“Papa?” the small, quavering voice reached him from the border of the trees. “Papa, come back out of the rain,” the entreaty chilling him.
He raised himself back to his heels, slowly, muck soaking into his ruined breeches, peering into the gloom of the grove.
“Martha,” gruff, spoken on a shuddering breath—gods, what had she witnessed on this unholy night? “Marth—“, he couldn’t say that name again, without crumbling inside. “Patsy, how-how long have you been out here?”
Peering past the darkness, the storm beginning to drive itself off, north and east, he just barely made out her girlish form, covered by a drenched night gown.
“I don’t know,” she admitted, raising her light voice, so he might hear her through the rain.
Shadows concealed the fear, wariness he was sure pinched his daughter’s face, as she emerged from the knot of trees, crossing the distance to where he knelt by her mother’s cold grave.
“I saw you in her bedroom. I called out to you when you climbed out the window, but you couldn’t hear me, so I followed you. I lost you in-in the rain,” she explained through chattering teeth.
Her feet, clad only in house-slippers, squelched in wet grass, as she neared him.
“Then, I heard you above the storm.” Too dark to make out the cast of her eyes, he could see the way she slowed, hesitant it seemed, to come any nearer her mother’s tomb.
She was shivering from cold and wet, her mud-splattered chemise the only protection against a high, brisk gale, left in the wake of the weakening storm.
His eldest daughter, all of ten years old—she was as tattered looking as he must have been to her eyes.
Graveyards, even familial ones, were not places frequented by anyone in their right minds, especially not on storm-ridden nights, and most especially, not by young girls.
Martha Jefferson, his eldest daughter, bearing the namesake of her departed mother, afraid to lose her father, and fear being stronger than all the slaves’ tales of morbid, evil zombies, carnivorous ghosts that wandered these lost places, rightfully forbidden to the living, she had braved the night and elements.
“You shouldn’t be out here,” he admonished, rough past a constricted throat, realizing the inanity of such a remark even as she scolded:
“Neither should you.” Her tone took his breath away, hearing in the young girl’s words an echo of his wife’s tart-tongued rejoinders.
Prescient child, she was still too young, too innocent to understand the passion with which he had clasped the earth to him, upon her mother’s grave. Her mother’s name—her name—on his lips, shaped in a voice dredged with sorrow and yearning.
That, she understood. Sensing somehow, to mention what she had witnessed in half-shadow—whipping, thrashing branches, drowned in rain and thunder—would stand to embarrass him, or worse, send him back into another cascade of rage and grief.
“Come, Papa, or we’ll both catch cold.” Her small hands, frigid, held the warmth of the living when she folded them around one of his larger, sturdy palms.
He felt her gentle tug.
Thomas delayed for a moment longer, remained kneeling in the gullied earth, before his wife’s grave.
The night was deeper now, the rain softened to a dreary mist. He was soaked through to the bone, feet numb in water-logged shoes.
His free hand on the marble—she had felt so real…
His lips brushed the cold, wet stone once.
“Goodbye, Dearest,” his whispered, parting prayer.
And let his daughter lead him away from that grave.
It was no accident she would come to be his constant companion as she grew to adulthood. That fact was the central axis of her life. It would color the misery of her marriage, when she become a wife and mother herself, never able to esteem her husband as she adored her father.
Clearing skies were lit by the moon, bright coin in the dark, wind-swept heavens.
Father followed daughter, a peculiar of juxtaposition of childlike compliance.
Up the path from the shelter of trees rimming the family cemetery, they ascended a small hillock, opening to a pasture, passing before the crags and brush at its south border. Pale reflection of moonbeam against a white portico, pallor of the Great House peaked through the trees, conducting them out to the trimmed lawn, into the comforting ambience of home and hearth.
Later, after his daughter had been cajoled into a fresh nightgown, drying her hair by the fire, sent back to the security of her warm bed, he sat, himself, in front of a blazing hearth.
A wool blanket covered him, draped across shoulders.
Gray eyes somber, wistful, reflected the warm glow of the fire, letters of a decade piled in his lap. They had been tenderly sorted, opened, re-opened, read and wept over in the weeks since her death.
His mind quieter now, the torment of his restless, storming grief, like the weather outside, somehow subsided, leaving in its void, an emptiness he would learn to bury beneath cultivated reserve.
Thomas Jefferson would never be completely free of the severed ache in his heart—Angel, sacred guardian of his home, sacrosanct in love and memory.
(The Grand Finale) Part 6 Coming Soon!