Hello, Hearties! Enjoying your weekend so far? I know I’m a day late again; I apologize profusely. But here I am, and here is Part Three of our tale of Crossing Wires. If you’ve missed Parts 1 and 2, go to the #FanFictionFriday posts from February 1st and 9th. Enjoy!

 

 

                                                     TWO DAYS LATER

Abigail Stanton stood in a corner of her office, barely able to contain her excitement. Her cheeks were as pink as her blouse, and her hands fidgeted with each other as she watched workmen from the telephone company install Hope Valley’s very first telephone. This day had been a long time coming! Abigail had checked and double checked, stretched and saved the town’s budget until the expense could be covered. Now it was finally happening, and she felt she was doing her job as the mayor to bring her town into the modern age.

When the four men exited, Abigail didn’t dare move. She was glad she hadn’t when they returned, straining to keep the switchboard balanced between them. Her eyes grew wide, and her breathing tensed. Goodness, that was big! How was one person to handle all that? Then they began to connect all the wires, and she felt full-blown panic set in. There were so many!

“Pardon me, gentlemen,” Abigail inquired, trying to remain composed, “what happens if the wires get crossed?”

“You end up with a mess of a tangle, ma’am,” the head man snickered, and the others laughed with him. Abigail joined in, albeit it was a little forced and reluctant. Sensing her genuine concern, he gave a serious explanation. “All joking aside, Madam Mayor, wires have to be crossed sometimes to complete a telephone call. The important things to remember are where the call originates, and to make the right connection.”

“Aha, I see,” she acknowledged, wishing she felt calmer about this entire ordeal. It was exciting, but a big responsibility! Then Abigail remembered something! She wouldn’t have to deal with the switchboard at all! What a burden off her shoulders! She was just starting to breathe normally again when something yanked all the air from her lungs.

“Abigail!” Rosemary said a little too loudly for standing at the open office door, mere feet away from Abigail’s ears. Even the workmen were startled. Luckily, they hadn’t been holding anything heavy.

“Oh, Rosemary! Oh, you gave me a fright!”

“I’m sorry. I just had to see this! I did knock, but you looked so preoccupied, I thought it better to just let myself in.

“Oh.” Of course you did, Abigail thought as she rolled her eyes; but she couldn’t help but smile. With Elizabeth in school this time of day, she was grateful to have a friend with whom to share this moment. Speaking of which…”Have you seen Bill? I thought he’d want to see this.”

“I passed him on my way here,” Rosemary explained. She then went into storytelling mode, deepening her voice to imitate Bill. “He called the installation of the telephone ‘a lot of fuss and bother’, and made up some excuse about having ‘a mountain of paperwork’. He’ll come over later.” Rosemary turned her attention to the workmen finishing their task of hooking up the telephone system, and clapped with excitement. “Isn’t this thrilling? A telephone in Hope Valley! Lee said he would have one installed in our home too!”

“Well, isn’t that wonderful!” Abigail replied. Just then, the lead workman planted the telephone in her hands, and tipped his hat.

“There you are, Mayor Stanton. You’re all set, and ready to go.” He walked out, and the others followed suit, tipping their hats in turn.

“Thank you,” Abigail called to them, a little unsure if she should move or not. The lead workman noticed her sudden stillness, came back up the steps, and added, “We made the wire extra long, so you can even carry it outside.”

Abigail sighed and smiled in relief. “Well, in that case, I’ll walk you out…part way, at least.”

Abigail and Rosemary walked to the edge of the staircase, and watched him descend, and get into the driver seat of the company automobile. The four of them gave a final wave as they drove away. Rosemary waved back, and Abigail gave a smiling nod, as her hands were a little full.

“Oh, Abigail! I keep meaning to ask you, who is going to run that giant switchboard? You can’t possibly do it all, not with everything you already have to do! I’d offer to do it myself, but…”

“Actually, Rosemary, that’s what I was thinking about when you came in. I was feeling overwhelmed about that very notion, then suddenly, I remembered! I hired a woman named Fiona Miller. She’s a telephone operator from Union City. With everything going on, I had honestly forgotten. But now, I can…”

Abigail was interrupted by an unfamiliar, shrill sound. She looked down, only to realize that the object sitting in her hands, the town’s telephone…was ringing.

 

 

That’s all for today.  Tune in next week for the final chapter…of the short story. 😀  And remember to tell me if you’ll be in the area on Monday February 25th so you can come to the Season 6 premiere party, hosted by yours truly. This is Hooked Heartie, signing off! May your heart let your hope blossom!

Well, Hearties! I didn’t think this was possible! I don’t know what could possibly have possessed me to write this story, but the idea simply would not leave my head! I’m still in shock myself. Here’s your only clue: all you Gowen fans should be very satisfied! So enjoy Hooked Heartie’s latest short story!

 

                                   Crossing Wires

Henry Gowen allowed half a smile to touch his lips, but only after ensuring he wasn’t being watched. His eyes softened, and the muscles in his shoulders began to relax as Abigail came into view, briefcase in hand. How lovely she looked, how calm and confident. Henry discreetly gazed at her forest-green clad figure as she crossed the street from her café to her office. Somehow, it didn’t even irritate him that that mayor’s office used to be his. His mind was far too occupied with wondering if that was a new gown, and how becoming her full golden curls looked when she left them unpinned.

Then Florence Blakely walked into his sightline, hands clasped, eyeing him down her nose very suspiciously. And just like that, his smile melted in the light of the sun, and his sullen expression resumed. Henry tipped his hat to Mrs. Blakely. She hesitantly went on her way, and he, slowly but efficiently, limped toward…where was he going? Ah! The mercantile! That seemed as logical a place as any, if only to cover his true errand this morning. As the sidewalk boards creaked and groaned under his boots, Henry let his mind wander back to Abigail. He was not comfortable with these sentiments that had slowly been overtaking him; slowly, but aggressively. He’d not felt this way for anyone since Nora; he didn’t even remember his feelings for her so all-consuming. All the emotions became exhausting; so, the mercantile forgotten, Henry took a seat on a nearby bench. Time passed as he sat almost motionless, pondering his predicament.

