Read an Excerpt
Once when Catherine was a little girl, her father had taken her to a concert in Halifax. A visiting admiral had gathered together a group of musicians from his fleet. A flute, two violins, a cello, a bass fiddle, and a miniature concertina had played Handel and Purcell. Strange that she would remember those details from a night when she had been scarcely nine years old. But Catherine recalled everything about that evening. The garrison had entertained the admiral with a fine dinner, one which included all the officers’ wives and families. To Catherine’s eager young eyes, the hall had seemed nearly on fire with all the candles in the chandeliers, on tables, and in wall sconces around the room. And the music had transported her away across the seas, to a place she knew only in books—a world of fine palaces and grand dames, with scores of servants and nights to enjoy such fine meals and wonderful music.
"What are you thinking about, daughter?"
Catherine smiled at her father in the doorway. "I am writing to Anne and Nicole." She was back in her true Georgetown setting. Nova Scotia had been her lifelong home, its frontier simplicity far from the world she had glimpsed that night so long ago.
Her father had come from his back bedroom. She could tell his legs and hips were bothering him. He kept his hands extended to grip and support. The path was well known, the stanchions familiar. He released the doorframe to hold the back of the settee by the fire. Then his other hand reached for the side wall’s middle beam. Then the high-backed rocker, then the cabinet separating their sitting area from the cooking area, then the long bench with the water pitcher and basin, then the window above the alcove, where she was writing. Catherine resisted the urge to help him move about. Father John was seldom cross these days, but he thoroughly disliked anyone putting themselves out on his account. He was determined not only to make his own way but help as he could around the house as well. Which, given his health just six months earlier, was nothing short of a miracle.
John Price took a long breath at the open window, clearing away the remnants of his afternoon nap. "How is Andrew?"
"Resting comfortably." In truth, that was more hope than fact. Now it was Andrew who had not been doing well at all. "That is, at least he is reclining." Catherine could feel her father’s eyes searching her face at the rueful tone.
He turned away eventually to pluck a pewter cup off the wall shelf and pour from the pitcher of well water. "I don’t see much progress being made on your letter," he observed.
Catherine had to smile. "I was thinking about the concert you brought me to when I was nine."
"No, lass, you were eight. Two weeks shy of your birthday." He drank and sighed satisfaction. "They played Handel."
"I am astonished that you remember it at all."
"Those days seem far closer to me than last week." He drained his cup and set it by the window. "You looked like a tiny angel, you did. You in your lovely new dress and your hair all shining and your eyes trying to take it all in." He patted her shoulder and lowered himself into a chair across from her.
Catherine used the conversation as a reason to put down her pen. It was a remarkable boon in these later years of his life for her father to be revealing this side she had never known. Truth be told, she sincerely doubted that it had even existed in the past. She turned in her chair so she could study him.
John Price had always been a strong man. Even now, with time’s biting winds etched deeply into his features, and mobility restricted, he still held himself erect in the manner of the officer he once had been. Yet now there was a light to his eyes, a depth of awareness and care that belonged to one whose youth had been renewed like the eagle’s, as the Psalmist said.
"Why are you inspecting me, daughter?" her father asked in a bemused tone.
Catherine reached across the table to grasp his hand. "I was thinking," she replied, "that I have never felt so close to you as now."
"Families are meant to stand together when difficulties come."
"I was not speaking of Andrew, Father."
"No." He seemed content to sit and return her gaze. There was no need to speak of the new person now housed within his aging frame. Nor to describe again for her how he had come to relinquish his harsh military grip on life, even upon religion, and instead see faith with changed eyes.
"Since you are not making much progress on your missive," John Price quipped, looking at the single line, "March 10, 1778," at the top of the page, "I was wondering if you might help me for a moment with something out in the back."
"Certainly. Just let me fetch my shawl."
