Lavender and Lace
A Fireside Story
Julie Jurkovich

Little Joe pulled the buggy into the shade of the tall aspen tree.  As he stepped to the ground, he pulled his jacket down and straightened his hat.  It wouldn't do to look shabby.  He had been looking forward to this afternoon for a long time.  He took a blanket from the seat beside him and put it over the horse.  It was mid-October, and though the sky was a beautiful cornflower blue and the sun bright, the air was chilly. 

Joe kept an eye out for Ellen as he tended the horse.  She often met him as he arrived, and they liked to stop under this tree during their walks outside.  They'd had many talks under this tree, and he'd had a few kisses, too, which he relished.  He glanced toward the house several times to no avail.  It was a short ride from here to Amy's house, where a few young couples were gathering for an elegant lunch followed by an afternoon ride, all under the watchful eye of Amy's parents and grandmother.  Little Joe had hoped for at least a few moments alone with Ellen before the ride to Amy's house.

He finished with the horse and patted its withers, then stroked its nose, trying to prolong his time outside as long as possible.  He wondered why Ellen hadn't come out yet.  She always looked for him, and came out almost as soon as he pulled up.  The bay gelding nuzzled up to him, hoping for a handout.  "Ah, you learned that trick from Hoss, didn't you , boy?" said Joe.  "Adam always says Hoss's treats are gonna ruin your teeth!"

Suddenly, his hair stood up on end, shivers ran down his spine, and his scalp prickled.  There it was again!  He had heard that the last time he was here, and swore his imagination was running wild.

"Mama!  Mama!"  The cry was faint but unmistakable:  a child's voice, a young boy's voice, calling for his mother.  The last time he had visited Ellen, he had thought he was hearing a particularly mournful sigh of the brisk wind flowing from the mountains.  His hair had stood on end then, too, and he had looked about him, searching for the child he thought must be hurt.

"Are you all right, Little Joe?" Ellen had asked him.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm all right,"  he had hastened to assure her.  Once more, he listened.  It was gone.  "Ellen?  Did you hear anything?  Just now, a moment ago?"

Ellen looked at him, obviously puzzled.  "No.  I didn't hear anything, except the wind.  It does sound mighty mournful, doesn't it?  Do you suppose it's unhappy because winter's coming?"

Joe smiled gently.  "Yes, I suppose it might be.  You reckon that's what I heard?"

"I don't know," Ellen had replied.  "Why don't you tell me what you heard?"

Little Joe was hesitant.  Finally, he said, "I thought I heard somebody calling.  Guess the wind could have carried it to me."

Ellen looked at him sidelong.  "Someone calling for mama?"  Joe stared at her in astonishment.  "So, you hear it, too," she said.  "My folks think I'm crazy, out here looking for some child calling for his mama.  It sounds so spooky, doesn't it?  Gives me the chills."

Joe had suggested they look for the child, but Ellen had dismissed the idea.  "There's no child, Little Joe.  I've looked, believe me.  Even my mother helped me look, a long time ago, just to get me quiet more than anything else.  If there was someone, we would have found him by now.  He couldn't have lived this long, anyway."

As they had walked back to the house that day, Ellen had told Little Joe the story she had learned from the time she was very young.  "A long time ago, when my father was four years old, his older brother, Ethan, who was six at the time, climbed up on a haystack one too many times.  He fell off, and broke his neck.  He was by himself.  His father and older brothers were out in the pasture or the fields.  His grandmother, mother, sisters, and  younger brother were in the house.  His mother had sent him out to the fields with some ginger water for the men working.  Ethan thought he'd have a little fun sliding down the haystack on his way.  He'd been warned to stay off it, but disobeyed. 

"When he fell, he couldn't move.  He lay there for a long time, and called for his mother.  No one knew he was missing, because his mother had sent him to the fields, and knew he might be a while coming back.  His father didn't know to expect him right then.  It was a long time before one of his sisters heard him through the window and told her mother. 

"My grandmother sent one of the girls to the men, and they came back and brought Ethan in the house.  But he died a couple of days later.  No one could do anything for him.  My father said his mother heard Ethan's voice until the day she died."

"Did your father ever hear it?" asked Little Joe.

"No, never," said Ellen.   "He thought his mother went a little crazy after that.  Said she was always looking for Ethan, convinced he was trying to find her, calling for her.  When I told them I heard someone calling 'Mama,' he was convinced I was going crazy, too.  I learned long ago not to mention it."