“But what can be done about it?” Henry asked himself aloud as he forcefully banged his cane down in frustration.

“Pardon me?” inquired a startled voice. Panicked, Henry looked up, but it was only Molly Sullivan, passing by on her way to the mercantile.

“Oh, nothing at all, Mrs. Sullivan. Good day to you.” He offered a somewhat forced and patronizing smile, and again tipped his hat. Mrs. Sullivan moved along, and Henry returned again to his thoughts. “You’re a fool,” they chided him. Henry certainly had to agree. He’d already lost his status as the town’s public official, then most of his dignity with his prison sentence. Why would he sacrifice what was left of it for something that could never be?

“Planning your next business venture, Henry?” a familiar voice questioned. Henry knew that voice that always interrupted everything! He shook his head, and emitted a sardonic one-syllable chuckle before raising his eyes to meet those of Sheriff Bill Avery.

“Not at all, Bill. Just having a moment’s contemplation.”

“Is that so? What about?”

There was a long pause as Henry tried to mentally craft his next words while attempting to stare Bill down. Unfortunately, Bill had an infamous glare of his own, so Henry settled for, “Nothing that concerns local law.”

“Oh, so you’re going for something with a farther reach, huh?” Bill retorted.

Henry shook his head, and squeezed his cane head very hard before offering a very controlled, “Nothing that concerns…you…”. Henry’s words trailed off as he heard someone approaching. It was Abigail, basket in hand, heading for the mercantile. Was it her lunch time already?

“Afternoon, Bill. Henry,” Abigail smiled as she walked between them. How fetching her smile is, Henry thought. He nodded and smiled in return, and his eyes inadvertently followed her a she passed by.

When Bill cleared his throat, Henry knew he’d made a mistake. He tried to remain nonchalant, but Bill’s snake eyes saw straight through his façade. “Henry,” Bill began as he sat down, uninvited, “may I tell you something as a…friend?” The words pushed past his teeth like he hated saying it as much as Henry hated hearing it. At Henry’s grimace and skeptical glance, Bill gave an annoyed grunt. “As someone you’ve shared a drink with?”

“You’re welcome to try.”

 

 

I’m afraid that’s all for now. The last time I wrote a story, I posted in installments, Dickens and pioneer periodical style. It served to be very effective, so I promise more next Friday.

Have a great weekend! See you Wednesday! This is Hooked Heartie, signing off! May your heart let your hope blossom!

Hey, Hearties! How’s it going? Happy Friday! And check it out! Im getting a post up early for a change! I was doing some thinking this morning, and a thought ACTUALLY occurred to me! 😉 But seriously…

About a week ago, a lovely Heartie named Mary Pape posted her thoughts/theory that maybe the new Mountie was saved by Jack. Well, if you’ve been following the blog for a while, doesn’t that sound familiar? 😀 If you’re new to the Hooked Heartie neighborhood, let’s just say there’s a #FanFictionFriday story you might find interesting. So there’s that. Then, given the fact that we just saw and talked about a movie starring Kevin McGarry, (Mountie Nathan Grant), and the Season 6 premiere isn’t too far off, I thought now would be a great time to share this short story with you. I’ve tweaked it a little bit, but please keep in mind this was written before the Christmas special. 😀 So, for your Friday enjoyment, here is A New Arrival, written by myself and my dear friend Sarah Nitsch.

 

                                   A New Arrival

Nate slowed his mount Rusty to a walk as he hesitantly approached the wooden sign that named the town of Hope Valley. Sweat beaded on his brow, and his breath came in short, gasping huffs. Nate nervously gripped the reins tighter; Rusty nickered, and tossed his head anxiously as he took a few staggering steps backward.

“Sorry, boy,” Nate apologized as he patted the horse’s neck, trying to slow his own pulse. Rusty had always been such a calming influence in Nate’s life, but not even his magic was working today; there was just too much at stake! With a forceful, determined exhale, Nate clicked his tongue, and nudged Rusty forward into the center of the frontier town. His face appeared calm, but his heart was pounding with every clip-clop of the horse’s hooves as the two plodded down the packed-dirt road. The astonished stares he was getting from a few scattered townsfolk weren’t helping.

“Calm down,” Nate urged himself in a barely discernable whisper. “You know this has to be done! Just get it over with!” That wasn’t working, so he tried something else: “Please, God. Please help me! I can’t do this alone.” Well, that did help…a little.

Nate found the jail with little trouble, and decided he should probably report to the sheriff before gallivanting about on his…other quest. He dismounted, tethered Rusty’s reins to the post, straightened his red serge jacket, and ascended the steps.

“Can I help ya?” said a voice behind a newspaper when Nate opened the door. The corner folded down, and the older gentleman hastily put the periodical aside on the desk. “Ah! Welcome, Mountie!” This man who was obviously the sheriff stood, and albeit a little reluctantly, offered his hand. Nate removed his hat, shook the offered hand a bit more firmly than he usually would, and the man gestured to a chair. “Constable…?”

“Uh, Grant. Nathan Grant,” he replied as he took a seat. “But you can call me Nate.”

“Good to meet you, Nate,” the man also sat back down. Nate wasn’t exactly sure he meant it, but oh well. “Bill Avery, acting sheriff.”

“And I have a letter about that.” Nate took the paper from his pocket, and handed it over. “From headquarters.” Bill read it, but his only reactions were a couple of grunts here and there. Finally, he placed it on top of the newspaper, but wouldn’t respond. He only took his weapon from the desk drawer; then casually, but deliberately, began to load it. Nate’s first instinct was to reach for his own pistol holstered at his side, but he resisted the urge. Easy now, Nate’s head reminded him. He’s testing you. Show him you’re no coward. He discreetly removed his right hand from his waist, then slowly folded both hands in his lap.

After what felt like an hour, but was only an excruciating few minutes, Bill eyed Nate over the top of his gun as he did the “final inspection”. Nate guessed that Sheriff Avery had decided he’d gotten enough intimidation, and was quite proud of himself for holding his ground with such a seasoned officer.

“I’m glad you made it a little early. I promised the sheriff in the next town I’d help him with a stake out, and I really don’t want to appoint another acting sheriff…not after last time.”

