Original Thread: [H.F.] The Promise
The PromiseIt was a warm midsummer’s afternoon. Two boys were lying on the grass beside the lake. They were staring at the blue expanse above as white puffs of cotton-like clouds lazily floated by. In that silence they could hear the flutter of the dragon-flies’ wings, or the rustling of the grass as the beetles passed along. They could hear the chirping of the song-birds above in the nest of the lone tree that stood high upon the hillock. They could hear it all.
“Thomas & Jonathan, you boys ready for lunch?” rang the voice of their aunt across the blue water. The younger and tinier of the boys got up and replied, “Yes Aunt Margaret!” Getting up he looked at his elder brother still lying on the grass and ran towards the tiny cottage on the other side of the lake. The cottage lay just half a kilometer away from the lake. It was completely wooden, had round windows and a big oak door. It had a little cobbled road that lead to the entrance of the fenced compound. It snaked its way through a beautiful garden of colourful flowers and thorny bushes around the fences. As John walked along the lakeshore he could see the grey-haired woman waiting for him at the gate with a warm smile on that wrinkled face. “Where is your brother Jonathan?” asked Aunt Fey only to see the figure of the elder boy still lying on the grass gazing at the passing clouds.
She kept looking at him as John passed by her into the cottage without uttering a single word and with a dejected look on his face. From inside then appeared a big man of more than 6 ft. Big, strong arms, thin moustache and a set of old yet clean clothes on his body. But still like his wife, his face too was soft and caring. He looked at her and then headed towards the other side of the lake. He could hear the squelching of the mud under his boots as he walked. Sam loved the sound of squelching mud on the lakeshore; he thought to him self, especially when the rain clouds had just passed by and there was coolness in the breeze as it created ripples in the lake.
He sat beside the boy. He was still gazing at the sky. His eyes didn’t flicker, nor did they move. His gaze was fixed and his eyes without emotion. The man instead gazed at the lake as it lay still; emotionless like the boy. He finally said, “You know Tom, this was the exact spot where me and your father once stood. And after that as we were wrestling in the mud we noticed something. The trees on the edge of the wood by the hillock were swaying too quickly. We kept staring curiously, and suddenly we saw something emerge out of there and run and bounce. We saw as it climbed the hillock with amazing speed and as it stood for a moment there on the top of that hillock. We could make out what it was from the silhouette of the figure as it stood before the setting sun. It was a deer, and what a majestic one at that! Antlers the size of a branch! How elegant and powerful that creature was! I remember your father writing to me that it was his favourite memory of home.” He paused and looked at the boy. “This is home son; this is your home as it was your father’s. Like us brothers were brought up in this house, you and your brother shall be too. And I will see to it that you never feel the lack of anything son. You shall not feel the lack of joy, or the lack of a father’s tight embrace. Aunt Fey will see to it that you shan’t feel the lack of a mother’s warm love. We will see to it son that you stay happy and that your brother and you while remembering your father and mother can grow up in the same house which brought them so much joy.”
The boy now stopped staring at the lake, and with the same emotionless glance looked at him; got up and started walking towards the cottage. His uncle looked at the boy as he wound along the edge of the lake and walked in that peculiar gait that so closely resembled his father. He felt a smile sprout on his face, and then almost as suddenly he completely broke down and cried on that midsummer’s noon by the lake. As he sat upon the grass, he remembered his dear little Sam. His baby brother, that he loved so much and who was one more martyr in one more World War.
As the next morning dawned dark and damp, the pitter-patter drops on the lake woke Tom up from his troubled sleep. He dreamt of never ending falls and horrid battlefields. When he awoke to the beautiful sight of the storm clouds moving across the dark horizon splashing cool water on his face, it did not bring a smile. Ever since that fateful day when he had met the man in the uniform who told him about how his father had galliantly died on the battlefield of Dunkirk while he tried to provide cover for the evacuating British troops in his Speet-fire, what ever that was, he had not smiled or shown any other sign of mirth or joy. Brave he had called him. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks again and he turned the wet side of his pillow over and made down for helping his uncle and aunt. Thank goodness for them, or where would he and John be? Yet he could never tell them that, tell them how grateful and lucky he was to have almost another set of parents to care for him and his brother. He remembered the time when his father had set out to go to the war. When he told him some bad people had broken promises and so that had to be mended, he believed him. This was before his father himself didn’t break promises.
