Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Eight

August 2, 2006

{I was under orders to continue the story and stop introducing characters...}

As the auntie looked out her window that night, she was perplexed. She knew that her nephew was home with his family for a visit, she had seen his cart briefly in front of the house as she had fixed dinner.

But the man on the porch was not her nephew -- and was sitting too close to her sister to be a stranger.

Quietly, she moved away from the window and took tea to her parents, who were sitting by the fire in the front room.

A black and tan cat with a white chest lolled on her mother's lap, purring louder than the clock on the mantel could tick.

Her father's head was back against the pillows on his chair and he snored softly, his hand resting gently on the open book in his lap.

The auntie set the tea service on the table by her mother, smiled, and walked to the window to pull the curtains shut.

Then, she walked out on the porch.

And she looked at the little front yard with the white flowers still reflecting a bit of light.

She looked across at the park, shades of dark on dark, still and mysterious in the gathering evening.

The auntie stepped off her porch and walked resolutely to the gate that connected the yard to her sister's.

At the sound of the gate latch opening, the woman and the man turned, then stood up.

"Cathy!" the woman exclaimed, "Come and see who's here!"

As the two sisters embraced, Cathy looked quizzically at the man, then turned pale.

The man, standing with his hat in his hands, partly in shadow, was nevertheless recognizable.

She took a step back, and looked from her sister to the man and back again.

Her sister smiled broadly, and drew her forward.

"Cathy, he's home. He's really here."

And the man held out a hand shyly.

Through the window, a giggle of excitement, and a rustling behind the drapes betrayed the presence of several teenage girls.

Cathy grasped the familiar hand, and looked earnestly into the man's eyes. "Where," she began, and finished, "Why didn't you write?"

"Paul," she continued, "we waited so long -- we had given up hope!"

"Gilly -- how long were you going to keep this? How long has he been here?"

The three middle girls trooped out onto the porch and ringed the adults in a hug.

Gilly drew Cathy to sit on one side of her and Paul on the other. "He got home just before supper, Cathy, we were going to tell you in the morning."

Cathy looked around, "Did he come home with John and Anna? I thought I saw their cart earlier."

John poked his head out the door, "No Auntie, we met him at the front gate as we arrived! Anna wants to know how many for tea, and how many for warm milk?"

He pulled his sisters back inside to help serve the tea and it was quiet on the porch.

Cathy shook her head slowly. Ten years was a long time, and in a village like theirs, this news was going to set off a string of visits.

Gilly caught her hand and squeezed it, "He was in town this morning, and saw the twins at the market. He gave them his cart..."

Paul looked uncomfortable and stood up, pretending to adjust the lamp.

"And I found him at the Inn. He wasn't going to come home, Cathy --"

Cathy gasped. "Not come home? That's absurd!"

She was always a practical woman, and to her it made no sense. She, for her part, had never left home and the comforting life of family and friends.

Anna stepped out onto the porch with a tray in her hands and her little boy carrying spoons and napkins behind. She set it on the side table and smiled at Cathy, who gratefully accepted a kiss from her great-nephew.

"Father," she said, "John would like you to look again at our mare's hock. That cut started bleeding again."

Paul shot her a grateful look and excused himself.

Anna and her son retreated to the bright warmth of the kitchen. Cathy sighed as Gilly poured out tea -- a dash of cream for Cathy, a touch of honey for herself.

Cathy gathered her wool jacket a little closer, and sipped her tea thoughtfully.

Gilly sighed and looked around, reaching absently to pinch back a spent blossom from the potted plant on the table.

Gilly's hair was starting to escape its ribbons again, and Cathy protectively pulled a strand back from her eyes.

"Father is already asleep. You know how he is in the evenings these days... after a good meal in front of a warm fire. I can talk to Mother this evening as we do the dishes. But -- what happened, Gilly? What DO I tell her?"

An owl hooted, and a horse whuffed noisily as a cart passed in the street.

"I don't know the whole story yet, Cathy -- but I know it's been a long, difficult journey for Paul."

"He was only supposed to be gone a few months. I got one letter from him, six months after he left, remember?

"The letter was so rumpled, and part had been torn off. But he had said he would be home by the next planting season...

"There was no way to discover where he was, though, the merchant who brought it to town had received it from a ship's captain."

Cathy was silent, thinking about the days she and Gilly had pored over the letter, searching for any clue as to how long it had traveled, and from where.

"Turns out, he had sent the letter only two months after he left. Then when he reached the end of the river and learned about an opportunity on the other side of the sea, he wrote another."

"We never saw that letter though... " Gilly trailed off, and a tear fell on her hand.

The tea was sitting in the teacups, growing cold.

Paul's voice sounded in the kitchen, hearty and filled with laughter. The children roared appreciatively at the joke.

Cathy put her arm around who reached for her handkerchief and dabbed at her nose.

"He had some terrible times, Cathy -- he hasn't told me all of it yet because the children..."

"But he never forgot about us.

"All these years, he kept trying to get home."

"I guess when he finally got here, he realized how much had changed -- the twins didn't even recognize him. And he was afraid."

Gilly shrugged her shoulders and reached for her teacup. She sipped reflectively at the cold tea, not seeming to notice.

Cathy looked around and caught Paul's eye as he came out onto the porch again. "Walk me home, please, I must get the dishes done and help get Father to bed."

Gilly stood up and embraced her sister again. "I will send John over in the morning, and you can tell him when and how you want us to come over."

Cathy and Paul walked to the gate and waited until Gilly had carried the tea tray inside.

"Cathy," whispered Paul, "I never meant to hurt any of you..."

She hushed him promptly.

"Paul, you grew up with us, and you know you are always part of this family. I don't know why you disappeared for so long, but I do know that Gilly is happier than she has been since she saw you hitch your donkey to that cart."

Paul shuffled uncomfortably, but stayed silent.

"Whatever took you away, and whatever brought you back, you are here now."

"I will tell Mother and Father in the morning. We will expect to see you all for tea in the afternoon -- Father has been getting older, but I believe this will be good for him. He has missed you.

She gave him a quick hug and walked through the gate, shutting it firmly behind herself.

"We have all missed you."

*and that is the end of the chapter*