The gravestone's inscription reads, "A man of courage. He made the greatest sacrifice of all." At the final resting place of Barney Davidson, in the hills of Bedfordshire, Ben Morgan first encounters Lucy and her grown daughter, Mary, on a snowswept afternoon in 1952. It is a meeting that will profoundly change all three a mother bowed but unbroken by stark tragedy, a young woman strangely untouched by the harshness of the world, and a loner seeking sanctuary in a simpler existence. But it is a shocking mystery from decades earlier that will truly bind them, heart and soul, as a long-hidden truth about the life and death of one extraordinary man slowly comes to light revealing the steps of a remarkable journey of strength, commitment . . . and undying love.
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About the Author
Josephine Cox lives in Bedfordshire, England, and is the number one bestselling author of nearly three dozen novels.
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By Josephine Cox
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Josephine Cox
All right reserved.
He had seen them twice before, and each time his curiosity was aroused. Arm-in-arm, the two women would come softly into the churchyard, place their flowers, and linger awhile before leaving in the same discreet manner in which they had arrived.
Today, as his bumbling black Labrador Chuck tugged on the lead, the dog's nostrils twitching at the secret scent of rabbits in the churchyard, the women came again. He tried not to seem interested, but the moment they walked through the gate and passed him by, he could not stop himself from sneaking a glance. They acknowledged him with a polite nod of the head, then moved on, intent about their business. It was almost as if he was not there.
In her own way, each of the women was beautiful. The taller of the two, who looked about fifty, had long chestnut-brown hair, gray in places, tied back with a ribbon, and lovely golden-brown eyes, a smart though ample figure and softly rounded features. Today, the bouquet of evergreens cradled in her arm seemed to accentuate her beauty; though it was not a virgin beauty, for the crippling seasons of time and emotion were deeply etched in her face.
She walked with a stick, long and slender with bonehandle and silver-capped toe. It was obvious that she was crippled in some slight way, though this did not detract from her air of dignity and sense of purpose. With her somber mien and her carefully-measured steps, she made a striking figure.
He knew they were headed for the same headstone, where he himself had paused many times. In the shape of a cross, the headstone was small and nondescript, yet the words written there were so powerful, they raised that humble stone above all others. The words, carved deep, read:
HE MADE THE GREATEST
SACRIFICE OF ALL
Having read the inscription and been intrigued by it, Ben knew it off by heart. It had set his thoughts alight with all manner of questions. What had this man done to deserve such an accolade? What did the words mean? And who had ordered them to be inscribed? Somehow, he didn't think it had anything to do with the heroism of war. This Barney Davidson would have been twenty-four when World War One broke out -- and no doubt the young man had played his part -- but he had died well before the second lot.
His attention was drawn to the two women.
With such tenderness that it took him aback, the older one stroked the tips of her fingers over the dead man's name. His voice broke with pride as she murmured, "Oh, my dearest Barney." In that moment when she lifted her gaze to the heavens, her brown eyes glittered with tears. So much pain, he thought. So much emotion.
He sensed that, somewhere deep inside, she carried a terrible burden. What was that old saying? "The eyes are the mirror of the soul." He wondered what sorrowful secrets were hers.
The man's discreet gaze went now to the younger woman. Smaller, with a neat, if slightly plump figure, her fair hair was bobbed to the shoulders, and even from where he stood, he could see that her pretty eyes were the deepest shade of blue lavender. He imagined that normally, those eyes were quick to smile -- but not today. Today her concerned gaze was trained on the older woman.
The two visitors were sensibly dressed. Like himself, each wore a long coat and sturdy shoes, for the weather had been foul of late, and in places the ground underfoot was treacherous.
In the early hours of this January Sunday in 1952, ditches and paths had run high with the melting remnants of a heavy snowfall. By midday the wind had heightened and now, judging by the darkening skies, it seemed a new storm was gathering.
"Here, Chuck. Here, boy!" he said in a harsh whisper, and tugged on the leash, quickly bringing the dog to heel. In a burst of affection, the animal jumped up and licked him, nearly sending him flying. Recovering, he patted the dog, then set off for the lych-gate and home.
He was only a few strides away from Barney Davidson's tomb when the women left it and began walking on, merely an arm's reach in front of him. Slowing his step, he continued to follow, the dog plodding obediently at his side.
They were almost at the gate when the older woman's stick slipped in the mud and she fell heavily, seeming to twist her leg as she did so.
As her young companion gave a cry of distress and immediately began struggling to bring her upright, he ran forward. "Please . . . let me help?" Sliding his two hands under the older one's arms, he gently hoisted her up. When she seemed steady, he let go, recovered her walking stick and handed it to her. "No real harm done, I hope?" he said politely.
"Thank you." Her dark eyes appraised him. "As you can see, I'm not as agile as I once was."
A softer voice interrupted. "Yes, thank you, Mr. . . . ?" The young woman frowned. "How can we thank you properly, when we don't know your name?"
His warm gaze enveloped her pretty face. "The name's Ben," he revealed. "Benjamin Morgan." Holding out his hand in greeting, he was pleasantly surprised and thrilled when she put her small hand in his. Surprised, because he found her grip firm and strong, as though she worked with her hands in some way. Thrilled because she seemed to hold on just that moment longer than necessary.
Having witnessed his reaction, the older woman gave a pleasant laugh. "My daughter Mary has a strong grip for a little one, don't you think?"
Excerpted from The Journey by Josephine Cox Copyright © 2005 by Josephine Cox.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ben Morris finds his curiosity aroused by two women who unfailingly visit the grave of Barney Davidson with the headstone that reads ` A Man With Courage. He Made The Greatest Sacrifice Of All.¿ A forgotten handbag gives Ben the opportunity to pay a visit to the esteemed widow, Lucy and her lovely young daughter, Mary. Accepting an invitation for dinner, Ben experiences a night full of love and warmth as he listens to the story of a brilliant and spirited man and the sacrifices he made and the heartbreaking journey of strength to ascertain that his beloved family attain a better future ¿ without him. As the morning greets those huddled in the living room of the mansion, as the story fades into a bittersweet ending, Ben finds himself eagerly entwined in the lives of Lucy and Mary, and vows to be a better man for the sake of a new found love that has immense potential. A deeply engrossing read bestowed with a plain and elegant prose. Readers¿ hearts will be touched by the exquisite story of the Davidsons. An excellent choice for those in search for `feel good¿ stories to restore their faith in humanity.