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Anne Padgett

Copyright © 2018 Anne Padgett

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Chapter 1: Charity is its Own Reward

Chapter 2: Home Life

Chapter 3: The Visit

Chapter 4: The Funeral

Chapter 5: Homecoming

Chapter 6: Revelations

Chapter 7: Battles

Chapter 8: The Great War

Chapter 9: Lessons

Chapter 10: Home Front

Chapter 11: Decisions

Chapter 12: Tribulation

Chapter 13: Testimony

Chapter 14: Over

Chapter 15: Aftermath

Chapter 16: Friends and Lovers

Chapter 17: Victory

Chapter 18: Prodigal Son

Chapter 19: Flag Day

Chapter 20: Chosen

Chapter 21: Covenants

Chapter 22: The Promised Land

Chapter 23: The Admonition of Paul

Chapter 24: Resurrection

Chapter 25: Promised Land

Chapter 1

Charity is its Own Reward

August 7, 1910

The day was glorious. Around three in the afternoon in the small community of Stillwater Illinois, you could find every boy from ten up on rough fields—baseball fields. All over town, chores and duties were rushed in order to make the game. Stillwater, indeed all America, had fallen madly in love with baseball. Every major city on the East Coast had its own professional team and boasted over 3 million fans nationwide. Of course, amateur teams had existed for twenty years, but now every town had its own fiercely competitive league. Excitement swept the nation. It was a new sport for a new century. Every young man, even boys not particularly good at sports, wanted to be part of it. Christian wanted to be part of it.

Christian Beechum tried to concentrate in the hot summer sun, but his thoughts kept wandering around his head. He took his place at bat, squinting to see the pitch. Christian tried to picture the fastball he knew was coming. Sweat poured down his freckled face, soaking his shirt. The pitcher paused to kick at the dirt on the makeshift mound. The dust floating up like a cloud. Christian couldn’t help but watch how the dust sparkled in the sunlight.

The fastball came straight down the middle, smack into the catcher's glove. "Strike three!" yelled a large boy who played umpire. Christian went down looking. The disappointed seventeen-year-old rebuked himself strongly in his head. Why can I never focus on what is important.

He walked over to the wooden bleachers. He took out a pair of thick glasses and a black notebook from his worn canvas duffle bag, which Christian and Harry used to carry their baseball equipment. He stared out across the field toward the beauty of unpainted rural American.

Christian watched his younger brother saunter up to his place at bat. He pushed his thick brown hair back under his cap and got into position. Harry never took his eye off the ball, not even for a moment. The pitcher pulled back, curve ball, low and inside. "Strike one!" called the umpire.

"Do you want my brother's glasses?" said the batter. "That ball was so far inside it nearly touched me."

"C'mon Harry, it's a practice game," said the burly farmhand at catcher.

"I'm practicing arguing bad calls."

Everyone returned to positions. Harry glared at the pitcher whose face showed that he felt his integrity had been called into question. This time it was the fastball. Crack. Harry nailed the ball in a screaming line drive past third base. His teammates cheered as Harry pushed an easy single into a double. He dove into second base head first—safe, barely. Spitting out his mouth full of dirt, Harry stood to enjoy the admiration of the locals.

Smiling at these all too familiar antics, Christian unfolded a large charcoal picture. He worked slowly with great care. The game noise drifted away as he became engrossed in his work. Other boys on the bench looked over his shoulder at the drawing with its intricate detail and realism.

Shadows passed over the picture. Christian looked up at the dark clouds forming in the sky. Thunder echoed in the distance. Quickly, he gathered up his artwork and their baseball equipment. "Harry! We have to go. Look, it's going to rain and Mother will have chores for us to do."

"One more inning—we’ll go straight home afterwards. It will be fine. Christian, don't worry all the time."

• • •

In Illinois, late summer often brought sudden thunderstorms in erratic and uneven patterns. One town would be dry and the next one just a few square miles over would be covered with half a foot of rain in a matter of hours. Farmers in the area tended to plant hardy crops like corn because a downpour could threaten harvests that are more fragile.

The brothers had bet on the shortcut along the dirt path that followed the irrigation ditch up toward a small man made reservoir. Over the other side lay the smaller working farms and bigger homes near the old road to Springfield. The path was rough and narrow. Christian trailed behind his brother carrying their equipment bag and bat. The evening sunlight was wiped away by the storm clouds leaving only lightening to brighten the trail for a moment. Each flash revealed the water rising beside them in the ditch. By the time they reached the flood control dam, both boys were soaked and shaking cold, but that is where the journey stopped.

The floodgate for the Stillwater Reservoir was just an old wooden break like a small dam with a narrow bridge along the top and a heavy metal gate in the middle. A rusty metal wheel on one side of the dam opened the gate releasing the water. During the summer, the town water manager opened the gate twice a week for an hour or two sending irrigation water down to the farms below. The rest of the time, it would just hold everything in. However, today, Christian looked out on the dam filled to capacity.

Christian’s brother Harry heard it first. Harry insisted it sounded like a person, the sound of crying coming up from the floodgate—from under the floodgate. Christian’s mind immediately jumped to the worst conclusion. Could a child have been washed down the reservoir under the gate? The boys stood immobile listening to the desperate and pathetic wail. The lightning flashed again. Harry thought he saw it under the floorboards.

On his hands and knees, Harry tried to find a weak board. He yelled to Christian, but he could barely be heard over the deafening roar of the storm. "Can't get to it."

"It's just a big rat!" shouted back Christian.

"No, it's a cat!" said Harry back as a wet paw scratched through a knot in the wood. Harry tried to pry up the plank. The high-pitched howls from the trapped animal rose up in the air and were silenced by the thunder. Christian shivered. He was wet, cold, and angry with his brother. This was his fault. If they had left when he wanted to go, they would be home by now.

