Rated: E · Fiction · Contest Entry · #1749654
A love story for the short shots contest.The shading oak survives was to bring love home.
|The Tree Of Love|
The boat gently glided along the blue water beneath deep blue spring sky. Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears as she studied the once familiar land now a pitiful sight of loneliness and destruction. Burnt chimneys, jagged edges of torn down fences, broken limbs and stumps where trees once stood proud and majestic greeted her. Heart pounding, she held her breath as the boat rounded the bend of the wide Potomac River. Would her home still be there, or would barren wasteland such as this greet her?
Her mind drifted to the bright spring day four years ago, in ’61, when she left home. The Rebels were on the move out of Alexandria, being chased by Yankee troops. Message after message came from Julia begging her to ‘leave the farm and come to us, you are in grave danger.’ So she packed her trunks, loaded the carriage and headed to her sisters home in Washington, leaving the land in the charge of the overseer Mr. Bean and his wife Nancy. In the ensuing four years there had been fighting all along the Potomac, could they and the house have survived?
“ Please God,” her heart silently cried out, “ please let the house still be there. I will start over and begin the family farm again. I will need the house to shelter me. I have money to hire workers, just let the house be there.”
She stretched her tired back and shifted on the hard wood bench, the increasing warmth of the sun reaching her tired face. If she remembered right, the next bend in the river would be the old wooden dock and above it, on the gentle rise, the old oak tree that she used to play under, read under, dream under on warm spring days like today. “ Please God at least let the old tree be there. It’s a part of my childhood, I’ll be ok if it is there.”
She jolted forward as the boat guided right, skillfully avoiding the large rock jutting upward in the water as it headed for the dock. She leaned forward, straining her eyes in the bright sunlight, heart pounding harder and harder each moment that passed. The dock was still there, covered with thick green moss obviously crumbling but still there. Her eyes floated upward across the thick green rise earnestly searching for the tree.
Her heart leaped for joy when she finally saw its outline against the deep blue sky, fresh green leaves decorating its ever widening branches. “ Thank you God, Thank you God, its there! It’s a reminder that my people have existed, that the memories of my youth were real! No matter what else I find, I will be fine because the tree is there!”
Once the boat was safely docked, she stood quickly and gently stepped onto the creaking dock, carefully avoiding protruding nails and slippery moss. Once on solid ground, she gathered up her black crape skirt and started quickly up the grassy slope. She called over her shoulder to the black boatman, “ carry the things to the house, if its still there. I’ll be along in a minute.”
Her heart raced as she drew ever closer to the tree. Her chest rose and fell rapidly as she gasped for the cool refreshing air. Her hand touched the rich, rough dark wood of the trunk as she sank to the cool ground, tears flowing down her face as she remembered David. His voice echoed in her mind as if he were standing there, “ Elizabeth, I must go and do my duty. I am joining the Union army to fight to help keep the country together. Don’t hate me for it. Please don’t hate me for it. I am a Virginian but I love the nation as a whole more than the state. I know you do to. When the war is over, we will meet again here underneath this tree and begin our lives together. I promise you. Wait for me, I beg of you.”
She smiled as she remembered her quiet response “ Yes David, I will wait for you, no matter how long it takes. We will meet here beneath this tree when the war is over. Go with God. Do your duty and I will pray for you.”
The tears she was crying now, mingled with the tears back then. She remembered the letters she sent, letting him know she was in Washington, how she longed to see him, be with him. She cherished the letters from him, carried them close to her heart. Then a year ago the letters stopped. No one knew where he was, what had happened, they all assumed he was among the unknown dead and wounded at the battle in Wilderness further down in Virginia. So she donned the black of mourning. The same mourning she wore today.
“Funny,” she thought, “today of all days I feel less sad. Perhaps its because I am home once again. Yet, he feels so close to me here. Perhaps his spirit is. Dry your tears Elizabeth and go to the house. You can come back later in the day and say your farewells.”
