Hearth, History and Home

by Cyndi
artwork by Linn Bankson

Devin looked around the alley to be sure he was not being followed. He lifted the sewer cover and climbed down the rusty ladder, sliding the cover back in place above him. When he reached the bottom, he brushed the fresh snow from his shoulders and started for home.
Home ... tunnels running for miles beneath one of the world’s largest cities.
He had planned this return carefully to coincide with the celebration of Winterfest. He had contacted Catherine and sworn her to secrecy. He wondered what Father would say. He had not been back since he and Charles had gone to the mountains. That was two years ago. They had settled in a small cabin and he had helped out on some of the nearby farms doing odd jobs, but six months ago, Charles passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was alone once again and grieving.
He tried to create a new routine and keep busy, but the silence was more than he could bear. Several times, he pulled out his duffle bag and began to pack, ready to run and start fresh. Then he realized he liked having a home, but without Charles to talk to, that familiar loneliness set in.

And this time the loneliness was deeper. In all the years he wandered the globe, he never let anyone get too close; he left all attachments behind him when he left Vincent, Father and the tunnels. Charles was the first person he had allowed to know who he really was. When Charles died, he found he was no longer the carefree young man who would reinvent himself with the changing winds; he had carved out a place for himself in the world. He had a name. He was Devin Wells. A brother to Vincent and for a time, to Charles. He was the son of Jacob Wells … and Grace ... but what did it all mean?
Devin knew well enough who Father was to the many people living below New York’s city streets. He knew too – now – that he was his father, even if he had not known it as a child. But who was Jacob Wells the man? What was his story? What brought him to America? Did he have family back in his native Britain? Did he, Devin, have family still there? So many times, both he and Vincent had asked Father to tell them about his childhood. The answer was always the same: he was too busy; there was nothing interesting to tell. Well, by the end of this visit he would have his answers.
As he worked his way deeper into the tunnels, he began to hear the music of the pipes. It was one of the first languages he ever learned, and one he never forgot. He smiled as he listened to some of the messages. It seemed everyone was talking about Winterfest: there was Rebecca asking about candles needed, Kanin and Cullen talking about tables and Mouse offering a new invention! Devin laughed at a message from William stating 'someone' had stolen a pie. As a kid, how many times had he convinced Vincent that William would never miss a few sweet treats from his pantry?
He stopped by a large pipe and without giving his name he used his flashlight to tap out, “Where is Father?” “Study” was the simple reply. He changed course at the next junction. As he entered he smiled at the familiar sight of books stacked on every flat surface. Some things change – some things never will.
“No, Mouse! We do not need you to ‘wire’ the Great Hall for music! Our orchestra has always entertained us and I see no need to change that … besides, I’ve heard what passes for music above. No, thank you!”
“Well, Father, things do change …” Devin spoke from the top of the small stairs.
“Devin?! What on earth …?”
“Devin home! Mouse find Vincent!” Before anyone could stop him, Mouse ran off in search of his best friend.
“Come in, come in! Are you here for Winterfest?” Father asked.
“Yes, I’m here for the party … that’s if I’m invited?”
Father moved to the base of the stairs and hugged his son. “Nonsense! You're always welcome at Winterfest! … or any other time.” A shadow crossed Father’s face. “Catherine told us about Charles. My condolences; I know you looked upon him as a brother. Come, let’s sit by the brazier. It must be very cold above.”
“Yeah, thanks.” He dropped his gaze and then lifted his head, determined to think of happier things. “So, speaking of brothers, where is that fur-ball I call brother?”
“Now, Devin! You know how I detest your calling Vincent by such derogatory names. However, I do believe he is in the Great Hall, aiding in the preparations. Should I summon him?”
“Summon him! Father, you sound like a king demanding an audience! No, don‘t call him; I‘ll see him later. There's something I‘d like to talk to you about, but right now, I‘m starving! Do you think we could go see if William will give me some grub? We could talk and play a game of chess while I eat.”
“William does not make grub! Honestly, Devin! Have you forgotten all the proper English you were taught as a boy?”
They made their way to the dining chamber, which was blissfully empty. Devin suggested they sit near the large hearth. Vented through a natural fissure in the stone that carried the smoke above, there was a warm fire dancing in the stone recess. Devin set his plate of roasted chicken and fresh baked bread on the table and assembled a sandwich while he decided how to broach the subject of Father’s history.
