Jameson was the ideal man. He kept a cat and was good to her. He owned a farm but he was no tiller. He let the people divide the produce when his idle gardening sprung tomatoes and chillies. He was regular to the local church and was a god-fearing man. He had no vice, save for one, that he was single. And the entire town frowned upon that. Jameson, the common verdict was, should choose a wife from the town’s dandies and complete himself. Only no one dared mention that in front of him.
“Mr. Summerhouse! Mr. Summerhouse, sir!” a young boy’s voice echoed in the silent building. The culprit then came into view, skidding inside the isolated house in a rush that seemed out of place in the tranquil.
Presently, he found the man he was calling for at his usual place, behind a desk with his head in his hands.
“Mr. Summerhouse, sir?” the lad repeated. “What is it, boy?” came a low groan from inside the cupped hands.
“It’s Jameson, sir… he’s- he’s dying.. again…”
On the mention of Jameson, Mr. Summerhouse sat up and frowned. Then a moment later he said “Stick, boy” and dusted himself. The boy brought him his oak cane, more for show than need, and Mr. Summerhouse clasped his fingers around the familiar brass knock. Then he sighed and set off with such speed that the boy ran to keep up.
“Gladis, where is he?” Mr. Summerhouse demanded, as he entered Jameson’s house. The cat purred and jumped up the stairs, like an athlete hearing the shotgun go off and lunging for the finish line. Mr. Summerhouse climbed behind her and his cane cracked on every step. He closed he door as he entered the room where Jameson lay. The cat coiled in the armchair, content with her role.
Mr. Summerhouse stood by the door and watched his son-in-law and felt morose. Jameson… his son-in-law…
“It’s happening again sir. She’s got me.” Jameson’s voice, weak with pain, broke through his thoughts.
“It’s been a long time Jameson. Why is she back?” Summerhouse asked though he knew the answers.
“It’s October sir. She’s back because its October. Elise is back.”
It had been a year ago. Elise Summerhouse was the happiest girl in town. Jameson had proposed to her, but they had kept it secret from everyone, they wanted it to be quiet. Mr. Summerhouse had got to know eventually though, he always did. But he approved so he kept their secret. That was last year. In October.
“James, is she talking to you again?”
“Not yet. She wants to say something-” the man was tired and his words broke “-but she can’t.” Mr. Summerhouse’s face fell.
A few days after she had proposed, Elise had gone to church and stayed there all morning. When she returned, she wasn’t like her usual self, she seemed worried. When Jameson asked her what the matter was, she joked she couldn’t decide what flowers to cover the church in for their wedding. He’d laughed though he knew she was lying.
Jameson groaned. He clutched his side and moaned and called out to Elise, in a whisper.
“Does it hurt?”
“Not as much as last time.”
“Son.” Mr. Summerhouse had tears in his eyes.
“Son, can’t we let the townspeople know?”
“What would that do? No sir, I don’t think she’d want us to tell.”
Mr. Summerhouse nodded, and let Jameson suffer. He wouldn’t allow a doctor because he couldn’t let anyone know. And he wouldn’t let anyone know because she wouldn’t. He wouldn’t betray Elise. Even in death.
Jameson gave a sudden loud cry, then covered his mouth, and inquired with his eyes. Mr. Summerhouse went over to the window and looked out. No. No one heard.
He looked out the window… a year ago, in October…
He could see the church top in the distance. A year ago, it had been weathered. Now, it had been painted a clean white, hiding the years it had lived. Just like it hidden Elise’s secret.
Elise had been talking to the pastor. She had confided everything in him as a child and she didn’t stop as a maiden. She had told him about the marriage but someone else had heard. A painful story… a jealous man, who wanted Elise for himself, had confronted her one evening behind the church and when she refused all his advances, he had killed her. Just like that.
Jameson had arrived just in time too see the ends of his black coat disappear around the corner, but he couldn’t follow, he was much too concerned for his beloved.
She was stabbed.
Jameson let a tear slip. “Sir… do you think… do you think she’ll ever forgive us?”
“For not being there with her… for letting that man…”
“I believe she won’t blame us for something we couldn’t control.” Even as Mr. Summerhouse said it, he knew he would forever live with the guilt.
Jameson hadn’t forgiven himself either. She had died that night.Elise had. Jameson had gone after that man. But that didn’t make it better.
Jameson cried freely now. He clutched his side tighter, touching the wound refreshed his memories. The wound he had got when he found the man. It had been a dark night. Jameson knew him. He left him, bleeding to death, slowly and painfully, stabbed just like he had stabbed his Elise. But Jameson had got a wound himself, and he had had to do a rough stitch himself, he couldn’t go to a doctor.
Every now and then the stitch would hurt. But Jameson didn’t want to get better. He would willingly embrace death. None in the town knew about this secret Jameson, this paining Jameson. No one knew about his love. And they wanted him to get a wife.
They didn’t know he already had one. Just the one.
“Sir-” Jameson tried through gasps of breath. “Sir, would you forgive me? Could you, ever?”
Mr. Summerhouse moved briskly to his side, and looked him in the eye.
“Son, you’re the only family I have now. For Elise, yes, I can forgive you, I did long ago. But for Elise, you will have to live James. You’ll have to stay strong.”
“How do you know sir? How do you know she doesn’t want me to die and be with her… why would she want me to live…”
“She comes to you every time you’re about to die. She tells you to live doesn’t she? Last year, when you got that wound, she was there all the time, wasn’t she? And now…”
Jameson cried shamelessly.
“I love her Sir. I do.”
“We both did.”
And the days rolled on. And the days just rolled on.