Chapter 19. Sweet Hour of Prayer.
Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story—Tim O'Brian
Sweet Hour of Prayer.
True to their word, Jake and Dannie returned in time to wash and change for supper. Sophie was determined not to lose Dannie to Jake again and when the meal was over she marched up to Dannie and grasped her arm.
"Dannie, why don't we play the piano together?"
Dannie was very pleased with the suggestion. "A fine idea, though perhaps slightly uncharacteristic for you. Usually it is me who suggests piano playing."
Sophie laughed and guided Dannie to the parlor, where the large piano forte stood. To her annoyance, Jake shuffled after them, followed by Caleb, Mr. and Mrs. Martin, and Carolina.
"It's not like we are gonna to give a concert," Sophie stated.
"No need to advertise then," her father laughed. "You haven't played ever since Jake got hurt, seeing as Dannie was not there to make you. I cannot help from wondering how many mistakes you will make."
"What a pity we have no harp," Jessica Martin once more came to Sophie's rescue and changed the subject. "I think I remember Dannie mentionin' she plays quite well."
"You can play the harp too?" Jake asked Dannie in surprise.
"That and the flute." Dannie's eyes twinkled. "Only I haven't played either since coming to America, so I am terribly out of practice. Mamma would probably have had a heart attack if she were to hear me trying to play now."
"A flute is easier to find than a harp," Jessica Martin pointed out. "I believe I can convince my husband to purchase one for you. I believe you and Sophie could have some wonderful duets."
"Why did your Momma make you play all those instruments?" Caleb asked.
"All these instruments is just three, Caleb," Dannie laughed. "Mamma was very musical; we used to play together a lot. She would play the piano while I chose the flute or the harp. Sometimes Meg would join us and then we would put on a real concert for Papa and Meg's parents and anyone else willing to come." Dannie's smile became wistful as she thought back to the days of when her parents were alive.
"Robert always did love good music," Christ Martin spoke up, "even though he was tone deaf. Poor man couldn't tell one note from another. A person could sing completely off key and he would love it just the same."
"He did love music," Dannie agreed. "And seeing as it has only recently been the anniversary of his death, allow me to play you the one he loved the most. Sophie, you and I have played it before, Sweet Hour of Prayer, do you remember it?"
"Yes, I do. Wanna sing it as well?"
"Yes indeed, I shall take the high and you take the low."
"Wait...sing?" Jake feigned panic. "The two of you are gonna to sing? Should I get earplugs?"
"Ya might want to have them ready just in case," Sophie retorted. Everyone laughed at this.
Dannie's fingers lightly touched the piano and the music flowed from the keys. In a quiet, clear voice, she began to sing.
"Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father's throne
Make all my wants and wishes known."
Sophie joined in and the two girls harmonized together.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter's snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!"
When the hymn came to an end Dannie had tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Dannie, you're cryin'!" Sophie exclaimed.
"Of course I'm crying." Dannie tried to laugh as she wiped her eyes. "I'm singing the favorite hymn if my deceased father, and him only being dead for a year. There are so many memories tied up in this little song. When I sing, they flood my mind and I cannot stop the tears."
"Dannie, yours is the prettiest voice I've ever heard," Jake said in a gentle voice.
"Thank you, Jake," Dannie's cheek's burned a little from the compliment.
"And the two of you together don't sound too bad."
"Oh how kind, Jake!" Sophie rolled her eyes. "Who would have thought I could get some sort of a compliment out of you?"
"For you, Miss Martin, I've got a stash of such compliments to last a life time."
"Oh, stop the two of you," Jessica scolded. "Don't ruin the sweet moment."
"Daddy, you're cryin' too!" Sophie exclaimed in dismay. "What is it with this song that makes everyone cry?"
"I'm sorry, Sophie," Mr. Martin wiped his eyes with his wife's handkerchief. "Heaven knows I'm not the crying sort, but that song is something of a knife to my heart."
