Well, Hearties, it’s finally finished. Here is the last installment of A New Arrival. I know I was supposed to finish up Johannah’s week, but I seriously wondered if you all would come at me with pitchforks if I didn’t post this now. 😀 So, I have decided to post this now, then I will finish up Johannah’s birthday week with a special post tomorrow. Here you are: the 6th and final installment of A New Arrival.
“I have to know how all this happened. I got the official report from Mountie Headquarters, of course, but details were so scarce. Please…tell me everything.” Elizabeth’s eyes were pleading.
“Everything?” Nate asked warily.
“Everything,” she insisted. “My imagination is driving me crazy, even causing me nightmares. I need to know exactly what happened to my husband.”
“I don’t know if that’s more difficult to ask or answer, Mrs. Thornton. But if you can ask it, I’ll do my very best to answer. If I may, I’ll start with a little bit of my own history?”
Elizabeth indicated the need to keep walking, but also interest in what Nate had to say. So they talked as they walked. Nate was glad that the townsfolk had taken to staring from afar. He didn’t think he could bear eavesdroppers as his words got more personal. He was going to have a hard enough time getting them out to his audience of one.
“I grew up in the East; my family owns a very fine mercantile. We worked hard, and we had some rough times, but our lives were comfortable. We had it easier than most. When I was eight, I started working there with my father and brother after school; he’s two years older, you see. And by the time I was fifteen, I was working there full time. I had no other ambition for my life, so I just stayed on. I was always restless though, wanting to do something with my time. But it sure did make my father happy to see his sons running the family business together before he died.”
They had reached the schoolhouse, and gone inside. Elizabeth motioned for Nate to take a seat, then sat down in the desk in front of him. “Oh, I’m so sorry! How long since you’re father passed?”
“Two and a half years; right after my younger sister got married. At least he made it to the ceremony. Oh, she made a beautiful bride! And Joshua looked so sharp in his uniform.”
Nate reluctantly met her gaze. “My brother-in-law was a Mountie.”
Elizabeth’s voice filled with sad enlightenment. “Oh no…‘was’?”
“He was…he was killed in the line of duty…in the Northern Territories.”
Elizabeth hid her tearful gasp behind her hand. Nate almost hated to continue, but she’d asked for everything. “We got the telegram a month after Cynthia announced she was expecting.”
“Oh dear!” Elizabeth said, making a futile attempt to wipe her tears. “That’s why you were so affected by my pregnancy.”
Nate nodded. “That’s when I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to fight against those gangs, and others like them; to get justice for my family, and to make our world a safer place. So I joined up, along with a bunch of kids.”
“I thought you looked older than the average recruit,” Elizabeth commented as she offered a small smile.
“Yeah, just a little.” Nate smiled self-consciously, stalling the next bit of the story. Blowing out another forceful exhale, Nate leaned on his forearms on the desk, his tone reverent. “This is the difficult part: what happened to Cons-“ No need to be formal now, “to Jack.” Elizabeth imitated his deep breath, obviously preparing to hear details that every wife dreads hearing, but can’t live without knowing. For this reason, Nate chose his words carefully.
“You were right when you said he trusted me a great deal. Even though he was my superior officer, we formed a kind of kinship, given my age and all. When we were out on marches, we would often talk by the fire after we made camp. He even allowed me to call him Jack…in private, of course!” he hurried to add.
Nate swallowed the lump forming in his throat. “Truth be told, I don’t remember everything that happened. A lot of it has been told to me. We were on a March in the mountains, on our way back to Fort Clay. I don’t know why it happened; maybe because Jack was shouting orders, maybe all the noise from our marching. Whatever the reason, a landslide started. I remember looking at the man next to me, Jacobs was his name, then we both looked at Jack just in front of us. Before either of us had time to react, I saw Jack come at us, then I felt a hard shove. I must have hit my shoulder pretty hard when I fell against a boulder, because I blacked out for a few seconds. When I came to, they were trying to dig him out. We eventually got him free, but by then it was…too late. I could tell he was bleeding on the inside. That’s when he told me where to find the picture, right next to his heart.”
Elizabeth put a hand to her heart as tears started to form again. But Nate pressed on.
“He made me promise to find you, and give you that drawing. He wanted you to know he loved you so much, and his last words to me were, “Tell her ‘Eternity’.” Does that mean anything in particular to you, ma’am?”
“A great deal,” Elizabeth replied quietly through her tears. “It was part of our wedding vows.”
At this, the tears Nate had been holding in couldn’t be held back any longer. They streamed down his cheeks as he whispered, “I’m so sorry! I’m ever so sorry!” He hung his head, and finally released the emotion stored in his soul since the incident. Elizabeth placed a comforting hand on his arm, and they sat together in a tearful and reverent silence. For Nate, it was a strange, yet peaceful relief to not have to grieve alone.
Finally, Elizabeth broke the spell, and asked the final piece of the puzzle. “So, how did you come to receive orders to this post?”
Nate shoved the moisture away from his eyes with the heel of his hand, and continued the story. “When we got back to Headquarters and gave our report, I knew I had to find my way here. So I put in an official request for the position then and there. The officer I handed it to said I had no hope in…well, suffice it to say, my chances were not very high. I tried to explain the situation, but he wouldn’t budge. Then Superintendent Collins came out. Apparently, he’d heard the whole thing, including my extenuating circumstances. He also told me how fond he was of Jack. He agreed that because of my age, I was probably capable of handling a town like Hope Valley on my own; but with my lack of experience, he thought a trial run was in order. He wrote a letter to Sheriff Avery telling him that I would be acting as his deputy, then gradually take over. It seemed the best way to do my job, and keep my promises.”
“Indeed it is. Indeed it is.” Elizabeth seemed lost in thought for a moment, then she shook herself, and stood. “Well, I really do need to prepare for my class tomorrow.” Nate followed suit, and Elizabeth warmly shook his hand. As much as it appears to the contrary, I do so appreciate everything you’ve told me today.”
“I’m just grateful I got to do it myself. I owed Jack at least that much. Thank you for being so gracious and understanding, Mrs. Thornton.”
Elizabeth put her other hand over their two clasped hands. “Constable Grant, with what Jack meant to you, and after all you’ve shared with me, I insist you call me Elizabeth.”
“Then please call me Nate. Goodbye, Elizabeth.”
Their hands parted, and Nate put his hat on as he stepped down the stairs.
“Nate!” Elizabeth called, and he turned. “From everything I’ve heard, I believe Jack put his faith in the right man. It seems Hope Valley will be in very good hands.” She gave him a small but sincere smile, then walked back inside. Nate couldn’t help but smile as he made his way back to the jail. The town looked the same as when he first arrived, but the air felt different now. He offered up a quick prayer of gratitude that everything had gone as smoothly as it had, and that his spirit no longer bore that heavy burden.
Rusty was waiting for Nate right where he’d left him. Nate patted his back affectionately, and Rusty nickered happily, as if sensing the success of the venture. “Well, boy, you still haven’t lost your magic touch.” Nate sighed in relief. Maybe he could make it here after all.
Thanks so much for taking this journey with me! This is Hooked Heartie, signing off! May your heart let your hope blossom!