Ah, thought Nate. Hence the loading of his weapon. Clever! “Glad I made it then too. Uh, last time?” Bill’s look said “forget about it”. Nate took the hint, and moved on. “So, what do I need to know before you ride out?”

“You need to know that this town suffered a tragedy not too long ago,” Bill snapped gruffly; but as Nate looked closer, he could see moisture glistening in the sheriff’s eye. The Mountie could empathize, as he was struggling to keep his emotions in check.

“I’m aware of that, Sheriff,” Nate responded soberly. “And I intend to treat Constable Thornton’s post with every respect and dignity. You have my word on it.”

Bill looked surprised, then his face took on a look of approval…almost. “You knew him? You knew Jack?”

Nate laughed ruefully, and with very little humor. That was the understatement of the year. “I knew him.” Better to just leave it at that.

That seemed acceptable to Mr. Avery. “Well, good,” Bill said briskly, as he stood and stretched his hand out to Nate once more. He certainly seemed more friendly all of a sudden. “Then you’ll do well here. Just remember, all of us here in town are still reeling a bit, so your being here may be a little difficult.”

“Understood. Anything else?”

“Yeah. Watch out for those railroad boys in the saloon on Saturday nights. The place just got a new owner, and after a long week’s work, things can get…a little wild.”

“Will do,” Nate said, donning his hat as he followed Bill outside. The sheriff gave the Mountie half a smile before trudging down the stairs, and riding away on his horse. Nate sighed deeply. That was over with; now came the hard part.

That “hard part” sailed into town with a gust of wind and a swirl of leaves. When the dust had settled and Nate had brushed the debris from his jacket, he looked up, and there she was! That had to be Elizabeth! My goodness! Nate’s mind exclaimed. The photograph Jack had shown him hadn’t done her justice! Her hair was long and soft, with just a touch of curl, and it flowed gracefully behind her shoulders as the breeze played with it. Her pink coat was feminine and delicate, but her step was sure and confident. A smile came easily to her lips as she greeted her friends and neighbors with enthusiasm. And her eyes! Her eyes were just as Nate had imagined: carrying the burden of grief, but still holding onto that spark of fire. She was just lovely!

Then those eyes found Nate. He panicked like a boy snitching candy, since he’d been caught staring, but Elizabeth was staring back. She just…stood there…watching him, as if time was standing still. Suddenly, the spell was broken. Elizabeth shook herself, gave Nate a look of regretful sadness and embarrassed horror, then dashed toward a white building he presumed was the schoolhouse. Nate only hesitated a moment or two before he hurried to catch up with her. This was what he’d wanted.

“Ma’am?” She hesitated slightly, then hurried on. “Excuse me…Mrs. Thornton?”

Elizabeth halted abruptly, and spun around, looking like she’d seen a ghost – Jack’s ghost. Now I’ve done it, Nate thought. “How do you know my name?” Elizabeth’s trembling voice inquired.

Here we go… “I apologize for surprising you, ma’am. M-my name is Nathan Grant. I’m the new constable of Hope Valley?”

“Clearly,” Elizabeth responded with a bit of a sarcastic smile, eyeing his uniform.

Nate looked down, and let out a self-conscious chuckle as he once again removed his hat, and nervously tapped his fingers against the brim. Then they sobered almost simultaneously. It was as if Elizabeth could feel the importance of his message. She looked at him expectantly.

Nate took a deep breath, and continued. “Mrs. Thornton,…I-I was trained at Fort Clay. Your husband, he…he was my commanding officer, and he…” Oh boy! Nate’s foreboding thoughts said. He gathered his courage, and looked her square in the eye. “He saved my life, ma’am.” Elizabeth’s eyes widened as she caught his meaning. “I’m alive today because Constable Thornton pushed me away from that rock slide.”

Elizabeth’s left hand cupped her mouth as she gasped, and tears sprang to her eyes. Nate saw a glint of sunlight reflecting off her wedding band, and squeezed his eyes shut with self-loathing. For a moment, he wished he had died in that accident. He would have given anything to have traded places that day so Jack could be here in Hope Valley, with Elizabeth where he belonged. But sadly, things didn’t turn out that way.

When Nate looked at Elizabeth again, he was sorry he had. She was crying quietly behind her hand, tears streaming down her cheeks. He wondered if she might slap him. He certainly wouldn’t have blamed her. In fact, it would have made him feel better. But what did happen was something he never expected. Elizabeth regained her composure: took a few deep breaths, wiped her tears, then gently placed her hand on his forearm. Nate stared in shock, but Elizabeth said with perfect empathy: “This must have been very difficult for you, Constable Grant.”

Nate stammered, completely taken aback. “Y-yes ma’am, it certainly was!” he finally admitted, then felt like one of those rocks had been lifted from his shoulders. “I didn’t know what you’d think of me, what you’d say. I know you probably resent me, Mrs. Thornton, but believe me when I say that I would have switched places with Ja- Constable Thornton in a heartbeat!”

“I’m sure you would have, Constable Grant,” said Elizabeth, taking her hand back, and readjusting her books in her arms. “And let me assure you that while I never imagined coming face to face with one of you, I promise I don’t hate you. My husband was a very duty-bound and protective man. If it hadn’t been you, it would have been someone else.”

“That’s true enough, ma’am.” Then Nate genuinely smiled for the first time since he got to town. “He loved you so much, Mrs. Thornton. He was always talking about you, and he showed me a picture. That’s how I knew who you were.” Now Elizabeth smiled, a bashful one at the ground, and tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “And there’s more…” Nate’s face turned serious again as he held a folded and ashy-looking paper out to her. “He asked me to give this to you before he died.”

Elizabeth looked almost nervous as she unfolded the page, and rubbed her fingers together to rid them of the dust. One glance, and her eyes widened in shock. “How did he know?!”

               ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

Nate felt the pain screaming from his shoulder before anything else. He reached for it before he could even open his eyes. What happened? Nate groaned and slowly shook his head, trying to sweep the cobwebs free. As his mind began to clear and he forced his eyes to slit open, he heard something behind him: men’s voices. Men’s voices clamoring! “Dig! Dig! Get him out! Keep trying!” they all yelled at once! Nate’s memory returned in waves, his eyes popped open with sudden alertness. Jack! The landslide! He’d pushed Nate and Jacobs out of the way! Nate turned his head to see his fellow Mounties crawling over the rocks and boulders like an army of ants, trying to remove them from a particular spot. That must be where Jack was! His pain forgotten, Nate stood, steadied himself, and hurried to be part of the effort. He elbowed and shoved his way to the spot itself, just in time to see Jacobs uncover Jack’s head and shoulders. He touched two fingers to Jack’s neck just as Jack moaned in pain. “He’s alive!” Nate shouted.

They lifted and pushed, scratched and dug for the better part of an hour before Jack was finally pulled free. Nate grabbed his feet while Cooper took his wrists, and they hoisted him away from the rubble. They laid him in one of the few clear spots to be found. Nate knelt beside Jack while Anderson appeared with a blanket to cover him. “Are there any doctors here?” Nate demanded. Silence. “Anybody?!” The Mounties just looked at each other sorrowfully. Not in this company. Everyone had the same amount of First Aid training Nate had…not enough knowledge for a situation as dire as this. And the others had looked to him as a leader, given his age…and the fact that Jack had appointed him his unofficial second in command.

Nate turned his attention back to Jack, and desperately tried to think. Jack had plenty of cuts and abrasions, but none looked too serious. Then Nate felt Jack’s cold, sweaty skin, and saw massive amounts of bruising on the exposed flesh. When he felt for broken bones, and Jack cried out in pain at every touch, he knew. These symptoms could only mean one thing- bleeding on the inside.

Nate stopped devising a plan of action, and started trying to accept that he was kneeling beside a dying man, a dying man he cared very deeply about. He took Jack’s hand, and as gently as possible, tried to rouse him. The other recruits felt the change. They huddled in groups a short distance away, giving Nate a little privacy, but still there offering support. Even Jacobs held back, sensing Nate’s need to be alone with him. Jack’s eyes fluttered open, and he dazedly looked around him. His gaze settled on Nate, but he seemed confused. Finally, there was some semblance of recognition, and Nate didn’t wait another moment to speak. “You saved my life, Jack!” Nate said as tears pooled in his eyes.

“Had to.” Jack spoke with labored, wheezing breaths. “You’re my friend, Nate.” Suddenly, a sense of urgency overtook Jack. He tried to move, but his eyes widened, and he groaned loudly with the pain. “Quick…my pocket…take it.” Nate searched three of them before he discovered a piece of paper in Jack’s left breast pocket, the one next to his heart. Jack exerted all his remaining energy to reach his other hand up to Nate. Nate took it. “Find my wife…find…Elizabeth…give that…to her…please…” Jack pleaded.

“Calm down, Jack. Save your strength. Of course I’ll find her. I promise.”

Jack started choking on air. “Tell her I-I love her…so much. Tell her…t-tell her…”

“What, Jack? Tell her what?”

“Tell…her…‘Eternity’…”

               ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

Nate startled himself back to the present. Elizabeth had just asked him something. “Pardon me?”

Elizabeth’s eyes were wistful as she answered. “The baby…how did he know?” She met his gaze again. “I’m expecting.”

Only then did Nate notice the little bump barely showing beneath her coat. He sucked in his breath as his thoughts were flooded with images of his sister, another pregnant widow who lost her husband in the line of duty. He put his hat under his arm, took Elizabeth’s hand, still holding the paper, in both of his as he would his sweet sister’s. “I want you to know, I’ll help you in any way I can.”

Elizabeth nodded her thanks with an emotional smile, and pulled her hand back to continue looking at the treasure she’d just been given. It wasn’t a letter, but a drawing. Nate could study it in his mind’s eye while Elizabeth looked, as Jack had shown it to him so many times. It was a depiction of Elizabeth holding a baby wrapped in a knitted blanket. Jack was just above her and to the side, his left hand on her shoulder, his wedding ring visible; and they were both smiling down at their little bundle of joy. At the top read simply “My Eternity”. Then he remembered to answer her.

“I don’t think he did know ma’am, at least not from the words he spoke. But he was always talking about his dreams of the future with you, and that included lots of children. I guess this is what he wanted when he…when he came home.

“This means more to me than I can say. He must have trusted you a great deal to leave this in your hands.” Elizabeth folded the paper, and lovingly placed it inside the cover of one of her books. Then she locked eyes with Nate, and asked in a very somber tone. “You’ve done so much already, but…may I ask you one more favor?”

“Name it,” Nate insisted immediately.

“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 beckoned Nate along with an obvious interest in what he 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.”

“Uniform?”

Nate reluctantly met her gaze. “My brother-in-law was a Mountie.”

Elizabeth’s face and 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 news.”

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.

“Of course.”

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 is 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 moment of tearful reverence and mutual understanding. For Nate, it was a strange, yet peaceful relief to not have to grieve alone.

Finally, Elizabeth broke the silence, 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 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 pulled me into his office, and 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 must 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.” He paused for just a moment longer, then figured he better be going. “Goodbye, Elizabeth.”

“Goodbye, Nate.”

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 today, I believe Jack put his faith in the right man. And it’s my opinion that 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 right where Nate had left him. He patted the horse’s back affectionately, and Rusty snorted 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.

 

 

Have a great weekend, everyone. And I don’t think there are any WCTH actors in it, but don’t forget to tune in tomorrow to Winterfest’s One Winter Proposal, sequel to One Winter Weekend. It looks promising! This is Hooked Heartie, signing off! May your heart let your hope blossom!