The child's voice faded into the breeze that was now rustling the leaves and creaking the branches of the big tree above him.  A shower of golden leaves swirled about him.  Joe moved to the other side of the horse,  pretending to make certain the blanket was secure, but actually hoping that Ellen would emerge from the house.  As he walked around the buggy, he stopped in mid-step, and his breath caught in his throat.

 A lady stood on the other side of the buggy.  She was short, slender, and elegant, with the smallest waist and tiniest hands that Joe had ever seen.  Her silver hair was simply coifed, pulled back from her face in soft, graceful waves, and fastened in a loose knot on the back of her head.  She wore a lavender gown, cinched at the waist, with a bustle in the back.  White lace trimmed the neck and sleeves, accentuating her tiny hands. She held a white parasol, unneeded in the shade, by her side.  Her creamy skin was lined from laughter, smiles, and sadness, but Joe would never have said she looked old.  This was a woman who was forever young, in her eyes and in the eyes of those around her.  Her kind brown eyes looked into his, and he felt that she saw to the bottom of his soul.

She smiled at him.  "Hello, dear.  It's so very nice to see you."

Little Joe struggled to close his mouth.  "Why - yes, ma'am.  It's very nice to see you, too, ma'am."  They looked at each other for a moment before he collected himself enough to take off his hat.  He watched her for a moment, unsure of what to say.  She obviously knew him, but he didn't know her.

When the silence grew uncomfortable, the lady said, "You've come to see Ellen again, haven't you, dear?"

"Yes, ma'am, I have," replied Little Joe.  "I was kind of hoping she'd come out, so we could talk a little before we left."  He shuffled his feet awkwardly.  "I guess she's still fussing around, getting ready to go to the party this afternoon."  He hoped he didn't sound impatient.

The lady smiled gently at him, and her face radiated warmth and kindness.  "Yes, she most likely is."  For the first time since Little Joe had seen her, she turned her eyes from him and looked at the house.  "I'd like to see Ellen, too.  Would you please tell her I'm here?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Joe.  He stepped back, and looked uncomfortable.  "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, ma'am.  I can't seem to recall your name."

The lady looked at him, and laughed merrily.  "Well, of course you can't!" she exclaimed.  "You can't recall my name, because you've never heard it.  Tell Ellen that Martha Madeleine is here."

Joe smiled at her.  "Very well, ma'am.  I'll do that."  He started to turn away, then looked back at her.  "Are you sure you won't come to the house with me, ma'am?"

Martha Madeleine looked at him again with her intensely brown eyes.  "No," she replied sweetly.   "I'll wait here."

Little Joe hesitated.  For some reason, he was reluctant to turn his back on the lady.  But he needed to go inside anyway, so he went around the buggy toward the house.  As he left the shade of the tree, the wind whipped his hair about and pulled his jacket open.  He put his hat back on, and pulled his jacket tighter about him, fighting the cold fingers of the wind that kept trying to pull them off. 

He was partly relieved to leave the woman behind him, but also  reluctant to leave a lady standing outside in the cold breeze while he went to the house.  He turned back around, thinking again of asking the lady to the door with him.  There was no one there.

Little Joe gaped.  Surely she was still there.  He was barely out from under the tree.  Maybe he couldn't see her because the buggy was in the way.  Joe moved a bit so he could see around the buggy.  Aside from it and the horse, there was no one and nothing there.  Joe swallowed hard.  He thought of going back under the tree to look for her, but thought better of it, and turned again toward the house.

The two-story stone mansion rose above him.  Ellen was the third generation of her family to live on this land.   They were there before most of the settlers, had traded and generally lived in peace with the Indians who were there when they settled the land, and ran a trading post for folks moving west during the gold rush.  The closest civilized settlement to them for years had been Salt Lake City, and that was far enough away that they were effectively isolated most of the time. 

Ellen's grandparents were of tough New England stock, determined to leave the comforts of the East behind and settle in this new land.  With the collapse of their business during hard times, that wasn't hard to do.  Ellen's widowed great grandmother, who had moved the family to America from Austria, had accompanied  her son and daughter in-law on the trip.  Following a wanderlust he didn't completely understand, Ellen's father finally built a cabin on this patch of land he called his own.  As the family grew and more settlers moved in, a stone quarry up the road furnished material to build a bigger and more lasting edifice.  Little Joe knew the history of the family.  His father had told him, and Ellen's father had told him, too, just in case this young buck of a Cartwright thought he was better than him.

As Joe crossed the porch, his boots rang hollowly on the boards.  He knocked on the door, and again adjusted his jacket and hat.  After waiting for a good 30 seconds, he knocked again.  No one came to the door.  Little Joe tried to open the door, but it was locked. He went back down the steps, purposely refrained from looking under the aspen tree, and went around the house.  The barn door stood open.  No one was in the barn or anywhere around it. 

