Saturday, 29 August 2015

"The Tale of the Handsome Gardener"

Chapter 1. John Hinton, not your ordinary smith…

"Many generations past, so long in fact, few people of the day knew of writing, a magical yarn was rendered unto this world. So powerful is this story, it shines equally bright in the very moment of which I have taken your hand. My dear Grandson, legend of our region suggests, on your wedding eve, I am responsible to pass unto you this tale."

"Your duty, as a man, is to secret this lesson in the archives of your mind, until, God willing, you discover in your life the joy of similar circumstance. Whence, such a moment of cherished significance should come to pass, I ask you, build a fire, then render unto your grandson this valued family tradition."

"Dear William, do I have your attention, as well, your promised commitment to honour this valued tradition?"

Very well young man, thank you for sparing me time in your busy day. I beseech you, find a seat by the fire, take this warm cup of brandy from my hand. When I note you have gained a modicum of comfort, then, as my grandfather had done so many years past, I will have great joy in regaling you with “The tale of the Handsome Gardener."

The fire stirs, crackling in the cool crisp night air, two men, Richard, the Grandfather, as well, his young Grandson, William, are about to embark upon a time tested right of passage. Dear reader, perhaps, you too, might like a welcome seat by our warm fire?

"Long, long ago, in a town across the Atlantic Ocean, lived a man known to all as the 'Handsome Gardener.' Oddly enough, his moniker represented a classic misnomer. For, as it were, this man was not a gardener at all. In fact, he was the renowned blacksmith of a quaint little village named Liberty. The name of our heroic blacksmith, one which I might add will forever be remembered, was Mr. John Hinton."

"John’s story, a gift my grandfather asked I promise to pass unto you, is as valuable as it is timeless. Smiths, as you may be aware William, were generally hulking, brutish, men. Often, it would appear, God had offered the smith great strength, in lieu of, shall we tactfully suggest, limited social graces, or, perhaps bridled intellectual acumen. Upon first glance, our man John, appeared no exception to this rule. However, circumstance regularly reminds the attentive mind, never be so hasty as to judge a book by its cover."

"Are you with me William?"

"Excellent, my boy."

"Further to the embarrassment of his name, John was far from handsome. It was commonly known, there was a time, in his youth, when village girls would surely blush at Johns passing. Even as a boy, big John, was a horse’s head taller than most men. His shoulders and chest, easily twice the breadth of lads five years his senior. John's father, as legend speaks, had passed shortly prior to the boy's tenth year. The challenges and toil of farm duties fell unto our legendary hero, a task I might add, which sculpted not only body, but respect, as well as, honour, from town and country folk throughout the Cambridge county."

"As often is the case with large men, John was understood to be a gentle giant. Never was he known to pass up the chance to selflessly aid in the needs of others. So generous was his nature, John always insisted, for his work, no recompense or remuneration should be given. Task complete, John would simply smile, wave goodbye, then proceed with his day. His golden reputation afforded good John considerable recognition of the town smith. In times of yore, it was an honour, moreover a privilege, to acquire the role of smith apprentice. In all the land, everyone would agree, no young man deserved more this vaunted title."

"Fate, at times, can have a cruel way of turning gold to dust. Such was the case for this, well equipped, greatly esteemed, young man. During his first year of training, poor John, in one single awkward moment, tripped, then fell, onto the molten work aglow on the blacksmith's anvil. John's left cheek, nose, right eye, as well, a great portion of his forehead, had instantly fused to the slab of unformed metal. Many expected he would not survive the tragic ordeal. Yet, John, made of greater stalk than the average man, recovered within a year. However fortunate to survive, significant damage had forever altered the image of this handsome lad. John, had lost his right eye. His nose, a mere splinter of its original form. The left side of his mouth, contorted in such a sever manner, his speech was interminably altered. Adding a modicum of insult to injury; drool regularly leaked down the side of his face, leaving poor John the continual task of reaching for a sullied, absorptive handkerchief, kept hidden in his right breast pocket."

"The same lovely, smitten lasses, who once blushed at his strikingly beautiful presence, now, in passing, desperately fought to maintain their composure. Often was the case, the young women required a sniff of the essence, just to regain balance from the horrifying experience of making his acquaintance. Frightful as he was to view, big John did survive. More to the point, the river which became his life, to this day, nourishes many a wayward soul. This, my dear grandson, begins the tale of the handsome gardener."

"Do I have your undivided attention William?"       

"Fair play, for this yarn, appearing to represent great suffering, in surprising actuality, is a lesson meant to teach you how to acquire the enduring love of your betrothed. Dear William, I see, in your eyes, shock."

"Apparently. you cannot fathom how these dots may find a reasonable connection to love. I will place a few more logs on our fire. Sip your brandy my boy, then, our tale will recommence. Now you take care not to trip lad. We surely wouldn't want you to meet a fate similar to our dear John." (Smile brightens the face of our gnarled story teller)

Chapter 2, Tradition, a Grandfather’s Love…

"Prior to continuing our story, William, I wish to ask you the same question, my Grandfather asked me at this very juncture in the story."

"Why have you chosen Beth to be your bride?"

Feeling slightly uncertain of how to proceed. Whilst not wanting to disappoint his Gramps in any way, poor William felt a tad uneasy. Much to his bewilderment, William found himself blurting out a defensive retort.

"Is this some sort of a test Grandpa?"

Smiling, in a most comforting fashion, as only a grandparent can manage, Richard replied. "No, my dear grandson, this is not a test. Nor is it a trick, it’s a very simple, straightforward, question."

"I think I know how you feel William. When your great, great, Grandpa Mike, God rest his soul, asked me the same question fifty-one years ago, I believe I felt the same way you do now. Although it was such a long time past, I recall the moment as if he and I were speaking just yesterday. Unlike tonight William, it was a hot summer evening. I recall cicadas and bullfrogs found occasion to soothingly punctuate his storytelling. Funny, how insignificant little details can stick in ones’ mind. The brandy went a long way toward comforting my anxiety then, as I am sure, it presently aides you this chilly evening."

(Slight smile breaks the face of young William)

"Let me assuage your concerns my boy. There is no right, nor wrong answer. If one were to inquire of me the intent of Grandpa Mike’s question. I believe William, he simply wished to engage my mind. Perhaps, he also wanted me to reflect a little on what it means to be a husband. Take your time boy. Let us enjoy the warm glow of this beautiful fire, then fill our wanting brandy glasses. In a few moments, when you have carefully considered the question, you can reply."

Feeling much better, additionally warmed from his Grandpa’s good nature, the fire, as well, the effects of a hefty tot of quality Brandy, since consumed. William, with a relaxed posture, pondered anew the query.

After a considerable pause William spoke up. "Gramps, he confidently stated, I think I am ready."

"With Beth by my side Grampa, I feel like I can conquer any challenge. By far, she is the most beautiful girl in the whole world. I love everything about her Grandpa; her smell, the way she talks, her smile, the funny way her beautiful blue eyes light up as she devours a bowl of ice cream." 

"She really loves me Gramps; I can tell by the way she looks at me, how she holds my hand, her uncanny ability to comfort me when I am feeling down. Even when I screw up really bad Grandpa, like when the parking brake failed causing me to accidentally drive her car into Crawdad lagoon, she never stayed mad at me for too long. You know Gramps, there is a smell in that darn car, it never did go away. We both know how it got there! Yet, she never holds it over my head. I guess, when all is said and done, I really, really, love Beth with all my heart. These things and more are why I asked her to marry me."

Compelled to qualify his assertions, William could not help but inquire. "How did I do Gramps?"

Feeling proud of his Grandson’s valiant effort, Richard patted him on the back. "You did just fine son, much better than was my effort."

"Why is that Gramps? Do you remember what you said way back when?"

"Well my boy, let me think. I also told my Grandpa Mike how much I loved your Grandma Rachel, God rest her soul. I talked about how she made me feel. Like you, I commented profusely on how beautiful she was. Again, like you, the more I spoke, the easier it was to get on a roll. However, unlike you, who ended your reasoning on a gracious note, I was less fortunate. Instead of saying something intelligent like, this is why I asked her to marry me. I stumbled at the finish line, caustically blurting out, Rachel has really nice boobs. My guess William, I shocked myself with the grand finale. Helplessly teetering upon the brink of the inane, I never was to regain a conversational equilibrium with Grandpa Mike."

"Remember well I do William, there was the longest pause you could ever imagine. The intolerable silence was oh so unbearable. While quietly cussing myself for being such an idiot, Grandpa Mike boomed out the biggest belly laugh I ever heard arise from the depth of any man. For many years, the famed ending became a family joke. Of course, never in the presence of your Grandmother, God rest her soul. You can ask your Pa about my misadventure William. When you see him next, just walk up to him, then say, ‘Rachel has really nice boobs’ see if your Pa doesn’t roll on the floor laughing."

