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In Joy and in Sorrow

I published this novel last summer.  I began to write the story in 2007.  It is a work of fiction and not based on any individual’s plight.  I had learned at that time of community members and neighbors who struggled with cancer.  It led me to wonder in general how individuals and the families could cope with the helplessness this terrible and dreaded disease brings with it.  For my main characters I chose a church minister and his family thinking that of all people such a family might cope best.  In the early months of 2011 I proofread the novel for the third time in preparation of trying to publish it.  It was during this time that I learned that my oldest daughter had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer.  My first reaction was to delete the manuscript in its entirety.  However, my daughter asked me not to do so but try to publish it.  In Joy C During the next few weeks I plan to post excerpts from the novel that hopefully, will give readers a glimpse into the story.  The first excerpt involves several of the characters who have a prominent part in the story.  I chose this segment to introduce the reader to as many of the book’s characters in one excerpt as possible.  Please enjoy this first excerpt.

Danielle slowed down her breathing before she picked up the telephone and said, “Hello, this is Danielle.”

“Did I catch you at a bad time?” Lois laughed.  “I didn’t wake you up, did I?  You used to be a night hawk before you got married.”

“Lois, where are you!”  We didn’t expect you until Saturday evening.”  Danielle sat down knowing that speaking to Lois would not be quick.

“I’m in London.  Got in last night, and was about to go for an early breakfast, but then thought I better call you first before it gets too late there.  I’m in this strange, big city and I just wanted to hear a friendly voice.  I was sure Mom and Dad would be sleeping already, but like I said you used to be a night hawk.  It’s early Thursday morning here, but you will still have Wednesday night there.”  She giggled and teased, “But then you always were slower than I was.”

“Not to speak of being able to talk a mile a minute.  Your friends called you Lois the lip, didn’t they?”

“I’ve changed.  But how are you?  And how is that handsome husband of yours and sweet baby Deborah?”

Danielle beamed when she spoke of Douglas and Deborah.  “That sweet baby will have her fourth birthday soon, but sometimes she thinks she’s thirteen.  If you weren’t gallivanting around on the far side of the world, you would know that.”  Danielle then told Lois of Douglas’ call from Midland.

At the mention of his name, Lois pictured him the way she had seen him the first time she had met him at her parents’ place where she had still lived at that time.  Her heart had suddenly done somersaults when he had shaken her hand and had smiled at her.  He had often been in her thoughts after that until Danielle’s wedding day.  She had been one of Danielle’s bridesmaids, put on a happy face, smiled and called him brother and had determined to banish him from her thoughts, but it had been an almost impossible thing to do.  He had remained in her thoughts since that day.  Now she wondered what her reaction will be when she saw him again.  She shook her head to get his image from her thoughts and said, “By the way, I also wanted to tell you the airlines made a mistake with my connecting flight.  I’ll be arriving Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday night.”  They exchanged information for another thirty minutes, laughed and joked, before they finally said goodbye.

Raindrops ran down the living room window.  Danielle looked out into the grey sky.  We picked a good day to sleep in, she thought.  For her it was the first day of the summer break.  Douglas had no obligations at the church for once and had decided to stay home since he could prepare at home for Sunday night’s special number in song that he would bring with Danielle accompanying him on the piano.  She heard him in the kitchen mixing pancake batter and humming a hymn.  He was making breakfast. Deborah was still asleep and Joshua was playing a game on the computer.  The grandfather clock striking nine made her turn from the living room window.  “I’ll go and see if our baby is awake,” she called softly to Douglas.

An hour later they had enjoyed the pancakes Douglas had made, and the canned peaches he had opened.  Throughout breakfast the four had teased each other and laughed a good deal.  They had made plans to go to the swimming pool in the afternoon, and they were in no hurry to clear the table and get at the waiting tasks of the morning.  The chime of the front door bell silenced them for a moment.

“You three have more peaches, and I’ll go and see who it is, and tell them there’s nobody home,” Douglas said getting up slowly.  When he opened the door a woman he had never seen stood before him.  He guessed her to be in her mid thirties.  Her blonde hair was tied into a ponytail.  She was a pretty woman of average height and sad, blue eyes that looked nervously at him.  Worry marks were etched in her face.  He smiled at her.  “Please come in out of the rain.  Then you can tell me what I can do for you.”

She hesitated, but then slowly entered.  Danielle had come from the kitchen.  Her heart stopped for a moment when she saw the woman.  “You’re Lynn Banbridge, Joshua’s mother, aren’t you?” she said.