Since Andrew’s latest ailment, Father John had grown increasingly determined to not only move about unaided, but also serve around the place in whatever way he could. When Catherine put some task aside, planning to take it up at a later time, Father John might try his hand at it. She had caught him darning a pair of socks one recent day. This had given rise to much hilarity, since the old man had such a large amount of woolen thread over the hole, it probably would not have fit in his boot.
Catherine now followed her father outside, staying close in case he stumbled. He walked with one hand trailing along the rough planks of their cottage, picking his way carefully along the uneven path. "I’ve always thought of this as the between-times," Father John told her over his shoulder. "Neither one nor the other. Not winter, not spring, not much of anything save waiting."
"Yes," Catherine replied slowly, thinking about the symbolism of his words. The last snow had been only four days past, and the gathering clouds suggested they might have yet more. But the in-between days were warm enough for them to walk over bare earth, brown and thawing. Like the weather, her father was waiting too for spring, the one in a far better place.
Catherine blinked quickly against the tears and said as evenly as she could, "I have decided to alert Anne and Nicole to their father’s condition."
Father John rounded the corner of the cottage and carefully aimed toward the shed by the rear fence. Formerly this had been where Andrew had carried on his leather working, but his poor health had kept him away for over a year.
John now leaned against the shed door to catch his breath. He eyed the clouds, the patches of snow upon the northern hills, the tangle of bare branches in the forest to the west. Anywhere but into his daughter’s face. "It is a thing that needs doing," he finally said.
"I hate to worry them over nothing," Catherine argued, more with herself than her father’s statement.
"You’d never forgive yourself if you left it until too late." He now did look directly into her eyes, and she could see the truth she did not want to acknowledge.
She opened her mouth to object, to say that Andrew was certainly not as bad as all that. But Father John’s gaze held the calm of one who himself was approaching that final door with confidence about what awaited him on the other side.
He repeated softly, "It needs doing. The young women need to hear this from you. And hear it now, not after ..."
He let her finish the hard statement herself. She used her apron’s edge to wipe her eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. The fact was, she had not wanted to write her daughters because it would mean putting the truth into words she had long attempted to avoid.
Andrew’s tools stood in careful array along the side wall. It seemed as though he had been there only yesterday and not left them untouched these many months. Only a strip of leather upon the workbench, curling and drying with age, indicated how long it had been.
Catherine helped her father pry open the back shutters. She had no need of palaces nor fancy frocks, not even for a life where music and fine dinners were a part of her days. All she wanted was what she had here, she reflected as she gazed out the open window. Her cottage, her God, her life—and her husband. Her heart was gripped with a fear like none she had ever known. Andrew might indeed be taken from her. And soon. And she must write those letters.
"Help me here, would you, daughter?" John Price waited for her to join him before shifting a saddle off a pile of ancient army blankets. They both coughed as the blankets were lifted and folded and set aside. When they arrived at the bottom item, her father cried, "Just where I thought it was! After all this time!"
It took Catherine a moment to recognize his old campaign chest.
"Yes, daughter. Not seen these many years, left here when you and Andrew and I first moved to Georgetown. I have not touched it since." John Price fiddled in his waistcoat and extracted a rusty key. "But I found the key and the chest both without a moment’s hesitation. There’s a bit of life in this old codger yet."
Catherine smiled and shook her head at him. She turned again to the chest. The seal of her father’s old regiment and his final rank of major were stamped in chipped gold leaf upon the top. John Price required both hands to turn the key, but it finally gave, and together they cracked open the top. Inside were things she had last seen when packing for the move that had brought them here. Normally the memories associated with that tragic time—the remembered shame of Andrew having been drummed out of his regiment for aiding the French during the Acadian expulsion—would have been something else to avoid. But Catherine now dove eagerly into the past. "I had forgotten how many medals you had, Father."
"Never mind that old rubbish." He lifted the slender shelf that had been fitted across the top. His fingers trembled in anticipation as he lifted out a formal uniform and cocked hat in their wrappings of rice paper. A frayed battalion standard was next, then spurs and a ceremonial dagger. All were impatiently set aside as of no consequence. No matter that for Catherine’s entire growing-up years her father’s military career defined his very existence.
