Chapter 18- Ever After

Ever After

Catherine had not yet opened her yes, but she sensed her body. It felt strong- powerful. She could feel every muscle. There were no aches. No pains as she had become so accustomed to feeling. She opened her eyes. Never before had she seen such a blue. It was deep and full and it seemed to Catherine that the color itself was alive. She sat up and ran her hands over the grass. It was plush and soft and of a more vibrant green than ever she had seen. She looked down at her hands. They were young. Golden and beautiful. She stood. She felt stronger than she ever had felt before. She felt she could run a thousand miles and never grow weary.

 

Catherine! Catherine! He laughed as he ran toward her, a smile spread across his face. He was tall and strong. The shadow that once fell endlessly across his face was lifted. Catherine had never heard him laugh like that.

 

“Dane!” She ran to him. She knew she felt powerful, but her own strength surprised her as she ran. She felt part child, part wild animal. She embraced him.

 

“How I’ve waited for you, my love!”

“How I’ve missed you, my husband!”

“My Children,” Catherine looked up into the face of one more beautiful than she had ever seen before. He was light and joy and life. And he loved her. She had known him a little on earth, now she would know him more, and she wanted that more than anything. She ran to him and fell to her knees.

“My Savior.” He knelt and gently lifted her. His smile seemed to radiate through her body. His laugh filled her with a lightness and joy she had never known.

“My daughter!” He said.

“This place….these bodies.”

“Just wait until you see the New Earth and your resurrected body.”

“What could possibly be better than this?”

“In time, you will see. Come.” He turned and she and Dane followed him.

“I can’t wait for you to meet them.” Dane said, holding her tightly by the hand as they ran.

“These are our daughters.” Catherine thought her heart could have burst. She had left Gwendolyn behind, who would be joining her soon enough. But here were the daughters whom Jesus had cared for from the moment they left her womb. They were grown, but when she looked at them, it was as if she could see every year. She could see them as infants, toddlers, young women. She could see everything they had been as they grew up here, in this beautiful place.

 

“Come, someone else has been waiting for you.” She followed them through the beautiful garden. The each picked a piece of deep red fruit as they went. She did the same. When she took a bit, the flavor filled her mouth in a way food on earth never had. She felt alive and strong. Her mind felt sharp. The garden was full of every shade of green, every color of fruit. The trees trimmed, the fruit arranged by color. Some fruits she recognized, others were entirely new. The colors of all were deeper than any colors she had seen on earth. The grass was soft and cool beneath her feet. The came to the edge of the garden and stepped out of it onto a beach. It was white and warm. She felt the change in sensations under her feet first as she moved from the cool garden into the warm air and onto the hot sand. The water a few leagues in front of her was a crystal blue unlike the ocean on earth. It was so clear, she could see the dolphins swimming beneath the water from a long distance away. She looked up and down and all around her, and her heart was full. The beauty of the place was staggering. When they reached the edge of the sand, she dipped her feet in the cool sparkling water. A small fish nibbled at her toe. There was a woman out a few yards, swimming.

“Harriet! Come and see who is here!” Dane called. Catherine dove into the water. Her body was powerfully strong as she swam to meet Harriet. A few dolphins jumped and played beside her, seeming to feel the excitement of this reunion. She embraced her old friend. Harriet was young now, with a body equally as powerful as Catherine’s. There was not a wrinkle on her face. Her lips were full, not thin and old as they were when Catherine knew her on earth. But her eyes….those dark soulful eyes Catherine would have known anywhere.

“Harriet!”

“Catherine, my dear!”

“Come, it’s time!” Dane called out across the sea. Catherine and Harriet raced to the shore, matching each other stroke for stroke, their strong arms moving them across the water effortlessly.

