... the generation that carried out the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.
Oliver Wendell Holmes. Memorial Day 1884
April 14, 1867
The windows were obscured by a layer of coal dust as the train laboriously made its way into the heart of Virginia. It hardly mattered. I had no interest in the countryside. Even if I hadn’t been so uncaring of the world at that moment, I’d seen it before. And though I knew there were signs of spring, I didn’t care. I had traveled south from the coldness of New York City, but at that moment it seemed no amount of spring or summer would touch the coldness that wracked my spirit.
Winter still had New York in its grip and I felt the bleakness it represented consumed my soul. I could no longer ignore the call of the South. My thoughts had turned there often over the past two years. More often in the form of nightmares for I had found tragedy and death there. Although on better days I had felt the honest pride of knowing I had done my best. Maybe my return would bring the warmth I was seeking; warmth that could restore me.
Perhaps, that wish was nothing more substantial than a wounded man’s laudanum-laced dream, but it mattered little since I was leaving nothing behind in New York, except failure and derision. I was tired of fighting foes masked in smiles in a society where wealth was worshiped and hard work unrecognized. At least the battles two years past had been fought for a purpose. A noble cause? Yes, some called it that; a cause to preserve the Union. Although it’s very hard to be noble when every day you live in the charnel house called war. But I had survived - survived when many others had not.
Colonel Keith, the regimental commander said I was a quick study. I smiled at the irony of that statement. In the New Testament in the King James Bible there is a passage, Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.
I had been a quick study, but it was a matter of survival. It is no surprise when you learn quickly to stay alive. Yes I was quick. And I remained quick when so many others joined the dead in the ranks of the regimental honor roll. I saw no honor in death, although we must honor those who gave their lives. Many times being quick or dead was simply a matter of luck. In my calculations, two years of war had expended a lifetime of luck. Surviving that grim business was a gift and I vowed I would never again take my ‘quickness’ for granted.
I honed my skills at war craft and kept them as sharp as the edge of my saber. My quickness had meant advancement, and with it the deadly responsibility of command. A good commander must also be a leader, because it soon becomes obvious the lives of his men depend on his decisions and actions, just as his life depends on theirs.
In the end it was the war that defined me.
What kind of man is defined by war?
No man is a blank slate. He brings to the battle his life experiences, but there is no experience akin to battle. There is nothing that can prepare you for the horrific sights and sounds that accompany large and small groups of men trying with great earnestness to kill one another. War is not a game although there are some who consider it so. They are fools.
Those who survive carry with them forever the experiences that for good or ill define them. Most take what they have learned and use it to build upon. They quietly go about their lives, working and raising families. And when asked about it, they simply shrug and explain ‘it was a long time ago.’ They know it is futile to try to explain to the uninitiated, and to their comrades there is no need to explain.
It wasn’t that I was some callow youth when I went to the War. No, I was twenty-six and married and according to some, well on my way to a successful banking career. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was married to the owner’s daughter. That’s what they said but it wasn’t true. I worked damn hard. And regardless, she’d picked me. Yes, Elizabeth had picked me. That made it all the more difficult. I had to prove every day I wasn’t just some son-in-law who advanced because he was married to the owner’s daughter.
At first, I was hardly affected by the war. It wasn’t that I was ignorant of the terrible battles that were being fought just a few hundred miles to the south, it was just that they had little connection to me or the circle of people that Elizabeth and her parents called friends. Of course, I had little connection with these ‘friends’ either. I was the outsider, the farm boy. Yes, I knew they called me that, but the cowards, never to my face. It doesn’t matter how I knew. Elizabeth’s mother waged an all-out war against me. I wasn’t good enough for her daughter. I knew she had wanted Elizabeth to marry into the New York City society where they dwelled.
