Rebels. I see. Very interesting. I’m not from the States, am I?” he honestly asked.
“No. Lydia says that by the sound of your accent, you’re probably from the Maritime Provinces of Canada. She’s Canadian too, only she’s from the other side of Canada. You’re looking well,” she added, changing the subject.
“I’m feeling well too. Or at least I think I’m feeling well. I feel better than I did when I first woke up. I don’t really have anything else to compare it to.”
“You’ll be able to go to a larger facility in England soon,” she informed him with a bit of remorse in her voice, especially when she saw the look of terror flash in his eyes as she said it.
“So I’ve been told,” he coldly told her.
“Don’t you want to go? This place is miserable,” she asked.
“It’s the only place I know, Katie.” He said her name so softly and sweetly that her heart leapt a bit.
“You’ll leave here, see what a wonderful world still exists out there, somewhere, and you’ll soon forget about this place and me.”
“I will never forget you, Katie. You’re my first friend, my only friend. I shall miss you more than words can say.” He stared right into her eyes as he spoke.
Katie couldn’t help but be truthful also, “I’ll miss you too, Johnny, but that is still a little while away. There’s not going to be a way for you to get to England for at least another two weeks.”
“Then we have two weeks,” he told her, smiling and relieved. He couldn't imagine being in the world and not being near her.
They talked for hours about everything from history to more poetry, and found that he knew a great many poems by heart. He especially knew the poems of a man named Paul Irving. They shared thoughts and laughter until the oil in the lamplight was gone, and Katie had fallen asleep in her chair. Johnny picked up her feet and propped them on his bed, positioning her just to where she wouldn’t fall. Then, he took his only blanket and wrapped her ever so slightly, kissing her forehead before he too lay down to sleep for the night. As he slept that night, he was comforted by the nearness of her, and his dreams weren't disturbing but filled with the promise of a new tomorrow.
Chapter Three: Letter From Home
Mornings in a war-zone start off much in the same way they do for the rest of the world. The sun rises in the east, highlighting the misty, early morning fog, and birds begin to chirp happily. Then suddenly the guns begin to sound again, the birds stop chirping, giving way to and eerie silence, and the ground where nature’s creatures should be finding breakfast is blown away. There are no quiet breakfasts spent reading the morning paper, looking forward to the coming day at the front. There is only fear and dread of what might come over the top toward you, or that you might be ordered to be the one to go over the top.
For the doctors and nurses in a field hospital, each new day only meant more casualties; more anguished cries from men and boys in mortal pain; more grievous telegrams to be sent to unsuspecting homes.
There were few rays of light in the lives of those who tended the injured. A soldier saved who should have died and didn’t, or a letter from home. Two days after Katie awoke in the chair next the Johnnie’s bed, she received the latter. The positive effect of that batch of letters was evidently expressed on her ace when she visited him that evening.
Johnnie had been reading from an Bible the Chaplain, Captain Allen, had given him when he came out of his coma. He appeared very content as he lay there reading, like he had spent many hours of his life reading in the same position, and Katie apologized for interrupting him. “Don’t stop because I’m here. I’m sorry to have interrupted your reading.”
He smiled warmly at her. “You are never an interruption. Besides, I just finished as you appeared.”
She glanced at the Bible and asked, “What passage were you reading?”
“Romans Chapter Eight. I don’t know why I opened to that place, but I’m glad I did. Verse Twenty-eight seems especially comforting to me.”
Katie couldn’t believe the coincidence, “That is my favorite chapter in all of the Bible!”
She started to recite the verse and found him joining her. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
“Do you remember Bible verses like you do verses of poetry?” she asked, remembering the other night.
“Yes actually, I do. Whomever I am or was, I apparently had a thorough dose of scripture.”
“Good! At least you aren’t some lost heathen!” she blurted out.
He laughed at the multiple meanings of what she said. “I’m lost, physically, but I am sure that spiritually I’m not. Isn’t it odd how I can not know who I am, but I am sure of a higher power that is in control of all things?”
“It’s not my place to question God. However, I do think that it is very interesting. I wish that some of your faith would rub off on Lydia,” she honestly admitted.
“Is she a doubting Thomas?” he asked.
She gave him a puzzled look. “Somewhat, yes. How do you know that adage? Wait, let me guess. You don’t know,” she sarcastically told him.
“Well I don’t. If I did, I would tell you. I’ll tell you anything. Now will you tell me something?” he asked.
“Probably. Ask your question and you might receive.”
“What has you in such a good mood? I know that there were many casualties today, and that most of them didn’t make it. Unless you’ve decided to dip in the opium, something else has to have made you so happy.”
Thinking about all of the lives lost that day made her a little sad again, but as she explained what had given her so much joy, her mood brightened again. “I received a letter from my best friend, Ginny, today. That’s all.”
“Ginny? That’s an interesting name.” he commented upon hearing the pronunciation of her name.
“It’s short for Virginia Lucille Main. She comes from an old Southern family from Virginia no less. Her father barely remembers the family plantation near Richmond before the Yankee army burned it to the ground. What he does remember is how he lived in the prettiest place on Earth, as far as he was concerned. When his wife had a daughter after eight boys, he named her for that place.”
“He sounds like a very interesting man, and nine children seem like a lot.”
Katie laughed. Interesting was just one word that would describe Mr. Main. Strict, old fashioned, snobbish from having made too much money in oil. “That’s one word I would use for him. There aren’t really nine children living. Five of the boys died in infancy. None of them live in Oklahoma anymore. Robert is an officer in the United States Navy. He attended the Academy in Maryland. Thomas lives in California. He works on the moving pictures. Beau runs a logging company that his father bought in Oregon. Their mother died when Ginny was born. Mr. Main is very overprotective of his only daughter and only child still at home. He wants her to marry Bertie when he comes home from the war and opens his law practice in Tulsa.”
“That’s not what Ginny wants?” Johnny perceptively asked.
Katie shook her golden head. “No-o-o. Ginny and Bertie are friends, but she doesn’t love him that way. She loves his best friend, Gideon.”
“Her father doesn’t approve of the match at all then?”
“No. I’ll read you the letter if you want me to. It’s fairly interesting to me, but then I know and love everyone she writes of.”
“I would like that. As long as you don’t read anything that you wouldn’t want me to know.”
She nodded and began:
How are you faring tonight in that foreign land? Is it still warm there as it is here, or has the chill of autumn fallen upon you already? It frightens me to know you are there, so close to that dreadful Somme front. I wish you would come home. It’s so lonely without you. I’m not even allowed to see Gideon. Papa is realizing that we care for each other, and has forbid me from seeing him at all, but that is another story that I will tell later on in this letter.
Your parents are doing well though they worry about Bertie, you, and your cousin Will day and night. Your mother spends an hour every evening under that giant Magnolia tree she loves so much down by the river, praying for your safety. If I didn’t know how strongly you felt that you needed to go to that horrible war, I would be unbearably upset with you for leaving them. I know you are doing what you have been called to do, as do your parents. Just be careful. I don’t know what I how I would manage if my ‘bosom friend’ was no longer of this world.”
At this point, Johnny spoke up as something Ginny had written caught his attention for some unknown reason,” Bosom friend? Where did she come up with such a tern? It seems odd, but strangely familiar.”
Katie laughed, wondering how many things that they had both read and enjoyed. “You probably read the same book we did as children by a wonderful authoress from your own homeland. I can’t remember her name, Anne something or another. Anyway, she wrote a book about a young orphan in Canada who called her best friend her “bosom friend.” Ginny and I have called each other that ever since we were eight years old. The book is titles…”
“Kindred Sprits and Bosom Friends,” he added. “I guess I have read that book at some point. Please continue with the letter.”
Katie looked at Johnny, still making herself believe that they had so much in common, but she did do as he asked.
“The End of Summer Dance was held last weekend. I met Gideon there, because Papa wouldn’t let us go together. We just sat together outside on the river dock talking all night. We couldn’t dance because Gideon is a preacher’s son. Oh how I would love to dance one dance with him. You know how I’ve always loved dancing a waltz. I wonder if Bertie misses playing his fiddle? The band sure needs him back. Charlie Johnson isn’t the fiddle-player your brother is.
I must tell you more about the evening with Gideon. It was wonderful as we shared our hopes and dreams for the future. I’m going to have to borrow some of your rebellious spirit and just elope with him some time. Your father has given Gideon a sales position at his new automobile lot. Pretty soon we’ll have enough saved up to run away.
We will have to run off together too. Gideon couldn’t resist walking me home from the dance, and just as he was about to gather the courage to kiss me goodnight, Papa appeared on the front porch with a shot gun!
He told Gideon that if he ever came near me again, he’d have the sheriff here as soon as possible. Gideon obeyed his command, but we still manage to sneak off together from time to time.
I know Papa will disown me when we do run off together, but what else can I do? I can’t imagine my life with anyone but Gideon. I love Papa so much. He has always been too good to me. I know you’re saying he’s been too strict, but he’s still my Papa.
Now, I must make you laugh. I was over at Dovedale the over day, helping your Mama’s make bundles to send to you and the boys when old Sooner and her pup, Boomer when running throughout the house, throwing everything into commotion. It seems a stray cat had come in through an open window.
Sooner and Boomer chased the poor little thing all over the house until they finally treed her up on top of your Mama’s pantry. The poor thing was shaken near to death, and the retrievers wouldn’t leave her be.
Finally, your Mama pushed the girls outside by whacking them with that old straw broom of hers. She hated to hit them at all because they’re your and Bertie’s dogs, but she had to.
When she got them out onto the porch, I stood up in a chair and got the little thing down. I took her home with me. I don’t care what Papa says, though he likes little Dashwood. I named her for the sisters in “Sense and Sensibility.”
She really is the nicest cat with her pretty white fur and bright green eyes. She follows me everywhere I go like Mary’s little lamb!
I should write more to you, but Papa is calling me to Dinner. We’re going to an election rally for President Wilson tonight. I’ll write more tomorrow. That way you’ll get more letters. Come home soon. We miss you so. Keep Safe.
Ginny Main, Bosom Friend.”
Katie sighed, thinking of home, her family, Ginny, and even the dogs. She really missed Boomer sleeping at her feet. She missed her mother’s laugh and her father’s smile. She missed everything about Ginny. Johnny could see this in her face.
“If you don’t mind Katie, could you tell me more of home? It sounds so wonderful and cheerful. I hope my home will half be as pleasant.” he asked, holding her hand ever so slightly.
“I could talk about home from now until Doomsday. I love everything about it. I think Dovedale’s soil flows through my veins instead of blood. When I’ve been away, I miss it so, and when I return my heart knows I’m home,” Katie gushed as she spoke to Johnny.
Johnny sat up in his bed. He really hated being confined there most of the time. “It must be wonderful to know that you belong somewhere.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad about…” she stopped her apology, biting her lip in frustration.
“About the fact that I have no idea whether I have a home, or if I am an orphan whose only home is the army? Don’t fret. It doesn’t hurt me. Hearing you talk of Dovedale makes me feel as if I belong there as well.”
Katie smiled, and the world was right again, at least there for the two of them. “You’re welcome to visit whenever you want; as long as you bring along some Tennyson to read.
Oh how I miss reading Tennyson by the river,” Katie laughed realizing she had never said which river she was talking of. “When I talk about the river, I mean the Illinois River. Our land is right in the Illinois River’s banks I talk like we live in Tulsa, but Dovedale’s actually closer to the Cherokee Indian city of Tahlequah.”
“Isn’t it dangerous to live so close to the heathens?” Johnny asked so seriously that his black brows furrowed a bit as Katie busted out into uncontrollable laughter.
“I don’t see what’s so funny about my concern over your family’s welfare.” He told her.
Katie laughed even harder; so much so that tears soon filled her green eyes. “I’m sorry. I truly am, but the Cherokee Indian aren’t any more heathen than you or I. They are a civilized tribe with a government, laws, schools, and churches. I could have attended college in Tahlequah, but Bertie and I both had our hearts set on going to the University in Norman.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I just assumed,” he murmured quietly.
“No,” she said grasping his hand before she realized it, feeling the much as she had when the Dovedale doorbell slightly electrocuted her once, “It’s quite alright. I don’t mind that you were concerned for my safety.”
Johnny was feeling much the same as Katie, possibly even more that her. The only words he could whisper were, “It’s only natural. Tell me more please.”
“Let’s see. We were discussing how nice it is to read Tennyson by the river by lamplight on a summer evening with the crickets, frogs, and whippoorwills serenading you. My father and I would also sit on the porch that wraps all around Dovedale and listen to the whippoorwill.”
“What’s a whippoorwill?”
“It’s a type of bird that makes the sound, “whippoorwill” when it sings. It’s most enchanting to hear on a dark night.”
“I bet it is.”
“Oh. You’ll hear for yourself when you come to visit me at Dovedale,” she reassured him.
He liked the thought of seeing her there instead of the dirty, ugly place there were then. She continued on in her description.
“Dad and I would sit there and listen to the whippoorwill while Bertie read and Mama would bake bread inside. The warm, wonderful smells would lure all of us in for the night.”
“What does your family look like?”
She enjoyed the fact that he was so interested in her life. “Dad is tall, well-built man with dark black hair, but I’m afraid that it’s probably terribly gray now after so much worry. He is a man of few words, and he is rather shy. He was the youngest child of my Grandfather Henry, and probably the most like him. He is like him except for the fact that he didn’t do what was expected of him and marry for money and position. He married Mama, a tenant’s daughter, for love instead.
Mama has long, red hair: real red hair, though, and not the orange stuff. She’s a true English Rose, all fair-skinned and green-eyed like me. She’s really beautiful though. I know why Dad gave up everything Darcy to marry her. She’s not just pretty though. She has a brain too. She can talk politics with any man in Northeastern Oklahoma. She could even talk eye to eye with old, cantankerous Clem Rogers.
He and Grandfather Henry disagreed about the marriage. He wanted Dad to be in the Army or something distinguished, but Dad and Mama ran away to America, or should I call it the States. Anyway, they participated in one of the land runs there, and farmed the land they claimed, making a modest living for themselves and their new twins, Albert and me.
When we were little, Dad struck oil, and suddenly we were in the oil business. Now Dad spends half of his time living in a house in Tulsa in order to take care of Darcy Oil. We do pretty well, though not as well as Ginny’s Pa, but then, I would rather have less money that he has than be as stuck up as him.”
Johnny laughed, knowing that Katie could never be stuck-up, but something stuck in his mind. “Your Mama has red hair? Interesting.”
“How so?” she asked.
Katie could tell that he was thinking very hard about his next statement. “Well,” he said, “I don’t know why, but when I think of the ideal mother, I think of one with red hair. It just seems to fit.”
“That is interesting. Of course, I can’t imagine my Mama having any other color hair. If she did, then she just wouldn’t be Mama, would she?”
He laughed, “I guess she wouldn’t.”
Just then, Lydia appeared with a concerned look on her face as she witnessed the closeness between the two. She cleared her throat to gain their attention. Both looked up, rather unhappy to be interrupted.
“I have some good news for you, Mr. Doe,” she informed him as formally as she could. “You’re being transferred to a hospital facility in Chesterfield, England first thing tomorrow morning. You had better start packing your things.” She started to walk away before they could say anything, but then she turned around and told Katie, “Kate, you had better get to bed soon. You have an early shift tomorrow.”
As Lydia walked away, the light mood shared between Katie and Johnny soon disappeared. Downcast, Katie told him, “I’ll help you pack your things, Johnny. Chesterfield is lovely. It’s near Grandfather Henry’s estate in Derbyshire.”
“I guess that it will be better than this desolate place,” he said, trying to make light of everything. “Don’t worry about helping me pack. All I really own is this Bible,” he told her holding up his sole property.
Then something happened, and he lost his grip on the Bible. It fell to the floor, opening to a dedication page at the front. Both bent down to pick it up, when their head slightly brushed against each other.
Gray eyes met green, and all their shared feelings were conveyed without a word. Not knowing what it was he was doing, Johnny tilted his head slightly, and slightly kissed her on the lips.
It was a short kiss, but it contained a power neither had ever felt before. When they broke away, Katie picked up the Bible and glanced at the dedication page, trying to compose her feelings. “Donated by the Glen St. Mary, P.E.I Presbyterian Ladies Aid. How nice of those ladies to donate Bibles to the soldiers..”
“I’ll be eternally grateful to those dear women.” He wanted to say more, but she was slowly backing away.
“I’ll see you before you leave tomorrow, Johnny. Goodnight,” she called to him as she slowly fled to her dorm.
He fell onto his bed, confused, hurt, and yet still exhilarated. “Goodnight Katie. Goodnight.”
There was an odd, gnawing emptiness growing in the pit of Katie’s stomach as she tried to go to sleep that night. He would be leaving in the morning. The mere thought of his no longer being near her cold, and for the first time in her life, she suddenly felt alone.
Never before had she ever experienced such profound feelings of loneliness. Before, there had always been Bertie, her parents, and Ginny. Even when she left home to become a V.A.D, she was filled with the purpose of the ideal of what Will and Bertie were fighting in the trenches for being why she left home to keep her company. Now no purpose, noble or not, company enough to fill the void that just the thought of Johnny’s departure left.
Something, she knew not what, whispered to her heart that if they were to part ways on the morrow, they would never see each other again. That realization was more than she could bear. Yet, what choice did they have? He had to leave, and she had to stay. There was no getting around that fact. However hope remained. Somewhere, despite the increasing chasm in her heart, a minuscule seedling of hope took root and cultivated inside of her. That voice whispered once more to her heart, urging her to pray that something might occur that would cause them not to be separated.
Pray is what she did, though she did it so fervently that something else may have been doing the praying for her. Then again, the voice whispered again and compelled her to open her own Bible to Hebrews 11:1.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” she read aloud to herself. As she fell asleep something new began to grow along with hope; faith. It was with that faith that she slept contently and was able to meet the morning with a smile instead of a tear, edging out the emptiness.
A few hours after she fell asleep, Lydia returned from her shift and looked down on the angelic face with a touch of remorse. “Poor Reb’s heart is breaking because that nameless man is leaving tomorrow. It’s for the best though. She’ll find out soon enough as life continues. It’s best they be separated now before she’s too attached. Nothing but greater heartbreak awaits her if she is close to him when he finally does remember and go home. She may hurt some now, but nothing like she would if – but it’s over now. Things will be fine soon.”
Katie did meet the morning with a smile. The doctors and her patients all were amazed at the blitheness of her attitude. No one there ever was that happy. Yet she was. She wouldn’t allow herself to even think about the possibility of being separated from him. Already, the transport that was supposed to take him away from her had arrived late. Katie had faith and hope on her side. She knew it; every fiber of his being to her so.
“Nurse Darcy, may I speak with you a moment?” Dr. Wilcox beckoned to her as she stocked the bandages.
“Do you want something Doctor?” she asked.
Dr. Wilcox entered the war a young doctor, fresh out of medical school. Two years of trying to patch together men torn apart in way only a war can cause turned him into an old man at the age of twenty-five. There had been a time that when he met a sweet, beautiful, courageous young lady like Katie, he would have pursued her. There was no time for such frivolous things now though. He had a job to do, and it wouldn’t be over until the war was over; if it was ever over. He shook his head to bring his gather his thoughts. It would be a pity for such a ray of sunlight to leave…
“Yes Nurse Darcy, I have just been informed that we are transporting more patients than they were prepared for. I am looking for a few volunteers too accompany the wounded soldiers that we are sending back to England. It will be a dangerous journey. The Huns have U-Boats entrenched in the Channel. If you don’t wish to go, you don’t have to, although it really any safer here. Once you are there, you will be assigned to the facility in Chesterfield.”
There was no need to consider the proposition before her. Without any more thought, she answered, “I’ll do it!” with a smile upon her face.
He thought she would. “Then you best gather your belongings because the transport will leave within the hour,” he advised her. She followed his advice to quickly that she forgot to thank him.
If her father could run away from England to be with her mother, then why could she not run to England to be with him? It was an all too perfect plan.
Time was running out, and there had been no sign of Katie. He would have to leave soon, and he didn’t wish to do so without at least telling her goodbye. He was frightened to leave. He was afraid to be out in a world that he had forgotten. He was afraid to alone, without her. He was afraid that he would never be able to overcome the emptiness not being near her left him with. He ran his fingers along the Bible, his only true possession, lost in desperate thoughts.
“She’s not going to say goodbye, Johnnie. Reb knows that she has to let you go or only heartache will come her way,” Lydia informed him from behind.
“What would cause her heartache,” he innocently asked; his grey eyes making her feel all queer inside.
“You will cause her a great amount of heartache. The two of you are far too close to each other. She’ll fall in love with you, then you’ll get your memory back. You’ll remember the life you had before the war. You’ll remember old loves like it was yesterday. Then what will she have? She’ll have nothing but a broken heart, not to mention the possibility of a reputation ruined. You might even leave her alone to raise children by herself. Mark my words though. One day you will remember, and while you’re all happy to be yourself again, she’ll have lost the man she thought you were. She’ll build her whole world around you, then you’ll strip it all away without looking back.”
“I could never hurt her the way you’ve described. I care too much to do that to her.”
Lydia sarcastically laughed. “You think that, but right now she’s all you have. When you learn that there is more for you, you won’t feel the same.”
“No.” he refused to listen to her. He refused to believe that he could damage Katie in any way.
“Believe that if you want. It doesn’t matter now. You have to leave, now. The transport is preparing to depart. Don’t you hear the train? She’s not coming to see you. She’s not going to tell you goodbye. She knows what is best.”
Johnny got up from his bed, and looked about the only home he could remember. Maybe Lydia was right, and Katie was just trying to save herself from heartache. He sighed heavily and left, realizing that Lydia was right on his heels.
“Why are you following me?” he asked with a hint of anger in his velvet voice.
“I want to make sure you don’t decide to do something senseless and romantic. I want to make sure you just get on that train and don’t look back.”
Lydia was pleased he didn’t say anything else, and that he stepped onto the train without any fuss. She surmised that somewhere in that lost man was a little bit of sense.
As Johnny stepped on the train, he did look back at the world around him; the grim, war-torn place known as Aveluy. He believed he was leaving his heart in that hamlet on the western front.
The conductor yelled, “All aboard!” It was time to leave. She wasn’t even going to say goodbye. Then suddenly, off inside the field-hospital someone yelled, “Wait! You can’t leave yet!”
She ran as fast as her legs would take her, surpassing Lydia who stared in disappointment. She jumped from the platform to where Johnny stood on the back of the car.
“I thought you weren’t going to tell me goodbye,” he said as a tear started to form in his gray eye.
“I’m not here to say goodbye Johnny. I’m coming with you,” she informed him, her body shaking from excitement.
“Reb! What are you doing? Get down here right now before you get into a mess of trouble!” Lydia demanded.
Katie looked down at Lydia as the train began to pull away. “I’m not getting into trouble, Lydia, I’m following orders!” she shouted, showing the papers that Dr. Wilcox had drawn.
Lydia couldn’t believe her eyes. She shook her head in disbelief, then yelled something she didn’t expect herself to say.
“Write to me when you get to England, Reb!”
“I will!” Katie cried out as the train whistle blared.
Then they were off, leaving the forsaken land on the Somme front behind. They were together, and at that moment in time, that was all that mattered to either of them.
“I though I was never going to see you again,” he confessed as they sat down.
She smiled at him much the same way she had the day he came out of his coma. “As Gideon’s daddy would say in his best fire and brimstone voice, ‘never forget the powers of faith and hope.”
A crisp, cold wind violently hit Katie as she walked the grounds of her grandfather’s estate. Christmas was only a week away, but to Katie it felt further away than the usual three hundred sixty-five days. It felt to her that the last Christmas she had spent at Dovedale with her parents and her brother had happened a lifetime before. Dully thinking to herself, she came to the conclusion that Christmas would never be the same again – that nothing could ever be the same again.
Two years before; during that first War Christmas when everyone was still optimistic about a quick end, there had been the miracle of The Christmas Truce. This random spot of peace in the middle of a war never seemed random to Katie. Albert and William had only recently been stationed in the trenches close to Ypres. They both had written to her of the spectacular event. Both had even taken part in a football game against the Germans. Albert in particular found it to be a most amazing and wonderful miracle, and she carried the letter that he wrote explaining it with her, rereading it, hoping to gain some sort of optimism from it.
December 26, 1914
I hope the home fires at Dovedale are still burning bright tonight. I hope that you, Mama, Daddy, Sooner, and Boomer have all had a wonderful Christmas. I know that things look rather bleak at times now that Will and I are at the front, but as Grandfather says, “Chin up!” We’ve a job to do, and both of us intend to stick it out until it’s finished.
We saw what was left of some of the boys we’re replacing on the lines, and I may not have joined up for completely honorable reasons, but I now know why I’m here. I don’t entirely agree with the why this horrible war was started, but I know that what the Huns did to the homes here – well it makes me very angry.
I had a chance to study the European situation some while I was studying at Cambridge with Will. I believe that the British are fighting in defense of Belgium and self-preservation. Why Sis, if they’re allowed all of France, then what’s to stop them from invading England as well?
You and I may be Americans by birth, but we’re the children of England still yet. I’m fighting for Grandfather’s estate which has been in our family longer than Germany has been an empire. I’m fighting for the little tenant farm where Mama was raised. I’m fighting here so that the graves of our ancestors will not be desecrated by some foreign soul who respects not our heritage. I’m fighting for my sweet twin sister who is safely at home, but easily could be one of those poor Belgian girls.
I don’t see how the States will be able to stay out of the war for good. I understand that the largest immigrant group to come to the United States in the last hundred years was of German dissent, but we are a country based on freedom and opportunity. This isn’t just a Napoleonic struggle for the supremacy of Europe, but I fear it will eventually be one for the freedom of the world. There is a land-hungry man in charge of things in Germany. I don’t care if he is King George’s cousin. He gives no care or thought to the rights of a neutral country. He only sees what is good for him and what he can take.
I wish to write you of lighter things though, Sis. You may read of it in the papers, though the brass hats may keep it hush hush. It really is a miraculous and unbelievable thing. It’s something our grandchildren will look back at with awe. It was a perfect day of peace in war.
Fritz started it actually. Many of the Huns put Christmas trees up above their trenches and hung Chinese lanterns from them. We were feeling a little festive ourselves with the bundles sent from home and our Princess Mary boxes.
I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trenches and some came towards ours. We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles so one of our men went out to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas.
We instigated a game of soccer in No Man’s Land at one point, and the Germans won, 3-2. Will and I both played. Men exchanged gifts and buttons. In one or two places soldiers who had been barbers in civilian times gave free haircuts. One German, a juggler and a showman, gave an impromptu, and given the circumstances, somewhat surreal performance of his routine in the centre of no-man's land.
They sang "STILLE NACHT, HEILIGE NACHT" to our “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and “Oh Tannenbaum” to our “Oh Christmas Tree.” For that time, we weren’t enemies. We kept up this behavior though Boxing Day. Then our Captain fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with "Merry Christmas" on it, and climbed on the parapet. Fritz put up a sheet with "Thank you" on it, and the German Captain appeared on the parapet. They both bowed and saluted and got down into their respective trenches, and he fired two shots in the air. The War was on again.
Someday, I hope to meet some those fellows again. They’re no different from us. They’re just doing what they believe is the best for their homeland. We’ll have to remember that in the end, Katie. They aren’t the ones who started this thing, the brass hats did. However the outcome, we will have to have forgiving hearts in the end.
Pat Sooner on the head for me, will you? I still hope to be home before the leaves turn at Michaelmas. I have been around the Brits a long time, eh, Sis?
Merry Christmas and Love,
“Is that a new letter, Katie? A deep yet precise voice asked from behind.
Katie gravely turned her head the direction of the voice. She shook her head. “No Grandfather, I wish that it was, but it’s not. It’s a letter Bertie wrote after that first war Christmas,” she handed him the yellowed letter, noticing the disappointed look that washed upon his face.
He held it in his gloved hand, glanced at it, then sadly admitted, “I thought, or rather I hoped that it had come in today’s post. It has been so very long since we’ve had word from either Albert or William. The Somme Offensive ended a month ago. I would think that one of our boys would be able to let us know they are well – unless…”
Katie stopped him from saying it aloud. To hear him admit what she herself feared would be too much for her to bear. She admitted it for him, “Don’t say it Grandfather. By now we would have received one of those horrible telegrams that I’ve had to send.” She thought of a few of the poor boys whose families she had had to send telegrams to; Clark Manley, Alec Burr, Royal Gardner II, Tommy Blewitt, James Knightley,. She tried very hard not to forget any of them, but the list was so long her memory failed her.
A heavy sigh escaped her and Grandfather Henry pulled her close, allowing her to lean her head on his still steady shoulder. “Katie, you’ve done more than your part for the war effort. You work endless shifts at that hospital in Dovedale then you come here and spend all of you time knitting, darning, or basting something for our boys. Why, you’re almost transparent!”
“Grandfather, I have to do my part.”
“As I said, you’ve done more than your part. I imagine you’ll be working another shift at the hospital tonight?” he asked.
“Better me than Adele Willis, who has a five-year-old son and no one to watch him in the evenings,” she told him.
Grandfather did something that everyone was wont to do in such times, he chuckled, “I know there’s no use in trying to tell you otherwise. You’re a headstrong, obstinate girl. You’re just like my own grandmother, you know. Though you have fairer hair and skin I guess. Nonetheless, no matter how headstrong you are, I don’t fret over you any less. No matter if we do all have a common foe, you are a beautiful young woman, and one of those soldiers may try to take advantage of you.”
“Grandfather, Johnny will be manning the telegram tonight. Nothing will happen to me with him around,” she tried to reassure him.
“I suppose I shall have to meet this young man. Tell me, is it true that he is perfectly healthy, but has suffered such a head wound that he can’t remember anything prior to waking in that field hospital?”
Katie looked to the ground. They had discussed this before. “Yes, Grandfather, he can’t remember anything about his life. He can remember poetry, Bible verses, songs, and such. He truly is the nicest young man I’ve ever met.”
Grandfather pulled his pipe from his coat pocket, and then lit it carefully shielding the flame from the bitter December wind. “It must be terrible living in that sanitarium with all of those miserable soldiers, eh?”
“I imagine it is. It was that way for me at the field hospital. At least I get to come home to you and little Jane every night and have some sort of escape. We walk the hospital grounds together sometimes, but he never ventures far away. I think that he is afraid to do so. Hospitals are all he knows. If it were springtime or summer, I would take him along the Peaks and show him how beautiful the world can really be. At least they’ve given him a job to do. He loathes having nothing to do.”
“So, he is a rather intelligent fellow? That’s good; that’s good,” he said, puffing away at his pipe.
“Why are you asking Grandfather?”
“As you know, we have a shortage of civilian men, and I could use an assistant to help me with the running of the estate, keeping up with correspondence with my factories and in general, and etc. It’s not right that this war has taken this promising young man’s life. He in a manner, survived, and I don’t believe that he should be punished by living in a hospital. We have plenty of room here for one more person to reside. I want to get to know this man that you’ve become so entwined with, Katie. I want to help him; give him a chance to try and make something out of his life.”
Katie stopped in her tracks and looked at her dear, sweet, Grandfather. She wondered how this man could be the same unmoving man who didn’t want her father to marry her mother. So much had changed since then; so very, very much. “Do you mean it, Grandfather?” She unbelievingly asked.
He chuckled again. “You know me well enough to know that I wouldn’t say what I don’t intend, Katherine. What would you say if I took you to the hospital tonight, and we ask your John Doe if he would be willing?”
“I think Grandfather, that you are a ray of light in this cold, dark world. I also think that if we work at it, we may just have a delightful enough Christmas this year,” she admitted hopefully.
“Oh yes. The Christmas Season is coming soon, isn’t it? I must say, I find it hard to celebrate, though this will only be my second Christmas with you here, Katherine. Do you remember the first?” he asked, trying to cheer up the both of them.
Katie smiled a little playfully. “Yes, I remember it quite well. I was sixteen, and it was my second time to visit here at all – my first for the holidays. I remember a giant tree in the ballroom, decorated with candles, gingerbread men, glass ornaments, and such. There was garland draped over everything. The entire house seemed alive with the spirit of Christmas.”
“I wonder how patriotic we would be if we kept up that German custom, Katherine? Something in me tells me that it wouldn’t be too terrible to do so. Little Jane has had such a trying childhood what with her parents, my dear Edward and his wife Isabella, dying on that steamship going to New York in 1912, and then her brother, William, going off to fight in the war. Your coming to live here has been a Godsend to her, but I want the three of us to be happy this Christmas. I even want your John Doe to be happy here. I wish your other aunts, uncles, and cousins could be here as well.”
“To be truthful, I was reading this particular letter of Bertie’s today, trying to conjure up some of the Yuletide Spirit. The four of us will have to make do, won’t we Grandfather? ” Katie informed him. This time, she was the one trying to lift his spirits.
“Yes we will, Kate. Now, if only we would hear from William and Albert…”
He didn’t exactly know what to think when the tall and imposing older gentleman appeared before him alongside Katie. Though his hair was white, the man’s dark eyes were sharp and as keen as they had probably been when he was twenty years of age.
He stood well over six-feet-tall with barely any perceptible stoop at all. He was broad-shouldered and still physically fit but for a slight paunch in his midsection. He seemed almost a giant to Johnny who stood a slender six-feet-tall himself.
Though this man’s size and stature were imposing to poor Johnny, what intimidated him the most were his ever-piercing blue-black eyes. They were very obviously scrutinizing every inch of Johnny from the top of his head to the very tips of his toes. Johnny knew that there was no possible way for him to measure to whatever this man’s ideals were, and there was a very perceptible look of fear as he glanced up at them from the chair where he had been reading.
“Johnny, I would like for you to meet my Grandfather, Mr. Henry Darcy,” Katie enthusiastically introduced.
Realizing just whom the imposing man was, Johnny jumped from his chair to greet Mr. Darcy. “Mr. Darcy, your granddaughter has told me a great deal about you. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he said rather quickly, trying not to miss saying something important as he extended his hand.
“All good I hope?” the gentleman quipped.
“Of course it was good. What else could Katie say,” he innocently asked.
The old man bent to whisper in Johnny’s ear, “You’ve not seen this granddaughter of mine when she’s angry yet, have you?” As Mr. Darcy pulled back, he saw absolute confusion in Johnny’s eyes and laughed heartily.
“Mr. Darcy, I can’t say that I know your granddaughter better than you, but I’ve never known her to say anything other than the truth. No matter how someone wrongs her. She holds malice toward no one.”
“A veritable paragon of virtue, then?” Mr. Darcy asked, thumbing around in his pockets for his trusty pipe.
Unsure whether or not Mr. Darcy was asking a trick question, Johnny gave the only honest answer that he knew. “She is the best person that I’ve ever met, sir.”
“Since you awoke, that is?” he asked.
“To be honest sir, yes. However, I must say that it is very unlikely that before my injury I ever met anyone so caring, courageous, and just generally good.” There was a very perceptible definitive note in Johnny’s response that rather surprised Mr. Darcy. To him, it was almost as if this young man was daring him to say that his words were untrue, and that his own granddaughter’s personality was deficient of some if no all of the qualities he had stated.
Mr. Darcy was wise enough to speak the truth himself, “You are right, Mr. Doe. Katherine is one of the best people I’ve ever known. She is actually a very good judge of character, which is why I am here, son. Come, walk with me,” he gestured to Johnny with one hand while placing the other on the young man’s back. “I have a bit of a proposition for you.”
Johnny looked tremendously lost to Katie as he had little choice but to go along with Mr. Darcy. His face grew incredibly pale, and several creases seemed to form on his forehead. Katie let out one small chuckle, mercilessly waved goodbye to the two men, then went on to begin her evening’s work. Though she would miss his being near as she worked, her mind kept running away, thinking of how wonderful it would be to come home to him.
So it was, that just a day later, John Doe, the man with no name or family, left the Royal Hospital and became one of the occupants of what was possibly the grandest house in all of Derbyshire. He was to become the personal assistant of Mr. Henry Darcy, and from that moment on, he was to be treated as any other member of the reputable Darcy family.
This is not saying that Mr. Doe didn’t feel unqualified, inferior, and generally in awe of his great fortune. However the hospitality of not only Miss Katherine Darcy and Mr. Henry Darcy, and that of young Jane Darcy soon made John Doe feel quite at home and quite like part of the family.
The truth be told, the three lone Darcy’s of the grand house needed him as much as he needed them. The older man’s heir, William and Jane’s father, died in a shipwreck with his wife in 1912. The second son, Charles, was a captain in the Royal Navy. His family resided in Portsmouth. They rarely ever returned to the familial lands of Derbyshire. Charles’s eldest son, Harry, was killed in action when his ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat. Both of Mr. Darcy’s daughters lived with their own families. Eleanor’s family lived in London. Maria’s family resided in Ottawa, Canada. Her husband, Richard Fitzwilliam, was on the staff of the new Governor General of Canada, The Duke of Devonshire.