They reached the shore, stepped out onto the sand, and the warmth seemed to instantly dry them. Dane and the girls ran ahead. As they ran, it seemed to Catherine they were children, laughing and running and holding hands. She grasped Harriet by the hand and together they ran, like children.  As they ran, they saw people and animals running from every direction. Catherine noticed various languages that created a beautiful song that moved her soul and sent shivers down her spine. She noticed as they ran that more and more people came closer and closer together. People of every color and ethnicity. People of every language. People from every land on earth were here, together. Suddenly, everyone stopped running and she looked up to see why they had all stopped. Before her, there was a throne. And on the throne, a magnificent man, with eyes full of love and a smile full of life. He laughed a loud infectious laugh and it spread throughout the crowd.  They all bowed together and voices of every language shouted out,

“Holy, Holy, Holy” and as she shouted, the excitement of the word and what it meant filled her from her toes to the tip of her head. She looked at her God, her Savior, and felt herself come alive, so alive that she wondered whether she had ever really been alive before.

“Holy, Holy, Holy. My God. My Savior. My Jesus.”

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Chapter 17- Spring 1920

Spring 1920

Catherine passed by her bedroom mirror and glanced at herself. She always felt a sense of shock at seeing herself. She looked like Harriet, not Catherine. So often, she almost expected to see her 20 or 30 year old self peering back at her. But she saw a woman old and frail, with thin pursed lips. She looked down at her hands. They were gnarled with very purple veins spider-webbing in every direction. She picked up the old Bible Harriet had given her so many years ago. She could hardly hold it without its falling apart in her hands. But it was precious to her. It had changed her life, her marriage. It had given her Gwendolyn. She set the Bible down and picked up a picture of herself, Gwendolyn, and her granddaughter Sophia. What a blessed life I have lived. She thought of all that she had seen. The completion of a railroad. The building of many churches and schools. On the streets outside her house, she watched horses and carriages turn to motorized vehicles. She remembered when she first heard of the “horseless carriage” and how she had laughed at the idea. She watched the girls go from petticoats and full skirts to dresses sleek and slim and short.

She carefully placed the picture down and picked up the Bible again. She leafed through it until she came to the Psalms, her comfort. Tucked away in the Psalms was Dane’s letter. The last she would ever hear from him. The years did not make the pain go away. She missed him more in this very moment than she ever had before. The pain was not so searing as it had been all those years ago, but it was present nonetheless. She never moved from the little house along the Mississippi. She raised Gwendolyn there, alone. She baked bread with her and talked with her of love and life. She cried with her when Grandpa Charles had died, and went Grandma Elizabeth died shortly thereafter. She thought of Dane and the seemingly endless amount of money he had left her. She had joyously done just as he had wished in his letter. She sent significant amounts of money to missionaries everywhere. She thought of the schools and supplies the money sent to the Freedmen’s Bureau. She thought of the evangelists sent to Ecuador and China. She looked up and whispered, I miss him. Oh, how I’ve missed him. But You knew what You were doing, Jesus. You knew.

She read Dane’s letter over again and the tears settled between the wrinkles in the corners of her eyes. I will see you soon, my dear, she whispered, pressing the letter to her heart.

 

Ever After

Chapter 16- Winter 1864

Winter 1864

The black clouds smoldered above the city. The very ground cried out for relief from it’s thirst. How cruelly it was salted and burned. Homes burned. Crops burned. Oh, the crying of children! No, no. Not children. They could not possibly have burned children. Did they? Could they? Dear, God! And the men, singing. Oh, why are they singing? John Brown’s Body. Screaming women and children. The dry and thirsty ground.

 

“Forgive me, Father. Receive my soul.” As the dry scorched soil desperately soaked up his lifeblood, he breathed his last and his soul left his body lifeless on the barren fields of the deserted Confederate lands.

 

Postmarked December 16th, 1864.

