Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Twenty Four

August 20, 2006

Okay, Paul and Gilly climbed the stairs together, and sent Polly and Meg to the extra room to sleep.

Gilly picked up her mending basket that she had left on the dresser, and Paul sat next to Doris and watched her sleeping.

By now, Doris's eyes were less swollen and her breathing was deep and regular. In repose, her face was gentle and young -- much like her mother's had been at that age. But the set of her mouth and chin was like her father's: some would say 'obstinate', but Gilly called it 'determined.'

Paul smoothed the blankets and pulled them back over his daughter's feet, then carefully untied his shoes and wriggled his toes in relief.

"You know, Gilly, there are some things I won't tell the children..."

Gilly nodded, and put a knot in a thread. Mumbling, she picked up a sock and felt around for her darning egg.

"Is there something in particular on your mind, Paul?"

He glanced at Doris to be sure she was fast asleep before moving the chair next to Gilly.

"Well, yes. I have a trunk full of notes and letters that weren't sent, and you can read through those later. There came a time, though, when I had lost hope of getting home, and I stopped writing."

**I stopped putting in quotes for Paul's story**

About three years into my journey, I was about five days' walk from what I thought was the land of my birth.

My original donkey had died, I suspect it was not able to adjust to the different grains it was getting in that place. Or, maybe it just realized how far from home we were.

Never mind why, he just wasn't able to move on one day, and I had to leave him behind.

I was fortunate that it happened when I was close to a village. I was able to trade some of the spoons and bowls I had carved of local wood, and the skin of the dead donkey, for a young, partially trained jenny. She was a lot bigger, so I had to improvise the harness.

Still, I was able to keep the cart, and the jenny was quick to learn. Once she was hitched up, all she needed to do was walk...

So there I was, five days' travel from what I hoped would be my home...

and I was scared.

**oh -- shoulda been more clear -- a jenny is a mule, part donkey, part horse; they also don't always like to move...**

I thought of stopping at the next village or town, and finding employment.

I thought of going to one of the places I had already been, many of them were quite nice with good people -- like our own village.

I thought of coming home, but was uncertain of my reception if I came home empty-handed.

This was lovely country, Gilly, you would have liked it.

Much like the plains to the south of us, but more rolling.

The cultivated areas were old -- far older than any place I had been before, with wondrous stone terraces and waterways.

There were impressive machines that could bring water up from the creeks and wells in that area, and the water would flow slowly through the channels, watering the crops as it went.

And they had built towers to watch the crops, and young children would sit up there, sounding the alarm if animals or birds or fire threatened their food source.

The people in this land did not eat meat, as we do, at least not that I saw; but they had marvelous beans and a grain that grew in water, and some vegetables that reminded me of ours but in different shapes and colors.

These people were very hospitable, and I had only to show up at the door of a family compound to be greeted and invited to sit and eat.

The villages here were well-organized, and the people were as enthusiastic about their goods for sale as they were generous.

As well they might! They had amazing fabrics soft and light but warm, and in many hues and shades. Some was masterfully woven with patterns -- each village seemed to have it's own motif.

And they had funny little three-legged pots of metal that they used for cooking.

The metalwork in some villages rivaled the best I have seen -- intricate but strong. Even the most utilitarian pieces had a bit of decoration somewhere.

The houses were often wood-frame, but I could see no sign of nails. Pegs and wedges seemed to hold everything together.

And the buildings were topped with tile. Again, they seemed unsatisfied unless there was color or decoration, and often the tiles were in many colors, arranged to form patterns that could be seen as you approached the villages.

So there I stood, at the top of a hill between villages, surrounded on all sides by prosperity and graciousness. It was tempting to stay.

But I knew what it was like to be a stranger already, and I wanted to belong somewhere.

So, I pressed on.

Four days out, it rained. The jenny and I took shelter under a tree by the side of the road.

It reminded me of the tree on the way to John's village, and I grew homesick.

