She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally decided to walk through the door. Finding the book in an old trunk led Kate back to Brighton Manor. She stayed at the Manor in 1940, during the London Blitz. Being only seventeen years old, she felt safer in the country.
Brighton Manor was the residence of Lord and Lady Hamilton, distant relations on her mother’s side. Kate felt welcomed, but her relationship with her hosts remained polite and proper. She was a guest of the Hamiltons, and only “for the duration,” as she reminded herself.
It was different with their son, Andrew. He was three years older than Kate. She forgot about the Blitz when he was present. She enjoyed listening to him. He made her laugh.
One afternoon, they were together in the garden discussing English literature. The rhododendrons were in full bloom, and the air was full of their fragrance. Andrew was listening to every word she said. That he listened and seemed to enjoy her company was one of the things she liked about him.
When she finished speaking, she paused to hear what he had to say about the topic. He looked into her eyes, smiled, and said: “Do you know that when you are talking very seriously, the tip of your nose bobs up and down?” She stared at him in disbelief for a moment, and then burst out laughing.
“Have you ever read anything by Jane Austen?” he asked.
Kate was surprised by the question. Jane Austen was not an author one expected a man to enjoy reading. She smiled and moved closer to him.
Kate and Andrew soon were spending a great deal of time together. They talked and laughed. They began to make plans for the future, “when the war is over,” they told each other.
During their last time together before Andrew left to serve “king and country,” he presented her with a beautifully bound copy of Sense and Sensibility. “So you wouldn’t forget me,” he said.
“I won’t,” she promised. They kissed and stood for a long time embracing each other. It was the last time they were together.
Andrew did not return from the war. He died in North Africa, a fallen hero.
The Hamiltons sold Brighton Manor during the lean years after the war. The new owners converted it into a kind of bed and breakfast. Kate often thought of returning someday, but she kept putting it off.
Then she discovered the copy of Sense and Sensibility, and she knew that she had to go back. Now, years after the war ended, she was back at Brighton Manor, sitting alone on a bench in the garden. Soon she was smiling. In her mind’s eye she saw herself walking with Andrew among the rhododendrons and neatly groomed bushes.
“Do you really enjoy reading Jane Austen?” she asked.
copyright 2012 by Paul R. Waibel