 

My Dearest Catherine,

How I hope this reaches you, in case I never do return. I need you to know that I have been made to know what a bad sort of man I am. I came here, thinking that I would fight for righteousness cause, to free the slave and be a part of bringing justice to the country. I would have told you that the Union soldier was altogether more righteous than the Confederate. I left home thinking I was a good man. I now know that I am not. I never have been. I will spare you the atrocities I have witnessed, but I feel you must know that I, who thought myself so good and righteous and just, have not only witnessed but taken part. I have been as much a scoundrel as any man. In the misery of facing the darkness of my heart, I thought of your words to me so many years ago, when you said that you had changed only after you came to believe that you were not a good sort of woman. I do not know whether believing God would forgive me gave me the courage to face the badness of my wrongdoings, or whether facing the badness of my wrongdoings has made me lift my face to God. I do not know in which order it happened. My soul changed so quickly. I understand you more now than ever. I do not know what made you see, but I know what has opened my eyes, and I know that when I thought myself a decent fellow, I was not being honest with myself. Before this, I could never have faced the kind of man I truly am.  All those times, you have told me that you had been changed by the very blood of Jesus, I did not understand. I do now, my dear. I do. If only I could hold you in my arms now, I would be a different sort of man, Don’t let Gwen forget me, my love. Read this letter to her when she grows, and make sure she knows that she is a very dearly loved girl.

Oh, how I love you.

Your husband forever

Dane

P.S With the railroad finished, you will be seeing a great profit from the shares I bought years ago. You will be able to live off a very small portion of it, actually. With the oil shares, I fear you shall hardly know what to do with it. If there is any way the money can be used to bring a great many people to what you and now what I have discovered, I trust you will know how.

Dane Johnson was killed in Sherman’s famous March to the Sea. He would never know that the very march in which he lost his life ended the War. Slavery was over, and the Union saved. The very thing Catherine and Harriet had prayed for so many times. Little did Catherine know it would be at the cost of her own beloved. Dane would never know the part he played. He would see only the atrocities that men with him committed. The burning of land, the tormenting of Confederate citizens, the murder, the bullet as it hit him square in the chest.

Chapter 15-November 1864

November 1864

She looked at this great man with his broad chest, dark brown locks and gray blue eyes. Her heart swelled. He took her face in his hands, thinking to himself that her sweet little head meant more to him than anything in the world. He was sorry to be leaving her.

“I’ll return,” he had promised. “The Lord is on our side, and He will give us victory. You will see. I’ll be back, I promise you.” He took her frail neck in his large hands and bent to kiss her lips. She leaned into him, breathing in his warmth and smell, trying to commit it to memory that she might access it whenever she most missed him. She felt a pull on her skirt, and she turned to pick up Gwendolyn.

“Gwenie, dearest, say good-bye to Papa. He will be back soon, very soon.” Gwen squeezed her Papa around the neck and said, “Go, go!” pointing to the door. They laughed. “No dear, you cannot go with me. Not this time. But when I return, you will go with me, and we will ride into town and I will buy you something sweet.” He kissed her fat neck and she giggled at the tickling of his whiskers. He put her down and turned to face Catherine again.

“And you, dear, behave yourself while I am away.” He gave her a look of mock authority. She threw her arms around him.

“And when have you ever known me to behave? I shall do what I like while you are away, and enjoy it very much.” He laughed a loud, hearty laugh.

“Ah, that’s my girl,” he said, kissing her again. He mounted. She reaching up to take hold of his head, not wanting to let go.

“Be safe,” she said.

“My safety is up to God, not me,” he replied. “But I will be brave. That, I will promise you. And I believe He will keep us safe and bring us sure victory. And it will all be over. Just think of it, Catherine. No more men disappearing by the hundreds.”

“It is far from a sure victory,” She cautioned him. “What we thought would be a sure victory has been long and bloody and awful. I wish to God we could go back and make it all stop.”

“They are battles fought for righteousness sake, dear. As you well know. The devils holding other human beings as if they were animals. It ought to have been stopped long ago.”

“I know. As my father has long said. The American hypocrisy.”

“Indeed. And here it ends. We’ll get to tell our children and grandchildren how God brought us to victory in ending the greatest atrocity ever committed by the American people.”

“We shall see. That will certainly be my prayer.”

“Take good care of your mother,”

“Of course.”

“And do not let Gwendolyn forget me.”

“Never.”

“Speak of me to her every night before bed.”

“I promise.”

“And leave a lamp out for me in case I return in the night.”

“I will.”