Little Joe stood in the midst of the barnyard.  Where was everyone?  Ellen knew that today was the party.  Surely she wouldn't forget!  They had both been looking forward to it.  He had just decided to go back and wait by the front door when he heard  a horse trotting up.  Robert Gephart rode to the pasture gate, dismounted, and led his horse through before he saw Little Joe.  He nodded stiffly.  "Hello, Joe," he said.  "Just finished rounding up some strays and bringing them back in.  You're here early, aren't you?" 

Joe tried not to stare at him in confusion.  "Well, sir - I - that is, Ellen and I were planning on going to the luncheon and all at Amy's place.  I thought I was right on time."

"Well, go to the door, so they can let you in," Robert said, not unkindly. 

"I went there already, sir, and there was no answer."

Robert's brows drew down, and he frowned at Little Joe.  Without another word, he threw the horse's reins over the fence rail and strode to the house.  Little Joe followed him as he entered the back door.  Neither of them stopped at the kitchen door to wipe their boots. 

"Abigail?  Ellen!"   There was no answer.  Robert gestured toward the front of the house.  "You look upstairs.  I'll look down here."

Joe went to the staircase that mounted to the second floor.  He called Ellen's name, and looked in each room.  At the end of the hallway, he knocked on a closed door.  "Ellen?  Are you in here?"  When there was no response, he opened the door. 

The room was musty and unused.  It obviously was a guestroom that hadn't been needed for some time.  The shades were drawn, but light from the window at the other end of the hallway shone in the dresser mirror along the opposite wall of the room.  The glare blinded Joe, and he moved into the room in order to be able to look around.  He saw no one, but felt the uneasy presence of memories from years gone by.  His eyes rested on a painting above the dresser.  He froze.  The face of the woman he had just seen outside looked down upon him.  She wore the same lavender dress with white lace edging and held a white parasol over her head.  Her skin was even creamier white and her hands smaller than Little Joe recalled from his meeting with her under the aspen tree.  But the sunniness of her smile as she looked upon him could not warm the chill that swept over Little Joe.  He turned and fled from the room, slamming the door behind him.

He ran back down the steps and smacked into Robert, who glared at him with displeasure.  "What you slamming doors and running for?  You seen a ghost or something?"

Joe was attempting to stammer an answer when the back door opened and shut, and footsteps stumbled across the kitchen.   Both men went toward the sound.  Ellen and her mother entered the dining room from the kitchen as Little Joe and Robert approached from the other way.

"Where have you women been?" growled Robert.  "It's near noontime, and I don't smell any dinner cooking."

The women took no notice of him.  "Now, Mother, sit down and rest. Everything will be all right," Ellen said.

"What's wrong, Ellen, Mrs. Gephart?" Little Joe asked with concern.

Ellen looked up and saw him for the first time.  "Oh, Little Joe, I didn't know you were here!  Mother is - she heard - Mother is distraught," she finished lamely.

"I can see that," said Little Joe.  He walked slowly toward the two women.  "What happened?"

Abigail Gephart was speechless and ashen white.  Little Joe had never seen her like this.  During all of his visits, she was kind, composed, and generous, and she laughed a lot, just like Ellen.  Now, however, she was struggling to breathe.  Little Joe and Ellen caught her as she fell over, and Joe carried her into the parlor and laid her on the couch. 

"What's going on?" thundered Robert. 

Ellen avoided her father's eyes.  "Mother was hearing things."

When she offered no further information, her father demanded, "What do you mean, hearing things?  What kind of things?"

Ellen looked at the floor, then at Little Joe.  His eyes told her all she needed to know.  Robert's face hardened when he saw the look between his daughter and this young man.  "Talk, woman!" he demanded.

Ellen turned toward her father, but avoided his eyes.  "Mother thought she heard something."


Ellen sighed.  "The voice.  The child's voice, calling 'Mama'."

"Lord have mercy on us, all the women in this house have gone mad!  First your grandmother, then you, and now your mother!  Who's next?"  He turned to Little Joe.  "I suppose you'd like to go home, now you know what an asylum we run?"

"Father, leave him alone!" Ellen gently remonstrated.

Abigail stirred and opened her eyes.  She struggled to sit up, and her husband rushed to her side to assist her.  He loosened her collar and fanned her.  For all of his harsh words, he seemed genuinely concerned about his wife. 

"Robert, I heard it!   I did!  I really heard it, what your mother heard, and what Ellen used to hear!  I heard the child crying for his mama!"