The Duke of Devonshire was an old Darcy family friend. He had even been mayor of nearby Chesterfield before being appointed Governor General of Canada. Richard, Maria, and their four children; Ernst, Andrew, Bethany, and Sarah had lived in a home on the Darcy estate proper to their moving to Canada, so their absence was greatly noticed by Mr. Darcy and young Jane. Until Katie had recently returned from the front, the elderly man and girl occasionally found days when the wide, spacious hallways seemed almost cavernous – a state that had not occurred since Mr. Darcy’s grandparents had married a century before.
Mr. Darcy was the eldest child of a very boisterous immediate family. Why, his brother, Albert and he had been able to make the most horrendous war whoops. They were ever so much louder than those of his numerous relations that were always visiting the ancestral home. Their sister, Elizabeth and Georgiana were far smarter and prettier than any of the other girls of their acquaintance; until he made the acquaintance of one Miss Cassandra Knightley.
Henry Darcy, father, grandfather, and owner of one of the most prestigious estates in all of Derbyshire, nay England, felt a pang in his heart every time he thought of her, and that was nearly all the time. He would often leave his granddaughters’ company in the evenings in order to spend some time alone in her drawing room, staring at her portrait, lost in the vast ocean of emotions that he would dare not show in company.
She had had remarkable eyes. They were neither green nor blue entirely. Depending on the color of her dress they either matched the sky above or the freshly maintained grass below. Her hair was little more than flaxen silk; her skin ivory velvet; her voice and laugh was Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring played by Halle’s orchestra. To him, she was perfection incarnate, and when she passed from this life in order to bring George into the world, he was left quite desolate. Only the tremendous love he felt for his, her, their children prevented him from joining her forever.
Little by little, he noticed her in each of them and in different ways. Maria had her smile, Eleanor had her grace and her laugh. Edward had her eyes. Charles was graced with her sense of humor. George, George had her life.
He was very much his mother’s son not to have ever known her. He thought in the same manner as she did, and he carried himself in much the same way. He even inherited her propensity for dreaming unheard of dreams and wanting what others might consider unconventional. Henry had wanted everything for the boy that as so like his Cassandra, and those desires pushed the favored boy far, far away.
Pride, arrogance, and absolute stubborn refusal to actually listen to what George wanted rather than lecture continuously about what he should have wanted forced George to elope with Abigail Marten, and run away to America. Only after years of separation and the birth of Albert and Katherine did the elder Darcy the errors of his judgment, and that was after an olive branch was offered by George and Abigail.
Mr. Darcy finally did two things that he had never done before: he admitted that he was completely wrong in his opinions of Abigail and the future she would give George, and he voyaged across the Atlantic to visit his dear boy and his family at their own Dovedale. With his very own eyes he saw how tremendously happy, settled, and comfortable George and his family were. Also, from the first moment he set eyes upon her, he believed that Katie was Cassandra reborn. To him, she was the very image of her grandmother – a feat that none of his other grandchildren had accomplished nearly as completely. From the first time she smiled her happy, baby smile at him, she was – though not officially – his favorite and most treasured grandchild.
When she appeared suddenly on his doorstep that autumn, requesting a home while she worked at the Chesterfield hospital, his heart almost leapt for joy. Making sure that Katherine was happy had suddenly become his top priority.
Finding civilian men for work was extremely difficult then. Mr. Darcy did need a new assistant. Maria’s Richard left the position vacant when he took the Duke’s offer to go to Canada. He asked Johnny to take the job because of Katie’s intense interest in him more than for any other reason.
It had been quite a shock to the old man when he realized that Katie didn’t return to England completely alone. It seemed that every other word from her mouth was “Johnny” this or that. She was home two full days before her grandfather realized that he needed to get to know this young man as well as possible. Within a day of working with this remarkable young man, Henry Darcy loved John Doe almost as much as his own grandsons.
It was pleasing to have the young man in the house with what was left of the family. Somehow, despite still not receiving word from either William or Bertie, the four managed to enjoy the Christmas season.
Together, they caroled at the hospital in Chesterfield. They decorated the entire house together; once a Darcy family tradition. Mr. Darcy looked at each hand-made ornament with warm memories and told all of the stories that went with each one. Johnny heard so many of these wonderful family anecdotes, he felt he had always been part of the Darcy family.
On Christmas Eve, as they sat along the enormous, ancient fireplace, Grandfather read the story of the Nativity from the Holy Bible, and then regaled his audience with a tale his dear Grandmamma used to tell him: The Christmas Thorn of Glastonbury
“THERE is a golden Christmas legend and it relates how Joseph of Arimathea—that good man and just, who laid our Lord in his own sepulcher, was persecuted by Pontius Pilate, and how he fled from Jerusalem carrying with him the Holy Grail hidden beneath a cloth of samite, mystical and white.
For many moons he wandered, leaning on his staff cut from a white-thorn bush. He passed over raging seas and dreary wastes, he wandered through trackless forests, climbed rugged mountains, and forded many floods. At last he came to Gaul where the Apostle Philip was preaching the glad tidings to the heathen. And there Joseph abode for a little space.
Now, upon a night while Joseph lay asleep in his hut, he was wakened by a radiant light. And as he gazed with wondering eyes he saw an angel standing by his couch, wrapped in a cloud of incense.
"Joseph of Arimathea," said the angel, "cross thou over into Britain and preach the glad tidings to King Arvigarus. And there, where a Christmas miracle shall come to pass, do thou build the first Christian church in that land."
And while Joseph lay perplexed and wondering in his heart what answer he should make, the angel vanished from his sight.
Then Joseph left his hut and calling the Apostle Philip, gave him the angel's message. And, when morning dawned, Philip sent him on his way, 353 accompanied by eleven chosen followers. To the water's side they went, and embarking in a little ship, they came unto the coasts of Britain.
And they were met there by the heathen who carried them before Arvigarus their king. To him and to his people did Joseph of Arimathea preach the glad tidings; but the king's heart, though moved, was not convinced. Nevertheless he gave to Joseph and his followers Avalon, the happy isle, the isle of the blessed, and he bade them depart straightway and build there an altar to their God.
And a wonderful gift was this same Avalon, sometimes called the Island of Apples, and also known to the people of the land as Ynis-witren, the Isle of Glassy Waters. Beautiful and peaceful was it. Deep it lay in the midst of a green valley, and the balmy breezes fanned its apple orchards, and scattered afar the sweet fragrance of rosy blossoms or ripened fruit. Soft grew the green grass beneath the feet. The smooth waves gently lapped the shore, and water-lilies floated on the surface of the tide; while in the blue sky above sailed the fleecy clouds.
And it was on the holy Christmas Eve that Joseph and his companions reached the Isle of Avalon. With them they carried the Holy Grail hidden beneath its cloth of snow-white samite. Heavily they toiled up the steep ascent of the 354 hill called Weary-All. And when they reached the top Joseph thrust his thorn-staff into the ground.
And, lo! a miracle! the thorn-staff put forth roots, sprouted and budded, and burst into a mass of white and fragrant flowers! And on the spot where the thorn had bloomed, there Joseph built the first Christian church in Britain. And he made it "wattled all round" of osiers gathered from the water's edge. And in the chapel they placed the Holy Grail.
And so, it is said, ever since at Glastonbury Abbey—the name by which that Avalon is known to-day—on Christmas Eve the white thorn buds and blooms.”
His audience listened on as he began to tell Charles Dickens’s The Child’s Story. Johnny sat listening to the old stories watching Katie in the firelight, softly stroking Jane’s raven curls, and found himself very blessed and content. She smiled across the room at him, her eyes dancing in the firelight, and he was very content indeed. It was the first time he had felt so since his accident.
Suddenly, this quiet, humble family moment was interrupted by violent rapping at the manor door, overtaking the serene sublimity of the moment and striking each heart with anxiety. What news from the outside world dared to break its way past the bitter, blowing winds and intrude upon their serenity?
THE CHRISTMAS THORN OF GLASTONBURY
(A Legend Of Ancient Britain)
Adapted From William Of Malmesbury And Other Sources
So is it worth the wait? Do you want to know what’s behind the door? The more you review, the faster I’ll work on the next chapter.
The knocking grew louder and louder as all four jumped from their seats, startled and staring blankly at each other. They didn’t know what to do. It was highly odd to have such a thing occur at such a time of night unless… No one dared think of that though. They continued to stare at each other until Mr. Darcy remembered that he let all of the servants have the evening off. Though his heart had somehow jumped into his throat, it was up to him as master of his home and head of his family to answer whomever or whatever called from behind the door.
The massive door dwarfed Grandfather with its colossal English oak as he tugged on the entry. Outside, there was only the cold wind blowing a bit of snow across the sinister night sky. The moon was hiding beneath a blanket of achromatic clouds and refused to give the night her light. There appeared to be no one entreating entrance into the house. Grandfather looked about and found a wreath knocking about in the wind.
"It is but a wreath and nothing more," he informed them as his heart settled back into his chest as he returned to his family. The former enchanted mood managed to run away while Grandfather had the door open, and none were quite as mesmerized as before with the Spirit of Christmas.
Trying to lighten the odd mood that had taken place, Katie said, “It’s almost like a Poe poem. ‘…in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow,’”
Grandfather patted her back as he searched about his former seat for his pipe, “If a raven flies into the house tonight, I believe I would take an extended holiday to Barnsley Hall.”
“Do you mean to say that you wouldn’t converse with it, Grandfather?” Jane asked with her sweet, soft, innocent voice.
“I should say not, Jane, my girl! I will admit that in my more morose days after the demise of your beloved Grandmother, I conversed with her portrait and still sometimes do, but to speak with a bird, no! I have yet to cross so far over that thin line between genius and insanity.”
Johnny smiled as he listened to this playful banter between Mr. Darcy and his granddaughters, and before taking a sip of cider stated, “Either that, or you haven’t sampled the opium as much as Mr. Allen Poe did, but then, you are a self-proclaimed genius and know better.”
The elder man was flabbergasted and thrilled that Johnny had joined the sparring. In his defense he claimed, “I have never proclaimed myself to be a genius.”
“Then you are insane?” Katie asked.
“Neither. I am an average English gentleman. I was simply trying to make a point, Katherine,” he rebuffed.
“Katie, isn’t that what the lunatics always say at the hospitals? They claim that they’re not crazy, but the same as you and I?” Jane asked her older cousin.
“Why yes it is, Jane. Maybe Grandfather should take holiday at Barnsley Hall?” she teased. She would have added more to torment her Grandfather when a loud and unmistakable racket could be heard in the back of the house near the kitchen.
“Jane, Grandfather hasn’t misplaced any black cats lately, has he?” Katie asked, trying to ease her cousin’s fears as both Mr. Darcy and Johnny started slowly the long walk to the kitchen.
“Poe’s villains often claim their sanity, don’t they Katie?” Jane tried to keep up the banter as she tightly held on to her cousin’s hand.
“I see Katherine the Great's been sharing her morbid fascination of Poe with you, Jane.” came a voice from the entry to the west wing of the house.
Katie could recognize that voice anywhere, but it couldn’t be him, could it? No, he was far away in the cold, muddy trenches. He certainly wasn’t there with them on Christmas Eve. She looked at Jane who was thinking the same thoughts, then looked in the direction of the west wing. There he stood, all tall and dark in his worn uniform, smiling at her as he had when she saw him last. He really was there! He was well and in front of her!
Katie picked up her skirts and ran toward him. “Bertie!” she yelled out as she jumped into her twin's arms, and he twirled her round in circles.
When Albert Darcy finally returned his sister to the ground, he stepped back and surveyed her thoroughly. “My, but you’re a sight for sore eyes, Katie. It’s seems that working in that field hospital didn’t harm you nearly as much as Mama feared.”
Katie still could not believe that he was there with her. “Look at me? Why, look at you! Whatever are you doing here, Bertie?”
He started for the door, “I can go if you like, Sis. I just thought you wouldn’t mind seeing your twin and cousin after two years in the trenches. It is Christmas, you know.”
Jane perked up upon hearing Bertie mention he was not alone, “Cousin?” She asked, hoping against all of her sixteen year old hope that she had not heard Albert wrongly.
“Yes, Jane, my girl, young Albert did say cousin,” Grandfather announced as he walked back into the room with Johnnie and a tall, dark fellow in khaki.
She called out, “William?” half asking and half exclaiming it. She met her brother in much the same manner as Katie, though William appeared to be somewhat less jubilant than Bertie. He hugged and kissed his young sister with all the warmth of an elder brother. All the while, he kept looking at Johnny with a glare of either suspicion or jealousy. Johnny couldn’t decide which, but no matter, it made him uneasy.
Albert walked to Jane, kissed her cheek, and told her, “My goodness Janie, you sure have grown since William and I left August of two years ago. Tell me, has your skill on the piano grown just as much, or have you grown lax in your practicing? You well know the old family adage that you will never play really well unless you practice more,” he teased, causing the usually shy Jane to blush.
“I must account that she does not practice nearly enough, Albert,” Grandfather attested. “She only truly practices a mere two hours each morning and afternoon. She hardly has anytime for her governess to tutor her, and then she plays even more when Katherine is about. They can often be found playing duets by the fire.”
Bertie shook his finger at Jane in mock disdain, “Tsk, tsk, cousin. How do you ever expect to catch a favorable husband if you don’t improve yourself more?”
Jane, being her honest self said, “I should think that it will be very hard catching a husband if this war persists much longer. All the boys my age can talk of is becoming of age to join up, and that is only if they haven’t already lied about their age and done so.”
Katie wanted to be happy and did not wish to dwell on the war while Albert and William were safely away from the front. She decided to introduce them to Johnny, but Albert beat her to the punch.
“This must be the famous John Doe that my twin has written so much about,” he said, while offering a hand to him.
Johnny was relieved to find Albert so amiable and unlike William, especially since they looked so much alike. “Yes. It’s a pleasure to finally meet the both of you. I have heard nothing but good things about the both of you. I can tell you that your presence has been sorely missed by your family here.”
He stopped and stared at William and Albert, awestruck at how much they did resemble each other. Both were very tall and very broad shouldered with dark, somewhat unruly curly hair. Both had very dark eyes though upon closer examination, William’s eyes were actually a very dark shade of blue, a brooding blue Katie had once called them. Whereas, Albert’s eyes were very dark shade of brown, and Katie had called them amiable brown. Johnny found himself saying, “To the perfect stranger, it would appear that Albert and William were the twins, and not Katie and Albert.”
“Yes, yes,” Grandfather commented. “These two boys are Darcys through and through. If you look at the portraits hanging in the east wing drawing room, you will notice that they look very much like many of their ancestors.”
“They look like you and Dad, Grandfather,” Katie proudly pointed out.
“Yes,” he nodded, “as well as my father and grandfather. Charles and Edward inherited appearances from all sides, but George, William, and Albert are very much Darcy men,” he admitted while taking his seat once more by the fire.
“Some might even call such appearances intimidating,” Katie reflected openly, noticing the glares that William shot toward Johnny and shot some just as lethal back to him.
Albert caught the exchange as he sat down by William. “Don’t mind William, Johnny, that’s just how he always looks.”
“And how would that be, Albert?” William asked, turning his head to Bertie.
“Serious, brooding, like you would rather be with some other company or by yourself. Come on, William. We’re out of the trenches for a while; we have two full weeks to spend with our lovely family. Let’s make the best of the little time we are here and enjoy ourselves, visit pleasantly with Grandfather and Johnny, and enjoy the beauty of our sisters for whom we’re fighting such a messy war.”
“I apologize, old man. It really is good to meet you. I’m very thankful that Grandfather has found someone capable to help him around here. It’s very difficult to be in the trenches when you know your family needs you at home as well,” he reflected as he reached across the table to shake Johnny’s hand.
“It’s good to know that you approve. I do feel rather guilty that I’m not out there with you at times, seeing as though I am of sound body.”
“Nonsense!” William corrected him. “You have given more than enough as it is. I can’t imagine how frightening it would be to be in your shoes.”
Johnny could say nothing in response. Everyone just sat quietly looking at each other until Katie said, “Are you both really here for two weeks, or did my ears deceive me?”
“We are truly here for two weeks, Katie,” William answered.
Grandfather puffed on his pipe all this time, unable to take his eyes off his two beloved grandsons. Just moments before he was afraid that, well those thoughts could now be put away. “However did the both of you manage to obtain leave now at Christmas?”
Albert ran his tanned hand through his curly, black hair. “I don’t actually know, Grandfather. Will and I suspected you had pulled some strings, but apparently it was just by chance.”
Katie shook her head. “No. No, dear brother of mine, it was not by chance. It was a miracle; our own Christmas miracle.”
The family sat around the fire together for another hour or so before most everyone grew too tired to remain awake. Both William and Albert mentioned the joy of taking a warm bath and sleeping in a warm, soft bed for a change. Grandfather couldn’t resist mentioning the possibility that Saint Nicholas would soon be visiting and that everyone should get to sleep quickly.
The comment had some of the desired effect, but mostly it showed each young person that Grandfather so sorely wished that they were all still young children with no greater worries than whether or not their stockings would have coal or presents come morning. Katie and Jane shared an understanding look, each glancing at their respective brother, thankful they were away from the trenches for a while.
Albert, of course, had a smart remark to make, “If old Santa Clause were to come riding on his sleigh, he would most likely be mistaken for a Boche airship.”
“Bertie!” Katie exclaimed, slapped her brother’s arm. “Must we bring the war into every conversation?”
“I’m sorry Sis. My life has been nothing but war for over two years. This is our third war Christmas. I wouldn’t know how to react if the war wasn’t mentioned.”
“I suppose I must forgive you then. I too am on leave for a couple of weeks, and I know that Grandfather did pull some strings for me to get mine.” She gave Grandfather a look mixed with exasperation and also thankfulness.
“Katherine, you’ve been working far too hard at the hospital. You work twice as many shifts as any other V.A.D. If you keep up at the pace you were going, Albert won’t have a sister at all when he returns home for good.”
Katie sighed, knowing that there really was no arguing with Grandfather, especially if Bertie was going to join in on the conversation – which he did. “Sis, you must be around when this is all over. I want the two of us to return to the States with our heads held high. I want everyone at home to see two hicks from Indian Territory who weren’t afraid to fight for what is right and just.”
Katie smiled proudly at her dashing, jovial brother, thankful that the war had not ruined his spirit. “I can only imagine,” she quietly replied.
Everyone made their way to their respective bedrooms, only to realize that since William and Albert weren’t expected, their rooms were not prepared for them. Due to the fact that the staff was on holiday, Jane and Katie happily volunteered to prepare their brothers’ rooms.
Wishing not to intrude, Johnny slipped to his own room; far on the opposite end of the hallway. He was happy for everyone that Albert and William were home, and he prayed that Albert and Katie would be able to make their voyage home together soon.
He looked out at the moon as she finally emerged from her blanket of clouds and wondered if somewhere he had a family, and what they were doing for Christmas. Would they be singing carols by the piano? Would there be a mother and father with twinkling eyes filling stockings along the fire? Did he have siblings who were still young enough to wait for Santa Claus?
Bitterly, he shook his head and wondered thoughts more true to the times. Did he have a family at all? If so, did they mourn him, or would they even care? Did his mother cry at night over her lost son? Was there something missing from his father’s eyes? Were they able to enjoy the holiday? How many people, if any, mourned him, and who mourned him the most?
As if in a daze, he continued to stare outside and watch the snow falling softly in the moon’s light. There upon the window pane, a pair of beautifully blue eyes appeared before him, and they were sad. He might even have called them wistful.
He shook his head again and reminded himself of all the things he was thankful for. He was given a home, a family, and an occupation. He was surrounded by delightful company. He was surrounded by her. The warmth just the thought of her smile gave him blanketed him as he fell asleep. He was very happy to be where he was. Indeed, he could easily have been sleeping in a colder, narrower bed that Christmas Eve.
With her brother and cousin safely underneath the same roof, disconcerting thoughts did not keep Katie awake. Her insomnia was caused by something a trifle less troubling. She was in fact not accustomed to being as rested as she was. Her many shifts at the hospital usually took every ounce of energy, causing her to sleep exhaustedly from the moment she laid down her head, until the moment came for her to wake up again.
Katherine Victoria Darcy was in fact, more rested from a few days leave than she believed she had ever felt in her life. Since becoming a V. A. D, merely allowing her heavy eyelids to close would induce sleep and she did not know what to do when her eyes refused to stay shut. She tossed and turned in the massive four-poster bed, unable to become comfortable enough to fall asleep. A few times, she almost made her way to the land of nod, only to find herself more awake upon realization.
She glanced at the clock, ticking away beside her bed at one point, finding it to be after three in the morning. In frustration, she threw on her robe and headed to Grandfather’s extensive library in order to find something to occupy her mind.
She took with her a quilt that Mama had sent to her and a lamp, anticipating the library to be cold and dark without a fire. Only when she opened the double doors of the library that were at least twice as tall as she, she found that not only was the library warmed by the fire and well lit, but there was already someone in there!
He glared at her steadily, as if she was intruding upon something very private. “I’m sorry William. I didn’t mean to intrude. I thought everyone else would be asleep. I’ll leave you alone.”
Quickly, William stood up, admitting that she wasn’t intruding upon him at all, but that he was only taken aback. “No, no, Katie. You don’t need to leave. I would rather enjoy the company. I’ve forgotten how terribly quiet this gargantuan manor can be at night.”
She sat in Grandfather’s leather chair beside the fire, spreading her quilt about her legs as William returned to his seat and the tome he was reading. “I suppose that I’m not the only person who finds it difficult to sleep?” She slyly asked.
William didn’t answer. He only stared into the volume he was reading. Katie cocked her head to the side, trying to see what kept his attention. “Whatever are you reading, William?”
No response of even acknowledgement of her query came from her cousin. He seemed to be lost somewhere else, in possibly another time. She hoped that that some place was not the Somme. Again, with greater force, she asked, “William, whatever is occupying so much of your attention? You seem lost in that book. What is it?”
There would be no peace that night until he answered her question. Sighing, he marked his place, already several hundred pages into it’s depth, and answered her. “I have been reading Mr. Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. I know not why I reached for this particular volume, yet as though by instinct or divine hand I did. That was several hours ago. I have not been able to put it down, though I’ve read it before as a student at Eton and then again at Cambridge.
Katie nodded, remembering reading it in her own course of study. “It is a very complex and compelling book; quite possibly the greatest masterpiece of his works. My father claims it to be one of his favorite novels.”
“Uncle George is a very enlightened man. As a child, I believed quite the opposite. I felt he must have been very foolish to marry someone so very much beneath him and to reject all of the privileges being a member of our family brings to scamper off to America to become a poor dirt farmer. “
Katie’s temper was gradually rising as she listened to her cousin insult both her mother and father, however his next statement changed her attitude completely.
“Then, as I grew older, and I became more acquainted with your branch of our family tree, I found that he was the wisest of us all. He followed his heart and dreams, making himself the happiest and most content of Grandfather’s sons and possibly his daughters. You didn’t get the chance to know my parents very well.” He stopped a moment, thinking again of something else.
“No, no I didn’t. They were coming to visit us when,” she then stopped, not wanting to bring about unpleasant memories.”
“When that ridiculous boat owned by White Star hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage, taking my parents to the bottom of the icy cold sea with it?” he asked, in not completely a sarcastic tone.
“Y-yes,” she stammered.
William then admitted a little known family secret. “It was really a sort of salvation for us all. They didn’t love each other. They tolerated each other and not too well. Jane is so shy and timid because the both of them were constantly bickering. I myself am not always comfortable with people. Grandfather has always been more of a parent than they were.”
“Your parents did not love each other? Their marriage was arranged?” Katie asked, hardly believing that Grandfather would force his son to marry someone he loved not.
William shook his head. “No- no their marriage was not arranged. At first, they were quite enamored with each other. My father was the handsome heir to the largest estate in Derbyshire, and my mother was the beautiful daughter of a rich earl. Both were very charming people, but they soon found that they were more in love with the idea of being in love and not each other. Grandfather actually tried to talk some sense into my father, but he was a Darcy, and very headstrong. It was too late when he realized that Grandfather was correct.”
“I’m so very sorry, Will. I had no idea your life had been so difficult.”
“No one really does, but then, Grandfather tried his best to protect us by sending my parents to the house in town as often as possible. That is why I look up to your own father so much. He found love and ran with it. He ran toward his own dreams. He knew what was right and did it. My father was mistaken in what was right, too bull-headed to be told differently, then suffered the rest of his life. He never got to make his life great. He never got to make his life meaningful. Maybe that is why I’m drawn to this tale. The redemption of Sydney Carton is inspiring.”
Though Katie had a notion of what Will was implying, she wanted to hear the words fall from his own mouth. “How so?” she asked.
“Sydney Carton was a man whose life was basically a waste, yet in sacrificing his life for his friends, he not only ensures the happiness and safety of his friends, but also ensures his spiritual rebirth.”
“Is that why you’re fighting in this war?” Katie asked, refusing to mince words.
“Yes. In a sense I am. As the surviving heir of Grandfather’s estate, I could easily have found a safer way to fight for our cause. Sometimes, when the barrage is its worst around me, and the stench of dead and dying pals fills the air, I wish that I had.” He slumped in his chair, seeming a great deal smaller in stature than before.
Katie had never shared such a frank conversation with her cousin before. It somewhat unsettled her. William Darcy was always a stalwart, capable man in her eyes, just as her father and grandfather. A loose string on the quilt that was wrapped about her suddenly entrapped her attention. As she spoke with Will, her eyes focused on the string as her finger manipulated it. This action became even more intense at Will’s next confession.
His eyes stared out the large window into the pitch black night either so lost or so focused that they weren’t even a brooding blue, but so dark chills traced their way down Katie’s spine. “I truly envy your friend, John Doe. He doesn’t even know how fortunate a man he is. I would swap shoes with him in a heartbeat, you know.”
“Because he is here, with your family, while you’re suffering in the trenches?” she asked the most obvious question.
Her question seemed to bring Will back into the moment. “Yes – er no! Not really, Katie. Yes, I wish that the war was over, and that I could come home to Grandfather and Jane for good, but that is not why I envy your John Doe.”
“He’s not my John Doe, William,” she interjected.
“If that’s what you choose to tell yourself and other people for now, Katie,” he as unable to complete his sentence.
“There’s no choosing in this, William. That’s the truth of the situation. We are but friends.”
William leaned close, to Katie, “There is a bit of a catch in your throat as you say that. Your heart betrays you, cousin.”
Katie rolled her eyes in exasperation, “If that’s what you insist on believing, that’s your prerogative, William. Now tell me why you envy my friend, Johnny?”
“I envy your friend, John Doe, because he doesn’t remember.” His eyes departed for their forlorn quest again. “He doesn’t remember the fear of going over the top. He has not any recollection of looking to his friend while trading barbs, then finding him dead the next moment. He knows not the mud, the lice, the feeling of running a bayonet through a lad no different than himself, and feeling his life drain before him. I envy him that. I may wish to remain here in some sort of material way, not wanting to return. However, like Sydney Carton, I know that in order to give my life worth – in order to ensure the happiness of you, Jane, and all the other innocent girls of this land that I love so much, I must sacrifice my own comfort and possibly my own life.”
He closed his eyes, ran his fingers along the leather binding of the book, and recalled the last immortal sentence of the book, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
“If something should happen to me Katie, and don’t worry yourself, I see it in your eyes, have them put this on my headstone. Whether or not a body is brought back, I’m sure that Grandfather will have some sort of memorial for me. He did for Mother, Father, and even Harry.”
“Harry,” she barely whispered, remembering her dear cousin. A hurt-filled expression covered Katie’s face, and William knew he never wanted to see such a look upon her face again.
“He was a good, lively chap, wasn’t he, Katie?”
She wasn’t sure if she could answer. She only met him once, that Christmas all those years before when the entire family had gathered at the manor. “He laughed almost as much as Bertie.”
A bittersweet smile came across Will’s face. “I wish that I could have protected him – prevented his demise. I shall be head of the family some day. It is my duty to take care of my cousins.”
“He was hundreds of miles away from you, Will. He was serving King and Country in the Royal Navy. There was nothing you could do to keep him safe.”
“No. No, I suppose not. I promise you though, that the cousin I serve with; your brother and my closest friend, I will bring him home to you if it costs me my own life.”
“William,” she tried to argue, but he stopped her with another verse: one from a book even greater than before.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ Or his friend or cousin he loves like a brother.”
There was a warmness in his countenance that took the chills away from Katie. She knew that he meant what he said, and that no amount of arguing could ever change his mind. Finally feeling tired and succumbing to sleep, she gathered her quilt, placed a hand on his shoulder, a kiss on his forehead, and bade him goodnight.
“I believe it would be more correct to bid me good morning, Katherine,” he pleasantly teased her as she reopened the door.
“What if I wish you Merry Christmas instead?” she asked, leaning her head on the door, but smiling.
“Very well, Merry Christmas, Katherine.”
“Merry Christmas, William,” she told him, leaving him with his notions of duty, heroism, self-sacrifice, and envy. He tilted his head, rubbing the spot on his forehead where she had placed her gentle kiss.
“John Doe, I envy you so much more than dear Katherine shall ever be aware. If I come through this thing, and I ever hear of your hurting that precious angel, I believe that I shall have to dust off great-great-great-great Grandfather Fitzwilliam’s dueling pistols and call you out.”
Katie barely closed her eyes before she heard Albert’s buoyant voice proclaiming, “Everyone wake up! Its Christmas morning! Everybody, wake up!” as he knocked on the doors of all the occupied room and even some that were not.
He stuck his head through Katie’s door, “Katie, wake up! It’s Christmas morning. There will be plenty of time for sleeping later. Come on now, don’t stay in bed through Boxing Day.”
A pillow was launched in his direction, but missed him completely. “You’ll have to open your eyes if you really want to hit me with that, Sis.”
Katie peered at her clock with one open eye. Her voice tired and cracking, she said, “It’s six in the morning, Albert. We just went to bed. Don’t you think you can wait a few more hours?”
Bertie shook his head. “I’m sorry Sis, but you’re the only one not heading down to the tree. Come; join your family, Sis. It is time for merrymaking, wassailing, and most importantly, the opening of gifts.”
Slowly, Katie tumbled out of bed and followed her twin downstairs after pulling her robe on once more. “Since when do you wassail?”
“Oh Sis, I’ve been with our British brethren long enough to have picked up a great many of their habits and traditions; both good and bad,” the morning light’s reflection paled in comparison to the flicker that danced in his eyes as he spoke.
Having lost his previous somber attitude, Will joined Bertie in playfully ribbing Katie. “Oh Katie, don’t you know that before the war, Bertie and I could be caught wassailing all over Cambridge?”
Katie bounded down on a sofa next to Jane, commenting, “It’s a good thing that Mama isn’t here to hear of this. I do believe that you would give her palpitations with such talk.”
Grandfather searched for his pipe, “Is Abigail still working hard for the temperance movement? What is the name of that organization that she belongs to?”
“The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement,” Bertie answered while lighting his grandfather’s pipe. Proudly smiling, he added, “She got to accompany Carry A. Nation on a saloon smash before that formidable lady passed away.”
“Daddy gave her a hatchet last Christmas partly as a joke,” Katie added. “He knows that this is something that she believes in very strongly because her own father was addicted to the drink. He’s had to fire many ranch hands and roughnecks for coming to work smashed. No one can afford the accidents that can cause. In my last letter from home, Mama said that she and Daddy both went to listen to Billy Sunday preach in Tulsa.”
“Oh really,” Bertie’s eyes perked up. “I can’t imagine that Bro. McGowan would approve of his Baptists going to listen to a Presbyterian Evangelist. I bet that they heard a great deal more fire and brimstone than usual for a few Sundays.”
“Brother McGowan isn’t the preacher at Starr Hollow Baptist Church any longer, Bertie,” she informed her brother.
Bertie stood up, surprised that Gideon’s father was no longer the minister of his family’s church. “Why not?”
“Oh calm down, Bertie. It’s not like he was asked to leave. He’s decided to take the Word of God on the road and become a traveling evangelist. Last I heard, he was preaching a tent revival in Georgia that was going on two months.”
Bertie once again took his seat, letting his temper cool. “Well then, good for him. It’s amazing how the rest of the world continues on even though we’re in the trenches.”
Albert looked about at his family around him and wondered some of his parents, home in the States. He remembered Christmases joyously spent at Dovedale with Santa Claus and rooms that seemed to glow with happiness. He thought of his old friends, the ground he walked as a boy, and the way the moon looked as it peaked through the hills in the early evening. Somberly he wondered how much everything would have changed by his return. Would he recognize his friends and parents? Looking at Katie, he really noticed a maturity about her that had not been there before. Her girlish veil of innocence had been lifted away long before. If Katie was so changed, then could he even stand to see how different the rest of his world would be?
Albert Darcy wasn’t one to invite such cumbersome thoughts to invade his soul. He fought them more ferociously than he ever fought the Hun. He wanted to push such thoughts away – until later. For then, he just wanted to be happy and for his family to be so. However, he vowed to himself that before he returned to Flander’s Fields, he would say all that needed said.
Sensing that all was not right with her brother, Katie walked behind where Albert was sitting and protectively, affectionately placed her hands upon his shoulders. This was not supposed to be such a somber time. They were all to forget the war and all the pain it created. She looked to Jane and asked, “Jane dear, would you please play a little Christmas music for us? I do believe that we need to create a bit of atmosphere.”
Jane readily agreed to do as Katie asked. She loved to play the piano. It was so much easier to play music than try to join in conversation. She sat at her instrument a moment before deciding the most proper piece to play. She too was aware of the need for joy, therefore she started out playing, “Joy To The World.”
Katie sang along so beautifully that soon all joined in singing. Once again, Johnny found that he knew the words and sang with a genuinely joyful heart. After singing all verses of “Joy to the World,” the sang “Good King Wenceslas,” and “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day” before Grandfather got anxious for the presentation of the gifts.
Throughout the last song, he paced about the sitting room in a most uncharacteristic manner. As a child, he had always been the first awake, unable to wait for the others to wake naturally. He coughed a bit louder than he usually did when something was actually irritating his throat whilst Katie and Jane discussed what song was next. Then he announced, “Well, I think that it is high-time we got on to the real business if this holiday and open our presents” as a wide, shy smile spread behind his white mustache.
“Presents?” Katie asked. “I must have forgotten all about that. Why, having Bertie and Will with us is present enough.”
“Why thank you, Sis. I must admit that being here rather than there is a most wonderful present in itself. However, Will and I did stop in London on our journey, and I do believe that we have managed to mangle a few gifts for everyone as well.”
“Don’t you think that at a time such as this, we shouldn’t be so frivolous?” Katie asked, feeling somewhat guilty at the prospect of getting presents even though she was well prepared to give.
Gruffly, Grandfather chuckled, “No, Katherine dear, I think that we should try to maintain some semblance to ordinary life. I’m sure that the Huns have gather ‘round their Paradise Trees today. We shall have our Christmas as well.” He motioned for Jane to join him. “Janie, dear, I do believe that there is a small packet somewhere with your name upon it. You know, you’ve been a somewhat naughty girl this year, and you’re very fortunate you didn’t get a lump of coal.”
“Grandfather, I know you’re teasing me again! Katie has made me wise to your ways, and you can no longer vex me as you once did.”
“Quite possibly I was my dear. However, I know for a fact that I see a package of some sort with your moniker inscribed upon it,” he pointed vaguely at the tree.
Jane readily started searching the sparse presents under and around the tree and found a flat, brown parcel tied with the simplest of brown strings. However, upon opening said package, she found a treasure trove of sheet music. Such a wonderful present made her dark eyes sparkle brighter than the winter morning sun.
“Grandfather! With the shortage of paper, these must have cost you a fortune!”
Grandfather shook his head. “Don’t you bother worrying over such things, Jane dear. I have been collecting these pieces for you for quite some time. Actually, your Grandmother collected them. They were hers. You should be coming out into London society this coming year and enjoying parties and dresses. Instead, you must muster away here with me in this old house while the world fights away. This is the least I can do.”
“Thank you, nonetheless. I shall treasure them always,” she told him as she kissed his cheek.
William walked to his sister and handed her another package. This one turned out to be a most exquisite music box that played Chopin’s “Nocturne in B Flat” when she opened it. William watched Jane’s eyes, hoping that was still her favorite composition. Thankfully, he got the answer he’d anticipated, and Jane thanked him with a kiss and a smile.
