Time is a fickle creature, bestowin’ kindness upon some, while ravagin’ others, but when it came to a certain little girl who had turned into a woman, it was most assuredly sweet. I’m talkin’ about Henrietta, who showed up out of the blue a few years later, when she came to Watson with her momma to visit a friend.
I was walkin’ down the street when she came waltzin’ off the stagecoach like a beautiful peacock. She was all ladylike, holdin’ a fan that she used to cover her face, so as to act a bit shy, which was the style back then. Her dress was made of a flowin’ type of cloth what shone in the sunlight and had a pattern of colors that appealed kindly to the eyes. This time I couldn’t call her a little girl, ‘cause she was definitely not a little girl, but she weren’t a full woman either.
Somewhere in between there’s a place where little girls and women are separated by time and life, a place where the true beauty that will come to pass has shown its face, for the good or bad. In the case of Henrietta, she was more beautiful than she was as a little girl. She had long black hair braided down her back, with skin that looked smooth and clear, what I imagined would feel like silk. Her eyes seemed to have become more almond shaped, with long lashes, but what I noticed most was her smile, which showed perfect ivory teeth. She was more womanly shaped than when I saw her last, which didn’t hurt her appearance no how.
I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Willy, but for some reason, I paused to look one last time at her as she walked with her momma to the hotel. Before she disappeared through the doors, she stopped for a moment and looked in my direction. Our eyes met and were mysteriously bound together, what caught me by surprise, ‘cause it stirred somethin’ inside me that I hadn’t knowd was there.
She remained standin’ outside the hotel lookin’ at me, but before I could get my self clear headed enough to walk over and say somethin’, her momma called to her. For a twinklin’ she seemed unable to break her gaze from me, but upon her momma’s second call, she turned sharply and disappeared inside.
I think that was the first time she noticed me and though I couldn’t speak for her, that short twinklin’ of my life I spent lookin’ into her beautiful eyes was one of the most enjoyable moments I’d ever spent. Now instead of wantin’ to run home to tell Willy about his long lost love, my mind was clouded with new found feelin’s what I didn’t want to share. I knowd this was goin’ to be a big problem, so I went to Ernie’s to tell him what had just happened and to seek his advice.
Ernie listened to my story and was silent for a long spell before he told me somethin’, what I think was the only time I was ever angry at him for anythin’. He looked into my eyes and said that if the girl, which was what he called Henrietta, was meant for me, then I had to give her time to test the waters of love.
I weren’t sure what he meant, so I asked him what I should do and he told me somethin’ I weren’t ready to hear. He said that I needed to stay out of the love business or I’d be messin’ with a bee’s nest and it’d only end with all three of us bein’ angry at each other.
I knowd he was right like always, but my heart was stung by what he’d said and it stirred up a whole pile of anger inside me, what I found nearly overwhelmin’. I was leavin’ with a heavy heart, what Ernie must’ve sensed, ‘cause he put a hand on my shoulder and told me not to worry.
He said that love had an interestin’ way of comin’ back to where it was supposed to be, what might require a good dose of patience. That part was reassurin’, but when Ernie said that love liked to take its own sweet time, I didn’t want to hear another word, ‘cause it all sounded so hopeless. I nodded my head, since I figured if I said anythin’ in that moment it might start my anger up or worse yet, it could bring on some tears.
I felt like I’d lost a great battle to an army I never even had a chance to fight, what is far worse than takin’ a good lickin’. My walk home was filled with angry shouts, tears and an overall feelin’ of utter defeat, but mercifully by the time I got near our house, I had calmed down a great deal.
Willy’s eyes burned bright with the news and he asked me many times to describe Henrietta to him, each time makin’ me pause as I told him about her almond-shaped brown eyes with the long eyelashes. I don’t need to tell you how tiresome it was to describe her eyes over and over again, but in the end it did seem to help me, ‘cause her face what was etched in my mind did seem to fade a little.
To Willy’s benefit, time had been good to him also, as he’d growd tall in the years since her last visit, with a strong jaw and blue eyes, what matched the late afternoon sky. He was still just a boy, somewhere in that twilight before manhood, but he was smart and knowd a great deal about many things, which I found highly interestin’, ‘specially when he explained the details. This time I was certain that Willy would end up with the girl, but fate was a strange animal and just when you think it’s goin’ one way, it up and goes the other, just to be ornery or the like.
I can’t say that Gully had fallen far behind as he’d growd ‘cause that would be a straight out lie. He’d found his likin’s around the river and spent a great deal of time workin’ in the shipyard, which was a good place for a boy to become a man. He had hair what looked like the sun had reached out and streaked its fingers through his brown locks, makin’ them all a warm yellowish color, which seemed to match his eyes what were a kind of golden brown.