Pondering the moment, with a huge grin plastered across both their faces, William could not help but ask the obvious question.

"Grandpa, what did Dad say when Great Grandpa Bill ask him the big question?"

"Ah, my boy, that is for your father to answer. Since we have enjoyed this special night together, he is finally able to breach the topic with you."

"You do remember your earlier promise of silence, right?"

"Yeah, I do Gramps, but thanks for reminding me. I am beginning to grasp the bigger picture of our family tradition."

"Atta boy William, let’s get back to the story, eh."

"I would like that very much for sharing this tale. By the way, thanks for tonight Gramps, I really love you."

"God willing, one day William, you will realise just how much is the pleasure of extending this tradition. I love you too."

The two men hug, then, using the dark of night, both cleverly wipe tears from their eyes.

Chapter 3, The Lovely Jeannine…

"Where were we?"

"Oh yes, the real beginning of the story. The river that was John’s life, in light of the many lessons he has yet to teach us."  

"Well, my boy, legend has it, not three miles from the smithy, lies the grandest abode in all of Cambridge. Wherein, this comely abode lives, of course, the fairest lass in all the land. Her beauty, noted by anyone of which one might care to inquire, was so compelling, even the King himself would have been honoured to take her hand."

"Her name Jeannine, an etymology of which was so utterly perfect, it seemed beyond just happenstance."

"The reason for the assumed perfection of Jeannine’s moniker, was borne of the fact, all but the most gracious of town folk agreed, her mother, Gertrude, a rotund tank of a woman, was rather hideous looking."

"Her father, a broad shouldered, equally obese man named Martin, one would queasily add, the poor soul, offered up a visage which fared little better than his wife. Hence, the perfect homely match of upper class ranks. Now, agree you must, the derivative of this ungodly pairing, one would certainly assume, must reflect itself in a girl fit for carnival exhibition."

"Alas William, the comeliness of Jeannine’s beauty was nothing short of angelic. Ergo, the translation of the name Jeannine is, incredulously, 'God is Gracious'. Therefore, anyone attending this tale would have to submit claim, indeed, God had in fact been most gracious."

"Before leaving the subject matter to rest, in fear of further assaulting an already whinnying horse. I believe William, the town folk would want you to know, rumors abound suggesting our heroine Jeannine was not, could not, be the scion of such an untoward coupling. Finally, bringing this topic to a welcome halt, there were only two factors which enabled a calming of the scurrilous voices. First, was the common knowledge suggesting, it is always in one’s best interest to respect the good word of nobility. Second, certainly no worthier a testimonial could be found than one uttered from the, most commendable reputation of Elizabeth Mac Donald, the renowned midwife in attendance of Jeannine's birth."

"Further evidence of God’s intervention, was well illustrated by the fact our lovely heroine had been regarded as the most, gentle, caring, compassionate, young lady anyone could possible hope to meet. Airs of superiority, one might expect from a lassie of absolute entitled fortune, simply did not exist. In lieu of attending a country ball, Jeannine would just as likely to be found mucking it with a pig, dancing in the rain with a servant’s daughter, or offering care to the sick and needy in the district’s least favoured quarters. I might add William, how the aforementioned activities greatly distressed her mother, Gertrude. Whom, the fable recounts, demanded a significantly higher standard of decorum from a girl of her considerable rank and stature."

"Conversely, many, who knew her father Martin well, would remark upon how Jeannine’s compassionate ways gave unimaginable pride to her doting Papa. Paying heed to the rumors of servants, it had been well established, conflicting parental viewpoints proved fodder for many, barn burning, household battles known to shake the old mansion."

"Jeannine, would never have been described as a girl happy to stay at home learning her lessons in music, decorum, literature, or any such list of caste requirements demonstrably illustrated by a lady her stature. Whenever permitted, oftentimes even when not, Jeannine would tag along with her father as he tended to the many town site tasks owing to the needs of a proper gentleman. Adding to Jeannine’s frequent opportunity for escape, was the fact her father never could manage to fulfill one simple task demanded by his darling wife."

"For our dear Gertrude, with a twisted face, whilst using her patented high pitched shriek, would often be heard by serving staff iterating a continual refrain."

"Martin, you stupid man, remember to check the wagon tarp before you depart!"

"Regularly, or so we have been told, Jeannine would ceremoniously eject her lovely head from a secret hiding place under the old, mottled green, wagon tarp. Of course, strategically, the moment of reveal, was always more than one mile from home."

"Responding to the frightful appearance of his daughter. Martin, true to his spousal commitment, wink, wink, would less than half heatedly, chastise the sneaky imp."

"Often, if any witness were within earshot, an understood refrain would have been uttered. Dear girl, where did you come from? What am I to tell your mother? Comments, no doubt, accompanied by a careless grin intently breaking his, glowing, pock marked face." 

"Oh Papa, you know how much I cherish your company. The true, but well-tried response, ended the pairs rehearsed pantomime. Again carelessly, a smile relayed from Martin to Jeannine, would be sure to brighten even the cloudiest day."

"On one such memorable autumn morning in which Jeannine had sequestered herself behind a dozen bushels of their finest farm apples. Patiently, the young girl remained hidden just long enough for the unspoken distance of about one mile to pass. Past the farm gate, down the dusty old country lane. Alas, only ten minutes or so to wait, until the welcome sound of Greenback brook would signal her to appear. This day was to be extra special for Jeannine. Since overhearing her father's conversation with the stable master, she knew a visit to the smithy was agenised for the late afternoon."

"Jeannine, was more than just socially acquainted with the smith’s apprentice. For many years the two shared a warm friendship. Having heard John was back at work, she greatly wished to reacquaint herself with his charming company. Additionally, assuming John must be struggling with countless looks of horror, she was determined to offer up her most gracious smile. Convinced, as well, she could manage to converse with this fine man, without the urge to offer solace for his, terribly unfortunate, disfigurement. Of this Jeannine was sure, poor John must be sick to the gills of hearing, over and again, uncomfortable gestures of consolatory repartee. She would treat her good friend with the exact same equanimity she had ever since they first met. Herein lies the true compassionate spirit of the lovely Jeannine."

"Reaching the bend, as foretold by the babbling call of Greenback brook, the young girl threw back the musty tarp, then ceremoniously popped her head from behind the apple bushel. Gleefully, dear Jeannine announced her presence. Martin, nonplussed, initiated the chorus of traditional admonishment."

"From the perspective of our darling heroine, countless deliveries, as well, the endless tedium of chores needing attention, proved agonisingly slow. Thirty-eight burlap bags of apples unloaded by idle minded shop boys. Assorted garden produce dealt to Mr. Bentley, the market monger. The price of each individual legume haggled fervently over, all the while Mr. Bentley patiently iterating to Martin, price is a matter of principal not coinage sir. Followed by Mrs. Jenny Watson, the town seamstress, who insisted Jeannine, try on countless ball dresses. Each, more adorned than the previous, all far less comfortable than the riding britches and blouse she would have preferred." 

"The penultimate task was the excruciatingly long visit with Mr. Twinning. Know by all, as the chatty cobbler, Mr. Twinning proved the closest human rendition a magpie incarnate. Really, it was quite a fantastic surprise the gesticulating cobbler managed to complete even a small portion of a workday." 

"Finally, the last hollow clip clop of the horse’s shoes echoed forth from intertwined stones underfoot. Replacing the signalling cadence of cobbled terrain, was the softer, greatly muted sound, afforded by a clay laden country road. Leaving the bustling marketplace proved such a relief for our young Jeannine. Next stop, the smithy. The dear girl knew a visit with John was a mere two miles distant. With heart pounding, stomach notched so high in her thorax it appealed to her breastbone, Jeannine attended each pace with a building anxiety. We are told, the late afternoon sun gently spanked their back as the loaded wagon ambled along, ever so slowly, navigating the bend onto Smithy road."

Chapter 4, Misadventure at the Smithy…

"Jeannine, ashamedly realising her curiosity had been piqued to the point of pondering how dastardly would John’s scarred face prove to be, tensed as the smithy came to view. There it was, cosily nestled behind the cloister of well heeled Maple trees. The smithy shed itself was a loggia, adjunct to the Blacksmith’s main house. Remarkable really, how much production the two men were capable of accommodating from such confined quarters. Steeling herself as the wagon came to a quiet halt, Jeannine upon disembarking noted, with a modicum of relief if truth be known, John’s face was concealed by his position in the back of the shop. Billowing steam, accompanied by a fervent sizzle, betrayed John hard at work bathing a semi molten horseshoe in the old cast iron tub."