“Devin? Is there something wrong … are you in trouble?” Father paused while setting up the chessboard between them. “You haven’t … broken any laws, have you?” He finished setting up the game and made the first move.
That’s right, Father, you take the first move; the next move is mine.
“No, Father; I’m not in trouble and I haven’t broken any laws – none that I can think of – in months.” He laughed at the dour expression on his father’s face. Lighten up, old man! “I’m kidding! Everything is fine … well, almost fine. Charles’s death hit me harder than I expected. It made me realize just how alone I am.”
“Devin …”
“No, Father, let me finish.” He moved a pawn. “For most of my life I felt … alone … disconnected. I didn’t have anyone that was a part of me; I hated it. I hated this …” He gestured to the stone walls around them. “That changed, when you told me you were my father and about … Grace.” Her name still stuck in his throat even two years later. “Finding out who my parents were left me more confused, but at least I belonged to someone. I had to leave; I had to take it all in. Then I found Charles. He taught me that blood didn’t matter. He had Eddy and look where that led him! When we went to the mountains, he continued to teach me. I learned, through him, that he and Vincent would always be my brothers in every way that really matters. When he got sick and I lost him, I began to think about family again, of our family, of you. Father … tell me. Tell me where you come from – where I come from. In spite of the love I have for Vincent, I need to know about my blood – about you.”
“Devin, forgive me for not telling you as a child that you were my son. I know what a mistake it was, and I hurt you immeasurably. I will make what amends I can, but this is difficult for me. I’ve not spoken to anyone, not even to Vincent, about my family. What precisely that you want to know?” Father made a move, his mind clearly not on the game before him.
Devin made a countermove. “Everything. I want to know everything you can tell me. Did you learn chess from your father?”
Hmm? ... No. The Colonel – my grandfather – taught me to play.” He moved a rook.
Devin countered. “Colonel! You’re kidding, right? What was he like? Tell me about him. Was he a crotchety old geezer?” He held his breath, wondering how much his father would reveal.
“He was a retired Colonel in His Majesty’s service. A not unkind man, but very stern. I was named for him.” Jacob’s eyes fell back to the game and he moved his knight.
“Strange. I would have thought you would have been named after your own father. What was your father’s name?” Devin’s eyes never left the board as he waited to see if his father would take the bait.
Father scrubbed at his beard as he reviewed Devin’s latest move. “No, I was named for my mother’s father. My father was Latimer. Latimer Alastair Wells, the Third. My brother was the Fourth, but died in infancy.” He again moved his knight, then sat back smugly.
Devin was about to make a wisecrack about his grandfather’s name until Father mentioned the brother who had died as a baby. “God! How awful. What happened? How did he die? How old was he?” Devin couldn’t have prevented the questions had he wanted to.
“I’m not entirely sure. He was mere months old and he was seldom spoken of; Georgiana, my sister, was four. I was not yet born.”
Devin’s head was swimming! “So … you had a sister too?” He moved his own knight. “What was she like?”
Father sat back, the chess game, for once, forgotten. “She was a marvel! When I was five and she ten, we were sent to the country to stay with our mother’s parents. We had lived in London, but in the late 1920‘s, my parents were struggling, so my father joined the Royal Air Force, and my mother found work as a live-in house keeper. Georgiana was all I had.”
All pretense of playing given up, Devin looked at his father. “Tell me about her. What was she like; what games did you play together?”
“We didn’t play often. We were required to be quiet. It was through Georgiana that I developed a love of books. She would read to me; she read all the classics. When allowed, she would play the spinet in the adult parlor. She was quite good. You, I believe, inherited that same talent. You always played so well when you were a boy.”
“Do you think so?” Devin found himself moved by this off-hand compliment. “It’s nice to learn I'm like someone.” Father’s attention was once again on the chessboard, so Devin pressed on. “And where is she … Georgiana? Did she come to America too?”
Father suddenly got a sad expression on his face. “No … she died in childbirth at the age of twenty-one. I was at boarding school then. I never saw the child. I was not allowed to leave school. I never said good-bye to Georgiana.”
Devin blanched at the words died in childbirth. He had heard those words so many times as a child himself. To learn that his mother’s was not the first such loss for his father rocked him. He reached across the table and covered his father’s hand. “I didn’t know. I never meant to bring up such sad memories.”
