“An echo of rapture and a memory of pain.” Sylvia closed the slim volume of poetry. Tears swam in her tawny brown eyes. Her throat tightened with memories and a nostalgic half-regretful sadness pulled at her mind. Fall was a dying time of the year. Flamingly beautiful in these quiet Canadian woods, but sad in a way. Fall told of green summer’s end with its riot of plants and fruit trees, the coming of a dead winter when all would be bare and nothing grew.
Sylvia Holbrook blinked hard three times, swallowed past the lump in her throat. In her warm old coat, she snuggled closer against the brilliant red maple tree at her back. The air was nippy. Snow was even forecast later tonight – although it was only October and roses still bloomed around the old farmhouse. Sylvia was making an emotional journey today, partly to say goodbye and partly to forget a recent quarrel.
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“An echo of rapture and a memory of pain.” Sylvia closed the slim volume of poetry. Tears swam her tawny brown eyes. Her throat tightened with memories and a nostalgic half-regretful sadness pulled at her mind. Fall was a sad time of the year. Flamingly beautiful in these quiet Canadian woods, but sad in a way. Fall told of green summer’s end with its riot of plants and fruit trees, the coming of a dead winter when all would be bare and nothing grew.
Sylvia Holbrook blinked hard three times, swallowed past the lump in her throat. In her warm old coat, she snuggled closer against the brilliant red maple tree at her back. The air was nippy. Snow was even forecast later tonight – although it was only October and roses still bloomed around the old farmhouse.
Sylvia was making an emotional journey today, partly to say goodbye and partly to forget a recent quarrel.
Next fall she wouldn’t be here halfway up the rocky escarpment, the steep cliff formed by ancient glaciers. Or look past the flaming maples to the vineyard on her right where purple grapes hung heavy in the dying leaves. These pencil-straight rows of flowers below her would bloom. But she wouldn’t see them. The vegetables beside the flowers would grow, be cared for and harvested without her. The rows of peach, pear and cherry trees, all lovingly planted by her grandfather, and watched over these past three years by the two of them, would know strange hands next spring. She wouldn’t smell the pink, misty masses of peach blossoms as they burst into bloom. Neither would her grandfather.
Grandfather had died peacefully in his sleep two months ago. It was the exact five-year anniversary of grandmother’s death. Now Sylvia felt as if she was being turned out of the old family home. Not dying but leaving – which in a way was dying.
Except now in this alone, reflecting time with her poetry book closed, Sylvia had to be fair. She wasn’t being turned out. It was simply that Aunt Bess and Uncle George were retiring. They lived on the family farm with her and grandfather and helped operate the place. After Uncle George’s mild heart attack three years ago in the cherry season, the farm, now without grandfather, was too much work and responsibility. Even Sylvia’s full-time help wasn’t enough. Sylvia had no choice. She had to leave the farm.
Besides, her father agreed with Uncle George. He too wanted the valuable farm sold. He had a new modern addition all planned for the combination gourmet restaurant and inn that he ran – with the help of Sylvia’s mother and sister – in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
It was ironic really. Sylvia’s father had never liked farming, couldn’t wait to escape. While she, unlike her gregarious, outgoing, extroverted father and mother and vivacious younger sister, Margo, couldn’t stand all the commotion at the inn. Sylvia hated the constant encountering of new people. In fact, in the privacy of her mind, she thought of the merry-go-round of meeting new people like reading everlasting first chapters. She liked reading entire books. Knowing well a chosen few people.
Margo had a dozen boy friends, a new one every week it seemed, although the old ones stayed around too. Sylvia had one male friend she’d known since grade school – fought with and played with and planned to marry ever since she could remember. David Clarkson was perfect for her even though they were opposites temperamentally. She had long thought so. Until their violent quarrel earlier today.
David approved of her working on the farm. That is until they could save up enough money to buy all the necessities they (mostly David) wanted, and be married. Sylvia liked to grow things, had two very green thumbs. She’d jumped at the chance to live on the farm and be Jill-of-all-trades to her grandfather, Aunt Bess, and Uncle George.