Lynn nodded.  “Is Josh here?”

Douglas introduced Danielle and himself.  “We were just eating breakfast.  There are pancakes and peaches left.  Come and join us.  Joshua will be thrilled to see you.”

“I don’t know.  I don’t want to be a bother.”  She looked from Douglas to Danielle who had recovered from the shock of realizing who the woman was.

Danielle took her by the hand and led her into the entryway.  “Let me take your coat.  Then we’ll go see Joshua.”  Danielle suddenly felt much compassion for the woman who seemed to struggle to keep her composure.

Joshua seated next to Deborah in the kitchen nook stopped in mid sentence from teasing Deborah.  He stared at his mother who was hanging on to Danielle’s hand.  “Mom!” he finally called out in a tone that conveyed surprise and joy.  He quickly climbed out of the nook, and in the next moment wrapped his arms around her.

His mother hugged him.  “I’m sorry I’ve been so long,” she whispered.  “I would have come last night, but it was late, too late to come and get you.  I wanted to clean the house up too before I got you.”  Tears trickled down her cheeks.

“You can’t have him!” Deborah suddenly blurted out staring at Joshua’s mother.

Danielle and Douglas chuckled.  “I’m afraid our daughter’s going to need some convincing that Joshua belongs to you.” Douglas smiled.

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Henry could not sleep after he stumbled into his bed at the regiment’s quarters.  Throughout the next day he felt lost.  He dreaded his parents’ return.  Looking for Eugene in the late afternoon, he found out that he had not yet returned to his quarters.  Henry’s anger was rekindled, but Timothy persuaded him to wait for his parents at Lord Stambury’s residence and prepare himself to inform them instead of laying in wait for Eugene.  

On his way to Lord Stambury’s residence Henry rode past the looming doors of a cathedral.  He turned the two horses around, dismounted and tied the animals to a lamppost near the side of the building’s front door.  Angry and ashamed he felt a need to enter the church and bare his soul.  Slowly he entered through the huge front door and stopped once scarcely inside.  Hesitating for a moment, he finally walked to the step at the front altar like one going to the gallows. His eyes swept along the width of the front of the church, past the stained glass windows to the large cross in the center alcove.  He shivered.  At the front he sank to his knees and tried to pray, but no words came to him.  It seemed as if there was no forgiveness for him, no release from his troubled mind.  More troubled than when he entered, he left the church with his fists clenched.

Lord and Lady Stambury welcomed Henry.  To their inquiry about his brother he only said that Benjamin thanked them for the use of the horse, and that he has gone on a journey and would not need the mount any longer.  Feeling the need to be alone, he excused himself from his hosts, after they had dined together.  Silently he retired to the room that had been prepared for him for the night.  He tossed and turned most of the night until he had finally determined what he would tell his parents.  When the night fought with the dawn he fell into a fitful sleep.

Late the next afternoon his parents’ carriage arrived.  Henry watched his mother and Melissa enter the house.  He chose not to look at his father.  Slowly he made his way downstairs.  Meredith saw her son descent the stairs, after she had greeted the Stamburys.  “Henry, how nice it is for you to welcome us,” she said.  Melissa and Samuel came to her side and also greeted him.  “Is Benjamin coming down?” Meredith asked her son and smiled at him.  Henry stopped at the last step with his head downcast and his hand clinging to the banister upon hearing her question.

“Is Benjamin well?” Melissa queried, thinking Henry’s conduct and the absence of her younger brother strange. Her question affected her parents.  They quickly grew worried.

With a wondering look in her eyes Meredith turned from Henry to her husband.  Samuel suddenly was alarmed. “Henry where is Benjamin?” he demanded.  “You are too quiet for all to be well.”

“I have something to tell you.”  Henry spoke slowly and softly.  “Mother, Melissa it may be best for you to seat yourselves.”

“Henry!” his mother shouted in panic.  “Where is Benjamin?”

“He is not here,” Henry began.  “He has taken a journey and shall be gone for some time, I sadly fear.”

“Henry, you are not making sense.”  His father came to his side.  He demanded, “Why would Benjamin have gone on a journey?”

“Benjamin boarded a ship late Friday night and is sailing to Boston as we speak.  I begged him not to go, to think of all of us, but he had celebrated too much with sherry.  He became quite disagreeable.”  Henry watched his mother first and then Melissa drop weeping into a chair.  He licked his dry lips and continued.  “When he heard of the Fortune Four sailing that very night,  he said he had to do what Andrew meant to do.  We thought it was the drink in him speaking.  You know how quick at foot he is.  He jumped on board as the gangplank was being raised and shouted back, once he was on deck, to bid you all farewell.”   