He weren’t as tall as Willy, but he had a good sturdy build and a kind face what was easy to look at. Best thing about Gully was his carefree spirit, what was always gleeful and full of energy. He was quick witted and could come up with a story what was apt to get a good laughin’ jag started at anytime.
They was different as night and day in their temperament, as Willy kept more to his self, but he was also deeply determined and could tell a story with as much detail as any man I’ve ever heard, bar none. He liked to laugh like the rest of us, but he preferred to be more serious about things, what was good for his desires in life, that bein’ his interest to become a man of the law.
Things started off good for Willy as he was the first to see Henrietta and have a talk with her at the saloon. They was a mighty handsome couple and probably could’ve been good for each other, if it hadn’t been for Gully, who after seein’ Henrietta again, said that he was goin’ to marry her.
Course he was foolin’, but plainly he was goin’ to put up a good struggle to gain her affection. I believe that Henrietta would’ve been happy to choose both of her suitors, ‘cause each had his own interests and desires, what made them engagin’ to be around, but in the end only one would prevail.
As I remember, Gully took Henrietta out on one of the ships he was workin’ on so she could see the Mississippi first hand, which set well with her, ‘cause she fell in love with that ole river almost right away. Willy on the other hand got his self into writin’ poems, some of which he read to me.
I found them to be quite charmin’ with their richly decorated thoughts and words, what left the reader feelin’ a little light headed in a good sort of way. Willy had a way with words and his poems and writin’s were difficult to put to rest, at least for me, ‘cause I found them to be powerful reminders of the sweetness of life and the beauty of romance.
I’m sorry to say that when he lost his self to the lies and deceit of greedy men, he burned many of his poems ‘cause he said they were inspired by a dubious and sinister weakness of the mind. Please don’t ask me what that all meant, ‘cause much of his clear mind seemed to give way to a new kind of thinkin’, what made no real sense to me. No matter, I loved my little brother and wanted him to find his own path in life, but all the same, I was hopin’ that his path would lead to somethin’ better than it did.
In the final days of Henrietta’s visit to our town she seemed to find the company of Willy preferable to that of Gully, which gave my little brother a glow that couldn’t be denied. I do believe that Willy would’ve asked that girl to be ingaged, if the powerful events what shook Gully’s life hadn’t taken place.
Gully was still tryin’ to get Henrietta’s attention in all ways possible, some of which were workin’ better than others. Gully was big on flowers and picnics next to the river, walks in the moonlight, but he weren’t a writer of poems, which didn’t help Henrietta to knowd his heart. I think that she secretly liked Gully ‘cause of his light-hearted spirit, but she couldn’t deny the way she felt around Willy and his poems.
Late one afternoon the telegraph man lit out of his shed and made his way to Gully’s house in search of his momma, ‘cause he’d received a telegram with news that would change their lives in an instant. The telegram read that a ship carryin’ three hundred and forty passengers had sunk as it traveled from England to New York.
The ship was three days out at sea and went down at night, on Wednesday the 21st, due to a fire on board. Two hundred and eighty-four people died. It said that Mr. Gulliver Alexander Stewart I was one of the casualties and that none of his personal belongin’s was recovered.
When Mrs. Stewart read the news she ‘mediately fainted and had to be carried by the telegraph man to her bed, where she stayed for over a month. Gully heard the news from his momma who tried to be strong for her only son, but her grief was so bitter that she nearly died on the spot by tellin’ him. It was powerful bad news for a boy to lose his father and even worse for the way it happened.
Everybody takes on grief in their own way and Gully had found that bein’ out in the woods, ‘specially at night seemed to ease his pain some. He told me that sittin’ in front of a fire by the river had a calmin’ effect on his heart, what he said felt like it’d been scalded in boilin’ water and hurt every time it beat in his chest.
I had never knowd pain so intense as what Gully described, so I couldn’t tell him what to do to get over it. I just listened as he told me the dream that he’d had about his father, where in the end, his pappy, who was strugglin’ for his life in a cold, dark sea had called out to Gully sayin’ that he loved him.
The dream that Gully had seen all those years ago had come to pass and bad as it was for him, the vision did seem to give him comfort that no one else could, ‘cept for his dyin’ father. I think the dream was somethin’ that his father had given to Gully so he’d always knowd that he was loved, what worked in a gentle way to help my friend get better the more he thought about it.
I remember when Gully had first seen the dream, what clearly didn’t appear to be much of a gift at the time, but after what happened to his father, the message it contained was far beyond any worldly riches I could think of. In some strange and unexplainable way, a message from a dyin’ father was sent back in time to find a place to rest in the heart of his son, so he could be comforted durin’ his bouts of grief.
I don’t spect most folks would believe a dream like that could even happen, but for me, after havin’ witnessed a good many truly remarkable things in my life, it all fit nicely into my mind and heart. I suppose it really only makes sense to the people what got a mind to see the mysteries of this fine Earth and aren’t afraid to take a peek into the world that lies beyond. Ernie and Henry T. taught me a load of things what don’t seem to fit in to the world of man, but they do just the same.