Harry’s sudden cry pulled Christian back to reality. Harry scrambled back up to his feet holding his wrist. Blood flowed down onto his dirty cotton shirt. Another thunderclap drowned out Harry's cursing. Christian tried to examine at it, but it was hard to see through the rain. Harry grasped his injured limb and yelled down at the floorboards, "Stupid cat! Go ahead and drown!"

"It's terrified," said Christian back, "Claw you to pieces".

"Fine. Let's go home."

He walked off in the rain. Christian started to go with him as a long, pitiful whimper rose up. The trapped cat clawed at the planks hopelessly. Christian stood there. Reluctantly, he resolved on what had to be done. He took off his soaking coat and handed Harry his glasses. With Harry's baseball bat, he broke out a couple of the planks. The panicked animal moved away from safety deeper under the bridge. The dark water continued to rise up against the dam.

"Christian wait. Open the floodgates. Water will just go out," said Harry.

Christian eyes blink wide in alarm. "No don’t. It'll flood the whole town."

"No, just a few seconds and I'll close it."

"You can't get them closed once they're open. Water’s too strong," said Christian trying to remain calm.

"Oh, right."

Christian squeezed through the opening into the cold water. He griped his coat and disappeared under the dam into the watery darkness. Harry waited.

"Forget it, Christian."

No answer.

Harry waited for what seemed a long time. "Christian?"


Harry got on his knees and thrashed his arm into the water searching for his brother.

"Christian! Christian!"

• • •

Dressed in Victorian white lace and cotton from head to toe, Mrs. Beechum paced back and forth between the parlor bay window and the grandfather clock in the hall. Her face had a look of frustration as she debated on whether to be worried or angry. It was now exactly two and a half hours after the time her sons should have been home. If it had just been Harry, she would have been worked up into a fine fury by now. Harry, who often lost track of time and procrastinated chores, deserved her wrath; but both boys were missing. Christian was not one to be delayed for this long without cause.

Unable to resolve the argument in her own mind, she returned to the kitchen to supervise the meal and soon found comfort giving orders to her five daughters. Mrs. Helen Beechum had a deep love of tradition. She ran her home in strict adherence to the social norms of the day. She and her daughters always wore layers of petticoats, changed dresses for dinner and would never be caught out of the house without a girdle. Of course, it could be argued that there was self-interest in her views. She was a woman whose figure was stunning in a corset and on whom lace was flattering indeed.

In the parlor, Reverend Beechum watched his wife with loving amusement. He sat in his comfortable reading chair with the wonders of the new Sears Roebuck Home Builder Catalog on his lap. While nearly twenty years her senior, the Reverend did not share his wife’s concern. He smiled, apparently content with the knowledge that teenage boys often returned home with interesting excuses. At last, the slam of the porch screen door off the kitchen announced the guilty party had returned.

"Good Heaven," exclaimed Mrs. Beechum when she finally saw them. “Have you been swimming in the river or beaten by thugs?" Christian and Harry stood there shivering wet and scratched bloody, unable to answer her.

The women rushed into action. Edith, the eldest daughter, ran upstairs to find the antiseptic and Cornelia, who everyone called Vickie, fetched two quilts from the hall closet. Mother tried to guide the boys to the kitchen table, but Harry marched boldly into the parlor. He carried the prize in Christian's dripping coat. The creature scuffled and clawed trying to escape. The women followed dutifully trying to minimize the trail of muck behind him.

"We've been on an errand of mercy for our Lord's lesser creatures," proclaimed Harry with as much drama as he could muster.

"Lesser and really nasty creatures," said Christian.

The animal struggled furiously in the coat. Finally, Harry allowed it to escape and it leapt to the sofa shaking mud all over the fine furniture. It was a big kitten. The younger girls immediately rushed to pet her, but were driven back with hisses.

"Careful, she’s a killer!" said Harry.

"Errand of mercy, indeed, look at you," said Mrs. Beechum. "Your clothes are ruined. And get that… that…"

"T.C., mother," said Harry.

"What?" said Mrs. Beechum. Her patience had evaporated once she concluded that they were unhurt.

"T.C. or Terrible Cat, that's what we named her," explained Christian trying to dry himself. "We rescued her from the floodgate. She has been a huge bother for nothing."

"Charity, Son, is entirely about taking on 'huge bothers' for nothing," said the Reverend who was about to return to his reading. "In fact, that sounds like a topic for Sunday's sermon. Christian, I look forward to hearing you give it."

Christian would rather have been drowned in the floodgate. "I don't want to give the sermon." He felt that knot in his stomach tightening up again.

"Nonsense, I was giving sermons regularly by the time I was seventeen. And it will be good practice for when I've passed to the great hereafter."

"You're not going to die for years," said Christian.

"Christian," snapped Mrs. Beechum, "don't contradict your Father."

Feeling terribly put upon again, Christian’s heart sunk with resignation of his new unwanted responsibility. Then with alarm, he seized his bag and searched through it on the floor. He pulled out his soggy art book. Opening the pages, he found his beautiful picture—now just one black blot on paper.

Harry let out a loud and unsympathetic laugh. "You don't need to go abroad and study art. You got that modern art stuff down already."

Christian angrily crumpled up his ruined art. "I worked for six weeks on this!"

"You should work on your fielding," said Harry, "with your glasses."

"Glasses are expensive, Harry," said his mother. Harry rolled his eyes in the frustration of an old argument he was never going to win.

Christian slammed his book to the ground and slumped onto the sofa next to T.C., the cat now sitting and cleaning itself comfortably. He rested there for a moment then turned to face the dirty kitten. "You know; I think I hate you."