Little Joe and Ellen looked at each other, and moved closer together. 

"Now, Abigail," said Robert, "don't get so excited.  Like as not, you only heard the wind.  It began blowing  mighty blustery-like a while ago.  You just heard the wind."  He brushed his wife's disheveled hair from her face as he spoke. 

Abigail shook her head.  "There was barely a breeze at the time," she replied.  "And that's not all."  She was still gasping for breath.  Her husband tried to get her to lay back down, but she would have none of it.  "I saw that lady.  That lady in lavender.  Her painting is still up in her room, the guest room.  The one you say is of your grandmother.  Ellen saw her, too, a long time ago.  She just told me."

Ellen's father turned a baleful eye toward his daughter.  "Did you see this woman?"

Ellen shook her head.  "Not this time, Father."

Robert glared.  "THIS time!  What do you mean, this time?!"

Ellen met her father's angry countenance steadily.  "I have seen her before, a long time ago.  She's the same lady whose picture is up in the guest room."

"Bah!  You women have all gone insane!"

"Sir?"  Little Joe spoke up.  "Sir, there is - was - a lady outside asking for Ellen.  She was wearing a lavender dress.  She asked me to get Ellen for her."

"Well, where is she?"

"She wouldn't come to the door, sir.  Said she'd wait under the tree."

The three of them stared at Little Joe for a moment, and then went to the door.  As they descended the steps from the porch to the yard, Joe recounted his conversation with the lady. 

"How did she arrive?" Robert asked, trying to hold his wife steady.  "Who brought her?"

"I - I don't know, Mr. Gephart.  I didn't hear or see her come.  She was suddenly - there."

"Sounds to me like you're as crazy as my womenfolk."  Joe raised his eyebrows and shrugged. 

As they approached the aspen tree, the wind began to blow harder again.  Little Joe reached out and clasped Ellen's hand tightly.  "Well, if there was a woman here, there's none now," declared Robert, as he looked about Joe's buggy.  "Though why any woman would want to stand out here in the cold wind when she could come in the house is beyond me."  He looked about the yard.  "Did she say why she wanted to see Ellen?"

"No, sir, she just said to tell her that Martha Madeleine was here."

Both of Ellen's parents turned abruptly and stared at him.  The blood drained from their faces.

Distressed at their reaction, Little Joe asked, "Who is she?" 

"Martha Madeleine was Ellen's great grandmother," replied Abigail.  She looked at Ellen for a moment.  "We don't have many reminders of her.  Her belongings were given to different family members when she died.  Her portrait stayed here, in what used to be her room, and I was given her ring when I married Robert.  It was a beautiful amethyst ring in a gold setting."  Her eyes grew misty, and she looked beyond her daughter.  "She must have had such tiny hands. But I lost the ring many years ago."

"How did she die?" asked Little Joe.

"She was killed in an accident when her horse spooked for no reason by the gravel quarry," said Robert.  "The buggy she was in went over the side of the road into the quarry."  He looked at his daughter.  "That was shortly after your Uncle Ethan died," he added.

"Should we go look for her?"  asked Little Joe.  "She did ask to speak to Ellen."

"Then she should have come to the house," said her father.  "Yes, I suppose we'd better look for this lady, whoever she is.  And however she got here.  If she ever DID get here."  He glared at Little Joe.  "Since you and my wife are so set on believing she is here, it's likely I'll have no peace until she's found."

"I did see her, sir, and I spoke with her," said Little Joe, growing increasingly resentful of Ellen's father's implications that he was seeing things that weren't there.  "I'd like to take Ellen and look for her, if you don't mind."

Robert waved his hand toward the pasture and fields.  "Go right ahead.  Your mother and I will go in the house, Ellen."  He helped Abigail, who was still flustered, into the house. 

As Joe and Ellen went around the house toward the pasture gate, Ellen said, "Don't mind Father, Little Joe.  He was very young when his brother and grandmother died, and he doesn't like to talk about it.  Mother told me so.  When I was young, and heard the voice crying, Father grew so upset that Mother told me never to mention it again.  His family was nearly destroyed by his mother's searching for Ethan and her insistence she heard him.  It used to frighten me, but nothing ever happened when I heard it.  When I got older and saw the pretty lady, nothing happened, either."

"Did you see her today?  At all?" asked Joe.

Ellen shook her head.  "No.  I haven't seen her in a long time.  I never told Mother or Father about her, until today, when Mother saw her."  Ellen laughed nervously and clutched Little Joe's hand more tightly.  "Poor Mother!  She asked me how I could stand hearing that crying and seeing that lady all these years."  She laughed again, and drew closer to Joe, who put his arm around her.  "I guess it's just as well that I was the one hearing and seeing it instead of her."