           

Good morning, Hearties! Happy Friday before Thanksgiving! Big week coming up! Thanksgiving in the U.S., the one-year anniversary of the blog, (along with a big announcement!), the official start of the Christmas season, Black Friday, (if you’re very brave!)…then we’ve got a birthday the last week of November. But it’s a surprise who! So, I figured a jump on things would be a good idea. 🙂

Today I’m so grateful for opportunities and possibilities. As I’ve mentioned before, my friend Sarah and I are writing a book. It’s frightening, but it is an opportunity that can open up lots of possibilities. As we get closer to the anniversary, I’m reminded of how many possibilities have opened up because of this very blog, some presenting themselves just this past week! And as luck, (or something much higher,) would have it, a possibility presented itself last month that I never would have even found if I hadn’t started writing. Sarah and I have entered a writing contest. The theme was courage, and what better example of that than Jack? So we took one of our #FanFictionFriday stories, and adapted it. The story had to be a certain length, so it’s quite short, and a little chopped. But we present it to you to show faith in possibilities. 😀 I’d love your opinion, and to hear what YOU’RE grateful for!

 

 

                                   A Heart of Shadow

Ben fell in his desk chair, his head in his shaky hands; they were only steadied by weak knees. NO! he begged, pushing a fist to his eyes. Not again! But nothing could stay this horrible plague of war. Ben succumbed to the smells of gunpowder and rotting flesh, the feel of earth-shaking cannons, the sounds of shots fired and men screaming, the taste of blood when his horse Dusty threw him…his eyes flew open, his fingers at his lips to ensure there was no residue. He looked up, only to see the ashen face of his fallen corporal. His skin went cold, his breath still.

“You didn’t save me,” his comrade wheezed.

“I tried,” Ben gasped, trembling.

A bloody hand came to Ben’s shoulder. He bolted, grabbing the wrist; the ghost melted into a startled Ana. Ben’s eyes darted down expecting a bloody paw; but he held Ana’s dainty fingers, his ring on one of them. He let go and paced, mumbling he was NWMP Sergeant Ben Davis, and the year was 1914.

Ana watched Ben. Since his return from fighting up north, she had seen his face look more haunted. He tried to hide it, but she’d have to be blind not to see the look of death in his eyes. Ben wearily sank to his chair, squeezing the bridge of his nose. Ana timidly approached. “What’s wrong? You know you can talk to me.” Nothing. “Ben, please? I know something is tearing you up inside.”

Ben’s eyes were sharp. She knew! He lashed out, “That’s just it, Ana! I can’t share it. I’m trying to forget all that!”

“But you won’t, so let me help you!” Ana shot back.

No, he wouldn’t forget; maybe they should talk. She was going to be his wife. He shook his head, shaking off the idea. He wasn’t going to let her feel any of this horror. He would handle it! His face grew stern. “No,” he said cold as ice. He flinched at the shock on Ana’s lovely face, but stood firm. “Just go.” He turned away.

Ana knew there was no talking to him. “Alright I’ll go.” She left and closed the door before the tears fell.

Ben didn’t move when the door opened; but when it shut, his heart fell. He wanted to take Ana in his arms to pour out his soul, but the door was a blockade stopping Ben in his tracks. He rested his head on it in defeat.
Ana spilled her sorrow, feeling lost. The only thing to do was talk to Ida. Ana dragged herself to her friend’s home, and walked in. Ida smiled to see Ana, but it faded when she saw the shiny tears. Ida wrapped her in a warm hug. “It’s alright,” she said, and sat Ana down with some tea. That was better, but Ana still cried. “Why is it like this? My greatest wish: Ben home and uninjured, has come true; and nothing’s right!”

“Ana, maybe he’s not uninjured.” Ana looked up. “His mind and heart are scarred. Think about all he’s seen, been through. That was his life: worrying over his men, watching them die, expecting danger at every corner. Now he’s home. He’s trying to adjust to life where he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder, and put away all those awful sights and sounds. I even think he has something I’ve heard of called shell shock. The brain gets rattled, and causes panic. He’s probably terrified.”

Ana was stunned. Of course! The pieces came together as she spoke her thoughts. “Yes! All that time, I prayed he’d come home. Then I felt extra blessed when he wasn’t hurt. I knew he would need time, but I never thought it could go so deep. What he must be feeling! Oh, I feel terrible! He’s not fine, Ida! He’s different. We’re different. We’re on separate paths.”

“No,” Ida countered. “Your path has changed. Rockier to be sure, longer. But your destination is the same. Just find a way to walk that path together, and show him your love despite this rock in the way.”

“You mean boulder,” Ana muttered, and sighed. “But how?”
Ida took her hand. “You’ll know. Listen to your heart; you’ll think of something.” Seeing Ana needed to think, Ida went to wash dishes. Ana’s mind wandered over first meeting Ben on Main Street, their first kiss after the church social, his proposal on a moonlit picnic with candles scattered everywhere…Ana’s eyes brightened, and a smile finally came. She had an idea.

The next day, Ben was still upset. He hadn’t seen Ana since she’d flown out like her skirt was on fire, and now that dust had settled, Ben knew he’d overreacted. He’d just bowed his head to pray when he heard a knock. There she was! Ben’s heart raced. He wanted to patch things up, but didn’t know how. No time like the present! “Ana, I…” Ben sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know what to say,” he admitted.

“Let me help you, Ben. Won’t you allow me that?”

Ben sighed again. “I told you, I can’t share that. Up there…it was worse than you can imagine. I’d never subject you to that. I don’t know if I can…”

“Ben,” Ana interrupted gently. Her tone took him off guard; he thought she’d argue. “Take my hand?”

Ben’s eyes widened. He’d said that when he proposed. This was the last thing he’d expected. “Ana this isn’t…”

“Please…take my hand?” she asked.

Ben’s heart softened. The love in her eyes convinced him. He smiled for the first time in days, and took her hand. He wondered how far they were going, but followed Ana as she grabbed a lantern, and led him out of the jail.

As they walked, Ben saw they were headed for their land. Maybe she had a new idea for the house. They’d have to be quick with daylight fading. When they were close, Ben saw lights. He looked at Ana, who only smiled. Upon arrival, Ben’s heart melted. Almost a half-acre was covered in candles, similar to what he’d done at his proposal. “What’s this?” he asked with emotion.

Ana set the lantern down, taking his hands. “Ben, I love you, and I can’t wait to spend our lives together. That means for better and worse. So whatever you’re struggling with, I’m here; I’ll stand by you. I hope you’ll have the courage to let me share the burden; your pain is my pain.”