Both Katie and Jane apologized to their brothers that their presents weren’t there, but had been sent to their post at the trenches. The boys laughed, stating that was quite all right. Their postmaster took his job seriously and made sure that no one ever got anyone else’s mail. Everyone had quite a laugh as Albert shared many anecdotes about the uncompromising post master while everyone else exchanged gifts.
In the midst of the storytelling, Albert handed Katie a package that contained a new, leather-bound Bible with gold leafing. Her name was inscribed on the outside cover, and on the inside, there was on inscription.
"To my beloved sister, Katherine,
These years have been trying and troubling, yet I've always found strength in the words written in this sacred text. I may seem all smiles and jokes, but I take the goings on in this world very seriously. I've taken the pleasure of underlining many of the passages that have helped me these years in the trenches, and making some sidenotes. I know them all by heart. Won't Mama be impressed since she could never get me to memorize Scripture before? When the world seems too harsh, when you think that you can never stop hurting, and that all hope is lost, no matter where I am, look to these words for strength. He will guide you through the toughest patches.
Merry Christmas and with all my love,
Your devoted brother, Albert."
Katie felt tears well up in her eyes as she looked up at Albert, and he smiled back at her, genuinely, lovingly, and knowingly. No words were spoken between them then, none needed to be.
Grandfather had small gifts for both Albert and William. Albert opened his to find a pocket watch. "It was always meant for your father. He left home before I could give it to him. I'm sure that now he would agree that it should be yours. It belonged to my great-grandfather. He had no sons to bequeath things to, but my Grandmother was his favorite, so she got that majority of his personal belongings when he passed."
William's present was even smaller, it was a signet ring with the Darcy family crest on it. "I know these things are greatly out of fashion these days, but this was your father's ring, and my father's, and his before him, and so on. I'm not even sure how many generations back it goes, but know that no matter what, I have been and always will be proud of who wore it." William smiled, knowing the entire meaning behind what Grandfather was telling him, and again without words, an understanding was formed as everyone else exchanged gifts around them.
When all the other gifts had been opened, Grandfather handed Katie an especially beautiful wooden box that contained her present from him. She examined it thoroughly because it seemed very familiar to her, yet she couldn’t remember from where. Gradually, she opened the box, its springs crackling against her hand, to find the most exquisite yet simple emerald pendant and silver necklace atop a pillow of velvet blacker than any midnight sky!
Of course! She’d seen that box on Grandfather’s desk numerous times throughout the years and had always assumed that it was one of the nooks and crannies that he stocked with pipe tobacco and such.
“Grandfather, I don’t know what to say. This is far too lovely to give to me! Surely it would better upon one of my cousins, Jane perhaps?”
Grandfather shook his head. “No, no Katherine. I have known from the first time I laid eyes upon you that you should have this necklace. You are the very image of my beloved Cassandra. This was a wedding present to her from my grandmother, Elizabeth. You see, I was always a favorite of hers and she wanted to give my wife something quite special. It was given to her by my esteemed Grandfather on their wedding day. They were bequeathed to him from his mother who died when he was quite young. I suppose that I should have given them to you upon your marriage, but I am growing old and tired. What with the world at such odds, I’ll probably dust in the ground before you should marry. I cannot wait that long. No, this Christmas was the most appropriate time to give you this.” His eyes glanced to where Johnny was curiously watching; amazed at the family history behind the necklace.
Bertie protested Grandfather’s talk of mortality and he too looked upon Johnny, sharing his Grandfather’s unspoken thought. “Why, you’ll outlive most of us in here, Grandfather. You’re still quite the robust man. I know that your presence has made more than one dowager’s heart flutter. Anyway, I doubt that it’ll be too long before someone snatches Katherine the Great here up. She may be a pistol, but she’s quite a catch too. Why, I bet Dexter Burton would still have Katie if she ever went back home.”
Johnny and William both were amazed at Bertie’s slip of the tongue, and both asked as the same time, “Still?”
Jane smiled and cunningly asked, “Why Katie, you never told be you had a beau back home! I’ve never even heard you mention this Dexter Burton before. I thought we shared our secrets!” she said, trying to sound a little betrayed.
Katie snapped the box containing her heirloom necklace shut loudly, stomping off to plop between Will and Johnny on a sofa.
“I most certainly do not have a beau at home, Jane. I have an annoyance. Hopefully he’ll have latched onto someone else by the time I do go home. I absolutely hate Dex Burton. He’s a sly, conniving weasel who just wants to marry me so that he can someday run Darcy Oil. He thinks that since Bertie was studying law, that he’ll want nothing to do with the family business. He doesn’t want a wife, he wants a business investment.”
Bertie walked around the room, twirling a stray piece of string around his finger. “Oh, I think that he wants a bit more than just a business investment. He wants a beautiful wife as well. Face it, Sis, you’re the prettiest things that he’s ever seen. There’ll be hell to pay for the man who does win you because Dex thinks you should belong to him.”
“Albert, watch your language! Being in the trenches has made you crass,” his sister admonished. He started to apologize when she said, “Besides, it would be hell for me to marry him. I think being permanently attached to someone you loathe, let alone don’t love would be probably one of the greatest punishments on this earth.” Then she remembered who was in the room and saw the pained expressions on both of her cousin’s faces.
“Shall we all go into the music room to sing a few carols before breakfast?” She asked, trying to liven the mood again.
Jane was the only person in the room who seemed interested in Katie’s idea. The others each gave their own reasons for not wishing to sing joyful songs at the moment.
Will, claiming the need to freshen up and dress before breakfast, actually wanted a few moments to reflect on Katie’s words. They made him think of his parents and their far from happy marriage. There was also that nagging realization that he had about as much of chance as that Dexter Burton fellow at gaining her heart. The other three men all claimed the same excuse as William, though they had their own ulterior motives as well.
Albert desired to send a telegram to his parents, wishing them Merry Christmas and letting them know that he and Will were presently out of danger. Grandfather wished to dress quickly and set a few flowers in the graveyard before the morning meal. Johnny was somewhat struck dumb at the sudden realization that Katie’s life didn’t start the moment that he opened his grey eyes and set them on her. There were other men in her life, and someday she would fall for one and have to forsake the bond she shared with him.
Katie found Johnny as he was thinking about these things to himself. The morning sun glistened, making the very dust in the air appear like fairy dust. He seemed a sort of ethereal being in the morning's radiance. She greeted him with a relieved smile. "Good, you're alone. I don't want you to think that I've forgotten about you. I just wanted to give you this in private."
Johnny smiled and graciously said, "I didn't think you'd forgotten to give me a present. It's because of you, I'm here now. That's all the present I need."
"Then you don't want this package I have behind my back?" she slyly asked.
"Now, I didn't say that, Katherine," he told her, feeling a little more at ease and forceful.
"You sound like Grandfather."
"He's a good man, Katie. I would do well to emulate him. What present have you for me?" His eyes danced with mirth and happiness, knowing she thought of him.
She handed him the package, "Well, open it and find out what it is."
He did and found a collection of poems by Tennyson. "I've made a few notes and underlined my favorite passages. I guess that's a Darcy thing. You can have this only if you promise to read me a few lines every night, Mr. Doe."
"Oh, this is a gift with stipulations?"
"Do you mind these stipulations?" she asked, running her hand along his arm without thinking.
"N-no," he stammered out, his voice becoming hoarse. "I-I have a gift for you as well," he admitted, pulling something out of his pocket. "Grandfather is extremely generous in his pay, and when I saw it in a shop, I thought only of how wonderful it would look on your slender hand."
It was a little circlet of pearls. Katie looked up at him, wondering what exactly he meant by giving her such a gift. He saw the questions in her eyes and answered them for her. "I'm not asking you to marry me. I can't. I have nothing to give you – yet, but this circlet of pearls. I don't know why when I saw it, I thought of you, and promises and a love that can't be defined, but I did. That's how I feel about you, Katie. This circlet of pearls is my promise to you that I will make myself worthy of your hand.
Katie's hand shook as Johnny slipped it on her finger. It did look as if it belonged there. All arguments of the previous night were lost as she told him, "Oh Johnny, it's me who's not worthy of you. I'm wild and impulsive. I'll never make a very good wife, but I promise that when you're ready, I'll give it my all."
He leaned over and gently kissed her quivering lips, calming her very soul before parting so that they too could dress for the day.
The entire family met again a couple of hours later, ate breakfast, sang carols, played games, and even managed not to talk of the war – too much. It was a wonderful day for all. They truly enjoyed each other’s company. In later days, when Johnny would look back on that first Christmas, he would have only warm feelings of family and joy and sometimes wish that it had never ended.
Never is the importance of the Christmas holiday felt so much as when it occurs in the midst of a long and trying war. It had been a Darcy family tradition for generations to attend Christmas Day services at the parish in Kympton, and this year was no exception to that rule. Once everyone was dressed and had their fill of breakfast, the family departed on foot to church, not wanting to spoil the inviolability of the day by employing such a modern convenience as an automobile.
Grandfather was enjoying having two such splendid looking granddaughters on his arms and his three, yes to him already three handsome grandsons following behind. All were laughing and joking quite merrily, causing the older gentleman to reminisce of long ago days when the grandmother of the two present, strongest opposing monarchs was on her throne, and his parents, siblings, and even grandparents still lived within the hedgerows of home.
Just the recollection of such happy times made him chuckle, causing Katie to inquire what caused him to be so jolly. She tilted her head in such a manner, and in her eyes he saw the eyes of so many he had loved, that he had little choice but to share.
“I was thinking of when I was a young boy, walking this same walk on the same day with my brother, sisters, cousins, parents, grandparents, and sundry other relatives. You see, in those days, the house, grand as it was, was always filled to the brim with family and friends this time of year.
You know, my Grandmothers were sisters and my Grandfathers were the best of friends. Their homes were no more than thirty miles apart, and I spent a great deal of time with all of them. We were lucky enough to be blessed with all of their presence until I was a young man. In fact, my Grandmother Darcy lived to see her first great-great grandchild before she closed her eyes for her final rest. She passed just after her centenarian birthday.” He looked back toward William and gave him a smile of approval.
“Goodness!” Jane exclaimed, as though she had heard this story for the very first time, “she must have outlived a great many of her loved ones.”
“Indeed she did. My esteemed Grandfather passed some thirty years before her, and only six short months before my father succumbed to the Typhoid. Something in her smile was missing after then, but though she never flaunted it about the way some do these days, she was a woman of deep faith. She knew that though it might have seemed a long time, it was only a short while in the grand scheme of things before they would be together once more.”
“When I was all of eight and twenty and suddenly a widower with five young children including a newborn infant, she gave me some very sage advice. She said, ‘Dearest Henry, I’m well aware that the thing you desire most to do would be to stop living and soon join your beloved. It matters not whether you were married five or fifty years, the soul never truly heals from losing its mate. However, you have five darling, wonderful children; all a small piece of your Cassandra. They have lost their mother, and they now need their father more than ever. You will be amazed to see how fast time flies if you absorb yourself in raising them. Before you are aware, you shall be with your beloved again. You are not alone in grief or in body. You have been Mr. Darcy now for six years. I have absolute faith that you shall continue to do well by the name, and whenever you need us you have your twin sister, Lizzy, and myself for whatever assistance and support you made need. Never forget that you are and always will be loved.”
“It seems that you come from very wise stock,” Johnny commented from behind. Then he realized a new point of interest. “Did I hear correctly that you have a twin sister, Grandfather?”
Grandfather chuckled. “Yes son, I did. It is a bit of a family tradition to have twins; one of each gender actually.”
“A family tradition?” he asked.
“Why yes,” Katie answered while coyly glancing back at him. “Bertie and I aren’t the first set of twins born in our family. Actually, we’re the fourth generation in a row. I believe that Great-great-grandmother Darcy was the first to give birth to a set of twins. Am I not correct, Grandfather?”
“You are most indubitably correct, my dear. My father and his sister, Anne Elizabeth were the first Darcy twins. William and Jane’s father, Edward, and my Eleanor were twins, and I was fortunate enough to be born alongside my dear, beautiful sister, Elizabeth Anne,” Grandfather explained as they neared the old stone wall that surrounded the graveyard beside the church.
A voice called from the other side of the wall, surprising the little family group. “Are my ears deceiving me, or do I hear my twin’s voice extolling my many virtues?”
The voice belonged to a member of the fairer sex. In it voiced wit, poise, charm, and most of all, charity. The lady’s eyes, when they came into view, were a dark brown color, very fine, and full of the spirit of life. Her hair though once dark as William and Albert’s, was now a purer white than that of the snow. Her visage contained a pleasing smile and despite a few wrinkles here and there, dimples that only added to the mirth of her character. Her arms opened wide as she received her brother with a most affectionate hug and kiss on the cheek.
“Lizzy!” Grandfather exclaimed, “I never expected you to be here! The last I heard, you were with Charles’s family in Portsmouth! Eleanor was upset that you didn’t spend the holiday with her family in London!”
“Oh Harry at a time such as this, I longed to be home! Portsmouth’s air is too salty, London is too dirty, and there’s always the threat that a zeppelin will drop a bomb on my head! Besides, I brought Bertha, Amelia, and Ben along with me. They’re already seated in the family pew.”
Jane stepped up to her Aunt Lizzy, gave her a hug, and asked, “Amelia and Ben are here? I must go say hello to them at once. Come William, let’s go greet our cousins. They will be shocked to see that you and Albert are with us as well,” she instructed while pulling at his arm.
Elizabeth looked at the brother and sister as they walked into the church and commented, “They seem to be doing very well. I’m glad to see them with smiles on their faces. I must say brother; that I thought it would do Bertha and the children good to spend Christmas with family. It has been a very difficult year for them.”
Instinctively, he offered his sister his empty arm and stated, “It has been a difficult year for us all, sister. I am very thankful that William and Albert have been fortunate enough to come home for a bit. We needed them here as much as they needed to be here. By the way, you must meet the newest member of our family, Mr. John Doe.” He turned around to introduce them.
Johnny held out his hand to her and found the she had a very hearty shake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mrs… I’m sorry to say that I haven’t caught your last name.”
“It’s Darcy, John my boy, Darcy, and it’s Miss still yet. I never met anyone who made me feel inclined to change my name. The relative of a relative once told me that a single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! The proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else. I’ve had a very fulfilling life helping Harry here raise his brood. Harry’s children are my children. Now I am afforded the pleasure of extended visits with my nieces and nephews all year round.”
The church bells began to ring, beckoning all who wished to come and worship. Aunt Lizzy turned her head to where she could clearly see the ringing bells and wistfully began to recite poem that clung to her heart as of late.
“I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head
'There is no peace on earth,' I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
She faltered, unable to recite the last two stanzas. Her heart was heavier than she cared to let on because she had spent considerable time with Charles’s family and shared their grief completely.
Then, a voice chimed in, as it often did when he heard a poem, passage, or song he somehow recognized,
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.'
Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
“I see that you’re a fan of Longfellow, Mr. Doe,” Aunt Lizzy observed with a smile on her face. Only her eyes, as she shared a knowing look with this kindly stranger with his striking grey eyes who wasn’t too strange at all, told him of her gratitude to him for pulling her from the despair that threatened to overcome her. She glanced at her pretty, lively grandniece approvingly, causing Johnny to blush somewhat. They understood each other quite well, and a friendship was forged in that moment before Bertie interrupted the silent camaraderie.
“Aunt Lizzy, our Johnny may not know anything else, but never doubt his knowledge of poetry,” he advised. “I already tried to stump him twice today to no avail.”
Grandfather cleared his throat and said, “Yes well, we shouldn’t tarry outside any longer. I would hate to think that the vicar would delay the service until we were seated.”
The vicar was waiting on the rest of the Darcy party to enter to start the service. , so the rest of the family’s greetings were forced to wait until after the services. Katie did manage to glance at her aunt and cousins during the service. She was surprised at how old Aunt Bertha appeared, how thin Amelia was, and how angry Ben looked. She didn’t feel the need to ask how they were coping with the loss of Henry; it was obvious by their appearances.
Excepting Aunt Lizzy, who always came more vibrant and alive when she was home, the newcomers to the house were a somber set. Aunt Bertha kept to her rooms most of the time, only coming out for meals and to occasionally walk the grounds. Ben spent a great deal of time in the library reading when he wasn’t plying his older cousins with questions about life on the front; questions they rather not have been asked. Amelia, who once had been as vibrant and headstrong as any Darcy, only spoke when spoken to, and spent most of her time in the galleries, staring at the distinguished portraits of her ancestors, losing herself in other times and circumstances.
The change in Amelia was most alarming to her family. She appeared so wan and stricken that it affected them all, William especially. He had always found her company to be very welcome. Her wit, sweetness, and the lively sparkle of her dark eyes always made her quite appealing. That sparkle had diminished since he last saw her though, and he missed it sorely. He understood her loss and felt it too. He was drawn to her company, and she soon found a companion for her visits to the galleries.
It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve that Aunt Bertha joined the family after dinner. She had only done that at the insistence of Katie and Aunt Elizabeth and a strong hint from William that it would be good for Amelia and Ben to see more of their mother. She felt guilty for neglecting them in their need, yet she couldn’t be near them without thinking about her dear, fair-headed Harry. As she walked down the stairs that evening, she put a smile on her face and willed herself to enjoy the evening so that her children might as well.
It didn’t take long for her to notice that she actually was enjoying the evening. Jane and Katie sang and played. They even talked Amelia into playing a song for them. Then, there was an even greater treat when Albert pulled out a violin and played a few pieces for his family. He played the classical pieces extraordinarily well, but things became extremely lively after he began to play songs that were decidedly American such as “Skip to My Lou.”
She delighted in watching William grab her daughter’s hand to dance. He knew the steps from the summer he had spent at Dovedale with George’s family, and taught them to his cousin with ease. Jane and Ben soon joined them, and tried to mimic their steps. Katie laughed as she watched her very British cousins trying dance like they were at Skelly’s Barn in Oklahoma. She pulled John Doe to the floor and with his help, showed them how to conduct a true barn dance.
Bertha found Mr. John Doe to be a very interesting person. She laughed to herself when she looked at him and thought that he looked as though he could be her son more than Ben with his sandy-blonde hair and blue eyes. She noticed that he had the same color eyes that she had and the same color of hair. He looked a great deal like portraits of her late father, Capt. Samuel Willis, when he was that age. She decided that she wanted to get to know him better, and as soon as he took a break from dancing, she started up a conversation with him.
“You seem to be quite the dancer, Mr. Doe. I wonder where you learned to dance?” she asked.
“I wonder that myself, ma’am. I would surely like to know. Some people tell me that I sound Canadian to them.”
Bertha nodded her head. “Yes, your accent is I believe, from the Maritime Provinces.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow,” Have you spent time there, Mrs. Darcy? I know that your sister-in-law’s family lives in Ottawa.”
She nodded again with a smile, her own grey eyes starting to shine. “Yes, actually I have been there. My father was born in Nova Scotia, and left only when he joined the Navy. He took my family to visit once when I was a girl, but not back to Nova Scotia.”
This was indeed interesting to Johnny; to speak with someone with first-hand knowledge of his homeland. “Have you any relatives or friends still living there?”
“None living that I can say, Mr. Doe. My grandparents died when my father was very young. He did have a sister for whom he named me. He said that I look like her. She was a teacher and married young. While my father was at sea, my aunt and uncle both passed away. He didn’t learn of it until he tried to visit them a couple of years later when his ship was at port nearby. When he arrived at what had been their home, he found a rather crude woman who just blandly informed him that his sister had been sleeping in her grave for some years, as was her husband, and most certainly the sickly baby that had had.
My father loved his sister a very much, and after placing some flowers on her grave, he left Nova Scotia never to return there again. It broke his heart to do so, but it broke even more to think of his sister dying and his never even knowing. Goodness, you look like him! Seeing you makes me wonder if that baby had lived after all. Of course, you’re too young to be that baby. You could be that baby’s child, though.”
“I wish that I was. Then you and I would be cousins. I would certainly not mind to have you for a cousin.”
A very genuine smile spread across Bertha’s lips. There was definitely something about this boy that she liked. “Well, we’ll just pretend that we’re cousins anyway, John. One can never have too much family, especially when the Kaiser seems intent on taking what we have away!”
She put her handkerchief to her face, trying to cover the fact that she was once again crying. She stopped herself though. It was slowly becoming easier to prevent herself from crying. Then suddenly, she looked at Johnny somewhat stricken again. “Oh how I feel for your poor family. I wish they could know you’re alive and well.”
Johnny looked down at his hands. “I know. I wonder about them all the time. I almost hope that I’m an orphan so no one will be mourning me needlessly.”
“Son,” Bertha said solemnly, “trust my heart. You are deeply mourned. A mother never quite recovers from losing a child, and I must say that neither does a father. My poor Charles doesn’t have the same bounce in his step. He never will again.”
Albert viewed the scene before with him a curious air. It was obvious that his cousins were having a difficult time recovering from Harry’s death. They were slowly allowing themselves to be happy again. He watched the light start to reignite in Amelia’s eyes as she and William danced and laughed. He glanced to where Katie was taking a sip of water. She obviously still had an innocent, unblemished smile about her face. He prayed that she would never lose that light as Amelia had. However, just in case, he knew that tonight was the night he needed to leave no words unspoken. In case something should happen to him, he needed to leave her with peace in her heart. He caught his twin’s eyes and the two shared a happy smile.
As midnight drew near, Grandfather and Aunt Elizabeth started a concentrated game of chess, Jane and Benjamin were going through music to play on the victrola as they watched the clock, and the older cousins were having their own conversations.
Suddenly, Katie felt the need to see the stars, and slipped outside. She wondered how everyone was celebrating back at home. She wondered if her parents were sharing a dance in the firelight. She was curious if Ginny and Gideon would be able to steal a midnight kiss. She hoped the Dexter Burton found someone else to kiss.
She prided herself in the fact that he never was able to catch her for a kiss, heaven knows he sure tried often enough. Thinking of the last time he tried to kiss her on the banks of the river at a dance, made her laugh. He bent over to kiss her just as she backed away, and fell head first into the river. He was so angry he didn’t speak to her for a month afterward. Secretly, she had wished that he would never speak to her again, but he soon got over that, unfortunately.
“What has caused that beautiful sound to part from your lips? Please tell me that such a lovely sound isn’t from your recollection of our dance earlier?” Johnny asked as he stepped out beside her.
She turned to him and shared a smile that he knew was meant only for him. “No, I was just thinking about what everyone at home is doing tonight and kisses.”
“What’s so funny about kissing? I think it’s a rather solemn and special thing shared between two people.”
“Oh it is! Don’t get me wrong, Johnny. When you share a kiss with the right person, it is just as you said, but when the wrong person tries it can be rather horrifying. If you can’t laugh at it, it could make you ill. At least that’s how I feel about it.”
He stepped a little closer to her, “Then I suppose that I should only kiss the right person.”
“I suppose you should,” she replied almost breathlessly. “Do you remember a certain New Year’s tradition to kiss someone you love at midnight?”
He shook his head as the people inside started to count down the seconds until the New Year. “No, could you acquaint me with this tradition?”
Everyone inside started to yell Happy New Year just as Katie leaned into Johnny, and shared a promising kiss for the New Year. When they were finished, he said, “I think that I like that tradition,” staring into the depths of her soul, and touching her heart with his gaze.
He stepped away, causing her to look at him with wonder. “I wish I could stay with you longer, but I must get some sleep. Grandfather and I have meetings all day tomorrow in Matlock. I shall need to be sharp.”
She understood. “Then get you sleep, Johnny. We can discuss this tradition more another time.”
He smiled and bade her goodnight before returning inside. Katie remained outside for a while, still trying to collect all of her thoughts. She glanced a shooting star and made a childlike wish.
“I hope your wish comes true, Katie,” she heard from behind her.
She turned to greet her brother. “How did you know I made a wish?”
He sat down on a cold, old bench and laughed. “You always wish on falling stars. You have since we were children.”
“I suppose I have. Would you like to know what I did wished for?” she sat beside him.
He shook his head. “No. I would rather all your wishes come true, Sis. Happy 1917,” he placed a gentle kiss on her cheek.
“I don’t wish for that. I pray for it every day. I pray that the end will come this year, and that victory will be ours.”
He nodded and looked to the stars. “Let us hope this will be the last year we welcome with the firing of the big guns.” He couldn’t wait any longer to tell her what was on his heart. If he did, the courage might not be there for him to do so.
“I go back in a week, Sis,” he quietly reminded her.
She let a heavy sigh escape her lips, “Let’s not discuss that tonight, Bertie. I want to be happy tonight.”
Bertie took his sister’s hand. “I want you to always be happy, and I need to tell you some things before I go. I don’t want to put it off. I don’t you to look so forlorn and lost as Amelia should something happen to me.”
She resisted having this talk with her brother. She knew enough what the dangers were when he returned to the front. She didn’t want to give up and call him dead already. She wanted to fight. She wanted hope. “Amelia lost her brother. I don’t plan to lose mine. God will hear my prayers and bring you home. I believe He will.”
Katie was being stubborn. She wouldn’t listen to what he was trying to tell her. Thankfully, Albert was just as stubborn. “Katie, I could die when I return! I want you to accept that and come to peace with that reality! I want you to know that dying doesn’t scare me, not really. I would be a smaller person if I didn’t understand what I am returning to. I know it, Mama and Daddy know it. Grandfather knows it. I need you to know it. You can’t rescue me. You can’t run to the front and keep me safe from harm. If I die fighting to keep the world free for you and your children, Sis, that is all the hope that I need.”
She was now fighting the tears more than Albert’s words. She knew he was right. “You should be fighting for your own children too, Albert.”
Bertie pulled her to him and hugged her heartily. “I am Sis, I am, but though I don’t know whether or not I shall walk away from this alive, you have. You have walked away alive, and you and Johnny will have children some day.”
Katie pulled away and stared incredulously at her brother. “Bertie, don’t you go and start telling me about Johnny and me.”
“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”
She was tired of denying it, and for some reason, she knew that she couldn’t deny her twin the truth that night. “Yes I am. I know it all sounds crazy and unbelievable, but I do, and I think he loves me too.”
“Oh, he loves you too. You are his world, and you know what?” Bertie asked with a smile.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like I said, I know that the two of you will marry someday, and I know that you’ll have children. Raise them properly. Teach them all we believe is right and wrong. Never forget. Never lose hope. Always keep faith. That is all I fight for, Sis. For all that, I hope.”
A tear streamed down her cheek, rosy from the chill of the night. She squeezed her brother’s hand and with an eerie sense of finality, said, “I promise, Bertie. I promise.”
Dawn stretched across the eastern horizon, awakening the sleeping snow, causing it to glisten like millions of diamonds across the ground. The Albert of olden days was never a morning person. He would sleep all through the morning if he was allowed to. Since the war, things had changed. Each time he saw the sun rise in the morning, he thanked God he was able to see it rise again, and he never missed a chance to do so.
He enjoyed having this time every morning of his leave just he and God, walking along the grounds of the estate with a piping hot cup of coffee to keep him warm. He loved being able to breath the air and smell clean, country air, not the stench of gunpowder, stale bodies, and other less pleasant things. He cherished walking the grounds his father and his fathers’ fathers walked. His soul felt most at peace there, even more so than at Dovedale. Aunt Lizzy was right, this was home, and his very soul knew it. These solitary times allowed him to prepare himself for his return to the front, and in his heart, he knew that he needed the utmost preparation. He was in deep preparation when he stumbled upon Johnny and New Year’s Morning.
“Good Morning, Albert. I didn’t suppose you would be awake this time of morning.” Johnny greeted him.
Albert looked up, startled, but happily said, “I get up and come outside this early every morning. It gives a man time to think, clear his head, and meditate.”
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you then. I’m just waiting on Grandfather Henry. We have an entire day’s worth of business in Matlock today. I’ll leave you to your meditations.”
Bertie grabbed Johnny’s arm, preventing him from leaving. “Don’t leave. Really, I would like to talk with you a moment.”
Bertie had a strange look in his eyes, and Johnny dared not deny his request. “What would you like to discuss?”
“Oh, umm….” Johnny stammered unable to say much of anything.
“You’re in love with my sister, aren’t you?” Bertie asked point blank.
“Yes. I love her. She’s everything,” he quietly answered, looking at his shoes. “I – I know that I don’t deserve someone as wonderful as Katie. I know I don’t have anything to offer her, but I do love her. I love her more than anything on this Earth. She’s the most precious thing God ever created.” He was expecting fireworks. He was expecting to possibly be punched in the face, but Johnny never expected what came next.
Bertie laughed as he watched Johnny flinch then said, “Good.”
“Good?” Johnny asked, holding his breath.
Johnny let out his breath and laughed. “I thought you were going to give me a beating or something.”
“Nah, you’re going to be my brother some day. I wouldn’t want to cause a rift in the family. Besides, Katie can beat me up, and I don’t want another whoopin’ from Katherine the Great. I still have trouble with my left knee after the last time she got after me. Anyway, I like you. You might not know who you are, but nonetheless, you’re genuine. There are no false pretenses with you. Who you are is open for the world to see, and the world can see that you’re the man who will love Katie all her life. That’s all a brother can hope for.”
Johnny was shocked and touched by what Bertie told him. “Thank you. I don’t know what to say.”
“Say that you’ll take care of Katie for me always. Promise me that you’ll never leave her side, no matter how bossy and stubborn she is. Promise me that if something happens to me, you’ll pick up the pieces and make sure that the fire in my sister’s eyes never extinguishes. Promise me that you’ll keep hope and faith alive, never forgetting all the things that have been sacrificed. Without hope, faith, and charity, all this would have been in vain.”
“Of course I promise to do that, Albert. You have my word of honor, however that may or may not be worth,” he extended his hand to Albert.
Albert took his hand, shook it, and pulled him to an embrace. “You’re word means everything to me. I’m putting my faith and hope that God brought you to my sister for a reason. I see that Grandfather is ready to go. I’ll see you later,” he patted him on the back, waved to Grandfather, and entered the house again, leaving Johnny more than a little bewildered.
There was a heavy fog along the Matlock train station on that Monday morning of January 8, 1917, and the sun was nowhere to be seen. People went about their busy ways, hopping on one train or another in order to get to their jobs at factories, mines, and office buildings. They didn’t take much notice of the extended family saying their goodbyes to two young men in khaki. Of course, they had all grown quite accustomed to seeing young men in khaki boarding trains, possibly never to return again. To them, it was a common occurrence that they witnessed on their daily commute.
Katie had not had the chance to send her brother away with a kiss and a smile when he first joined up. She had been at home at their Dovedale, and he had been here joining another country’s army. She was determined to send him away with a smile. She had heard stories from wounded soldiers of mothers, sisters, and sweethearts who had sent their boys away with a smile and those who had not been able to. It was common knowledge that the boys preferred to remember their loved ones without tears. She could at least do Bertie right that way.
She looked at Jane who appeared to be having an even more difficult time holding back the tears that she. Grandfather was determined to be proud and not sad. Ben looked stoic. Aunt Lizzy’s fine eyes betrayed both pride and fear. Aunt Bertha couldn’t bring herself to smile, nor did anyone really expect her to. Johnny’s lips quivered suspiciously, and no one really minded when he grabbed Katie’s hand and held it tightly.
The most surprising reaction to the boys’ departure was that of Amelia. The past week drew her out of her solitary melancholia, and slowly she was becoming the vibrant young lady they had all once known. She smiled a genuine smile at her two cousins as she bade them goodbye, but Johnny notices something else entirely in her dark brown eyes. Beneath their burnished exterior, he saw something of a steely resolve; a sort of wall built up to prevent her true emotions from overcoming her.
The train had arrived with a swirling cloud of exhaust dancing about them, mingling with the fog. The whistle sounded. It was time for goodbye.
In a tizzy, Katie watched helplessly as it was all happening far too fast. They shook Grandfather and Ben’s hands, kissed Aunts Lizzy and Bertha goodbye. William drew his sister to his heart, giving her a final hug and kiss goodbye as Albert told Amelia goodbye. William stepped to Katie and Johnny. He kissed Katie on the cheek, looked longingly at her, and shook Johnny’s hand before whispering into her ear, “I shall keep my promise, Katherine. I will bring our Albert home to you.” Then he tore away to Amelia.
Bertie walked to his sister with a roguish grin spread across his handsome face. All the important things had already been said. Just as he wanted to remember her smiling and beautiful, he wanted her to remember him as he lived his life; always with a joke leaving his lips.
“Isn’t this day a little cliché’?” he asked. “Seriously, the fog, the steam; I almost expect an apparition to appear.”
With a voice that was only a little dull, Katie replied, “Hamlet’s father is busy today. No doubt something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Albert laughed and staunchly looked up, reciting “To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.”
Katie’s mouth was agape, and she knew not what to say until she witnessed the shared mirth between Albert and Johnny. She slapped her brother’s stomach, “Don’t you ever tell me that I’m overdramatic! A lot of good studying at Cambridge did you!”
“Ah but I made Katherine the Great smile today, did I not? That is the face I shall remember out there.”
The conductor yelled, “All aboard!” in the distance. Albert kissed his sister goodbye one last time and shook Johnny’s hand. “Remember, in the two of you, I hold all of my hope.”
He was off, calling for William to break away from Amelia. Did Katie’s eyes see things incorrectly, or did she witness William give Amelia more than just a chaste kiss between cousins?
Things were speeding up again. They were on the train, waving goodbye as they floated away in a sea of fog and steam until they no longer could be seen. The rest of the family was now in their automobiles, driving back home. Johnny was taking her for a walk along the lake. The snow began to melt. Flowers and trees began to bloom. Birds returned from their winter haven to serenade them once again, and a series of events were occurring that would forever change the direction of the war and the way of the world.
Hamlet – Act III Scene 1
It was times like this that Katie wished she had been born a man and not subjected to wearing such cumbersome attire as dresses with skirts that clung to her legs, slowing her down as she ran through the dewy meadow. Her legs couldn’t seem to move fast enough, even after she hitched up said skirts, and she never thought that she would reach the far end of the property where Johnny, Grandfather, and Ben were meeting with the farmhands that morning. She was slowly beginning to chastise herself for not taking Jane up on the use of her wheel, but the tires were low, and news such as this couldn’t wait for anything.
Just as nature was slowly coming alive from its winter sleep, the lull of winter in world events had ended. Every few days it seemed that something else was popping up in the news. So much hadn’t happened since that fateful summer in 1914.
First came the news that Germany was resuming unrestricted submarine warfare. Only three days after that came word that the United States had cut off diplomatic relations with Germany. At the end of February, the Germans sunk the ship Laconia, and President Wilson saw it as an “overt act,” against the United States.
Then as the calendar turned from February to March, the most shocking pieces of news yet started to fall into place. Old Kaiser Bill was caught red-handed attempting to establish more of his infamous alliances. This time he had the gall to attempt an Alliance with Mexico and Japan against the United States, stating that Mexico could gain back the lost territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. He even had his henchman, Zimmerman, send it via a diplomatic telegraph line. This news hit Katie a little close to home as she began to fear Mexican, Japanese, and German troops not only retaking those territories, but her beloved Oklahoma and Dovedale as well. Then there was the sad news of Russia as well. It was the least convenient time to start a revolution. No good could come from that. The family had discussed it at the dinner table just the night before. Now this; this was the most important news yet to come, and Katie wanted to be the first to inform Grandfather and Johnny.
She must have looked entirely like some wild thing running about the hills and meadows; which is exactly why Grandfather was laughing so when he glanced her coming in the distance. He nudged Johnny on the arm and point in Katie’s direction, “Something wild comes this way I believe.”
Ben was the first to greet her, though it wasn’t entirely a welcome greeting. “Katie, whatever are you doing flying about the country this early in the morning. You look awful frightful. Why, your skirt is six inches deep in mud!”
She just looked at her young cousin somewhat ruefully. He spent entirely too much time with those dandies at Eton. “Good morning to you too, Benjamin,” she told him while clenching her teeth.
Grandfather shook his head and corrected his young grandson. “The exercise has done you a great deal of good, Katherine. It has given you a bit more color in your cheeks. Being cooped up all winter was making us all a bit pallid.”
“I concur wholeheartedly, Grandfather,” Johnny added, unable to take his eyes off the creature that was standing now beside him. “It also appears that her eyes have been brightened by the exercise, Ben.”
“Yes, but her hair is all a mess. Mother would never let Amelia out of the house like that. I’m surprised she allowed you to do so.”
“I didn’t look like this when I left the house, Ben, and if you must know, Aunty gave me especial leave to come find you, and tell you the wonderful news.”
“What news is that, Child?” Grandfather asked with concern and excitement showing in his own eyes.
“That the inevitable has happened. That I no longer need be ashamed of my own countrymen. The United States has declared war on Germany!” She was so excited that she couldn’t contain herself and jumped into Johnny’s unsuspecting arms.