She canned and made preserves. Drove a tractor and packed fruits and vegetables for shipping, eagerly learning how a modern farm operated.
All the relatives always met at the old family Holbrook farm for holiday feasts and vacations. But visiting the farm was one thing, Sylvia soon learned, and working there another. Yet she loved it.
Sylvia raised her eyes, caught by a slight slow movement. A huge white freighter was crawling over the blue waters of Lake Ontario. She toyed with the idea of walking the mile or so down to the lake, watching the waves roll into shore. When there were whitecaps, the waves would splash high on the rocky point where she liked to sit. Over the years she’d dreamed a million dreams of where those ships were going. Wished so many times that she was the one traveling to an exotic romantic land. In her more private daydreams, where she had a choice of anything in the world, she could never decide between traveling and the family farm. So she fantasized having them both: travel, but with the farm always there to come home to, her solid anchor of security in a changing world.
There was a slight rustle in the leaves behind her. A dark cat walked daintily and then deliberately jumped into her lap. “Jane!” she cried to the blue-point Siamese. “You scared me, you bad cat,” she scolded. But her voice was soft. She rubbed slim fingers over the cat’s head and along its back, making her purr.
“You’ll miss the farm too, won’t you, Jane? You and Tarzan love it here where you can roam free. And you agree with me, don’t you, that silly old David should buy the farm so we can all live happily ever after. And you agree too that the Indian excavation should be stopped. You know it’s wrong to desecrate those graves, don’t you, kitty cat?”
The cat purred louder, sensuously pressing against her hand.
“And to call in a world-famous archaeologist is pretty dumb, isn’t it? He’ll laugh at us, won’t he? That is, if he condescends to answer at all.”
Sylvia, looking at Jane, had to smile as she always did for Jane’s totally serious, utterly sleek, completely feminine cat face was distinguished by a madly incongruous goatee. Past her exotically slanted blue eyes, beneath her sharp-pointed chin there was a tiny tuft of hair. Sylvia always thought of a delicate Egyptian princess, a royal ruler who tied on a false beard to fool the gods. Make them think she was a man because as a woman she wasn’t allowed to rule.
“Sylvia, Sylvia, where are you?” her sister Margo called. Jane gave a start, nimbly jumped from her arms and dashed away into the woods.
“I knew you’d be here.” Margo added triumphantly. “I knew you’d come to our old favorite place. We had some good times here, didn’t we?” Margo looked around, noting the wild black walnut tree they’d climbed as children. And the grove of silver birches where they’d played Indian with neighboring children acting out stories of early settlers invented by Sylvia’s fertile imagination.
Margo dropped beside her. “I haven’t visited this spot for so long. I can see why you like this place. The view is beautiful.”
“I love it,” Sylvia said simply. The two sat in the silence of companionship, on the edge of the narrow winding trail that clung precariously to the side of the sharply rising escarpment. They were a study in contrasts. Long ago, twenty-three year old Sylvia had thought it was their contrasts that made them companions, not rivals. They had chosen two different arenas of life and so did not need to compete.
Sylvia was the student, the intellectual, the loner. Margo, four years younger, was the beauty, the charmer, the gay butterfly. Sylvia’s dark olive complexion was tanned shades darker by the summer sun. Margo was fair. A fierce independence lived in the slender body of Sylvia. She was strong and wiry, yet there was something fragile, soft and appealing about her. Margo was taller with a bursting animal exuberance, a sheer vitality that mowed down all in its path.
“David called,” Margo said suddenly. “He wants you to phone him,” she added with a question in her voice.
“Does he now.” Sylvia made no attempt to hide a ringing bitterness.
“I know you hate selling the farm. It’s too bad Aunt Bess and Uncle George can’t stay on. Continue helping you run it. But we’ll all love having you back at the inn. “Anyway, you and David will soon be married,” she said consolingly. “You’ll be married and living in Toronto with a rising young accountant. No girl could ask for anything more than to be married to a wonderful man like David.”
