It is the first great war of a heart and a nation.
In the age of industrious war, young Andrew Boyd must choose between altering the fate of a nation and succumbing to the rapture of his heart. After years of poverty, Andy comes to work for the influential Stone family; its children henceforth defining his life. Headstrong William Stone quickly becomes an ally, while his sister, Cherish, torments Andy’s emotions. Though her feelings are distinct, they are obscured by the pretenses of society. Passing through their teenage years together, the young couple’s conflicts amplify until eventually boiling over into The Great War.
Like war, love caters to those who are willing to sacrifice everything. The story unfolds as Andy looks back upon the course of life, even as he nears the end of his.
My childhood breath Cherish Stone
…And the loyalty of friends.
(The Great War)
Deployed near the river at Bois de Bourgogne, France, they were to serve as the left flank of the main assault. As point, Andy chose his path carefully. His eyes locked forward, even as his mind lapsed back. All was unnaturally still. Their silhouettes were but ghosts in the aberrant autumn fog. Each man was able to see only the next in line; beyond that, nothing more than vague images of shambled ruins.
It made Will ever more vigilant. It was too quiet. For miles there wasn’t a sound other than their movements through the mist. The men focused on every tree as if it were an enemy, every ditch as if it were a parapet. Even the river seemed reserved.
After an hour, they broke from the shifting trees. A field of mossy mire passed beneath their feet. Tracks and shrapnel began to emerge from the fleeting fog. There were whispers in the air. Andy’s heartbeat echoed as he raised a hand. In an instant the mist was gone; as far as the eye could see, loomed the front line.
Abruptly, artillery soared overhead decimating the forest edge. Soldiers were stung on the wire as they ran forward. Fire opened from snipers and German machine guns in the hedgerow. The trench beyond the wire came alive with an enemy infantry. And then without warning, came their greatest moment.
From the bellows of fire drew a radiant glow; and with a breath, it took life. Ever enduring and beautiful, … turning in time to take form. It was unique. Irreplaceable.
“Andrew…Are you all right boy?” A soot-covered man shook the boy’s shoulders.
The boy stood still, amidst a pile of broken glass, staring off beyond the bellows. His dingy blonde hair sweat soaked to his cheek. It’s the exact spot he had worked for the last 14 months of his twelve-year life. What modest natural light did enter the factory flickered upon the infinite particles that littered the floor about him.
“I’m sorry Emmet. The bottle was hotter than I expected.”
It could be worse, he thought. He could be cold, instead of unbearably warm. It could be his first day instead of his last.
Small droplets of blood fell from his hand, spattering across his worn brown boots. In turning his hands over, several shards of glass became visible. He was the blower’s assistant. Such things were inevitable. Glancing quickly about, he went to work attempting to remove a few of them. Then just as sudden, he pulled some tattered cloth from his pocket and gently wrapped his hands.
Mr. Dillon, the foreman, could be seen rounding the furnaces. That same callous look was upon his face. Andy straightened as if to muster his courage in anticipation of the lecture.
“Not to worry, my lad.” Emmet began untying his leather apron. “It’s not anyone’s fault ‘cept that there man’s. The bastards got all you youngins working too long, mostly for his own pocket. Now you just start cleaning it up, and I’ll be handling the miser.” And with that, he turned to confront Dillon.
“Did that boy drop another bottle? That would be two in as many days,” spouted Dillon with dislike in his eyes. It was obvious to everyone that his contempt was more over Andrew’s leaving than a broken bottle. He had little regard for the desires of others.
“Oh; no sir! ‘Twas the smoke. It swelled onto my eyes as I was handing it to the boy. He was attemptin’ to catch it.” Asserted the old Irishman.
Pausing for a moment, Dillon glared at them both. “Well, you’ll be staying until you replace it,” he directed toward Emmet. “And as for yourself,” now scrutinizing Andy sweeping the floor, “I think it would be best if you’d be getting off now. Your mother is waiting out front and I’ve already given her your pay, so don’t be expecting anything.”
