This Is Where The Story Ends . . .
Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.
Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.
Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.
Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.
But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.
Months passed as months do as did the days in those months, the hours in those days, the minutes in those hours . . . the seconds, etc. All were there. Each bomb-tick on the clock face was, for me, yet another eternity.
I sat by his side, day after day when I could take leave from legal duties that I had arranged to finish out my service to the Crown in Paris. I had something to do with the assembling of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the apocalypse for a while. But, my mind only numbly went through the motions as meetings were held, summits made, and documents, documents, documents fell like rain. I had no true care for what I was doing or why. I did my work in a kind of monotone of numbness that allowed me to exist through one more day until I could return to Adrien’s side by night. I only slept when it was in a chair by his bedside. His doctors and nurses tried to prompt me to return to my quarters for sleep. They even attempted to make orders for me to do so, but it was in vain as my clout as a Duke and then a lately entailed member of the House of Lords prohibited my superiors from pushing my ire too hard. As long as I did not create outright mutiny in the ranks, my superiors left me to my devices. They all knew my soul was gone. They did not know who I had lost, but they knew that it had to have been someone who kept my life for me. This must have been so because they observed that there was no life left in me anymore! I was only somewhat more attuned to existence than Adrien who was so well divorced from it that he could neither walk nor talk, much less write endless letters-in-brief to be compiled into the impossibly long Treaty documentation.
They all recognised the ‘2000 yard stare’ of those that the war had injured in their souls. For many men, that stare never again saw the world as it is, but only as it was that moment when what they saw was, at last, too much. I suppose my eyes were only given to see when I was with Adrien reading him the newspaper. My eyes skimmed the French text and I recited in my increasingly brilliant French accent. Many of the nurses mistook me for French because I’d become so adept at speaking it with perfect Parisian intonation and relaxed slurs. Visitors and regulars could have almost believed that I was a normal living man since I only came alive by that bedside, in that ward, next to my Adrien.
At the last, one precious evening when it had gone late (the nurses had long since given up trying to shoo me from my perch next to Adrien at Last Call), I had managed to fall asleep with my head upon the bed next to Adrien’s hand. Oddly, that was the only place I could find any sleep at all, there, bent over awkwardly with my head resting on his white hospital linen sheets.
I was awakened to a touch, but I was not startled from sleep because the nurses had, many times before, tried to discourage my sleeping in that manner as such posture offends the back and neck. But, this time there were no nurses about except for the Night Nurse at her desk far upfront next to the only open door to the ward. The hand that touched my hair stroked it with a familiar firm lightness. The perfect pressure to soothe, but not to startle or distress. It was a touch only a lover could give.
(In the French: “My silly little one! Why sleep so uncomfortably? You should be in your own bed!”) His voice was hoarse from long disuse, but it was the most precious music I would ever hear again in my life!
“A-ADRIEN!” I called out much too loudly for the quiet confines of the large wardroom. With my instant regret, the other patients in the room made frightened noises, grumblings, or began to fidget in their sleeping nightmares. To her credit, the Night Nurse did not shush me like some half-witted librarian, but rather came rushing to our side knowing that there had been some change in Adrien’s condition. It was the only thing to account for my becoming so uncharacteristically incontinent in my utterances.
(“What has happened, eh? Has he taken a turn?”) she asked with a matronly professional calm. But, her questions answered themselves when she looked at Adrien and saw him trying to sit himself up in bed. Alas, the poor man had been in repose for so long that his muscle tone was virtually nonexistent, meaning that even the mere repositioning of himself in bed was quite beyond him without help. Thusly, we both helped to settle him in a more vertical disposition for which we garnered many an exhausted ‘merci beaucoups’.
Upon turning his reading lamp on above his bed, the drawn face of my beloved was all too apparent. He looked corpselike still, but his eyes were their ever sparkling golden amber. Tears came to them as he weakly reached for me to come into his arms which I did without any thought to the propriety or ‘masculine’ protocol. He shook with emotion and long-held tears began to wrack out of him.