"John, somewhat a connoisseur of horse and wagon sounds, knew exactly who had arrived proximal to the gnarly old oak guarding the smith front door. Regardless of his ability to astutely collect intelligence, John had no idea whether, or not, the secret love of his life had, on this specific occasion, attended her father. During the entire year of his convalescence," 

"John had effectively hidden himself on the family farm. The very few instances John had cause to visit town, his mixed feelings about his ghastly appearance were far too many to comprehend. His dear mother, Bernice, was heard to remark, how she was convinced John’s most prolific and agonising emotion was one of shame." 

"Who can tell how the mind works?" 

"Fear, embarrassment, resentment, disgust, anger, sorrow, perhaps even revilement, are emotions one could understand. But shame, poor lad, what ever in the world would create an incomprehensible response to a tragedy which had so innocently befallen this gentle giant."

"How is your brandy William?"

"Just fine Grandpa, please don't keep me in suspense, what happens next?"

"Well, my boy, as the story goes, the smithy was normally a cacophony of din. However, I have been lead to believe, in this uneasy moment between the couple, the entire shop appeared quieter than the dessert itself. Truly, the still was so complete, a pin dropping would have left an audible impression in the thick air. Marcus, the aging blacksmith, Jeannine, her Pa, and of course, our young John, all understood well the gravity of this imminent moment of physical reckoning. Without the need for words, all present comprehended the unspoken truth. These two lovely souls had been in love for quite some time. No one might utter this inadmissible fact. Especially considering how caste dictated absolute separation of the two classes." 

"Point not to be missed, was that a lady of her stature should offer nothing more to a smith apprentice than a polite hello. Certainly, she should no know, nor imagine, his Christian name. Regardless of assumed decorum, even an inattentive, distracted child, would have discerned, from the lover’s eyes alone, their true loving feelings."    

"Breaking the unbearable silence, Jeannine mustered up the courage to utter a squeaky hello. Dealing with unmanageable stress, the gesture, an octave or two higher than her usual melodic carefree tone, betrayed the full extent of her emotional turmoil."

"Good afternoon Marcus, then, ever so slight a pause, John."

"What many people do not know of blacksmiths William, is their incredible penchant for identifying subtle nuances of sound. Truth be known, the creative brilliance of a forger is a function of combining four essential skills; a keen intellect, which gives rise to the knowledge of metals and their metallurgical properties. Deftness of hand, so that the smith may temper the application of brute strength. The eyes of an eagle, to afford him the ability to discern the smallest of colour variations in molten iron as it cools. Finally, excellent hearing, so that the forger may identify the changing conditions of the steel as the pounding hammer cures raw material against an unyielding anvil."    

"Marcus and John’s ears both quickly ceased upon Jeannine’s inner turmoil. To which, Marcus uncomfortably nodded a welcome hello to the young girl. John, with his back to the group, stewed in obvious agony. Poor Marcus, ill equipped he was with social decorum. If he would have mustered the compunction to, at the very least, forge some sort of accustomed audible reply, the pressure his poor young apprentice was under could have been somewhat alleviated." 

"Martin, as well might have chirped in with a comment or two to lighten the load resting upon the shoulders of this young couple. Such was not the case. Dumb silence quickly filtered back into the tight smithy quarters, leaving Jeannine’s valiant effort at relaxed communication, floundering as a ship might in a gale force wind."

"Sweat poured from dear John’s brow. Much like our lovely Jeannine had immensely fretted over this occasion. John, during his year of rehabilitation, had quietly run countless scripts of this eventual meeting through his mind in hopeful preparation. His ultimate desire of course was to, somehow, find the courage to just survive the first few syllables. Alas, with the moment weighing infinitely heavy upon his consciousness, John found himself frozen, completely unable to speak nor move. Tears started streaming down his carbon streaked cheek, further embroiling him in utter despair.     
Incomprehensibly, it was Jeannine who mustered he courage to, once again, create balance for the wayward four. Directing her voice firmly toward John. She remarked, with stunning equanimity." 

"I imagine you are ever so happy to be back in the smithy John."

"The renewed vigour of Jeannine’s unimaginable courage pushed John to action. His feet, frozen as if in a block of ice, still would not respond. However, he did manage to twist his torso and cock his head in such a manner he offered Jeannine a complete view of his face. Additionally, he managed to utter the briefest of reply."

"Yes, Jeannine, it is very much a pleasure. The comment, somehow oozing from the depth of inconsolable agony, was, staggeringly unforgettable." 

"Imagine the scene, dear William. Drool, mixing with salty tears, on the tapestry of John’s, work stained gnarled face provided all with a level of horror one could scarcely believe possible." A tear falling from William’s eye accompanied a whispered reply. 

"My goodness Grandpa, poor John, I can’t imagine how he managed." 

"Indeed, William, nor can I, replied Richard, equally affected by his own tale." 

"As I am sure you can appreciate William, there was to be found in the cadence of John’s reply, no chance at casualness. If anything, the last few agonising seconds of this exchange proved an absolute horror for all involved. Jeannine, who long since lost all hope of maintaining the rehearsed even keeled freshness of which she imagined herself capable, reeled as she caught view of John’s face. In fact, she fared far worse than the rumours of town girls, who, confronted with John’s visage in passing, fervently reached for their essence. Jeannine’s failure to appreciate fully the nature of John’s disfigurement, proved her undoing."

"The poor girl audibly gasped. One hand to her mouth, the other, blindly reaching for the steadying support of a wall which was, unfortunately, a few feet further back. In the absence of a solid structure to support her weight, dear Jeannine succumb to gravity. Her world seemed to take on a surreal attitude, silence punctuated her nauseous grief. Ever so slowly, as if in a dream, the landscape of the room changed as perception was being transformed from the vertical, to the horizontal." 

"Yes indeed, as you might imagine William, our story relates how our dear Jeannine, who merely hours ago had been so confident in retaining her composure, in the heat of the moment quickly lost use of her legs. Then, without warning or pause, the young girl utterly collapsed in a heap onto the stone floor."

"Martin, who had tried his best to catch his daughters fall, soon found himself nestling the young girl's blood-stained head in his abundant lap. Successfully searching Jeannine’s dress for her tiny bottle of essence, Martin proceeded to wave the tiny vial back and forth under her nose. Finally, Jeannine regained consciousness. Although shock and shame engulfed John, he too found himself by Jeannine’s side, stroking her hair as, unannounced to himself, tiny droplets of drool wet the young girls neck."

"Whence the young lass finally regained her senses, she bore witness to the uncanniest portrait."

"Marcus, standing half bent, open jaw catching flies, offered up a look of grave concern. Her father, with Jeannine's head in his lap, frantically waving a vial of essence back and forth. Finally, her dear John, a look of horror on his disfigured face."

"The despair John suffered in that moment lead to a visage even more profoundly untoward than the glimpse which invoked her collapse. Oddly, Jeannine found the presence of John by her side, in this critical time of need, to be comforting. John’s face, captured her attention ever so completely. So much was her fixation, all other aspects of the jaded panorama faded from her purview. His single tearful eye, Jeannine would later recount, held more love than she thought existed in the entire world."

"Dear John’s face, sullied by the carbon of a sooty workday, was hither and tither streaked somewhat clean from the rivulets of sweat. Eerily, the portrait of his face reminded Jeannine of the day, her and her Pa, sat on the ridge at Beckham’s Bay overlooking the series of wagon trails which, haphazardly, weaved in and out of the coal ravaged landscape below. This remarkable man’s face, scarred as was the landscape, proved unforgettable. Pathways of sweat punctuating the dark milieu, how much misfortune has given rise to this mesmerising look." 

"Although much sweat had contrived to provide this matrix of facial pathways. Jeannine realised, the single, most obvious, streak which lead from John’s good eye down to the lower part of his massive jaw, had been created by what she understood to represent a steady stream of tears. The young girl knew, his tears had been quietly shed the previous moment as the big man, ashamed of his disfigurement. remained frozen behind the task of bathing his work. Witnessing this residue of torrential weeping, unequivocally bore witness to Jeannine how very much he loved her, as well, how terribly agonising these last few moments must have been for the poor man." 

"The incredulous moment the group shared on the cool smithy floor was punctuated by a single drop of drool approaching her cheek. From Jeannine's perspective, all was captured in slow motion, including the descending drool, appearing as a raindrop frozen by the mechanics of a slow-motion camera not yet invented. Perhaps, Jeanine came to the clear realisation she had the power to love this impeccable man the very moment John’s saliva made inevitable contact with her milky white cheek."