Though Ben was a little taken aback by such a public show of affection, Grandfather minded not in the least. He wanted to join in the embrace as well, but instead only said, “That is the best news I have heard in such a long time. Certainly now the Huns will see the futility of this war of attrition and our boys will be able to come home for good! I say that this is cause to celebrate! Katie, tell your Aunt Lizzie to go down to the cellars and bring several bottles of whatever wine she thinks is best. John, I don’t care what the ration board says, we shall have a magnificent ham tonight! Ben, it will be your job to find the liveliest music to play on the victrola. I shall hoist the flags; the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes. The Darcy’s have much to celebrate tonight! God bless him, Woodrow Wilson isn’t the coward I once said he was!”
The family did celebrate heartily and gave thanks accordingly. Even old rheumatic Grandfather dances a waltz or three with his granddaughters that evening, and they all listened intently as Katie read letters from home, showing them exactly what sort of frenzy was going on in the US.
“Gideon is just itching to join up, but he won’t do it until I agree to marry him,” Ginny wrote, “I want to marry him ever so much, but I don’t want to have to go against Papa. He may be stern, but I do love him. It would break his heart if I eloped. I keep thinking that once he sees what a fine soldier Gideon will be that he’ll give his consent. It hasn’t happened yet. In fact, he whisked me away to New York City with him. He had to go, and I think he was afraid that I would just go ahead and do it. I couldn’t have. Not yet at least.
Enough of my troubles though. I’ve heard the most splendid song that a man named Cohen wrote in order to inspire our boys to join up. It’s called, “Over There,” and I’m enclosing the sheet music for you to play for all those Darcys and Mr. Doe over there in England. I hope it brings you the hope and joy it has brought us.”
Jane jumped up upon hearing that music was included in the letter. “May I see the music, Katie?”
Katie handed it to her cousin as she read letters from her mother and father. All the while, Jane was learning how to play the song. By the time Katie finished the letters, Jane was ready to play.
In a most forceful tone, she demanded that Amelia and Katie sing along with her. They did, and it was a most rousing song.
“Johnnie, get your gun,
Get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run,
On the run, on the run.
Hear them calling, you and me,
Every son of liberty.
Hurry right away,
No delay, go today,
Make your daddy glad
To have had such a lad.
Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy's in line.
(chorus sung twice)
Johnnie, get your gun,
Get your gun, get your gun,
Johnnie show the Hun
Who's a son of a gun.
Hoist the flag and let her fly,
Yankee Doodle do or die.
Pack your little kit,
Show your grit, do your bit.
Yankee to the ranks,
From the towns and the tanks.
Make your mother proud of you,
And the old Red, White and Blue.
(chorus sung twice)
Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there -
That the Yanks are coming,
The Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming
So prepare, say a pray'r,
Send the word, send the word to beware.
We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over
They played it over and over again until soon the entire family was singing and thinking only happy thoughts. They needed such hope and happiness because the news of the next several days brought the shroud of doom over them all over again, and each wished they hadn’t been so petulant in their celebration. There was word that the British Third Army of which Albert and William were part and the Canadian Corps had launched a full-scale attack near Arras on Easter Monday morning.
Katie awoke early that morning, while the rest of the house slept, with a stabbing feeling in her heart and a cold sweat freezing her soul. She couldn’t get back to sleep, so she sat in her window seat, watched the sun rise, and listened for the cock to crow. Something made her think about the day before, Resurrection Sunday. She wondered about the women who went to Jesus’s tomb that morning to anoint his body. She wondered how desolate they must have felt believing all hope was lost, and how wonderful it must have been when they realized that “Up from the grave he arose!” It gave her comfort, but the stabbing feeling would not go away.
Another letter came from Dovedale for Katie. It was short, but Mama mentioned that Albert’s dog, Sooner, had stopped eating, and spent all her time in his bed, motionless. That saddened Katie, but she knew that Sooner was getting old, and probably just missed both of them. She was glad to know that her pup, Boomer, was still healthy, and thought little else of it.
As word came, it was clear that the only gain was that of Vimy Ridge by the Canadians. There of course had been many losses though not as many as the Somme. Days went by without word, and everyone seemed to walk on tiptoes, lest they somehow upset the fragile string that held the ever-swaying sword over their heads.
Katie received a letter from Lydia. She was working a hospital in London now. It was good to hear that she was well. A note came from Albert, written Easter Sunday morning, telling her he was finally proud of the country of his birth and reminding her to continue to hope.
She finally allowed herself to be happy and proud again too, about two weeks after word of Arras. She knew that by then, they should have heard something if Bertie or Will were injured or worse. She was happy for Johnny’s countrymen. They fought valiantly to take Vimy Ridge. She had heard were the Germans were saying that the fools didn’t know when a place couldn’t be taken.
It didn’t matter to her. They weren’t fools, anyone could see that. They were fighting on the side of good, and soon enough, the Yanks would be coming “over there.” It wasn’t so bad to be a Yank after all, she thought to herself as she sang that song again, dancing in the dandelion field while she walked home from a day’s work at the hospital. She was so happy at that moment that she didn’t see Johnny waiting on the steps for her holding a letter in his trembling hand.
“Katie?” he called out to her, his voice cracking from the strain.
She heard him, but almost didn’t recognize the catch in his voice. She quit singing and ran up to him. She started to ask him what was wrong, but she didn’t have to. When she looked into his grey eyes and saw that they were clouded over with grief, she knew- oh she knew.
She started to back away from him, trying not to cry. He reached out for her hand, but she pulled it away, and tried to cover her face with her left hand while holding her right up as if to stop him. “NO! Don’t tell me THAT! I don’t want to hear that, Johnny. I can’t hear that. Please don’t tell me,” her voice grew lower and lower until it was almost a whisper.
He didn’t tell her, not really. He just looked into her eyes that were now blanketed in anguish. That was all it took. She could handle no more and crumpled into his arms saying only, “Albert.”
It would be several days before she left her bed. She now understood the stabbing pain in her heart. Her twin, the bother with whom she shared a womb, had fallen in action at Arras. Her cousin William was seriously wounded. They were to all go to the house in London soon because William was to be transported to a hospital. They needed be there for him. They needed to be together in their loss.
It no longer mattered if the Yanks were coming or not. The world was a grey, sad sort of evil place and Katie didn’t know how she could go on living in a world where her brother was no more.
“Over There” by George M. Cohen 1917
The world was grey and murky; filled the colorless, lifeless mud that stained everything, even souls. The sun no longer seemed to exist. She wondered if it really ever had at all. Surely she never really felt in shine upon her face. It must have been a meandering of her imagination. All of it must have been. Happiness was an intangible illusion. It didn’t really exist either. Only sadness existed and reigned supreme. Everything about life seemed to exude misery. It fairly seemed to drip from Heaven itself – if Heaven even really existed.
It was raining when they got to London. It had been raining as long as Katie could remember. Was that all life was now? Was that all there was left; an endless spattering of all life’s hopes and dreams upon the desolate ground, clouded and overtaken by the dirty harsh realities of an imperfect world?
Everything was mud; mud covered with blood. Blood that was shed for what purpose? A few feet more of blood soaked mud? It certainly wasn’t for victory. Victory like happiness was another intangible illusion. Nothing surely could be gained from victory, only lost. Arras meant nothing at all – they were no closer to that elusive victory. His death meant nothing at all. It was all for not.
And yet, he was dead. Albert, her twin brother, was dead. Dead, dead, dead. It seemed to ring throughout her head. She saw their eyes, but she didn’t need to see them. She could feel them staring through her, burning her with their pity and grief. They were all focused upon her. Hushed whispers where she was the subject were voiced all around her.
The train car had seemed too small with all of them crowded within its rocking walls. They were all too close. They all wanted to hold her and comfort her. They wanted to share meaningless platitudes with her, and let her know that they were grieving too – that they felt what she was feeling – that they shared her pain.
They couldn’t share her pain. She had no pain to share. She felt nothing, only a numbness that went further than skin deep. She wanted to find a corner, a deep, dark, secluded corner and continue to nothing at all.
None of them could know what she was or wasn’t feeling – none except for maybe Amelia. Amelia lost a brother too. Amelia didn’t lose a twin though. She didn’t lose half of her person. She hadn’t felt her own silver cord cut.
Katie’s hollow eyes looked toward Johnny. She knew that he had been staring at her, worried about her. Concern eclipsed his entire face. A small part of her yearned to let him comfort her – wanted to hear him tell her that everything would be well again. She wanted to lose herself, and let him just hold her.
That was not a possibility though. It was wrong. In so many ways it was wrong; in the eyes of society and propriety mostly, but more than that it was wrong to allow herself to be comforted because no one could comfort Albert. That was how things had to be.
They went directly to the hospital, not even stopping at the Townhouse to freshen up. She didn’t know all of the detail. She didn’t know whether that was because she had just not heard them, or if they were keeping the severity of William’s injury from her. All she knew was that no time could be wasted.
The hospital where they kept William was a great deal larger than the one in Chesterfield where Katie had worked so many endless shifts. With a greater amount of room, there was an even greater amount of injured soldiers.
They seemed to be everywhere; an endless sea of mangled, marred, pitiful bodies writhing in pain and delirium. Moans, screams, and hoarse, deathbed whispers filled their ears, and the stinking stench of blood, filth, and gangrenous sores filled their nostrils. It was pathetic and never-ending.
Grandfather searched about for someone to ask of William’s whereabouts, but someone found them. She recognized two of the party and had been expecting them ever since she learned the name of the maddened soldier that wouldn’t leave the side of his fallen cousin, even to have his own wound looked at. She knew all of it, and it broke her heart to see her old friend so surely torn and broken.
She spoke softly, much less rash and harsh than either Johnny or Katie had ever heard before, which caught them both off guard. “Reb,” she called out, lowly and almost so quietly that it couldn’t be heard for all of the other noise.
They did hear her though; somehow they heard and recognized her voice. They turned to see her, and Katie was almost glad to see her. Johnny walked over to her and spoke to her in more hushed tones. They returned to the family and made the necessary introductions. Then Grandfather asked the question no one else had the courage to ask.
“Nurse McGinnis, where is my grandson. I very much need to see him.” His voice betrayed his fear.
Lydia nodded. “I’ll take you to him. Someone needs to force him to accept treatment for his wound. It has become gangrenous. He will lose his arm, but if he doesn’t let us treat it at all, he will die.”
There were collective gasps from the family members. Jane started to slump onto Aunt Lizzie, though none were as shocked as Katie. The others seemed to know more than she. She looked to Grandfather, but he couldn’t look her in the eye. She searched all of their faces for some recognition, but none gave her any.
Suddenly it was difficult for her to breathe, and she felt a tightening in her chest. Her lips, no her entire body trembling, she looked into Johnny’s eyes. He met her stare, and knew that she had to know the truth.
“William will not allow anyone to treat his wounds because he refuses to leave Albert.”
That was it. She couldn’t breathe at all. What did he mean that William couldn’t leave Albert? Albert had died, hadn’t he? There was no way that he was there in the hospital with them? Was there?
She struggled for words to come from her mouth, “But-but Albert can’t be here. He can’t be here, can he?” she asked.
He saw it, that one tiny flicker of hope start to ignite within her eyes. How was he to tell her that hope was false? He hated himself that moment in that place. He wished to God that he had died at Courcelette, and the Albert had been spared. “William brought back Albert’s body, Katie. He was shot carrying Albert’s body back to the trenches. He refuses to leave his body even though he knows there is nothing that can be done.”
Johnny’s words swirled in her head. His body; those words made it all too real, too painful. He continued though. “We must convince him to allow the people here to treat him.”
Somehow, her heart was still beating even though it pounded in her ears. A steely resolve came upon her, and she asked, “Lydia, where are they? Take us to them.”
Lydia did as Katie asked, and they followed her to a corner where there was a sort of storage closet. Before she opened the door, she told them, “We managed to put Private Darcy’s body in a coffin when they arrived here though it took several people to hold the Lieutenant down for us to do so. It wasn’t right to leave him out in the open like he was.”
She opened the door slowly to a room that was barely lit by candlelight. The stench as she opened the door was almost overwhelming. There in the back was William, stooped over a wooden box; the box that contained Albert.
William’s hair was wild, and he was muttering something. As they drew nearer they could hear, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside still waters.”
“He’s been talking to him constantly, reciting either poetry or Bible verses and retelling old stories,” Lydia informed them.
Grandfather walked to William and put his hand on his shoulder. “William, this is your Grandfather. We are here now. We will take care of Albert. You must let the doctors attend you now.”
William swung around to where they all could see the wild insanity in his eyes and his injured, immobile arm. “I shall not leave my cousin! I shall not leave him! He told me how he hated to be alone in the dark quiet as a boy. I will not leave him to the dark quiet. You see that they closed him up. Why won’t they let him see the light?”
Katie paid little attention to William’s mania. She was slowly walking along the wooden box, running her hand along its cold surface. “Albert?” she asked trembling.
William heard her voice and jumped in front of her face. “Katie, I kept my word to you. I kept my word. I brought Albert back. I brought him back to you.”
The insane desperation in his eyes and knowing what lay inside the box overwhelmed her. She fled the little room. She fled William’s mania. She fled outside into the cold, pouring rain, desperately trying to gain her breath.
Johnny followed close behind her and Aunt Lizzy was right on his heels. She knew they didn’t need for Katie to catch her death outside, but something stopped her. A patient on his stomach with his head turned in their direction saw Katie and Johnny run out, and began to yell, “Walter! Walter! I see you Walter! Has The Piper come to take me too? I don’t want to go yet. I want to be with Nan – my Nan!”
Lydia had left the family alone with William and their dead. She too wanted to be of service, but it was obvious this young man needed her more at the moment.
“He seems to recognize Mr. Doe, Nurse McGinnis. You don’t think that he really does, do you?”
Lydia shook her head as she wiped the soldier’s feverish dark head with a damp cloth. “No ma’am, I doubt it. He’s most likely delirious from the fever. He was shot in the back, and has been terribly ill.”
Aunt Lizzy looked about and commented, “It appears there are a great many ill boys here.”
“Yes ma’am. We’ve taken most of the casualties from Arras and Vimy Ridge. It’s such a terrible price to pay for a bit of land.”
Aunt Lizzy agreed as she watched the patient calm again. He stopped screaming, but was nonetheless still delusional. “Nan, oh my sweet Nan, let’s stroll through Rainbow Valley. I’m sure the mayflowers are now in bloom. You yourself are a rose, my rose. I need you. Nan, Nan, Nan,” he repeated over and over until he fell into a fitful slumber.
“He must be dreaming of his sweetheart,” Lizzy noted.
“Aye,” Lydia said, “all the nice-looking ones do.”
Johnny finally caught up to Katie, and found her breathing heavily as the pouring rain soaked her through.
“Katie?” He asked, unsure what exactly to ask.
“He’s dead, Johnny. My brother is dead, and he’s inside the horrible wooden box. It’s real, you know? He isn’t coming back the way he was. There’s a lifeless shell inside that box. It used to house my brother, but he’s not there anymore, is he?”
Johnny gravely shook his head and pulled her into his arms. “No Katie, Albert isn’t inside that box, not really. He’s in Heaven now. He’s with your grandmother and all of your family that has gone before.”
She looked at him, bewilderment gracing her eyes. “It hurts, Johnny, it hurts so much. Please make the hurting stop,” she began to cry. “Please Johnny, make my hurting stop!”
Despite the pain of his own grief, the pain of watching his beloved hurt so much almost overwhelmed him. “I can’t Katie. I-I wish that I could, but only time and God can do that.”
He led her back into the hospital; both were shivering from the cold. She turned to him again, “Did I have that same stone-cold expression that Amelia had at Christmas?”
“For a while you did, but not so much anymore.”
Disappointment came across her. “I wasn’t supposed to do that, was I? I wasn’t supposed to let that happen. Albert didn’t want it that way.”
Johnny couldn’t hold back his own tears, “I’m sorry, Katie. I wasn’t supposed to let it happen! I failed you and I failed Albert.”
Katie refused to let him take blame. “No. Don’t talk such nonsense, Johnny. I didn’t allow your comfort before. You are here now. You are helping me through this. That is what Albert wanted.” She took his hand and ran her fingers through his. “We will get through this together. Together, we will not lose hope.”
“We always have Hope,” he whispered and kissed her gentle hand.
They returned to their family and found that William still refused to leave Albert’s coffin. Katie went into the room alone and shut the door. There was some yelling and crying heard inside, but no one dared enter. Sometime later, the door reopened and they walked out together. William seemed to be a bit more himself.
“Nurse McGinnis. It seems that I have done my duty to my cousin, and now my family needs for me to allow you to treat my injuries. I shall cooperate now. My work here is done.”
Katie wished never to hear that song again. People had been singing it incessantly since they arrived in New York. They sang it in the hotel; they sang it on the trains. It was a never-ending onslaught of patriotic optimism. She seemed to forget that she had once enjoyed singing it herself. It now only served as a reminder of when the news came. Hearing it was like reliving those agonizing moments over and over again. She hated George M. Cohen for writing it. She almost hated Ginny for sending her the sheet music. It seemed that she couldn’t get home fast enough to escape the wretched song.
It was her Aunt Eleanor who first suggested it. She, it seemed, was the one person on the Earth who knew what Katie was suffering. She too knew the loss of a twin, and that the only remedy for Katie’s ailing spirit couldn’t be found within the embattled island nation. She knew that the only way to restore Katie’s soul was for her to return home – to her mother and father.
Grandfather refused to agree with his eldest daughter when she first mentioned it. He himself couldn’t bear to do without his Katherine, and wouldn’t allow her to face the dangers of crossing the hostile sea. Eleanor was right though. She always was.
She entered the doors of her father’s townhouse as soon as word of Albert and William got to her, and like a fresh wind, she started to set the startled family to right. Though she was very much aware of the family’s loss, she also knew that if they didn’t take extraordinary measures soon, they would be mourning, two- perhaps three deaths instead of one.
William did lose his left arm. There was no getting around it. The wound he had sustained while carrying Albert’s body back to the trenches had become too infected. So much so that irrigation was out of the question. Therefore, he wasn’t yet out of danger. He required his family to pull him through this tragedy. Eleanor devised a schedule for Jane, Bertha, Amelia, Grandfather, and herself to take shifts staying with him.
Eleanor’s next task at hand was Katie. Though the girl wasn’t as despondent as before, she was still withdrawn from everyone save that Johnny and Grandfather. She was frighteningly pale and growing thinner every day. She barely ate at all. Then there was also the decision of what to do with Albert.
Henry of course wanted to take him home to the Darcy family mausoleum. Eleanor convinced him that Albert’s body needed to go to his parents so that they could say their final goodbyes. From there, she convinced her father that it was time for Katie to return to them as well.
As before mentioned, he at first resisted that suggestion, but all Eleanor had to do to convince him it was best was to have him take a long, thoughtful look at the girl.
She was sitting beside a window, staring out at the London street. She was staring at nothing at all. She wasn’t really even listening to Johnny as he read Tennyson to her. If her mind was focused on anything at all, it was the journey of a drop of rain as it fell from the sky.
It broke her Grandfather’s heart to see his Katherine so. Her face was drawn. Her hair was unkempt and strung about everywhere. Her skin was paler than the white blouse she wore and definitely duller; not the robust girl he knew. What bothered him most was the slight, but constant trembling of her hands no matter how she occupied them. That in itself was proof of her ill health.
They returned to his study, and he noticed his own hands trembling as well, but with fear for his beloved Katherine. It suddenly became clear to him that as always, Eleanor was right. The best medicine for Katie was to remove her from England and the epicenter of the war itself and return her to the green pastures of her innocent childhood and the loving arms of her parents. It hurt him even more to know that not only could he do nothing else to help her, but that his very presence and indulgence with her could harm her even more.
Eleanor saw that the sturdy wall of Darcy was beginning to crumble before her and wisely shut the door. Not only Grandfather’s hands were now trembling, but his entire body was convulsing in giant sobs as the enormity of everything he and his family had lost hit him.
At first, Eleanor was slightly uncomfortable to see her father in such a state, but the heroine in her heart kicked into gear again, and she knelt to her father’s knee and wept along with him. She heard his cries of, “Albert, oh my dear, dear boy! William, my William! Katherine, I couldn’t protect your heart from this!” The sobs and the cries kept coming, some coherent, some not. All in were made in anguish. “Harry, my brave, laughing sailor!” The next cry and those after affected Eleanor even more. “Edward, my darling first-born son, I was never ashamed of you! You were my pride! Grandmother, I’ve always had your hand to guide me! Cassandra, live for me! Cassandra, see your new son! See all your children! Do not leave us, my love! Do not leave me!”
Eleanor could stand to hear no more of his pain, built up for decades upon decades. She took his head in her hands and forced him to look her in the eyes. “Father! Father look at me! You still have me! You still have Charles, Maria, and even George as well! You still have eleven living grandchildren who love and cherish you, two of whom need you to be strong for them! You cannot sink into despair!”
“You are Mr. Darcy, the head of a family that can trace it’s D’Arcy roots to William the Conqueror, and we have Saxon blood as well that endured even that. We have survived usurpation, plagues, Reformation, The Armada, Civil War, Restoration, Napoleon, and even a little questionable blood through your maternal lines. We shall survive this as well. As with any tribulation, we shall walk out of the fire, shake the dust from our shoulders, and walk taller, prouder, and all the better for what we endured. Our mettle is stronger than anything that life will throw at us. Why, we are the sturdy oak of England, and no amount of foul weather can make us fall!”
Throughout Eleanor’s speech, Grandfather calmed and steadied his breath and his eyes. They fixed on his eldest daughter as she recited the speech to him.
“However did you know that speech? I thought that it was given to me in private when your mother passed?” he asked, bewildered.
“You were so forlorn at the time, that you didn’t notice the five-year-old girl hiding under your desk and neither did Great-Grandmother Elizabeth when she said the same words to you back then. I was in awe of her and everything she said. The words stayed with me all my life, though it wasn’t until I was older that I learned the importance of what they meant.”
“She was probably the wisest person I’ve ever known,” he admitted, ashamed of his behavior. “You are acting like her more every day, Eleanor. I’ve missed you. I didn’t know how much until just now. I miss all of my children and grandchildren so much, and I fear that this war is tearing us further apart.”
Eleanor petted her father’s silver mane and replied, “Then we shall work even harder that such a thing doesn’t occur.”
“Yet you suggest we send Katherine back to America?” He stopped her before she started to argue her point again. “I know. I know. I just hate to be separated from any loved ones now. So how do you suggest we go about this? I will not send her alone, and I cannot leave William now to go myself.”
Eleanor peaked out the door at Katie and Johnny, then shut it again. “I have no doubt that your Mr. Doe would accompany her, but it would be highly improper for them to travel alone together. I don’t care how lax society’s morals have become since the onslaught of this war. I would take them myself, but I can’t leave Cassie and John only with Thomas.”
“Yes, an MP needs his wife to look after the family while he goes about running the country.”
“I never know whether you are teasing or not, Father. Nonetheless, we need to think of someone who would be willing to risk the voyage. Father, you don’t think that Aunt Elizabeth would feel up to the journey, do you?”
“Don’t you ever let her hear you speaking about her in such a manner. She’s twenty minutes younger than me, and if I can make the journey, you better bet that she can too.”
So, within an hour it was settled. Aunt Elizabeth and Johnny were to accompany Katie and Albert’s body home. The family said their goodbyes at the train station where once again, it was raining. None knew when they would see each other again. The trip across to America was dangerous enough. Until the war was finally over, there would be no return trips or visits from relatives.
Before she stepped onto the train, Katie gave Grandfather one last kiss on the cheek. "Goodbye Grandfather. I thank you for everything you've done for us. I'll miss you more than I'll ever be able to let you know." A tear washed down her face.
He hugged his girl close to him. Somehow the trembling wanted to return, but he wouldn't allow it. "You have my heart, Katherine. Until we meet again," he said, holding onto her hand as she finally stepped aboard the train.
She swallowed all other tears just then. "Until we meet again, Grandfather." She squeezed his hand before letting go. It was a bitter goodbye for all. They couldn’t get it over quick enough, but then it was over all too fast.
That, dear readers is how we find them now; aboard the final train in their long destination, pulling into the train station in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Even there, crowds of soldiers and sudden patriots could be heard singing that song which Katie now loathed with all her might. She wanted to turn back and hide inside the train away from the crowds. Then she heard a voice, long unheard and missed by her ears.
“Katie!” The voice called out to her. She turned back around, and there she saw the saddest, sweetest sight her eyes had seen to that day. Despite the pouring rain stood her mother, father, Ginny, and even Gideon waiting. Seeing them, her heart knew that she was once again at home.
Had it always felt so warm, comfortable, and right to be held in Mama’s arms? Had the sound of Daddy’s voice ever felt so reassuring? How could she have ever stayed away from them so long? She knew then and there that she could never really leave them for such a distance and for such a long period of time again.
The rain stopped as the family traveled east from Tulsa to Dovedale. Spring seemed to be popping up everywhere, even in the scent of the air. It smelled sweet and clean; a definite far cry from the very stale air she had left in London. Just looking about reminded Katie why the third of the state farthest east was called Green Country. Almost every inch of the hilly, forested landscape was a sharp contrast to the flat, vast prairie land that most people thought was all of Oklahoma.
Daddy drove them home to Dovedale with the top down on his 1916 seven-passenger Cadillac, and the closer they got to the Illinois River, the scenery became more beautiful. The narrow lane that served as a road had a canopy of foliage that grew thicker the closer the got to the river. Stray, little pink, fan-like blossoms from nearby mimosa trees fluttered about. One even tickled Katie on the nose, letting her forget the very important parcel that was following in a different vehicle.
A bald eagle soared overhead, graceful and majestically, and water could be seem and heard trickling down a rocky mountain slope from an underground spring. Then after a while, they were there.
The first thing that she noticed was the arched entryway at the gate of the property. They had a lovely wooden fence all along their property and not one of those tacky barbed wire ones, but the entryway was a masterpiece unto itself. It was a rudimentary gateway that George Darcy had painstakingly fashioned out of the wood from an oak tree on his own property and had English ivy mingled with lush red, love knot climbing roses that Abigail had brought with her from her garden at home. It was always a sanctuary and place of solitude for her when her father had too much to drink. The ivy and roses decorated the word, Dovedale so naturally that one would think that they had always been there.
Now they were the symbol of Katie’s sanctuary from the war in Europe. Dovedale was her refuge and the only place her heart could possibly heal. Her heart leapt a bit more when she heard the gruff, playful barks of two glossy, Black English Labrador Retrievers galloping towards them.
She jumped over Ginny and out of the car, kneeling down with her arms wide open as the two dogs eagerly greeted her. Boomer nuzzled his sweet, block head under her chin, and she couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
Both Johnny and Aunt Lizzy breathed a sigh of relief at the sweet sound of Katie’s laughter. Her laughter stopped though when Sooner walked to the vehicle carrying Albert’s casket and began whimpering and howling. Katie was ashamed of herself for forgetting her pain, and quickly covered her face with a mask that hid all emotions.
Then she noticed a few people walking out the front door of Dovedale and standing on the wide, wrap-around porch. There was Billy James, Bets Gardiner, Ally Cole, Steven and Selma Davis, and Old Ozark Tom who had taught Bertie to fiddle. Then she saw Bro. McGowan holding that worn old Bible that he’d thumped against many podiums in the past preaching hell fire and brimstone. A pang hit her heart because she knew they were there to say goodbye.
Daddy came up behind her and hugged her to him closely. “We thought it would best for all of us if did it as soon as possible, Katie-did. We need to give him his proper burial and let our boy rest finally. His journey’s over.”
So they buried their jolly, good-hearted boy on a grassy hill, underneath the lone willow tree, overlooking the river. It was a weeping willow and it shared the family’s sadness. This spot had been a favorite of Bertie’s. On a sunny day, he could always be seen there with either a book in hand or perhaps just a pocket knife and a stick to whittle with faith Sooner at his side.
Once again, Sooner was at his side, resting her graying head on the mound of Earth he lay beneath. If her boy was to be there, then so was she. Her reddish-brown eyes were mournful, and her breathing was labored. Her very heart, loyal as it was, had been broken.
Those who were considered visitor left, and only the Darcy’s John Doe, the two Misters McGowan, and Miss Virginia Main remained. To them, it was only family left at the grand log home on the hill.
They went inside and finally began to speak of everything. Introductions were made, and George Darcy was a little skeptical of the young man with no name. However he relied on the good judgment of his father, aunt, daughter, various other relatives, and even Bertie. It took a very little amount of time for him to realize that they were correct in their estimation of the young man. The boy’s only concern was that Katie’s needs were met.
Despite the circumstances, they had a lovely evening together catching up and retelling old family stories that mostly included Bertie. Gideon had one especially funny tale to tell.
“Let met think. I reckon’ we weren’t but twelve years old, and had been fishing in that boggy area of the river bottoms for catfish one Sunday after church services. Bertie managed to hook an old log, but her was determined that it was Old Neptune, that mythical fish that was supposed to have eaten the Widow Carter’s cat. He refused to cut his line and his losses. So, in his Sunday clothes, he tramped through that mossy, mushy muck to retrieve his catch. Only he slipped on a mossy rock, covering his good clothes in mud! He then decided to strip down to his birthday suit and dashed down to where the water rushes over the rocks to clean his suit! He was terrified that his mother would skin him alive for messing his suit!”
“He was always dirtying his dress clothes,” his mother interjected, shaking her head.
Gideon continued, “He managed to get it tolerably clean, but it was soaking wet, so he placed it on a bluff in order to dry and decided to take a swim. Being the persuasive person Albert was, he soon cajoled me into joining him because it was an intolerably hot July day. We were having a bully time of it, swinging from those old vines and such until two thieves decided to steal our clothing.” He said this giving a rueful glare to Katie and Ginny.
“Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were having company for lunch that day including my esteemed father, the minister, and several other people. I think it was members of Mrs. Darcy’s temperance society even, and the dinner bell was rung. Dovedale was full of guests and there was no possible way that we could run upstairs to put on new clothes.
I decided to take a chance at climbing the magnolia tree that grows beside the upstairs hallway window and snuck in that way. Albert however, was dreadfully afraid of heights though. He decided Mrs. Darcy taking a switch to him would be better than falling and breaking his neck. So, he just walked through the front door, sat at the table next to Eulalie Pickle, and bowed his head as Mr. Darcy said Grace. No one noticed his lack of attire for a few minutes until old Eulalie shrieked in horror and a certain two young girls started laughing. Mr. Darcy started to send Albert up to his room, but then told him to sit back down. Mrs. Darcy yanked a tablecloth off an empty table and covered her son. He was sent upstairs, and we all had sore bottoms after that day, but I have never seen anyone walk up those stairs with his head held higher than Bertie did that day, even if his ears were red.”
Everyone in the room was in tears both because Gideon’s story was so funny and because Albert wasn’t able to pull any more stunts like that. Katie held onto Ginny’s hand fiercely as she looked about the room at the people she loved. Daddy was still Daddy; tall, strong, impenetrable, but his hair had turned salt and pepper with worry. Mama was still beautiful. Her hair wasn’t as fierce as she remembered it though. Some of the fire had gone out of her. Stocky Gideon spent most of his time looking toward Ginny, and Katie wondered how she managed to be here when her father must surely have known that Gideon would be present. Her question was soon answered though.
Mr. Darcy soon started telling Johnny the story of how his Aunt Lizzy had loaned him the money to marry Abigail, sail to America, and start a ranch. He told him how he owed her for every bit of his happiness, but Aunt Lizzy modestly denied being owed all his happiness. She and Abigail took a walk out to the willow tree soon after and stayed there for quite some time, sharing thoughts and feelings on recent events. Ginny took her leave of her best friend, stating that her Father was to be returning home from Texas late that night, and that she had to be home before he was. The friends shared a last hug goodbye, and Gideon walked her home.
Rev. McGowan stepped outside to smoke a cigar and asked Katie to join him. She did readily because she greatly respected this man of God.
“I’m assuming that you were surprised to see me back in Green Country, Katherine?” He asked with twinkle in his eye.
She nodded. “The last I heard, you were preaching a tent revival in Georgia.”
“I was, but when President Wilson decided it was time our boys go and fight, I knew had to come home and see my boy before he left, especially after hearing the news of our Albert. You know that he didn’t die in vain, don’t you?”
She meekly nodded again. She really didn’t want to talk about this right now. Thankfully, Bro. McGowan was a perceptive man and didn’t pressure her any more. Like Gideon, he wasn’t a tall man, and where Gideon still had ruddy brown hair, most of his father’s had disappeared. The moonlight shone quite brilliantly on his head. He sat back in a rocking chair and Katie listened to it’s familiar creak on the wooden porch as he spoke.
“Gideon means to enlist as soon as Ginny will marry him. He won’t leave thought without her waiting for him as his wife, but he means to go. He wants to make sure that Albert’s death wasn’t for nothing. He also believes what Albert believed and wrote to both of us; that it’s God’s will the Allies win this war. Of course, he’ll throw all of that to the wind if Ginny won’t marry him. She won’t either, because the miserly father of hers doesn’t think that a preacher’s boy is good enough for his only daughter. Of course, I understand he fears. She has to live somewhere while Gideon is away, and her father will likely kick her out when she marries. What she doesn’t know it that your parents want her here at Dovedale for as long as she needs to be. That Doe fellow of yours is going to be staying in the Little House out back. Your daddy’s already offering him a job and all, so there will be room, even with Dame Elizabeth staying here for the duration of the war.”
“Really?” Katie asked, surprised so much had already been decided. Then she scolded him for calling Aunt Lizzie “Dame.” Bro. McGowan was surprise at this.
“Well, isn’t your daddy’s daddy some sort of Lord or Earl or something like that?” he asked quite befuddled.
Katie found herself laughing again. “No, not at all! He’s just a gentleman. His great-great-grandfather was an earl, I think. However, that was so long ago that no one probably even remembers.”
Bro. McGowan shook his head. “Oh no Katie, you’re wrong. Any family as proud as yours knows its history. You’re still not quite the mish-mash most of us Americans are. You’re still just and English lass with an Oklahoma accent, though it’s almost disappeared in your absence. Take Gideon for instance. My father was the son of a Scottish ironworker in Pennsylvania who married a girl whose parents emigrated from Germany. My mother was the daughter of the grandson of a French fur-trader and an Irish railroad worker’s daughter. Gideon’s mother, God rest her soul, was full-blood Cherokee. Gideon and Ginny’s children will be all of that plus have some of that aristocratic Huguenot Main blood in them. Your background isn’t nearly as difficult to recite, so someone surely remembers whether or not your great-great-great-great-grandfather was an Earl or a Duke.”
“I suppose you’re right, Bro. McGowan. My Grandfather would be ashamed at my saying that. He does take pride in his family. So, what are we to do about Ginny?” she asked leaning closer to the older man. Gideon soon returned, and the three hatched out a plan.
Shortly after, the McGowan men retired to Little House where Gideon also lived for the night. Mr. Darcy joined his wife and Aunt at the Willow tree. Aunt Lizzy bid the young people goodnight as Katie took Johnny through the back garden to where the Little House was situated.
The Little House was the first house that George Darcy had built when they settled. It wasn’t a very big house at all, hence the name, but it had its own charm and magic. George and Abigail Darcy had always believed in have a spare room, so there were two bedrooms at each end of a little living area and kitchen. They lived there until the money came in from their first oil well. Then, they built the big house they called Dovedale.
While Dovedale was situated on the hill where everyone could see it, the Little House was hidden away in a grove of cedar, oak, and maple trees beside a bluff that hung over the river. It was where Albert and Katharine had been born, and was so dear and full of love that they never could tear it down. Instead, they built a stone path from Dovedale to the Little House and Abigail set about her garden along the path.
More of the love knot climbing roses could be found, and infinite other kinds of roses, lilies, tulips, and such where there. But the roses had precedence. There were climbers, crawlers, bushes, rose trees, and even delicate tea roses,
They came upon a certain tea rose, and Johnny stopped suddenly, staring at it. It was a sort of orange color with white and pink mixed in delicately. He stopped to smell it, almost instinctively, and when he closed his eyes, he saw those wistful blue eyes again.
Startled, he gasped for breath, alarming Katie. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“No,” he denied, “This is such an exquisite flower. Would you happen to know the name of it and its origins?”
She looked him over quizzically, but tried to think nothing of it. “It’s a Remember Me Tea Rose. The come from Scotland. Are you sure that’s it?”
“Well, if I must be perfectly honest, when I closed my eyes, someone else’s eyes were watching me.” He hated telling her. He knew it would hurt her, and she had had enough hurt.
“You don’t remember whose eyes they are?” She asked.
“Hmm…” she grumbled as she folded her arms across her chest.
Johnny wished to change the subject. “The Little House is a quaint place, isn’t it, but endearing nonetheless, especially the way the moonlight rains down upon it through the trees.”