That’s when tears fell! Oh how he loved her! Show her, his head told him. “Ana!” he cried, and pulled her close, pressing his mouth to hers. She was the water; he was a man who had crossed a desert. Why had he denied himself this when it replenished him so? He kissed her cheek, her forehead, her hair. Then he held her face to just gaze at her. “How did I ever live without you?!” He kissed her once more, and put his arms around her to hold her close.

Tell her, Ben’s mind spoke again. He pulled back, and sat with Ana on a log. With his elbows on his knees, he took a deep breath. “It started about a week after I got home. It wasn’t bad at first; I’d see a blast when I closed my eyes, or look behind me when things got quiet. But it’s worse now. I see everything like it happened yesterday. I smell gunpowder, and taste blood in my mouth. But a few days ago, something truly terrifying happened: I saw him.” He paused, gathering courage to go on. “I saw my corporal who got killed. I watched him die, Ana. One of those gang members took aim and fired with no thought at all. I tried to push him out of the way, but I…I wasn’t fast enough!” He faced her. “I saw him again in my office right before you came in yesterday, as plain as I see you now. I’m haunted, Ana,” he confessed. “I can’t protect you if this keeps up. I can’t take care of you.” Ben took a cleansing breath. “That’s what happened to me, why I pushed you away.”

“Oh Ben!” Ana hugged him, hoping she could restore his courageous spirit. Please God, Ana prayed silently. Give me the words. Instantly, they came. She eased back, and looked in Ben’s eyes. “Let me make one thing clear: I don’t need a husband to take care of me; I need an equal partner. We’ll take care of each other.

Ben sighed with relief and more tears. He touched her face, and looked around. An idea came. His hands took hers, one knee hit the earth. “Ana Martin, you give me strength to do my duty, and courage to carry on. I love you more than life. Will you still marry me?”
Now Ana cried. “There’s no greater honor, Ben Davis.” She knelt and kissed him, feeling their spirits connect…and feeling the courage they’d need on this path.

 

 

Well Hearties, that finishes things up for this week. Anyone preparing to celebrating Thanksgiving next week, good luck with all the baking and football. 😉 This is Hooked Heartie, signing off! May your heart let your hope blossom!

               

Happy November, Hearties! Here we are at our first post of the month. Phew! Hard to believe the year is closing up. Not only that, but our one-year anniversary is quickly approaching. Can you believe THAT? Holy moly. And I have a favor to ask: I have a few ideas, but I want to hear your suggestions and ideas of what you’d like to see for an anniversary.

I had a great interaction with a fellow Heartie this morning. Debbie totally called me out on candy-munching on Wednesday. She must have known i was snitching while i worked on the post. So she asked me a couple interesting questions. Thanks again for reaching out, Debbie. I love active participation!

1. What is your favorite candy chocolate?
-This could have two answers…okay lots of answers, but I wasn’t sure if you wanted just chocolate, or both my favorite chocolate and
non-chocolate candies. So to make sure I cover all the bases: chocolate is Reese’s, and non-chocolate is Hot Tamales.

2. Who are your favorite movie actors?
-This is tough. I love movies, and I majored in acting in college, so acting is definitely a big deal to me. I have been concentrating a lot more on TV actors lately. To be perfectly honest, there aren’t many actors that I refuse to miss anything they’re in; I focus
mostly on storyline. But Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terabithia, Hunger Games,) comes pretty close. I think he’s fantastic, and was extremely talented even as a child. Only someone that good could have carried basically the entire movie of Bridge to Terabithia on his back at such a young age. I’ll confess that I wasn’t going to
see Hunger Games until I saw that he was in it. Now I just wish he was in more.

Hope that gives the desired effect. Let me know if any clarification is needed. And please keep those questions coming. So, how is everyone? Getting geared up for the holidays? Here in the States, we’re SUPPOSED to be getting ready for Thanksgiving, but we as a country tend to skip right to Christmas. So I’m going to have Grateful November. Every post will have a blessing for which I am grateful. And I would love to hear things YOU are grateful for as well. So please feel free to list them in the comments. Today, I am so grateful for my talents, especially this new writing talent I’ve discovered. And in celebration of that talent, I am reposting A New Arrival for you, but this time IN FULL! It’s also had a few minor changes, so now you can read the entire thing together, the way it SHOULD be read! So here is A New Arrival by Kami Clements and Sarah Nitsch.

 

Nate slowed his mount Rusty to a walk as he hesitantly approached the wooden sign that named the town of Hope Valley. Sweat beaded on his brow, and his breath came in short, gasping huffs. Nate nervously gripped the reins tighter; Rusty nickered, and tossed his head anxiously as he took a few staggering steps backward.

“Sorry, boy,” Nate apologized as he patted the horse’s neck, trying to slow his own pulse. Rusty had always been such a calming influence in Nate’s life, but not even his magic was working today; there was just too much at stake! With a forceful, determined exhale, Nate clicked his tongue, and nudged Rusty forward into the center of the frontier town. His face appeared calm, but his heart was pounding with every clip-clop of the horse’s hooves as the two plodded down the packed-dirt road. The astonished stares he was getting from a few scattered townsfolk wasn’t helping.

“Calm down,” Nate urged himself in a barely discernable whisper. “You know this has to be done! Just get it over with!” That wasn’t working, so he tried something else: “Please, God. Please help me! I can’t do this alone.” Well, that did help a little.

Nate found the jail with little trouble, and decided he should probably report to the sheriff before gallivanting about on his…other quest. He dismounted, tethered Rusty’s reins to the post, straightened his red serge jacket, and ascended the steps.

“Can I help ya?” said a voice behind a newspaper when Nate opened the door. The corner folded down, and the older gentleman hastily put the periodical aside on the desk. “Ah! Welcome, Mountie!” This man who was obviously the sheriff stood, and albeit a little reluctantly, offered his hand. Nate removed his hat, shook the offered hand a bit more firmly than he usually would, and the man gestured to a chair. “Constable…?”

“Uh, Grant. Nathan Grant,” he replied as he took a seat. “But you can call me Nate.”

“Good to meet you, Nate,” the man also sat back down. Nate wasn’t exactly sure he meant it, but oh well. “Bill Avery, acting sheriff.”