Something strange in her voice caught Sylvia’s attention. She turned to look sharply at her younger sister. Margo was right, Sylvia thought, she did have everything she could possibly want. David was reliable and handsome and thoughtful. She was fanciful, romantic to want anything more. What more could there be?
“We should get back, I suppose. Finish helping Mother and Aunt Bess with the packing and sorting,” Sylvia said resolutely. “The farm will be listed for sale on Monday. The auction with all the farm equipment and household goods is in less than two weeks.”
“Mother said you deserved a rest,” Margo commented. “Anyway, there’s no special hurry. Mother’s decided that she and I will spend tonight and then stay on here until the special church service for the Deacon.”
“What’s that going to do to your Friday night beau?” Sylvia teased, looking without envy at her attractive younger sister. “There is sure to be one, I know.”
“Just a bunch of us going out later to hear a new folk singer,” Margo shrugged. “Maybe you and David would like to join us?” she asked with more enthusiasm.
“We won’t be going out tonight,” Sylvia said shortly. “He has to be back in Toronto to work on an important meeting for Monday.”
“Oh,” Margo said quickly, “is that why you were quarreling?” Margo caught herself, blushed and looked away, saying, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s none of my business.”
“No, don’t worry. We weren’t quarreling about tonight. I understand about work. David’s ambitious. He’s worked terribly hard. I know he hopes to become a junior vice-president. It was a stupid quarrel, really. I can’t understand exactly why I got so furious.”
“You’re a quiet one.” Margo added with a caring smile. “Would it help to talk about it?”
“Probably not,” Sylvia flashed. Then she smiled a bright wide grin that lit up her face. “But I think I’m going to anyway.” The momentary smile faded entirely away as she continued. “It’s the old Indian gravesite. That was Holbrook land. Peaceful and quiet. It was a peach orchard. Now it’s being turned into a three-ring circus. And David is helping them. He actually suggested that the archaeologist be called in. The man probably just wants to make a name for himself, publish a paper in some obscure scientific journal. He doesn’t care about the Indians,” Sylvia was indignant. “Or how they might feel about having their ancestors’ graves robbed.”
“Wow,” Margo said. “You really feel strongly about this, don’t you? When did you get so interested in the Indians? Anyway, how is that land connected to us?”
“David advised Grandfather Holbrook to sell that parcel to a developer. Something about taxes. But even if the land is sold, I still feel we have a responsibility. It’s been in our family a long time.
“About the Indians,” she continued becoming even more intense, “I think it’s all in the way you look at it. This was their land. Those are the graves of their ancestors. Look at it this way: How would we feel if someone started digging up our grandparents, great-grandparents and putting their bones on display?”
“What does David think?” Margo asked quietly.
“Well, that’s what the quarrel’s about,” Sylvia admitted. “He doesn’t agree with me. David and Toby Anderson, the amateur archaeologist who stumbled across the site, are old hockey-playing buddies. David advised Toby to go to the professional archaeologists at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It’s my opinion that the museum archaeologist they’re bringing here ought to be told to go back to where he came from. I’ve half a mind to tell him that myself when he comes poking around here on Monday.”
“You,” Margo laughed throwing her head back in long peals of laughter. “I can’t see you doing any such thing.”
“I don’t know,” Sylvia said darkly. Her chin lifted upward as she cast a defiant glance at Margo. “I don’t like selling the family farm that’s been ours for four generations. And we don’t need that hoity-toity archaeologist to turn this quiet farm into an exhibition for busloads of tourists.”
“The archaeologist is coming Monday?” Margo questioned. “I wonder if he’s young? Maybe you’d like him if you got to know him.”
“Hardly likely,” Sylvia said in a scornful tone. “Let’s get on back.” She shivered slightly thinking over the entire unpleasant situation. “It’s turning colder. Maybe I should call David,” she admitted. “Thanks for listening, Margo.”
“That’s what sisters are for,” Margo said lightly. “Race you home,” she challenged.