Katie smiled again. “I used to come back here with Ginny, and we would play like it was our house in an enchanted forest. Albert thought it was his fort. We were born here, you know,” she half asked, half stated.
Johnny arched one of his sleek, black eyebrows and gave a wry smile. “Well, that makes it all the more enchanting, doesn’t it?”
Katie twirled about in the moonlight. “I like to think so. It’s a home built from love, and it’s possibly even more special than Dovedale. Daddy cut and nailed these boards himself. Mama sewed the curtains. Other people did all those things at Dovedale. I heard Daddy offered you a job?” She asked, plopping down on an old stone step.
He plopped next to her. “Yes he did. Apparently Grandfather gives a very glowing reference. I hear that we’re to help in the planning of a surprise wedding?” He looked at her and rested his chin in his hand.
Katie laughed again! Oh it was so sweet to hear that sound! “So you’re in on the conspiracy too I see?”
“I believe we have little choice. The Fate are in control of this matter.”
“Or the combined efforts of the Darcy family and the McGowan men.”
“The Fates come in different shapes and sizes I’ve heard.” He leaned in and kissed her gently, and then an owl decided to hoot.
Katie looked to where the owl was and exclaimed, “Barnabas, you old rat-catcher! I suppose you’re telling me it’s time to go to bed!”
Barnabas hooted again to agree.
“I guess it is getting late. I’ll see in the morning at breakfast. Come hungry. Mama doesn’t know how not to cook a feast!” she instructed, before giving him a quick peck on the cheek and skipping off through the roses with the moonlight as her companion. Only when she returned to Dovedale, she saw that her parents were still at the willow tree. Instead of going directly to bed, with Boomer at her heals, she joined her parents and Sooner at Bertie’s grave, and the little family shared their grief together.
The little path from Dovedale to Mont Royale was hardly more than an old wagon path worn through the grass. No wagons ever used it anymore. In fact, a wagon probably hadn’t seen that path in the twenty-five years since a better road was built along “the avenue.” But then, that was how Katie and Ginny preferred it to be. To them, it was their own secret pathway between their homes that no one else knew existed. As they grew from girl to woman, it was there underneath, the path of magnolia trees that someone had planted long before either girl was ever thought of, that they shared their most intimate secrets and dared to dream their most adventurous dreams.
The magnolia trees were in full bloom that day in late May when Katie ventured down the ancient path for the first time in years. Their ample, white blossoms filled the evening air with a sweet, heady fragrance that reminded Katie of days gone by. June bugs and crickets chirped their own string music of the country outdoors. All in all, it was tempting to forgo visiting Mount Royale and just dance about in the sunset with the fireflies, but she was a woman on a mission, even if it included having to socialize with stodgy August Main.
Mont Royale was a palatial home, built in the style of all the old antebellum houses before the War Between the States. The marble staircase that spiraled down the foyer was beautiful if not overstated. The grand columns that held the home up were imposing and seemed somewhat out of place in a land where many people were living in houses that consisted of no more than five rooms, and definitely not indoor plumbing. In all, it was like its owner, rather than fit in with the surroundings; it towered and imposed itself on them. He, the old man – not the house, greeted her at the front door.
“Hello Mr. Main. It’s good to see you again. May I visit with Ginny?” She asked, cringing under his steely stare.
“Miss Darcy,” he said in his strong Virginian accent, “It is a pleasure to see you again. My deepest sympathies go to you and your family at the loss of young Albert. He was an honorable young man with a promising future before him.”
“Thank you, yes,” she agreed. She could hardly say more, but she was thinking, you’re only sorry that you can’t try to convince he and Ginny to marry.
He turned around and said, “Miss Virginia is in the drawing room with her cat.” He couldn’t have said sat in a more disgusted tone. He then left her to herself and returned to his brandy and cigar in the study.
Katie found Ginny dangling a piece of string over her cat’s head as the cat playfully swatted at it. She looked up upon hearing footsteps on the marble tiles and smiled. “Katie! I’m so glad you’ve come to see me!” She jumped up to hug her friend.
“This house is as dull as a tomb, Katie, and Papa keeps me under his thumb the entire time he’s at home. He knows that Gideon wants to marry me and join up. Gideon tried to ask his permission and instead got to visit the Sheriff’s office.”
Katie tried to hide her disdain, but couldn’t do it very well. Ginny saw and admitted, “I know you’re disappointed in me. You think that I should just walk out of here, and follow my heart, but my heart is torn. I know that Papa loves me. He isn’t really as terrible as you like to think, Katie.”
Katie rolled her eyes, wondering why Ginny was being so pathetic. “Will he give his blessing for you to marry the man that you love?”
Ginny dropped head, unable to look Katie in the eye. “No.”
Katie leaned back, and crossed her arms, “Then he doesn’t seem too wonderful to me.”
Ginny laughed, “You know the ironic thing is that about a week ago, I did have the courage to elope, if Gideon would have. He refused to be married anywhere than in a church or the home of a family member and by a Man of God.”
Katie could feel her ears beginning to burn with temper, “You know, the two of you are both so pig-headed and stubborn that you’ll never compromise enough to get married! You’re probably doing yourselves a favor by not getting married. Why I bet it wouldn’t last six months. Your father’s right after all!”
Ginny’s eyes grew white and burned with hurt feelings. “Katie, how can you say such things? Do you even know what it is to be in love?” She had to lower her voice lest Papa hear. “It’s frightening, especially with Gideon itching to join up. What you’re saying is just senseless.”
Katie started laughing; her body shook, realizing that Ginny took her words to heart. “What you’ve been saying is senseless too. “ Suddenly, as Katie opened her heart, it was she who couldn’t look Ginny in the eyes. “I think that I do know how frightening it is to be in love, it’s so foreign and uncertain at times. However, if you’ve got the right man, then I don’t think any of the other factors should matter.”
Ginny looked at her old chum in a new light. “Katie?” she asked in shock.
Katie shook her head. She wasn’t there to bare her soul. “Just promise me that the next time Gideon asks, you won’t say no, and that you’ll have faith and hope that everything will turn out right in the end. Albert said that we can never lose faith and hope.”
How could Ginny do anything but agree to such a request, but as Katie started to walk out the door, she asked one more thing of her friend, “Mama was wondering if you could come over tomorrow morning to roll bandages?”
Ginny nodded. “Papa will be in meetings all day anyway. I’ll be there in time for a classic Dovedale breakfast.”
Katie hugged her one last time, a sly grin spreading across her face. “I’ll see you then. Goodbye.”
Katie hiked up her skirt and ran all the way home to Dovedale. Everything was set in motion now that Ginny was to be at Dovedale tomorrow, and there was still just enough light out for her next task; to pick as many magnolia blossoms as possible to decorate Dovedale for the wedding.
She stopped on the porch where Mama and Aunt Lizzy were busy sewing away at something mysterious and white just long enough to tell them that the plan was in motion. Then, she ran to the barn for a wheel barrow before racing off to the wagon-wheel road. Her aunt and mother just laughed as she sped about. They were happy that she had found a purpose to inspire her out of her terrible grief.
However, as the sky turned from pink, to purple, and almost black, Abigail began to worry for her daughter. Certainly it shouldn’t take that long to pick enough blossoms for decoration. When all the men folk returned from town, she decided it would be good to send Johnny after her.
Johnny was more than a little nervous, walking about in this foreign wilderness at night, even if he had been supplied with a lantern. Mysterious sounds such as bull frogs, crickets, and June bugs cried out all around. He was almost certain that Barnabas, the resident owl that Albert had named after reading about the apostle, was lurking about too – just to frighten him. Something else, some other creature was calling out to him too, from the nearby river bottoms. He had also heard some terrifying tales from Gideon and Mr. Darcy about rattle snakes, and listened for the deadly rattle. Then suddenly, he heard the sound of something running behind him, but could see nothing for a while. He looked a little harder and saw two bright eyes with no body running toward him.
Terrified, he screamed, only to be pounced by Boomer, who had decided to join him on his hunt for Katie. He would have laughed heartily had his scream not been met by a feminine voice crying out followed but a very loud, very hard sounding thud that came from the direction of some large trees with a heavy fragrance. Johnny was already afraid of what had happened, but Boomer knew the sound of that voice too well, and ran ahead to find his girl, scaring Johnny even more than the wilderness.
He found her, flat on her back and motionless. He shined the lantern light along the length of her body, looking to see if any bones appeared misplaced, he cringed when he thought of it, out of place or broken. Nothing appeared to be out of place, but he wouldn’t know for sure until she woke up, if she woke up.
He knelt down to where Boomer was licking her face, and felt for a pulse. There was a pulse, and a strong one at that. He tried to rouse her to consciousness by lightly tapping her face. He was afraid to do anything more lest he further injure her. When that seemed to fail, he got up and frantically started pacing about, unsure whether to run for help or stay with her. He then heard movement in the grass. The pointed the lantern all throughout the grass, fearing the aforementioned rattlesnake, when he noticed the movement was coming from the distressed damsel.
She was shaking rather violently, and Johnny’s first fear was that she had gone into convulsions as he had seen many soldiers do during his stay in the hospital. Again, he knelt down beside her to try and aid her any way possible and saw that she was not having convulsions at all. His next thought was that she was crying, but no tears were seen to slide down those rosy cheeks. Then finally, there was an abrupt cough, followed by laughing. She had been laughing, or trying to despite having had the wind knocked out of her.
“Katie, you scared the soul right out of me!” He exclaimed.
She scratched Boomer’s head to let him know she was well then started to sit up. She looked up at him with a look of utter concern on his face, and told him, “Oh, don’t be such a ninny, Johnny. You can’t think that this was the first time that I’ve fallen from one of these trees do you?”
He shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and kicked at the grass like he always did when he was embarrassed. “Well, I…. How was I supposed to know?” He looked to where she was still sitting, and met her gaze. “What were you doing up in a tree anyway? Your Mama’s worried about you.”
Katie slowly started to stand up and dust off her backside. “She shouldn’t worry. I’ve been known to spend an entire night out here in the woods though at least Bertie was always with me.” Then she realized why her mother worried more about her now: she was the only child left to worry over.
“I suppose I shouldn’t have been away so long. I’ve got all the magnolia blossoms I could ever need,” she pointed to the wheel barrow overflowing with large, white blossoms. “I just couldn’t resist talking to the whippoorwill.”
“I’ve told you about whippoorwills. They’re the mysterious bird heard saying, “whippoorwill” in the river bottoms on a warm night.”
Johnny smiled when she gave such a Katie-ish answer. “Did you hear it tonight?”
She shook her head. “No, I’ve tried calling it, but it has yet to answer. You know, preparing for this wedding makes me think of old folklore about the bird.”
“Such as?” he asked and the starlight twinkled in the gray orbs that were the windows to his soul.
“Well, legend has it that if a Whippoorwill calls only once to a young woman, she will not marry for a year. If it calls twice, she would marry soon, if it calls three or more times, she will never marry. Others say that a young woman can wish for marriage on the first call of a Whippoorwill.”
Johnny wondered if she was hoping to make a wish when suddenly they heard it, ever so slightly but distinguishable as it cut across the night air. They waited to hear it again, but didn’t, and they decided to head back home.
Their return was hindered though, when Katie attempted to put her weight on her left ankle. A resounding, “Y-OOOOOWWWWWW!” could be heard, echoing along the bluffs and down the river. She obviously had injured herself in her fall, and Johnny saw an opportunity arise.
“I could carry you back to Dovedale, if it’s too painful to walk?”
Katie attempted again to walk on her ankle, and almost fell on her backside. She shook her head. “I need to get these blossoms back to the house. They’re for supposed to be wedding decorations.”
“I-I’ll come back and get them just as soon as you’re safe at home with you Mama and Daddy,” he gallantly offered, forgetting his own fear of the wild unknown.
He gathered her into his arms and held her to where her head met his. She kissed him gently on the cheek, placed her head on his shoulder, and exclaimed, “My knight in shining amour.”
He hugged her closer to him, wanting to never let her go. He kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear, “My fair, Lady Elaine. I shall always be at your service.”
The walk back to Dovedale was considerable shorter than either wished it to be, and when the got there, they found everyone enjoying the night air on the porch. Mr. Darcy had been sitting in a rocking chair while playing rummy with Rev. McGowan when he saw his darling little girl being carried home. He wasn’t sure if she been carried to Dovedale since she was a babe, and instantly knew something was amiss. He was meeting the couple on the walk before anyone else noticed they were there.
“Katie, what’s wrong, sweetheart?” There was a frantic tone in his voice. He too couldn’t stand for anything to happen to their remaining child. He looked to Johnny and asked, “Mr. Doe, what has happened to my daughter?”
Katie answered for him. “Oh Daddy, I twisted my ankle while picking magnolia blossoms for the wedding. Johnny was kind enough to find me at the right moment and carry me home. That is all.”
She heard the fear in his voice and saw it in his eyes. It was new and unfamiliar to her. Her Daddy had never been afraid of anything before, that she knew of. Her mother was frozen on the porch, wringing her handkerchief; another trait that was new. Katie realized that there was no way she could admit to falling from a tree. Somehow she knew that bit of information would be more than her parents could bear.
Johnny spoke next, “Mr. Darcy, if you could release me of my fair damsel, I have promised to retrieve the wheel barrow of blossoms for the wedding that we had to leave.” He then softly placed her in her father’s arms, giving her hand a soft squeeze before totally relinquishing his charge, and started off toward the wagon-wheel road again. Gideon ran to catch up with him and decided to walk with him. The flowers were for his wedding after all, and he wanted to visit more with this interesting young man that had come into their lives.
Mr. Darcy carried his daughter to the settee where his wife and aunt had just returned, and placed her between them. “Do we need to send for Dr. James, Katherine?”
To his surprise, Katie jumped up, saying, “I’m feeling much better now, Daddy. I guess I just needed to rest it a bit. Well, I’m exhausted and should get to bed. We’ve got a busy day tomorrow!” Then she kissed him on the cheek, kissed her Mama, her aunt and Rev. McGowan, and ran into the house up the stairs, taking them two at a time and off to her bedroom.
The astonished people on the front porch just looked about at each other, their jaws dragging the ground until Aunt Lizzy started laughing her cheerful, contagious laugh. “That girl,” she said between laughs, “she does beat anything I’ve ever seen!”
Abigail wiped a tear from her cheek and said, “She’s her father’s daughter, that’s for certain,” taking his hand into hers.
As Katie said her prayers that night, she was very sure to remember and thank the Lord Above that the whippoorwill had called her only once that night, but wished that it had called twice.
Ginny woke up that morning with a foreboding feeling that something was going to happen that day to change her life forever. She didn’t know exactly what it was, but she knew that something would definitely happen.
She thought that she woke early enough to be the first up that morning, but soon found that she wasn’t. She did rise quite early that morning though, which is why she was surprised not only to find that her father was up at 6:00 in the morning, but that he was entertaining visitors.
She came upon them in her father’s office. There were three men with her father. Two of the men were around her father’s age, and one was around the same age as she. The young man was of about medium height with large, round, brown eyes that seemed remarkable akin to those of a sad puppy dog.
Ginny made her presence known, and the necessary introductions were made. She announced to her father that she was going to do Red Cross work all day at Dovedale.
He didn’t really want her at Dovedale now that there was no chance of her marrying into that family. Besides, George and Abigail Darcy had started taking in any tramp who that walked the streets. The bane of his existence, Gideon McGowan, had been staying ton the property since his rag-tag preacher father took to the road, and now they welcomed some unknown soldier into their home with open arms. It was probably best that Ginny couldn’t marry into that family. Especially since he had such an eligible young bachelor in his house that that very moment. However, it would be unseemly for him to prevent her from doing Red Cross work with the war going on. It was well-known that Mr. Hamilton’s younger son, Gerald, was already an officer in the army, and that the entire family was proudly taking part in war efforts.
He was pleasantly surprised when young Charles. Hamilton offered to escort Ginny to Dovedale. It would be good for her to be seen with such a promising young man from a family as old as the Hamiltons of Georgia. Even though Ginny tried to decline the offer, her father pushed them together, and out the door they went with old man Main’s blessing.
The two young people walked in silence for the longest time until Charles spoke shyly, “I apologize for intruding upon you this morning, but you see my father and uncle have rather dragged me here. They are preparing me to take over the family’s businesses, but I’m really itching to join up instead. My brother, Gerald, is a graduate of West Point. He expects to be on Black Jack Pershing’s staff in Europe. I just want to do my part. Instead I shall be in conference all day with your father and his associates in town. I thought I should get some fresh air while I could.”
“You’re still going to town?” Ginny asked, thinking that there had been a change in venue.
“Yes. Actually, we spent the night at your home last night. We arrived on the latest train. Your father is a most gracious host.”
Ginny laughed, realizing what her father had in mind. “I have to warn you that he sees you as an eligible suitor for my hand. You no doubt come from good southern stock.”
Charles laughed. “I suppose that I do, in some ways, though my grandmother has been married four times. My grandfather was her first husband. He died before my father was born. I was named for him. I think my father always felt guilty because he was named for my grandfather’s commanding officer, Wade Hampton, rather than his father. I’m sorry if I’m rambling. I tend to do that from time to time. You needn’t worry about my courting you though. I’m already engaged to my cousin, Melanie, back home.”
Ginny had found a sort of ally in this nervous young man. “And you needn’t worry about offending me, Mr. Hamilton. I am engaged as well, only my father has yet to give his blessing.”
Mr. Hamilton fiddled with the hat that was in his hands and not on his head. “I haven’t yet asked my Uncle Beau for his consent yet. Yet I suppose I should soon. I haven’t had the opportunity yet.”
“Not yet?” Ginny asked with a sly smile coming across her lips.
He shyly laughed, “No, I guess not.” They approached the gate to Dovedale, and Charles took his leave of Ginny. “I see that we’ve arrived at our destination. I will leave you to your humanitarian duties, while I go slay the dragons of the business world.”
Ginny offered her hand to him and honestly said, “It’s been a pleasure, Mr. Hamilton.”
“Likewise, ma’am.” He tipped his hat to her and started back toward Mount Royale with considerable less zest in his step.”
Ginny would always remember that morning for several reasons of course, but as she watched the relative stranger walk away in the heavy morning mist, she knew that she would hear of him again. Little did she know that one day she would owe her very heart to the timid hero.
Dovedale looked resplendent, standing tall and proud in the pink and purple morning fog as Ginny rambled up the walk. It seemed as if Mother Nature had given the abode a good washing with the morning dew and Father Time had decorated it with little blooms of love and hope all along the nooks and crannies. It was the embodiment of everything Ginny ever wished in a home of her own: a master and mistress that loved and respected each other, floors that settled to the pitter-patter of precious feet, and a door that was always welcome to anyone who was so fortunate enough to be known as “friend.”
In fact, as Ginny looked about, it seemed as if Dovedale was decorated in a more elaborate manner than what was the norm. Obviously Katie had been collecting magnolia blossoms, because they were cleverly placed in the most inviting and intriguing places all along the porch.
When she opened the front door (as knocking had been done away eons ago for Ginny at Dovedale) and found even the inside of the house almost dripping with vases and bouquets of almost every flower imaginable. The good linens covered the dining table and sideboard, and the Longbourn china that Mr. Darcy had inherited from his Grandmother was placed upon them. It certainly didn’t look like they were prepared for a busy day of bandage rolling. To make matters worse, there was no one in the house. Dovedale always seemed to be brimming with people, especially early in the morning, but not this day.
Then suddenly Gideon appeared in her view, with the morning sun illuminating his body so that he looked more like an angel walking about than a man she merely considered to be perfect.
“Ginny, could you meet me outside in the rose garden a moment?” He asked in a voice so quiet and soft that she almost didn’t recognize it, but she dared not refuse him.
He led her to a gazebo, white as newly fallen snow but covered in delicious red roses and verdant ivy. Placed on the bench in the gazebo was a little velvet box that was keeping a piece of paper from flying away in the morning breeze.
Ginny picked up the paper, her hand shaking somewhat, as she asked, “What’s this?”
Gideon’s dark eyes seemed to glimmer with hope and anticipation. “Read it. Tell me what you think.”
The paper was a marriage license with that day’s date, Wednesday, the Twentieth Day of June, in the Year of Our Lord, Nineteen Hundred and Seventeen. It stated that on said day, Gideon McGowan and Virginia Lucille Main were united in holy matrimony.
Ginny’s hand shook as she held it. Her eyes darted to meet his, and she asked, “Is this for real?”
Gideon laughed, “Oh yes, it is as legal as the constitution.”
“But, what about…” she couldn’t say more because Gideon was bending down on one knee, opening the velvet box to reveal a ring with the sweetest looking sapphire she had ever seen, and asking, “Virginia Lucille Main, would you please do me the honor or becoming my lawfully wedded wife today on this most splendid of days?”
All of the reasons of why not were lost to her. The consequences would be met later – after she was Mrs. Gideon McGowan. For now, there were only two people on the planet as she accepted the only man she could ever marry for life.
The solitude was quickly broken though. Gideon lifted his head which had been planted somewhere, hidden among Ginny’s, and yelled, “She said yes! You have until six this evening to make me the happiest man in the world!”
Suddenly, people started popping out of the woodwork, and Ginny found herself being whisked away by Katie, Abigail, and Aunt Lizzy. It was as though she only blinked and was up in Katie’s room, staring at a beautiful white satin dress with just the right amount of lace and beading.
Astonished, she asked, “What’s this?”
“Why it’s your wedding dress, you silly girl,” Abigail informed her with a gleam in her eye. “You must try it on so that we can alter it to fit you. We tried our best to make it the right size, but it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise if we’d had you try it on beforehand.”
“It’s my wedding dress?”
“It’s not a store-bought one, but it was made with all our love and best wishes,” Abigail stated with a wry yet hopeful smile across her face.
Ginny’s head shook as she fingered the intricate fancy work that had been completed with the greatest of care. “It’s perfect. I’ve always dreamed of wearing a dress just like this, but this is so much better! It’s absolutely magnificent!”
Aunt Lizzy, the woman whom many ignorant and petulant people called an old, old maid, gave the girl a hug and told her, “Every bride deserves to walk down the aisle in white.”
“And to think I though I was to be married in this old work-dress!”
The dress, as splendid as it was, did require a few alterations in various places, but the ladies of Dovedale worked diligently and dexterously those hours to make it unequivocally the most beautiful dress any American war-bride would don. Never that day was it forgotten that Ginny was a war-bride, because Gideon had left to join up as soon as she said, “Yes.”
When all but the smallest alterations had been made, Katie broached a rather serious subject. She was somewhat pensive, and her green eyes paled with worry that mentioning this might give Ginny cold feet.
“Ginny, your father has gone to town with his business associates and isn’t expected until late, am I correct?”
“Yes,” Ginny answered with a slight catch in her throat.
Katie let a heavy sigh fall, then announced, “Aunt Lizzy and I are going to have Johnny drive us to Mount Royale so we can gather your clothes and most important belongings.”
“Why would you do that?”
Abigail took Ginny’s hands and with very serious green eyes asked, “You do realize that your father won’t welcome you at Mont Royale after you’ve married Gideon, don’t you?”
Ginny stared at her hands, “I – I guess that I hadn’t allowed myself to think about that today, “she admitted. “What am I to do when Gideon ships off? Where am I to live?”
Abigail patted her hands and squeezed them reassuringly. “You are to stay here with us as long as you need to. Before Gideon leaves, you two will have The Little House to yourselves. Johnny will stay in Albert’s room. Then, after Gideon is gone, you can stay here in the house with us. It’s all been settled for quite some time. We’ve only been waiting for you to marry him.”
Ginny couldn’t believe the generosity offered to her. “This is all so much. You’re taking far too much upon yourselves.”
Abigail shook her stubborn, red head and told her, “I know too well what it is to enter into a marriage when one of the two’s parents are against it. If George’s Aunt Lizzy hadn’t helped us all she did, we probably would have starved to death in New York that first winter. My only prayer is that someday you father will reconcile with you the way that Father Henry has reconciled with us.”
That evening in the very gazebo where he proposed, Gideon McGowan married Virginia Main as friends and neighbors looked on. There was dancing and laughing. Even a few toasts were made over the non-alcoholic punch that temperate Abigail Darcy served. Many maidens’ hopes were dashed when the Maid of Honor, Katie Darcy, caught the bouquet, but everyone had a good laugh when Mr. Darcy ran behind the happy couple as everyone showered them in rice and stole the bride away from her groom.
John Doe was shocked. He thought that the majority of the wedding festivities were over, but Katie explained to him that the fun had really just begun. Now that the vows had been exchanged, it was time for the Shivaree.
“The what?” Johnny asked upon hearing such an odd sounding word.
“The Shivaree. It’s an old country tradition in these parts,” Katie told him as she started handing him old pots and pans from a pantry.
“Okay. However, could you please elaborate and tell me why you’re handing me these old pots and pans?” His arms were becoming so encumbered that he was dropping them faster than she could hand them to him.
She looked up at him, seeing the confused innocence that hooded his face, and futilely tried not to laugh. She stopped passing things to him and picked up those he had dropped. “The pots and pans are for the Shivaree. Just when the newlyweds have been alone together to… well, get comfortable with each other; we’ll surround The little House and wildly band on the pots and pans. Then, after a bit, we’ll be nice and serenade them for a bit. People used to go as far to demand that the bride serve them refreshments, but we aren’t going to be that evil.”
“It certainly sounds evil enough!”
She smiled rather devilishly and said, “It is, but it’s a great deal of fun for the rest of us as well,” and sauntered off, carrying her load to distribute. Johnny had little choice but to follow.
About an hour later, as the sun hid behind the purple hills, people stealthily began to surround The Little House, hiding behind trees and bushed lest the happy couple peer out the windows and spoil the surprise. Lights still burned inside, so everyone remained quiet. Then, when Gideon must have assumed that all was safe, the lights were extinguished.
George Darcy let out a high-pitched whistle, and hen suddenly the most disturbing racket imaginable began. It sounded like a train of flim-flam men’s’ wagons were all clattering along the rocky dirt road.
The racket continued unceasingly for around ten minutes straight. Johnny was surprised to see even dignified Aunt Elizabeth wildly banging away. It seemed everyone was caught up in the spirit of this thing called Shivaree.
Just when the noise was becoming so intolerable that everyone would surely be deaf, the couple meekly opened the front door of The Little House, peering at the anxious crowd.
Unsure of what was to happen next, Johnny was pleasantly surprised at the next stage of the Shivaree. A guitar and fiddle began to play softly and people began to sing “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” “On Moonlight Bay,” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Ozark Tom and Finneus continued to softly play as the crowd slowly drifted away in pairs, away from the telling torch light, and all was quiet. A simple stillness was about that no creature dared to disturb it.
John and Katie were the last to leave The Little House, following behind the mountain minstrels. Katie latched onto Johnny’s arm as he escorted her back to Dovedale.
“Did you enjoy your first Shivaree?”
Johnny laughed, and a bit of a dimple could be seen on his left cheek. “That I did, but I must admit that I thought that all of you were insane at first.”
“They’re lucky actually,” Katie informed him. “It could have been a lot wilder. Daddy promised the good reverend not to let it get too out of hand, though.”
“What else could have happened?”
“Well, we could have thrown both of them into the river. However Justin Calvert almost caught pneumonia when we threw he and Emmilne in before I left.”
“Now that does sound cruel. Whatever good does that do?”
Katie laughed. “I don’t know that it’s good for anything at all. It’s just the way we’ve always done things though.”
“Ah,” Johnny said with a lift to his head, “tradition. I do understand that – somewhat.”
“Do you recall any traditions from your former life?” She asked, hoping and yet not that he would remember.
“Not exactly,” he slowly admitted.
“But you do remember something?” Even though it was dark, he could see the excitement, passion, and even fear in her eyes as she asked.
“It isn’t much, but…” he stopped a moment, trying to recall exactly what it was, “I recall something about a house not being a real home until it had been consecrated by a birth, a wedding, and a death. I don’t know if that’s a tradition or not…”
“But it’s a memory nonetheless,” she answered for him.
“It is that,” he agreed as he opened the door for the lady.
Inside, they found George and Abigail saying their goodbye to old Tom and Finneus, and Mr. McGowan and Aunt Lizzy happily seated in the living room, taking a much needed rest. Johnny and Katie joined them.
Mr. McGowan sighed. “It seems as if I’ve gained a daughter today, and mighty fine one too. I just hope that the girl’s father doesn’t cause her too much trouble.”
Aunt Lizzy stretched her arms, yawned, and said, “Well, they’re married now, and by the time he catches wind of it, there’ll be nothing he can do about it.”
Johnny though about it a moment, then said, “We did a good day’s work, and that you may tie to!”
All eyes were on him now, and Katie looked at him curiously, but with a smile. “What?”
He looked at her, confused, and repeated, “We did a good day’s work, getting Gideon and Ginny married.”
Katie nodded and said, “And that we may tie to? Where did that come from?”
He shook his head, “I don’t know. It just was laid on me.”
Aunt Lizzy laughed, but placed a hand on his forehead, “Johnny dear, you’re not coming down with a fever, are you? I heard one of the gentlemen here tonight say that there’s a case of Typhoid down the river. No, you’re well enough, I should say.”
“Typhoid can’t hurt me, I’ve had it before,” he said, and at this point, everyone’s eyes were large and round. He held up his hand and plead, “Please don’t ask me how I know that, I just do.”
George and Abigail joined them, and Abigail said, “We won’t pressure you, son. It’s just amazing that these things are coming to you.”
George was feeling a little nostalgic himself, and knew that Johnny wished to have the pressure taken off of him, so he hugged his red-headed bride and asked her, “Do you remember our own secret wedding all those years ago, my love?”
Abigail gazed longingly into his eyes, and told him, “I could never forget such a wonderful day, my dear. Had it not been for the help of a certain, wonderful, benevolent, romantic aunt of yours,” she said while glancing toward Aunt Lizzy, “it would never have come to be.”
George looked to his daughter and asked, “Katie-did, could you do me a favor and play a little Blue Danube on the piano please? I have the urge to take a waltz with my own bride.” He stood up, offered his hand to Abigail, and asked, “May have this dance?”
The two danced and danced about the room as everyone watched and Katie played. Aunt Lizzy noticed Johnny looking toward the person playing the piano a great deal. So, a few minutes later, she took Katie’s place at the piano so that the young people could dance as well.
Johnny wasted very little time in taking the opportunity, and the two couples danced in the lamplight of Dovedale, enjoying themselves heartily. They even switched partners for a bit because George Darcy could rarely pass up a dance with his little girl.
Abigail took the moment to talk to her own partner because she was learning to admire him a great deal. “Johnny, you sure do look handsome tonight. If I didn’t know better, I would think that you had been the groom. You certainly have that lovelorn look about those grey eyes of yours.”
Johnny could little help glancing at Katie as she laughed at some remark her father made. “Maybe some day, Mrs. Darcy.”
“You do know that all Mr. Darcy and I want is for our Katherine to be happy and marry for love. We’ve had to face our own adversity, and especially since she’s our only child living, our opinions on what is best for her are different than those from many parents.”
“Such as Mr. Main?” he asked a little slyly.
She arched an eyebrow and told him, “Especially Mr. Main. He’s always looked at Virginia like she was some sort of possession. His boys aren’t all that way. Young Robert is a very nice young man. They come from an old aristocratic Southern family that lost everything in The War. When he made his money in oil, something snapped, and he lost all sense of human frailty. I’ve heard that he really does come from nice people.”
“Just one rotten apple on that family tree?”
“Yes. Just one rotten apple.”
When they all finally finished dancing, everyone started to complain about the heat. George wiped the sweat from his forehead and went to open a window. “Abby,” he called to his wife, “it’s getting terribly humid, isn’t it? The air’s so thick that you can almost drink it. I think that I’ll put the auto in the barn for the night.”
Mr. McGowan got up to look out the window, “The wind’s getting fierce, and I smell rain in the distance, I bet we’ve got a storm a comin’ for sure.”
Aunt Lizzy shivered all over. She had heard her nephew and niece tell many tales of living in tornado alley. It wasn’t something she wanted to experience in her tenure at Dovedale. “You don’t believe that it shall be too severe, do you?”
Katie hugged her dear old great-aunt, and assured her, “Oh no, Auntie. It wouldn’t be spring in Oklahoma if we didn’t have a storm or two.”
Johnny was a little nervous as well. For some reason, he didn’t think that he was very fond of storms. At least not destructive ones. A nice thundershower is one thing; lightning and thunder rolling across the sky was beautiful. Something worse than that, however, only destroys all the beautiful things outside. He didn’t like to see beautiful things destroyed. He would much rather enjoy them.
When Mr. Darcy came back in from putting the automobile in the barn, the wind threw the front door open, tearing it from his hands. “It’s really gusty out there, Abby. A squall must be coming through.”
Just then, the telephone rang. George answered it, fearing what was to be said on the other end, and hung up abruptly. He remained calm, but there was a touch of fear in his eyes as he announced, “Everyone to the frady-hole! Bob Johnson just called from the mercantile. Snake Creek Methodist Church was just blown away by a twister, and it’s headed in the direction of Starr Hollow Community. It’s time to take cover!”
Everyone ran outside to the cellar, but Katie was looking about, calling the dogs. “Boomer! Sooner! Come on, now! Come on!”
An oak limb crashed in the distance, and Abigail grabbed her daughter’s arm. Both women looked wild as the wind blew their hair every which way. “The dogs will take care of themselves, baby! We need to take shelter, now.”
Katie didn’t want to leave her pups to the fury of nature. “I can’t just leave them out here, Mama!”
George stepped in. “You’ll do as your mother says, Katherine. I won’t have you injured looking for dogs that can take care of themselves.”
She obeyed her father and joined everyone inside the cold, damp cellar. Mr. McGowan lit a lantern, and they kept the door open to watch the storm until it was upon them. They looked about each other, listening to the wind howl when they remembered there were two other people on the property who needed to take shelter.
Fear paralyzed Abigail’s heart, but the rest of her jumped up and shouted, “We forgot about Gideon and Ginny! Someone’s got to go warn them and bring them here!”
Katie thought about what her mother said, but said, “I don’t want to ahem, interrupt them tonight.”
Her nervousness shattering her self-control, Aunt Lizzy couldn’t help but laugh. “No, I assume that none of us want to.”
Johnny laughed, “I don’t want to do it. I’m still confused by the Shivaree thing.”
Abigail was adamant though, “Well someone has got to go get those poor young people before it’s too late.”
A boyish giggle escaped Mr. Darcy as he asked, “Are you volunteering, Mrs. Darcy?”
She shirked back, and said, “Well, that’s not really a lady’s place, Mr. Darcy.”
The Reverend McGowan stood up as well as he could in the cellar, “I suppose it’s my job to inform my son and his new wife of the impending storm. I suppose the Almighty has His own opinion of how a Shivaree should take place,” he chuckled.
Johnny offered to accompany him. “I’ll go with you, sir. No one should go out alone in this weather.” He was terribly afraid of the storm and what might happen, but Gideon and Ginny had been such good friends to him in his time there, and he couldn’t disappoint Katie.
The two men dashed outside into the wild, stormy night. They were gone for quite a while, leaving the Darcys to just wait and worry with every flash of lightening and every crash of thunder. Some time later, they came back with two somewhat disheveled newlyweds, all soaking wet as rain began to fall down in sheets. Mr. McGowan slammed the door behind him.
“It’s coming,” he told them just before he began to recite the Twenty-third Psalm.
The rain continued to pour harder and harder outside the cellar, drowning out the sound of the good reverend as he chanted Bible verses. Not thinking about what she was doing, Katie instinctively laid her head upon Johnny’s shoulder, and just as instinctively, he wrapped his arm around hers. It sounded like Armageddon was going on outside that cellar door. It sounded almost as terrifying as the sounds from the trenches. Then they heard something else, something faint, yet strong enough to cut through the weather and Mr. McGowan’s chanting. It was the sound of a dog barking.
Katie’s head perked up as she recognized the sound of Boomer’s voice, calling her for help, or so she thought. “Boomer’s outside, trying to get us to let him inside. We have to open the door!” No one else really heard the barking dog, but they weren’t fast enough to stop her from prying the door open, either.
The storm’s force was so strong that it would have pulled Katie outside had her father not grabbed her by the waste and held on tightly. Boomer quickly ran inside the cellar, fear masking his normally jovial eyes. They managed to shut the door again, and Boomer curled up on Katie’s feet.
Then suddenly, it got eerily quiet. Johnny was sure that the worst was over and was ready to leave the dark, cramped, damp cellar and survey the damage when Abigail stopped him with her hand.
“Don’t do it, son. It always gets quiet like this just before the storm really hits.”