When it stopped raining, I pressed on. The roads were mushy, but passable, and we made good time so that a couple of days later were were on a rocky plain that stretched across a vast distance to a forest.

When the sun was high in the sky, we came to a wide river. It moved sluggishly, but obviously had some deeper spots where the water eddied ominously.

I looked for a marker I had been told of, and soon found it. A large pile of stones, with a flat rock on top for a cap.

Strange writing was on it, but I could make out a few of the characters.

Squinting, I could see another in the middle of the river, and a third on the far bank.

I rolled up my pants, took off my shirt and shoes, and tied a tarp to the top of the cart with extra rope.

The jenny was nervous, and wanted to back up all the way to her home village...

I tied a rag over her head and calmed her.

Slowly, we moved into the water.

To my surprise, there was paving just a few yards from the edge!

We were both much calmer once we realized this, and I walked at her head, aiming straight for the marker in the middle.

From the center, we lined up with the third marker, and walked across steadily. It took less than an hour to cross the river.

Once on the other side, I checked the jenny's hooves, then sat down to dry my feet.

The trees of the forest were more visible now, and I could see there was a mix of dark green and other colors.

As I sat, I chewed some dried fruit and strange cakes the people in the last village had given me. I contemplated the reasons I had come so far.

I thought about the reasons I could have stayed home.

I was angry that it had taken me so long, and disappointed that I had been unable to contact you.

And discouraged that you were not with me.

I reached into a satchel I kept under the bench of the cart and looked at the pictures Mother and Cathy drew of the children before I left.

I tried to think what the baby would look like -- four years old.

I thought about Nancy and Jane, and wondered if they were being courted yet -- and about John and wondered if he was going courting.

I wondered if Mother and Father were well, and if you were okay.

We hadn't planned for me to be gone so long.

I knew Peter could handle the farm well enough, especially with John and Daniel helping at the busiest times.

I was nervous about what would happen when I reached my destination.

What sort of people did I come from?

Would I even be able to find them?

What if I was wrong about where I came from -- the memories of a child aren't always reliable 30 years on...

The sun was getting lower, and I had been warned to not rest on the river plain, as sometimes it flooded suddenly.

I stood up and put away my precious satchel. The jenny groaned as I tightened the harness a little, but resolutely began putting one foot in front of the other as we moved toward the line of trees that marked the beginning of the land of my birth.

I wondered how much longer you would wait for me, and then saw a bird nesting on the ground not far from the trail.

Its mate hovered nearby, trying to draw my attention.

I walked on, lost in thought. I worried that the children would not know me -- would not want to know me -- when I returned.

A small bunny crouched by the side of the trail next to a boulder. In the shade of the boulder, it looked like another rock, and the hawk wheeling overhead did not see it.

The trees grew steadily nearer. I could see that there were bushes loaded with berries at the edge of the forest, reaching for the sunshine that could not penetrate the thick canopy.

I considered all I had been through -- the loss of companions along the way, the terrors of storms and the inconveniences of thieves and cutthroats.

I watched a deer-like creature step out of the forest on the trail. We were within a few steps.

It watched us carefully, then turned and sauntered back into the safety of the dark shade.

I thought how strange it was that I was drawn to leave all I knew, to journey so far, with no certainty of success.

I wondered what "success" would be...

**back to normal mode**

Doris stirred slightly. Gilly put the sock she was working on in Paul's hands and he began to work on it while she moved to their daughter's bedside.

She placed a hand on Doris's forehead and reached for the carafe of water on the small table between the beds, moistening a cloth slightly.

Gently, she laid the cloth on her daughter's forehead.

Doris looked up at her mother. "Thank you," she whispered.

Then she glanced down at her father, sitting at the foot of her bed. "Please, Father, may I have a song?"

And Paul sang a song from her childhood long ago, and Gilly sat back and caressed her daughter's hair as they listened.

Doris fell back to sleep, surrounded by the love of her parents.

**end of chapter for tonight, my fingers are tired**