“And I have a letter from headquarters about that.” Nate took the paper from his pocket, and handed it over. Bill read it, but his only reactions were a couple of grunts here and there. Finally, he placed it on top of the newspaper, but wouldn’t respond. He only took his weapon from the desk drawer; then casually, but deliberately, began to load it. Nate’s first instinct was to reach for his own pistol holstered at his side, but he resisted the urge. Easy now, Nate’s head reminded him. He’s testing you. Show him you’re no coward. He discreetly removed his right hand from his waist, then slowly folded both hands in his lap.

After what felt like an hour, but was only an excruciating few minutes, Bill eyed Nate over the top of his gun as he did the “final inspection”. Nate guessed that Sheriff Avery had decided he’d gotten enough intimidation, and was quite proud of himself for holding his ground with such a seasoned officer.

“I’m glad you made it a little early. I promised the sheriff in the next town I’d help him with a stake out, and I really don’t want to appoint another acting sheriff…not after last time.”

Ah, thought Nate. Hence the loading of his weapon. Clever! “Glad I made it then too. Uh, last time?” Bill’s look said “forget about it”. Nate took the hint, and moved on. “So, what do I need to know before you head out?”

“You need to know that this town suffered a tragedy not too long ago,” Bill snapped gruffly; but as Nate looked closer, he could see moisture glistening in the sheriff’s eye. The Mountie could empathize, as he was struggling to make sure he didn’t get emotional.

“I’m aware of that, Sheriff,” Nate responded soberly. “And I intend to treat Constable Thornton’s post with every respect and dignity. You have my word on that.”

Bill looked surprised, then his face took on a look of approval…almost. “You knew him? You knew Jack?”

Nate laughed ruefully, and with very little humor. That was the understatement of the year. “I knew him.” Better to just leave it at that.

That seemed acceptable to Mr. Avery. “Well, good,” Bill said briskly, as he stood and stretched his hand out to Nate once more. He certainly seemed more friendly all of a sudden. “Then you’ll do well here. Just remember, all of us here in town are still reeling a bit, so your being here may be a little difficult.”

“Understood. Anything else?”

“Yeah. Watch out for those railroad boys in the saloon on Saturday nights. The place just got a new owner, and after a long week’s work, things can get…a little wild.”

“Will do,” Nate said, donning his hat as he followed Bill outside. The sheriff gave the Mountie half a smile before trudging down the stairs, and riding away on his horse. Nate sighed deeply. That was over with; now came the hard part.

That “hard part” sailed into town with a gust of wind and a swirl of leaves. When the dust had settled and Nate had brushed the debris from his jacket, he looked up, and there she was! That had to be Elizabeth! My goodness! Nate’s mind exclaimed. The photograph Jack had shown him hadn’t done her justice! Her hair was long and soft, with just a touch of curl, and it flowed gracefully behind her shoulders as the breeze played with it. Her pink coat was feminine and delicate, but her step was sure and confident. A smile came easily to her lips as she greeted her friends and neighbors with enthusiasm. And her eyes! Her eyes were just as Nate had imagined: carrying the burden of grief, but still holding onto that spark of fire. She was just lovely!

Then those eyes found Nate. He panicked like a boy snitching candy, since he’d been caught staring, but Elizabeth was staring back. She just…stood there…watching him, as if time was standing still. Suddenly, the spell was broken. Elizabeth shook herself, gave Nate a look of regretful sadness and embarrassed horror, then dashed toward a white building he presumed was the schoolhouse. Nate only hesitated a moment or two before he hurried to catch up with her. This was what he’d wanted.

“Ma’am?” She hesitated slightly, then hurried on. “Excuse me…Mrs. Thornton?”

Elizabeth halted abruptly, and spun around, looking like she’d seen a ghost – Jack’s ghost. Now I’ve done it, Nate thought. “How do you know my name?” Elizabeth’s trembling voice inquired.

Here we go… “I apologize for surprising you, ma’am. M-my name is Nathan Grant. I’m the new constable of Hope Valley?”

“Clearly,” Elizabeth responded with a bit of a sarcastic smile, eyeing his uniform.

Nate looked down, and let out a self-conscious chuckle as he once again removed his hat, and nervously tapped his fingers against the brim. Then they sobered almost simultaneously. It was as if Elizabeth could feel the importance of his message. She looked at him expectantly.

Nate took a deep breath, and continued. “Mrs. Thornton,…I-I was trained at Fort Clay. Your husband, he…he was my commanding officer, and he…” Oh boy! Nate’s foreboding thoughts said. He gathered his courage, and looked her square in the eye. “He saved my life, ma’am.” Elizabeth’s eyes widened as she caught his meaning. “I’m alive today because Constable Thornton pushed me away from that rock slide.”

Elizabeth’s left hand cupped her mouth as she gasped, and tears sprang to her eyes. Nate saw a glint of sunlight reflecting off her wedding band, and squeezed his eyes shut with self-loathing. For a moment, he wished he had died in that accident. He would have given anything to have traded places that day so Jack could be here in Hope Valley, with Elizabeth where he belonged. But sadly, things didn’t turn out that way.

When Nate looked at Elizabeth again, he was sorry he had. She was crying quietly behind her hand, tears streaming down her cheeks. He wondered if she might slap him. He certainly wouldn’t have blamed her; in fact, it would have made him feel better. But what did happen was something he never expected. Elizabeth regained her composure: took a few deep breaths, wiped her tears, then gently placed her hand on his forearm. Nate stared in shock, but Elizabeth said with perfect empathy: “This must have been very difficult for you, Constable Grant.”

Nate stammered, completely taken aback. “Y-yes ma’am, it certainly was!” he finally admitted, then felt like one of those rocks had been lifted from his shoulders. “I didn’t know what you’d think of me, what you’d say. I know you probably resent me, Mrs. Thornton, but believe me when I say that I would have switched places with Ja- Constable Thornton in a heartbeat!”

“I’m sure you would have, Constable Grant,” said Elizabeth, taking her hand back, and readjusting her books in her arms. “And let me assure you that while I never imagined coming face to face with one of you, I promise I don’t hate you. My husband was a very duty-bound and protective man. If it hadn’t been you, it would have been someone else.”