Chapter 2

Home Life

Morning came early. The brothers rose before dawn. Work, hard physical work, was a requirement of daily life. The Beechums were a greatly respected family in Stillwater, but not a wealthy one. The family kept no servants other than to hire a local woman to do laundry weekly and an occasional farm hand when the hay was ready to be baled. More than two hours before breakfast, the Beechums went about their appointed tasks. Younger children would feed chickens, dogs and cats. The older ones fed the cow, the pig and two horses. The boys mucked out the pens and added new straw. Even the Reverend would weed the small vegetable patch behind the kitchen before the day grew sweltering hot. The Beechum property, while not a true farm because of its size, was largely self-sufficient. The storage barn was loaded with sacks of grain and stock for the livestock. The root cellar contained a wide assortment of glass Ball Mason jars filled with fruits and vegetables put up each fall by the girls.

Typical of the large Queen Anne styled homes of the neighborhood, the family home was painted white with the high spires and strong vertical lines. It comprised of three stories, a large wraparound porch and four formal rooms. The formal rooms were used for entertaining and events such as weddings or funerals. It was heated through a series of coal stoves and metal conductive pipes ran through the main rooms. This system, combined with heavy clothing and blankets, worked adequately enough. The only way to cool the home, however, was by opening the windows. On hot summer nights, the women would wash sheets and hang them along the porch to help "cool" the breeze.

The house did boast electric lights. The house had kerosene lamps upstairs, but the Reverend had added lights to the main floor last year and the entire family took pride in this luxury. The Reverend had spent two months attending a biblical symposium in Chicago and became entranced by the glow of lights. He spoke of electricity as the living symbol of the optimistic future for his family and his country. He campaigned ardently to have the Village of Stillwater hold a bond issue to have a power line extended down from Springfield. He petitioned the City Councilmen directly with the conviction of a religious zealot. After three years’ effort, Reverend Beechum, his family and the rest of the town watched as the Mayor ceremoniously switched on eight street lamps neatly lined up Stillwater's main street. The homes of the Mayor, merchants, and large farmers were wired for electricity soon afterward.

Harry finished his morning chores before the others. Harry was capable of doing nearly everything with incredible speed—at least when he wanted. He walked in by the back porch door and headed for the kitchen table.

His mother never turned around, but saw him just the same. "Wash your hands before you are seated.” Harry reversed course back to the sink. Few things were worth the trouble of arguing with his mother.

The smell of bacon floated through the kitchen. The younger girls brought plates of eggs and fluffy flour biscuits to the table. The simple meal also included a vat of butter, a pitcher of milk and a jar of homemade strawberry preserves from last spring. Everyone took their places at the table and waited silently for the Reverend. Eventually, the Reverend put down his book and smiled appreciatively at his wife. He then led the family in prayer and the well-earned meal began. This was the unaltered pattern of daily life.

Following breakfast and preparing the main food items for supper, the family turned attention to more enjoyable pursuits. The Reverend had insisted that the boys be schooled at home with professional tutors, but the girls walked about half a mile to the Village of Stillwater public school. Mrs. Beechum would prepare a small lunch pail for the girls containing hard-boiled eggs, biscuits and an apple or other seasonal fruit. She would then send them off and return to work in her flower garden.

Today, her garden rewarded her with great bounty and she brought a large pile of fresh cut roses into the entry. She laid out the delicate flowers on the table and carefully arranged them in a large crystal vase. The Reverend watched her work as he descended the ornate oak staircase from the second floor.

"Beautiful. Simply beautiful," said Mr. Beechum in a soft whisper.

Mrs. Beechum smiled in appreciation. "The flowers are especially good this year. All the rain, I suspect."

"What flowers?"

Helen blushed. He leaned forward and ever so lightly touched her pink cheek. The Reverend had faithfully avoided marriage much of his life. While he spoke highly of the institution itself, of course, he had never envisioned it for himself. His own Father, Otis Beechum worked in the stockyards during the day and resided in the east side Chicago bars at night. His mother Sarah Beechum ran the entire household on a daily strategy of how best to avoid being punched. Given such example, Charles Beechum had been a confirmed bachelor. Then, he met the young and spirited Helen Barstow who was visiting family in town and had stayed after Church for choir practice. He insisted that, had he known her age, he would never have sought her company. Helen’s practical nature made her seem much more mature than her seventeen years. Their May December romance was a formal and respectable one, but filled with surprising passion and poetry.

"Must you visit the Clark Family so early?" Her manner was pragmatic and direct, but her eyes hinted of an intense sensuality she hid from the rest of the world. "I thought we might have a private conversation in the bedroom."

"I do so enjoy a good morning conversation." The Reverend took her hand in his. He softly brushed a loose lock of her dark chestnut brown hair back into place. He started to kiss her when disturbed by loud snickering from the top of the stairs. Harry casually strolled by as if he had heard nothing, but his bright blue eyes shined with successful mischief. He stopped at the large oval mirror in the front hall where he could check and see his parent's reactions.

Mr. Beechum and his wife tried to ignore him, but the moment was lost. The Reverend bowed to his lovely wife. "My Dear, I regret I must be leaving soon. Doctor Myers is already coming." Then in a much louder voice, he called down the hallway. "But I do have time for a review! Harry, Christian to the study."

He could play bothersome games too.

• • •

Sitting behind his massive mahogany writing desk, Reverend Beechum recited a verse of scripture from memory. His grasp of both scriptural text and meaning was unmatched. Both sons stood at attention before him. Christian quietly waited for his father to finish, but Harry's eyes wandered the wall of books behind his father. At last, the Reverend closed the passage with "Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersover thou goest."

The words hung in the air as all eyes turned to Harry. After a long pause, Harry said, "Jesus?" hopefully.

The Reverend slammed his hand on the table in dismay. "For heaven's sake, Harry, it's the Old Testament! We are obviously talking about Moses."

"Shouldn't we forget that and focus on the New Testament?" said Harry in his defense. "After all it is new… and improved." And directed to Christian," It's a lot shorter too."

His father rubbed his tired eyes and sighed. "Tell him, Christian."

"It is in Joshua, sir." While he would never have his Father’s gift for citing scripture, chapter and verse from memory, Christian did have a solid knowledge of the good book.