"Why?" Sophie prodded. "Just because it was the favorite hymn of a cousin?"
"Not just a cousin, a cousin whom I loved as a brother. How unfair it seems that I should be living and he is dead."
"I did not think you and my father were close," Dannie quietly said. "I did notice the news of his death brought you grief and did not want to pry, but I am curious why you never communicated, even more so now that you say you were almost brothers."
Chris Martin gazed sadly at Dannie. "Oh Dannie, sometimes a man's wonders if perhaps he had been wiser in his youth, many things in his life would have been very different. Your father and I grew up together. Robert lost his mother very early life and his father, John Preston, was far too busy with his occupation as an attorney to care for his son. Since the age of eight he lived in our home and was raised by my parents, Sidney and Jane Martin. I had no siblings and was very glad when Robert came to our home. I can say that the bond between us was stronger than any flesh and blood brothers' could be.
Our paths took very different directions as we grew. Robert's path led him to the church. He always wanted to be a minister, said it was his calling in life. I never understood such nonsense. I thirsted for adventure, I wanted to travel and see things. By this time my father had died and it was just Mother and me. John Preston offered to pay for my schooling, seeing as Mother did raise his son. I wanted to join the navy, but mother forbade it, telling me I could chose between the law, the church, or medicine. None of the options appealed to me, but I reluctantly went with medicine. A year later John Preston died, but left enough money for both Robert and me to complete our studies, there was even a small amount to help us get established. Two years after Mr. Preston's death my own mother passed away, and the first thing I did was drop medical school. I wanted to go to America and try my hand at something I had never done before. England held no prospects for me, I wanted to spread my wings and fly the nest. Robert said it was very immature behavior that I should at least finish studying and get an occupation. We had quite an argument on the matter. Robert told me his father didn't leave me money so I could throw it away on foolish passions. His less than supportive attitude was more than I could bear, I was older than him and having him lecture me was too much for my pride. I called him self-righteous and judgmental. It was the first time we ever spoke such harsh words to each other, and it ended with my storming away.
Two days later I set sail for Americas to make my fortune. And as you can well see, I truly have made it, but I never got back in contact with Robert. At first I was angry with him and so didn't want to communicate, I felt he had no business knowing anything about me. With time the anger faded, but I got so caught up with my life that I forgot about my cousin. And then, one day," Chris Martin paused and looked deep into Dannie's eyes. The entire room was silent as they listened with held breath to the tale. "One day a little lady comes to my home all covered in dust and introduces herself as the daughter of Robert Preston. I thought perhaps this was the chance to restore connections with him, but within a couple of sentences I hear that Robert is dead. I tried not to show it to anyone, but the news cut me to the heart. I realized I had waited for too long and Robert was gone for good. I had hardly thought of him the past couple of years and that only added to my shame. Why hadn't I written him? Why hadn't I told him of how I was doing? Why hadn't I kept in contact with him? Those are questions I don't know how to answer." Mr. Martin gave a sad chuckle. "That song, Sweet Hour of Prayer, he was singing it to himself the fateful day when I came to tell him my plans. Robert was a terrible singer, but that never stopped him from singing when no one was around. I remember I came in and he looks at me and says, "Chris, be sure to have that song played at my funeral." I laughed at this and promised that if I was still alive, I would lead the singing." Mr. Martin broke off and looked into the distance. "That was the last promise I made to Robert, and now I find it very ironic, very ironic indeed."
"My father only mentioned you once or twice," Dannie softly said, "but he never spoke about you in bitter anger. Once a gentleman came and informed us that you owned a ranch in Arizona, and Papa seemed to be happy that you had found your place in life. I don't think he held a grudge against you; you know Papa was incapable of holding any kind of grudges. Don't be mad at yourself, Mr. Martin, my father lived a good full life, he was happy, and he did what he was called to do."
Mr. Martin smiled and rising from his seat, came up to Dannie and put his hand on her shoulder. "In a way, I believe I have still been given a chance to make it all right. In taking you in, I can make amends with my cousin. It is like you brought a little piece of Robert with you and I have a chance to be friends with him once more."