The fear in his gray, gray eyes almost frightened Abigail more than the storm. She had never seen anything like them before in her life. Volumes of literature couldn’t express more than his eyes did with one ethereal glance, and at that moment, he was quickly filling Harvard’s Five Foot Shelf.
What they didn’t know; what he didn’t know was why he was so scared. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind, he heard waves crashing against a red shore as lightening tore across the sky. He was but a boy with another boy, slightly taller and built sturdier, calling across the distance to a boy with brown eyes and hair that had gotten lost and separated from everyone else in the storm. He was deathly afraid for the little boy who couldn’t have been more than ten years old. The boy had had a fever recently, and was still quite fragile. Everyone was worried for his safety.
He could see a mother’s worried gray eyes, a father’s concerned brow, and hear the muffled sobs of another woman in the background. He wondered who the boy was, and if he was a member of that family. He wondered so much in such a little amount of time. Then it was over, as he was brought back to reality.
A roaring noise came upon them suddenly. Like a freight train the storm growled over their heads. They could do little else but pray.
As suddenly as it came, it was gone, and the world grew quiet again. For fear that it was only that calm between two storms, they waited a long amount of time before emerging from the cellar.
When finally, they did emerge from their little subterranean shelter, the sky the stars were shining in the western sky, and bilious cloud illuminated with frequent flashes of lightening curtained that of the east. Crickets were once again chirping, and the world seemed to be finding it’s niche’ called normal.
All of the buildings on the Dovedale property remained intact, though they wouldn’t know what real damage had been accrued until the light of day revealed it to them. So, everyone decided to get some sleep and see what the morrow would bring.
When the morning’s light broke across the horizon, the inhabitants of Dovedale learned exactly how blessed they were that night. Tornados ripped all across the county, destroying several homes, killing a great amount of livestock and even a few people.
Dovedale only received a small amount of damage as no tornado actually touched down on the property. A few trees lost limbs, some of Abigail’s rose bushes were destroyed, and there was no sign of Sooner.
Not an hour after breakfast, everyone was outside, surveying the damage when Mr. Main pulled up in his Jeffery J4Rdr automobile. Terror and relief were both visible on his face as he rushed out of the car and hugged Ginny to him. “Thank God you’re alive!”
Ginny stepped away from her father, shocked at his behavior toward her, “Whatever do you mean, Papa?”
“I worked until so late last night that I stayed at the house in town. I heard that it had stormed here, but I didn’t know the extent of the destruction until I returned to what was left of Mont Royale. Thankfully, George must’ve sent for you before the storm hit,” he told her, unaware of any of the previous day’s activities.
“What is left of Mont Royale?” Ginny asked, starting to feel faint.
Gideon came beside her, wrapping his arm around her waste, not beyond the notice of Mr. Main. “Yes, daughter, Monte Royale was hit by the cyclone last night. Little more than the bricks from the fireplace is left.” He glared at Gideon, “Kindly take your common hands off my daughter, young man.”
Gideon stepped in between Ginny and her father. “I’ll take care of my wife any way she and I see fit, Mr. Main.”
The relief that had been visible upon Mr. Main’s face was quickly replaced by shock, then anger. “Wife?” he asked, disbelievingly.
“You didn’t get the note that I left you at Mont Royale?” Ginny asked, her voice shaking from fear of the confrontation she hadn’t wanted to have.
“Virginia Lucille Main, what have you done?” Her father’s voice seemed to boom across the entire world.
She had been staring at the ground, unable to look her father in the eye, until she felt Gideon’s reassuring squeeze. Then, in sheer defiance, she stared her father straight in the eye for the first time in her life. Unbendable, she told him in a steely voice, “I became Virginia Lucille McGowan yesterday, Papa. I married Gideon. I am his wife.”
Her father shook his head, grabbed her hand, and started to drag her into his car. “This is inexcusable behavior, Virginia. We’re going directly to the house in town where we can see about getting this abomination annulled!”
Ginny jerked her hand from her father’s grasp. “There will be no such thing, Papa. I am of age, and I wish to remain Gideon’s wife. I love him. That will never change, whether or not you approve.”
For the first time in her life, Ginny openly defied her father. He looked about at the Darcy family watching the scene unfold from sundry places about the farm. “This is all your doing, isn’t it, Darcy?” he called out. “Well, I hope that you’re prepared to take in another foundling with no name because as of this moment,” he gazed at Ginny one last time, “my daughter is dead to me. She died last night when Mont Royale was destroyed. Her name will never be mentioned in my presence again. I have no daughter.” With that, he got into his auto and left Dovedale.
Katie ran to Ginny, thrilled that she stood up to her father, to congratulate her. “You did it, Ginny! You stood up to him! It’s wonderful!”
Ginny just shook her head. She ran off to The Little House in tears with Gideon following close behind. Due to her extreme dislike for Ginny’s father, Katie couldn’t understand why Ginny was so upset.
“Why is she crying so?” she asked as she met everyone on the porch of Dovedale.
George hugged his daughter, and she leaned her head on his always sturdy shoulder as he tried to explain to her, “No matter how much you love someone, if you’re forced to be estranged from your family, especially your parents, in order to be with that person, it hurts a great deal. Poor Ginny has it much worse that I did. I knew that I had the support of some family, and eventually Father and I reconciled. However, those years we didn’t speak or write: they were very hard. I still loved Father even though I didn’t do as he wished. Unless you’re just completely abused dearest, it’s very hard not to care what our parents think. But Ginny, poor Ginny, oh I feel for the girl. Do you not understand what her father told her, Katie? He said that she is dead to him. Those are words that she could maybe get past someday if she didn’t live so near. But she will always have to live with the reminder that her father didn’t love her enough to want her to be happy.”
“Oh. I wouldn’t know what that would be like.”
George kissed her golden head. “No, Kittenken, you’ll never know what it is like for your parents to disown you. Whatever choices you make in life, you always have the support of your mother and me.”
“Thank you, Daddy. Thank you for loving me that much.”
George smiled and looked at his grown daughter, remembering the baby that once fit in the palm of his hand. “I had no choice, my dear. For you see, it was love at first sight. “
The days passed by, far, far too quickly. In the distance, one could almost hear a drummer and a piper calling the men to arms. The night’s cool, damp atmosphere mingled with the searing heat of the morning sun, giving birth to a thick, heavy fog along the river’s valley. Katie felt like the weight of everything in the world was in that fog, hanging over their heads and along their feet as she and Johnny watched Ginny and Gideon say their goodbyes at the Kansas City Southern Whistle Stop near Stillwell.
Katie wondered if there existed such a thing as a cheerful parting. It seemed to her that all partings had been bittersweet in her recent memory, and she pondered if the long line of farewells this war caused would ever end. She had even had to say farewell to Bertie's dog, Sooner, after the tornado. Somehow, during the storm, the poor thing was stepped on by a frightened cow, and they had had to put her down. Somehow, something in Sooner's eyes told Katie that she wanted to join Albert though. So they buried her at his feet, and Katie had to say goodbye even to her. Remembering that last farewell, she leaned against Johnny, thankful that he wasn’t going anywhere.
As if he understood exactly how she felt, he softly recited, “Fare thee well! and if for ever, Still for ever, fare thee well.”
“Byron seems utterly and totally right for this moment. I couldn’t be as strong as Ginny is being about this if I had to send… if I was in her shoes. It’s too hard to send them away with a smile. I know that’s what all of you want, and I know you don’t what could possibly be your last memory of your loved ones to be of them in tears, but I’m so tired of being brave,” she admitted what had been creeping in her heart for so long.
Johnny wrapped his arms around her and quietly told her the words she most needed to hear, “You don’t have to be brave with me, Katie. Anytime things just seem too much, come to me, and I’ll hold you as I do now.”
She turned to face him, “I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t have woke up on my watch that day last September.”
“There’s a reason for everything that happens. I like to think we were put together in the midst of this war that’s ripping the world apart so that we can pull each other through. I don’t know where I would be today if not for your unique Katie-ness.”
“My unique Katie-ness, whatever is that?” she asked, crinkling her nose in a manner that showed her confusion.
He laughed at the childlike expression that graced her face and his own embarrassment for having said what he thought was too much. “It’s difficult to explain, really.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s not. You wouldn’t have said it if you hadn’t have known what you meant.”
“Fine. Your unique Katie-ness is actually so many things all wrapped up in the slight package of you. You are beyond intelligent. You’re the kindest person I know. You’re ‘ornery as mule,’ or so says Thad Cole, and I haven’t any reason to disagree. You’re sweet and loveable. You would do anything for a loved one. You feel everything so much from your happiest moments to your saddest, nothing escapes your emotions. You’re brave beyond words. You are the most beautiful creature that I’ve ever seen…”
“That you recall,” she interrupted.
“You’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen,” he assured her, “and all of it together radiates as a sort of light, beaconing from your very soul.”
She didn’t know exactly how to respond to such an honest description. Knowing he felt and believed such things about her caused her heart to beat wildly, yet she was unsure how to respond. Truth be told, Johnny wasn’t sure how either of them should respond to it, but they never were given the chance to find out.
The train was pulling away, and they watched Gideon hold Ginny’s hand as long as possible, until the train pulled them apart. He waved to his wife through the distance, and she fixed her eyes on the train until it completely disappeared in the fog. Only then, when even the shadow was gone, did she return to Katie and Johnny. Katie stepped from Johnny and opened her arms for her friend, who then finally allowed herself to cry as Johnny drove them home to Dovedale.
Summer blazed beyond the hills and mountains where Dovedale lay; clear of the peaks and valleys of Derbyshire where William and Amelia were growing closer, and past the fields of Flanders where the poppies would blow between fields of crosses, row on row. Governments entered and left the war, but little really changed, and things grew tense at Dovedale once again when autumn’s leaves began to fall. Gideon McGowan was now on the front, and it was evident by the troubled look that was never absent from Ginny’s face.
Each day she seemed to grow more tired, and her nerves prevented her from enjoying any meals. Sometimes even the mere thought of food made her ill. The Darcys began to share concerned glances behind her back. Still yet, she faithfully wrote her husband every day such cheerful letters full of home and love that she amazed them all.
Then, one September day, when the leaves were their especial brightest, she wrote a particularly cheerful letter. Apparently she never really had been ill at all. Her letter to Gideon informed him that he would be coming home not only to a wife, but a small bundle of their love as well.
All of Dovedale was excited at the prospect of having a baby about the place. Abigail and Aunt Lizzy cheerfully knitted booties and other love-made garments when the knitting of things for soldiers became too much. George spent a great deal of time in the barn when he was home and surprised Ginny one day with a lavishly engraved cradle, carved by his own hands. Katie and Johnny surprised her by preparing one of the spare rooms with all the furniture and supplies a baby would ever think of needing.
In November, they stopped worrying about the war long enough to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their state’s admittance into the Union with an old-fashioned barn dance.
November came and went and the barn dance with it. What should have been a gay affair wasn’t for two moderately related reasons. The first reason was none other than the unlikely appearance of Ginny’s father at the dance. Normally, he wouldn’t sink low enough to show his face at such a rural event. Word however had traveled along the grapevine that his first grandchild was to arrive in the early spring.
Secretly, he hoped that a stray bullet would meet Gideon while in France. Then, he would surely be able to convince Ginny to see reason and return home with his grandchild. He knew that she would be at the dance with the Darcys. It was just the sort of home-spun thing that they went for.
He found her in a sitting in a corner alone, watching everyone else dancing happily even though there was a lack of male partners. “Virginia, may I have this seat?”
“I heard you say that Virginia was dead, but yes you may sit here,” she told him, trying not to be affected by his presence. He ignored comment.
“Rumor has it that you are with child.” He didn’t ask, but stated this fact in a cold, pretentious manner.
“I am,” she answered, rubbing her stomach lovingly and protectively.
“Don’t you think that it’s time to end this foolishness and come home with me, Virginia?”
She had yet to look her father in the face, to meet him eye to eye, but then she did, “Would Gideon be welcome when he returns? Would my child be treated kindly or like some sort of nuisance?”
“I can never condone your marriage to him, but I want very much to be a part of my grandchild’s life.”
“It is rather difficult to be a part of a child’s life when you have disowned his mother and wish his father dead,” she coolly answered.
He denied what they both knew to be the truth. “I never said that I wanted that, Virginia.”
“You didn’t have to, Papa. It’s written all over your face. No, I think that you should continue to mourn your lost Virginia and all the grandchildren she would have given you. Ginny McGowan’s father disowned her, and her children will never meet him until he can accept them, father and all.”
“If that is your decision…” he started to walk away.
“It was never my decision. It has always been yours. It remains yours.” She thought that she would have to excuse herself when she felt the child within her kick. As if he had felt his mother become distraught and wished to protect her, he kicked with an angry force. And his mother laughed, because the McGowan in him was already beginning to surface.
The second damper on the mood of the dance was the constant attention Katie received from one Dexter Burton. Dexter Burton was a year or two older than Katie. He stood barely at five and a half feet tall, slicked his hair back out of his eyes with odiferous pomade, and had wanted Katie Darcy as long as he could remember.
Dexter watched as Katie and Johnny shared dance after dance and waltz after waltz as the fiddle, banjo, and guitar played soulful country waltzes. It angered him that to them, there was no one else in the room or the world for that matter. Like two dancers on a jewelry box, they glided about the floor with an ease and grace that only two people so wholly connected to each other can experience.
Could it be, he thought to himself, that she could possibly want that nobody when she could have him? Didn’t she realize that he was going places? That he was ten times better than that tramp she brought back with her from France? And the one thing she had said to him all night was, “Why hello, Dex. I see your heart murmur isn’t keeping you from enjoying all the pleasures of society. Do tell Minnie hello for me. She almost looks respectable in that outfit. You really should buy her more suitable clothes. Most men like their kept women to be more, well more.”
It was as if she was mocking him. Like she knew he had had a doctor make up the medical condition so he wouldn’t have to go into the military, and she made no bones about his arrangement with Minnie Harper. Possibly she always knew about Minnie, and that was why she refused him. Surely Minnie had flaunted their arrangement about. Well, poor Minnie would be punished for Katie’s comment later on that night, but not before he planted a little seed in that nobody’s head.
He found Johnny alone outside, staring off into the stars while Katie was conveniently inside, talking to her parents. “You must be the famous Mr. John Doe that Katie brought home with her from the war. I’m Dexter Burton, an old friend of Katie and Albert’s.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Burton,” Johnny shook his hand. They talked of Albert, of the war, politics, and even the weather when Dex brought up the subject.
“So, what do you plan to do with yourself, Mr. Doe? You’re living in the land of opportunity. There are a million things a fellow with a brain like yours could do.”
“I work with Mr. Darcy for Darcy oil.”
“That’s convenient,” Dexter commented, leaning on an old hitching post.
“It’s very kind of Mr. Darcy to employ me and allow me to live on the Dovedale property.”
Dexter laughed and kicked the dust at his feet. “I’d say it is. No offense, but it amazes me that he lets you spend so much time with Katie, especially since she’s his only child now. I mean, what can you offer her? You don’t even know who you are. I wouldn’t want a daughter of mine to fall for some vagabond with no name, no background, and no money of his own who basically lives off the charity of others.”
He said nothing more. He didn’t have to. Johnny heard him loud and clear. Dexter walked away a little too smugly though, and George Darcy saw it. Knowing that that boy was probably up to no good at all, he resolved to speak with Johnny soon.
Johnny was quiet and melancholy the rest of the evening, causing Katie a great deal of distress. Never before had she seen that side of him, and she was even more distressed when he declined a late-night dessert at Dovedale. She watched him sulk away to The Little House with the proverbial black cloud over his head, and her heart broke for him and because of him.
War-related work called both George and Johnny away from Dovedale for several weeks. Uncle Sam was being very demanding of the oil company, and they had little time to write even short notes to anyone back home. This however allowed the two men to become better acquainted with each other, and they learned that they respected each other a great deal.
It was when they were driving back to Dovedale that George finally brought the subject up with Johnny because he new that the boy would never bring it up himself.
“John,” he called him that because Johnny was but a boy’s name, and this was a man sitting next to him in the car; a man who deeply loved his daughter and for whom she felt the same. He wasn’t the eloquent speaker that his father was. Living and working the past quarter-century in the rural United States had made him a little gruff, but still kind.
“John, I was wondering when you were going to become my son, legally?”
“Excuse me?” Johnny asked. He wasn’t exactly sure in what manner Mr. Darcy meant for him to become his son.
“When do you plan to ask my permission to propose marriage to Katie?”
Johnny couldn’t bear to look at him, so he stared out the window. “I can’t, sir. I would love to more than anything else on this earth, but I can’t. I can’t do that to her.”
“Why ever not? Abby and I have been waiting since the day you arrived for you to ask me for her hand, but you haven’t. I know you’re not trifling with her, but you can’t string her along either. She’s been hurt too much since this war began, and I can’t have her hurt anymore.”
“I can’t ask her to marry me when I don’t even have a last name to give her on our wedding day. It wouldn’t be right.”
“Son, what wouldn’t be right is for you to let a little ass like Burton to put those thoughts into your head. You have a good job with the company, it’ll be yours and Katie’s soon enough, and you love my daughter with every fiber of your being. Trust me; don’t let conventional thinking keep you from being with Katie. The two of you look at each other the same way that Abigail and I do. You can’t find that just anywhere and I don’t regret leaving home and defying my father to marry Abby. What I don’t think you realize is that you do have a family that loves you. Following your heart and marrying Katie would only make it legal.”
“Then do I have your permission to ask Katie to marry me?”
“You’ve always had it, you just had to ask. So when do you think you’ll pop the question?”
Johnny felt the cold outside the car and remembered events of almost a year before. “Christmas is coming soon, and it’s the first since, you know. Last year was so good for her because it was the last time she ever saw Bertie. I think I’ll ask her then because I don’t want her to be sad then.”
He slowly stepped into the dining room, now empty of all the yuletide joy, and silently watched her as she stared out of the bay window into the river and the world of dreams. She was the picture of grace and beauty with her long, golden hair tied back in a festive red ribbon that matched her lovely dress. She had her forehead pressed against the icy pane, concealing her visage from all eyes. She was alone now, with all of her heart’s weighty feelings.
He walked alongside her, listening to faint sniffles. He raised his arm to the window, leaning his head on it, and slowly, gradually, reached for her hand. There they stood, silently holding hands, each lost in the deep of their souls.
Finally, he said what was on his mind, “Please do not cry, Katie. I cannot bear to see you so. It breaks my heart. You, are my everything. I should have nothing, no home, no name, no family, no one special to hold my heart. Yet you have given me all of that and so much more. There would be no life without you. I couldn’t go on without you by my side.”
“Oh Johnny. It isn’t that I’m sad, you see. Yes, I miss Bertie greatly. It is hard to imagine that today is Christmas, and he is not here singing gaily and laughing with Father as they play chess along the fire. Yet it is Christmas, and he is sleeping under that lonely, weeping willow. I suppose I should be sadder than I am; yet I cannot be. He gave his life for a cause in which he greatly believed. I believe that because of that, we must do as that poem you found says and “keep faith,” and that it what I intend to do.”
“So why are there tears in your eyes?” he asked wiping them from her cheek with his sweet, soft thumb.
“There are tears in my eyes,” she couldn’t continue for the tears grew heavier and were accompanied by mammoth sobs. “I have tears because I am so happy!” she declared, hugging him close to her. “You have made me so happy. I couldn’t have gone on if not for your attention and care.”
“I do care, Katie, ever so much.”
“I know,” she answered quietly. “I do too. I love you Johnny. I love you like I’ve never loved another.”
“Katie, I love you too. I have permission from your father. I have a question to ask of you,” he stated, slowly, shakily bowing down on one knee.
“Do you?” she implored, her green eyes brimming with love and hope.
He nodded and pulled a small diamond ring from his pocket. “Katie, I have no name to give you. I have no money of my own. All I have is my heart and every once of love that it produces. Would you please due me the immense honor of becoming my wife?”
Her joyful sobs grew bigger as she managed to choke out, “I will.”
He placed the token of their love on her finger and softly, lovingly quelled her sobs with his lips.
There were days that scared her: days when the war’s end seemed only a wish to be cast to the stars. There were also days when she was so sad from the loss of her twin and the many countless other men and boys that he felt she couldn’t lift her head. There were also days where she was utterly and completely happy, and nothing could quell her spirits: days such as the one when Jacob George McGowan made is entrance into the world, and one certain day most especially. She wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t a bit scared of anything that day. Nothing could make her happier than she felt on her wedding day.
Of course, she wished that Grandfather and all her other relatives could be there. She wished that Albert could be there as well as Johnny’s family – whoever they were. Then, as she watched the sun rise over the misty eastern horizon, she realized that in a way they all were there with her –with them.
For every ounce of confidence exuded from Katie, Johnny felt as much or more nervousness well up inside of him. The old concerns came back to visit him as he put on his suit. He wondered if he could ever live up to the example of a father and husband that both of the Misters Darcy had given him in his short time in their company.
The first roses of Spring were but buds still: mere babes swaddled tightly and beautifully in their nursery. After one fairly deep blanket of late-winter snow nurtured the soil then receded away, the infant grass beneath was soft and lush to where bare feet would feel most comfortable. The bitter dreariness of the winter birthed this fresh, innocent Spring. Even though they had a terrible scare Palm Sunday that the Germans would take Paris and all was lost, something in the especial sweetness of the Spring – from the infant rosebuds to the newborn Jacob – gave them hope that this would be that last Spring to see a Big Push. They could almost taste the end as they could taste the honeysuckle hanging by the river.
Katie’s bouquet was a simple collection of the most perfect of the baby rosebuds. Her dress was simple, sans all the frills so many brides had pined for before the war. Her father proudly walked her down the aisle between seats placed in Abigail’s garden as Aunt Lizzy played, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire” on the piano. Ginny stood up for Katie as matron of honor, and little Jacob was the honorary best man as he slept in his mother’s arms.
Guests, business associates of George’s, and friends from what seemed like the ends of the earth filled the seats, watching the golden bride as her father escorted her down the aisle. She didn’t care who was there at that moment, though. All she saw was Johnny, patiently awaiting her hand. His starry eyes only saw her as well, and neither knew anyone else was present save God as they spoke their vows.
When Johnny kissed his bride, something caught his eye in the far-back corner of the garden. An almost unearthly contingent of guests observed the vows with silent, prideful pleasure.
In that group was a man with curly red hair and an old-fashioned mustache and a woman with raven hair and piercing grey eyes on his arm. Another man who seemed the epitome of shyness gleefully watched with soulful eyes. Next to him sat a thin, tall woman with her hair pulled back into a tight, severe bun, but whose eyes seemed to betray a bit of mistiness. Next to her was a rather plump woman who looked on the verge of telling her opinion of anything. Another man and woman were nearby and seemed practical, yet jolly. Farthest back, however, stood the two most ethereal figures of the lot.
A tall, slender you woman with creamy white skin, the same grey eyes as the woman with the raven hair, and ruddily brown hair that draped her shoulders watched with what could only be deemed as heartfelt pride. Johnny felt as if he should have know her, all of them really, from somewhere. He felt an odd, otherworldly kinship with them – especially the young woman.
The young woman stood with a young soldier whose khaki cap covered his face from view. Johnny assumed the young man was on leave, but his uniform wasn’t that of the United States. Then, he knew who the young man was. With that revelation, he knew that he did indeed have family there that day and that Albert was among them as well.
The reception was a small but happy affair. Due to a lack of male partners, many young women and girls decided to dance together. One only had to look around to know that this was a war-wedding. The restriction of two pounds of sugar per person, per month caused some creative cooking at Dovedale as Abigail, Aunt Lizzy, Ginny, and Katie prepared for the wedding. The number of desserts available to the guests was considerably shorter than Abigail would have preferred, but they did have a cake, and it was definitely white.
Johnny looked all about the reception for any of the ghostly wedding guests, but they were nowhere to be found. They seemed to vanish into the air, but he didn’t have time to worry. There were guests to thank, dances to dance, and a radiant wife to adore.
His wife. He, John Doe, now had a wife. He was the husband of this wonderful girl, and it seemed almost too good to be true. Yet there she was, laughing her melodic laugh and smiling that smile reserved only for him. Never before had any man ever felt as blessed as he did then.
Though the number of normally suitable dance partners was severely short, the crowd of guests was still overwhelming to Johnny, who hardly knew any of them. So many strange faces offering best wishes and advice, and all Johnny wanted was to finally be alone with his wife. That, for the moment, was an impossible dream. Katie, the bride, was the lady of the day, and everyone wanted to spend a few moments, basking in her radiance.
He stepped away from the crowd for a bit and found a mossy stone under a leafy shade to set a spell and enjoy the moment of it all before it passed.
“It was genuinely a lovely wedding,” a soft voice said among the shadows.
Johnny turned to face the voice, somehow knowing that it belonged to the mysterious young woman among the saintly guests with the reddish-brown hair and familiar grey eyes. “It could have hailed stones of fury, and I would still be as happy as I am right now.”
The lady let out a sweet-sounding, angelic laugh, “Of course, you have your Katie. That’s all that really matters.”
He liked this woman. She seemed like someone he would be very close to, a person Katie would call a ‘kindred spirit.’ “You couldn’t be more correct. I cannot help but believe that I am getting the better end of the bargain today. She has not only given me her heart, but her family, and a purpose for living. All I have to give her is my love.”
“There is a purpose for everything under Heaven. The two of you were brought together for a specific reason. Today is a natural step of a master plan. Look at those two butterflies flying about together! It’s like they’re dancing in the air and sharing secrets!”
“They’re playing their own part in this master plan, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are.”
He sighed, “At least that butterfly has a name to give his wife, instead of him taking hers. Tell me, is it part of the plan that I ever learn my name and give it to Katie?”
Again that smile that was both familiar yet foreign to him graced her face. “Yes. All will be revealed to you in Good Time.”
“I don’t know why, but I trust you implicitly,” he admitted. “Have we ever met before?”
“Our paths have never crossed before, but I’ve always known you.”
“You aren’t real, are you?” he asked, sure she was some sort of apparition.
“I am as real as you, especially to my mother and father,” she told him with confidence. “Both of us, you and I, hold special places in our parents’ hearts. No matter what, we’ll never be forgotten.”
He lifted his head, recognizing what she was saying, even if he couldn’t quite put it to words, “Then you’re my… We’re…” she prevented him from finally putting to words what he learned.
“Yes, and I get to kiss one of my brothers on his wedding day.”
“There are others?” he asked.
“Yes, and sisters too. I promise that when the time is right, you’ll be reunited with all of them.”
Since she was answering so many questions, he had to ask one more. “What about…”
“What about the owner of the eyes that haunt you?” she finished his sentence. “That will be revealed to you at the proper time as well.”
“Do you have a name?”
She stood up and smiled that familiarly foreign smile again. “Every time your heart is overflowing with Joy, and I promise you that it shall happen many, many times, you’ll remember me.” Then she kissed his glossy, onyx head with the grace of Spring’s breeze. Johnny closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, she was gone.
Katie too had to step away from the crowd, and walked over to the willow where Albert slept. She took a few stems from her bouquet and placed them on his grave, “I got married today, Bertie, to Johnny. I wish you could have been here.”
A dog, sounding a great deal like dear Sooner, who slept next to Albert, barked in the distance, causing her to glance in that direction. The sun glared though, blinding her sight. Then a soft, deep voice spoke to her, “I was here, Katie. Do you think that anything could prevent me from witnessing Katherine the Great’s wedding?”
“Albert?” she asked ever so cautiously.
A soldier stepped through the glaring sunlight, and he smiled warmly at her, “Hello, Sis.”
She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “You’re here? How are you here?”
Albert chuckled, “Is that any way to treat a wedding guest who has traveled as far as I have?”
Something in Katie melted upon hearing this person joke just as her brother had. She knew then that it was him – somehow. Her green eyes started to mist, and her lips trembled, but she knew that it was him. “Oh, Bertie!” she cried out, letting him enfold her into his arms.
“Shh,” he comforted her, “You shouldn’t cry like this on your wedding day.”
“I’m married,” she told him with a proud, mischievous grin.
“I know. You married your Johnny. I suppose that I can really call him that now.?”
“Yes, he is my Johnny from this day forward, to have and to hold, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part.”
Albert looked away slightly upon the last phrase of Katie’s recitation of her vows, but added, “Those whom God hath put together, let no man put asunder.”
“Amen,” she wholeheartedly agreed. “I have to get Mama and Daddy and Johnny, oh, and everyone else. They will want to see you as well.”
She started to head in the direction of everyone else, but Albert stopped her. “You can’t do that, Sis. I came here only to see you on your wedding day. I’m not here to stay.”
With a sigh, she relented. “I should have known. I’m seeing things that others don’t see again, aren’t I? Like that time I had a conversation with our great-great grandmother before I left to become a nurse.”
“Not everyone can see me, but you can, and I know that Johnny saw me as well. Don’t you know that at a celebration such as this, the living and the dead bear witness? Just as both the living and the dead are fighting this war, those who’ve ‘crossed the bar’ are always with you. There are powers beyond imagine in control of all things.”
“How long are you to stay?”
“I have to be going soon, but I had to kiss the bride on her wedding day,” he told her then bent down to give her a brotherly kiss. “Do you remember what I told you before I went away?”
“How all of your hope is in Johnny and me?”
“Yes, and the children you’ll have together. That hope is why I went off to war. It’s why I died. Never forget that.”
“I won’t Albert, I won’t forget, “ she promised him.
“When your son catches his first baseball, and when your daughter giggles her first silly laugh, remember me, remember hope, and keep Faith.”
“How ever could I forget?”
He grasped the train of her veil with his hand. “You are a beautiful bride, Katherine the Great. A fellow couldn’t have a better sister.”
Again, the dog that had to have been Sooner barked somewhere along the river bank, and Katie again turned to look for her. When she turned her head again, Albert was gone.
There was a hint of sadness in the realization that he was gone, but then she became thankful for the chance to see him at all. It was a story that she wouldn’t be able to share with just any passing stranger, but she was going to share it with Johnny that night.
The bride found her bridegroom sharing a conversation with Aunt Lizzy. The crowd was dying down, and the sun was slowly beginning to set beyond the western hills. There were just enough clouds floating along the sky to paint a brilliant portrait of pink and purple against the golden sky.
A world away, the nations were fighting what surely had to be Armageddon. There could be no wars greater than this. The price was far too high, but Katie rest assured that such a price was definitely worth it – even if it hurt so very, very much.
Alone, much, much later Katie told Johnny of Albert’s visit as they snuggled together on a blanket underneath the starry sky. “I saw Bertie today. I know that it sounds insane, but I saw him and talked with him.”
“I don’t think it sounds insane at all. In fact, I have to tell you that I think I saw him today.”
She snuggled a bit closer to him, though not really close enough, “He said that he thought you did.”
“What else did he have to say?”
“That I was a beautiful bride, and to remind us that all of his hope for the future lies in us,”
“What would you say if I told you that Albert wasn’t the only special visitor at our wedding today?” he asked, wanting to share with her about his own guests.
“I would say that I’m not entirely surprised. Albert said that at such special times as this, the living and the dead are present. That those who’ve left us are never really gone.”
“I hope that they’re not present now,” he joked. He was in an especially wonderful mood and could laugh about most anything then.
“Johnny, you’re – you’re incorrigible. Who visited with you?”
“Well, I have to tell you that when I saw Albert, he was but one in a group that seemed to be from somewhere – some place other than here. I suppose that they were, but I think I had a conversation with my sister. I couldn’t tell just anyone this, but you understand, don’t you?”
Katie was ecstatic that they both had had somewhat unusual encounters that day. “I understand completely! You have a sister! Did she tell you anything about yourself? This is wonderful, truly a blessing!”
“Sisters, I think, as well as brothers. She didn’t tell me my name. She didn’t even tell me hers. She did tell me that both of us are never far from our parents’ minds though, and that whenever my heart is overflowing with joy, to think of her. I suppose my parents think that I’m dead, and that she isn’t among those who trod the Earth either. I hate the thought of my parents mourning me, but I’m so very thankful to have had this encounter with her – my sister.”
A lump began to form in Katie’s throat because she had to ask a question that was far from easy to ask. “Do you want to pursue this any more? We could, you know.”
He shook his head. “I’m curious, and I want to know who I am. I want to be able to give you my name. I want the both of us to meet my family – it sounds rather large. However, I’m going to wait. From what my sister, this person so wholly associated with joy, told me, all will be revealed when the time is right. Things have worked out quite well so far, and I don’t want to do anything to get in the way of the natural progression of the Master Plan.”
She relaxed again, quite visibly. He was happy and content with her, and trusted in a power greater than himself to take care of all things. He was right, and she didn’t allow that bit of fear to creep up into her throat again. She was his wife and planned to spend the rest of her days making him deliriously happy.
The graying hills and valleys were dappled with Autumnal hues of diverse oranges, reds, and yellows all the while being bathed in mists and fogs mingling with smoke from chimneys and piles of burning brush. In the air clung the scents of both freedom and Fall. The world seemed to take a collective sigh of relief since the Germans finally sued for peace. It was Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and everyone attended little Starr’s Hollow Baptist Church knowing that it would be the last Sunday they would have to pray for an end to the war. On Monday, the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month, at the Eleventh Hour, the guns would finally fall silent. All would finally be quiet on the western front.
There were to be dances and parties galore in the coming days, but though the Darcy family was thankful for the Armistice, they could hardly forget the price at which it was attained. An empty chair was to always remain at their table, and a cross stood under a willow tree. Their Albert, like so many other lads, gave his future that others may have one.
The fighting wasn’t over yet though, and Gideon was still in the trenches. Everyone said an extra prayer that God would spare him in the last, futile hours of the war and bring him safely home to his wife and son. Ginny wouldn’t really rest until he was again in her arms.
Aunt Lizzy was ready to return to England and to see how the family there was faring. In all her years, she never before had spent so long away from Pemberley, and her heart ached to return. Still yet, she had grown accustomed to life at Dovedale and would never have traded that time for anything. There was a new danger that was possibly more dangerous than the war lurking about in the midst; Spanish Flu, and because of it, George requested that she remain with them until the epidemic vanished.
“I could never face Father if you caught that wretched ‘flu on the ship, Aunt Lizzy. You must stay here at Dovedale with us a while longer where it is safe. Nothing of that sort will touch us here, but in a cramped place such as a ship, you’re asking for contagion.”
So it was settled that Aunt Lizzy would remain at Dovedale a while longer, and everyone was openly thrilled. They had become accustomed to her grandmotherly presence in their family, and would have been lost without her.
The newlyweds found that married life in The Little House suited them quite well. Never before had Katie been so willing to keep house, prepare meals, or do any of the sundry other things that Abigail always saw to at Dovedale. She enjoyed laboring for her own little home and her own dear husband as he spent the days working, and often times they would choose to spend an evening meal alone in The Little House than with everyone else at Dovedale. They went for long, ambiguous rambles into the woods, lost in each other’s company. After Albert’s death, Katie didn’t know she could feel so joyful and alive, but she did, and each time she held little Jacob in her arms a new sort of thrill and hope excited her soul.
Johnny surprised himself at how easy it was to come home to a lively, beautiful wife such as his. It came to be that he couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t her husband because surely their souls had been knit together in Heaven.
Bells rang out about the world, making a much sweeter noise that that of gunfire. It was over; the long arduous task finally was finished. Freedom was victorious. Yet, it had been too long since a letter came from Gideon; weeks in fact. Dread crept back into their hearts. They had heard of useless casualties wasted away mere moments before the guns fell silent. Still yet, it wasn’t time to celebrate. It was a time for waiting.
Katie remembered another time when no word came for a long period of time from a soldier. She could only pray that this instant would have the same reward as when Bertie and William arrived on Pemberley’s doorstep Christmas two years previous.
So, they waited and waited until George grew restless and decided that everyone needed a bit of a change in order to brighten and lighten the general mood. He was pleasantly pleased with himself, being able to secure what would hopefully be a memorable and enjoyable evening for his family. His delight was incredibly evident when he entered the dark, somber living room of Dovedale on Friday evening.
“George, there’s a smile on your face ten miles wide. You haven’t heard any word from Gideon, have you?” Abigail asked as she greeted him at the door with her customary kiss.
“No, Abby my dear, I wish that I had, I truly do, but I’ve not. I do think that it’s high time that we as a family take our minds off of things for just a short bit. Worrying can’t bring our boy home any sooner, and I don’t like the pallid looks about any of your faces. That’s another reason I insisted that Johnny stay home with Katie today. We all need to keep our strength about us lest our new Spanish enemy attempt to invade.”
“What do you have in mind, George?”
“I have here in my breast-pocket, six tickets to the football match between our Sooners and those Razorback Hogs in the next state. They’re playing in Fayetteville this year, and I think that it would be pleasant to view the splendid foliage on the drive there. What do you say, Abby? We’ve not seen our boys fight on the field of sport in a while.”
