Though None Go with Me, p.11Jerry B. Jenkins
She decided he was the most gallant man she would ever have the privilege to know.
Elisabeth felt beyond repair. Her confusion over Ben was a fleeting memory, and snatches of it made her wonder if she had contributed to his death. She was now horrified by war stories and avoided the newspaper; despite that over the next several months the Allies and the U.S. pushed to victory.
She was haunted that so many of those who drowned on the transport had never been accounted for. By fall, more than twenty percent had still not been found. Ben’s miraculous return became a recurring dream that ended as a nightmare, for either he was unreachable or she awoke just as they embraced. She sweated through her nightclothes and awoke in tears, wondering how she could go another day without him.
Elisabeth was determined to follow through on her commitment to Christ, though she alarmed herself with a nagging resentment toward what she felt God had allowed. Other than not having cleared her marriage decision through prayer, had she not been obedient? Even that had been an act of omission rather than commission.
She worked at communicating with God every waking moment, but she heard only silence back. She knew death was the devil’s business and not God’s, yet something told her she had been responsible for this. The Bible became a textbook, uninteresting, hard to get into, impossible to stay with. She prayed for a renewed hunger and thirst for it, but all she seemed to crave was more sleep.
Elisabeth worked full-time at Snyder’s now, and while she had taken the rest of the summer off from her responsibilities at church, she was soon back to work there too. Many Sunday mornings she felt hypocritical, earnestly trying to impress upon her class the truth of Scripture while not feeling it in her heart.
The last five years of her life had been an experiment, and the experiment had failed. What had she hoped to gain by total obedience? Favor? Reward? That went against everything she knew. And she had to admit that her father, her pastor, and even the evangelist Hasper had warned her she had chosen a hard path. It had sounded glamorous. Now, in the thick of it, she did not feel fit for battle. She hung on for dear life, fearful of defeat.
“I haven’t seen Lucy in a while, Will,” Elisabeth said in the truck after work one night in September.
“We were just friends, Elspeth.”
“And you and I, Will?”
He hesitated. “Do you have to ask?”
“Always friends, I hope.”
An influenza epidemic ravaged Three Rivers that fall, affecting nearly every household. All over town, people of all ages died. Some fell ill in the morning and died before nightfall. Others suffered for days, only to survive. Area hospitals and clinics were full, the schools closed. Health department quarantines and police curfews were established in the hope of keeping infected people away from healthy ones. The pharmacy ran short of medicine, and eventually Elisabeth herself was stricken.
She felt so bad about bringing the disease into the Bishop household that she pleaded with Will to find somewhere for her out of town. But he cared for her himself, bringing food and tonics up to her, checking on her around the clock, even—to her abject embarrassment—policing her chamber pot.
She grew so ill at one point that Pastor Hill visited, wearing a surgical mask. Elisabeth was delirious, conscious only that she hated to face Will. During lucid moments she pleaded for news of others in the house. When a doctor finally got around to her, she established rapport as daughter of the late Dr. James LeRoy. She then coerced him into admitting that two Bishops, a niece and a nephew, had been hauled away by the mortician in the previous ten days. Elisabeth was inconsolable, though the doctor assured her their diseases had incubated much longer than hers had. “Naturally you will grieve, ma’am, but you would be wrong to feel in the least responsible. It’s more likely they infected you than the other way ’round. I worry about Will, however. He has eluded this killer strain so far, but he is exhausted, and I fear for his immune system.”
“You must insist he stop caring for me,” Elisabeth pleaded. “He won’t listen.”
“Everyone else in the house is down, young lady. Don’t you realize he’s caring for you all?”
“I have some money,” she said. “The lawyer Mr. Beck has access to it. It’s not much, but it will pay for nursing care for a few months. Please tell me you’ll see to it.”
The doctor shook his head. “You couldn’t find medical care in this state for all the money in the world. We’re stretched beyond the limit. I’m working twenty-hour days myself, and half the hospital staff is home sick. If you’re a praying woman, please do. It’ll take a miracle to keep this monster from destroying the town.”
The next day Elisabeth was so determined to spell Will that she tried to make it downstairs. Fever had so swollen her joints that she collapsed on the steps. She remained there, refusing to call for help despite her chill, hot flashes, and nausea. She prayed she would not be discovered there, having expired or eliminated—deciding the latter would be worse.
When Will finally came upon her, she could only cry, “Please! Get someone to help you!”
Elisabeth hid her face as he knelt and lifted her wasted frame like a baby. He struggled to keep his balance at the top of the stairs and she could tell he had lost strength. He placed her gently on the bed and covered her. She felt unworthy and wanted to say so, but Will had long since quit responding to anything she said.
When he left with her chamber pot yet again, she sought God with all her heart, pleading to either die or recover quickly enough to relieve Will before he himself died.
Her fever broke in the middle of the morning three days later.
The house was silent, the sun high. Elisabeth crept out of bed, weak and shaky. She pulled on her robe and slowly, carefully made her way downstairs. The house smelled of medicine and death. The brothers-in-law, greasy with sweat, were loading the truck. She resented that they were healthy enough for that but had never, as far as she knew, helped Will with the rest of the family.