She slowly unbent her knees and pulled herself to her feet, straightening her skirt. She entered the blinding bright sunlight and gazed across the wide expanse of green lawn catching sight of the low wide porch and faded, chipped, white washed walls. She sighed deeply, thanking God that the house remained. Two shadowy figures moved slowly off the porch in her direction. She smiled brightly as she realized the gray haired stooped gentleman was Mr. Bean and the thin lady his dear wife Nancy. Hands extended, she hastened to meet them.
Within minutes she was in the familiar shadows of her parlor. Her heart filled with sadness at the worn shabby damask curtains, chairs and settees. She felt the hardness of the wood floor through the much worn carpets. Her head seemed to spin, making her weak dizzy. She couldn’t process their words as she sank slowly into the tapestry rocker. Their concerned voices faded into darkness as she gave in to the faintness she was feeling.
A cold cloth on her forehead brought her to her senses. She looked from Nancy’s pale worried face to Mr. Bean’s wrinkled brow. They had aged so much in four years. “I am all right Mrs. Bean, Mr. Bean. It is so good to be home, to see you. Tell me please how things are going here. I am anxious to hire workers and start over. I have been away too long.”
Mr. Beans slight cough stopped her, his Scottish burr so familiar, “ There is no money to hire workers. Nancy, the boys and myself manage with the help of Old Zeke and his family. War called away all the lads who worked the fields. We’ll be treated harshly I’m sure now that the war is over and Lincoln is gone. All the neighbors, won’t be helpin’ as we diddna support the Confederates. Things have changed here, we could lose it all.”
Elizabeth bolted upright in the rocker and felt her face flush red. “ We will not lose it all, not this land, my families land! I have money. We will use it to hire who and what we can! Mr. Bean, you are my overseer and I ask you to see to it. We will all work together to survive and keep this land.” She paused at their stunned faces. “ Forgive my rudeness, I am tired and this war has cost me much. David is gone, I haven’t heard from him in a year. I can’t lose this land too. It’s all I have left. I am going for a walk and clear my head. When I return we will discuss how to save this place.”
Elizabeth stood up slowly and meandered towards the solitary tree, feeling in its very presence a comfort and hope. She settled her self on the shady ground, resting her uncovered head on the cool trunk, eyes closed, lost deep in thoughts for saving her home. She knew it would not be easy, a lone woman with just an overseer and a few hired hands to help her. Still she would do it, she was strong, fairly young and with Gods help could succeed. As long as the tree stood strong so would she.
She thought she was dreaming at the sound of a deep familiar voice, gently teasing, “ Is this any way for the Mistress of house to act, daydreaming under a tree when there is work to be done? Is there no welcome home for a weary soldier?”
Her eyes flew open and she looked up in the warm brown eyes and suntanned face of a handsome young man clad in the blue uniform of a surgeon. She asked herself if she were dreaming then called out quickly, excitedly, “ David, is it really you? Am I dreaming or are you really here? I thought you were dead!”
She felt his warm strong hands clasp hers and gently pull her to her feet and into his warm embrace. The scent of gunpowder and campfire filled her nostrils, the wool coat rough on her cheek. She felt the beating of his heart and tears flowed down her cheeks. His voice rang in her ears like a prayer.
“ Its really me Elizabeth, I am here. Don’t cry my love. We promised each other we would meet here under this tree when the war was over and today that promise is fulfilled. Just let me feel you in my arms.”
She watched with tearful gaze as he eased himself to the ground and pulled her down beside him. She rested her head on his strong chest as he told his story. “ I got separated from my unit during the fierce fighting in the Wilderness. For a while I was held prisoner and helped care for wounded on both sides. When the Union boys got to me, my unit had been discharged to home. I stayed with the unit that rescued me and cared for the wounded until the surrender. I sent letters to you but I guess you never got them. I thought of you every minute of everyday. When we got back to Washington, I asked to be assigned to this district so I could find you. Now we can be married as we planned four years ago. God, I love you Elizabeth!”
Her voice trembled as tears flowed down her face. “ I love you David, more than you ever know. I thought you were dead. Thank God you are alive. All I ever wanted was to come back here and recapture the memories of you, here under the tree. This tree is our shelter, our strength, and a reminder of our love eternal. Lets rest under its shade today and we can begin anew tomorrow, as husband and wife.”
Word count 1844