I was just that “farm boy” from western Pennsylvania, despite the fact that the family farm was just part of the holdings owned by my parents. My father made his money the hard way, he worked for it. He owned mills, textile and agricultural. He also valued education and made sure that my brothers and I had more education than he did. He also made sure that all of us worked in the mills and on our farm. We worked as hard as any employee and we always started off in the most menial and backbreaking jobs. We all came to appreciate the value of a dollar. It was also made clear that we would inherit nothing if we didn’t show our mettle in the world.
In 1859, age twenty-two, armed with a degree from Pittsburg Academy, and a letter of introduction from a banker friend of my father’s in Pittsburg, I made my way to New York City and was soon hired by Franklin W. Ross. He reminded me of my father. He was a large, no nonsense man with a round florid face, and a constant cigar clenched in his teeth.
“Mr. Carter, you come highly recommended and I see you were very successful in your studies, particularly in mathematics.”
“Yes sir ... numbers have always come easy for me.”
He gave me an appraising look.
“Especially if you apply yourself!” He laughed
We spent an hour together in his oak paneled office, with its windows overlooking Wall Street. I learned later that he had never spent that amount of time with any new employee.
I was never intimidated by ‘old man Ross.’ I knew he demanded a day’s work for a day’s pay and I strived to make sure he got it from me.
I started as a teller and worked my way up. I rented modest rooms in a boarding house across the river and each day I took the ferry and then walked the additional mile to work. I knew few people and I had always been happy with solitude. I read everything I could get my hands on including the scandal sheets they called newspapers in the City, and mostly kept to myself. When my colleagues tried to get me to go out with them I usually declined. I wasn’t a prig, but I was on a very limited budget. Unlike many of the young men at the bank I had no parental allowance supporting my lifestyle. Even though I was the same age as most, my parents had demanded responsibility at an early age so I felt older.
It was Christmas 1860 when I met Elizabeth Ross. I had been promoted to lead teller and surprisingly got an invitation to the annual Christmas party at the Ross home. Of course I had seen her in the bank, but never had any dealings with her. Mr. Johnson, the vice president always handled the “family transactions.” She was always accompanied by a rail thin ferocious looking matron, who I discovered was Mrs. Ross.
One time I caught Miss Ross looking my way. She quickly turned her head, but not before I caught just a hint of a smile on her beautiful face. Yes, she was beautiful. She had her mother’s dark hair but got her height from her father. Her figure was gracefully slim. I hated to admit that from then on I harbored lustful thoughts about Miss Elizabeth Ross, but I also knew she was unattainable.
So I arrived at their large townhouse for the Christmas party right on time and for several uncomfortable minutes I was the only guest. I stood alone in the silent drawing room at the front of the house admiring the decorations and unconsciously calculating the cost of the splendor that surrounded me. Other than taking my dripping overcoat, the staff did their best to ignore me. They looked down their noses at me, in my best but unfashionable suit and battered boots. Mr. Ross was the first to come downstairs. He greeted me heartily, and to my eternal gratitude invited me to his study where he gave me a quick lesson on Scotch whisky and cigars. I found I liked both very much. The whisky I had grown up with had been made locally from corn and was pretty raw stuff.
As we sat facing each other in the big leather wingback chairs in front of the fire, Franklin Ross kept tugging at his collar. “Damn I hate these things! Anne would have me in heavy starch at all times ... can’t abide them. A man needs to be able to breathe!” He laughed.
Then he turned serious. “Jonathan, let me give you some advice about tonight.”
“Yes sir.” I replied nervously.
“First of all don’t let this batch of snobs put you off ... including my wife. For a girl from a modest background she has certainly become full of herself. This pack of leeches is here at my forbearance. They’re going to try to eat and drink me into the poorhouse. Anne always worries about society. Well it’s nothing but putting on airs to me. Damnation, why can’t a man just have some peace in his own house!” He groused.
We sipped our whisky and smoked our cigars in companionable silence for a few minutes, until I finally asked what had been on my mind since I had received the invitation. “Sir, why am I here?”