Chapter 14- Fall 1853

Fall 1853

It was nearly a year since Dane had ridden through the rain and met Harriet. Not much had changed in Dane, though everything had changed in Catherine. She was fully happy. Joy exuded from her smile and her eyes. Her step was light to match her heart. Her joy seemed untouchable. Though she lost Harriet for a time, she knew she would be with her again.  She thought that should she lose everything, she would not feel any differently, for she was still a daughter of the King, and that never could change.

It was a cold winter day, and Catherine was ready to brave the winter winds and ride to St. Donatus to spend a few days with her mother and father. Elizabeth seemed in as good of health as she ever had been, and she continued to bake bread and collect eggs daily. Her father, Charles,  was not faring so well. His mining days were all but over. He coughed often and puffed on his pipe. Yet, with the help of their hired hand since Catherine’s marriage, they had been able to maintain their living even so.

 

She was packing her bags and humming a hymn when Dane approached.

“Catherine,”

“Yes,” she turned around with a smile.

“What happened?”

“Happened?”

“Yes. What happened?”
“When?”

“I don’t rightly know. A few years ago, I suppose.” Catherine knew what he meant. She had changed. Just like Harriet had told her the night they met- she had switched out her insides. She was a different person. She had tried to tell Dane how God had changed her, but he did not want to believe it. He kept saying he didn’t want to be forced into a church. Catherine had promised him she never would. But she knew that he could not help but see what a different sort of woman she had become.

“Oh Dane, I tried to tell you. Over, and over I have tried to tell you, but you didn’t want to hear. ”

“About church, I know. But not that.”
“Well, it’s not about church, really. It was more that I came to believe…..or rather I was faced with the reality that I was not a good sort of woman. And having come to realize I was not a good sort of woman, I had also come to see forgiveness and life and purpose, and meaning beyond anything I thought possible.” There was a brief pause and they looked at one another.

“I thought…” His face looked pained. She came to him.

“You thought what, dear?”
“I thought. That you had taken a lover.” Her eyebrows seemed to shoot up of their own accord. “Well, you can hardly blame me, Catherine. You were leaving nearly every day at the same hour and heading in the same direction and always claiming you were having tea with a friend. I knew of none of your friends, neither had I ever met this one. You had never had this friend over to our home, never offered to introduce me. You always came back with a light in your eyes, and I was certain you had taken a lover. I was enraged, but I could not prove it. Neither could I ask you.”

“Why on earth could you not?”

“Because if you had taken a lover, I knew that you would not be able to admit it, and you would take greater pains to hide it and I might never know for sure who he was. So, and I know I had no real right, but I followed you.”

“The day you showed up in the rain.”

“Yes, the day I showed up in the rain. You must understand. I couldn’t bear the thought of my wife in another man’s arms.It was only then that I realized how very much you do mean to me, that I would do anything to keep you and that I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you. Couldn’t bear the image of you in another man’s embrace.  I was so certain that was how I would find you. I was so angry I could hardly feel the rain soaking through to the bone. I was furious. As furious as ever I’ve felt. I was going to tear him limb from limb. I hardly knew what my next move would be, but I was not certain whether this man would make it out alive. I was certain I would never lay a hand on you, but he was going to pay with his life.  I was seething with anger as I followed you that day. I could hardly see straight. I watched you go in. I waited. I wanted to be sure to catch you in the act. I wanted there to be no doubt. As I waited what seemed enough time, I wondered who he was and what he gave you that I could not. It seemed like an eternity before I finally knocked, ready to bust through the door. I did not expect an answer. You can imagine my surprise when you opened the door, and there you were having tea with an old woman.”

Catherine could not contain herself. The hilarity of it was too much, and though Dane poured his heart out to her for the first time in years, she could not contain the laughter. It bursted out of her, a deep infectious laughter. Dane laughed too, deep and long. They laughed together until their stomachs cramped and their mouths ached and they had to wipe tears from the outer corners of their eyes. Catherine was not sure whether it was the incident itself which was so funny as to merit this kind of uncontrolled laughter, or whether it was that they had not laughed together in so very long that neither of them wanted it to end. It was good to talk about Harriet, to think about her, and to laugh. When finally the laughter died down, she found herself in his arms, a place she had not been for five long years.