(“Oh my little one! I thought I should never see you again! The war! This eternal war! It forever separated me from you! Oh, my beloved!”) Though overjoyed by his response, there was a corner of my paranoia that feared he’d give away too much of the nature of our relationship in his newfound lucidity and, almost as an instant punishment for such thoughts, I suffered a blow unlike any I’d ever felt before or since!
(“Brandon! My little boy! Papa has missed you, my little one! My brave boy! My young man!”). I continued to hold my precious heart to me as he continued to babble on, but I knew then, of course, that . . . Adrien was not speaking to me directly but to a memory of someone else he found even more precious than I was, I supposed. Adrien was still not with us in this world. Though awake and interactive, he could not yet interact with the reality before him.
Soon his emotional fit receded and Adrien slumped back into a stupor that then faded into that unending kind of sleep which had become his natural state of affairs.
Needless to say, I was heartbroken. To be so close and yet so very far from me: this was my Adrien. I broke my vigil for the night after that possibly out of an innate sense of self-preservation. I knew that if I stayed there by that bedside another minute I’d end up in the same hell-pit into which Adrien had fallen. He’d manage to drag me down with him into that place and, though, I loved him and had lost him, I knew that death would be a far kinder fate for me than to be dragged into that pit into which Adrien was pulling me. Mind you, I do not recount this with anger. I was not angry, nowhere even close to it, but I was distressed to distraction.
I found a bar nearby and there drowned my pain in various liquors. I do not remember how I was returned to my quarters, but I was later to thank a Sargent Guillaume Chasseur who would become a dear friend of mine in later years.
I admit to shirking my duties that day, sleeping the day away into the night. I was not wont to awaken, in all honesty. My attempts at alcohol poisoning a failure, I felt that the second-best alternative was to simply fall asleep and never wake again. If Adrien could do this, it follows then that I could do the same. But, then my damnable sense of self-preservation must have kicked in because I found that night that, like so many other nights before, I could not sleep a wink. I remained awake, reading, writing, and remembering. I was already setting the pattern for my later life post-Adrien. He had already become a past tense to me. What lay in that bed in that hospital was no more Adrien than was a bedpost.
By some means, I must have fallen into some kind of sleep. I had remembered taking the easy chair next to the fire hoping the warmth and the soft crackling of the fire could soothe my heart. I only could figure this because when I was startled awake by the telling of my door chimes the fire had burned to coals and the room had settled into a chill. My footman was sent home earlier so I rose creakily to address the door myself. The door chimed rather incessantly as if whoever was on the other side of the door could not even have the patience to wait the scant span of time it took me to arrive at the door from my armchair. My French apartment was not a vast affair even for the Ritz as I do not care for grandeur for its own sake. This made my impatience with the door quite impetuous.
Upon opening the door I found a young Soldat Ie Classe standing before me giving me a crisp salute. He could not have been more than sixteen. A mere child! Fortunate for him that he had been given this soft duty of delivering messages. I receive my message which was scripted and sealed with the address for L’hôpital Notre-Dame des Vaillants. Naturally, my heart sank lower than I thought it could. I was sure of the message’s contents. I dismissed the little messenger boy who, again, regaled me with a crisp French salute and snapped boot heals. He, then, scurried off and left me with this mortar shell in the guise of an envelope and a slip of writing paper.
I carefully unfolded it to find it was a telegram marked URGENT.
“- START MESSAGE –
COME TO HOSPITAL -STOP-
MONSIEUR DE SAINT MICHELE AWAKE -STOP-
MUST SEE YOU NOW -STOP-
I was away in a bolt, even requisitioning an expensive driver of an automobile to get me to Adrien as quickly as possible! I admit to having run through the corridors of the clinique with quite a few of the nurses scolding my haste. There was nothing for it, I had to be by my beloved’s side! Wild horses wouldn’t have been able to pull me away and hinder my coming!