Agreeably they both nodded. Yet Dillon continued to warily stare at them, until another ruckus finally drew his attention. Sharply he walked off through the factory. So intent on watching everyone, he occasionally bumped a table and faltered. An isolated chuckle would be heard from somewhere. Other than that, there was only the hiss of blowers.
Andy felt the broom being pulled from his hand, and a firm pat upon his back. “See the world for me laddy?” a splintered smile grew on Emmet’s face.
In vain he attempted to say something, but Andy’s thoughts were once again distance, as was apparent to the old Irishman. He quickly embraced the sullied leather apron and the man within it.
“Now off you go, …go on.” And with that, the boy turned and scurried from the hazy hall. His mind was full of wonder. Barely was he conscious of leaving the factory, or passing his waiting mother, or even climbing into the seat of the Packard Touring. Both his heart and mind were racing.
The trip was a good distance from their home in Ohio. Farther then he’d ever traveled before. But it was time to move on. He could see the hopeful expression upon his mother’s face as they rode. This would be the seventh move in five years. He had long ago adjusted to life of scarcity. It was now just his mother and him on an endless hunt for anything. His father’s abandonment and his mother’s lack of skills had left them nothing. There were only momentary rests in places of little comfort. It’s the only life he really knew. But it taught him many things; like that the wind narrowed his eyes. Andy was eager as his mind wandered with wonder.
It was uncertain why an aunt he had never met had arranged for his mother to work as a servant for a prosperous family. With the beginning of a new century, many were favoring factory work. Electric mechanisms were being created to perform menial tasks. Every day, inventions were created to change life. Yet, there were those that held to the partiality of having subsidiaries.
The land and people were changing. The markings of war were slowly fading away. Even the rural fields were showing signs of industrialization, as horses drew clanging machines about the countryside. Through rising cities they passed the lure of opportunity on every street. He would finally know such a place, with new things to see and do, near a vast ocean he couldn’t possibly imagine. And as his head slipped to his mother’s shoulder, he thought…tomorrow!
A New World
As the old car sputtered to a halt, the wind ceased to blow. He was once more aware and scanning his perimeters. But his surroundings were far from anything he recognized. The way lane was paved, bordered by washed out green grass, both extending toward an immense home. There they gave way to large chiseled pillars adorning an entryway. Windowed towers and dormers beyond anything the boy had seen before stemmed from the roofline; surpassed only by two mammoth chimneys. As a smiling colored man emerged from the doorway, the boy thought surely this could not be their destination.
As if she could read his mind, his mother quickly ran her fingers atop his head and stated, “No Andrew, there is our new home”. She turned his gaze to a much smaller yet quaint structure at the far edge of the property. A narrow pebbled path led across the vast stretch of jade to just past the tree line. There within the broken shade of cypress stood a single story wooden cottage. Its wide porch and planks aged by the tepid southern air gave it a warm and welcoming look. The colored man who had come to help carry their bags passed and led them inside.
“I hope you find your new home suitable. Miss Clemens certainly did. And if you find you needs anything, just call out Daniel and I’ll come runnin.” The jovial man waved as he went out the door.
Within, the cottage was sparely furnished. Evidently this is where his aunt once lived. A few remnants of her life remained in the form of a scanty table and chairs. Alone upon the wall was a formal photo of her and the man that stole her away. No doubt it was purposely left behind for the sake of Andrew’s mother. Off the main room were two bedroom doors and an exit to the rear of the cottage. Out the back door lay a sizeable clearing where wood was cut and stacked for winter. A trail led off into the woods through a thick row of trees. His eyes impulsively went to his mother. Smiling, she told him to go explore.
Within seconds the yielding thin grass was racing beneath his feet. The relentless summer heat of 1910 seared down upon the Virginia countryside. But Andy’s footsteps moved quickly within the shadows of numerous cypress trees. If nothing else, the crisscrossing shadows provided some relief. Amongst the entangled trees the path ambled. Though faint and seemingly forsaken, its befuddled course led to somewhere, and young Andrew was determined to find its end.
Progressively the trail became more overgrown. The dead branches broke off as he pushed his way through. Isolated tufts of grass brushed across his knees. His eyes locked more on ahead than on the ground. So much so that there was a moment he wondered if he’d lost the trail. Unexpectedly barricades of briars tugged at his clothing, and relentlessly he pulled to get free. Step by step he spun in circles ripping the barbs away. Until finally he yanked the last thorn from his hand and his cussing stopped. There he paused.
