1920

My Heart Is a Living Tomb

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my heart is a living tombcropWar had robbed her of her lover—another war gave him back to her. But now she was the wife of another. Her lover had been faithful all these years. Should she now go back to her first love?

Dateline: April 1925

Her life seemed perfect, but no one knew the heartache she suffered. She had experienced an extraordinary love, but it was stolen from her when her lover died in battle. Their best friend, Ben, fulfilled his promise. He married her and they created a happy life together — though they both knew she had settled for second best. When her lover re-appears many years later (He’s still alive!), Alice must decide — once she recovers from her shock — whether to forsake all for a chance at true love. 

Their passions are ignited, and Alice carries an incredible love inside — even if no one else has a clue.  In this classic love story of missed opportunities, who will Alice choose — her first true love or her husband? [[It’s nice to have some secrets -– like wearing beautiful lingerie under your suit -- no one knows, but it makes you feel extraordinary.]]

I held out my arms to him, but he shook his head and gazed into space.

War had robbed her of her lover—another war gave him back to her. But now she was the wife of another. Her lover had been faithful all those years. Should she now go back to her first love?

My dear mother used to have an odd saying: “What folks do not know can never hurt them.” That bit of philosophy always amused me when a child. It amuses me much more since I have become a woman and know the aptness and truth of it. How very little we do know about the person next to us. I mean about the real, inner person, the man and woman as God sees them. Experience has taught me that it is well for us and well for them that we take them at their face value and probe no deeper to find out what lies hidden in the secret recesses of heart and brain.

For many years the story I am about to relate has been a sealed book, locked in with the memories it awakens. Why I am telling it now is sometimes a puzzle to me, and still I am urged by a power stronger than my own will to give it to the world for what it is worth, and to perhaps help, just a little, someone else who has a hidden story in their life. Also it may be a warning to someone not to judge the other fellow too harshly. He may have a sorrow that accounts for his eccentricities.

I am a woman of middle age, I have grown children and one grandchild. I have a good, honest, faithful husband, a comfortable home and a few of the luxuries of life, I do not look my years, and am often taken for the sister of my daughters. I am considered striking looking—and by a few am spoken of as charming. My abundant brown hair has not one thread of white in its natural waves, my eyes are the clear, level gray that sometimes are

spoken of as being able to read the soul. My features are irregular, and my mouth is rather large and smiley but I am still healthy and strong.

I am favorably known in the state where I live, holding a public position that enables me to travel and meet with people of all classes. People speak of me as a woman who has forgotten self in her work for others, and some few envy me—me!

The thought of that possible envy is what prompts me to set down this story —this hidden chapter in my life. So many of my friends remark that it is because I have never known sorrow or suffering or despair that I have retained my girlish looks. When these remarks come to my ears I seem to see again the girl from which the woman that I am today has emerged. I smile, because they do not know, and again comes to my mind the old saying of my mother.

As a girl, I was willful and impulsive, full of fun and mischief, and sang and flirted and laughed through the days. I had many admirers, as most happy, laughing girls do, but I laughed at them all and flirted outrageously.

 

 

Until the man I was to love came and then I gave him my whole heart—I loved him with all the abandon of a passionate willful heart. And how he loved me in return! Never was there such an earnest, serious, tender love as ours. I shall not give his name, for to call him by any but the dear name enshrined in my heart would crucify me, and so he will just be called My Lover.

My other admirers stepped out when he came, and sought solace elsewhere, all but one, that was the particular friend of My Lover. He came to my home as usual, and he was the friend of both of us, the loving, tender friend of My Lover and I.

 

 

My Lover was so different from me, so different in all ways. He was dark as night with black eyes that held all the love and tenderness of the world in their depths. His was a noble nature, and to have been loved by such a man is what has made me the woman that folks think I am today.

When the Spanish-American War broke out My Lover was among the first to enlist. Ben, his friend, could not go because his gun hand was crippled, and he laughingly hid his disappointment and said that he would look after My Lover’s interest while he was away upholding the honor of their country.  How well he kept his trust! Ah, those last few days before My Lover had to leave—how filled with sweet sorrow they were for us.