He looked at me and worked at his cigar for a bit, thinking about his response.
“Ahhhh ... considering the bright young man you are, I knew you’d be wondering about that, since few of the staff at the bank are ever invited. Well, my daughter Elizabeth wanted you here.”
“Jonathan, don’t look so startled. You’re a handsome man, taller than most, and you have an air of determination and gravitas about you. You’ll go far.”
I thought about what he said. Did I have an air of determination and gravitas? Would I go far?
“And my daughter has selected you from the buzzing throng of suitors that are always trying to woo her.”
“But sir, I’ve never even spoken to her.”
“Precisely the point! You are a handsome young man who has never had the temerity to approach her. You are a mystery to her. Women love mysteries. But most of all they are insecure creatures. She’s wondering what it is about her that repulses you!”
He laughed through a cloud of cigar smoke.
“She had a tremendous row with her mother because her mother doesn’t consider you suitable, and firmly and loudly declared she would not attend this party without your presence. Her mother relented, but it may be a pyrrhic victory. I should warn you Jonathan, that you have raised the ire of a formidable woman!”
He laughed again.
I smiled at him, feeling the whisky warm my body. “Perhaps I should make my escape before it’s too late.” I looked toward the rain- splashed windows.
“Perhaps you should. Perhaps you should!” He chuckled as he raised his glass to me.
So we sat there and he told me stories of his early life growing up in the New York City, second son of a dry goods merchant, and then, bored senseless with the prospect of settling into the family business, he escaped to sea. He saved enough to buy a small boat, and when he returned he went into business for himself with the boat for hire. He lived modestly and soon had a fleet of boats which plied the Hudson and the waterways. Eventually he got into banking, ‘Because it was easier than stealing!’
We were interrupted by a knock on the door, and without waiting Elizabeth Ross entered the room. She was ravishing in a dark green velvet dress that swept the floor. Her hair was piled on her head. I was so smitten I could hardly talk, because at this distance she was even more beautiful than I remembered.
She looked like she was about to say something to her father when she spotted me. She stopped and gave me a quick look of appraisal as I got to my feet. I felt grossly under dressed, but from her gaze that apparently made little difference.
We stood there like simpletons for what seemed the longest time. Finally Mr. Ross came to the rescue. “Mr. Jonathan Carter, this is my daughter Lizzie.”
I caught a quick look of disapproval aimed at him. So she didn’t like being called Lizzie. Lizzie is a name for a girl. This person in front of me is without doubt, a woman.
She was perhaps eighteen, but carried herself with the presence of someone older. I liked the name though, but not enough to press my luck in using it.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Ross.”
She smiled. “I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Carter.”
Unfortunately, that was the high point of the evening. We walked out of the study to the scowling face of Mrs. Anne Ross, who pretended I wasn’t there.
“Franklin, Elizabeth, we have guests to greet.”
She took them in tow, and other than a glimpse now and then it was the last contact I had with either the remainder of the evening. I would see her chatting with friends and often encircled by immaculately dressed but anxious looking young men. Never once did she look my way; at least not that I could detect. And I had to admit I was intimidated by the people who surrounded her. Intimidated to the point I didn’t try to approach her or her parents, nor did I join any of the groups gathered around the festive tables laden with food and drink.
I considered getting drunk and obnoxious to perhaps goad one of their wealthy young guests to challenge me, but thought better of it. I needed the position. I was the odd man out and I stayed close to the windows in the front parlor, and out of the main areas where the party was taking place. From the look of the dress of the people, they were the wealthy of Manhattan. As I perched on the window seat, I watched their fine carriages arrive, the staff greeting them with unfurled umbrellas. Occasionally, a young woman would wander into the front room and catch my eye, but once she took in my clothing her eyes would slide off me and she would look elsewhere for more fashionable company.
The alcohol helped dull the feeling I was not welcome, but there came a point where enough was enough.