Long before he ever reached the glaring light that challenged the forest, he could hear their whine. That recurring subdued siren that never dwindles, lapsed over him. His pace grew cautious as he neared the meadow edge. The now wooded rippled path gave way to a great void. Mildewed air immediately reached his nostrils. A mixture of wild wheat and russet grass extended out before him. It stretched out for several acres until it again collided with the forest beyond.
A lone oak tree stood solace amid the arid field. Somehow it held onto vitality even as everything around it perished. Like an outsider it stood with its entangled branches casting broken shadows beneath. It had probably been there long before the field. Long before the other trees had been cleared. Doggedly it just remained, as if somehow it had to. Aside from that tree, there was not one other image of pleasantry to behold. Yet he was transfixed.
A sudden rhythmic thrush cut upon the wheat as if a sickle at harvest. Louder and louder it came, rolling from the west descent. Even at a distance the siren cicada could be seen, fleeing from the reapers path. Andy raised his hand to shelter his eyes. Cutting across the meadow was a canescent colored horse. Its head was high, its tail and mane were aflutter. Galloping without restraint, each stride slit the summer wheat. Across the field, around the great oak, and back again, the horse and rider raced.
At first the rider emerged as a boy donned in white. But in drawing nearer, a girl’s auburn hair waved in unison with the horse’s gallop. The ends of her dress were tucked tightly into her stockings. So small she seemingly appeared, and yet she commanded the mare with such ease. Her hands scarcely drew on the reins as they rounded within a few yards of the oak. He gazed at them both as they passed several times, unaware of his presence. Once again his mindful wander had left him oblivious to the shifting shade and the fact that he was not alone.
Standing next to him was yet another young boy. This one though was about his height. He was simply staring at him. His short brown hair emanated from beneath his cap and his hands were pressed firmly into his trouser pockets.
“Who are you?” the boy asked
Startled, Andy abruptly turned toward him. “Andrew.” Then as if his attention couldn’t be drawn away, he looked back across the field. “Andrew Boyd. We’re moving into the house at the end of the path.” Again he glanced at the boy, then quickly at down the path.
“The old tenant house?” pressed the boy.
The horse and girl came to edge of the field. “ Ah, someone new in town?” the girl spoke excitedly. “Where are you from?” she slid easily off the horse and hurried to the boys.
“His name is Andrew.” The older boy edgily muttered.
“Well how do you do?” She said eloquently, to Andy’s surprise.
In his apprehension, Andy muttered “hi”. She smiled deeper as her head tilted. Softly she giggled and more expectantly said “hi”.
At that moment the wind ceased to blow and he felt a new pain.
An uncomfortable moment passed with seeming sizing up by all, until firmly the young girl began to speak. “My name is Cherish, this is Innocence,” as she gestured gracefully toward the white mare, “and that irritable boy is my brother William. This is our father’s land, but we don’t use it for anything more than playing upon. He owns the machine factory near the river. I think they make shots there or something?”
“Shells, Sis, shells!” The disgruntled William began walking toward Andrew. “All kinds of ammunition really,” he said as he brushed past him. “For the wars!” It was as if he thought neither understood. Unconsciously he began to wade through the knee-high grass. The weeds swooshed against his trousers. Black objects sprang erratically out of his path. A little ways in he twisted back to the sight of the two still at the edge. “Well, come on then!” And with that he turned and continued across the weedy vastness.
The dark-blond haired Andrew now stood within a wistful state, once again transfixed by the cicada call. The whirling sound made him ill at ease, though he didn’t know why. To him it was like the air itself was tugging at his breath. It wasn’t until Cherish grasped his arm that he was mindful and entered the meadow. In one hand she held his shirtsleeve, with the other the reins, briskly walking one step ahead him and the mare. As they plowed through the tainted wheat, past the lonesome oak, numbness trickled through him.