His father pulled himself up to his not unimpressive height and glared at his son Harry. However, before the rebuke had a chance to begin, the door opened and Sara Beechum peeked in from around the heavy wood door. Dressed in a black cotton play dress and stockings, she respectfully waited to be acknowledged. The child entered the study with great reverence as if concerned she might be scolded. Her father, however, welcomed the interruption and waved her to come to him.

A more relieved Sara straightened up to obediently impart her message. "Please, sir. Mama wants one of the boys to get coal for the kitchen stove. If they are not busy doing something for you, sir, that is."

The reverend returned to his chair. "No, I am not too busy. I've just been casting pearls before swine. By all means take Harry."

"Swine?" The five-year old’s face twisted in horror. "I don't see any pigs here, Papa." She started looking behind the chairs and around the room.

"It is a parable, Sara dear. It was taught by…" After a slight pause, Christian tried to hint to Harry who finally realized it's a question. "Oh … Jesus."

"Harry, at last a correct answer," said his weary father. "Off to the coal mines as your reward. You've given me a headache." Harry happily obliged and took Sara's little hand as they headed off to the coal bin. Christian silently waited behind to be dismissed.

His father just looked at him for a moment. "Still upset about Sunday's sermon?"

"Not the one Sunday sermon, Papa," said Christian. "It's all the other Sundays you want from me."

The Reverend walked over to his son and put a hand on his shoulder. "Christian, I know it seems hard."

"No, it is hard," said Christian who did not wish to be comforted. "You know what I love. I can make a living doing my art. There are apprentice jobs in the East. The cartoonist for the paper in Springfield makes almost 45 dollars a month. Please Papa, I'll make you proud."

"Well, pride goeth,” started the Reverend.

"…Before a great fall, I know," said Christian angrily. He stomped over to the door, but his father stopped him. He got right up in his son’s face. Despite almost shaking with emotion, Christian respected his father enough to listen. The Reverend spoke softly and lovingly to his eldest son. "Someone must take over the ministry. Someone must take my place in the Church and take care of your mother and sisters when I am gone."

"Why can't Harry be “the someone”? He has no idea what he wants to do with his life," argued Christian.

"You and I both know that Harry should never be in charge of a pulpit."

"He's not dumb. He could do it if you made him,” said Christian. “But you don't. He gets what he wants."

The Reverend looked around the room and his eyes landed on the large oil painting of Jesus in Gethsemane, which Christian gave him for his birthday last year. He took a deep breath. "I count on you too much I know. I have not been fair in dealing out family responsibilities. I should expect more from Harry. Moreover, you know, the Apostle Paul was struck by the power of God on the road to Damascus. Maybe, Harry will be struck with the power of the Lord as well."

At that moment, the door opened again. Loudly whistling and slightly tainted with coal dust, Harry entered towing his baseball uniform and equipment bag over his shoulder. Harry spoke quickly "Mother says Doc Myers is here. The game starts soon and I need to leave now.” And he headed back out the door.

"No Harry, you may not go now," said his father with some pleasure. "I have decided that you will accompany the good doctor and me on our visit today instead of your brother. It is most definitely your turn. Christian has done more than his share of visits."

Harry gulped with horror. "But, Papa…”

The Reverend spoke over him in a firm voice. "We will be condoling with the family who lost their daughter. This is a serious matter." He buttoned up his waistcoat and continued explaining the new expectations. "No horseplay whatsoever young man. It is time you pulled your weight in the community and in the work of the ministry."

“Papa, there are city league playoffs starting today," protested Harry.

"Well, your brother will have to take your place. I'm sure nobody will care."

A sudden look of concern crossed Christian's face. Me instead of Harry? He thought. While the team consisted of his neighborhood friends, he knew they would definitely care about this last minute substitution.

However, Harry had not given up. "Papa, I am the pitcher. You know—the guy who throws the ball to the batter. I have to be there. We’ve practiced all summer." He tossed his equipment on the floor for dramatic effect and waved his hands in the air. “Even with a good artist, without the pitcher our team will have to forfeit."

Chapter 3

The Visit

About twenty minutes later, Christian was dressed in a stiff collar and black woolen suit and seated dutifully in Doctor Myers' new automobile. He wiped the sweat from his face and tried to push Louise, the doctor's huge hunting dog, over into just her own seat. Like an immoveable mass of loose dog flesh, Louise just panted happily and laid her head on Christian’s shoulder. Louise had a drooling problem. Christian wiped his jacket and looked away from the great beast to see Harry on his bicycle heading down the road toward the baseball fields. Christian sat in the car and contemplated how nothing ever changed.

Dressed like a racecar driver with goggles and gloves, the old man lovingly caressed his car. Christian watched as the doctor ran around the car joyfully explaining details about his beloved new possession to Christian's father, who was equally enamored with it. The Cadillac Model 30 was a gasoline engine. Steam engines were more common and gasoline supplies were difficult to find in the Midwest, but worth the trouble argued the Doctor to the Reverend. The White Steam engine car he had previously owned had spurt-boiling vapor on him. He sold the car in Chicago and ordered a new Cadillac from Detroit. It seated four people, had wooden-spoke wheels, and a maximum speed of nearly 20 miles per hour. In addition, it had the newest features of a leather roof and cushioned seats.

Eventually, the two men were forced to stop talking and begin the journey. The car made a loud bang as it started up and jerked forward. Christian held onto his seat for dear life as the car rolled down the dirt road. At the end of the lane, the doctor made a sudden turn to left sending Louise straight onto Christian's lap. With one hand on the seat and the other trying to pull himself out from under the colossal dog, Christian's cap went flying out of the car. The men moved quickly back into conversation. The car drifted back and forth with its driver's discussion and attention.

"Roosevelt will never run against Taft," said the Reverend with confidence. "He picked him as his own Vice President."

The car drifted to the right as the good doctor made his arguments. "He'll run. He should never have let that two-ton windbag take over the party."

"You were not such an admirer of our former President in the past," said Rev. Beechum. "I remember you being quite upset with what you called his constantly moralizing about the youth."