He stumbled across the kitchen and saw that no one was home. He looked out the window and his little brother was enjoying himself in the rain. How easily he could drown his sorrow, that John, he thought. He envied his little brother for it and yet was glad that he could do so. Yet he did not smile. He saw the pile of dishes in the sink and got about cleaning them when his Aunt came in from the oak door and saw him, giving him yet another of her famous wide warm smile. He looked at her and set about doing the dishes again. His aunt walked away not knowing how to react to such indifference. She went into her bedroom and saw on the drawer beside their bed, the picture of her husband’s brother and his wife neatly framed. Sam was such a charismatic and lovely man she had always thought. Always full of life and polite and well-spoken and never a foul word out of his mouth and Susan was a divinely beautiful and gentle woman. How does such a good man deserve death? She looked at the image of the Christ on the cross pinned right above her dressing table. She wondered, how could this be what the lord chose for the best? Then wiping the tears glistening on her face she set about her chores again.
In the quiet of that night, as Arthur Fey came home in his horse-driven wagon across the country dirt-road, he had a troubled look on his face. He set the wagon in the barn and led the horses to their stables. Then he trudged his way up onto the stairs with a box in his hand and just sat on his bed. He was thinking about what he had seen in the morning. The Air-Force had rung him up and given him their deepest condolences and had sent a man to return to him his brother’s uniform and belongings. He opened the box and laid it on his bed. His brother’s blue uniform, neatly folded just the way he liked it. That boy looked so smart in his uniform, he thought. As he placed the uniform on the bed he saw that the box contained his medals, his last letter and a photograph of him and his Supermarine Spitfire along with his ground-crew. He adored that plane of his, remembered Arthur. He couldn’t handle reading the letter tonight he thought to himself so he took all of his brother’s belongings and neatly placed them in the cupboard by his bed. He then lay on his bed and dreamed of younger days when his brother was still around and he could still see those green eyes bring joy to his life.
Months passed in the same dreary routine. Britain was poised for invasion, and the Luftwaffe was pounding airfields and cities alike. But Uncle Arthur’s little farm in the high country was still untouched by fire. One day Arthur, Margaret and both the boys went to the city. Whatever remained of the city that is. As they went along the road in that horse-wagon they could see the brutality of war all about them. What were once homes were now wrangled bits of metal and rubble. Schools and churches were deserted buildings with holes. As they approached one building, still intact with a ring of anti-aircraft guns about them they saw the board reading, ‘Airforce Administrative Base’. John wondered what ‘administrative’ meant, and was about to voice his query when the wagon stopped. He looked about at men standing still and at guard at the doors of the building. He thought to himself, “How could they stand so still? For whom do they stand so still? Why would someone stand like that for someone or something else? Would they not rather enjoy the summer while it lasted?” He was always confused by the doings of ‘the big people’.
As they reached the 3rd floor of the building they saw a man walking towards them, dressed not in a uniform but a black suit and black bowler hat. He shook Arthur’s hands and showed them a place to be seated. As they sat the man spoke, “I am so glad Arthur that you and Margaret and the boys could make it.” “Not a problem David, we came as soon as we heard about you” replied Arthur. “So how have you and the boys been doing? I am glad that you decided to take care of them in your lovely cottage, and not let them grow up in your sister’s house in London.” “Well that is their home, and I hope Fiona will soon join us there too, what with the firebombs over London” replied Arthur. David only nodded.