“I don’t know, George. It’ll seem different without our boy out there on the field.”
“Abby dear, I believe that Bertie will be on the sidelines, on the field, and sitting next to us. I can’t imagine even Paradise could keep him from football for too long. I for one would like to go in order to feel closer to him.”
She smiled wanly at him, and he noticed the lines around her eyes the seemed to have popped up so suddenly and the silver streaks that were beginning to shine in her russet hair. He wanted her to be happy, truly happy again and never thought of his own wrinkles and strands of silver.
He looked to where Ginny and Aunt Lizzy were playing with young Jacob, “What do you say, Aunt Lizzy? Would you like to see an American football match?”
“I have to admit,” his aunt smiled behind her dark eyes, “that ever since I first heard young Albert explain the sport, I’ve been mightily curious about it.”
‘What say the newlyweds?” he asked Katie and Johnny as they canoodled and whispered to each other across the room, beside the fire.
“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away, Daddy,” Katie answered. Her husband merely nodded.
“Ginny, what of you? You of all of us need to get out and breathe in some fresh air.”
“I couldn’t keep Jacob out in that fresh air, Mr. Darcy. I had better stay here at Dovedale, near the mailbox.”
“Ginny, I already spoke with Mrs. Cole down at Hollow Hill. She volunteered to watch the lad. I think she’s very lonely these days since Woodrow passed. That house is probably a very empty place now that she’s alone. Jake would be good company for her. Besides, I want Gideon to return home to a hearty, healthy wife, and you’re beginning to grow transparent. I have to insist.”
She smiled, wishing her own father had ever taken such care of her. “Well, if you insist, then I cannot deny you the joy buying me one of those splendid Dr. Pepper drinks, a frank and a cotton candy.”
George grinned from ear to ear because there was nothing he loved more than to be of service to those he cared for. “It will be my pleasure, Ginny. Just make sure our Katie doesn’t eat your frank. She was like a rabid wolf when we first saw them and the cotton candy at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.”
At this, Katie had to protest, “Daddy, I was only ten years old! I was a growing girl! You’re going to make my husband think that I’m a pig.”
“Oh Katie-girl,” Johnny laughingly assured her, “I already know all about your appetite!”
She thrust a dirty glare Johnny’s direction and jabbed him in the shoulder, but then laughed. Her vociferous appetite was a standing joke in the family and had been for years. Whenever strangers would watch her eat, they always would be amazed at how much food such a slender person could consume.
Early the next morning, Jacob was deposited with a very happy Widow Cole, and everyone else piled into George’s Cadillac and began the winding journey across the state-line into Razorback country.
The foliage was beautiful, and Katie couldn’t help but with that camera could take pictures in color to capture the awesome glory all about them. Out of respect, they bowed their heads and said a prayer at the site of another battle; one fought in the war between the states, Prairie Grove. Each ate at least two franks, Aunt Lizzy learned to like the handy little cuisine and thoroughly enjoyed stopping in a little drug store for one of those soda drinks. She tried some of Ginny’s Dr. Pepper, but decided she preferred Katie’s Coke-a-Cola the best.
Albert surely must have been there along the sidelines and everywhere else at that game. His very presence was felt as the Sooners crushed the Razorbacks to a historical 103-0 loss. They cheered and yelled with the best and loudest of the fans. Johnny and Aunt Lizzy learned that day they too were unabashed fans of their adoptive state’s football team, and Ginny smiled and laughed more than she had in ages. It was a successful trip and a memory that each would hold in their hearts for the rest of their lives.
If only moments of such pure happiness could last forever. Alas, they cannot though. Upon returning to Dovedale, Ginny rifled through a pile of fresh mail while Katie and Johnny played with Jacob on the porch of Dovedale. Without warning, Ginny suddenly collapsed and hit her head on the railing before Johnny could catch her.
Johnny was happily holding Jacob in his lap as Katie played peed-a-boo with the dark, chubby infant. Jake's squeals of laughter rang throughout Dovedale bringing happy music to George as he read the newspaper, to Abigail while she worked on a new quilt, and Aunt Elizabeth as she replied to her most recent letter from Amelia. George glanced around the house as he remembered the laughter of other babies and hoped to hear even more in the near future. Abigail's green eyes caught his, and knowing where his thoughts were, reached out to clasp his hand.
"Aunt Lizzy, you must advise Amelia that she absolutely cannot marry William until I am there to dance a waltz with the bride," he instructed.
"Do no such thing, Aunt Elizabeth!" Abigail contradicted. "Really George, those poor young people have had to put their lives on hold for far too long. We cannot ask them to delay their marriage any more than they could have asked Katie to wait until Father Henry could be here for hers."
Sheepishly he grinned, showing off that one, odd dimple on his right cheek, "You're right, Abigail. You always are, but I would love just such an excuse to visit our family's seat once more now that the war is finally finished. So many things in this world have changed. I want to see for myself that the lands that have been in our family for almost a thousand years are still familiar to me, and the they would be somewhat familiar to Robert d'Arcy, who came over with The Conqueror in 1066. Somehow, I can almost feel time still when I walk those grounds, knowing that my forefathers withstood their own trials from tyrant kings to plague, and that this war too is just a footnote in the Darcy family annals."
Abigail sniffled a bit as she concentrated on her stitching, and her husband noticed it. He knew that sniffle. It meant that she not only didn't agree with what he said, but that he in some way hurt her in what he said. "Abigail, what did I say to upset you?" he asked in a very soft tone.
"I don't want to believe that Albert gave his life for only a footnote, George," she quietly answered him.
Aunt Lizzy decided to intercede for George, knowing that a different perspective would help Abigail understand what George really meant by his comment. "I don't believe George meant that sound as it did, Abigail. It's just that despite adversity all throughout history, our family has survived."
"That is exactly what I meant, Aunt Lizzy, and this union between William and Amelia will ensure the continuation of our line."
"Your father writes that Amelia has been a godsend to William, refusing to allow him to wallow in guilt and grief. Actually, I imagine that have both helped each other a great deal. Amelia was just a shell of a person after Harry's death. Henry writes that it's almost like two broken people fit the pieces together to make one whole when they're together."
"And how does Amelia sound in her letters?" asked Abigail.
"Cheerful, or at least something close to that. When William and Albert came home that last Christmas, she and William spent a great deal of time together. The fire in her eyes seemed to slowly reignite. They are very good for each other. They're enough alike to be compatible and just different enough to make things interesting."
This conversation could have continued for an extended period of time but for the commotion on the front porch. They heard Katie's scream and Johnny's footsteps as he races across the porch. Before they could run to see what had happened, Johnny was bursting through the door, carrying an unconscious Ginny, and Katie was close behind with Jacob secured in her arms.
Abigail took one look at the pale form in Johnny's arms, feared the worst, and gave George the look. Within seconds, George was already headed out the door to fetch Dr. Brooke with influenza on his mind. He didn't even have time to hear his wife instruct Katie, "Take Jacob to the Widow Cole's again, Katie. We cannot risk his being infected. If it's influenza, Ginny wouldn't want him anywhere near her."
Katie did as her mother instructed, and deposited her roly-poly charge with the Widow so quickly that she beat her father and the doctor back to Dovedale. She found Johnny pacing the hallway of Dovedale, his face white; his eyes wild with worry.
"Mother Abigail and Aunt Lizzy are in there with her now. She has yet to wake up. I'm worried she is ill with the 'flu, but she didn't feel warm as I carried her."
Katie started to go in to see Ginny, but her husband stopped her. "I have to go to her, Johnny. She's my oldest, dearest friend."
"I know, Katie, but you can't go in there until we know what is wrong with her. There's always the chance that you could be… well, you could be in a delicate condition, and we can't risk it."
She knew that what he said was true, and that it would be for lack of trying if he turned out to be wrong. Her greatest desire since her marriage was to welcome a child of theirs into their family; to have a child with Johnny's eyes and her smile, to see her parents doting on a grandchild. She stepped back, leaning on the wall, a woman torn between devotion to her friend and responsibility to her own. She wanted to be angry with Johnny because he was standing in her way, but she couldn't be because he was correct and only looking out for her own safety.
"I wish Daddy would get here with Dr. Brooke. I can't imagine what's taking them so long. I don't know why we didn't try to get him on the telephone, either," she complained, trying to focus her energy anywhere else.
Just then, they heard two sets of footsteps on the stairs, and saw Dr. Brooke coming up with George right behind him. Johnny pointed to Ginny's room, "She's in there with Mrs. Miss Darcy." The doctor nodded in acknowledgment only stating that he imagined that he would be a while in examining Ginny. Just his being present brought relief to all three, and George suggested that they get some fresh air on the porch while they wait for the prognosis.
Each remained silent, as they watched the clouds fly across the blue sky from the porch. Only the creaking of rocking chairs could be heard alongside the regular occasional mooing cow in the nearby pastures. George broke the silence with his own fear, 'I pray that she didn't catch anything while we were away. I should never have been so restless and persuasive. She didn't really want to go, but I talked her into it. If she dies, it will be on my head."
Katie had been staring at the print on her skirt for the longest time, but as she listened to her father's words, she lifted her head to meet him eye to eye. "Daddy, you are not to blame for any of this. Surely she couldn't have developed influenza in such a short amount of time. There is no way it is possible that she caught it on our outing. She enjoyed the trip. It took her mind off of Gideon for a little while."
"Speaking of Gideon," Johnny said noticing the pile of scattered mail along the porch steps for the first time, "I wonder if there was word from him today?"
He stooped down to pick up the mail and saw the opened letter. He slowly read its contents, trying to ascertain all they meant and their ramifications. Katie saw the serious furrow along his brow, and asked him, "Dearest, what have you there?
"It is a letter from a Captain in the Army who seems to be acquainted with Ginny."
Katie snatched the letter from Johnny, hungrily reading it's contents, hoping that it would contain word of Gideon so that there would be hope to pass on to Ginny. It read:
Dear Mrs. McGowan,
When last we met, you were but still Miss. Main. I didn't know that the day we met was to be your wedding day, or I would have offered you congratulations. I understand from your husband that you have been estranged from your father since that day. I am glad to say that my disagreement with my own father about my joining the army turned out better than yours.
I met your husband about six months ago when we were first stationed together. He is a good, Godly man, and your father is a fool to condemn your marriage. I can assure you that your husband has not taken a look at any of the women of ill repute many of our officers have come to know.
It is about your husband that I write to you now. You see, I work in the office that sends out the letters and telegrams to families when a loved one is injured or worse. I regret to inform you that an hour before the Armistice, your husband received a gunshot wound to his left calve. Thankfully, he did not have to spend much time in the field of battle before an ambulance arrived for him. Infection has not set in that wound.
However, during his stay in the hospital, he has contracted influenza. It's been a harrowing case, that has left him weak and unable to communicate with you. I noticed that by some clerical error you were never informed of his injuries, so I thought that it would be better if I wrote you a letter myself.
Do not distress too much, madam. Your husband and my friend is on the mend. Apparently he wishes to meet a certain little boy as soon as possible and give him several siblings. I too have left a wife and son, Rhett, at home, and understand his desire to return to you. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to write me. Gideon saved me from a German bayonet once, and even though I am to be discharged shortly, I shall not return to America until he can accompany me. I imagine we shall be home just in time for Christmas, if not the New Year.
Capt. Charles Hamilton
Abigail opened the creaky screen door, relief washed all across her face as her family looked to her anxiously for answers. She looked to Johnny first and asked, "Son, could you please fetch Jacob from Mrs. Cole's? I believe his mother would like to see him."
He nodded and started on his way. Katie nervously asked, "Is is… Does Ginny have… Will she be okay?"
One solitary tear fell down Abigail's face as she told them that Ginny did not have influenza, but the shock of hearing that Gideon had been shot, contracted the flu, but that he would live caused her to faint dead away. Later on, they would laugh at this instance when it seemed that the Shadow passed over them. It would have to return another day.
Winter set in at Dovedale, and letters arrived from Captain Hamilton and Gideon in regular intervals. Gideon's wounded leg healed more quickly than his body did from the ravages of influenza. He did heal though, and Ginny knew that what made the difference between her husband and all those who did not was their own Angel of Mercy, Captain Hamilton. Had Gideon been left to the mercies of Army hospitals, she knew that she surely would be a widow. Thankfully Captain Hamilton went to great lengths to see that Gideon received the best possible care. Ginny often thought of the timid, shy young man she met her wedding day and thanked God for his friendship.
It began to appear though, that Gideon would not return in time for Christmas, and the cold gray day slowly began to affect Ginny's outlook. There as so much to be thankful for that Christmas, yet she couldn't help by to dwell on the fact that Gideon was going to miss Jacob's first Christmas, and that they had yet to share a Christmas together as a married couple.
Good news in other forms did come to Dovedale from overseas at this time though. Jane wrote a long and detailed description of William's marriage to Amelia in the little chapel on the grounds of Pemberley on the first day of December. The bride was said to have worn her grandmother's wedding dress, and her father gave her away in all his Naval regalia before retiring the next day. Everyone seemed as relieved that Charles was leaving his life on the high seas as they were thrilled that William and Jane were joined in holy matrimony.
"I'm glad that Uncle Charles has retired. Aunt Bertha has been so lonely since Harry's death, and now with Amelia living at Pemberley full-time and Benjamin still at Eton, she needs him a great deal," Katie commented in the Dovedale kitchen while her mother and Aunt Lizzy played with Christmas confections.
"I'm just thankful that Charlie has left the Navy because I'm tired of having to worry about our boys in service to the King," Aunt Lizzy told them. "I know that sounds horribly unpatriotic, but I do believe that we have given more than enough for King and country."
Abigail patted the elderly lady's shoulder, "It's not unpatriotic really, Aunt Lizzy. The Darcy family has given more than enough, although there aren't many families that haven't. The shortage of young men in these parts is astounding, and we were in the war only a little over a year. One can only imagine how desolate things are in England, where they fought from the onset."
They quieted a bit, thinking how desolate things were at Dovedale and always would be. Abigail sighed, pushing a loose strand of red and gray mixed hair out of her eyes as she stirred what would soon be divinity. She tried to think of other things like how wonderful it was that they could once again use all the sugar they wanted this Christmas, but her mind wandered to the tall, dark lad that was always the one who ate the most of her divinity and any other holiday dessert.
"Mama, you're the greatest cook in all of Oklahoma. You make Christmas that much more special with all the little things you bake for us. Presents are nice, but walking into a kitchen filled with all these warm, sweet smells is well, it's divinity," he once told her with that one dimple showing as his blue, blue eyes sparkled.
The telephone rang, and Katie ran to answer it. Her voice was low, but a hint of excitement could be heard in her quiet words. It was odd for her to try so to subdue any sort of excitement, causing Abigail and Lizzy to look at each other with scrutinizing eyes. She hung up the receiver but didn't return to the kitchen. She instead headed toward the window seat in the living room where Ginny sat, sadly staring at the rain splattered mountainside while Jacob peacefully slept in his bassinet.
"Ginny," she said in the same hushed tones she spoke on the telephone.
Ginny slowly broke away from whatever thoughts were flowing in her mind. Fear suddenly gripped at her heart, and she felt paralyzed and helpless. A kitten meowed loudly, breaking through the patterings of the rain. Katie tried to ignore it, but again it meowed. Her attention turned toward the noise, and she saw the helpless thing perched on a fencepost, trying to find sanctuary from a stray dog that had it treed. She saw her own dog peacefully sleeping on his rug beside the fire, thankful he wasn't joining in on the trouble. She grabbed a b.b. gun from the display case and hastened to the porch, peppering the stray dog. Soon it ran off with its tail between its legs, howling down the dirt road.
Still, the kitten meowed, frightened and shaking in its wet, cold fur. Katie called for it to come down, but it wouldn't move from the little post. Realizing that the kitten would not budge out of fear, she walked through the mud and rain, climbed up the fencepost, and pulled the little thing close to her. It clung to her for dear life as she brought it inside the house. Ginny had towels ready both for Katie and the kitten. The kitten yowled and meowed most vociferously when they decided she needed a warm bath, but was actually calmed once enveloped by the warm water. Again they dried her off and Aunt Lizzy set out a bowl of warm milk. The kitten happily lapped up the treat and decided it liked living at Dovedale.
While they watched the kitted lap up its milk, Ginny asked, "Katie, you were telling me of a telephone call?'
Katie smiled. "Oh yes. That was the telegraph office. We're to meet Gideon's train at noon on Christmas Eve."
"Christmas Eve? He's going to be home Christmas Eve?" Ginny asked. Then another thought struck her mind. "Why, that's only tomorrow! There's so much I need to do! I can't believe it!"
Somehow Jacob had been a heavy enough sleeper to doze right through the kitten's tirade. However, upon hearing his mother's ejaculations of joy, he lifted his downy head to see what the commotion was. Seeing the excited looks upon those faces he new best, he squealed with delight, hoping to join in the celebration. Katie snatched him up, hugged him to her breast and danced around the room with his mother.
Christmas Eve was a sunny, but chilly day as the party awaited the noon train from St. Louis at the station. Between Ginny's nervous flitterings and wanting to should little Jacob as much as possible from the frosty wind, George Darcy took pleasure in holding the boy close to him all the while Abigail kept her arm link through his. They heard the train coming in the distance, it's black plume of smoke billowing across the blue sky. Katie was so excited that she almost cut off Johnny's circulation as she squeezed his arm. Through the pain of her exuberance, he only smiled and kissed her head. It was very good to see her so happy.
Passenger after passenger piled out of the locomotive's passenger cars, but there was no sign of Gideon. Katie began to wonder if the telegraph master had been incorrect in his message and started toward that office when she heard Aunt Lizzy gasp. She looked to the car that Lizzy was staring at and saw none other than her own cousin Amelia looking radiant and regal, her eyes sparkling in the sunlight as they hadn't been known to do in ages.
"Amelia?" she heard herself calling out as her parents and Aunt Lizzy rushed to greet the visitor.
She looked at the puzzled look on Ginny's face, and both wondered where Gideon was. She did however manage to greet her cousin with all the joy she could muster and overheard her father ask, "Amelia, where is William? What are you doing in this part of the world?" She laughed, knowing that there were endless questions to ask in the coming minutes and hours.
Just as George was asking where William was, he stepped outside of the train stating, "Here I am, Uncle. You can't think that I would let my bride too far away, could you? I just though I would let someone lean on my one arm." Then, as he stepped further out of the train, a thin, frail looking, brown figure came into view. Ginny gasped again and almost knocked William out of her way to get to him. Gideon was home, and he brought with him very welcome visitors.
Laughter rang over warm cider that evening by the fire at Dovedale so much that the house felt young again. Frost tinted the windows, and the moonlight glowed beautifully along the serene countryside, but Gideon McGowan had never seen anything quite as beautiful as his precious wife holding their squirming son.
Their son; his son. Until that day, little Jacob had been some sort of abstract thing or very much the same as a storybook character to him. Now father and son regarded each other cautiously, brown eyes examining brown eyes. They were very much the same, with their dark eyes and hair. However here was this little person wholly separate from yet still a part of him.
Ginny could do little more than attempt to pry her eyes away from her husband. It was everything for her just to be able to look at him and feel his fingers lace through hers. How, oh how did she manage to survive without him near her for so long? She didn't know. It was like her life started all over again upon his return.
"So you decided to tour North America by train for your honeymoon?" Abigail asked while pouring more cider into William's cup.
He nodded while gingerly taking a sip, "Yes, Grandfather was quite adamant that we embark on a wedding tour. The usual choice of Europe was of course out of consideration for numerous reasons, so we decided on The New World instead."
As if of one mind, Amelia picked up where her husband left off, "Neither of us wished to celebrate the holiday without family, so we decided to intrude upon your generous natures and stop here a while – if that is acceptable with you, Uncle George and Aunt Abigail?"
George almost jumped out "Acceptable? Why, it's stupendous! The house doesn't seem nearly as empty as it did just this morning with the two of you and our boy Gideon here! Why, this shall be a very Merry Christmas! Tell me how you ran into Gideon though. The last we heard, that Captain Hamilton was dead-set on escorting him here himself, even though it meant he would have to miss Christmas with his own family?"
William looked a little uncomfortable as he recalled first running into Gideon and Captain Hamilton as it was purely an accident. In the wee sma's of the morning, William was plagued with the insomnia that haunted him since even before his days in the trenches. After making sure that his bride was soundly lulled to sleep by the rocking of the train, he dressed to visit the Club Car.
The hallway of the train had been dimly lit, and the club car was no different. The yellow lights flickers with the motion of the train, and he could see that there was no one else there but the bartender, two soldiers, and himself. He ordered a glass of port and labored to think of pleasurable things such as his bride rather than… other things. His eyes slowly began to focus on one of the soldiers, thinking he looked somewhat familiar as he played cards with his companion. He shook his head, knowing that he left the war long before those men could have joined. He stared out into the vast darkness of the night, wishing he could sleep as easily as Amelia, then admonished himself because he knew that she didn't usually sleep easily at all. He wondered if either of them ever would. That scar from the war hurt him more than the phantom pains of his left arm ever did.
He felt a pair of eyes staring at him, actually feeling the burn upon his cheek. That one fellow, the sickly-looking one that seemed need to catch his breath quite often was staring straight at him, whispering something; something that sounded very much like, "Bertie?"
William wondered how it was that this sickly soldier knew about Bertie. It seemed highly unlikely that their paths would have crossed. Yet he could still hear the chap saying his cousin's name aloud, as if he was trying to convince himself of what he saw. William shifted uncomfortably in his seat shielding, as always, where he lost his arm. He wished and even prayed that the soldier would quit saying Bertie's name. Didn't someone, some higher being, know what torture boiled within his very soul as they neared the home where Albert grew up and the place he found his eternal rest? He didn't want to go to Dovedale, but then he did as well. He was drawn there unmistakably, as was Amelia. They wanted so to be near family their first Christmas as man and wife, they both preferred the company of George, Abigail, John, and especially Katie and Aunt Lizzie as compared to their Fitzwilliam cousins in Ottawa. The Fitzwilliam children were a rambunctious lot, to say the least, but they preferred to spend the holiday with more kindred kin. Also, both desperately wished to visit a certain cross-marked grave.
Still yet, the soldier was calling Bertie's name, and William decided that it was time to take his leave. He started for the door when the soldier walked up to him and grabbed for his left arm, but there was no arm to grab in the loose sleeve of his jacket.
"Bertie?" the soldier asked, confused by William's lack of a left arm. William turned to face the soldier, but the soldier knew by his eyes that it wasn't Bertie.
"Quite sorry old man, you must have me mistaken for someone else," he tried to curtly say in his decidedly English accent. "My name is William, not Bertie. William Darcy, to be exact," he forced a smile and held his hand out to the man, hoping to stave him off.
The soldier looked at his, staring deep into his eyes and over every millimeter of his being. The poor fellow looked to be coming down with that dreadful influenza, and William wanted nothing more than to wash. The soldier wouldn't let go of his hand though.
"Will Darcy? I've not seen you in probably seven or eight years! Don't you remember me from your visit to Dovedale with Albert the summer before you started Cambridge? It's me, Gideon MacGowan, Bertie and Katie's friend from Oklahoma!"
William breathed a sigh of relief knowing that he wasn't really faced with a mad man. "Gideon, I remember you! You always would catch the biggest fish in that river alongside my Uncle's property!"
Gideon laughed a little nervously. "You must've been scared out of your wits by my calling you Bertie. Goodness though, the resemblance is uncanny."
"I'm sad to say that I've not the ease Albert had in social situations though. Please have a seat and introduce me to your friend. I'll order a round of drinks for all of us."
Gideon laughed but with less anxiety. "I'll have a seat with you sir, but I'll only take a water. I made a promise to my Daddy years ago that I would never touch alcohol, and I aim to keep that promise."
"Yes, your father's the evangelical minister, is he not? Is he as adamantly against alcoholic beverages as my Aunt?"
"My father is a go-preacher, but he's not quite as Carrie A. Nation as Mrs. Darcy. It won't matter soon anyway, I've heard that in the new year Congress plans to ratify an Amendment on Prohibition in the new year."
William thought that in the long run, Prohibition would probably fail in the United States, but kept his opinions silent as Gideon introduced Captain Hamilton to him. The three men talked until the sun began to peak through the grayish blue clouds that lined the eastern horizon. By the time that William returned to Amelia, he and Gideon had managed to talk Captain Hamilton into going on home to Atlanta as William and Amelia would accompany Gideon back to Dovedale. William was touched by Hamilton's devotion to Gideon, but understood the brotherhood that was bonded inside the trenches.
As George asked William again how they managed to run into Gideon, the two men's eyes met. William answered his uncle with a condensed version of the tale. He didn't wish to further hurt any of his relations by mentioning the parts about Albert.
Katie yawned and announced that she was ready to call it a night. Johnny was quickly at her side, and both started up the stairs of Dovedale.
"Aren't you two going to The Little House?" Ginny asked.
"We had Job move your things in there and ours into Katie's old room while we were away today, Ginny. We all think you, Gideon, and Jacob should get to spend some time alone together," Johnny told her as his wife continued up the stairs with a sly smile.
Suddenly a new fear crept into Gideon's breast. "I've never slept in the same house as a baby before? What will I do if he cries tonight? Will he be warm enough? The wind is howling outside. What does he eat? Are there plenty of diapers?"
Ginny placed her hand upon his neck, instantly calming him. "Jacob has slept through the night since he was four-months old. The Little House is plenty warm, we have enough diapers for five babies, and he's started eating bits of solid food."
His worried eyes softened as Ginny reassured him. It was amazing how she managed raising their son for so long without him. She handed the boy to his father, and this time he didn't scream as he had when Gideon first picked him up at the train station. He nestled his soft little head underneath Gideon's chin and started to fall asleep. Gideon knew then that he wanted a houseful more just like him. "Good night all. We'll see tomorrow after Santa has come," Ginny joked as they made their way out the door, stopping underneath the mistletoe for a moment's bliss.
He held the tiny, swaddled forms in each hand, gazing at them in pure adoration. He didn't entirely know what to think of them or of himself with them in his life. In a few short hours everything in his life changed entirely once again. He looked down at them, in their perfect, little innocent forms and pondered a great many things. Certainly life would allow him this brief time for consideration of such weighty things. He hoped that it would, though every remembered experience of his life caused him to wonder if things ever would remain calm long enough for reflection. As he held his children in his arms, he yearned for that time of contemplation. Something inside of him longed to think thoughts beyond the deep and above the veil. A stirring of verse welled inside of him, though he knew not the words that threatened to bubble forth and had no free hand with which to pen them. So he took this quiet moment to only contemplate everything that he had had no chance to ponder in the last year.
With Gideon home, things slowly began to ease into what they believed would be a form of normalcy. Too much had changed since August of 1914 for things to return to the normal everyone once knew. So, they soon realized that they each had to pick up from where they stood, and look at the world with fresh eyes. Everything did seem so different. The innocence of the entire world was ripped away by the war. No longer could people tell themselves that wars were a thing of the past. The Armistice had been signed, and it seemed that the great powers of the world were on their way to create a League of Nations, but still yet there was unease.
January of 1919 had been cold, bitterly so. The wind seemed to scream across the dismal sky, and a silent enemy lurked among the shadows. Every so often, they would hear of another acquaintance suddenly taken away by the reaper known as death. There were rumors of entire towns quarantined; ravaged by the deadly influenza. These things frightened everyone associated with Dovedale, but after having been frightened throughout four years of war, they merely believed it to be a part of normal life.
Winter melted away into spring with relative ease. After a long visit, the newlyweds, William and Amelia, departed for their tour through North America. Gideon started working for an automobile dealership that George acquired out of curiosity and made enough of a success of it that he and Ginny purchased Mrs. Cole's house after she went to her final rest. Dovedale seemed empty without Ginny's playing of the piano when Katie was not, Gideon's rumbling laughter, and most importantly Jacob's squeals of babyish delight. A new hope occupied Katie's dreams though, and as the year progressed, the entire family began to anticipate the coming winter months.
In the autumn though, a situation arose at Darcy Oil that required George to stay in Tulsa for an extended amount of time. Not wanting to be parted from her husband for any amount of time, Abigail left with him. Believing that the worst of the influenza epidemic was over, they confidently left Dovedale in the capable hands of Johnny, Katie, and Aunt Lizzy hoping to be home for good by Christmastime.
The day George and Abigail Darcy left Dovedale was the last time their family ever saw them alive. A strain of influenza ran rampant in Tulsa in late 1919, and both suddenly came down with it. Within a matter days, both were gone, passing away within hours of each other. Their daughter didn't even know they had been ill until their attorney arrived on her doorstep in late November.
"Mr. Manning, what can I do for you?" Katie asked with a confused look about her face.
The trepidation on his face was evident, and he looked about the front of Dovedale for signs of someone else,” Hello Katherine. May I come inside?"
"Y-yes, of course Mr. Manning. My husband's up in the garret gathering Christmas decorations and won't let me lift a thing. What brings you here to the middle of nowhere, Mr. Manning? Surely you know my father is in Tulsa as I'm sure you've been in regular contact with him. Has he sent you here?"
Mr. Manning wiped his brow with a handkerchief. He hated to be the bearer of bad news. "Ms. Katherine, could you call your husband? I think you should both hear this news together."
Katie scrutinized his face carefully, and knew that something wasn't right. With a shaking voice she called, "Johnny, could you please come downstairs? Mr. Manning is here with some news." He could tell by the quaking of her voice that something was terribly wrong and was correct. He could barely contain his own tears as he held her after Mr. Manning told her the grim news of her parents' passing.
Gideon and Ginny were summoned, and Johnny watched as his wife retreated into herself, unable to grieve. Losing Albert had been a terrible blow, but losing both of her parents was beyond explanation. It was too painful for her even to process, and so she didn't at all, not even when William and Amelia returned, cutting their honeymoon short. They buried her parents next to Albert, as Katie watched with an emotionless face. Christmas was all but forgotten that year at Dovedale, and the New Year only seemed bleak and empty. Katie was only a shell of her old self, she spoke only on occasion, and mostly just quietly kept to herself. Then the snowstorm hit. It was said to be the storm of the century, but the century was still young and working the birth pains of war, famine, and revolution. There would be other storms that were far worse, but this storm in the early days of the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and twenty had all the appearance of its moniker.
Ginny and Jacob spent day and night at Dovedale so that Ginny could be of any service to the grieving family and because she too felt the loss of George and Abigail. They had been the parents that she needed when her father disowned her. They gave her a roof over her head and took Jacob in as their grandson. She cried the tears that Katie seemed unable to shed while Gideon prayed for them all in the background.
Inevitably Ginny and Jacob were warm inside Dovedale when the snow first began to fall that thirteenth day of January. At first it was just intermittent, little flakes that only stuck to the window pane for a moment before melting. Then gradually over time, the flakes grew larger, falling with increased rapidity, and as Amelia watched from the picture window in the parlor of Dovedale, they began to stick to the ground. The wind began to whip and whirl along the hillsides, making eerie whining noises as it rushed across the eaves. The family gathered around the dinner table for an afternoon meal more to pass the time than to fight a hunger that was not there. Mostly they wanted to see if Katie would eat.
Her normally voracious appetite that had grown exponentially in the previous nine months waned considerably after the news of her parent's death. At just such a time as this, she should have been gaining large amounts of weight and glowing with a light that only one thing can ignite. She wasn't glowing though. Her skin was pale and dull, and there was only a faint light about her eyes. She knew all the reasons she should have been glowing, but the pain of what she had lost was just too great.
Everyone else talked of the weather, the political climate in the United States, the United Kingdom, and all other reaches of the globe, and each slipped hints of despite everything, a bright future. Sure enough, both Amelia and Ginny had the glow that Katie lacked, but they couldn't share theirs with her. She had to find it within herself and within the hope she held for a better tomorrow. She realized this as she absently stirred her soup with her spoon. Her mother always fed her and her brother soup on a cold winter's day such as this when they were children. She was the last of them left; the last of their happy little family of four. It all seemed far too real for her to deal with, and she wondered where her childhood disappeared to. When did she cross that line from mothered to mother, or at least mother-to-be? Why was it that she had to face her impending motherhood without hers? Why couldn't her parents have seen the grandchild they needed so desperately to heal their wounded hearts? Why had they too been stripped from her life so coldly?
She quickly glanced up at Johnny. He'd been her rock, though he too was hurting profusely. He had every reason to be angry with her for her funk; for the way she was neglecting her health and other things, but he was only patient, kind, and loving. Johnny couldn't be anything but those things, she surmised. She glanced at William and Amelia, who had cut short their honeymoon trip and were now prolonging their stay because they were concerned for her welfare. Aunt Lizzy was to return with them, whenever they did go home. Thank heavens they hadn't whisked her away yet. She looked at Ginny who was there, always there when she should have been keeping her own house, preparing from her own little joy again. They were all there for her. They had been for weeks and weren't going to go away until they knew she would be fine. Albert and her parents wouldn't want her to waste away. So she decided to try, for them, for the one she couldn't see but whose presence was most felt.
"I wish I was able to go sledding. This snow looks perfect for sledding down Wild Horse Hill, once the wind dies down." she stated in an almost Katie-like tone.
Everyone's eyes focused on her. That was the liveliest thing she had said in ages, and they were afraid that it wouldn't last. "You can sled with your child, maybe after some other snow," Aunt Lizzy told her with a pat to the hand.
"Yes," Johnny added, "the three of us can do it together. We'll start a tradition for our family."
"I'd like that," she answered with a smile, and a collective sigh was heard across the room. "I suppose I should start living again. I do have much to live for. You've all been so patient with me – too patient. Someone should have lost their temper with me ages ago. I…" she stopped talking and winced in pain. Johnny and William jumped up to assist her. Her eyes grew large and round. "I think I should go upstairs, soon. Cletus (the nickname George had given his grandchild upon hearing of its impending birth) wishes to set me straight."
As Johnny and William helped Katie upstairs and Amelia and Aunt Lizzy tried to make her comfortable, Ginny called for the doctor, but the telephone line was dead. William came back downstairs to find Ginny pale and visibly worried.
"Is the doctor on his way here?" He asked in his all to calm and cool manner.
"The telephone line is dead. I can't reach the doctor."
"Then someone must go bring him here then. Katherine needs a doctor. Too many complications can arise," his calm veneer was beginning to crack.
Ginny gritted her teeth in frustration, "I'm well aware of the complications that can occur when a woman gives birth, Mr. Darcy. My own mother passed away giving birth, and I have experienced the joy and pain myself. However, I can't repair the telephone lines."
"Yes, my apologies Mrs. MacGowan. I'm only concerned for the health of my cousin and her child. We've lost too many Darcys in recent years, and I don't believe that any of us can bear to lose Katherine. She's a light in our family, you know, and she talked some sense into me when I returned from the front. I owe her my life, especially since I was unable to save Albert's." He stared out the window into the blizzard like conditions and surmised, "I suppose that I must find a horse and ride to find the doctor. John surely can't leave now. His place is with his wife."
Ginny wanted to protest, but knew that someone had to go get the doctor. Surely this man from northern England could withstand this storm. The door flew open at that time though, and in entered an almost frozen Gideon. His eyebrows were frozen white, and his skin was flushed from wind burn and the beginnings of frost bite, but he brought news of the outside.
"I don't know how I made it here. There are snow drifts all along the way. The trains have stopped. The roads are impassable. It looks like we'll all be bedding down here for a while." He noticed the anxious glances between Ginny and William, "Why the long faces? What is happening here?"
"Katherine has gone into labor, and we need a doctor, a midwife, someone to assist her," William informed him, demoralized and rather defeated.
Gideon shook his head, trying to convey the fact that he had to tell them, "No one can go out there, William. I know these hills and valleys like the back of my hand, and I got turned 'round too many times for my own comfort out there. We'll have to make due ourselves. It has been done before."
"Make due! Are you daft, man! There's an enormous woman upstairs without the care of her mother, on the verge of giving birth for the first time! To assist her, we have my wife though she too is expecting, has never assisted another woman in the birthing process and our elderly, maiden aunt! Things could not be more inconvenient for merely making due!"
Ginny laughed at the normally unflappable man's venture into panic. "You seem to forget, sir that I am no maiden and have in fact given birth to my own child. Now, I will admit something to you that not many people are aware of. That's partially due to the fact that my father expressly forbade me from doing so, but when he would be away for weeks at a time for work, I would assist dear old Mrs. Cole with some of her midwife duties with some of the less social people living in the hills. Though no expert, and far from being an acclaimed physician, I think that I can assist her with the help of Amelia and Aunt Lizzy."
The veil of weight obviously dropped from William's face, "Mrs. MacGowan, let me tell you how ardently I admire you this moment. Might I ask why you've waited until now to inform me of this?"