"Tree!" said Christian desperately from the back. The car swerved back onto the road. Christian and Louise were tossed about to the left now.

"Well, he was elected to run the country which he did well, his constant moralizing notwithstanding."

The Reverend wiped the dust out of his eyes. "Two or three newspaper articles on the virtues of the great outdoors hardly comprises constant moralizing."

"He was trying to tell me how to raise my children," said the Doctor.

"You don't have any children," yelled Christian from behind Louise.

"That's just all the more reason to be offended. I don't need anybody telling me how to raise children I don't have. I've been not raising them for years without his help. Damn politicians think they know what's best for everyone."

"Abraham," said the Reverend, "Some things are the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow."

Christian fought free from underneath Louise in time to point out more directions. "Doc, the road is turning again." The whole car lurched back, Louise planted her nose, and more drool in Christian's ear.

Christian knew people in town were baffled by this friendship. Reverend Beechum and Dr. Abraham Myers were so different. Odd and often offensive, Dr. Myers was tall and thin with a full beard making him appear ancient. He spoke in a booming voice and never waited for an answer. He had no family, which anyone had ever seen, and other than Charles Beechum and his sons, no friends.

In truth, he owed a great deal of his professional success to the simple fact that he was the only certified general physician in the district. As such, he was generally thought rich. No one was exactly sure since he never seemed to spend any money. Well at least, he never spent any in town. Every six months or so, a brown paper wrapped parcel would arrive at the Doctor's house from back East. He would then rush to Charles Beechum's home to share his new marvel of modern technology. He had brought such wonders as a fountain pen, a King E. Gillette safety razor, a vacuum cleaner and an RCA phonograph. The entire family would gather in grand anticipation at one of these visits.

However, the automobiles were the best. Everyone loved them. Everyone that is, but Helen Beechum who was sure that crazy old man would get her husband killed one day. "Nothing good can come from a machine that goes so fast," she declared the first and only time she rode in one. She declared twenty miles per hour to be utter madness. Christian could tell his Father deeply wanted to purchase a car, but he knew better than to try. The Reverend would just have to enjoy the Doctor’s gadgets. Christian and his brother would listen to them discuss modern wonders of science endlessly after dinner as the older men smoked cigars.

After ten minutes or so of silence, Christian watched as the doctor speed past the stone paved lane leading up to the Clark summer home. He leaned forward and tapped his father on the shoulder. "It was back there."

Doc ran off the road and backed up to get turned around. The occupants of the car were thrown forward and then back in the process. Once righted, the car hustled down the lane through the gate and came to a halt abruptly before a massive house. The Village of Stillwater only had four great homes. The wealthy coming out of the state capital of Springfield generally preferred to build houses closer to Lake Clinton to the North. But of the four, the Clark summer residence with its picturesque Second Empire design was by far the most impressive. The building stood three stories high with a low-pitched roof with widely overhanging eaves and large decorative columns in front. Harry likened it to living in the Chicago Public Library, but Christian admired all the outside detail and majesty. Of course, until now, neither of them had ever been invited inside.

The visitors came up to an ornately carved wooden door and rung the bell. A cross looking woman in a grey maids outfit lead them through a grand entry hall. The floor was marble with a large circular pattern of black and gold in the middle. Tall, narrow and arched windows lined the length of the hall allowing in generous amounts of rich filtered sunlight. Christian paused to admire the paintings and artwork displayed along the hall, but was pulled away by his father. They entered into a formal parlor that looked out toward the well-kept gardens.

All around him, Christian saw treasures of the world he had never known. Oriental tapestries hung on the wall. Indian elephants carved in ivory sat on the coffee table and fine Persian rugs adorned the wood floors. Is this what the outside world is really like, he wondered. Christian physically absorbed the beauty.

A soft almost musical voice called out to them from across the room. "Gentleman, how good of you to call.”

Christian turned to see Elizabeth Clark standing before a huge glass mirror. Her small frame was dressed in layers of fine black lace with long pearl earrings and necklace. Her skin was porcelain and statue perfect, but her brown eyes were red from much crying. Christian looked at her cosmopolitan elegance and suddenly became aware of his own shabby appearance. He tried to brush the dog hair from his coat without success. Mrs. Clark immediately walked over to greet the Reverend. She invited them to have a seat on the leather couch. The Reverend took the lovely woman by the hand and sat at her side. Christian found a chair by the wall.

Mr. Clark continued to sit in his armchair as if nobody had come to call. Like his wife, he was handsomely groomed and dressed in sober black. He ran his hand through curly brown hair and continued to stare at, rather than read, the paper in his lap. Not one for pleasantries, Dr. Myers marched past the Reverend and Mrs. Clark straight to the patient.

"Let us get this started, shall we?" said the Doctor to Mr. Clark. The Doctor did not wait for an answer that was not coming anyway. He pulled out his instruments from a well-worn black bag. Mr. Clark begrudgingly endured his examination.

Mrs. Clark waved a small oriental fan toward her pale face. "It is certainly hot this late in the season.”

"Yes, Madame," replied the Reverend. Christian listened as his Father guided by years of experience gently moved the conversation towards the subject of the visit. "Dear lady, my wife and I have had you in our prayers often. We know what is like to lose a child." Indeed, the Beechum family had lost a baby boy to scarlet fever before Christian was born. He spoke sincerely as one parent who understood grief all too well.

While he did not envision it for himself, Christian admired his Father’s devotion to the ministry, especially fellowship. The Reverend Beechum strived to constantly meet with the members of his congregation, get to know them, and be of service in times of need. Unlike the former head of the First Presbyterian Church, Reverend Oliver Munn, who would speak for literally four or five hours on Sunday, Rev. Beechum considered sermons to be the least important aspect of his job. He was here to bring the words of the gospel, words of hope, to those who had none. That mission was best done on an individual basis rather than in a speech.