I was more upset with myself that I had accepted this invitation than with Elizabeth, although I wondered if this was her idea of a cruel joke.
From my vantage point I could hear snatches of conversation from the other rooms and as people passed near, pointedly ignoring me with a chilly air of disregard. Their conversations were filled with gossip and talk about the ‘dreary’ weather, and how they were planning to travel to some place or other, or go off to stay with this person or that in their country house. It was sickeningly superficial.
Not once did I hear mention of the fact that South Carolina had seceded that very day, or that other southern states talked of following suit. Didn’t they realize how serious that was?
I had freshened my drink from a sympathetic waiter when I heard someone laugh from the next room, “Who’s the fellow in the awful suit?”
“Probably delivered the fish and got lost trying to find the back door!”
Several people laughed. I finished my drink and set the crystal glass on the window seat, and since I had lost sight of my hosts, I made for the door. In the marble-floored foyer I accepted my battered hat and still damp overcoat from a snobbish servant, and without the offer of an umbrella, or even to hail a cab, I was ushered outside.
High dudgeon would have best described my mood as I walked the distance to the ferry. The rain had turned to sleet.
The following Monday I was summoned to Mr. Ross’s office.
“My daughter is quite upset with you, Jonathan.”
I looked at him, the puzzlement plain on my face, but made no response. I knew it was rude to depart the Christmas party so abruptly, and I wondered if this was going to be my farewell to Ross Bank.
“She’s not used to being ignored and abandoned ... especially by a young man.”
“Ignored and abandoned?”
“Yes, she said she searched everywhere for you, but you were gone. She was quite put out that you had left without a word. Actually she took it quite personally. I’m afraid she used some profanity that almost caused her mother to faint. I wonder where she learned such vulgarisms.” He said the last with a smile.
“Sir, I’m very sorry to have offended you and your daughter, but the party was really not the place for ... someone like me.”
He took the cigar from his mouth and glowered at me. “Someone like you? You are ten times the man of any of those young peacocks prancing and preening around my Lizzie! I checked up on you when I hired you. Your family could buy and sell most of the people in that room. You know, Jonathan, I was a little disappointed myself when I saw you’d cut and run. I had warned you though.”
“Yes sir, you did.”
“So what are you going to do about it?”
I looked at him. “Sir, even if your daughter was interested, I have no assets, no wardrobe, no carriage, and no house. My parents’ wealth is not my wealth, and it would be presumptuous of me to even think I could interest her, much less win her.”
I went on, hating to say the words. “I think its time to put this whole thing behind us. She should find someone more suitable.”
“So you’re just going to give up?”
“Yes sir. It’s less difficult to give up what you never had. Perhaps, in a couple of years I will be in a better position.”
“Your decision, but I think you’re making a mistake. Lizzie won’t like it. She’s used to getting her own way.”
I disagreed, but kept that to myself. She had invited me to their fancy Christmas party and then ignored me while I was subjected to the scorn of her friends. Why she had done so I didn’t know, but I was in no position to challenge her on it.
A couple of weeks passed. It was January 1861. I was smitten and downcast, but I had made up my mind to forget Miss Elizabeth Ross.
Even in my miserable state, I couldn’t ignore the newspapers and the secessionist rhetoric that was coming from the southern states. I admired Mr. Lincoln and I found it puzzling that a modern society could be based on the enslavement of their fellow man. It had not worked for the Romans or any other society. I had seen a few blacks in my life and could never countenance the thought that any man regardless of color could be owned by another. The idea sickened me.
On the fifteenth of January I was again in Mr. Ross’s office, but this time facing a very agitated Elizabeth Ross. She was beautifully dressed in a dark blue silk dress and wore a fur hat and carried a matching muff. “How could you be so rude?” she demanded
I said nothing.