Little Joe smiled.  "I guess so."  There had been no sign of the lady as they walked around the barn and through the pasture.  Joe led her to a line of willow trees that indicated a stream.

As they descended the bank, golden leaves swirled down around them from the rustling branches above, and settled in their hair and on the gurgling water.   Little Joe pulled Ellen close to him.  Her auburn hair was windblown and her pale blue dress grass stained about the hem.  "Oh, Little Joe, I must look like a mess!" she exclaimed. 

Little Joe smoothed her hair back from her face.  "You look fine to me," he said softly.  She turned her face up to him, and they kissed to the  music of whispering leaves and the bubbling stream. 

Suddenly, Ellen's eyes went wide open, and she started back from Joe with a gasp.  She stared in wide-eyed surprise beyond his shoulder.  He whirled around, keeping her behind him and putting his hand to his gun. 

The lady in lavender  and lace stood behind him.  She was watching them calmly, with no trace of anger or hostility.  Her deep brown eyes radiated tranquility.  Despite their embarrassment at being caught in an intimate moment, Little Joe and Ellen were bathed in an aura of contentment. 

Ellen stepped out from behind Little Joe, and they both looked at the lady.  Little Joe thought she was one of the prettiest ladies he had ever seen.  He wasn't just looking at her tiny waist and hands, either.  She imbued everyone and everything about her with a peacefulness and serenity that his restless, lively spirit had never known.

"Who are you?"  Ellen spoke the question that Little Joe was too tongue-tied to ask.

"I've come to wish you well, dear," the lady replied. 

"But who are you?"  Ellen persisted.  "And why couldn't I ever talk to you before?"

"Because it wasn't time yet," she replied.  She continued to gaze at them.

"Why did you come?"  Little Joe finally managed to ask.

The lady didn't answer him.  She turned toward Ellen.  When she smiled, kindness as golden as the sun on the fading willow leaves glowed from her face.  "I need you to tell your father something, dear," she told Ellen.

Ellen gazed back at her, and waited speechlessly.

"When life darkens, fear will pass, understanding will come, and I will be waiting with the others."  

Ellen stared at her, then repeated the words slowly in a whisper.

The lady smiled at both of them.  "May the blessings of God be upon both of you, now and always."

Little Joe and Ellen stared at one another in astonishment.  When they looked before them a moment later, the lady was gone.  Little Joe searched all around them, but Ellen said he wouldn't find her, and he knew she was right.  Hand in hand, the young couple walked slowly back to the house.

They stopped in the hallway just inside the front door at the foot of the staircase and took off their wet, mud-caked shoes.  Joe picked willow leaves out of Ellen's hair, and she brushed them off of his shoulders. 

Abigail came into the hallway from the dining room door.  "My, aren't you two a sight!"  She looked them up and down, noting the mud, grass stains, twigs, and leaves all over their good clothes.  "That was a good way to ruin some Sunday clothes."

"They're not ruined, Mother, just need some good cleaning," replied Ellen.

"I don't imagine you'll want to go to that party looking like that," continued her mother.  "If you can even still go to the party."  She looked at the grandfather clock in the parlor.  "By the time you get there, lunch will be over.  You might still be able to catch the others before they leave for a ride.  But you both need to change, and he'd have to go home to do it.  Robert's clothes wouldn't fit him, even if he wanted to wear them."

She wiped her hands on her apron, thinking for a moment.  "Why don't you stay here?  You can eat in the dining room - after we get him cleaned up, and you change, Ellen - and your father and I will eat in the kitchen.  Then, you can go for a buggy ride.  It's not exactly what you had planned with your friends and all, but it is some time together."  She looked at them expectantly.

Little Joe looked at the clock, then at Ellen.  Mrs. Gephart was right.  There wasn't time to get to Amy's house and expect to eat.  They might not even be able to go out riding with the rest of them.  He shrugged.  "Sure, Mrs. Gephart.  It sounds very nice."  He realized as he said it that this would be an unchaperoned ride with Ellen, and it would indeed be very nice.  "Thank you for the invitation, ma'am."

Ellen murmured her agreement with Little Joe, and started upstairs to her room to change and refresh herself. She stopped a couple of steps up, and turned to her mother.  "Where is Father?" she asked.

"He's on the back porch, sharpening some tools.  Why?"

Ellen hesitated, and looked at Joe.  Her mother looked sharply at her daughter.  "Nothing."  Ellen turned and hurried up the stairs. 