Mrs. Clark's beautiful face seemed suddenly tense, filled with unspeakable agony. "Thank you. Margaret was such a good, good girl. I cannot believe she is gone."

The Reverend tried to meet her gaze. "Remember that these separations are just temporary. We will see our loved ones again. We can and will be together forever." Mrs. Clark looked at the floor clearly unconvinced.

Christian shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He found it difficult to discuss his own feelings, much less the misery this woman must know. He sat back and tried hard to fade into the wallpaper. His eyes wandered around the room desperate to avoid this conversation. He suddenly noticed a child standing next to him. Startled, Christian jumped up and knocked the coffee table painfully with his knee.

"Anna, dear, say hello to the Reverend and his son," said Mrs. Clark surprised as well. The child looked at them thoughtfully but said nothing.

Mrs. Clark waited. However, the child just stood there like a statue in her wrinkle-less navy sailor suit. Her mother turned a little red with some discomfiture after a moment. "I am sorry Reverend. Anna has been difficult since her sister Margaret drowned. You must forgive her rude behavior."

"Not at all, I completely understand." Mr. Beechum smiled at the child standing between them. "It is nice to meet you Anna. Are you ten or eleven now?” Anna just looked at him blankly and then to her mother.

“Anna is almost eleven,” answered Mrs. Clark for her unresponsive child. “She is small for her age.”

“Well, I have a little girl about your age, Anna. She is fond of dolls and jacks. Perhaps next time we come, I will bring her to play with you. Would that please you?"

Anna did not smile or respond, but looked intently to her mother as if it were too hard a question to answer without help.

"I am sure Anna would be delighted," said Mrs. Clark. Christian, still rubbing his knee, thought Anna really did not look delighted. He had never seen such a stoic, silent child in his whole life. The Reverend gave Christian a nod for him to be helpful here. Happy to escape, Christian started to ask Anna to show him the garden, but was cut off by her mother.

"Anna, dear, go play." She added in a stern voice. "Not outside; stay nearby."

Somewhat reluctantly, Anna slipped back out into the entry hall carefully avoiding the Doctor and Mr. Clark on the other side of the room.

The medical examination had gone from unpleasant to nasty in quick time. The Doctor was spitting mad and his voice bellowed through the room. "Well, are you at least keeping the heart medication with you as I ordered?" Mr. Clark rose from his seat and rudely turned his back on the doctor as if he were dismissing a servant.

Christian had seen the Doctor angry and knew he would not be intimidated. The Doctor raised his voice even louder. He was not above returning rude behavior with more of the same. "Mr. Clark, I know you can hear me. I already checked your ears." He spoke slowly and stretched out each word. "Are—you—keeping—the—digitalis—with—you?"

Flush with indignation, Mr. Clark shook his head and motioned towards his wife with the back of his hand. But the Doctor got the idea.

"Mrs. Clark keeps the medication, then?" said the Doctor back. "Well now, that's just fine, if your wife had the heart problem."

"She is always around if I want her," snapped back Mr. Clark not too kindly to either the doctor or his wife.

Doc Myers slammed his bag on the side table and roughly tossed in his stethoscope. "We'll find you dead on the toilet from a heart attack—damn undignified way to go too."

Christian could see this argument becoming ugly fast. He knew how much the Doctor hated stupidity. Physicians could do almost nothing for most people with chronic conditions, but digitalis actually worked. An offshoot of the foxglove plant, it strengthens the heart muscle contractions and slowed the rhythm. It was terribly expensive and had to be given early, but it could save a man's life. And this idiot couldn't be bothered to carry it around. Christian watched as the doctor stomped over toward the Reverend and Mrs. Clark and loudly argued his case with the wife.

Christian felt the sickening knots in his stomach again. Uncomfortable with this growing scene he looked around for a getaway. In the next room, he could see Anna standing by a small potted violet plant. He watched her silently tear the leaves off the plant one be one. When she added the last leaf to her pile, she looked up at him. Just for a moment, their eyes met and she opened her mouth as if she wanted to tell him something.

The sound of breaking glass cut through the room. Christian and the others, startled by the crash, sprang to their feet. Mr. Clark had fallen to the ground and overturned the coffee table. The English China set was shattered on the floor leaving tiny glass shards everywhere.

Elizabeth Clark screamed to her husband. "Oh, my Lord! David, are you alright?"

Doc Myers muttered an obscenity under his breath and snatched up his bag. "Damn it! At least I am here. Get his coat off, Charles." The two men struggled to get Mr. Clark turned over. He started spitting up in convulsions. Doc tried to loosen his collar and shouted at Mrs. Clark. "Get the medicine. Mrs. Clark! Get the medicine!"

Anna scurried away quickly. Mrs. Clark stood there completely frozen. Christian and a servant rushed to help the Doctor. On the floor, Mr. Clark thrashed about gasping for air. The doctor kept yelling at Mrs. Clark who finally ran out of the parlor shrieking for her maid.

Despite his frail appearance, the Doc was strong enough to wrestle Mr. Clark down and open his stiff collar. Still, Mr. Clark could hardly breathe. The Doctor pushed him down and began striking on the dying man's chest trying to force blood through the heart. A few rare times this procedure had gotten a heart beating normally again. The only other hope was medicine and soon.

Sweat poured down the Doctors face. "Christian, go help that woman find the digitalis!" Christian bolted out the parlor and up the stairs after Mrs. Clark. Upstairs, he ran down the hall into the large master bedroom toward the sound of voices shouting and doors slamming. Mrs. Clark and two servants were frantically searching drawers and cabinets. Mr. Clark's clothes and other possessions were dumped out on the floor and bed.

Mrs. Clark had turned almost white with panic. "It was here! It was right here this morning!" She kept going to the vanity table, which was covered with glass bottles and pill cases, but no digitalis bottle.

Christian tried to sound calm, but his voice cracked. “They need it now!"