 

Chapter 13- Spring 1852

Spring 1852

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin had swept the nation, changing minds and hearts at their very core and moving people in a way that laws and politics and arguments never could. Harriet and Catherine read every page of it together, Harriet often in tears. When they read the words that so painfully described a mother’s loss of her child, Harriet collapsed under the weight of it all. Catherine realized immediately that Harriet was that child. The child who would have been sold away, torn away from her mother.

“My sister took my place,” She said mournfully.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Catherine attempted to comfort, but words would not come. And, in reality, Harriet was right.

“I wonder if ever she made it to Canada. If ever she had a chance at freedom, like I have had. Oh, but nothing is for a black woman as it is for a white woman. Yet, we share the same blood. We share the same mother.”

“It’s wrong, Harriet, and I am so sorry.”

“This,” she said, holding up the book, “this is going to change the world.” She kept the novel next to her Bible, and prayed daily that God would use the words to liberate her people, at any cost. Catherine prayed this prayer with her.

 

Harriet Brown did not make it through the winter of 1852. With a sense of guilt, Catherine was thankful that she had not been the one to discover her, as she really was the person most likely to. It so happened Reverend Laurence had been by to call. Catherine had been with her the day before, and she seemed herself, though she had a cough. She was to stop by a few days later. The Reverhad had called upon Catherine soon after discovering her frail, lifeless body. Dane had answered the door, and Catherine heard Reverend Laurence introduce himself. She instantly knew the reason for his call. She ran to the door. The look on his face confirmed it. She was surprised at her own shock. She had been expecting this, hadn’t she? She had enjoyed three wonderful years with Harriet.  She was thankful. She was thankful that Harriet was enjoying her new home, her heaven, her Jesus. But mostly, she missed her immensely. She felt selfish for worrying about herself, but she wondered what life would be like without Harriet. She wondered with whom she would talk. She wondered who would answer her questions, pray with her, have afternoon tea with her. Dane still held himself at a considerable distance, and Catherine felt more alone than she had felt in years. Almost as alone as she had felt the night she walked into the church and heard that sweet old voice singing Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.

 

Chapter 13- Spring 1850

Spring of 1850

Catherine had begun meeting with Harriet almost daily for afternoon tea. They often prayed together, talked together, read together, and always Catherine left feeling as though God had given her soul a gift in this old woman.

It was no extraordinary day when Catherine grabbed her cloak to leave for afternoon tea with Harriet.

“Where are you going?” Dane asked.

“To have tea with a friend.”
“Did you not do that yesterday?”

“Yes, I did, but we were not quite able to finish our conversation.” He said no more, and she kissed him on the cheek and bounded out the door. The kiss was a habit she had purposely formed, and though it was difficult at first, not knowing how he would respond, she had kept it up and imagined that he was growing warm to it. It was what little physical contact she and her husband shared, and she hoped to gain back his trust, his soul, his mind, and body. She knew it would take time, but that she had plenty of.

 

Shortly after arriving at Harriet’s small, humble home, the thunder came rolling in and the rain began to make soothing pitter patter sounds on the roof above their heads. Harriet poured the hot tea and sat down across from Catherine. With the hot cup in her cold hands and the thunder and rain outside, Catherine thought there had never been such a perfect moment in time.

 

They heard a knock at the door.

“What an odd time for a caller,” Harriet said, “in the pouring rain.” She moved to hoist herself up.

“Oh, stay, I’ll answer.” Catherine moved toward the door, opened it, and stood in shock. Before her stood her own husband, sopping wet and with a flustered look on his face.

“Dane! Come in” He glanced at Harriet, then around the room. “Is everything alright? Has something happened that you’ve ridden here in the rain?”

“Happened?” He asked. He sounded confused. “No. Nothing has happened. You forgot your, umbrella.”

“Oh, how thoughtful of you. Did you bring it, then?”

“I dropped it on the way.”

“Oh.”

“And I have a meeting this way, I thought I might meet the friend who have spent so many afternoons with.”