"So, it was William, born from this fantastical turn of unusual events was a love affair which forever changed the lives of all those present. More than the initial impact upon the participants, each of us, fortunate enough to witness this tale, receive a palpable lesson in redefining what love really should represent."

"Oh, my Grandpa, I can’t even begin to imagine how much turmoil must have been running through their minds." 

"Tell me, what happened next!"

"Well my dear boy, the story, like life itself, took turns no one could have predicted. It would be worth noting, William, caste conscious times of yore in England were not as they presently are here in Canada. To say the least, the dubious scene, as we left it, was far from acceptable to people of the time. The great injustice which had been levied upon all, was the unapproachable fact, our hero John should never, in a million years, have found himself hovering about our fair maiden." 

"Compounding the misery of this awkward situation, was the inconvenient truth, dear John, was actually touching Jeannine. Unbridled concern for her well being is one thing. However, to so casually traipse over accepted boundaries of decorum in such a malicious way. Well dear boy, inconceivable, is a word which would only barely betray the gravity of such a moment. From this most illegitimate state of affairs, one could only be left to reason, sanity itself had been fractured in the minds of all parties present."


Chapter 5, Marcus the Mouse…

"Like a balloon being filled beyond capacity, the inevitable roar of release was just about to facilitate the processing of this unimaginable scene. "Jeannine’s visage, already ashen, appeared yet another shade of white as she slowly gathered her wits. Unravelling the enigma, like a pin penetrating the latex balloon which came to represent this experience, Jeannine, somehow, managed to blurt out."  

"By the grace of the heavens John, what on earth are you doing?"

"Remarkably, Marcus, who I might add, was not known for a quick pace, was the first participant to react. His agape jaw, snapped shut with such vigour and authority a noticeable click of his large, yellowing teeth, was heard to all. Immediately following this understandable dental report, was a squeak so high pitched it surely could not have been emitted from a man of his ilk."

"But it was!"

"The sound, so incredulous, deserves a snippet of an addendum to our story, William." 

"The reason this adjunct is worthy of note, is in the fact Marcus absolutely refused to admit he had uttered the sound. No one can say for sure what Marcus might have truly believed in his heart of hearts. However, none, lest of all Marcus, were ever allowed to forget his incredibly uncommon vocal release. For William, any bard or town folk who later recounted the event, would playfully interject into their rendition of the story, how Martin had confronted Marcus a week later whilst the two were consuming ale in Flaherty’s pub." 

"Apparently. As the story goes, Marcus, who I remind you was not quick witted, had been so uncomfortable with his behaviour that he had verily prepared a rehearsed retort to what he knew would be Martin’s inevitable query. Here is how they say the brief conversation unravelled."

"Jeannine and I could not help but notice, dear Marcus, how shortly after the loud chatter of your jaw snapping shut, there did emit from within your body, a squeal of such high frequency it led me to believe your dear daughter Elizabeth must have bore witness to the unsteady event." 

"Of course, Marcus, Elizabeth was not to be found. What say you to this, most strange, folly?"

"It was a mouse, uttered the red-faced Marcus!"

"A what Marcus?" 

"Are you suggesting a mouse, so shocked by this unfortunate event, had squealed?"

"Of course not, retorted the irritated Marcus, that would be foolish."

"Pray tell Marcus, how should this mouse then become so embroiled in our tale?"

"I stepped on it, replied Marcus. I stepped on the mouse as I reeled backward." 

"Somehow turning a deeper colour of red, one akin to an over ripe tomato. Marcus sternly uttered his final word."

"Surely, you saw me step back in shock?"

"Giving his good friend the required out, Richard acceded with a coy smile." 

"Certainly, Marcus, I did take note of the unbalanced retreat of which you mention."

"From that very moment forward, William, our dear burly blacksmith Marcus was festooned with a new moniker. One of which, we should carefully note was never mentioned in his presence."

"Would you like to venture a guess William as to what the town folk now used as Marcus’s new name?"

"Surely Gramps, it was ‘Marcus the Mouse’."

"Precisely William, indeed it was."

"I digress, but not without affable cause." (Broad smile breaks both their faces)

"The second person to react to Jeannine’s statement of incredulity was her cherished father Martin. Of course, I beseech you remember dear boy, Martin had charged himself with the task of holding Jeannine’s head in his lap while frantically waving her vial of essence to and fro. The delicate chore, we can assume, he undoubtedly managed with infinite care and capacity."

"Yet, upon hearing his daughter’s refrain, he, like Marcus, ceremoniously snapped into the reality of the moment. Although failing to accommodate us with a memorable squeak, Martin did react in an oddly unexpected manner. He leapt back, placing one hand to his mouth in shock. In doing so, Martin forsake the care of his dear Jeannine. The repercussions of this reaction, of course, unexpectedly left sweet Jeannine’s head without support. So it was reported by all who care to know, there was the tiniest of thud as her head again reached out to the waiting stone floor."     

"Alas, finally, our dear John, the last to respond to quickly changing events, was awakened by the absence of Jeannine’s head, of which, he no longer had available to his, most inappropriate, but very loving, caress. He too jumped back in shock, it was obvious to all, he knew not of his actions, nor of his reactions. He cringed in utter dismay."

"So sorry mi’ lady, uttered John. I am so sorry mi’ lady, please excuse my terrible behaviour."

"Awkwardly retreating, turning his back to, the now completely abandoned, Jeannine. He furtively looked over his broad shoulder."

"How could you ever forgive me touching you so?"

"How can I forgive myself?"

"Tears blushing anew from his lonesome eye, poor John exited the smithy in shocked, absolute, disarray. Big John never did return to the smithy that day. Word has it, he had even rebuffed the visit of a concerned Marcus who attended his home late the subsequent morning. In fact, it was only a compassionate visit paid to him by Martin two days hence, which had convinced big John to remain in the village. Further, more persuasive, conversation was required to convince John of his worthiness to reacquaint himself with his position as blacksmith assistant."

Chapter 6, The Power of Love…

"There is great value in offering up the ordeal of that terrible bizarre afternoon. For, in recording the event, we also lay a foundation for how absolutely difficult, as well, incomprehensibly unusual, was the journey ahead for our smitten love birds. Yes, William, hard as it is to imagine, the two did embark upon a rocky path toward a blissfully enduring marital union. Their pairing, a testimonial so remarkable, the story sings out in this frosty night a reminder to us both of how powerful love can be. Their battle, against all odds William, was forged not from the incredible strength and fortitude of John. Rather, it was the constitution of our darling heroine Jeannine which created, from a dream, reality."

"As anyone of the time would inform us. The role of John, if he were a proper man, would be to absolutely rebuff any advances from a woman of Jeannine’s station. Truth be known, the more a man should find himself in love with a woman so far beyond his means, the more steadfast he should be in shunning her advances. You see William, if a man like John were to find himself embroiled in a love affair or union with a woman such as Jeannine, he would, in turn, be destroying her life, as well, that of her entire family."

"It just was not proper for a lady to lower herself in such a way. Her duty to family, additionally to her own legacy, would be to discover love in the arms of a man who is of her equal. Preferably, she should seek a man of slightly higher social standing, in doing so, raise the prominence of the family name, thereby, enhancing the wealth and prestige of all family members."

"It should also be further noted, William, we are only speaking to Jeannine’s desires, not her capacity. For the choice of who she would wed rested, as was legal practice in those times, firmly in her father’s hands. It was however understood, a good, loving father, might first consider consulting with his child her feelings in the matter of matchmaking. In such cases of kind consideration, a father might listen to the pleas of a daughter, only if, she has sought out a husband of both reputable, social and financial standings befitting her drawing capacity." 

"Often was the case, the mother would petition upon the husband in favour of her child, with the hope loving relations might be possible. Most of the time however, the father would simply broker an arrangement, then, in a matter of fact way, inform his wife and child of his findings. Conversely, no matter how capricious a young girl may be, the law does emphatically state, she must yield to her father’s wish."

"Regardless of decorum, expectation, demands of a young lady’s station, or even the law, the lovely Jeannine had set her heart upon the task of securing for herself the one man of which she knew was destined by Eros to be her betrothed."

"If asked at the time, why John?"

"Believe me, my dear boy, over the weeks and months ahead from the fateful day at the smithy until her walk down the aisle, many did pose the very question, a query all bards would confirm the entire county had been secretly or overtly offering. Truth be told, William, be it a close friend, her mother, the parish priest, or countless other justly concerned souls, a logical answer was never forthcoming. Each time dear Jeannine faced a consoling or demanding comment, she would iterate her only defence." 