Mrs. Gephart directed Joe to the back porch, where he could brush his  clothes off and clean his shoes.  Her husband would show him where everything was that he might need.  As he preceded her to the other end of the house, she shook her head at the predicament these young folks had landed themselves in.

Joe had brushed the dirt off of his clothes and had just started cleaning and polishing his shoes when he heard Ellen run down the stairs.  "Mother! Father!"  She sounded frightened.  Little Joe dropped his shoes and ran through the kitchen into the dining room, where he caught Ellen as she dashed past him.

"Ellen!  What's wrong?"

Ellen was breathing hard, and her face was white.  Little Joe thought if he saw the blood drain from one more person's face today, he might scream in frustration.  She looked over Joe's shoulder to her parents, who stood behind him. 

"Ellen?  What's wrong, child?  There's no call for running and yelling, surely," said her mother.  She moved beside her daughter.  Ellen turned toward her mother, and Joe released her.

Ellen held her hand out to her mother.  "I found this on my dresser," she said in a shaky voice.  She opened her hand.

Abigail gasped, then compressed her lips and composed herself.  She reached to her daughter's open palm and picked up a ring.  As she held it up, Little Joe could see it was an amethyst ring in a gold setting.  The hand that wore it must have been tiny indeed.

"It has the initials 'MMG' inside it."  Ellen looked questioningly at her mother.  "Those are her initials, aren't they?" 

When Abigail didn't answer, Ellen continued in a tremulous voice.  "Little Joe and I saw the lady outside, by the stream.  She gave us a message."  She looked at her father.  "A message for you, Father." 

Robert Gephart looked from his wife to his daughter.  A message?  For him?  What was wrong with these women?  He looked at Little Joe, whose serious face showed he believed this, too.   This whole day had been strange.  His wife had obviously seen and heard something, or believed she had.  Little Joe didn't seem given to flights of fancy, but he was sure he had seen something, too.  And now this lady in that fancy dress had told his daughter and her young man something - for him?  He wasn't sure he wanted this to go any further.

"Let me see that ring," he said abruptly.  He looked it over, and saw the initials.  It was so small that his huge hands  had trouble handling it.  He looked at Ellen.  "This must have been in your room, and you just now found it."

"No, Father, I've never seen it before," protested Ellen.  "It was on my dresser, in plain view, just now."

"Robert, I lost it when she was an infant," said Abigail.  "I turned the whole house upside down looking for it.  Surely you remember?"

"I remember." Robert handed the ring back to his wife, who examined it carefully again. 

"This is her ring," she said, almost to herself.  "There couldn't be two like it.  So small, and the antique gold setting, and the beautiful stone..."  She shook her head.  "It's a miracle to have it back."

Robert glared at Little Joe from under his heavy eyebrows.  "You didn't leave that ring up there when you were looking for Ellen earlier, did you?  You sure came barreling down those steps." 

"Father!" exclaimed Ellen.

"No, sir!" Little Joe said at the same time.  "I wouldn't do that, Mr. Gephart!  If I had a ring that belonged to your wife, I'd tell you or her about it!"  An uncomfortable silence followed.

"Father?" said Ellen timidly.  "The lady - Martha - said to give you a message."  Robert looked steadily at his daughter, wishing he could run out the back door and not hear any more of this.

"She said," Ellen hesitated and looked at Little Joe for reassurance, "she said to tell you that 'when life darkens, fear will pass, understanding will come, and I will be waiting with the others.'"  Ellen stepped back before her father's darkened countenance.

"Who told you this?" Her father's voice was husky, as though his throat was tight. 

Ellen took another step back.  "That - that lady, father.  That lady we saw.  I don't know what it means; she just said to tell you."

"It's true, sir," said Little Joe, moving so he stood next to Ellen.  "I was there when she told Ellen."

Robert's eyes moved toward Little Joe, who stepped back before the pain he saw in the man's face.

"When?  Where?"

"Just a few minutes, ago, sir.  Under the willows by the stream, in the pasture.  We saw her there."

Robert looked at his daughter and the young man before him.  He had thought this phantom of the past had been left behind when his mother had passed on.  If anyone else in his family had ever heard the voice or seen the lady in lavender, he had never heard of it.  He would have scoffed at them if he had.  His daughter had brought back to him the memory of his brother, killed so many years ago, when she heard the voice long ago.  And now, this lady had reopened another wound.

He finally spoke.  "Your grandmother said the same thing as she lay ill before she died.  She said the same thing you just told me."  He pushed past all of them and went into the parlor and sat down.

