Harry loves Charlotte. That’s what they carved into this tree a long time ago.
“Miss Charlotte, please. This horse. It’s springtime.” the stable boy said, but Charlotte ignored him.
“Piffle. I know horses. Saddle him or I’ll do it myself. He’s as gentle as my old pony over there.” she said.
“Yes, Miss Charlotte.” He watched as she rode across the paddock.
“Get back here and finish those stalls.” the foreman yelled.
“Sir, Miss Charlotte…”
“I know, get busy.” he said.
“Whoa, you contrary beast! Stop.” She tugged the reins. “I said WHOA!” The horse paid her no heed.
“Hold on, Miss Charlotte, I’ll get him.” Harry, the vicar’s son, had seen her distress as he rode toward town. He maneuvered his mount next to hers, grabbed the reins and pulled the animal around. “He’s got a mind of his own today it seems. Would you like for me to escort you back?”
“Master Harry, I am very grateful to you. And yes, you may escort me home. But you must not tell. I’d just die of embarrassment.”
That was their beginning. They courted for over a year until her father finally consented to their marriage. They lived a fairy tale at the manor. The old limestone mansion never seemed so serene and beautiful. Even the flowers bloomed more brilliantly. Soon they had a son and then another. Beautiful children, happy, and their squeals of delight echoed across the courtyard when they saw their father coming.
The war started five years later and lasted the next four. Harry wasn’t the same after that. Moody, given to horrible dreams and drink to drown the pain in his foot that no longer existed. Charlotte continued to direct the manor as she had done in his absence but with more and more difficulty.
“Harry, please. Please don’t drink anymore today. Think of the children. Of me, of your father’s shame.” He could not stop. There were days when he tried and by evening the pain and the shaky hands drove him back.
“Get away from me. You don’t care that I hurt, only your precious image.” He’d scream back at her time after time. Then he’d hobble out of the room.
“Oh, Harry. My Harry. Damn the war! All wars!” She quickly dried her tears when she heard footsteps behind her.
“Momma, will Father ever be well?” asked little Harry.
“I don’t know. You run along now. It’s time for your lessons and the governess doesn’t like for you to be late.” Charlotte looked into his eyes and for just a moment saw the likeness of his father. The man she’d loved years before. “Did that man die in that war?” she thought once again. “Is there no help? God, why don’t you hear my prayers?!! It’s been so long. He’s worse, not better. Don’t You care?”
“Miss Charlotte! He’s taken off across the meadow on Tyler. You have to stop him. That horse’ll throw him for sure, Miss Charlotte.” The stable boy ran toward her.
“Harry! Harry! The baby has taken your horse. You have to help! You can still ride if you want to. You have to, it’s little Harry. The hands are bringing the grey around now. Come on. I’ll help you down the stairs.”
“Tyler? He’s bad.” he said. “I can’t, my foot… Get the hands to do it.”
She tugged at his arms. He stood, teetered and fell back. “Harry, you must help. He’s your son.” This time he caught his balance and together they headed to the door.
He mounted the grey, kicked him furiously. Charlotte rode beside him. Little Harry had a wide lead; his horse had its head and ran like the wind. The child reeled on his back. The horse jumped a creek, stumbled and fell. The child lay beneath him. The horse rose and limped away. Little Harry remained motionless.
Harry and Charlotte whipped their mounts when they saw the horse fall. “Harry!!” they yelled. They reined in their horses. Charlotte jumped down, her husband slid off and they both knelt beside their son.
“Harry, he’s OK. He’s OK.” Charlotte cradled the child in her arms. His father looked on. His countenance soften, his eyes glistened.
“Charlotte, can you forgive me? I’ve been…” Harry could not finish.
“Shh… Look. There, in that oak. Remember?”
“Harry loves Charlotte.” he read. He took out his pocketknife and traced the letters. “That war will not kill us, too. We will live to love.”
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