Deleted Scene from My Father's Son by Penny Freeman
Cassandra offered a smile of encouragement. “Well, perhaps he must be taken to task for it. Perhaps it would do him some good.”
“If anyone could help him, Miss Sterling . . .” He dared speak no more and the lady turned her face away to wrestle with her own warring sensibilities. As she gazed out the window, the setting sun silhouetting her face and igniting the fire in her hair, Durant fell into the fantasy which she opened up to him. It fit hand-in-glove with his daydream of retreating to Trinity and a smithy to carve his own life from the forests and rolling prairies of east Texas.
He thought of a work-weary stonemason making his way home in the twilight. His clothes were plain and common, but they were kept clean and well-mended. His knapsack of tools professed a master’s skill. He would make himself a master mason and stonecutter, avail himself of every opportunity for betterment. He would have only the best for his wife, and so gave the best of himself to accomplish it.
As he walked, his oldest lad and his dog would run up to meet him from where they kept watch and waited. The lad would simply walk silently beside him, or they would consult man-to-man as he reported his day, his own chores done, his morning in school and his afternoon on the moors, his assurance to his father of his use to his mother.
Well-commended, the boy’s bright face would sing in the stonemason’s heart. He would ruffle the thatch atop the lad’s head and assure him of his approval. Very soon indeed, he would take him on as an apprentice and in no time the lad’s work would excel his own. It was a precious bit of time they spent together walking and conferring, and the stonemason savored every moment. He knew that too soon his son would have sons of his own.
They would round the last turn of the path and their cottage would come into view, not grand but large enough, situated in a hollow, protected by the wind-swept moors. The oak planks upon the floor, the slate tiles on the roof, and the thick stone walls hewn by his own hand kept his family warm and snug. The whitewashed walls gleamed in the setting sun, and the bright green shutters gave it a cheery air. A whisper of smoke and rich aromas coiled from the chimney, and the general air professed it luxuriant beyond any wealthy man’s ability to purchase.
It sat surrounded by a garden carefully tended and a’bloom in a riot of colors. Within the garden wall, the younger children played with a litter of puppies, whilst the mother rested hard by but carefully guarding all her charges. The chickens in the barnyard cackled and scratched, the pig rutted contentedly in its sty, and the cow in the pasture munched lazily on clover. The kitchen garden thrived in its neatly planted rows kept carefully weeded, and promised a winter well-provisioned for his children.
His oldest daughter carefully tended the toddling babe, so much like her mother both in looks and in manner that it ached to behold. She was naught but six or seven, but still, one day some penniless day laborer would lure her away. He would be far beneath her, but she would see in him her future and would beg her papa to grant her happiness.
What was a father to do when he saw himself in the lad, knew the longing in his heart, and read so easily the devotion in his eyes? They would live on love, faith and hard work and very little else, but they would get on because that had been enough for their parents.
His children would spy him and desert the garden and the pups to greet him noisily, search his pockets for treasures and to be tossed in the air or swung by their feet, or simply to smile that devotion little girls reserved especially for their fathers. Although his muscles ached and the day had been a long one, the children’s laughter invigorated him and would signal the beginning of his favorite time of day.
He would stop at the pump to free himself of the day’s grime, and make a game of it with the children to produce their fresh hands and faces. Then, as they turned toward the house, there she would stand at the threshold, smiling her welcome but quiet and still. He would go to her, she would reach for him, he would claim her about the waist and the family entire would disappear inside and shut themselves within their own private paradise.
Supper done, the chores complete and the children abed, they two would step out into the long summer twilight and climb to a favorite spot on the hill. There, they would rest in the heather in quiet conversation, sometimes of great import, others of nothing at all. He would drink in the sight of her timeless features, the subtle waft of her scent on the breeze, the fire woven into her dark tresses, her bewitching form which belied the five babes she had born, and drown in the depths of her ever changing amethyst eyes. Her smile professed her own devotion and her surety of his, and her pleasure in what they had created together.
He would hold her close, snug against him, and the babe in her womb would kick in protest. He would laugh with the joy of it, the mysteries of womanhood would shine in her eyes, and the miracle of life would fill their hearts with wonder as if they had not felt the same five times before. Her hand would guide his own to discover his son.
He would kick and stretch and push against her ribs and the hint of discomfort would wrinkle her brow, but just for a moment. “He is strong,” she would say. “Just like his father. He will come soon.” The stonemason would scold the babe and shame it into better treating its mother, then threaten all manner of violence just as soon as he got his hands on it.
She would laugh, he would smile. “Perhaps she is a girl,” he would suggest. Surely his lass deserves a sister. There was far too little beauty in the world, and nothing would more improve it than another exact replica of her mother. She smiles her adoration but wags her head in denial, even as her hand pushes against the babe to ease her discomfort. “He is strong like his father,” she would say again. “And just as stubborn.”
She would reach up to touch his face, he would retain her hand to draw in the vitality bubbling up and spilling from her like a life-giving spring. He would kiss her palm, her wrist, she would warm to his touch and he would lose himself in the luxury exclusively his.
In mind and spirit, they had grown so close each melded into the other until they could not tell where one stopped and the other began. In body, he could never quite accomplish it. He could never draw her near enough, though he never stopped trying, but just then, resting his head upon her breast and caressing the life swelling within her sufficed quite well.
She was so beautiful, it hurt. She was so delicate and fragile, so resilient and strong. She could do anything she set her mind to, as intelligent as any man he knew and a great deal wiser. No honest task was beneath her, no noble goal too high. Her thirst for knowledge she instilled in his children, her patience companioned compassion, and the trials of her life sired empathy, tolerance, and a peace as profound as the deep midnight sky.
He knew he would be far less of a man had he been denied her. She had accepted his hand and his meager offering not with resignation but with delight and sweet anticipation. The life they shared they built plank by plank, stone by stone, one in purpose and goal. She never tired of the effort nor complained of the results. As much as he devoted his life to their success, he knew he could never match the whole of herself she surrendered to himself and their children.
She was his queen, his goddess, his most intimate friend. She knew all his faults but never mentioned them. She trusted him to know them himself and mend, a goal his love for her kept ever in the forefront of his mind. Why she loved him, he could not fathom but that she did he was certain. She planted in his heart her complete, unqualified confidence in himself, and there it thrived and bore fruit because he believed her and in her. She was his load star. He would be lost without her.
“Mr. Durant . . . Mr. Durant?”
Durant started at the gentle touch on his hand and struggled to orient himself to the time and place. They were hard on the front doors of Arlington Hall. He fought back the sensibilities which overran him which her touch inflamed, and he knew his new escape would either keep him on his feet while he surrendered to his fate or drive him so mad it would hasten it.
“Where had you gone, Mr. Durant?” the lady asked quietly. “You appeared a million miles away.”
Durant met her gaze, his true unguarded self completely exposed and impossible to conceal. “No, darling. Only so far as Northumberland.”