“Only in a fast walk,” Sylvia grinned. “I get enough physical labor around here. I still need to cut a couple of cases of grapes. This freeze tonight won’t last long enough to harm the grapes. But colder weather is on its way. And soon.”
The trail was narrow. Overhead the trees met in a bright canopy of color while underneath darker fallen leaves crunched under their shoes. They walked in rapid single file, careful of the path and silent, each engaged in her own thoughts. As the trail widened, they walked along the edge of a row of pear trees that were tall and slim with a fast-dwindling supply of yellow-orange leaves.
The path brought them to the edge of the greenhouses. Sylvia refused to let her gaze wander over the buildings. She didn’t want to fall once more under the spell of her many poignant memories. Everywhere she looked she could see her grandfather busily at work building up the family farm. They hadn’t talked of it specifically. But she knew the old man never planned for the farm to go out of the family. Odd that he hadn’t left a will. But she quickly refused to think about that.
Sylvia, walking fast and slightly ahead of Margo, headed toward the warm redbrick, two-storey building where fragrant wood smoke drifted from the chimney. A brown streak exploded by her and then a second. The two cats, Jane and Tarzan, came to a screeching halt. Then the cats stood dignified and still as if they had always been models of decorum.
“Those animals,” Margo noted as they turned toward the kitchen door, “are going to drive us crazy at the inn. Mother says she’s allergic to them. Father has conniption fits whenever they even look towards the kitchen. Remember how wild it was the last time you brought them to visit?”
“I remember.” Sylvia said grimly. “How could I forget? I’ll just have to work something out.”
“And what would that be?” asked a deep masculine voice.
Sylvia faced the man standing at the corner of the house. “Hello, David. I thought you’d already gone back to Toronto.”
Sylvia watched as David Clarkson studied her carefully, choosing to ignore the trace of coolness in her soft low voice. His eyes ran over the curves of her high cheek-boned face and lingered for a long second on the large amber eyes that held a hint of reserve or sadness. He noticed the short curly brown hair blowing in a soft mass of fragile curls. She could feel his approval. He thought the hairstyle suited her. Had said she reminded him of a pensive wood nymph.
“I’ll just run along,” Margo cried hastily, disappearing into the house before either of them could say a word.
“Jane and Tarzan are what have to be worked out. It’s going to be a pain keeping them at the inn.”
“Sylvia, we simply can’t buy this farm. I’ve spent a lot of years going to school. Preparing for my accounting work. Traveling is in the picture after I’m a vice-president. Even transfers to other branch offices.”
“It’s the family farm. Grandfather loved it so. It’s his heritage to us, something that should be passed on.”
“The days of sons following rigidly like identical wooden soldiers marching to orders, following directly in their fathers’ footsteps are over. Those times are past. This is a new century, a new millennium. A new world.”
“I don’t like it. I hate this new world.” Sylvia hadn’t cried at her beloved grandfather’s funeral, but tears were close now. Then, characteristically, she simply frowned harder at the man before her. David, taking two long strides, gathered her close against him. The smooth brown leather of his sleekly styled jacket felt cool as her cheek came to rest on his sturdy familiar shoulder. The quarrel forgotten, she leaned against him enjoying the warm easy feeling of security washing over her. With dependable David nothing could ever go seriously wrong. He moved his head seeking her mouth. She moved tighter to his shoulder, her face turned away.
“I’m sorry we quarreled earlier,” she said in a low voice that held a hint of huskiness. “It was probably my fault.” Raising her eyes, she stared straight into a row of pink and red rose bushes. She noticed that even yet, this late in the season, the roses were putting forth new leaves and buds for the cruel frost to blacken and wither.
“No, my pet,” David caressed her cheek. “I wasn’t being understanding enough. These changes take a bit of getting used to. I can work late Saturday night instead. Or Sunday. Would you like me to stay tonight? We’ll go out to dinner? Dance if you like.”