The last day at the station I was a little annoyed because My Lover came for me in the carriage of his friend. Ben drove us to the station. With kindly forethought, Ben had left us to ourselves in the back seat, and had drawn the curtains so that no prying eyes might see. Again I wondered when the moment for the last good-bye came and Ben made to leave his place in the carriage so that we might have that last moment to ourselves, I wondered why My Lover stayed him, and said quietly; “Stay where you are Ben, remember!” I wondered what he meant.

Ah, that last good-bye! Regardless of Ben, who sat looking straight ahead like stone images, My Lover gave way to his love and his grief, and showered kisses over me. He held up my hand on which sparkled the tiny diamond that pledged our troth and prayed to God that he would come back to claim me. I was half frightened at his mood, and knew that the thought of going had shaken him dreadfully.

The whistle blew. The time had come. My Lover placed me back on the carriage seat, sprang out and then, stooping, kissed my feet as they rested on the floor of the carriage.   Then with his hat pulled low over his eyes and without one word to Ben, he rushed for the already moving train. Ben reached over the back of the seat where he sat-and stroked my trembling hands as together we watched the train disappear from sight.

The time was long and lonely, but the sweetness of his letters kept me alive and I found work to do that helped me to forget. Soon he signed himself sergeant, and how proud I was, and how proud Ben was. We grinned at each other joyfully at My Lover’s promotion—My Lover’s friend and I.

Then suddenly My Lover’s letters ceased, and we heard no word. I was wild with anxiety and grief. Ben packed a suitcase and left for the front to find out what had become of our loved one. He came back in a month, haggard and worn, and tenderly, lovingly, told me that My Lover was dead. He gave me a few of his belongings that they had found at the enemy’s prison where My Lover had been a prisoner and a letter he had written to be sent to me on the day he was to be shot. They had taken him to a prison in Spain. There he was to pay the penalty of loyalty to his government. I read the letter; the sweetest, bravest letter a man ever wrote, and with a wild look at Ben I fell unconscious to the floor.

Several weeks later I came to myself in my little white room, and saw my dear mother and Ben, watching over me. They were white and worn with watching, and Ben’s hair was quite grey. Mother told me that it had turned gray in a night—the night the doctor said I would die. Ben said not a word. I was the sweetheart of his friend and sacred in his eyes.

When I was again able to face the world, my mouth had lost some of its smiley curves, and my gray eyes were shadowed. That was all the world saw of the grief that had changed me from a girl to a woman—and folks say I know not suffering!

Two years passed, and then because Ben was so gentle and so patient, and because I felt that it was what My Lover would wish, and I knew it was what Ben and my mother wished, I became the wife of My Lover’s friend.

The years passed on and I was content. I had all that life held for me. I loved Ben in a quiet way, and I loved my children passionately. I was happy, too, and yet always my heart was crying for the love denied its consummation.

Then, when my children were partly grown, came rumors of another war. The great World War. I awoke from my pleasant lethargy, and offered my services and was accepted. I worked as secretary in the camp near our home town, and hundreds of boys soon were bringing their joys and sorrows to me to be righted. I was happy then, because I thought that maybe I was doing what I hoped some one had done for My Lover when he sent me that last letter.

I was often sent for to come to the hospital to see some of the sick boys, and it finally became quite a common thing for the doctor in charge to send for me when some boy was going over and in his last anguish called for “mother.” I became “little mother” to the hospital staff and my real name was rarely used. It was sad work and grueling, but it gave me great comfort.

One day I had been for many hours with a very sad case. When it was all over I was about to leave the hospital for my little office when the corridor orderly asked me if I would go for a moment to the office of the dead boy’s Captain. He said the Captain wanted to thank me for my kindness to the boy. This was a new regiment that had come to the camp, and thinking that it was rather strange to be sent for, I slowly followed the orderly. I did not care much for the officers. They had all the friends and comforts they needed. It was to the boys away from home that my time was dedicated.

When the orderly announced me the man at the desk turned quickly and stood staring at me with distended eyes. Then I recognized him, and with a wild cry threw myself across the room and into his arms. The Captain was My Lover!

I kissed him as he had kissed me on that last day; I wept over him with wild abandon, and all the while he stood stiff and straight, with arms hanging stiffly at his sides and his face like marble. At last he gently, very gently, loosed my clinging arms from his neck and seated me in the desk chair. He spoke then for the first time.