"Here, pointing emphatically to her heart, John Hilton is the only man for me. I will marry John, or I will die trying!" 

"Such was the fortitude of her conviction, not a person could, in any way, diminish her resolve.
There is a beautiful phrase we should often remember, fortune favours the brave. Certainly, no one would argue, the beautiful Jeannine proved of infinitely brave stock. The fortune, of which I might add was absolutely essential to her success, was to be found in the only person who loved her as much as John. This person was, of course, her father Martin. For, his blessings represented the sunshine required for this beautiful relationship to blossom."

"Love, William, is a most amazing emotion. No subject has captivated the collective mind of humanity as has love. The emotion is so very powerful our species would not survive long in its absence. Over the years I have noticed, William, your penchant for science. Let me tell you of a scientific fact you might find interesting. We humans have two core emotions, love and fear. When we express fear, our DNA collapses, just like a shrinking accordion. Conversely, when we express love, our DNA expands to its utmost potential."  

"I find your assertion hard to believe Gramps, is it true, or just in support of the story?"

"Look it up my boy, every living organism on this earth responds in exactly the same way. Love is the single, most important, ingredient in evoking the ultimate potential of all life. If it has DNA, it is living, if it lives, then love is the elixir. Think about how love and fear make you feel William." 

"When you are afraid of something, don’t you feel your body contract?"

"Well, if you put it that way, sure, I would definitely agree."

"Now, was it not you who told me earlier that the love Beth shares with you makes you feel like you can conquer any challenge?"

"I think you are right Grandpa, Just out of interest, I will look it up on the Internet, but I am sure I already know what I will discover. You know Gramps, I never thought much about love, it just sort of happens. It’s kind of like breathing, it is essential to our life, but we tend to take it for granted. I guess, we feel this way because it is always there, on tap if you will."

"Ah, so now you are starting to get the purpose of this tale dear William. Your simile is an interesting one. Love can be a lot like ale dispensed from the spigot of a reliable pub owner, undeniably it is always, as you put it, on tap. However, dear boy, just because it is ever present, in no way does it mean we will remain present enough to fill our glass. Big John knew this, which is why he developed a plan to always keep his love for Jeannine in the forefront of his mind."    
"Speaking a little more about the essence of love. There is another interesting observation I wish to personally share with you William. Love is magical! The nature of our world is as such, when we use something, or give it away, the commodity becomes diminished in scope. Simple observation assures us William, the more we consume, the less of the consumable we have at our disposal. Even things which are vital to our survival, air, food, water, in certain circumstances, can be rendered unavailable, used up. Try as you might to determine a commodity which deviates from this golden rule of diminishing return, William, you will discover, everything in our reality can, in one way or another, be rendered finite. Except of course, love."

"The more we attempt to deplete love by giving it away, the more we discover we have. If love were like water in a well, William, the more we draw from the well, the fuller it would become. Unlike the simile of a tap full of ale, love is ubiquitous. Wherever we look, we find love is present. There is absolutely no situation, locale, or moment in our lives, when love is not awaiting our embrace." 

"William, if this is not magic, dear boy, I don’t know what is." 

"To top it all off, it’s free. Love does not cause us to become tired as we consume it or give it to another being. In fact, it does the opposite, it invigorates both the giver and receiver. Love does not require our time to collect or dispense its magic, instantly, it arrives or is given. Love does not take up space, therefore, we find no need to limit its use."

"Tell me William, is there anything you can imagine which is more magical than love?"

"Wow Grandpa, I never thought of love in these terms. The beautiful way you talk about love, it makes me feel so rich."

"You are rich William, this is also how both Martin and Jeannine felt about the importance of love. They both knew how status, caste consciousness, reputation, money, wagging tongues, or any such silly consideration was irrelevant when compared to the magical qualities of love."

"You know Gramps, I have to admit, for all my life, I have taken love for granted. I have failed to honour it, respect its power, value its importance to my well being. It also makes me think twice about how important love is for Beth and I to cherish every day of our lives." 
"Dear boy, hearing you speak like this brings tears to these old eyes. It seems like you are learning a great deal from our conversation. In fact, William, I believe there came a time when John felt the same as you do now, which is why he chose to also honour love by ensuring he kept it in the forefront of his mind, each and every day.?

"So, you see, dear William, in bucking the law, her mother, family, friends and even her entire community, our darling Jeannine certainly had a most difficult path ahead. However, it is my guess, it was love which gave her, as well, her deal father Martin, the strength to persevere where so many others likely would have surrendered." 

"Now, much as many a raconteur has well illustrated the details of this arduous journey toward the altar. For fear we would find ourselves tipping an empty brandy bottle in the wee hours of morning light William, we serve ourselves well to cut short this part of the tale. Additionally, I remind you William, it is our quest to further investigate the character of John Hilton as it relates to his ability to forge, within his darling Jeannine, a love so strong she would move heaven and earth to stand by his side. Few would argue, William, there are countless tales of great men who have moved mountains to win the love of a woman beyond their means. Yet, rare indeed, is the story of how a man might conduct himself in such a way as to eternally stoke the fires of love, in doing so, mark himself as a man of record."  

"Grandpa, before you go on, I noticed you alluding to how John had ensured he keep love in the forefront of his mind. However, you never did mention exactly how he managed the task. You see, I ask because, knowing how all my life I have neglected to appreciate love, I would hate to think, somehow I might end up falling back into old habits."

"William, you are such an intelligent man. It does so warm my heart to share this tale. Happenstance has it William, you are one step ahead of the story line. Grab that bottle over there son, fill up our glasses with a tot more brandy. I will toss a few more logs on the fire, then we will let John answer your question."

Chapter 7, John… a man of record…

"Alas, my dear lad, having peeked into the essence of these fine characters, we now find ourselves somewhat equipped to approach the central lesson afforded us by the good John Hilton. In order to find the core of John’s deep affection for Jeannine, we need to go back in time William. Back we will go to when he was only fourteen years of age, which was, for your record keeping, about three years prior to John acquiring the position of smith assistant."

"More than anything in the world, John dearly loved Jeannine. Yet, he knew, even if she reciprocated his feelings, there would never be a chance the two could become good friends, let alone, wed. During their childhood years, the time she had spent with John was already well beyond what society deemed acceptable. Brief as their many encounters had been, John knew it was only due to Jeannine’s compassionate good nature, that he was so often blessed by her presence. Truth be told William, John had secretly fallen in love with Jeannine when he was in his twelfth year, which was about five years after they had first met. John never forgot the first day he clapped eyes on the lovely Jeannine."

 "The memorable moment of their first meeting was to be found in the bosom of a hot July morning. Having finished the family chores, his father allowed him time to head down to Mc Gregor’s pond for a spot of trout fishing. Now William, it serves us well to note, they did not have rods, reels and hooks back then. Instead of conventional fishing gear, a small seine net was cast across the pond. Then, after waiting for it to corral some fish, the seine would be carefully drawn back to shore.  This fine morning proved a great success as John took note of six fish flopping about the tangled mesh. One fine specimen he spied, was a rather large Brown trout perhaps six or seven pounds. Just at the very moment of inspection, Jeannine and her father were approaching in the family wagon. Slowly, the wagon came to a stop, proximal to the young lad Jeannine and her Pa disembarked. The sun, John remembered well, caught hold of young Jeannine’s beautiful blond hair."

"The catch of light upon her golden locks offered up an angelic appearance. Speaking deeper to her beauty, John recalled how her smile lit up the entire countryside. Finally, the elegance of her posh voice, left little doubt she was a young lady of considerable merit." 

"Fond memories, indeed etched into the young boy's mind. However glorious, at this tender age he hardly considered her beauty with a yearning or lustful eye. It would prove later in his childhood this warm memory embraced, within the boy’s loins, the elegant beauty of the fateful moment. The three spent a good five minutes together. Mostly, with John standing proud over his catch. Her father ogling the tasty looking Brown. Whilst Jeannine idly picked tiny wild flowers, completely oblivious to why the two should find cause to drool over a catch of stinky, slimy, fish."

"When he was a younger boy, John allowed himself the reckless indulgence of imagining, somehow, their obviously deep social connection would blossom into a courtship, then materialise in marriage. John entertained all kind of successful relationship scenarios, the most common of which included him becoming rich enough to cart her off to a far away land."

"By his mid teens, John came to terms with the folly of wistful thinking. Deep in his heart of hearts, the young man knew a possible match between the two star struck lovers was entirely out of their grasp. Any silly attempt to forge a destiny in contrast to her father’s wishes would result in a tragic outcome for himself, Jeannine, as well, her entire family."