“That’s true enough, ma’am.” Then Nate genuinely smiled for the first time since he got to town. “He loved you so much, Mrs. Thornton. He was always talking about you, and he showed me a picture. That’s how I knew who you were.” Now Elizabeth smiled, a bashful one at the ground, and tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “And there’s more…” Nate’s face turned serious again as he held a folded and ashy-looking paper out to her. “He asked me to give this to you before he died.”

Elizabeth looked almost nervous as she unfolded the page, and rubbed her fingers together to rid them of the dust. One glance, and her eyes widened in shock. “How did he know?!”

          ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

Nate felt the pain screaming from his shoulder before anything else. He reached for it before he could even open his eyes. What happened? Nate groaned and slowly shook his head, trying to sweep the cobwebs free. As his mind began to clear and he forced his eyes to slit open, he heard something behind him: men’s voices. Men’s voices clamoring! “Dig! Dig! Get him out! Keep trying!” they all yelled at once! Nate’s memory returned in waves, his eyes popped open with sudden alertness. Jack! The landslide! He’d pushed Nate and Jacobs out of the way! Nate turned his head to see his fellow Mounties crawling over the rocks and boulders like an army of ants, trying to remove them from a particular spot. That must be where Jack was! His pain forgotten, Nate stood, steadied himself, and hurried to be part of the effort. He elbowed and shoved his way to the spot itself, just in time to see Jacobs uncover Jack’s head and shoulders. He touched two fingers to Jack’s neck just as Jack moaned in pain. “He’s alive!” Nate shouted.

They lifted and pushed, scratched and dug for the better part of an hour before Jack was finally pulled free. Nate grabbed his feet while Cooper took his wrists, and they hoisted him away from the rubble. They laid him in one of the few clear spots to be found. Nate knelt beside Jack while Anderson appeared with a blanket to cover him. “Are there any doctors here?” Nate demanded. Silence. “Anybody?!” The Mounties just looked at each other sorrowfully. Not in this company. Everyone had the same amount of First Aid training Nate had…not enough knowledge for a situation as dire as this. And the others had looked to him as a leader, given his age…and the fact that Jack had appointed him his unofficial second in command.

Nate turned his attention back to Jack, and desperately tried to think. Jack had plenty of cuts and abrasions, but none looked too serious. Then Nate felt Jack’s cold, sweaty skin, and saw massive amounts of bruising on the exposed flesh. When he felt for broken bones, and Jack cried out in pain at every touch, he knew. These symptoms could only mean one thing- bleeding on the inside.

Nate stopped devising a plan of action, and started trying to accept that he was kneeling beside a dying man, a dying man he cared very deeply about. He took Jack’s hand, and as gently as possible, tried to rouse him. The other recruits felt the change. They huddled in groups a short distance away, giving Nate a little privacy, but still there offering support. Even Jacobs held back, sensing Nate’s need to be alone with him. Jack’s eyes fluttered open, and he dazedly looked around him. His gaze settled on Nate, but he seemed confused. Finally, there was some semblance of recognition, and Nate didn’t wait another moment to speak. “You saved my life, Jack!” Nate said as tears pooled in his eyes.

“Had to.” Jack spoke with labored, wheezing breaths. “You’re my friend, Nate.” Suddenly, a sense of urgency overtook Jack. He tried to move, but his eyes widened, and he groaned loudly with the pain. “Quick…my pocket…take it.” Nate searched three of them before he discovered a piece of paper in Jack’s left breast pocket, the one next to his heart. Jack exerted all his remaining energy to reach his other hand up to Nate. Nate took it. “Find my wife…find…Elizabeth…give that…to her…please…” Jack pleaded.

“Calm down, Jack. Save your strength. Of course I’ll find her. I promise.”

Jack started choking on air. “Tell her I-I love her…so much. Tell her…t-tell her…”

“What, Jack? Tell her what?”

“Tell…her…‘Eternity’…”

              ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

Nate startled himself back to the present. Elizabeth had just asked him something. “Pardon me?”

Elizabeth’s eyes were wistful as she answered. “The baby…how did he know?” She met his gaze again. “I’m expecting.”

Only then did Nate notice the little bump barely showing beneath her coat. He sucked in his breath as his thoughts were flooded with images of his sister, another pregnant widow who lost her husband in the line of duty. He put his hat under his arm, took Elizabeth’s hand, still holding the paper, in both of his as he would his sweet sister’s. “I want you to know, I’ll help you in any way I can.”

Elizabeth nodded her thanks with an emotional smile, and pulled her hand back to continue looking at the treasure she’d just been given. It wasn’t a letter, but a drawing. Nate could study it in his mind’s eye while Elizabeth looked, as Jack had shown it to him so many times. It was a depiction of Elizabeth holding a baby wrapped in a knitted blanket. Jack was just above her and to the side, his left hand on her shoulder, his wedding ring visible; and they were both smiling down at their little bundle of joy. At the top read simply “My Eternity”. Then he remembered to answer her.

“I don’t think he did know ma’am, at least not from the words he spoke. But he was always talking about his dreams of the future with you, and that included lots of children. I guess this is what he wanted when he…when he came home.

“This means more to me than I can say. He must have trusted you a great deal to leave this in your hands.” Elizabeth folded the paper, and lovingly placed it inside the cover of one of her books. Then she locked eyes with Nate, and asked in a very somber tone. “May I ask you one more favor?”

“Name it.”

“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.”

“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 news.”

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.

“Of course.”

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 is 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 moment of tearful reverence and mutual understanding. For Nate, it was a strange, yet peaceful relief to not have to grieve alone.

Finally, Elizabeth broke the silence, 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 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 pulled me into his office, and 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 must 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.” He paused for just a moment longer, then figured he better be going. “Goodbye, Elizabeth.”

“Goodbye, Nate.”

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 today, I believe Jack put his faith in the right man. And it’s my opinion that 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 right where Nate had left him. He patted the horse’s back affectionately, and Rusty snorted 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.

Have a great weekend, Hearties! See you Monday! This is Hooked Heartie, signing off! May your heart let your hope blossom!