I arrived by his bedside with his attending nurse and doctor hovering nearby look to me expectantly. This, for some reason, sent an icy chill down my spine! It even slowed my approach for a moment as peculiar indecision accosted my increasingly frantic mind: ‘If I were to turn tail now and run back out the way I came, could I forget Adrien ever existed and be spared what I feel must be coming?’ It was a fleeting moment’s folly which I overcame with inertia as much as will. I was already moving forward and to turn direction right then would have been most difficult. Also, I had a compelling need to see Adrien and, even if it was for the last time, see if I could communicate with him. I wanted him to know that it was I that was there for him!
Coming to the bedside our eyes locked as they had those many months ago when we met upon that fated train journey together. His eyes and then his gaunt face smiled in recognition! He was returned to me! He was Adrien again!
“(In the French: My Cedric! You have come! You have come, at last! I was certain you would! The Angels have brought you to me!)” Tears came to his eyes and he reached up for me weakly, but with all the effort he seemed he had left to him, which, direly, was not much at all.
Despite my typical British forbearance, the tears in me could not be held in check as I came to my knee and embraced my Adrien. His hold on me was so weak and my hands upon his back and the ease at which I lifted him was such that I felt I was already holding a skeleton in my arms. Adrien was skin and bones! He was so emaciated! My tears went from being those of joy to those of grief knowing that no man could live long in this condition.
Almost to put a point on things, Adrien reluctantly, even frustratedly, had to release himself from me because that mere act of love had sent his heart to racing and his breathing to come in pants! Merely giving me an embrace was too much for his poor body to take!
(I . . . I am ~gasp~ sorry, my Cedric. I . . . want to take you into my arms and hold you for ~gasp~ ever! But . . . I . . .”). For a moment I thought I’d lost him to the darkness again for he settled into his pillow and closed his eyes while his breathing calmed a fraction. At an agonising length, his eyes did open again and focused again upon me. His smile returned, if wanly, as he beckoned to me to come closer so he would not have to speak with effort.
(“You know that I love you now and forever. I know that our time together was all too brief, but I believe we loved enough for any lifetime. God brought us together, I am sure of it. For our purpose and His, we found each other in this world and our ties will never break. Even though death must take me . . .”). Adrien sighed and his eyes closed. I was already on the edge of breaking yet galvanising myself for the fact that he might never again open those lovely eyes to meet mine in this life. But, after a rest, he opened them and the sunshine light of them seemed to burn hotter for a second. Adrien became very intense: “Cedric, there is something you should know. It is something that would be even more important than you are to me if such a thing were possible. Now that I can share both of these things in one life, I need no longer make . . . . decisions.” Adrien’s eyes rolled back into his head as if he was losing consciousness. I immediately clutched his hand uttering my desire for him not to leave just yet. Not until he could, rather, explain himself.
(Yes! Yes, this was my biggest reason for asking you to come to me now at such a late hour. Tomorrow, a man will come to find you. He is my family’s lawyer.”) I became startled at the statement. Why were we talking of lawyers when so much needed to be said in love before our being separated forever? These were my thoughts. They, somewhat, shame me now for what he said next erased my past existence and reset it to another kind of destiny entirely!
“He is Mr Barnard. I have entrusted him with the care of my son. . .” Adrien took my other hand so that both were held. The doctor and nurse looked on in rapt attention, but not minding in the least the seeming intimacy of our connection.
“S-son?” This shocked me to the core! A vile little piece of my bitter British heart wanted to rise in outrage! All this time Adrien had been a father and, more than likely, a husband too. But, in that way that he had that could read me as easily as one reads a book, Adrien squeezed my hands in understanding.