“I am sorry to have never offered to introduce you to Harriet. Harriet, this is my husband, Dane.” He held his hand out to her.

“My pleasure.” She took his hand in both of hers.

“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you,” Dane said, looking flushed and out of sorts.

“Are you quite alright, dear?”

“Yes. I have a meeting in town I’d better be getting to. I must pull my shares out of the cotton industry you know. India provides cheaper cotton to Britain now than we can.”
“I didn’t know,” said Harriet.

“Yes, well, I’ll be off.” He turned and disappeared into the rain.

 

“What a strange husband I have married! He seems to grow stranger by the day. Not a lick of interest in me for some years now, and then suddenly he rides through the rain to bring me an umbrella.”
“Odd indeed.” Harriet agreed.

 

On a cold September day,  Catherine reached Harriet’s home at her usual time,  but no one came to answer. Quickly assuming the worst,  she rattled the door handle and, finding it to have been left unlocked, burst through the door.  Harriet was not there. At least, she thought not until she heard a faint whimpering. She moved toward the sound,  opened Harriet’s bedroom door, and found her kneeling, praying, crying.

“Why Harriet,  whatever is the matter?” She knelt down beside her and thought she’d never looked so small and frail before,  she looked almost the size of a child. Catherine put an arm under Harriet’s elbow and gently lifted her to her feet.  “What’s happened?” When she’d gained enough composure, she said, “It’s time I let you in on a little secret about your old friend,  Harriet.” She patted her eyes dry, motioned for Catherine to follow her, and moved down the hall into the bedroom across from hers. She rustled through a chest and came up with an old picture.  A picture of a woman and two children. The woman and the toddler in the photograph were of a light complexion much like Harriet’s. The older child, whom Catherine supposed to be eight to ten years old,  was of a dark complexion.

“Who are these?”

“My mother and my sister.  And myself.” Catherine stared,  trying to figure it all out. “Sit down, dear.” Together they sat at the edge of the spare bed.  “When I was a baby, so young I cannot remember any of the actual event, my mother crossed over.” Then,  reading Catherine’s quizzical look, added. “She passed. As white, that is. Her father had been a slave master,  and likely her mother’s father. It’s hard to say exactly except that she was quite fair skinned. She married a black man who was of the same household.  But when I was born white, the master’s wife insisted I be sold. Instead, my father, or my mother’s husband, insisted that she cross over. Pass as white. And escape with me as her daughter and my sister as a house slave.  He knew, she had only to cross the magical line into freedom. So, together they bleached her hair, stole clothes from her mistress, and vanished into the night. Escape was easier for my mother than for many others, but she still needed to get fat enough away that no one knew her.  She never saw her husband again. But my sister’s dark skin and my light skin made life very painful for her, even in the north here.” Catherine thought of how Harriet often switched back and forth from accent to sounding quite like Catherine. It made sense to her now.

“But what has brought you to your knees in tears now, today?”

“Oh I’ve picked up a newspaper.  I usually know better than to do that very often.  But a law has been passed. The Fugitive Slave Act,  they call it. Senseless, it is. Slaves are now to be returned even in the free states. The underground railroad will have to extend into Canada now.  

“Try to understand. I am not ashamed of where I come from. But to claim that I understand….that I remember life before I was white….that I even remember my sister before she was sent up to Canada with my mother’s sister. I can’t remember hardly any of it. My mother gave me this picture when she thought I was old enough to keep the secret. She told me why we had our own special way of talking to each other that was slightly different from how we talked in public. Often in tears, she talked of my sister, promising me and herself that she had never planned to send her away….that she had no way of knowing how hard life would be even in the north….that she did what she thought was best for her. My poor mother. Her broken soul. I think of her often, her hands clinging to her Bible. Her tears shed every night.  I couldn’t understand it all. I was white. I had been born white. I had no memories of anything to the contrary. And yet, their story is a part of me. I have their blood. And this law. This evil, treacherous law…oh, I can hardly stand it. Here I am living a lie. Living in freedom and relative comfort, while my brothers and sisters suffer. Oh, Catherine, if only I had done more for them. If only.”