“You are Ben’s wife, Alice. Let us still keep loyal and true!”

I was ashamed of my wild outburst. I was overwhelmed and wounded at what seemed his heartlessness. He moved a few steps away from me, far enough that he could not touch me and knelt down, then he allowed his dear, true black eyes to tell me the love he would not speak. His face was still like marble, and great drops of sweat stood out upon his white brow. His lips were closed so firmly that they made a blue line across his face.

I held out my arms to him, but he shook his head and still gazed until I thought I must scream aloud. I pleaded with him to speak to me, to just once take my trembling hands in his own. He shook his head.

Suddenly his rigid form relaxed, his true face broke through its marble mask, and he moaned softly and fell with his face resting on my feet. Sobs that tore my heart and echoed through the corridor came from his lips. He writhed like one in mortal agony. The nurse of the ward came and looked in at the door with a white, scared face. The corridor orderly came and looked in with great distended eyes of surprise, and then I could have blessed him aloud as the orderly gently drew the door shut and I heard his boyish voice saying rather loudly:

“Leave them alone, nurse, I think the Captain is the ‘little mother’s’ long missing brother. I guess they are some upset!”

God bless that boy. He lied and he knew he was lying, and he did it to save me. God bless him!

My Lover had not seen or known that we were observed. He sobbed on and on and I dared not comfort him ; I dared not touch him. I could only stare down at his writhing form and listen to the terrible sobs. I was turning to stone with agony.  I know not how long he lay thus, but at last he did get up, slowly and feebly as a man of seventy might have risen. I noticed then that he looked old and worn. His hair was white at the temples, and his face was lined. But his eyes were the same. He drew up a chair and seated himself across the desk from me, and then he reached for my hands and held them in his own icy ones while he told me his story.

He had been taken prisoner while out on reconnoitering duty, and had been sentenced to be shot at sunrise. He had written the letter Ben brought back to me when they took him out, as he thought, to be shot. They had not shot him, but had taken him away down into the interior of Spain and kept him there as a prisoner for three years. At last a raid had been made upon the prison when a Spanish bandit had been released, and the guards had fled and left the way clear. He got out and after many weeks of hiding, had finally made his way to American lines and been taken care of. He asked that his identity be kept secret until he returned home.  He came home, he told me, the happiest man in the world, and at the station he was met by an old acquaintance, who, after his surprise was over, told him the news, that, after waiting a long long time, I had finally married his old friend Ben. My Lover had at that point broken away from the man and gone to my old home only to find it closed and a “For Sale” sign on the door. By inquiries he learned where we were living. That night, like Enoch Arden, he crept to our window and looked in at the home scene, while he was watching I had risen and taken my first baby from its crib. He staggered away. He told me that if there had been no baby there that night he would have made himself known, but the baby had been sacred in his eyes.

That boy bears his name. He went back and offered himself once more to his government under an assumed name,                     

 

 

 

and so the years had passed.

“Have you never married?” I asked stupidly.

He laughed then and the laugh was worse than the sobs had been. At last he spoke:

“Oh, yes, I am married, soul and body to a memory. You are that memory. I know that you are mine! I know that your soul and all of you that feels is mine! Mine! But you belong to Ben now and Ben was my soul friend.”

I hid my face upon the desk, and his tender hands caressed my hair. He said just a few more words: “Alice, go on with your work and smile and make Ben and your children happy. God always rewards, and in the story of a heaven He will know that you are mine, and Ben will know and give you to me, for Ben is generous and he will want me to have my share of the joy. Go home, Alice, and live your life. I will be waiting when you come.” He took me to the door and before he opened it for me to pass out of his life, he stooped and kissed the finger on which shone Ben’s wedding ring.

That is my story. I am doing as he said and living my life. I even smile and go about as though my heart were not a living tomb. The kind deeds I do come not because of my own goodness; they are the monument I have placed to My Lover’s memory.

I hear of him doing wonderful things, and rejoice in my heart that he is mine—all mine! So life

goes on to its final close.

 

Copyright © 1925, 2012 by BroadLit


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