(“He came to me as a gift from my wife, Jillian. He came to me as her last act on this earth! Now, I entrust my one treasure to my only other treasure in this world! It is my will, Lord Cedric Temple, that you adopt my son Brandon D’Saint Michele and take him into your home as your own and as a lasting loving memory of me.”).
I was shaking! I was shaking with shock! First, I learn of Adrien being a father, then a widower, and then his entrusting me with the care of his only begotten son? Impossible! Incredible! Undeniable! Irresistible.
“Would you not wish to watch your boy grow up with your own eyes? If a home is the trouble, you know I have more than enough room for you and the child! My father is no more and I rule my estate now! We can live together there! You needn’t leave him with me alone!” I was near to babbling like a fool just then because what he was telling me, in not so many words, was that he could not watch his son grow up. I would need to be his eye and ears for him from that point on!
(“No, my beautiful love, for this is not permitted now. I am used up. I expended myself to save my Brandon and his brothers, both old and new. I have given him back his heritage, but I can no longer give him the life he deserves. I have done all I can. I need you to complete this work for me. Love Brandon. Take him to your heart . . . do this . . . in memory… .of me… .* “)
With that, Adrien D’Saint Michele, the only one on this earth who I ever truly loved up to that point in my life, passed away quietly, leaving me alone with a nurse, a doctor, and a new legacy to fulfil.
I thought I would cry pitifully upon seeing him leave me thus, but, though tears did come, I was resolved to make good on my promise and that became Adrien’s final gift to me. He gave me a future! This kept my broken heart from shattering completely preventing me from dying with Adrien that very night.
Indeed, the following day Mr Bernard did come as promised, a portly man dressed in a sharp pinstriped suit, a top hat, a duck mounted black cane, Spatz upon his Italian made shoes and a magnificent moustache that was white as snow. His blue eyes veritably twinkled like some French variant of Father Christmas.
“A, voilà! Monsieur Cedric de Temple, Duk de Buckinghamshire, I presume, oui?” He said with a smile and crisply polite manners. He seemed to pronounce my title with a sense of good-natured mockery. I was not affronted for, by the resolution of The Great War, I had lost my taste for ‘Aristocratic Airs’ also. I gave the headily perfumed lawyer leave to enter my flat which he appraised as being appropriately subdued for a well-bred English Aristocrat. Indeed, I believe Monsieur Bernard was the only person I have ever met that could discern my noblesse oblige in my lack of ostentation.
I was appreciative of the lawyer, truth be told, for more important reasons than just his apparent taste, he was a strange distraction strong enough to pull me away from my near-suicidal melancholy of that morning. I believe the only thing that kept me alive that day was Mr Bernard and his precious charge.
With only the cursory niceties of coffee service and light conversation to soften my nerves, Monsieur Bernard entered decisively into the execution of his duties on Adrien’s behalf. Being a lawyer myself, I was duly impressed by the quality of Bernard’s knowledge and wisdom as he dispensed with the necessary documentation.
A Will was read that involved my inheriting Adrien’s meagre estate. I acquired a fair bit of French-Flemish land by this deal as le Chateau D’Saint Michele was a fairly large estate. A remnant, indeed, of a Royal land grant to the past count and countess D’Saint Michele. Rather than confiscate the land, the First Republic merely insisted that the D’Saint Michele’s should keep the land for use by the many dairy farms that the estate encompassed and that, as wealth grew for the farmers, that the family be entailed to sell off their vast estate to the farmers so that they could own their own farms. The D’Saint Michele family must have done just that because their holdings were reduced to a mere 20-acre parcel which was nowhere near the hundreds of acres it must have been during the Ancient Regime. I could feel my father turning in his grave at this idea. It was one of his many reasons why he ‘hated’ the French though he ofttimes did a vast amount of business with them.
But, in all, the property was neither here nor there, as the main purpose of Bernard’s coming was inaugurated with the switching out of the set of documents concerning the Will to another set of documents for a legacy far more precious.