“It cannot be!” Samuel insisted.  “Benjamin has too much regard for us to wander off without our blessing.  Nor could he have been equipped to go on such a long journey.  The Fortune Four you say?  It is a Packet ship and may take as many as forty days to reach her destination.  It cannot be!” 

“Henry, say it isn’t so!” Melissa shouted.  “How long shall it be before I shall see his sweet face again?”

“You must not torment us, my son,” Meredith pleaded.  She had collected herself a little.  “Put an end to the game you two are playing with us.  We cannot bear to hear of Benjamin’s absence.”

Henry looked to the floor and shook his head slowly.  “I wish it was a game, dear Mother.  How I would love to see my brother come down these same stairs smiling sweet mischief at us.  Hearing him say a welcome to all of you, and laughing at the sport we might have had together would be balm indeed.”

Lady Stambury walked to Meredith to comfort her.  Her husband pulled Samuel aside. “Let us hurry to High Street and inquire what other vessels are ready to plough these same waters this day.  If, per chance, one of the new Clipper ships should be anchored there, we might persuade the master of the ship to sail after the Fortune.  The Clippers, it is said, have marvelous speed and would catch the Fortune Four long before a week is out.” The two older men hurried from the house with Henry following close behind.  They returned a few hours later unsuccessful in their search.

Upon their return to the Stambury residence Samuel asked Henry to relate the details of Benjamin’s leaving once again.  Henry carefully retold the story as he had reported it to his family at first.  It seemed easier to him to make the report this time.  His heart beat with less apprehension.  Soon after that Henry set out to return to his regiment laden heavily with guilt.  He promised to see his family at Hawking Manor at his first opportunity.  Before he left he wanted to throw his arms around his mother and father to beg them for forgiveness, but he only looked to the ground when he embraced them lightly and whispered, “I pray all is well with Benjamin.”  (more…)

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Henry’s furlough ended before Benjamin returned from Eagleridge.  A few days later his mother and Melissa accompanied Benjamin to the school where he was to study until the Christmas holidays.  Meredith, as always had packed for him twice more than he would have taken himself.  Melissa also added some goodies into his baggage that he would find in due time.  She also wrote a note to him. She stuffed into a bag of cookies she had baked just for him.  Melissa’s note spoke of her love for him and encouraged him to find enjoyment in all his studies.  “Love you always.  Please forget me not,” she wrote to end her note.

On their way to the school they stopped for a night at Holbrook Hall.  Lady Lydia greeted them with gladness.  The captain, her husband, was away on business.  Lydia had hoped that Meredith would make the small detour to the Holbrook Estate on their way to the school and visit with her.  Rebecca and Victoria, the Dranton’s daughters, were happy to see them all too.  Soon after their arrival Rebecca asked Benjamin to watch her ride her pony.  Victoria occupied Melissa for an hour.  Later in the evening, seated comfortably in the sitting room by the fireplace with a book written by a fur trader who had spent years in North America, Benjamin’s interest peaked when the author described  his dealings with three Blackfoot tribes.

Lady Lydia had gone to kiss her daughters good night and say a prayer with them.  For the moment only the crackling of the fire was heard in the room.  Benjamin’s thoughts turned to Sweet Hummingbird, his uncle’s daughter and his own cousin.  “How I long to find her one day,” he whispered, and in his mind he tried to sort out how he might go about searching for her.

He was deep in thought when Lady Lydia returned.  As usual, the lady in her bubbly way had many stories to relate and much news to report.  “What do you think of the marriages of

George Wickendew’s daughters, Meredith?” Benjamin heard her say.

“The girls were getting on in age, Lydia.  They are nearly thirty, are they not?” his mother replied.  “It was past their time to marry.  I only thought the nuptials, both on the same day and announced less than a month before the weddings, were arranged too quickly.  We were away from home and did not receive the invitations until we returned to Hawking Manor, after the wedding day.”

“I missed you there, my friend,” Lady Lydia said.  “It was a small affair.  The brides seemed much too bashful, and I fear the grooms drank too much wine.  But our good mayor was in fine form.  How he carried on about his exploits and strange philosophies.  Now I hear it said that the good mayor landed both husbands for his daughters with a net of trickery and guile.”

“Lydia, no, George Wickendew cannot lack so much virtue as to trick a man out of his freedom to gain his daughter,” Meredith laughed.

“How could Mr. Wickendew deceive two men on such consequential business, Aunt Lydia?” Melissa who had listened with great interest wanted to know.