He kissed Dannie's forehead and walked to the door, motioning for Jessie to follow him. "It's late, so don't hang around here too long." He wagged his finger at the four young people. "Two or three more songs and then off to your rooms. Carolina, make sure they don't sit here to late."
"Si, Senor Martin," Carolina nodded her head.
"It's not like we're little children, Daddy," Sophie protested.
"Could have fooled me." Mr. Martin winked at his daughter and departed from the parlor with his wife.
"And to think we didn't know nothin'," Caleb said once his father was gone. "Pa never mentioned Robert Preston to us even once."
"This is precisely why my father said to never judge a person, because you don't know what they might be hiding." Dannie's voice was quiet. "Only I fear I was never able to follow that teaching very well. Jake can tell you that."
"Human nature to judge, Dannie," Jake shrugged. "And I guess in some people it's more natural than others."
The two of them exchanged glances and smiled. Sophie didn't like the way they were looking at each other. It was obvious a secret that had just passed between the two of them; a private joke that neither Jake nor Dannie was going to share with the rest of the crowd. This bugged Sophie and she made up her mind to do something. Sophie was not a cruel girl, but she was very jealous of her new friend, the only female companion her age for miles around, and was determined not to lose her to Jake. She wanted Jake to just get back to the Cora Belle and have things return to normal. However, in her determination, Sophie didn't quite realize she was letting her mouth run away with her.
"Jake is a perfect example of someone with a strong inclination to prejudice," she stated in a cold voice. "All that man does is judge people, woman in particular. Why, I don't think there is one woman on this earth that you haven't placed into some sort of box."
"Yeah, well, maybe you're a big help to my not likin' your kind," Jake growled.
"And I'm right proud of that too!" Sophie retorted. "If you have no respect for my sex, then you're going to have to deal with the unpleasant consequences. I wonder how your Momma managed to live with you, Jake. No doubt you gave her a hard time with your whole woman hatin' thing."
Jake stood up sharply at Sophie's words and stormed out of the room. Dannie, Carolina, and Caleb stared speechless at Sophie.
"I cannot believe you said that, Sophie," Dannie spoke at last, her voice filled with disapproval. "Goodnight, everyone." She rose from the piano, gave a slight bow and departed from the room. Roy jumped up from where he had been laying by the piano and trotted after her.
"Whatever got into ya, Sophie Martin?" Caleb asked his sister in disbelief.
"You can't say things like that, Sophia, not about someone else's parents," Carolina angrily reprimanded.
"It's not like I..."
"Save it, Sophie," Caleb cut her off. "Just think what you would feel like if someone teased you about Ed?"
"That is an entirely different matter."
"No it ain't. You don't joke about other people's family members. And that's double true if the person doesn't happen to have them around. Watch your tongue, Sophie, it might dig your grave one day." Caleb threw a disgusted glance at his sister went off to his room.
"You must go an apologize to him!" Carolina said, grabbing Sophie be the arm and pulling her away from the piano.
"Apologize, to Jake?" Sophia scrunched her nose.
"Si. Come, you will find him and tell him you are sorry."
"I'll do it tomorrow." Sophie promised. "Now it's late and he probably went to bed. You don't want me to walk into his bedroom, do you? I mean, what if he has already undressed?"
"Sophia!" Carolina exclaimed. "Not another word; how very silly you can be. Very well, if you promise you will ask forgiveness tomorrow."
"I promise. First thing in the morning I'll march up to his room, pound on the door and yell: wake up, Jacob Wade, I'm here to apologize!"
Sophie acted out the words, causing her and Carolina to burst out laughing.
"Oh, Sophia," Carolina sighed once they had settled down. "What a silly child you are. Now run to your room and go to sleep, it is very late." Carolina gave her pet a kiss and sent her up the stairs before retiring to her own room for the night.