He finally looked at Tom, and asked him, “Young man do you know why I am here?” Tom only looked back without a blink. “I am here son, to tell you what happened the day your father died.” Tom’s face suddenly turned white. His eyes grew wider and suddenly he felt the urge to just get up and leave. But he stayed like that, sitting on the chair, staring at David’s face. “On that fateful day of the evacuation of those thousand’s of soldiers off the coast of France; several Huns were circling our troops and strafing and bombing them to cut off their escape. That’s when I and your father were called upon and our squadron was scrambled to provide cover for the retreat.” Tom nodded. “We were flying in formation as we approached the shores of France when we saw that two of our planes were hit from the heights in the clouds by the Germans and they went down. The rest of us broke formation and we dove into the depth of the battle in the air. We were outnumbered 3-1.” Tom nodded again. Margaret Fey looked at him, glad to notice his first signs of responses however subtle. “There in the midst of all that chaos we learnt of the plight of your father as he was shot from the behind by two flanking Messerschmitt as he tried to engage a Stuka. But I want you to know that didn’t happen before he had shot down two Stuka and a Messerschmitt. He was a good pilot son.” Tom didn’t nod this time. He instead got up and looked outside at the rubble and destruction and silently uttered a sorrowful, “Thank you.” Then he looked at his uncle and said, “Can we leave now?” As they travelled back home along that same dirt-road through the countryside, they could see the summer flowers in full bloom. The May sun was shining radiantly and in that atmosphere of pure bliss Tom started thinking about his father’s last moments. He was thinking about the joy and exhilaration he must’ve felt as he downed those German planes and the panic and fear while he was shot from behind and as his plane spiraled into the English Channel. “I promise I’ll come back. I promise Tom” he remembered his father tell him. Thomas Fey, on that beautiful summer’s day was still a sad young man.
Soon, several months, and then years passed away. The war tipped in favour of the allied forces and soon the axis countries were beaten and occupied. Tom and John still lived on Uncle Arthur’s farm and helped him with the work on his farm. But like years ago, Tom never spoke other than for the basic monosyllables and short sentences and John was still his loveable self. One day, the boys were working on the northwest plot nearest to the lake. The lake had become a home for a flock of ducks. They nested there and had several hatchlings with which they swam in the lake as the boys watched contently. It was then, that they saw the mailman arrive and hand a letter to Aunt Margaret. They stopped working and saw her open the letter and read it for a few minutes with her face turning grave and sad and then suddenly she dropped and collapsed onto the porch. The boys ran towards the house and saw that she was bleeding from her temple. They rushed her, albeit with much effort, to her bedroom and applied ice on her head. Till then even Uncle Arthur was by her side and when she regained consciousness all she said was, “The letter.” Tom quickly ran to the door and picked up the blood stained letter, and read it,
To Arthur Fey,
We regret to inform you that your Brother Capt. Sam Fey’s missing body was found by American troops during the Battle of the Bulge in Western Germany. He was one of the several British and American pilots held in PoW camps by the Germans and so we now know he was not killed in action over the Channel. Some captured German prison guards who had become acquainted with him in the prison told us, when interrogated, that he always spoke of returning home. Even when he joked with them, he always joked about how he would give them the slip and “make way for Blighty”. He also supposedly always spoke of a promise, especially when kept in the cooler, though he wouldn’t tell them what it was about. His aim at making friends with the Germans now we know was so that he could actually escape. He tried to escape from the camp an astounding 5 times, so much so, that the Germans and his fellow prisoners nicknamed him ‘Slippery Sam’! But he was caught everytime and returned to the camp. The last time he tried to escape though, he was caught not by the Lufftwaffe but the S.S.Waffen. The S.S unfortunately do not respect the idea of freedom as we have learnt in recent days from the horrors retold by several of our Jewish friends in the continent. He was shot, thereby violating major rules of the Geneva convention, on December 24th, 1944 on the eve of Christmas – a mere month before American troops overran that place.
The body of my friend Sam Fey is to be brought home tomorrow. I shall come with him.
Capt. David Whitman
He read the letter once again. Tom looked up and saw the trees rustling at the edge of the wood. A small fawn jumped out of the woods and rushed up the hillock. It was followed by a majestic deer with antlers the like his father and Uncle Arthur had described. They both stood on the hillock and for a moment Tom thought, that they stared at him under the shade of the lone tree. Then the majestic male nudged the fawn towards the wood again against the backdrop of the setting sun in the crimson skies. Tom smiled. His father was coming home. He was going to keep his promise after all.
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