"Knowing where he stood in the grand scheme of proper dating etiquette did little, if anything, to cure him of the love sickness he seemed relegated to quietly bear. Realising the no win situation meant he would always be on the outside looking in, John decided to create an outlet for his, ill considered, feelings of love. Many bitterly cold winter months had passed, still John failed in deciding how this outlet, aimed at providing inner peace, should manifest. Often, he thought how unfortunate the cold did nothing to quell the love burning a hole in the pit of his soul."

"One spring morning, with the birds and wildlife pairing up for a summer of love, dear John found himself ploughing the back field. He always loved the chore of ploughing, it allowed him time to separate himself from the world just enough to sort out solutions for the many little problems life seemed to dish onto his plate."

"John, with plough in hand, idly pondered a way in which he might better process his unquenched desires. With each passing day, more and more, John knew himself to represent a great dam. Held back by this mighty dam was an enormously unruly river of love. Difficult as the task was, John very much understood, if he truly loved Jeannine he must hold fast against the stress of the untamed river. The problem, he comprehended all too well, was in knowing there would surely come a day when his inner fortitude might release. Poor John, even at the tender age of fifteen, certainly did not want to imagine what might be the fall out of such a day. Wanting desperately to develop a way to sequester his ever growing, un harvestable love, John further pondered the insurmountable challenge of how to best change his life for the better."

"The outlet I use," Thought John, "is the key to my peace of mind." 

"He knew, all dams must have flood gates. For, without to ability to allow the controlled release of pent up energy, disaster would surely follow. He, at first assumed time would heal his infatuation. Likely, he would fall in love with another of the many lovely town girls, in doing so gain relief. Certainly, John was not oblivious to the many fancy looks received from the young blushing lasses he often passed in town. Nor were his ears so plugged he could not gather the giggles and deliberately, accidental, comments of admiration which managed safe passage to his psyche. Alas, regardless of how many fine girls looked his way, poor John was never able to eradicate the ever-pressing river which was Jeannine. If anything, each month which passed seemed to assure him incapable of managing his desires without losing his mind."

"With the plough cutting a fresh path into the waiting soil, John absently scratched the dilemma."

"What should this outlet do?"

"First and foremost, he wanted the ability to funnel his love into something tangible. John felt confident he would discover the perfect living creature with which he could quietly use as a way to honour his love for Jeannine.  He did not wish for it to be a mental construct. Somehow, John knew only a physical distraction would suffice. Most importantly, John wanted the outlet to last many years, in this way, he could rely on the solution providing a constant soothing balm. Finally, he thought this outlet should remain close at hand so, when his feelings did boil over, he might handily open or close the floodgate as required."

"Further mulling over the enigma, yet another dozen or so rows tilled, a plan slowly took form in the young man’s mind. The family had just purchased a handsome cow, he would name her Jeannine then love and care for the cow as if it were his dearest. Although, at first feeling comfortable with the idea, John soon brushed it aside the moment he realised the cow would, in time, be put to death. He smiled a little, thinking of how milking the cow would also represent a suggestive, conflicting image. Carrying the visual of milking Jeannine to its ultimate conclusion, John could not help but laugh out loud. No, the young man thought, my dearest Jeannine could not be represented as a cow. Moving on to other farm animals, he dismissed each flourishing idea with a near equal sense of comedy."

"Teasing the original idea, a little more urgently, John offered serious consideration for renaming his horse. He thought, the constant currying, love and care he afforded his horse would likely prove an appropriate surrogate. Thinking how the horse was already seven, John realised it too would offer a lifespan all too short. Additionally, sly grin coming to his face, I do ride her and would surely love to ride the beautiful Jeannine. Toothy grin, turned quickly to a bashful blush as the thought was quietly dashed. Finally, putting the animal kingdom to its appropriate resting place, John considered a dog. He could acquire a pup, then care for her with the greatest of love. Then, thought John, what about when the bitch bred? The young man knew his love of Jeannine surely could not be represented by a dog. Restlessly, he came to the uneasy conclusion an animal, of any ilk, would not suffice."

"Although no closer to a solution, John felt comforted by the thought he was on the right path. With barely two rows left to till, urgency crept upon our young lad. Then, out of the blue, as if straight from heaven, the answer came to him. You, yes you, my mighty Oak. You would be a perfect vassal for my love. Excitement slightly dimmed as he realised this enormous tree required little loving care, indeed, its ability to grow demanded no attention at all. I want a tree that would wither in the absence of my love. One which would require constant care, thoughtful attention, a tree which needs me as much as I need it."

"Arriving at the perfect solution, John excitedly screamed out, eureka, I' have the answer! I will make myself a garden, a special honoured patch of land. In this garden, there will be no fruit, vegetables, flowers, nor anything one might find in an average garden. The center of this beautifully cared for garden there will dwell a seedling of a tree. Daily, I will care for this tree. I will nurture it, adore it's beauty, make this snippet of God’s creation a sight to behold. No one will know the secret place the special tree, named Jeannine, holds in my heart. None will have any clue as to how all the love I have for Jeannine will, instead be forwarded to this lovely creature." 

"The last row tilled, John took Mavis to the barn for a well-deserved currying. Moments later, chatting with his good friend as he gently caressed her head, John admitted, I am surely glad we won’t be calling you Jeannine. Spying the milk cow in the adjacent stall, he opened his mouth to say something to her, then replaced the gesture with an appropriate belly laugh. Truth be told, from that day forward, each time Bessy’s teats were in John’s big calloused hands, he would think of his beloved Jeannine, remember this day, then laugh aloud."

Chapter 8, John… “The Handsome Gardener”

"So it came to pass, dear William, our loving John, after significant consideration, decided upon a sapling Cherry tree. In the end, it was the lovely spring blossoms, amazingly tasty fruit, and his love of the tree’s delicate beauty, which convinced big John there could be no better representation of his undying love for Jeannine." 

"Before one month had passed, with spring only beginning to replace the will of old man winter, young John had created his special garden. From John's perspective, the process of building the shrine was divinely inspiring. Carefully tracking down the perfect Cherry tree specimen. Followed by the pleasure of tilling a patch of land fifty feet by fifty feet. Whereupon, at the precise center of the new garden was tenderly planted the tiny, unyielding, sprout of life named Jeannine." 

"John’s mother queried the entire process in her mind. However, deferring to her boy’s role as man of the family, quietly accepted this, most unusual, indulgence. Lovingly situated in plain view of the large drawing room window, there stood, in all her glory, the tiniest representation of our beautiful Jeannine."

"During the course of a long, earth scorching summer, well into autumn, John cared for his dear Jeannine. Most every night, he would be found in the center of this grand garden, speaking to his love in subdued tones. When the morning sun would break upon a new day, most certainly prior to all his chores, John would be doting upon his loving charge. Sure, his behaviour was considered a bit weird, especially for a man so young. Without question, tongues were beginning to wag, curiosity piqued. None the less, our young hero held true to his course." 

"Secret as was the endeavour John undertook, none of the town folk had any idea how blissfully comforting the process of was attending his little Cherry tree. With each visit to the sacred garden, the floodgate opened a little, thereby giving John relief. With winter fast approaching, John created a burlap cover, mulched in added fertilizer, then carefully prepared his darling Jeannine for the long winter ahead. John’s mother, Bernice, had, on occasion, inquired as to what should be the rot of this uncanny relationship he had with this tree. Each query, was either casually rebutted, or a wisp of an explanation was proffered, leaving poor Bernice no closer to her quarry."

"Bernice, certain the imminent snow would alleviate her son's odd behaviour, was soon shocked. To her further bewilderment, young John refused to permit the snow to cover the sapling or any of the two hundred and fifty square feet of spotless garden. Most evenings, with snow banks surrounding his garden, young John would be found sitting on a log as he chatted with the tiny Cherry sapling. Straining an ear, Bernice could almost hear the young boy, in muted tones, communicating his love."

"Getting accustomed to his unusual ways, this first winter of odd unrest, proved to stir the entire community to talk. Poor boy, thought most. Prodding and tugging at his mother for explanation proved, to the quizzical town folk, of no use whatsoever. In the end, it was assumed, dear John, had missed his dead father so much, he turned to this little tree for solace. Those who failed to accept the assumed premise for the young man’s strange behaviour, quietly, in some cases openly, asserted the poor fellow surely was losing his mind. For shame, most thought, he is such a loving and caring young man, always at the ready to aide neighbour or stranger alike."

"Two years of nurturing the relationship with his arboreal Jeannine, which, most residents agreed constituted rather odd behaviour, dear John had found firmly attached to his identity a new moniker." 

