I walked slowly through the garden. It was greatly reduced from the grand, wild place it had been when I was a child. Most of the whimseys had been removed, but the most important was still in place.
All of the land for miles in all directions had been owned by my father and our ancestors. From a slight rise I could see the fields and houses through the trees. Most were owned by the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of people who had been my father’s servants. There also many new comers, though most of those lived in town.
It had snowed earlier in the day, leaving a thin, white blanket over the land. The branches of the trees still had a coating, causing the woods to appear as a magical fairyland of crystal.
The buildings and workshops that had surrounded the big house had become a village. As it prospered, the village grew into a town. The old mansion in the middle became a hospital, not just for the sick, but a place where all were welcome. It was the house that I grew up in, the house that only Family and its closest servants could enter. This place for the rich had become a house of Hospitality in the truest sense of the word. It was my proudest achievement. Proudest achievement, after my family, that is.
Winter had come again, as it always does. In the last several years winter had also come to me, settling into my bones. On the best of days, I was slow and stiff. Only the thought of the inner sanctum of the woods kept me going.
Lauren and I set up a household in what to me was a tiny cottage, but had seemed a giant mansion to the girl born in a hovel. We filled all of the space of our home with children and love.
I finally reached the old temple. A beam of sunlight set fire to the white snow, making it sparkle like diamonds, much as it had looked the day that I had found Lauren mourning her mother.
“Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” I said to the air.
I thought of Lauren’s face on that fateful day. Maybe she would have answered “yes”, but I still thought not. I smiled at the memory.
This would be the first winter in 80 years that I had looked at the temple alone.
I had married Lauren five years after I had brought her back to live with us in the big house. Father did grow to love her as a daughter, as I had expected, but passed away soon after the wedding. As the Lord of the house, I almost immediately enacted my plan to give the people more of the resources, allow them more independence, working our way to having the town and people totally take over my ancestral lands. It was right. There was no reason I alone should hold them and benefit from them. It was the right of a free people.
I stood before the statue that reminded me of Lauren’s mother. While I grew old, the statue stayed forever young, and the memory of Lauren’s mother stayed young with it.
“Why was I so lucky to live such a life?” I asked. “Why was I so lucky to find such a deep love that lasted 75 years of marriage?”
In my mind I heard Lauren’s mother’s kind voice. “You noticed her thin, and swore that none would go hungry. You saw her ill-clothed, and swore none would go naked or be cold. You noticed her miserable and swore to comfort all of those who were in need. You felt her free and swore that none would be bound by servitude, thus freeing yourself. You saw her beautiful and so could only find beauty in the world.”
The words rang through my mind. The statue, though, only looked down on me in silence.
It took a few years for the people to truly understand their freedom, but once they did, they worked even harder, for they knew it was for themselves and their children that they were working. The bounty of the land was theirs and the village grew. At fist they continued to thank me, but my children played with theirs and soon I became just another citizen, like any other.
I walked into “our” temple, into the inner sanctuary. I looked at the statue at its core. It was labeled “Liberty”. I smiled.
I found “our” spot, the place I had sat down and comforted the cold girl. I sat down in same place. I closed my eyes and imagined Lauren with me, wrapped in my great coat. I closed my eyes and went to sleep with her voice in my head, knowing I would soon be with her again.
— — —
Note, this is part 2 of yesterday’s story based on the photo. Several people wanted it to continue, but it was complete in my mind. I felt that the story was more powerful as a stand alone. And yet, I decided that there was still a way to finish it while keeping the Part 1 as a stand alone. And so I wrote the above, which is really, in a way, just a tag on the end of the first, saying, “The moral of this story is…”