“I argued with my mother to get you an invitation and how were my efforts rewarded? You walked out without so much as a thank you or goodbye. I looked forward to your company for some part of the evening and perhaps enjoying a dance. You ignored me, and then without a word you departed. How could you do that? Were we boring you?”
I was incredulous. She did not have an inkling of what she’d put me through. At least her motives for inviting me were not malicious. I wanted to lash out and tell her exactly what I thought of her and her friends, but that would just make me ungentlemanly, and I still needed my position.
“What do you have to say about your behavior?”
Even angry she was beautiful.
“Miss Ross, I’m very sorry I offended you, and your family. I promise it will never happen again.”
With that, I turned and left the office.
I went to Mr. Johnson and gave him my two weeks notice. I calculated I could live on what I had saved for a few months until I found something new, although if I didn’t get a letter of reference from the bank I would be very lucky to get another position with any bank in New York. It was a chance I had to take. I concluded there was no future in further involvement with the Ross family, especially Miss Elizabeth Ross.
The next day I was back in Mr. Ross’s office.
He looked at me with a bemused expression. “That was unfair, exposing you to my daughter’s ire. Other than an apology, how can I convince you to keep your position with the bank?”
“Sir, you have a beautiful daughter, but I don’t think she quite understands how the world works, especially these days. I am still puzzled why she invited me to your Christmas party and then abandoned me.”
“I think you missed your chance to find out.”
I nodded. “Somehow it was my fault.”
Mr. Ross laughed. “Jonathan, you have a lot to learn about women!”
“Yes sir ... that is without doubt.”
He laughed again.
“I’m convinced she didn’t invite me out of malice, but I am afraid that once I got there she very much regretted her decision. Perhaps, I was an embarrassment. I’ve apologized for not properly saying my goodbyes and for any embarrassment I may have caused. I hope that will end it.”
“So it’s your desire to have no more contact with my daughter?”
“I am certain that would be best.”
He watched me for a few more seconds, chewing his cigar. “If that’s what it’ll take to keep you, well, here’s my hand on it.”
We shook hands and then he tore my resignation letter in half and put it in his waste basket. “God help me, but I’ll tell her to stay away.”
“Thank you sir.”
“Jonathan, I still think you’re making a mistake. Elizabeth is a very determined young woman.”
“Yes sir. I understand, but as you say she is a young woman, and I believe by limiting contact, she will forget me in a very short time.”
“Don’t bet a lot of money on that, sir!” He laughed.
So I kept my position and went back to work.
Over the next few weeks as the dreary winter continued I kept myself busy. Despite my earnest attempts to forget Miss Elizabeth Ross, I was a failure. Evenings were worst. In those moments of solitude beside the fire in my rented rooms, as the winds and rain rattled the windows, I tried to bury myself in books or newspapers. But, try as I might to stop her, she constantly intruded on my thoughts. I tried to picture her as just a silly young woman who didn’t know her mind, but I failed miserably.
Even the news of the impending breakup of the Union didn’t distract me from my thoughts of Elizabeth Ross.
I remember the day clearly when I saw Elizabeth again. It was Saturday, February 9th, 1861, and I had been out on my weekly errands. The afternoon was sunny but bitterly cold and the previous night’s snow flurries still dusted the roofs. The headlines screamed about the possible election that very day of Jefferson Davis as President of what they were calling ‘The Confederacy.’ There had been no reaction from President Buchanan. Apparently, he was going to leave this dire situation to incoming President Lincoln, who would not be inaugurated until March.
Chilled, I was relieved to get out of the cold and wind and into the foyer of the boarding house. I was met by Mrs. Dugan, my landlady. An Irish widow, she had four male lodgers and looked over us like a mother hen. She was unfailingly cheerful but also strict.
“Mr. Carter, you have a visitor. She says she’s your sister, but I didn’t believe her for a moment. She’s too fine a lady to be related to you!” She laughed.