"The Handsome Gardener"

"Although a moniker of such was far from unkind, nothing like “Mick, the bat eared barkeep”, or “William, the ferret nosed, Johnson” or with ever present grin “Marcus the mouse”, John knew he was fortunate his new name did belie an unwanted curiosity. Be it from an inability to extricate themselves from the confines of an odd enigma, or just the way the river flows, the townsfolk held fast to John’s new identity. Even after he was promoted to smith assistant, whereupon, his new, respected, name should have been “John, the smith assistant, Hinton” the man was ever to be known as “John, the handsome gardener”. Equally odd as the name began, was the fact, in time it became known throughout the land as a title of infinitely special regard."  

"Of course, dear John, aware of the wagging tongues, could do nothing to offer assuage to the many budding concerns. In the end, the great relief provided by this unusual relationship, proved such a welcome treat, nothing on God’s green earth could deter him from continuing the special bond with little Jeannine."

"John’s secret remained in tact for three years. It was a warm spring morning when his secret was finally revealed. On the fateful day, John, having already suffered his untoward collision with Marcus’s anvil fodder, was well on the way toward a miraculous recovery. Bernice would later note, even when John was apparently struggling for live, he still made time for the little tree. Painful s
as it was for the young man, during the early weeks of recovery, he would struggle to find his feet. Slowly, he would muddle his way to the frozen plot, then sit quietly for hours talking to his beloved. His mother knew, difficult as the visits were to the tree, they proved an essential part of her son's recovery."

"During the aforementioned warm morning. Bernice, baking bread in the hearth, heard John loudly scream,

“Get out you damn beast, get the hell away from my Jeannine!” 

"As it were, a deer had wondered toward his beloved tree. Taking branch to mouth, it had snipped a tasty bud from the top of Jeannine. This careless act, set to blaze John's wrath. His immediate reaction was to spend a few loving moments with his dear tree. However, upon satisfying himself Jeannine would be none the worse for wear, the heated young man stormed to the barn. Bernice, soon witnessed, a fire in her son’s eye she had surely never seen before, nor after for that matter. Long bow in hand, quiver carelessly slung over his shoulder, John steamed his way out the yard. Within five minutes, he and the saddled Mavis tore across the meadow then disappeared into Kenton’s ravine."   

"Knitting together the depth of her son’s pain, tears streamed the cheek of our darling Bernice. After all this time, it proved John's unbridled, yet unapproachable love for a woman he could never have, which drove dear John to utter despair. Bernice wept for what seemed an eternity. Then, finding herself upon her knees, with warmth billowing from the hearth, she said a prayer for her dear boy."

"May God grant poor John the serenity to accept the things he cannot change."

"Later that evening, fresh venison, seasoned, then seared to perfection, provided nourishment for two tired, but very quiet, souls. The deer never had a chance. Bernice did spy a tear in the corner of John’s eye. Turned her head, then, with a fortitude she thought might not exist, held back tears of her own. Bernice never revealed her new-found secret until many years later. 

"Geez grandpa, your story is making me cry."

"I know, my boy, love is a powerful emotion."

"Getting back to our tale. John never, even for a day, abandoned his love of this beautiful Cherry tree. Without any doubt in my mind, William, the fateful day in the smithy when passion overruled decorum Jeannine saw the depth of John’s love in his, tear filled, solitary eye. This, awesome reflection of love petitioned Jeannine to ensure no obstacle would stand in the way of making John her betrothed. Such fortitude, commitment, dedication and uncontrollable love can never be denied."

"In the wake of Jeannine's determination to web John, the ground shook, walls trembled, everything in the little town of Liberty was about to come undone. Battle lines were drawn, sides were taken, tongues wagged with ferocious abandon. In the end, love prevailed. The two love birds wed almost one year to the day after the title 'Marcus the Mouse' was bestowed upon our dear blacksmith. It proved a gorgeous summer afternoon, the church overfilled with parishioners gawking with keen amusement as the lovely Jeannine proudly embraced the renowned and infinitely famous, Hinton name."

"Few in the village appreciated the gravity of the story. Undoubtedly, none comprehended how such an inconceivable union should be possible. Unfortunately, Jeannine’s mother never made it to the event. The trials and tribulations of the year preceding had taken their toll. Three months prior to the wedding, the beloved Evelyn, silently passed in her bed. She never understood her daughter, never knew love herself. Possibly, this was her only crime. For any mother surely would move heaven and earth to create for her child a loving, happy future. The entire town had showed up for dear Evelyn’s burial, as expected, whispered plaints were carefully muted. Hefty as the cost might have been, few would disagree, this too was the price exacted in the course of embracing true love."

Chapter 9, Love’s legacy… A legend is born…

"Although many town residents failed to comprehend the reason for such an unusual joining, it was not too long before it was readily apparent how very much in love these two beautiful souls were. The beauty and the beast, holding hands, smiling, whispering sweet nothings, walking in the garden, sitting at church arms always entwined. Tending to the many details of their lives, John and Jeannine left an indelible mark upon the community. Anyone, fortunate enough to personally know the couple, consistently proved a testimonial to a love which was incomprehensible, unquenchable, timely, eternal, absolutely unshakeable. Especially notable, was the love John had for his dear wife." 

"John went on to care for the lovely Jeannine, as well, their cherished Cherry tree, with an inner fortitude which was incredibly remarkable. Every waking moment which was not committed to work was dedicated to the absolute adoration of his beloved Jeannine. Not one day would pass where John was unable to find a way to let Jeannine know how much he loved her. Ladies of the community, who once laughed and scoffed at the misfortunes of Jeannine, soon came to covet the countless gifts she had been given."

"The gift of a loving embrace, a tender kiss, respect, honour, admiration, devotion, equality, too many others to mention. Gifts, which supersede any material possession. Treasures, well beyond the scope of any given moment. Maybe, the best description would be to call these daily offerings captured jewels of love, of which, Jeannine embraced for an eternity."

"Jeannine had always loved John. Truth be told, she confided in her closest friends the single event which solidified her resolve to marry the hulking smith was the moment she saw John hovering over her after she had passed out in the smith's shop. Regarding the Cherry sapling, she, like most town folk, thought the loss of his father had initiated the odd turn of affairs between john and his tree. When short sighted friends asked how she could abide his disfigurement, Jeannine would well up in tears. Those who mistakenly assumed her tears reflected personal distress obviously did not know she wept only due to the pain she knew John had quietly endured." 

"When asked why she loved John with such passion. Her response, aside from the fact he is a remarkable, attentive, amazing man, there are a few compelling reasons. Whenever John looks at me, I can see clearly the great depth of his love, a love I might add I have never seen within any person, before nor since. With John by my side, my heart soars, my pulse quickens, I know I am loved. Truly, I cannot help but smile because my love for him bursts forth like a river filling the sea." 

"John has a way of making me feel like a princess. When we are together his attention never wavers. Beautiful gestures small and large, each day John always ensures I know how much he loves me. When walking past, he lightly touches me. Each time I enter a room, his eyes light up as he heartily welcomes my presence. We each want to be loved, cherished, adored. With John in my life, I know I am special, appreciated and honoured. There are times I spy John as he quietly putters about his chores. His presence a mix of power and grace, his demeanor calm, loving. The best part of being John's wife might be when he holds me close. His scent, the ripples of his powerful chest and arms, the look of tenderness in his eye, these are golden moments when I know, this is my home, in his loving arms is where I belong."       

"Perfect as was Jeannine's world, the couple suffered a setback with the passing of her pa. Both John and Jeannine were deeply distressed by Martin's demise. Yet, in time, their love filled the void left by the loss of the family patriarch. Jeannine's family homestead, a manor of great standing, was willed to Jeannine. Considering her family home was much more accommodating than the small cottage they presently lived in with John's mother. The family agreed it would be best to move Bernice, John and herself to the grand manor. Servants, who had provided care to her father for many decades, were kept in the employ of the newly arrived family."

"What about the Cherry tree? Anxiously, piped up William."

"Glad you asked my boy." 

"The famous tree, eighteen years old at the time, was, after considerable expert attention relocated to the front yard of the great manor. Of course, the task of relocation was initiated only after John had prepared another two hundred and fifty square foot garden. In fact, the story is told, how it took the better part of two years for experts to finally convince John the tree could be safely moved. To be absolutely sure, John insisted the experts search out seven Cherry trees of similar age and size, then relocate them to a new location surrounding the manor. John emphatically stated, the caveat enabling the move should be that if even one of the relocated trees should die, then, the move to the manor would not happen. To which, I might add, both Bernice, as well, Jeannine, wholeheartedly agreed."