“Thank you, David. You’re sweet, but that isn’t necessary. I know how crucial this meeting on Monday is for you. No, you run along. I’ll be okay. For a change, Mother and Margo are staying the weekend. We’ll have a good visit. Besides,” she pulled away and looked at him with a slight smile tugging at her mouth, “I know you. Even if you did stay here with me, you’d be writing on the tablecloth at dinner. Figuring profit and losses with the steak and potatoes and accounts receivable with the dessert.”
David slid both gloved hands to her shoulders holding Sylvia before him, shaking her slightly for emphasis. “You’re sure you’re okay with all this?”
“Of course, of course.” Determinedly, she dismissed him.
After a light brush on the lips and a gloved swipe over her soft curls David was on his way, disappearing in an instant around the edge of the house.
Sylvia remained starring at the pink and red roses until she heard his car start. Then squaring her shoulders, she slowly, reluctantly went into the house. Grandfather’s death had changed everything. Unbearably at times, she missed the old man. Entering the glassed-in sun porch, which was still a controlled jungle of potted plants, she hung her old fleece-lined coat on the corner rack. Tucking gloves and scarf overhead and kicking off sturdy boots, she replaced them with warm pliant moccasins. Entering the empty kitchen, she hesitated, and then moved over to the old coal-wood burning stove, glad now she’d built a fire in it earlier. The modern electric stove was antiseptically clean and efficient. But she didn’t want modern efficiency today. She put more wood in the old stove and stood in front warming her hands. There, by the window in the light so grandfather could see to read the evening paper, was his antique maple rocking chair. In the fading light the polished muted-orange wood glowed with a life of its own. Her eyes traveled the warm kitchen loving its expansive hominess. They stopped on a cloth-covered blue stoneware mixing bowl bulging up at the top.
Sylvia moved quickly to the sink, washed her hands before pulling out the pastry board. After she turned out the rising dough, she began expertly kneading and pounding. She had one bread loaf pan filled when a voice said, “There you are, Sylvia. I thought I heard someone in the kitchen.”
Her mother stood in the doorway blonde, slim and taut in a light green pantsuit. It was easy to see where Margo got her looks and vitality. “David was here earlier looking for you. Didn’t you ask him in?”
Sylvia told her that he needed to return to work in Toronto. To herself, she marveled again over the close resemblance of her mother and Margo. Even in her mid-forties there was no grey in the blond hair. The only lines were laugh crinkles at the edges of her eyes that were blue like Margo’s.
Her mother laughed now saying, “You two kids better hurry and get married before you settle down any further. Imagine having to work on Friday night. And you, you’re letting him get away with that pitiful excuse!”
“His job is important for our future.” Sylvia shrugged not wanting to discuss how she felt, not yet entirety sure she knew herself. “What’s left to be sorted?”
“You’ll love all the theatre, the exhibitions and shopping in Toronto. The thrill of big-city life.” Her mother acutely perceived Sylvia’s uneasy changing of the topic and the underlying reasons for it. “Look at your father. He loves running that inn, making the guests happy, supervising marvelous surprise courses for his favorite people. He’s made it his whole life. And I’ve learned to love it too.”
“Dad isn’t totally wrapped up in the inn,” Sylvia protested with a smile. “He takes you on vacations. When we were little he always took us on special trips and to see hockey games. And remember the cross-country skiing we always did every winter?” Sylvia laughingly challenged.
“Do I!” Norah Holbrook exclaimed. “We started on pre-ski conditioning exercises at the Y last week. I’m so sore I can hardly move. The instructor has us doing yoga for stretching exercises.” She laughed, her eye crinkles giving her a merry happy look. “Can you believe your father and me doing shoulder stands?”
“Why not, if you enjoy it,” Sylvia was retorting as Aunt Bess came into the kitchen. “I was going to do that bread for you,” she said to Sylvia. “Then we got busy packing and sorting in the study and I forgot. I hope it didn’t rise too high,” she chattered on. “Where’s David? Isn’t he staying for dinner later on, or at least a piece of pumpkin bread now? Or some of that fresh gingerbread with a dollop of whipped cream? Where is he?”
