Copyright © 2021 Robert Loney
The Birthright
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The Birthright

An excerpt from Chapter 3

In the Cemetery

Amanda Clark looked after John Farrington as a nurse in the summer of 1883. They corresponded afterward and so John learned of her father's death in January. In April he comes to St. Paul for the interment, hoping to see Amanda. When actually at the cemetery, he realizes how inappropriate a time this is to renew acquaintance and he stays in the distance during the service. Later, when the family has departed and the grave is filled in...

   The workmen had left Amanda's rose lying discarded to one side of the grave. John placed the flower on the plinth of the tombstone, stood back, and regarded the decorated grave reverently for a few moments. He had never felt so forlorn as now - standing by himself in a melancholy drizzle, by the grave of a man he had never met, having abandoned hope of again seeing that bright gem who had given his life purpose for nearly a year.
   On turning to leave, John almost stepped into someone who had noiselessly approached from behind. He caught his breath at the start. In one simple about-face, he had exchanged his bleak outlook for a pair of blue eyes that led into a soul where he felt more at home than in the world around him. Those portals beheld him intently, searching his own as if looking there for an answer to some question.
   No more hiding now. He sighed with resignation and smiled sheepishly.
   "That was a thoughtful gesture, sir," said Amanda.
   Sir? he wondered.
   "I don't believe I saw you here earlier," she continued. "Were you at the service?"
   "Uh, no. I was over yonder visiting the family plot," he replied truthfully, not disclosing whose family. "I got talking with the gravediggers here."
   "Did you know my father?"
   "No... no, I never met him."
   Of course, John realized with sudden insight: she hasn't seen me since I got rid of my beard in the fall.
   Amanda looked at the rose and back at John, her puzzled expression politely requesting an explanation.
   "I just have enough sympathy with the human plight that I grieve a little at each person's passing, whether I knew them or not," he replied with newly found eloquence.
   Amanda beheld John as though he had just stepped out of a vision. A fresh sparkle in her eyes told him that they were moistening a little. Her countenance gradually fell and she spoke with sadness: "I wish more people were like that. I've found that when you grieve, you grieve alone."
   Being careful to not seem too dismal, Amanda did not linger on the point. "I left with the others earlier," she explained, "but I came back to see that the men have done everything properly."
   "They were impressed with the little ceremony your family had," John noted.
   "That was my doing. I'm surprised that others don't do more for their loved ones." She looked over at another interment proceeding unattended. "I did such a little bit, yet some people make me feel I went overboard on it."
   "I've always enjoyed the pipes, the few times I've heard them," said John. "Your father did too, I expect?"
   "Yes. His mother was a Sutherland." Amanda pointed to the name on the stone. "She was born in Scotland and came over with her parents. They're all buried here. Father always hoped to get over to the old country to visit relatives and see the Highlands. It was one more thing he kept putting off."
   "It's a short life, isn't it?" observed John after a contemplative pause.
   Amanda nodded.
   "It reminds us to live it to the full," he continued. "Each day is precious."
   "I sometimes think of it as more of an obligation than something to be enjoyed," replied Amanda candidly.
   "Happiness often does require effort," he agreed.
   She smiled a little. "You seem to be a kindred spirit."
   "I'm glad if I can be."
   The drizzle was getting heavier.
   "Well, I should be getting back," said Amanda. "I have a carriage here, sir. Can I offer you a ride somewhere?"
   "Oh... no," replied John, regretting her impending departure. "I don't have far to go."
   She regarded him momentarily as if subconsciously desiring some reason to linger. "I'll say good-day then." She turned and headed for the roadway, John staring after her with his heart sinking back toward his feet. He had taxed his ingenuity for some tactful way of revealing his identity and explaining his situation.
   Something in his expression as they parted caused Amanda to look back at him once as she made her way to the carriage. His countenance still had that same forlorn aspect she could not account for.
   When she had turned away from him for what must surely be the last time, he decided to throw tact to the wind.
   "Elgitha," he called out in a bold, clear voice.
   Amanda pivoted instantly. "John!" She ran eagerly back to him. "I knew I should have recognized you! What are you doing here?"
   "I was coming home on leave, and - well, it's not much farther to the city. I knew your father was being buried today, and I thought maybe you could use a little moral support, so I just stayed on the train."
   "But you didn't come to the graveside for the service. And why didn't you tell me who you were?"
   "I - well - I, uh..."
   The rainfall helped him out with its sudden intensity. "Oh, never mind!" said Amanda. "We're getting wet!" She grabbed his arm and headed for the roadway. "We're having people back at the house. You must come over."
   An invitation like this was hard to turn down. She pulled John to the carriage and hauled him in after herself.


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Later, at the Clark home