Once again Catherine saw him as he was now. Far more than years had made him not just a beloved father but also a source of solace in the midst of uncertain and anxious times. "You have changed so much," she said quietly as she held the small dagger for a moment before adding it to the pile. "I would be hard pressed to even list the ways."
He lifted his gaze, revealing a dusty streak across his forehead and that same illumination in his eyes. "There is only one change that bears mentioning," he replied. "And for that I have my Maker to thank. And Andrew for introducing me to Him."
The present swooped back, and Catherine’s fear gripped her throat and turned her voice husky. "I am so desperately afraid." She sank onto a small step stool, her arms wrapped around herself.
John Price’s response offered neither empty solace nor false hope. "God willing, I shall be here to aid and comfort you throughout whatever comes." He laid his hand on her shoulder, then leaned on it as he pulled forward a chair and eased onto it.
They sat as they were, two generations bound by history, by love, and by Andrew’s current crisis. Finally Catherine was able to ask, "What are you seeking?"
"This." John Price lifted out the last item, a small packet wrapped in burlap. "I had this strange notion ..." he began, then shifted the thought to say, "I had no idea I would live to be such an old man."
There was a strange expression on his face that Catherine could not understand. Her intuition told her that whatever was in the package held a significance beyond simply another symbol of her father’s past.
He unfolded the burlap to reveal a pair of leather-bound books. The top one was so ancient the locking clasp fell off at his touch. He set it gingerly to one side and offered her the second. "This is your mother’s diary. I should have given this to you years ago."
"Mother’s?" Catherine’s own voice was little more than a whisper. Other than a chipped china figurine that rested on the mantel, she’d had no idea there was anything else. Her mother’s face and form were only imagined—she had been motherless all her life.
"It was what you said the other night when Andrew was struggling to breathe. About needing someone to lean on. About longing for your mother, wishing you had even a memory. You were so tiny when she ..." Unashamedly he wiped at his eyes. "I should have given this to you when you were still a child. But I couldn’t bring myself to share it, not then. Then I felt it would be something for your later years, but over time I forgot I even had it." He dropped his eyes to what she now held. "Useless old man that I am."
Catherine leaned forward and placed a hand on the sallow cheek. "You are anything but useless. I don’t know what I would do without you, especially now that Andrew is so ill. I would have given up had you not been here to help bear the load."
He kept his gaze upon the book in her lap. "I could not bring myself to ever read it. At first it was too painful. Then I went through, well, a time of great anger. For a while I blamed her for leaving us. I know you can’t understand that. I don’t myself anymore. I suppose I thought she should have fought harder and not given in to death. Then I simply put it out of my mind. I was afraid, you see. What if ... what if I read something that told me she had found me to be troublesome or did not love me?" Reluctantly he lifted his gaze and revealed the old pain. "I knew myself well enough to know there was much she could have complained about in those pages. I was cocky and rigid and selfish. It is a wonder she could love me at all."
"Oh, Father. You are none of these things."
"If I am not now, it is only by the grace of God. For that is surely how I lived the majority of my life." He sighed and reached for the older volume. "And this is my own father’s journal—another generation beyond the one you hold."
She watched him cautiously open the cover, only to have this too come off in his hands.
"I should have told you before now—"
"Told me what?"
John Price was carefully turning each fragile page as he spoke. "I have read these pages only once. It was in the days after your mother died bringing you into this world. Those were dark times. Had it not been for you, I don’t know what would have come of me."
Catherine could feel the cold radiate up through her dress from the hard-packed earthen floor. But she simply tucked her skirt about her legs as she focused her full attention on her father.
"You never knew your grandfather. Old Edwin Price was as stern and unbending a figure as any I have ever met. Like an admiral he was, hard as old iron and full of pride. Never knew a man who could rage worse than my father. Like facing a firestorm, he was, when crossed. He was a military man himself, a colonel. You know we come from a long line of officers in the royal corps."