The three of them left in the hall looked at one another.  Abigail moved past Joe and Ellen and followed her husband.  Ellen pulled Little Joe after her.    Little Joe stopped uncertainly inside the parlor door and looked at Robert.  He sat on the edge of the sofa, his hands on his knees, staring at the floor.  Normally a taciturn man, he was friendly enough, under a gruff exterior that seldom fooled  anyone.  He was not given to emotional displays, and that made the pain written on his features now all the more disturbing to those who knew him.  They sat down near him and waited.

Ellen's father finally broke several minutes of uncomfortable silence.  "I was 12 years old when my mother took ill.  She was bedridden for a long time.  My sisters and sisters in-law took care of her, and the doctor came now and then.  I was told to stay out of the sick room, and not bother her."  He looked out the window behind his wife. 

"One day, after the doctor visited, I heard him tell the others that she wouldn't last much longer.  I bided my time until later in the day, when my sister who was tending her had stepped out of the house, and everyone else was busy either downstairs  or outside.  Then I went in the room.

"She was talking to someone; delirious, I guess.  She looked at me, but didn't know me, or if she did, she gave no sign of it.  She kept talking, and most of what she said made no sense.  The last thing I heard her say was 'when life darkens, fear will pass, understanding will come, and I will be waiting with the others.'  She said it real slow-like, like she was repeating a lesson in school or such, and was looking next to the bed as she said it."

Robert looked at his wife.  "I had to leave the room then, as I heard my sister come back in the house, and I would've got my britches tanned for being in there.  I never told anyone what she said.  It didn't make any sense to me, and didn't seem real important after a while, not nearly so important as the fact that she didn't seem to know me at the time.  And no one heard it but me.  She died that night.

"And now, here's this lady coming around, telling you two what my mother said, and that ring with her initials mysteriously reappears."  Robert shook his head and stood up.  "I don't know what you all heard, or who you saw, or who this lady is.  I just don't know...."  He looked out the window and put his hands in his back pockets.

"Father," said Ellen, "please, tell me about my great grandmother.  No one has ever told me about her."

Robert hesitated.  "I barely remember her.  She died in that accident shortly after Ethan broke his neck.  She was a beautiful lady, petite, with deep brown eyes, a tiny waist and hands, and always smiling and happy.  I don't remember seeing her unhappy until Ethan died.  She slept in that room we have closed up, and that picture of her in there looks just like I remember her.

"She and her husband came from Austria.  She always missed the Old World, and her people she left behind, though she admitted her life was better here, with all the wars going on over there.  She insisted on living peaceably with the Indians that were about then, and I think she stopped my brothers and my father from some rash actions they might have regretted.  Might've been more of us dead, and not from falling off a haystack, if she hadn't insisted on that.

"She used to play the....oh, some instrument, some newfangled thing; I can't recollect what you call it..."

"The cello," his wife prompted.

"That's right," he said.  "My father said that it wasn't ladylike for her to play it, but she paid him no mind.  I remember it sounded real pretty.  Wish I could've heard her play more often.  But I was four, not quite five, when she passed on.  Don't remember who has that  - what do you call it - cello -now."

He was quiet for a moment.  "She was the only one who could help my mother, when she thought she heard Ethan," he continued.  "Helped calm her down, and get her mind on something else."  A tear rolled down his cheek.  "We missed her, when she was gone."  Ellen hugged her father, and they cried in each other's arms.

By the time they had recovered from the events of the morning, the afternoon was half gone before they were ready to eat.  Little Joe and Ellen had a quiet meal, followed by a wonderful buggy ride.  The trees were displaying their most beautiful fall colors.  Ellen thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and Joe had enjoyed the kisses he managed to get as well as how close she sat to him under the lap robe in order to keep warm. 

 The moon was rising as Little Joe set out for home.  As he approached the stone quarry, the moon sailed out from behind the clouds.  The road descended to a point near the edge of the quarry, and turned sharply.  In the moonlight, Little Joe could see over the cliff to the rocks below.  Suddenly, the sound of music drifted up to him.  A mellow, rich, sonorous  sound enveloped him, ascending to a majestic lilt, and descending again to a fluid alto vibration, which faded as the wind rustled the leaves of the trees. 

Little Joe felt as though he had awakened from a dream.  The road lay illumined before him in the moonlight.  He was keenly aware of every sound about him, from the rustling of animals in the undergrowth to the clop clop clop of the horse's hooves to the hooting of a distant owl.  He was relieved when he finally pulled up in front of the Ponderosa. 