“It’s shameful what I hear reported,” Lady Lydia explained.  “I hear the Lord Mayor had invited both men some time ago to fish with him on his property.  Having caught only small fry, the mayor busied himself to catch much bigger fish.  He begged the men to stay the night and be at ease with him.  They ate and drank until they were much too full.  All but the good mayor and his frail wife succumbed to the sweet wine.  Late the next morning when the men awoke with heads pained greatly from the excess of the wine, they found themselves in bed, each man with one of our corpulent George’s daughters.  They say the mayor roared much like a wounded lion when he, pretending to look after the men’s health in their own chambers, is said to have found them instead passed out in his daughters’ rooms with their breeches on the floor and the women scurrying from the rooms weeping like wine bottles out of their elements.  The men both swore that they had no recollection of how they came to be in the women’s chambers.  Both insisted they went to bed in the rooms assigned to them by the mayor himself who had assisted them there the night before while his daughters lay sound asleep.  The men begged the mayor to confirm with his daughters that they had not propositioned them.

Their pleadings were of no avail.  The two women could not recall all that had happened to them.  That very day George extracted a promissory note from both men binding them to marry his girls should they come down with the malady of child.  With child they were our good mayor was to have told the unfortunates some time later.  He gave them each a nag and a few sheep for a dowry and saw them married a month later.”  Lady Lydia giggled and laughed before she continued.  “Now it is said, and I believe it to be so, because the girls for too long showed nothing of a child, that the babies will not see the light of day until the blokes have been married eleven full months to the now expectant mothers.”  The lady began to laugh again and Benjamin could see a smile on his mother’s face.  But there were only sober looks on Melissa’s face.  “It is a shameful story, is it not?” Lady Lydia roared concluding her report.

Melissa was not amused.  She reflected on what she had heard and wondered within herself whether the women or the men suffered the greatest wrong.  “Can any good come of such trickery?” she asked.  The question brought a sober look upon the older women’s faces.  Instead of answering Lydia began to praise Benjamin for his kindness to Rebecca.  (more…)

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CHAPTER 5–DECEPTIONS

For several years after Hannah left Hawking Manor the days in the land were stormy unlike the way they had passed in the previous decade.  The sun rose and the sun set, it seemed, each day to new inventions and the working out of previously unimaginable ideas.

Henry completed his first two years with Sir Walford’s regiment and signed on for two more.  Melissa came home.  For three years she became Benjamin’s tutor.  Hannah and Sidney married and a year later christened their first child.  Anthony Holbrook, Lady Lydia’s husband, passed away.  It was not quite a year after the bells had tolled for him that Lady Lydia and Captain Dranton were married, and eight short months after that a second daughter was born to the lady.

The Tories rose to power.  Their man, Sir Robert Peel, became the new Prime Minister. The queen married Prince Albert.  In the country the Penny Post was instituted.  The first British census recording the names of the populace was undertaken, and the Chartists continued to be a menace in the minds of many.  Railway mania swept the country.  To the shaking of many citizens’ heads 5000 miles of railway track was laid down across the country.

Samuel made the Carstairs a partner in a steamship company.  Meredith co-hosted a reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Merlin I and Merlin II with Lady Lydia, and Melissa met the man of her dreams.

A fancy horseless carriage. The first motorized vehicles similar to this one were seen for the first time in England in the times described.  This one I saw in Nuernberg in 2008.

Life for Benjamin also changed.  While he continued to spent time in the spring, summer, and autumn at Eagleridge, after his fourteenth birthday his parents enrolled him in a prestigious boys’ school more than 200 miles away from home.  His friendships with Albert and Christopher continued to grow, but the number of carefree days together was fewer by far.  On those occasions when he was at home he continued to avoid visits with the Penningtons to escape Louisa’s kisses, but Lady Lydia with her new husband and her two daughters and the Carstairs made frequent visits to each other’s homes which Benjamin enjoyed a great deal.

It was on one of those visits that he made a gift of a pony to eight-year-old Rebecca who feared large animals.  Benjamin found that Rebecca, who had always been a beautiful little girl, had grown tall.  She was very pretty, Benjamin thought, but much too timid.  He encouraged her to do little things like petting a calf.  And each time, once she conquered her initial fear, he found her to enjoy the activity and grow in confidence.  One morning, as he was preparing to ride to Eagleridge, Rebecca came to bid him goodbye.  She asked him after he mounted his horse, “Are you not afraid to fall off this big animal, Benjamin?”  (more…)

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