The last time I saw Henry T. he did a magic show for a few of us youngins and some adults, what made one woman faint and another take her child away ‘cause she said the magic was unholy, whatever that meant. I knowd why she took away her child, ‘cause there was no explainin’ what Henry did and she was plum afraid of anythin’ that she couldn’t understand. Most folks are like that, which I find sad, since they’s missin’ a goodly amount of the fun in this life, and in my opinion, they’s also turnin’ their backs on some of the goodness that God is tryin’ to show ‘em.
News spread fast that Gully had lost his father, until it finally reached the ears of someone who’d also lost hers. One afternoon Henrietta came to me and asked if I’d find Gully for her, ‘cause she wanted to have a talk with him, which I done.
I led her to the river where Gully was spendin’ his time, when he weren’t home tendin’ to his ailin’ momma. When we came upon him he was sittin’ lookin’ out over the great expanse of movin’ water, what was reflectin’ the late afternoon sun in a golden colored hue. Me and Henrietta stopped short, ‘cause I could hear him cryin’ to his self and I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of the lady.
She gave me a look that said why is we stoppin’, to which I whispered to her that Gully was cryin’. Her eyes lowered and I could see that they was fillin’ with tears also, what nearly made my heart break as I saw how beautiful her compassion was for my sad friend. For some reason he turned at that very moment, though I don’t think it was from hearin’ us. I believe it was ‘cause he could feel Henrietta reachin’ out to him with her love.
Gully was surprised and a little embarrassed, but mostly he was happy to be seein’ her again, ‘specially in his time of sadness and need. She ran up to him and put her arms around him, which set off a wave of emotions from each of them.
I couldn’t watch as they embraced, ‘cause the truth was, my heart was painin’ me plenty as I found that I wanted to be the one holdin’ Henrietta in my arms. I turned quickly and began to head back to town, listenin’ as I walked, until the sound of their tears faded into the songs of the forest.
Walkin’ through the woods gave me some comfort and soon I’d shaken the thoughts about holdin’ Henrietta out of my head, but there was somethin’ that couldn’t be shook loose, what was the news I had for Willy. On the one hand I was powerful happy for Gully, since he had someone to share his grief with, but on the other hand, my little brother’s heart was headed for a ship wreck.
For a good spell I thought about bein’ a stowaway on a ship headed north for a few days, at least until all this love business was over with, but Willy was my brother and he needed to hear the news. There just weren’t no way around it either, as much as I didn’t want to be the feller to deliver the somber details, I wanted him to hear it from me first, not through the grapevine.
I caught up to Willy at home and the two of us went out for a spell so I could tell him private like, in case he had an attack of cryin’. He just stood there listenin’ to me with his jaw all tightened up and his back held straight, while he looked into the distance. If I didn’t knowd better, I’d say that he was doin’ his best to block it out of his mind right then and there, as fast as he was hearin’ it. I’ll never really knowd for sure, ‘cause that was the last time he ever talked about it with me.
Willy could have been tore up inside, but strangely he showed no emotion that night, nor over the next few days, or even when Henrietta left. One thing was clear though, Willy’s crashed romance had stirred in him a determination to become a man of the law what couldn’t be extinguished by love lost or it seemed anythin’ else.
When the day came for Henrietta to leave with her momma, she was fit to be tied with all her cryin’, ‘specially when Gully gave her a hug and said his last goodbyes. He was fightin’ back tears, though it looked like he weren’t goin’ to be winnin’ that battle for long. As the stagecoach drove away, I could see her hand outstretched, wavin’ to him as they rode off, what must’ve been twistin’ his heart terribly, since it weren’t even healed from the loss of his pappy.
Gully stood on that stagecoach platform for sometime after they left and finally turned and ran off into the woods, in the direction of the river. Tried as I could to avoid it, I was still in the middle of everythin’, ‘cause I had me a brother what was all closed up and serious and now a friend all torn up inside from the love he felt over Henrietta. It was at that moment when I began to understand what Ernie had told me, concernin’ gettin’ in the middle between Gully and Willy, though I’ll tell you truthfully, my heart pained me terrible for many days after she left.
From where I was sittin’ none of it looked altogether too good. Either way there was a goodly amount of emotions what were ragin’ around inside of each of ‘em, and for that matter, me also. I weren’t sure how I felt about Henrietta, or what to do about Willy or Gully, all I knowd was that it seemed like all those strong and uncontrollable feelin’s came to rest heavy in our fragile hearts.
I do believe that when Willy lost Henrietta, somethin’ changed inside him that I couldn’t quite put my head to understandin’, but it was big and deep and it left him a different person, someone I hadn’t met before. The new Willy was different alright and from my thinkin’, it weren’t for the good, though I don’t think anyone else really saw the change, not until years later when it was too late.