Father sighed heavily and shook his head. “No, it is well past time that you knew something of your ancestry. Devin, I’m sorry I never told you. I haven't thought of these things in many, many years.”
Devin motioned away his father’s apologies. “No, Father. I’m sorry. You have every reason to not want to revisit such painful memories. I understand.” He realized that he might understand a lot more about his father than he ever imagined he would.
Father nodded and took a deep breath. “Painful, yes, but there are happy memories as well. Tell me … is there anything else you would like to know?”
Devin stared in a moment of suspended time; all game play was over, the chess game too. He never expected to have Father make such an offer. “Well … do you know if you … we … have any relatives still living back in England?”
“I had several cousins. I would think some of them might still be living. Then there is … Georgiana’s child. George. I believe he was named after George the Sixth and Georgiana, of course.”
“You mean the baby survived!? Just like I did!? Really? Wow!” Devin sat back to absorb the impact of this information. “Do you have any idea whatever became of him?”
“He was a small child when I left for America, and as I said, I never met him. Matthew – his father – returned with him to Edinburgh after Georgiana’s death.”
“Scotland, huh? Do you know where in Edinburgh? What was his last name?”
“Gillies. As for where … I couldn’t begin to think where they might live. I met Matthew only a few times, while visiting Georgiana in London between my terms. Matthew did have a rather large family – at least four brothers and a younger sister. I was quite taken with her for a brief time.”
“George Gillies.” Devin committed the name to memory, as if God, God himself, could ever pry it from his mind! “Would you mind if someday I tried to find him, this cousin of mine? I wouldn’t tell him about you, if that’s what you want.”
Father paled. “Georgiana’s child? I don’t know what to say. Of course you have the right to know your family if you can.” He mused to himself. “He would be about fifty-four now.”
Devin covered his father’s hand again. “I won’t if it upsets you. I admit I'm curious, but I know my family – you, Vincent, Charles. I've always known who I really need to know.” His eyes glinted with unshed tears.
Father squeezed his son’s hand and gave himself a mental shake. “If you want to do this, do. I deprived you of so much as a child. If you can find Ge– The name catches … George ... then you must.”
“I’ll think about it, Father. Can you tell me what happened to your parents?”
“Influenza. They were both gone before I was twenty. After Georgiana and then my parents, I knew I had to be a doctor. But I had to leave England. We were on the verge of war, and there was nothing, no one there for me anymore. I came here on a Student Visa, working my way through school as a laboratory assistant. I'd planned to go to Harvard Medical School, but I fell in love with New York City and stayed. I met Margaret here. We courted while I was at Columbia University, marrying soon after. Her father secured a prestigious position for me at the Chittenden Institute. But when I was brought before the Un-American Activities Committee … I would surely have been deported. Then before the hearings were ended, I received a letter from Margaret, saying her father had our marriage annulled and she had left for France. When I contacted her father I was told I was not to pursue her. I just … walked away.” He shook his head, as if reliving his stunned disbelief. "Away from the committee and my life. I was without home, without family and then without a country. I couldn’t go to Peter or any of my other friends; I would have jeopardized their careers. So I wandered the streets. I’m not even sure how long I roamed the city before I sat down on that bench wishing for death to claim me. Then Grace arrived and brought me here.”
Father looked as if he had gone nine rounds in the ring, and he looked very old. Devin’s heart ached in his chest. Father had lost so much in his life, most significantly the women in his life. From a young age he had known nothing but abandonment from the women he loved. His mother sent him away at the tender age of five. Georgiana died not many years after and he was left at school to grieve alone. Margaret left him when he needed her most, and Grace … had died giving birth. True, neither Georgiana nor Grace had truly abandoned him, but their deaths had left him just as alone.
“Can I get you some tea?” Devin asked softly.
He raised tired, cloudy eyes and simply nodded.
Devin poured the tea and placed the chipped china cup before him. “I didn’t mean to cause you any pain, Father.”
“Nor I, you, Devin.”
They sat silently, both staring into the flames at the hearth that willed them to warm their bodies and their souls.
_____________
A/N: A special thanks to Laura, without whose Devin in the Role-Play Game, this story would not have been possible.

2 comments:

Jenn September 10, 2011 at 5:26 PM  

i loved it. i'm crying.
thanks for sharing!

Cyndi D September 17, 2011 at 10:17 PM  

Awww Thank you Jenn!

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