Whoever could be visiting me? Suddenly I knew it was Elizabeth. For a moment I entertained thoughts of turning and leaving the house, but I had no place to go and I wasn’t about to let her keep me from my own home. Among my errands, I had been to my favorite book seller, so with the various packages and an armload of used books, I was quite burdened. I wanted to be ensconced by my fire taking the time to savor my wonderful finds. New York City was a treasure trove of books, and for a boy who had owned but few, outside my school texts, I was delighted. Even for a boy with parents of some means in western Pennsylvania books were scarce and dear. My father’s library mainly consisted of books on farming and animal husbandry. Now, even on my salary I could afford to purchase a few used books each month.
Maybe if Elizabeth heard my rejection directly while seeing how spartan I was forced to live, she might realize how impossible any relationship must be.
“Now, Mr. Carter ... you know I don’t allow women in gentlemen’s lodging, but seeing the weather is so bitter, and she looks like a lady, I took pity on her. I took her some tea, poor girl. Shall I bring you some too?”
I nodded as I looked past her to the stairs. Who would I find waiting, the beautiful polite young woman of my dreams, or the angry disappointed woman who had accosted me in her father’s office at the bank?
When I entered my sitting room from the upstairs hall, she looked up from where she was half reclining on my chaise near the large window. The winter sun silhouetted her features and her beauty caused a catch in my throat. Elizabeth was wearing a dark gray wool dress and a colorful shawl was draped across her shoulders, her black boots were just visible at the hem of her dress. She put down the book she had been reading, most certainly the one I had left on the low table next to the chaise. On the table was a pot of tea covered by a green crochet cozy and next to it, a plate of Mrs. Dugan’s scones accompanied by a pot of her preserves. It was a very domestic scene indeed.
She looked up at me with her violet eyes, as if her presence in my home was the most natural thing in the world.
I tried to mask my pleasure and the warmth she caused inside me by busying myself hanging my coat and scarf and hat on the coat tree by the door. I noticed hers was already hung there and I briefly enjoyed the scent of lavender. I placed the stack of books on a nearby chair.
Finally I turned to face her, trying my best to scowl but losing to her smile.
“There you are finally, Mr. Carter. I’m very grateful to your landlady for her hospitality; otherwise I might have died of the cold on your doorstep.”
She had invaded my home, but suddenly I was on the defensive for having caused her possible discomfort by not being home. She had not announced her visit by any communication, but I was at fault!
I just shook my head and smiled.
“Does the possibility of my catching pneumonia cause you amusement Mr. Carter?”
Why did I feel like a guilty party being cross examined by a skillful attorney? I knew I’d better say something before I was condemned to the gibbet. “Miss Ross, I pray the reason for your visit is not that some misfortune has befallen your parents.”
“No, Mr. Carter. They are in perfect health.
“Then what is the purpose of my visit?”
“I decided that if you would not call on me then I must call on you and resolve our differences.”
Differences? I was thoroughly confused.
She indicated I should sit in the large overstuffed chair opposite her. I sat, feeling I had lost control of my home, my castle, to this determined young woman.
I kept my tongue and watched her, knowing that some explanation would be forthcoming, but also knowing that the logic behind it would be convoluted and any ‘differences’ would be laid at my feet.
“Mr. Carter, you are a singularly vexing man.”
Rising to the bait, I responded with humor, “My mother always said she thought me quite a congenial fellow.”
“Touché, perhaps I misspoke. It would never do to argue with a man’s mother, so perhaps I should say you are particularly vexing to me.”
“For that, Miss Ross, I am truly sorry.” Even though I had no idea what I had done that vexed her, I was sorry. Such was my state as we sat by the fire.
“Apology accepted. I knew you were a gentleman.”
I was completely out of my depth with this woman. I had apologized for some slight that I knew nothing about and she had accepted. I also realized that our conversation was far from concluded.
“I’m so pleased that is settled.”
For some reason I was pleased too. The warmth of her smile washed over me.