"Search the other bedrooms!" screamed Mrs. Clark at the servants. She rushed out the room only to have her path blocked by Christian standing in the doorway.

She pushed past him. "Move idiot boy." Mrs. Clark hurried down the hall into another spacious room that looked like a study or an office, into which Christian followed. As he started to enter behind her, he caught a glimpse of Anna Clark standing at the other end of the hallway with a large brown bottle in her hands. He stopped. Mrs. Clark returned out of the study nearly crashing into Christian again. She started to really yell at him, but then he pointed towards Anna. Mrs. Clark instantly recognized the bottle. Collecting herself somewhat, she marched over to her child.

"Anna—give that to me.”

Anna held up the bottle toward Mrs. Clark. Her mother was still about two feet away when she opened her hand. The bottle fell to the ground. Christian and Mrs. Clark watched in horror as the bottle shattered and the medicine ran out upon the wood floor.

Instantly, the mother turned back on Christian. "It was an accident. She dropped it. It was an accident."

Christian was unable to speak. It did not look like an accident at all. It looked like Anna Clark had intentionally found and destroyed her own Father’s heart medicine. It was intentional and she seemed to want her mother and him to know it. Mrs. Clark charged past him back downstairs. He looked at Anna into those dark brown eyes. She has to know what she has done. But her face betrayed nothing—No sadness, worry, regret, fear, nothing. She stared right back at him. For a second, she started to say something again, but the sound of her mother screaming downstairs stopped all.

In the parlor, Mrs. Clark was crying hysterically. Mr. Clark remained shaking and covered in his own vomit on the floor. His eyes bulged out and his skin was ashen gray. The doctor was still trying to get his heart beating again as the last bit of life drained out. The Reverend went to comfort Mrs. Clark, but her screams only grew louder and more violent.

Christian slowly backed away. He saw Anna sitting on the stairs quietly observing everything. She was sitting there in her perfect sailor suit and matching doll watching the whole terrible scene without a sound, without emotion.

Chapter 4

The Funeral

They gathered on the following Monday at the cemetery high on the hill near the old floodgate. The entire town came to show respect. All the local stores along main-street shut their doors. Farmers and ordinary laborers completed their work early to attend. Everyone felt for the family who had lost two members in less than three weeks.

Over twenty men volunteered to move the solid granite headstone up the hill to the family plot. It took twelve men. The stone read David Clark, Beloved Husband and Devoted Father, born February 5, 1881, died August 8, 1910. The massive monument cast a great shadow over the smaller one that read only Margaret 1898 - 1910. Great bouquets of sunflowers, blue cornflowers and black-eyed Susan's surrounded the gravesite.

Though the sun shone brightly and the day was hot, Mrs. Clark came draped in a long black veil and fitted black satin dress. She clutched Anna tightly to her side during the entire service. The Reverend spoke in hush tones of the joys that awaited those in the next world rather than the suffering at present. His prose was short and filled with scripture references of the Savior. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is in the law." The Reverend’s words gave relief to the sorrow-filled crowd.

Christian tried to listen to his father. His mind filled with questions that had kept him from a good night's rest since Mr. Clark's death. What did he really witness? Should he tell anyone? What, if anything, should he do? His eyes were drawn to the child Anna. He carefully watched her expressionless behavior, only to be met by Mrs. Clark's own gaze warily watching him.

Following the short service, the crowd walked or rode down the hill toward the Beechum home. Helen Beechum had organized the Ladies Auxiliary to help with the funeral. The women folk of Stillwater had responded to the tragedy in the traditional way: they cleaned things and prepared large amounts of food. The men moved several large tables outside under a grove of trees for the funeral guests. A heavy-set woman placed a tray of deviled eggs on one such buffet table next to fried chicken and corn on the cob. Funeral guests moved about eating and saying nice things about the deceased and his family. Children, still in Sunday clothes, played on the limbs of the large old oak tree around the house.

Mrs. Clark sat on the porch surrounded by the Reverend and other important people in the community. They offered comfort and tried to help her with plans for the future. Harry took a couple of cupcakes from the dessert table and went off to flirt with a much older girl on the wooden swing. Mrs. Beechum moved about busily checking on guests.

Christian intentionally kept away from the gathering. He sat apart under a tree. He opened his beloved art notebook and tried to draw. After a minute or two, he ripped out the page. He crumpled it up and tossed it on the ground. The paper landed at the feet of a girl in black. Christian looked up to find Anna standing there. He jumped to his feet, but instead of leaving, she moved closer, uncomfortably closer, to him. She just stood there for a minute or two looking at him.

"Do you believe in Hell?" said Anna suddenly. Christian nearly jumped. It was the first time he had actually heard her speak.

She moved closer to him again. "Do you believe in Hell?" She repeated in a low voice, but perfectly clear. Christian's mind went blank has he tried to comprehend the question.

"Yes”, said Mrs. Clark from behind them, “dear that will be quite enough now." Both Anna and Christian were startled. Mrs. Clark pretended not to notice and quickly positioned herself between her daughter and the boy. "I will never be able to thank your mother enough, Christian, for all her help today."

Mrs. Clark took Anna by the arm and ordered her to go back to the house. Anna shook off her mother's hand and refused to leave. Her mother face turned hard with rage. "I said go back to the house."

Anna backed down and moved away, but she did not go far. She certainly did not go back to the house. Mrs. Clark's perfect manners returned instantly as she turned back to Christian. "Your mother is a wonder. She takes care of all those children without any nanny. And no doubt more babies to come."

Enough of this nonsense, I must talk to this woman about her daughter. There is something wrong with Anna. She needs some kind of help. She could be dangerous to others or herself.

Christian gathered the courage to speak plainly, but she cut him off. "Families who don’t have two pennies to rub together always breed like rabbits." Christian went flush with shock and anger at this rude remark, but Mrs. Clark was not finished. She got right up in his face. "If you tell any," She paused “'lies' about my daughter, I will ruin your whole family."