“Ah, Oui. Here we have the Articles de Tutelle Simple for that acceptance of temporary guardianship for one M. Brandon Loren D’Saint Michele. Per the express Will of M. Adrien D’Saint Michele, father and only surviving parent to his child, he has authorised you, M. Duc Cedric De Temple, to take custody of his son until a final agreement is reached to take Brandon Loren as your adopted son. Do you wish to sign now or take the time to consider this considerable responsibility, as well as honour, that your friend has bestowed upon you?”
It was a highly emotional moment and cooler minds and, perhaps, professional counsel would have cautioned me against signing anything of such moment in my state. However, I had and have never been any more sure of anything in my life! I would take this boy as my own and would love him as my own. He was an echo of my Adrien to my heart and later he became his own song that, in some respects, replaced Adrien’s song behind my breast. I did, of course, sign all that Monsieur Bernard proffered and I did so without restraint or regret.
All that remained was meeting the boy and seeing if he could accept this new and unfortunate chapter in his already tragic life. I suspected that Brandon Loren would be in some state of hysteria over the loss of both his parents and having none but an English stranger to turn to for succour. I knew I could be inheriting a broken child given to all manner of behavioural issues and neuroses. He would be troubled . . . but then, how could any who lived and survived those times not come away troubled.
The Great War had annihilated a way of life. It had reset the World into a new mould unknown to any. New powers had risen and old ones had perished. New philosophies had replaced ancient ones and the ‘Order Of Things’ no longer meant anything to anyone. Aristocrats, like myself, became anachronisms and largely unnecessary in this Brave New World. I was fortunate that I had inherited true knowledge and true wealth from my father’s estate so that I could provide for Brandon in such a way that he did, eventually, grow and thrive! He became all I lived for and still, to this very day, he remains so. He lives in America now, with his son and his grandsons. I have met them all and none know of my title as I entreated Brandon never to reveal it to them. Americans do not need such foolish and archaic notions. I am merely the ‘strange English great-granddad’.with the ‘funny’ accent, big house, and the best toys!
When we were introduced, I was captivated again by a set of golden hazel eyes that seemed to shine with their own light. Brandon’s light brown hair was full but well-manicured in a French manner that was slicked back with pomade. It had the effect of making his hair a darker colour than it actually was and it set off his features strikingly! He was, at that time, oh so pale and the bruises under his eyes showed he slept little and cried much. But, it was strange, when he was given cause to look up into my eyes and see the love I already bore him there, the weariness of loss seemed to lift from Brandon’s slight shoulders.
(“Are you to be my new Papa now that my old Papa is gone?”) He asked with wary innocence.
(“If you would have me. I loved your Papa as much as any person can love another and you are from him. How could I not love you also?”) I said kneeling. He allowed me to take up his soft hands. He was not much more than five years old and yet, he had wisdom already. His countenance was stoic as if he were attempting to hold some tremendous force back with the power of his sheer will. It was like being presented with a dam holding back some great torrent.
(“Then take me home, Papa. I want to go home!”) and with that, the dam burst, Brandon Loren Temple-D’Saint Michele flung himself into my arms, tears bursting forth with a life’s time worth of pain shuddering through his whole wee body, and I shared it with him. I soothed it out of him and, indeed, I took my new son home. From that day forth he was happy and his happiness was my happiness. He grew and as he did I saw the mirror of Adrien take shape in him to the point where I’d sometimes forget that I was seeing Brandon in silhouette against a setting sun and not Adrien.
My name endures and the name of the other half of my soul which is in heaven endures. Generation upon generation, I am now assured that the Houses of Temple and Saint Michele shall live on into the future. I only hope that in some far off tomorrow one of the future holders of my name will find a love like Adrien and I shared and that they shall cherish it as the greatest of all treasures. Unto this, I will forever hope.
This is where my story ends and those of my children and my children’s children begin.
Their’s will be tomorrow’s souvenirs!