“You have quite a library, Jonathan” she waved her arm at my two bookcases, bursting with volumes, and most of the other surfaces in the room which contained books or newspapers.
“I think now that all is settled, I should be able to call you by your Christian name, don’t you?”
I nodded as if I was addled. Well, in actuality I was.
“Yes...” I cleared my throat, at a loss of words at this astounding development.
Finally I said, “I often spend my leisure time in book stores. I love to read.”
She smiled slightly at that most obvious statement.
I was still basking in her smile, when alarm bells started in my brain. What was ‘settled?’
She picked up the book that she had been reading. It was Moby Dick.
“I see this one is from my father.”
“Yes ... it was a Christmas gift.”
“He was a whaler in his youth.”
“Yes, he mentioned that.”
“Are you enjoying it?”
“Perhaps, when you come to call you could bring it and read to me, and the family.”
Come to call? When had I agreed to call? Then it dawned on me. Miss Ross had said she had accepted my apology and things were settled. In her mind that meant I was going to call on her. How had I been maneuvered into this situation?
“On more pleasant days we could sit in the garden and you could bring one of your books and read to me.”
I knew it was useless to try to reason with her. I should just capitulate. And so I did.
“Do you have a preference?”
Did I suddenly detect a note of triumph in her eyes?
She reached out and I stood and took her hand and assisted her to her feet. I loved the feel of it in mine. It was so delicate and warm. Was she leaving already? When she stood, she walked to the bookcase to the left of the fireplace and examined the volumes. She recited the names of some of the authors as she traced their spines: “Julius Caesar ... Cervantes ... Cooper ... Dante ... Defoe ... Dickens ... Dumas ... Emerson ... Hawthorn ... Homer ... Hugo ... Washington Irving ... Thomas Jefferson ... John Locke ... Longfellow.”
She looked at the top shelf. “Oh, here’s a surprise ... several by Jane Austen.”
She pulled one volume from the shelf. “Pride and Prejudice. Are you a romantic, Jonathan?”
I paused. “Perhaps I am, but I am also interested in what motivates people. And Miss Austen seems to capture the foibles of the upper classes.” I looked pointedly at her.
“Jonathan, that was years ago in England. You don’t think people still behave that way, do you; especially in America?”
“Yes I do, and only the most naive would think otherwise.”
“Oh Jonathan, that’s quite cynical. Some of the upper classes are very nice people.”
I had resumed my seat and she smiled as she moved behind my chair and her fingers briefly touched my shoulder as she moved to the other bookcase.
“Plato ... Edgar Allen Poe ... more women ... interesting ... Harriett Stowe, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ... my brother read that one. He said it was frightening.”
“Not as frightening as Shelley’s The Last Man.”
“It takes place one hundred fifty years from now and it’s about the last survivor of the human race.”
“Makes you think.”
“Is that what you want from books, Jonathan?”
I watched her for a moment, standing by the bookcase, her slim body bathed in the last rays of sun. She was remarkably beautiful.
“Yes ... yes it is.”
Then she did the unexpected. She moved to where I was seated and took my hand. “I’m so glad, Jonathan.”
Again, the feel of her hand caused my breath to quicken. I felt like a prized pupil who had just received approbation from a beloved teacher.
“Oh my, look at the time.”
I walked out with her and hailed a cab. She turned to me as I helped her into the cab and said, “I think tomorrow, for dinner, don’t you?”
I then moved back to my rooms in a state of odd delight, undaunted by the fact I would have to face her mother the very next evening for Sunday dinner.
The train jolted.
I must have been dozing. I had called to her. I looked around the crowded coach. No one seemed to have noticed. Sadness engulfed me.
Elizabeth was lost to me. How long would it take to make myself forget her?
Maybe the woman with the auburn hair and the vast sorrow in her green eyes – the woman who had intruded on my dreams for more than two years - would help me. My quest was to find her and ask forgiveness.