She paused and let him consider her threat for a moment. She could do it. Despite years of hard work, the Beechum family had few monetary resources. His Father's reputation was chief among the family’s meager assets. Clergy could seldom survive a significant scandal. Mrs. Clark was a woman of fortune, shrewd and well spoken whom the entire county looked on with sympathy. If she actively discouraged parishioners from his Father's church, she could devastate the family financially. However, how far would this woman go to protect her seriously disturbed child? Moreover, it was just his word against hers. Nobody would believe him. Voices of doubt filled his mind. “I was there and I hardly believe it. Even if people in the community did trust me, what would they, or could they, even do?”

Mrs. Clark sneered at him as if she could read the thoughts that ricocheted through his head. "Thank your parents again for me.” She took Anne by the arm and hauled her daughter off toward the funeral guests at the house.

• • •

Christian ate nothing at the funeral and found little appetite even at dinner five hours later. The family evening had been quiet and uneventful. The younger girls played checkers with Harry. The Reverend settled into his reading chair with the Chicago Sun paper. The older girls talked of new dresses and fashions coming in the fall. Christian sat in the window seat in the parlor with T.C., the cat gently grooming itself next to him. He thought about his family and their happy ignorance. A powerful woman had just threatened his home and his Father’s life work a few hours earlier and no one knew the danger.

He also thought of Anna and her question.

Helen Beechum put her hand on Christian's forehead. He knew she was worried: little escaped her attention even when quite busy. There was no fever so she quickly eliminated illness from the list of causes and sat next to her oldest son.

"You haven't spoken two words all day," she observed. "What is the matter honey?"

He shook his head, but she waited.

"I was just thinking about Mrs. Clark and her daughter." He did not what to lie to his mother and it was somewhat true.

Mrs. Beechum seemed to understand immediately. "Oh honey, they will be just fine. Mrs. Clark is going back East to be with family."

Christian sat upright in surprise. "They are leaving?"

"Yes, they may have already have left. Doctor Myers said the house is being closed up for the summer, but I am sure she will stay in Chicago. The family only built here to accommodate Mr. Clark's service in the State Capital. With his death, there is little reason to remain here. Besides I should think this place might hold too many sad memories for her."

"Yes, I guess you are right," said Christian. He could hardly believe his luck. Mrs. Clark and her daughter would be gone and probably would never return. He need not tell anyone. His family would be safe. The feelings of worry and indecision that had haunted him evaporated.

Vicki invited Christian to join the family in cards. With his burden now lifted, he did so.

• • •

The days moved faster as summer gave way to fall. By October, large numbers of men and women and even children worked to complete the harvest and prepare for the inevitable cold winter. The Beechum home became a canning factory. Helen Beechum and her daughters washed and prepared jar after jar of canned tomatoes, green beans, hominy, peaches and all manner of produce. Each day the house would smell wonderfully of the new product. By the end of the season, well over four hundred jars of food would be in the cellar.

As predicted by his mother, the Clark home was closed up and the family went back to Chicago. There was talk of the house being sold, but nothing seemed to come of it. It just stood there—empty, dark and forgotten. Christian gradually stopped thinking of Anna Clark and her question. He went back to his normal life and favorite pursuits.

Fall offered much more pleasure to an artist than your average young man. The colors and hues of autumn, combined with a much more pleasant temperature in which to work, made this Christian’s favorite time of year. After chores and studies, he would climb up the hill toward the floodgate to sketch or paint. He would spend time lost in his own passion. Eventually, of course, the light would fade and he would have to pack up his art materials and head home.

Christian entered the house by the back porch’s kitchen door. His sisters Edith and Vicki, looking like miniature versions of their mother, proudly display twenty more jars of canned peaches. Edith handed him a bowl of fresh peaches. "May I see?"

Christian carefully displayed a large pastel drawing of the garden with girls in straw hats and blue dresses. He pointed to the taller girl in the picture. "That one is you." Edith face went pink with a little embarrassment. But with a grin of satisfaction on her face, she carefully placed another ball jar into the boiling water.

"Which one is me?" Vicki asked, now interested as well. He pointed out the smaller girl with the watering can.

Vicki grinned broadly. "Well now, don't I look beautiful?"

"You are getting really good Christian. Really even Papa thinks so," said Edith with Vicki nodding in complete agreement.

Harry wandered in the kitchen from the parlor. He grabbed a peach from Christian's bowl without asking and took a passing glance at the picture. To Harry, the end of summer just meant sports and swimming ended and a great deal more work and study began.

Christian looked around the kitchen aware of a missing fixture. "Where is mom?" said Christian to his brother. Mrs. Beechum always supervised the canning.

Harry took another peach. "She is having a conversation with Papa."

"Oh, again," said Christian.

"No," said Harry who instantly understood the error. "They are in the study. They are really talking. Papa got an important letter from town today."

“A letter from whom?"

Harry looked for another peach and shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. But they want to see you right away."

• • •

When Christian entered his father's study, he saw both his parent sitting together on the sofa. They seemed really, really happy. They both smiled at him and then at each other. Christian instantly had a very bad feeling about this conversation.

His Father spoke first in a pleasant, but serious tone. "Christian, you know your mother and I only want the best for you."

His mother quickly added, "This is a good opportunity. I hope you will appreciate how fortunate you are."

Everything in Christian's body told him this was a trap. He knew that whatever “this” was, it would not be something he would appreciate. Moreover, his parent seemed to know that. The Reverend put on his reading glasses and pulled out a large handwritten letter. "Christian, a former mentor of mine has written me about you." He began slowly reading the letter to Christian.

• • •

Christian came into the second story room he shared with his brother and flung his art supplies on the table. He slammed the door shut and threw himself onto his bed face first into the pillow. A few minutes later, Harry entered the room. He sat on his twin bed and waited. Christian did not move so Harry kicked back on his bed and started tossing a baseball against the wall. Dark dirt spots covered the wall across from Harry's bed from this activity.

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