Word Count 1,332
WHN- Warburton’s Edge
She was the only one in the classroom, back in the east coast boarding school where she’d spent most of her young life. Catching up, that’s what she was supposed to be doing, after the schooling she’d missed when she went to be with her father. The heat was just bearable, but her light blouse was already damp, and she wished she was old enough to put up her hair in the manner of the older girls, away from her neck. The window nearby was closed and shaded against the heat, reducing the light to a haze
And she was day-dreaming again as she doodled her name on the piece of paper on her desk. Tallie. Tallie Warburton. Tallie. Lancer. But she crossed out that last name.
She saw, not the poem she was supposed to be studying but that moment she’d met her father again, when all his letters came to life in the man, and she’d hugged and hugged him. He’d not responded with her childish enthusiasm, but he’d still been her heroic father, and he’d told her enough tales as they’d set up camp to fill her imagination with other countries, other worlds, other ways of dealing with the enemy.
And his pavilion! Oh, that beautiful place, where she had found moments, here and there, to sit on the floor and people it with Sinbad, and she became Scheherazade, spinning tales to save her life and waiting for her husband to love her. Or she would sit on the carpet and it would become magic, taking her wherever she wanted.
She sighed. Wherever she wanted to be. Yet here she was, catching up lessons her peers had already learned, when she had done so much, seen so much beyond the stories they told, of mothers and fathers and homes bright with light and siblings and … and no kindred spirits. She had friends, girls whose chattering pushed away memories of her father’s last hours for a while. She did not share those memories with them. They couldn’t have understood what they meant to her.
When the blackbird in the Spring,
‘On the willow tree,
Sat and rocked, I heard him sing,
Singing Aura Lea.
Aura Lea, Aura Lea,
Maid with golden hair;
Sunshine came along with thee,
And swallows in the air.
The black print didn’t do justice to the sentiment in the poem. She wished for a moment for golden hair, cascading down her back in – in – golden waves? She shook her head in disgust. Who had hair in golden waves? That was just silly. There were few willows by the camp, only the dry oaks and cottonwoods, and no blackbirds or swallows that she saw, not after those cold-eyed men started to fire their guns and rifles.
And suddenly her hand jolted as she heard again the one shot, the one that had turned her world into an unfamiliar place, where she had had to grow up quickly and make decisions too hard to make. She closed her eyes tight and held on to the one image which calmed her when the bad memories threatened. Johnny. Steadfast kindred spirit.
She opened her eyes again, blinking away tears, and reached in her skirt pocket for his last letter.
Dear Tallie, I hope you are well and learning how to ride side-saddle without your leg going to sleep. If you ever come back to Lancer I’ll teach you to ride Western style.”
She could hear his voice as he rambled on, showing her in words what he did, what Scott was up to, what Murdoch did, which seemed to be mostly telling him what to do. Except that couldn’t be true. She knew Murdoch loved Johnny just as a father should love a son. “If you ever come back”, he wrote. Every letter, somewhere, he would say that, but somehow the words were getting further away from her, echoing across the huge continent, into her constricted world, where she was chaperoned and treated like fine china. She wanted to go back to their world but she was still too young, at least two years away from being able to make the long trip on her own again, as she had scandalously done after her father’s death . And by the time those years had passed, Johnny would have found his own kindred spirit, one of an age to marry.
What should she write back to him? That she had her own beau now, even though that was a figment of her imagination? Make sure he knew he shouldn’t wait for her – if that is what he might do, if they were more than friends?
Aura Lea, Aura Lea,
Take my golden ring;
Love and light return with thee,
And swallows with the spring.
Tallie took the notepaper she had hidden in her book of poetry. dipped her pen in the inkwell and began to write.
“Dear Johnny, Yes, I can ride side-saddle properly now, and I am learning to sew and play the piano and paint pretty pictures, so that I shall be an ornament to the man I marry. I am sure they will line up for me and I shall choose the richest, most handsome man, who will show me the world and I shall five children. Or six. I haven’t quite decided that. But we will always be kindred spirits, won’t we. And you will be Madrid when you need to protect your family, and Lancer when you need to be with them, and you will be happy.”
Johnny took himself to the quietest, shadiest place he could find, away from Jelly, and his brother’s teasing, and his father’s sympathy.
The willows over his head shivered in the breeze. He opened the letter again.
“You will be happy”. The phrase wouldn’t let him be, but filled his mind with questions about her meaning. After that, mere words, meaningless to him. Was she wishing that for him, or telling him he must be. Why had she written about a future which didn’t seem to have him in it? He had been thinking, dreaming, just lately, of her delight when he’d made his heart’s choice of name, the right choice. Lancer. Not Madrid, not any more.
He sighed, putting the letter down beside him. He drew up his knees, linked his hands around them and settled to think.
He knew she was moving away from him as she grew up, just as he was moving away from her, both into their new worlds. She would be equal to that place society was about to give her, that she was training so hard to take. She could never abandon that for him, not as Scott’s mother had abandoned her place for Murdoch. He couldn’t even imagine taking her away from that new life, but he could see her with a tall, handsome man, and children, and a home to run.
From his place under the willow tree he could look across at the hacienda, and the corrals and barns surrounding it. He was beginning to put down deep roots there, deeper than the ones that he’d torn up when he’d gone to make it his business to help Warburton. He couldn’t do that again. Any grown woman he took to his wife would have to love the place as he loved it, with her eyes open, knowing all the back-breaking work it took to run the ranch. Tallie had grown up as her father had died, but only enough to kiss his cheek and leave as a friend.
Johnny stood and read her letter once more before putting it in his jacket pocket. He knew he would not write to her again, but that she would understand, and would not write to him. It was better that way. Kindred spirits they might be, but worlds apart, and she was not too young to know that.
He left the willow’s soft noise, and began the walk back to his world.
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