"To this very day, William, you can hop on Google to see the Hinton manor surrounded by glorious Cherry trees. If by chance you should take me up on the suggestion, please note, the town is no longer named Liberty. The town folk, surely enamoured with the will to rename any thing or any person according to circumstance of record, decided to rename their little town." 

"Do you want to guess the new name William?"

"Surely Grandpa you are now pulling my leg. In any regard, I will bite. They called it Cherry Grove, right?"

"No, I am not pulling your leg dear boy. The next time you are on the Internet, William, you can test my assertion. The new name of the town was not Cherry Grove. Verily, it was renamed Cherry Hinton."     

"The story of this loving couple, including the legend of the Cherry tree compelling as it is, might possibly have been forever lost in a fog of time if it were not for an off-hand conversation between the adorable Bernice and, of all people, a distraught servant girl. You see, shortly after Martin’s death from consumption fifteen years hence, the truth of the Cherry tree was laid bare by the after affects of a conversation between Bernice and a servant girl. Bernice, had the good fortune of living a very long life. Storytellers suggest, it was in Bernice’s sixty third year in which she found herself observing the trials of a young servant girl of no recorded name. For the benefit of our story, we will call the young girl Minnie."

"Funny how a handful of snow can be rolled into a great ball, the story of Minnie proved well this observation. You see William, Minnie loved a man named Burton, as well, it was plain for anyone to see dear Burton also cared greatly for the lovely Minnie. The problem being, Burton was white, whilst Minnie was of a darker persuasion. Uncanny, how our lovely Bernice should be saddled as witness to such a dilemma. Truth be told, Bernice believed that races should not blend. Breaking down barriers of caste was one thing. Yet, to consider the joining of a dark-skinned girl to a white man, well, at the time such a bond proved a leap not even the most liberal could consider."

"Time has a way of healing wounds. Also, as dear Bernice would discover, time can often result in changing opinions. So was the case for the lovely Bernice. Seeing how the two struggled to come to terms with their love, proved too difficult a reminder for the old woman to bear. Sitting alone in her room, she stewed at the problem as if a scab which could not be ignored. Dear Bernice, burned inside. During countless quiet moments of deep reflection, she found the courage to confront her bigotry. In holding a candle to her fears and ignorance Bernice came to an uncomfortable realisation of deep, unbearable, shame."   

"Bearing the shame in solitude, whilst suffering further the pain of heeding the couple’s plight, our dear Bernice relented. Not knowing how to react, but desperately wishing to breathe hope into the fire which was their stalled affair, Bernice came to a decision. Slightly intoxicated by Mulberry wine, she would take it upon herself to tell this young girl about the truth behind her son’s faux name. 

"The Handsome Gardener." 

"So, it came to pass, dear William, with teary eyes, our darling patriarch pulled Minnie aside on a cool winter eve. Finding herself, perhaps, a little too emotionally fatigued, she proudly decided to confide in this young servant girl the depth of John’s love."

"Minnie, the ever-faithful servant, responded to Bernice’s servant bell. Expecting to stoke the fire, reheat a water bottle or prepare some warm milk, Minnie was surprised to discover a teary Bernice beckoning her to the bedside. With grave concern, Minnie secretly prayed, the lovely lady, her favourite of all people, was hopefully not suffering pain or inconsolable distress."

"Urging Minnie to sit by her bedside, Bernice slowly related, to the ever-attentive Minnie, how the depth of John’s love turned the world upside down. Minnie, to say the least, was forever changed by the candor of the beautiful Bernice. Legend tells, how, as time progressed, Minnie never could spy the Cherry tree out front without tears streaming down her chocolaty face."

"Sorry as it may be, not all tales of strife evoke a fairy tale ending. For dear Minnie, it simply was not to be that herself, nor her beloved Burton, would possess the fortitude of our remarkable lovers. However unsuccessful was her vision of marrying Burton, Minnie did marry a good man. It is told how, together, they produced five children. From the stories of detail driven bards, it was assumed they lived a long, loving life. Of course, Minnie’s contribution to our story did indeed leave its own mark upon the society in which she lived. For, as often the case, a good servant does not necessarily translate into a talented secret keeper. In fact, one of Minnie’s renowned attributes, as known in servant’s quarters, was that she was a bit of a gossip. Truth be known, there was rarely a need for a herald if Minnie was about."

"Wildfire on a hot August afternoon, could not have spread quicker. Before the week was out, the entire county knew of the true Tale of the Handsome Gardener. For so many years, decades in fact, the truth of the bizarre story was never revealed. More to the flavour of the truth, was the profound discovery confirming everyone had concocted a tale which was far removed from the truth. Shock waves leapt throughout the entire region as pieces of the puzzle came together with vigour. Liberty, as well, all the neighbouring towns, buzzed with a fervor literally unmatched by any event of memory past."

"Whispers became shouts, which in turn, produced great cheers everywhere the couple went. Their tale of love instantly became local legend. Hope sprung eternal, giving rise to countless, uncanny, social matches. Albeit locally, as well only for a few generations, boundaries of caste, homeliness, age, gave way to the relentless power of love. Soon, the Cherry tree, in fact, anything made of Cherry, became a rally cry for all things love. Before long, throughout all of England, Cherry trees were in such rapidly increasing demand local growers and importers simply could not meet the required needs of desperate consumers."

"Petitions of all kinds were suggested to change the town name. Liberty folk eventually held a great ceremony to change the name of their community to Cherry Hinton. Cherry petals and corsages became an essential part of any sound wedding. Beds were stuffed with Cherry blossoms, as were sofas, pillows and all sorts of commodities. Tonics were made of Cherry, guaranteed to act as powerful love potions. Caught in the wave of all things Cherry, were even crazy suggestions, like the petition to change the word love to Cherry. One drunk sort disagreed with just changing the name of their town, he felt, England itself, should take on the name Cherry."

"In time, William, the fervor did die, however, not before the Hinton legend was created. Songs were sung, campfire stories forged, as well, great exaggerations surely were made."

"The Hinton’s did not change one iota. Fame and fortune in no way detracted our lovable John from his absolute dedication, commitment, and passion toward his darling Jeannine. You see William, he never needed the Cherry tree as a reminder, he needed it to maintain his sanity. Although, the Cherry tree proved for so many a steadfast reminder to honour & cherish the love between a man and his betrothed. For John, acted merely as a vassal to capture the flood of his undying love."

"Their town, as well the residents, even you and I dear William, have been forever changed by the legacy of the great john Hinton. The man, everyone affectionately came to know as The Handsome Gardener, proved to represent an ageless legacy. To this day, William, if you stand upon the Gog Magog hills on a spring morning looking down upon the town site of Cherry Hinton, you will note nearly every yard in the entire community has a healthy Cherry tree adorning the homestead. Most would assert, this nine-hundred-year tale is a testimony to one man's love of his wife. I prefer to consider the story a timeless tribute to love itself."   

"Rare is the occasion when the life one has led proves capable of etching into the fabric of society, as well its landscape, an image so profound it stands the test of time. The love between these two-beautiful people, so unimaginably splendid, has managed to reach across nearly one thousand years to find a home at the other side of the world. In finding this new resting place, we both have rediscovered the true meaning of love, honour and unyielding dedication. Depending upon which bard sang to which audience, there were countless endings to this tale of love. Of this William I am sure, John and Jeannine did indeed live happily ever after."

"Oh, my goodness Grandpa, is that the end of the story."

"So, it is dear boy, so it is."

"The two men sat quietly together, each trapped in their own thoughts, each taking from the tale their own sense of love. The fire crackled, William with glass in hand near empty, swallowed the lot, thought a moment, then began to quietly weep."

"For many years William heard muted whispers of Cherry trees. His thoughts gravitated to the Cherry tree in Grandpa’s yard, the one his own father had planted, his sister had one, as did each of his uncles and aunts. The depth of this tale cut deeply into the young man’s soul. Thinking of the many times he would witness a family member under a Cherry tree, he realised those deep times of contemplative solitude represented both the happiest, as well, the saddest of family moments."

"The Cherry tree had, in times of greatest need, enabled each of his family members to remember, life is only worth living when we insist love remains in our heart."

"Love eases pain, it carries hope upon its wings, it allows us the courage to brave each day, honour each moment and cherish the many gifts we hold dear. How often had William seen his own father and mother return to the house after a spell under the Cherry tree." 

"Yes, he thought, often there were tears of joy or sorrow. However, one thing William had come to appreciate, his parents would return from their tree with a look in their eyes which left no doubt love had prevailed.

The end.