Maddie started to make her way upstairs, and told him quite honestly, "Because there was no time, sir, and you have been quite out of your senses. I honestly hope that you are safely ensconced at Pemberley before Amelia's time arrives."
William scowled somewhat at Ginny's adoring husband and decided, "If she wasn't such a dear, your wife would be the most insufferable woman on the face of the Earth!" causing Gideon to burst into uproarious laughter before taking William to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
In the wee sma's, when windswept stars dances above deep white drifts of snow, a certain weary stork flew over the mountains and alongside a sleeping, frozen river on his way from the Land of Evening Stars. Under his wings were tucked two sleepy, starry-eyed, little creatures. The stork was tired, and he looked wistfully about him. He knew he was somewhere near his destination, but he could not yet see it. A plume of chimney smoke billowed from a snow-covered house of sod that had its good points; but no stork possessed of any gumption would leave a new, velvet baby there. An old gray house, surrounded by winter barren willows and mimosas, in the icy river valley, looked more promising, but did not seem quite the thing either. The ashes of a formerly magnificent abode further on were manifestly out of the question. Then the stork brightened up. He had caught sight of the very place — a good-sized log house nestled against the big, whispering woods, with a spiral of blue smoke winding up from its kitchen chimney — a house which just looked as if it were meant for babies. The stork gave a sigh of satisfaction, and softly alighted on the ridge-pole.
Half an hour later, Aunt Lizzy glided downstairs to make an announcement to the three gentlemen who were awaiting any news at all. She found the new father, staring out into the icy night, and gently shook his shoulder. "You may go upstairs now, Johnny. Your wife has something quite spectacular to show you."
Johnny's grey eyes hard dark circles around them and his skin looked as pale as the newly fallen snow. He hadn't noticed the excited twinkle that lit Aunt Lizzy's eyes; he only remembered hearing the screams, the sound of a baby's cry, and then what sounded like utter commotion upstairs. He remembered the birth of Jacob, who was sleeping soundly in his father's arms by the fire. After his first cries, they were almost immediately told of his birth. Johnny had heard the baby's cry what seemed like ages before. What had caused the commotion? And why now were the cries so loud and pronounced? Was there something wrong with the child, or even Katie? His entire world was there upstairs in that precarious position of hovering over that line that separates this world from the next.
"Johnny," Aunt Lizzy shook his shoulder again, "did you hear me? Your wife has something she wants to show you – upstairs. It's time for you to go upstairs – with your wife."
Finally, what Aunt Lizzy wanted to tell him broke through the mire of fear, and he ran up the stairs, taking two at a time. Aunt Lizzy shook her head with joyful laughter. It was a good day for her family. Though two souls had been recently taken, two more were given. She sat next to William, who was drowsily reading over his Uncle's copy of "Tom Sawyer."
"William, the family tradition has continued with Katie," she proudly told him.
"What tradition is that, Aunt Lizzy?" She only smiled and tried to let him remember.
Upstairs, he found Katie, her pale face blanched with its baptism of pain, her eyes aglow with the holy passion of motherhood , weakly sitting up in the bed that now was theirs. Johnny was so relieved to find her well and content he hardly noticed whatever it was that both Amelia and Ginny were doing on either side of the bed.
"Dearest, are you all right?" he asked, kneeling next to her and removing a stray, golden stand from her brow.
"Oh, Johnny! I'm quite all right! I'm wonderful! Look at them, aren't they the most beautiful creatures you've ever laid eyes upon?" she managed to exclaim in a rather hoarse voice.
"Them?" he asked. "They?" he cried aloud just as Ginny placed a squirming bundle in his right arm and Amelia placed another in his left. His jaw was askew and his eyebrows knit together into the most glorious furrow. "Twins?"
"Yes, twins Johnny. Like Grandfather and Aunt Lizzy, Uncle Edward and Aunt Elinor, and dear Bertie and me. We have a boy and a girl to fill our hearts with joy."
Ginny and Amelia wisely left mother and father, son and daughter alone. Ever so softly, Johnny sat next to his wife and handed her the child in his right arm. "Which is the boy, and which is the girl?" he asked as a rather large grin spread across his face.
"You dearest are holding our daughter. She is the one with the downy mane that will most definitely be red. Goodness, look at those large eyes and her clear, white skin! No Darcy has eyes quite that large nor skin quite so milky white. And look at that perfect little nose of hers. I've never seen such a perfectly shaped nose! She must take after your people."
"She must," Johnny quietly agreed as he studied his little girl for the first time.
"Our man-child here will have dark locks, and has your chin though he looks remarkable Darcy too."
"Whatever shall we name them?" Johnny asked. "We never got around to doing that before well…"
Katie tenderly cupped his face with a free hand. "Before my parents passed away. You can say it now, Johnny. This past day has shown me that there is still so much to live for. Why look at the hope for tomorrow we hold in our very hands!"
"Johnny looked at the little girl and knew what they should name her.” Katie, do you remember Albert calling us his hope? I think we should name our little girl Hope – Abigail Hope, in honor of your mother and because she is our hope."
"Hope. Hope Darcy. It has a nice ring to it, and she is our little Hope, isn't she. Why look at how she's buttoning her little eyes as she goes to sleep!"
The boy in Katie's arms gave a short cry in order to remind his parents that he was still in need of a name. Johnny gazed down at this creature that was his son and recited,
"So dear a life your arms enfold
Whose crying is a cry for gold:"-
The babe hushed as his father recited the two lines from Tennyson's "The Daisy", and his mother decided then, "Tennyson. I would like to name our boy Albert Tennyson. We can call him Tenny because to call him Albert or Bertie would hurt too much, though I want his name to live on. You know I fell in love with you because of your ability to recite Tennyson to me."
Johnny leaned over to give the woman whom held his heart a tender kiss. "Abigail Hope and Albert Tennyson. Hope and Tenny Darcy. Those names won't wear in washing, that's for certain.”
"That they certainly won't," Katie agreed before drifting off to sleep.
So that is how we now find Johnny, sitting in the quiet solitude of the winter's night alongside the window, holding the two swaddled babes in his arms, taking a moment to just absorb the wonder of it all. With only the silvery light of the stars and moon reflecting off the innocent snow, he gloated over his two babies all by himself. He recalled George Darcy's saying that he loved Katie and Bertie the moment he first set eyes upon them, and understood the sentiment even more. He thought of all the Darcys lined up in the Great Hall of Pemberley and looked for family resemblances in his children. Then he wondered of his own people, because as Katie pointed out both children, Hope especially, had qualities that were foreign to her family.
"I wonder whose eyes you have, O Daughter of mine? Is your red hair from your Grandmother Abigail, or did it come from somewhere else as well? Who gave you such a perfect little nose? Where did you learn the instinct to button those big eyes of yours? And you, my wee man, where did we get this chin of ours? Oh, and those ears, I have never seen such a set before, set so perfectly back against your precious head! Who am I, and who will you grow to be?
Little Hope unbuttoned her big, greyish green eyes and seemed to point outside with her dainty, little tapered finger. Johnny was unable to resist temptation and noticed a soldier in khaki and the young, pale woman with the red hair amongst the shadows of the night. They waved to him, and he waved in return. Tenny let out a cry again, taking Johnny's attention away from the two, and when he looked again they had disappeared into the shadows were they had been. He thought of a passage from the Book of Job, but turned it around, saying, "The Lord hath taken away, and the Lord gave. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
Certain passages from both Joy and Jem's births in Anne's House of Dreams were used in this chapter.
- Also, two lines from Tennyson's "The Daisy" were used.
The original of this is "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." from ob 1: 20-21 (KJV). I decided for Johnny (Walter) to take a different perspective of that passage in light of death and birth.
Albert Tennyson and Abigail Hope grew as each day passed in the same manner they had since God separated the light from the darkness and saw that it was good. They were talked to and loved and cuddled; and they throve as became children of Dovedale. William and Amelia were quite as foolish over them as Katie and Johnny were, and lost track of the days before Amelia was too far along to chance a trip across the ocean. In late March Tenny and Hope greeted their cousin, William Henry Albert Darcy into the world, though he was born with the aide of a doctor. In May, Jacob was given a sister named Madeline, though they called her Maddie, and Dovedale seemed to be brimming over with so many babies that little Jacob was quite beside himself.
Though the twin and little Wills were novelties to the two year old, it had always been good to go home at the end of a visit to Dovedale and have his Mama and Daddy to himself. Now that loud baby sister of his took some of their attention away from him, and he didn't like it. He supposed she was pretty, in the manner any toddler can, but he didn't think she was nearly as interesting looking as baby Hope with her big eyes and vibrant tufts of hair, but those are thoughts and feelings that will be left to another time.
When spring grew older and young Wills was deemed old enough to travel across country and ocean, Dovedale said goodbye to William, Amelia, Wills, and Aunt Lizzy. It had been three years since Aunt Lizzy had returned Katie to Dovedale with Johnny, and though she was loathe to leave Katie and Johnny, she knew it was more than time to return home to Derbyshire . She was slowly beginning to feel her age, and had bid eternal goodbyes to far to many loved-ones. Her heart longed for her own home; to walk where her family walked.
There were no tears at this parting though. All parties involved agrees that enough tears had been shed for a great while. Only promises from Katie and Johnny that they would bring Tenny and Hope to Pemberley for a visit soon were given alongside kisses upon the downy heads of Tenny and Hope.
Time continued to lapse just as the train carrying the visitors rambled its way down the tracks, and for once everyone was truly happy. The twins, Tenny and Hope grew in stature alongside the children of Gideon and Ginny. Though Jacob and Maddie were eventually joined by another sister and brother, Tenny and Hope seemed to be the only children that Katie and Johnny were to be blessed with. There were a happy little family though, living together in the house of Dovedale and constantly revisiting the old haunts that another pair of twins often visited in their years of wonder and delight.
Dovedale was happily being filled with new, wonderful memories for Johnny, Katie, and their children to cherish such as the day when the twin took their first steps and said their first words.
“Johnny! Come quick! I think that Tenny is about to try and take his first steps!” Katie's voice called into the bedroom where he had been changing out of his work clothes.
He quickly ran into the living room where Katie was sitting in the floor and Tenny was standing up, holding onto the sofa. He was smiling, gray eyes sparking like polished platinum, and edging his way into his Mama’s waiting arms.
Tenny looked to his Daddy and almost decided to go to him instead, but Katie was determined to be the first person to whom he ran. “Come on, Tenny. Come to Mama. That’s a good boy. Come on,” she cheered as he gradually toddled his way to her. As he walked to his mother, Tenny’s steps became more and more wobbly, yet he made it all the way to her arms before collapsing into their loving safety. He let out yells and gurgles of joy as she smothered him with kisses, letting him know how proud she was. Hope was watching this show of adoration between mother and son, and furrowed her brow immensely. Even at only ten months of age, Hope didn't like to be outdone by her twin brother. She was ten minutes older anyway.
Her father couldn’t help but take notice at his daughter’s obvious jealousy over her brother getting so much attention. He walked over to his little fiery tot and scooped her up into his sturdy arms.
“What can be so bad that Daddy’s little Prairie Princess has to make such an awful face?” he asked, kissing her downy soft forehead.
A father's love can always soothe the troubled soul, and Hope decided at that moment to reward her father with a milestone of her own. “Daa-ddy,” the baby sweet voice said aloud.
“Did you hear that, Katie-girl? She said, Daddy! That was her first word, and it was Daddy!” he exclaimed, holding the girl close to him.
The baby girl knew she was being praised, so she repeated herself, over and over again, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” Then Tenny decided to join in on the fun. “Daaa-diieee!” he cried out.
Katie picked him up, staring into his eyes as he chanted along with his sister, “Oh, no, not you too! One of you needs to say Mama. Can you say Mama, Tenny?” she asked the boy, and he had the sheer orneriness to shake his head, “no” and smile.
“Well, I never!” the exasperated mother declared in defeat. Her husband could only laugh from the utter joy of the moment.
As the children grew, so did the memories each day created, for once they were walking and talking Hope and Tenny prohibited life from becoming dull. A go-preacher with even more fire and brimstone in his fists than Brother MacGowan came to the area for a tent revival, and Ginny played piano and sang with a gospel quartet. Before the preaching began one night, the quartet played such a happy, stirring rendition of "I'll Fly Away" that little Hope started to do a very un -Baptist-like thing and danced a happy little jig, causing the stares of many old and faithful and the utter embarrassment of her twin. That was until the evangelist reminded them that King David danced before the Lord at the return of the Ark of the Covenant. Still yet, Katie wondered and Gideon teased that Johnny's people must certainly be holy rollers.
Of course Tenny created his own sensations from time to time. There was one evening not much after the revival when Katie was hosting the Women on Mission group, and the twins were supposed to be asleep. Instead they were playing "Jacob Marley" under the covers when old Barnabas descended upon the window sill and gave a hoot frightening Tenny so much that he flew downstairs screaming at the top of his lungs that demons were going to drag him to the fiery pits of hell. It was about that time that Katie decided that the twins shouldn't go to any more tent revivals until they were older.
Johnny and Katie were very happy with their two dear children, but Johnny however was no businessman, and though Darcy oil did not falter under his leadership, he longed to be home with his wife and children. To him though, it was an impossibility to sell George Darcy's legacy to his children and grandchildren. So he trudged along, believing this was what Katie would do; not knowing that she too wished he would sell the business. She and the children missed him terribly when he was away on business, and he was away far too often it seemed.
This ended when the twins were around a year and a half old, and Johnny was home to witness things like Hope's dance and Tenny's tear. In 1921, the racial powder keg that was Tulsa erupted into riots in the Greenwood area. Johnny was in town at that time for work, and reports returning to Dovedale were sketchy at best. Katie had never felt any fear like that she felt in those tumultuous days. Johnny returned when all was said and done, no worse for wear but with a decidedly bitter taste upon his mouth. Though quite relieved that he was never in any sort of danger, it bothered him greatly that the trouble had been solely in a prominent colored neighborhood.
Katie had had enough losing loved ones, and knew that if she lost Johnny she would lose herself too. The Greenwood riots were merely the excuse she had been looking for to bring up selling the company. So one evening, she had a long heart to heart with Johnny, and together they made the mutual decision to sell Darcy Oil to Dexter Burton for enough money to make sure that both Tenny and Hope never had to work unless they wanted to. At first Johnny was reluctant to part with the family company until Katie explained that George had never wanted to own an oil empire, he only wanted to farm the land and raise his family. While Johnny was little more a farmer than a businessman, he was able to do just what George had always wanted.
The summer after the twins turned four, Katie and Johnny took an extended visit to Derbyshire, so that Grandfather Henry could gloat over all of his great-grandchildren. They spent several months with their Darcy family, recalling the happier times they spent there together before Arras. When they returned, the spring flowers were beginning to sprout, Hope and Tenny were a year older, and Katie and Johnny were expecting another bundle to love and cherish.
One evening the happy couple took advantage of a fair day leaving the twins with the MacGowans to play while they took a drive up to Grand Lake for a relaxing picnic. They rambled about the shore, together in a manner shared only between loving couples, and looked forward to the day when they would have all three and possibly more children running about Dovedale. It was a perfect day, and Johnny felt on the verge of conjuring a bit of verse when they were blind-sighted by a truck. The last thing Johnny saw before his head slammed into the steering wheel was Katie's body flying out of the car. Then everything faded to black.
Comfort and Joy Chapter 35
"And so goodnight. We go over the top at dawn."
Walter Blythe awoke with a resounding ache in his head, and those last words he wrote to Rilla repeated in his head. Slowly he opened his eyes to find that he was the last place he expected to be; a clean bed in what appeared to be a hospital. It was definitely a far cry from the mud and blood soaked No Man's Land, which is where he thought he would be. Wherever he was smelled so very sterile as compared to the stench that permeated throughout the trenches of the Western Front that his nose burned. He cracked open his eyes a bit to be blinded by bright sunshine streaming from a window. The brightness caused him to flinch, thus garnering the attention of the man sitting in a chair next to him.
"Johnny? Are you awake? Come on, old friend. Wake up! We need to you wake up… soon," the man told him while gently tapping his cheek.
"Johnny?" Walter asked in a confused haze. He wondered where he had heard that before. It sounded very familiar to him. He reopened his eyes to see the man who did look very familiar to him and told him, "You must have me mistaken sir with someone else. My name's Blythe, Private Walter Cuthbert Blythe of the 1'st Canadian Infantry Division. Where am I?"
The man sat down as if to steady himself. "Walter?" he asked quietly. "You say your name is Walter Blythe from Canada?"
"Yes sir, Prince Edward Island, Canada to be exact; a little town called Glen St. Mary. My father's the local doctor there. I was a student at Redmond University before I joined up last year."
"Last year?" the man asked. "What's the last thing you remember, Mr. Blythe?"
"Walter's head ached as he recalled, "I remember going over the top at dawn to take over Courcelette. Things were bad straight from the beginning. We were using those new tanks. They were supposed to lead the way, making it safer for us. They moved too slowly, and caused more confusion than good, though in the end, I suppose the objective was obtained. We fought hard to get what little ground we obtained. The Germans were well entrenched there, and our artillery hadn't cleaned it all out."
"We were advancing fairly well, though the Huns gave us as much as we gave them. By eight in the morning, we had made it to the Sugar Factory. I knew what time it was because the church bells were ringing, or whatever was left of them was. That was when I saw my friend Tommy fighting hand to hand with a German. The German had the edge on Tommy and managed to shoot him in the chest. I screamed and ran to him. Tommy fell to the ground. I knocked the gun from the German's hands and we wrestled on the ground."
"A blind anger took over me. I suppose that anger was what kept me alive as long as it did. He tried to choke me with my dog tags; thankfully, they broke off my neck. The release allowed me to grab my knife and finished the German. I killed him, you know? I took that boy's life. I didn't want to kill him, but I had to. I saw the light go out in his eyes." Remorse coursed through his soul and he openly began to weep at the recollection.
The man patted his back, "We all did things then that we're not particularly proud of. What else do you recall?"
"I ran back to Tommy, who was shaking violently and complaining of it being so cold. There was nothing cold about the weather on that day. I knew my friend was dying. I wrapped my coat around him. I tried to carry him to an ambulance but there was too much artillery fire and smoke and I couldn't see where I was going. Then a shell exploded somewhere, and everything went black. The next thing I recall is waking here."
The man sighed, contemplating whether or not to call for a doctor or a nurse. Finally he asked, "Do you not remember anything from the last eight and a half years, Mr. Blythe?"
"Eight and a half years?" Walter asked – the pounding in his head growing louder and louder. "Have I been here all that time?"
The man shook his head. "No, no sir, you've only been here for a few hours. You were in an automobile accident."
Walter thought hard about this information and told the man, "Yes, it's rather foggy, but I seem to recall hitting my head on the steering wheel just after seeing someone fly out of the car. That someone's my wife, isn't she?" Walter asked as the fog slowly began to clear in his head. "Gideon!" he exclaimed, remembering the man next to him. "You're Gideon!" You're married to Ginny, and you have four children. I'm married! I'm married to Katie, and we have a son and a daughter." Walter stopped for a moment, then suddenly said, "Hope looks like my mother! She acts like her too! She's not a hop-out- of-kin. We're expecting another child too." His eyes grew dull and serious as he asked Gideon this next question, "Tell me Gideon, what happened to Katie – to the baby? Where are they?"
Gideon was thrilled that his friend had not forgotten him and more importantly Katie and the children. "Katie's…" she didn't know how to tell Johnny – Walter this. It tore him up emotionally to have to be the one to do it, but he had to. "Katie's in a bad way, John er, I mean Walter. She's in a real bad way. You know she was thrown from the car?"
Walter nodded, and Gideon continued to tell him the details of Katie's injuries. "Well, she landed on her left side, and broke her leg in two places, her arm, her shoulder, and a couple of ribs."
"Can I see her?"
"She's in surgery right now, Jo-Walter. There's some complications with the baby." Gideon didn't know exactly how to say the rest, so he just offered his condolences and stayed with his distraught friend until the doctor came to examine him. A little while later, Walter was told to take it easy for several days, but that he was free to go home. Home was the last place Walter wanted to be without Katie. He had so much that he wanted to tell her, but even when she made it through the surgeries, yes surgeries, she was expected to remain unconscious for a length amount of time.
Ginny, somewhere – at some point Ginny had appeared, urged him to go home to rest and see Tenny and Hope. He refused though. He dared not leave Katie's side, lest she awake. Her face – her angelic face had been the first site his eyes had seen when he awoke after Courcelette, and he was determined that his face would be the first she would see when she awoke – if she awoke.
She seemed so pale and small in that starched, white hospital bed. She always had been just a slender slip of a thing with a figure that he had to acknowledge was "light and pleasing." Now she only seemed frail; such a fragile little thing. She was but a faerie, a nymph, no she always was so much more than that to him. She was everything, and everything had suddenly become such a broader term with the return of his memories – his identity. He would trade every last memory of Rainbow Valley and the Harbour Light just to see her green eyes shine again.
Somehow Ginny knew to bring a copy of Tennyson for Walter to read to Katie as she slept her deep slumber. He didn't need the text though, the words had never left him though he never recited with as much emotion as he did at Katie's bedside. With every verse, every meter of rhyme he shed salty tears upon the bedside, awaiting his Elaine to awaken.
Sometimes tears are the heart's prayers that the body is too weak to voice, and Walter's tears were heard that night. Something stirred in the bed as Walter cried. He heard a low moan and lifted his face just in time to see the brilliance of her eyes once they opened. Brilliant they were, but with a more ethereal brilliance than he had ever before seen.
In a hoarse whisper she asked, "Why does my love have tears in his eyes?"
"They're tears of joy upon seeing you awake, my dear," he answered between sobs. "I have so much to tell you, and so much love for you at the same time that my cup runneth over."
Katie studied his face and knew that something about him had changed. "You remember now, don't you?"
He kissed her forehead softly, "I remember everything. I remember my name. I remember my mother and father, all of my brothers and sisters, Susan who helped in the house, I remember the house's name, and I even remember the names of the cat."
"Names?" Katie asked.
"Yes, names. Some days he was Dr. Jekyll and some he was Mr. Hyde. So, we called him both."
"Do you remember anyone else?" she asked. "Someone with haunting eyes, perhaps?"
"You, my Katiest of Katies are the only love my heart has truly known. I had close friends and infatuations, but never was there anyone but you. It truly was Providence that crossed our paths in war-torn France," he honestly told her.
"What then is your name? Johnny never really suited you at all – it just stuck."
"My name is Walter Cuthbert Blythe."
Katie looked him over as if in a new light, "Walter. That suits you ever so much more than Johnny. Yes, Walter. It seems to match those lovely eyes of yours. Blythe isn't a terrible surname either. Katie Blythe. Hope Blythe. Tenny Blythe. Walter Blythe. It all sounds perfectly conjured – like out of a book."
"Can you tell me how you feel, dearest?" Walter asked, noticing a wince of pain after she took a deep breath.
Then suddenly Katie knew that things were far from fine, "I'm sore and hurt what feels like all over my body and inside. Breathing hurts, and I feel empty. "Walter," she whispered imploringly, "the baby–is all right–isn't it? Tell me–tell me."
Walter was a long while in turning round; then he bent over Katie and looked in her eyes. Ginny, listening fearfully outside the door, heard a pitiful, heartbroken moan, and fled to Gideon's arms where they wept together.
Walter and Katie sat a long while in tearful silence thinking of the child they never knew. Then with a sudden rush of determination, Katie announced, "I can't think of this right now. It-it hurts too much, and everything seems to hurt too much. Please, please Walter tell me all about your life before the war. Tell me of your family, your friends, and your dreams. I get to fall in love with you all over again it seems."
"Well, only because you want me to. I've never been fond of talking about myself. Now my older brother, Jem, he is a little more known for bragging. Jem's given name is James Matthew, he's a year older than me. Then there are the twins, Anne, called Nan so as not to confuse her with my mother, and Di, short for Diana. See, even I have twins in my family. My mother always assumed that was her lot in life. After the twins is Shirley, the little brown boy – though I assume he's not so little any longer. Last, but never least is Bertha Marilla, called Rilla. I had a pet name for her, Rilla-my-Rilla. The six of us had a fairly idyllic childhood, but who wouldn't with a home like Ingleside, and a father and mother like ours we couldn't help being happy."
"You will love me even more when you learn who my mother is. She is none other than Anne Shirley-Blythe, the authoress of "Kindred Sprits and Bosom Friends," your favorite book as a girl."
"Katie laughed a weak little laugh, and said, "You're not serious."
He gave her his most serious of all looks, "I'm very serious. The book is basically an autobiography of her early life."
"She didn't really break a slate over…"
"My father's head?" he answered for her. "Yes, she did. She was known in Avonlea for her temper, but that quelled quite a bit before we children cam along, at least it did for us."
He recounted all he could of his family's history; of his mother's time as an orphan, or his father's pursuit of his mother and to become a doctor. He had just finished telling her of Rilla's showing up at Ingleside with a war-baby in a soup tureen when he noticed that she had fallen into an uneasy sleep. He found that the doctor was waiting for him outside the room and slowly left her side, noting the grave look upon the doctor's face. He openly wept as he was told the prognosis was anything but good and that it was best to prepare for the worst.
On hearing the doctor's prognosis, Walter fled the hospital. This news was too much for him to bare, and he sought solace anywhere, but couldn't find it. He was lost because he knew he was losing her. Just as she refused to think about the baby they had lost, he refused to believe that she was lost. It was beyond consideration. The world just simply could not exist without Katie in it.
He returned to the hospital to find Katie awake and speaking with a nurse who had her reddish-brown hair neatly pulled back beneath her cap. Katie was smiling and obviously enjoying the company of this nurse. The nurse turned to him, and her eyes seemed very familiar to him. Her snow-white skin seemed almost to glow in the yellow haze of the gas lights. Walter laughed inwardly as he recalled an ongoing joke he and Katie had shared about the hospital that still used gas to light its rooms. How many more laughs would they share together? Suddenly everything seemed final in the knowledge that his days with Katie were numbered.
The nurse left them alone together, and Walter was amazed that Katie's eyes still held a radiance, and she still seemed happy. It was as if Joy had come to visit her. After he kissed her hello though, he face turned serious, and he noticed that she was flushed with fever.
"Walter, I think you should contact your family. I think that you and the children will be needing them soon."
Taken loosely from Anne's House of Dreams.
Those last days in the hospital seemed to drag on forever, but later on Walter would look back and think that they passed by too quickly. Katie had always been a fighter. She always had been strong, and her body refused to give up the ghost without a fight. So the fight lasted far longer than it would have had she been a woman of weaker constitution. She knew what was awaiting her though. She had since Walter returned and found her with that one nurse; that mysterious nurse with the reddish-brown hair and striking, familiar eyes. They had shared a long, intimate conversation, and Katie accepted the hand that she was dealt with all the natural grace that was within her.
At first, she wanted to fight it completely. What young wife and mother wouldn't want to fight to remain with her husband and children? Her visitor explained things to her in such a way though that she knew to deny the truth would be more detrimental to her most beloved than to spend what remaining time there was preparing for the long separation.
The nurse seemed familiar to Katie, but she didn't know her from Adam. She wouldn't have known a great many people from Adam then though. She knew – she could feel that something was wrong. John – Walter left abruptly after speaking with the doctor. He wouldn't have done that unless he couldn't bare to see her because he had been given news that was too much for him to handle. She grew angry with him just then. She grew angry with God and everyone who lived to a ripe old age, because she knew that she wouldn't. Her temper, though normally slow to flare, was ferocious, and in frustration she threw a glass of water with her hand that wasn't in a cast.
It was then that the nurse appeared out of nowhere.
She was calm and pristinely dressed in her white uniform. Her skin was creamy white – not unlike dear Hope's. Katie could tell this person wouldn't stand for tantrums. "Now Mrs. Blythe, you shouldn't be throwing things, causing them to shatter. That's no way to act."
"How am I supposed to act, nurse? I'm dying. I can feel it. That's why my husband fled. I'm dying and no one has the courage to tell me to my face."
The nurse calmly straighten Katie's bed covers. "Your husband will return in due time. It's a horrible thing to be told your life mate is terminally ill. Just think about it. You may be leaving him and those two dear children of yours, but when you get to where you're going, it'll seem like no time at all has passed until they join you. That's how your mother and father will feel when they see you again. That's how Albert feels. Walter, Hope, and Tenny – well, time is finite here, and what seems like nothing to you will seem an eternity to them. They all three will be without you for a very, very long time."
Katie's eyes grew close together as she scrutinized her nurse more and more. Though her hair had a great deal of brown in with the red, she looked almost exactly how Katie imagined Hope would when she grew up. What's more, this nurse seemed to have in intimate knowledge of her family, even facts that she had just learned herself.
"You called me Mrs. Blythe?"
"That is your name, isn't it?"
"Yes, yes I suppose that it is, but legally it still must be Darcy. Walter just remembered his name today. You know my parents are gone, and you know the names of my children and of my brother who…"
"Of your brother who is waiting to escort you to the other side?" the nurse asked while finishing Katie's sentence. "I know you very well. I've kept watch over you since the day you met my brother in France. I was even at your wedding and close by when the twins were born along with Albert. You know that a part of you will always be with them, don't you?" She asked Katie.
"You were at our wedding, weren't you? You spoke with Walter. You're his sister, aren't you?"
The nurse smiled, "I'm Joyce Blythe. My parents planned to call me Joy, I was their firstborn, but they only had that one day with me. Part of me remained here though. My mother kept up with me in her heart, and could almost hear my laughter through the years. I was with them the day that Jem went off to war, then Walter, then when Shirley joined the Air Corps, and every day in between and since. I've especially been near Walter as he took part in this extraordinary journey that was planned out for him. It was all part of a master design too. I'll be with him as Albert escorts you to the other side, and when his time comes, I'll be there too. Though in body, I had to leave my family, I was never too very far away. Neither shall you be."
"What will my babies do without their Mama?" Katie asked as tears started to flow from her eyes.
"They'll grow up in the bosom of their family. Walter will return home to Ingleside with them. They'll be loved and doted on a little more than their cousins even, because they thought that Walter was lost at Courcelette. With the love of their family, all three will eventually heal from this and they'll carry you with them forever."
"It really won't seem that long?"
"The blink of an eye. They'll accept this easier and heal easier if you accept it though."
The anger slowly abated in Katie's heart, and she longer was angry with anyone. For seven years she had been married to Walter. They were seven wonderful years, despite the trials and heartache. For five years she watched as her children grew. She would still be able to watch them. With her good hand, she clasped Joy's and asked of her, "Will you stay with me… until it's time? We are sisters, you know, and I have never been good at being alone."
Joy told her with that knowledge of things beyond, "I'll be with you every step of the way." That was how Walter found them, and though she gave the couple privacy, Joy never fully left Katie.
"Walter, I think you should contact your family. I think that you and the children will be needing them soon," Katie timidly told him.
Walter realized that Katie was aware that she was dying. A self-loathing worse than he ever felt after the sinking of the Lusitania overcame him. "I am a coward. You know, don't you? Did the doctor tell you after I ran away?"
Katie held her hand out to him and motioned for him to sit beside her. "No one had to tell me. I know my own body well enough to know that things are not good."
Tears formed in Walter's misty gray eyes, "I’m so sorry, Katie. I did this to you. You're paying the price for loving this horrible wretch. I should have at least had the courage to tell you myself, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't even imagine it, and I've never been able to face the things that I imagine."
"Walter, loving you has never led to any punishment. There was an accident. At least rather than taking me right away, we have this time together to prepare. You really do need to contact your family. They've been without you far too long, and they'll be good to you and the children after…"
"I already contacted family. I sent a telegram to Grandfather Henry, though Gideon sent one right after the accident. They're the only family we need right now. You need your family."
Katie's eyes began to glisten and with a prophetic glare, she told him, "Oh, but I have family all around, Walter! Those who've crossed before us are still with us in a manner. I won't even go by myself. Albert will be with me, and Joy."
"Yes, Joy. The sister you never knew. She was just in here, you know. She was at our wedding. You spoke with her. Don't you remember?"
Walter managed to laugh at the memory. "I have had so many other things on my mind." He pointed to the door and asked, "She was here just now?"
"Yes, but don't let on that you know its her. I don't think everyone would feel very comfortable knowing that a woman who died as an infant is walking the halls posed as a nurse."
"I would imagine not," Walter responded.
Katie yawned and told him, "I'm tired, Walter. I haven't the strength to remain awake very long…"
"Do go, not yet," he pled.
"Not yet, Walter. Not yet. Albert is not here yet. I'm just going to sleep. Have Ginny and Gideon bring the children. I want to spend as much time with them as possible, and I want them to know what's happening. I won't have my children shocked that one day Mama has disappeared. I want them to know I will always be with them."
"Yes," Walter answered the only thing he could say to the demands of his dying wife.
The next day, the sun shined brightly into the windows, and the white blossoms of the dogwood tree could be seen outside the window when they took Tenny and Hope in to see their mother. Though Tenny's eyes were wide, he was determined to put up a brave face despite his trembling lips. Hope was very upset to see her mother's arm and leg in casts and bandages, and was even more upset by how pale her mother appeared. She laid down next to her Mama and buried her little red head in her Mama's chest. Without really knowing, she knew her mother was leaving her.
Overcome by everything, Tenny crept outside his mother's hospital room and sat his little body up against the wall. He too knew what was happening, but his little nature fought against the urge to cry.
"You can cry, you know Tenny," a friendly nurse told him.
"No I can't. I must be brave for Daddy and Hope and especially my Mama. I must take care of them. They both feel things."
"You feel things too, don't you Tenny?" the nurse asked.
"Yes, I do, but it's different."
"It's not really different, Tenny. You love your mother very much, and you should spend this time with her while you can. It will be fine if you cry in front of her and the others. You should just be yourself with her. She wants to spend every second she can with you."
Tenny stood in a very erect manner for a lad so young, bravely marched himself back into the hospital room, crawled into the bed with his mother and sister, and cried as much as he needed to. He realized it did his mother good to dry his tears one last time as she looked to the friendly nurse and mouthed, "Thank you."
The days passed by in a blur, and though she grew progressively weaker, Katie remained with them long enough to greet her Grandfather and Jane thusly, "“Hello Grandfather. I want you to meet my husband, Walter Cuthbert Blythe.”
Thinking Katie delirious from the fever, he looked at her with anguished eyes. They explained how Walter regained his memory with the accident. Grandfather tried to make light of the manner by saying, "I'm quite thankful that you're no vagabond tramp, though I always had a feeling that you weren't, Walter."
"Thank you, Grandfather," Walter told him as he and Jane gave them a little time alone.
Katie's voice was hoarse as she told them, "I'm glad that you made it here before, well you know."
"Katie, you can fight this," Grandfather urged her.
Katie stiffly shook her head. "No, Grandfather, I can't. I've sustained to many injuries and infections. It's a miracle that I've lasted this long, but I believe that someone wants me to have all of my goodbyes."
Grandfather reached to soothe a strand of her golden hair and felt the fever that coursed through her cheekbones. Resignedly, he whispered, "Oh Katherine."
A day later as the sun slowly laid to rest in the eastern horizon, Katie kissed Hope and Tenny goodbye for the final time. Alone with Walter, as she struggled for breath they shared their goodbyes.
"I love you so much Katie. You've been the very fiber of my being. Now the children shall be that. You were my salvation in the deepest darkness. You've been my soul's mate. I can't tell you again how much I love you," he gently stroked her cheekbone that had grown cold.
"Walter, you've been both my comfort and my joy since the day you opened your eyes. Know that I am always with you, and our love is greater than the divide that is to be between us." They shared one last kiss for all eternity, as her eyes grew bright. "They're all here, Walter! Oh, Albert is here for me. Remember I love you."
She was gone. The curtain on Katherine Victoria Darcy Blythe's life fell for the final time.
Ginny sang "How Great Thou Art" with an unprecedented devotion. The infant grass was very soft and very green and swayed about in the wind alongside the lanky tulips and jonquils and the leaves of the willow tree. The sky was a cloudless azure, and the ground let out a fresh, "clean" scent as they lay Katie to rest between her brother and mother. On either side of Walter stood his own comfort and joy, his children, as they said goodbye and placed Forget Me Not roses on the heap of dirt that blanketed their beloved mother and wife.
Weeks later, they said their goodbyes to the MacGowans as they boarded the train to New York on their way to a new home. Young Jacob followed the car a distance, waving wildly at his friends, wondering if he would ever see them again.
With tear-stained eyes, Hope looked up to her father and asked, "Daddy, where are we going?"
Walter gather both children in his lap as Grandfather Henry and Jane looked on, "Let me tell you about a little boy name Walter, who was once, of a place called Ingleside."