Once again, Sylvia explained David’s absence to her Aunt Bess who was a plumper, faded version of her sister-in-law, Sylvia’s mother. Aunt Bess had the kindest, warmest heart in the world. But Sylvia had long ago accepted that her aunt was a talker, chattering incessantly about this and that. Sometimes asking sharper, shrewder questions than were comfortable.
Aunt Bess asked one now, bluntly, without pause, as if continuing her own line of thought, “When are you and David getting engaged for real – with a real diamond engagement ring – and married? If you’d set the date before the auction,” she added eagerly, “we could hold the wedding here.”
“It’s too soon.” Sylvia pounded down hard on the soft elastic dough in her hands, gave it a final rough twist and tossed it in the waiting bread pan. “Granddad’s only been gone two months.” She tried to keep bitterness from creeping into her voice. Aunt Bess didn’t mean it like it sounded. It wasn’t her fault the family farm had to be sold. “Besides we want to save enough money first,” she told her aunt, “to buy a house and furniture. That takes a lot of cash. Anyway,” Sylvia added defensively, “the blue sapphire David gave me for graduation is a ring.”
Norah Holbrook grabbed the chance to carry the conversation into this channel, probably suspecting, Sylvia thought, that her independent daughter had feelings she wasn’t expressing. “First you saved for your college. Then David’s university and now a house. At this rate I’ll never be a grandmother,” she lamented laughingly. “But still in this crazy, mixed-up day and age, I guess we should count as a blessing that you want to get married at all.” Norah Holbrook looked around at Sylvia quickly.
“I’m enjoying the freedom,” Sylvia said indifferently. “There’s no hurry. Margo may make you a grandmother before I do,” she teased as Margo joined them in the warm kitchen.
“I’m hungry,” Margo announced. “I need a snack. Let’s have a tea break.” She began putting on the kettle for hot water and getting out gaily decorated mugs. Aunt Bess took out the pumpkin and gingerbread and thick whipped cream with a dash of vanilla.
In the bustling confusion Aunt Bess said, “We’ll have a new man in town next week. I heard the Royal Ontario Museum is sending down one of their Indian experts to look over the pots and arrowheads that Toby Anderson dug up in the old peach orchard.”
“He’ll probably take one look and head right back to Toronto,” Sylvia retorted. “I certainly hope so. I think it’s criminal the way some people try to puff themselves up. I know it’s wrong to desecrate those graves.” As she was speaking the crockery jar of wine Cheddar cheese Sylvia was putting on the table slipped from her fingers, crashing hard onto the table but not breaking.
“It might be a real archaeological find,” Aunt Bess said. “They’ve found stone axes, flint arrows, beads, bones and a copper pot. No telling how old they are.”
“How old is the archaeologist who’s coming?” Margo asked. “Do you know anything about him?”
“Only what Miss Francis, our curator at the Old Stone Museum said. According to her he’s the top Indian expert in his field. He’s been at archaeological digs all over the world. Has traveled everywhere.”
“He’ll be insulted coming to a little town like Grimsby,” Sylvia argued. “We won’t be fancy enough for him.”
“I wonder how old he is?” Margo mused. “But if he’s an expert, then he’s got to be grey-haired and ancient.”
“I hope so.” Sylvia said. “Then he won’t have the energy to turn this place into even more of a three-ring circus.”
George Masterton, a formerly gruff and hardy man until his heart attack, walked into the kitchen. He sat down quickly at the table. He was recovering but there had been nervous complications and healing was taking time. Uncle George liked to tease Sylvia. Once when she was young she remembered him giving her a big slice of Limburger cheese and the look in his eye as she dealt with the overwhelming odor. Sylvia recognized that twinkle now. “Where’s your boyfriend?” he asked her.
“He’s gone to Toronto. And if you ask me why David and I aren’t married, I think I’ll scream.”
“My dear, I wouldn’t dream of it,” he told Sylvia smiling broadly. “How would it be if I simply asked when I’m going to be a great-uncle?”
Warm general laughter flooded the huge kitchen as the family gathered around the kitchen table.[/tab] [tab]
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