“Gabby was baking cookies this morn. Perhaps they will be done by now! Oh’ you will so enjoy her. She can be stern at times, but…”
The sound of her voice seemed so strange to Andrew, as if he’d never heard a young girl’s voice before. Of course he had, many in fact, there at the glass factory. Back when idle conversation was unfavorable to production; the words of any child were minuscule and compliant. Yet hers was different. Perhaps it was more of the way she spoke. Her tone was distinct and sweet, much like the faint scent of orange blossom that drifted about her.
Unwittingly the three of them had crossed several acres before reaching William. He lingered next to a gate within a stone wall. The barrier was made of simple field stones piled to only waist height, but ran the entire width of the field from one wood to the other. Without prompt he opened the gate so that Cherish and the mare could pass through. Then stepping through himself, he began closing the gate.
“William!” Cherish shouted as she walked.
“Just playing.” Opening the gate, William smirked at Andrew who eagerly came to the inner side.
Beyond the wall stood a small barn structure.
Upon entering, the stable consisted of two horse stalls and grain room. Climbing the wall near the entrance was a ladder leading to the hay mound. The whole place smelled of horsehair and leather. Yet it was surprisingly cooler inside.
After latching Innocence into her stall, Cherish then reached to pat the mare’s companion. A somewhat smaller, yet stouter horse stood in the adjacent stall. “His name is Shadow.” It was a name evidently given him due to his dark colored coat. “He is still very young, much too young to be ridden. But he’s always trying to get out,” she said while checking the stall latch. Andrew began to raise his hand to touch the horse, but it jerked abruptly back.
“Pay no heed, he’s skittish at times. Now come Shadow, be civil!” She stroked the stallion’s nose, but Andrew withdrew. And with that, he walked back out into the humid air.
Across yet another acre of washed out grass stood what Andrew figured what could only be the back side of the mansion. Its vastness continued to amaze him.
Walking toward it, Andrew noticed several small rows of grapevines growing nearby. “Are they fruitful?” he asked inquisitively while motioning toward the vines.
“In good years, but not until Fall,” Cherished answered without so much as a glance. “The garden is in bloom though!”
The last thirty yards of lawn consisted of an immense garden. Some plants, such as the Bloodroot and Butterfly Weed, he immediately recognized; but the others he did not. Each cluster of flora was gathered within its own section. And each color faded into the next from pale to vivid. Cherish ran her hand across the stems as they walked, and then abruptly closed her fingers upon one. Bell shaped petals fell to the ground as it snapped from its stalk.
“Did you grow this yourself?” Andrew asked.
“Why no, it is someone else’s job to tend them. I only pick those that I want.”
She spun it around as if it were a wand or something. More petals descended in all directions, cascading from its bloom.
William came to the screen door and called out. “Mother’s looking for you. You’re late for your piano lesson.” He pushed open the door with several cookies in hand. “She also said that you don’t have a father,” his eyes settling upon Andrew.
“Good heavens, I am sure that was something you weren’t to repeat!” Cherish annoyingly climbed the steps toward her brother. “You needn’t answer him, Andrew.”
“Is it so?” William persisted.
Cherish pulled a cookie from his hand and tossed it to Andrew. She then took another and leaning against the railing, nibbled small bites from it.
It seemed like he was being tested somehow. The cookie palmed in his hand, Andrew pushed his hands deep into his pockets. Nervousness was building in him. “Yeah…well ..” He stumbled before suddenly being saved by a woman’s voice calling to the siblings.
His eyes still fixed upon the tense boy, William backed to the doorway. “You’ll find the path to the cabin around that side the house.” He paused before stepping through the doorway. “See you tomorrow then.”
And with that, the corners of Cherish’s lips curled behind her cookie as she too hurried inside.
The young lad just stood there, his hands still lodged in his pockets. He didn’t know quite how to feel about it all. To the right of the steps was a brick walk leading to some glass doors. Through them he could make out a figure moving about inside.
There was the distant whine from the field and the buzz of a few bees about the flowers. Other than that, it was quiet. It was then that he remembered his mother. Heading back to the cabin he turned left along the porch. As he pasted, atop the rail lay the disfigured flower. In the illuminating window beyond, stood Cherish; his mind and heart raced.