He couldn't believe how tired he was as he unhitched the horse.  He hoped everyone was asleep, though that seemed unlikely.  He didn't want to talk to anyone.  As he went into the house, he noticed a light was on in his father's study.  Well, he'd at least have to give a passable report of his day.  He tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes.

He shut the door, and took off his hat and gunbelt.  He heard a chair move in Ben's study, followed by footsteps, and braced himself for a father/son chat. 

Adam came out of the study.  "Hello, Joe.  Did you have a nice time?"

"Oh, hi, Adam.  I didn't know it was you in there.  Yes, I did have a nice time.  Where's Pa and Hoss?  In bed?"

"Yes, they turned in early.  I had some accounts to look over, so I stayed up.  Pa was too tired to wait up for you."

Joe rolled his eyes.  He didn't think much of anyone waiting up for him.

A smile played about the corner of Adam's lips when he saw the look on his brother's face.  He crossed his arms.  So, did your chaperones keep you suitably far from Ellen?"

"Yeah!" said Little Joe.  "It was fine.  I mean, we, uh...."

Adam raised an eyebrow.  "You mean, it was no problem?" he said incredulously.

Little Joe looked at Adam with a guarded expression on his face.  He opened his mouth, then shut it, then gave an exasperated sigh.  He might as well tell his brother before someone else informed him or his pa that he didn't go to that party.  "Um, Adam?  We never made it to the party."

Adam smiled and leaned back against the doorway behind him.  This ought to be good.

"See, Ellen's mother was upset when I arrived.  It was - about some family thing.  Ellen was trying to help her mother, and by the time everything settled down, and she was ready, it was too late for us to go.  So we ate at her house, and went for a buggy ride later."  He looked defiantly at his older brother.

Adam noticed the mudstains on his clothes which had been partly brushed off, and saw a few spots of mud on his shoes, which hadn't been thoroughly cleaned.  "There must be one whale of a story behind this," he thought, but he figured his chances of finding out right then were nil.  "Whatever you say, little brother.  As long as you had - fun."  He deliberately paused before the last word.

"Yeah, I had fun."  Joe stifled a yawn.  "I'm going to bed."  He headed for the stairs. 

Adam smiled to himself as Joe went by.  He turned around to go back in the study, when Joe called to him from halfway up the stairs. 

"Adam?  Do you know what a cello is?"

Adam stared at his brother.  "A cello!  Why do you want to know about a cello?"

"I - just wonder, that's all.  What does it sound like?"

Adam looked doubtfully at him.  "Well, a cello is a stringed instrument played in an orchestra.  It's played with a bow.  It's large, bigger than my guitar, and is lower in pitch than a violin, or maybe I should say a fiddle or guitar.  It usually has a very mellow, rich, and beautiful tone, if played well."

Little Joe heard again the beautiful music and saw the moon shining into the quarry.  Without realizing it, he began to hum the tune he had heard.

"What are you humming?" Adam demanded.

"Oh - uh, nothing.  Just - something I heard." 

Adam had recognized the tune as the theme from a piece by Mendelssohn.  He had heard it during his college days back East.  He looked sharply at his brother.  "You heard that at Ellen's?"

"Yeah."  Joe's eyes shifted away from Adam's.  "Yeah.  I did."  He turned and ran up the steps.  A moment later, his door slammed.

Adam raised his eyebrows and went back to the study to straighten up his father's desk and turn out the light.  "That must have been some buggy ride," he said to himself. 

A few moments later, as he ascended the steps to his room, he thought he heard, very faintly echoing in the dark, the sound of a cello playing the lilting strain of music his brother had just hummed .  He stopped, and listened  closely.  It grew more and more faint and slipped beyond his hearing.  He shook his head in wonder, and continued up the steps.  Tomorrow he could corner his little brother and find out what he had been up to.  It should be, he thought, a most interesting story.

The End
Author Feedback --
Julie Jurkovich
Site Owner Feedback
Complaints, Opinions, Recommendations?
About this Site
Who do we think we are? 
Why are we doing this?
Our Fan Fiction Criteria
Standards & Practices
  Bonanza Fan Fiction Master Index
Alphabetical by Title
Bonanza Fan Fiction Master Index
Alphabetical by Author
Adam Stories
Joe  Stories
Hoss Stories
Ben Stories
Whole Family Stories
Young Cartwrights
Just for Fun [Comedy Lite]
Post-Timeline Stories
Jamie, Candy, Hop Sing, Griff
Alternate Universe
Death Fics
Fan Fiction Resources
Character Bios & More
Bonanza Fanfic Links
Site Forum
Input & Opinions from Readers, Authors, Site Owners