"I know. But—"
"He passed on close to the same time as your mother. They shipped his gear to me at the outpost. It took months to arrive, along with word that he had gone. Which was not altogether a bad thing, the distance and the time, don’t you see. Because when his things did arrive, in the midst of all my grief over losing your mother, I discovered this diary. And what I read, what I read—"
He stopped abruptly and slapped an open page with one hand. "Found it! After all these years, it was right where I thought."
"Found what, Father?"
But his eyes remained focused upon the page. After a moment he said, "And it’s just as I recall reading it all those many years back." He looked at Catherine. "So shocking then I almost burned the thing. Can’t understand what it was that made me keep this book. A small token of the old man, I suppose." He turned away then and spoke as though to himself. "Of course, it was God’s hand all along. I see that now. Yes. Here it is before me once again."
Catherine reached over and placed a hand upon her father’s arm. "Father, speak to me."
He looked at her again. "My father was married twice."
"Never knew it, of course. He had never spoken to anyone about his early days. What a shock it was to see the words written here in his diary. You can’t imagine."
"I don’t understand—"
"No, of course not." John Price took a long breath. "My father fought against the French in one of our many wars. He was captured and imprisoned. He shared his cell with an elderly Frenchman, who had been incarcerated over some minor matter. His granddaughter came to visit him daily, bringing him what she could in the way of food and clothing. Over time Edwin came to know and ... and admire her."
"Your father fell in love with a Frenchwoman?" Years of antagonism between two great nations were captured in her question.
"Hard to imagine even now, I agree. You can see what a blow that would have been, reading it those many years back. What with me carrying such a load of hatred over the wars and my wounds. But there it was. The old Frenchie who was my father’s cellmate died, but still the young lady kept coming. They talked of marriage and a future together, though it all seemed so bleak in that wartorn time. But young love was not to be denied."
He turned the page, all without taking his eyes from his daughter’s face. "One of the young French guards was infatuated with her, and she led him on a bit until she had won his confidence. One night she served him full of wine and used his key to release Edwin.
"They married in secret and hid themselves in a remote fishing village. They began making plans to escape to England. Then word came through one of the fishermen that the police were scouting the region, looking for an escaped English officer."
"A Frenchwoman." Catherine shook her head in wonderment, recalling her father’s previous hatred for the French and all the pain it had caused them both.
"She had become ill and was too sick to travel. She insisted Edwin flee for his life, promising she would follow as soon as he sent word. Celeste’s brother, a fisherman, risked his life to take Edwin across the Channel. He could see, as did the entire village, that Edwin and the Frenchwoman were bound by a love more vast than any nation or war. Those were the words my father used in his diary."
John Price stopped then. But Catherine could see from the expression on his face that there was more. "Tell me the rest, Father."
John Price studied her face for a long moment.
The realization struck her very hard indeed. "She was pregnant?"
"Indeed so." His eyes dropped to the page. "What hit me even harder than the news that I had a half sister was that my father eventually learned his first wife had died in childbirth."
"You didn’t know?"
"All my life I thought I was my father’s only heir. Here in these pages, just after you were born, I learned how he had spent years searching. But our two countries remained at war—at least as near as breath to that state. And there was no concern for a young orphan lass."
"A daughter," Catherine murmured. "A half sister. My aunt."
John Price suddenly raised his head. "I have thought of something." He reached a trembling hand to grasp Catherine’s. "I wonder if Andrew’s brother, Charles—"
"Oh yes, I will write to him," Catherine said, her thoughts leaping ahead in the conversation. "I’m sure he would want to take up the search for some news, maybe even to be able to find her." She squeezed her father’s hand. "It will be wonderful to have something like this to add to my letter. Something with a measure of hope." Excitement filled her heart and her voice. "He knows many influential people, both in England and in France. If there is news to be had, Charles will discover it," she finished confidently.