Graham wiped his eyes. “That watch … the one I gave you … it was for Nathan—my younger brother first — during the war. You are the light of the world like a city on a mountain … Nathan was the light of my family. Something about him—we could all love him without embarrassment—he was soft and pampered. My brother Luce was the hero, but Nathan was the light.
“Seeing Fahy—my God! So many men just like him. I cut them apart—for their own good, but my stupid brother Luce! I was still so angry at him for taking my girl! And there he comes wandering into camp. He’d walked for miles! Thought I could keep his leg—thought I was a miracle worker. Did I tell you about the time he baled all the hay on three farms, saved a girl from drowning in the Hackensack, and won the turkey shoot all in one summer?”
Buck shook his head.
“Luce was a winner. He was a god to me and I was damned jealous. And there he was lying there on the table, his leg shattered, and he’s telling me no heroic measures—don’t take the leg. But it had to go! And I couldn’t find the bullet. I could barely stop the bleeding once it really got going. There was a bleeder, Buck. I found it and tied it shut.” Graham stared at Buck, but his eyes saw into an unknowable past. “When Luce woke up, he told me about a girl he had. Some other girl and Mai, his wife, home with his baby. That asshole had everything and screwed it all up.”
“We have a cousin?” Buck asked.
“Yes.” Graham mopped his forehead.
“So then what happened?”
“I was given time off—I was ordered to take some time. I left Luce at the hospital tent. Last I heard, Nate had taken ill—hadn’t made it into battle and I’d been glad—he was no soldier. I decided to go visit him, thinking he’d be with his unit, but he wasn’t. Nate left with a few other sick men to a makeshift hospital on a derelict farm. You should have seen the place. Flies—so many flies. And Nathan was dead.”
Buck stayed quiet.
“He died of dysentery. If I’d have got there sooner, I could have taken him from that God forsaken place. The surgeon in charge should have been hung for what he let those men go through. He said Nate helped the others till he got too weak himself. He handed me back the watch I’d given Nate for good luck. The watch I gave you.”
“I’m sorry, Father.”
“When I got back to camp, Luce gave me hell for not going to Nate as soon as I got word he’d fallen ill. We were fighting as I checked on the artery—the one I’d tied. I moved it only slightly, but something let go. I just couldn’t stop the blood and he just lay there looking at me and then he was gone. The other soldiers—they just looked at me like I was the worst sort of man.” Graham wiped his head again. “Buck, I wanted you to have a piece of me.”
“Father, it wasn’t your fault—about your brothers.”
“I’m sorry.” Graham ran his hand over his heart. “I lied when I said that only your mother wanted all of you. I did too. I wanted enough so if anything happened I wouldn’t lose all of you at once. Look at the unhappiness I bring into people’s lives. Look at your mother. Oh, look at you all!”
“But Father, it’s not up to you to make us happy. You did your best, I suppose. And you’re forgiven your mistakes if you have faith.”
Graham stared at his son. “I want to believe you. I’d like to have the assurance you suddenly have—but frankly your behavior frightens me.”
“Sometimes God’s hand in my life is very frightening,” Buck admitted. “I don’t know what He’s up to, but at times I feel—I don’t know—pulled into this perfect love beyond my comprehension. I can’t figure out how to say things yet. When I read the Bible now it’s as if I’ve stumbled upon long lost relatives and I’m happy.”
“So you like the saints?”
“I like all the imperfection. All the stumbling toward God. I like how God reaches first and knows our hearts and refines them if we let Him,” Buck said. “Father, it’s God’s hope that you’ll come when He calls.”
“I’m happy enough that you’ve softened your heart to me. Maybe that’s all I’m ready for.” Graham stood and patted Buck’s shoulder.
“I’ll keep praying for you, Father,” Buck promised.
Graham studied his son with suspicion, but Buck’s smile from beneath the tight bandage disarmed him.
“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”
Featured Image: Home Sweet Home by Winslow Homer