Will’s sisters shared bedrooms with sick children. Will lay on a couch in the living room, asleep. Elisabeth tiptoed past him to the front door and peered out. The men looked angry and none too healthy themselves. They had been so standoffish around her that she didn’t even know which was which. She opened the door and the sweet, fresh air hit her like an elixir.
“You still contagious?” one asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “What’s going on?”
“We bought Will’s truck,” one said. “Movin’ south. We’ve both lost kids, and now with Miz Bishop gone, it’s time to head out.”
“It’s for the best.”
“Lost two each.”
Elisabeth nearly toppled. And what of the one in her Sunday school class? “Sue?” she asked.
One hung his head. The other looked at her, and she knew.
“Do you know whether Will has caught the flu?” she whispered.
“Doesn’t look like it. A miracle for sure.”
Elisabeth loved but also feared the cold wind. “You’ll see that those kids get to church and Sunday school wherever you’re going, won’t you?”
Within a week, the house was empty save for Will and Elisabeth. The first night they were alone he moved to the Central House. “I’ll check on you,” he said. “But I can’t stay here and have people talk. I’ll advertise for boarders, and when we get some, I’ll move back in.”
The town grieved its losses for months. Elisabeth slowly regained her strength, went back to work and church, and made a project of scrubbing the huge old house from top to bottom. Will called her occasionally and gave her rides in his new used car. But he was busy with his side jobs and his starting accounting position at Fairbanks-Morse, a railroad car assembly plant which had just co
Late in November he stopped by Snyder’s as Elisabeth was closing up. “It’s good to see you,” she said. “I have a surprise for you.”
“I came by because I’ve got one for you,” he said. “Two families answered my ad today. They’ll be here next week. This weekend I have to get the house in shape.”
“Need me to cook for them?” Elisabeth said, climbing into the car.
“I wouldn’t ask you. I told them they had use of the kitchen, but their rent includes only bed, not board.”
Elisabeth was relieved. She didn’t need cooking chores on top of everything else. “It’ll be good to have you back,” she said. “I can never thank you enough—”
“Please, Elspeth. You’d have done the same if you’d been the healthy one.”
She hoped that were true.
“It’s been lonely in that old place,” she said. “Thanks for protecting my reputation.”
“I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
“I should compensate you for what you had to pay to stay somewhere else.”
“Don’t start with that,” he said. “It was my choice. I could have evicted you.”
“Or married me and killed two birds with one rent check.”
He did not appear amused. “Don’t joke about that, Elspeth,” he said, crossing the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Portage River into the fourth ward. “You’re in mourning for a year.”
“I have to wait till next summer for you, Will Bishop?”
“Don’t tease me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. For once she wished she’d kept Ben’s and her secret. Once it was known that she had been engaged to him, she was expected to mourn his death for a year. Of course, she would mourn. In fact she wondered if she would ever be over it, or over Ben. But she was also coming up on nineteen years old, and there was not another man in the world she would look at twice besides Will Bishop.
Did she love him? With all her heart. How could she not? They had so much in common, not the least of which was that they were both orphans. He was so proper and traditional that she knew he would not even ask to see her socially until June of 1919.
He pulled into the driveway. “You never told me your surprise,” he said.
“We shouldn’t be in there together at this time of night,” he said.
“Where do I look?”
Elisabeth was thrilled to see the lights come on as he rushed from room to room. Soon he bounded out, the first time she had seen him grinning in months. “Elspeth, you’re the berries! What’s that smell in there? Where’d you get disinfectant and whatever else it is I can’t make out?”
“I used ammonia for the first scrub down, then covered it with witch hazel and vanilla extract. You’d be surprised what you learn at a pharmacy.”
“I have to pay for the materials and all that labor.”
“Nonsense, Will. Don’t you dare insult me by mentioning that ever again. I could paint this place with three coats and still owe you my very life. I could never repay your kindnesses.”
He held up a hand. “All right,” he said. “I’ll abide by your wish if you’ll abide by mine. We’re even. We don’t owe each other a thing.”
“I owe you a lot more than you owe me,” she said.
“You’ve already violated our agreement,” he said, smiling.
“Okay,” she said. “Truce. You want to call it even, we’re even.”
He thrust out his hand to shake on it. She took it in both of hers.
“I’m looking forward to getting back home,” he said.
“This is starting to feel like home to me too, Will.” She wanted to add, “And next summer you’d better come courting,” but she had been forward enough for one evening.
Elisabeth counted the days until the boarders arrived. With her renewed health and anticipating getting to know Will in a new way, it seemed she had unlocked the gates of heaven. Her prayer life became sweet, and she looked forward to reading her Bible again.
Still she worried. Elisabeth hated being alone in the huge house overnight, and she started at every noise. Four nights before the boarders were to move in, she was sound asleep in her bed with every window and door locked. During the wee hours she was startled wide awake. What had she heard? Breaking glass? From where? She bolted upright and sat still, squinting at her alarm clock. It was five before two in the morning.
More noise. The back door downstairs. She held her breath. A rattle of the door, maybe the lock being jimmied. This was not the wind or the house settling or her imagination, excuses with which she had calmed herself before.
Elisabeth crept from her bed—her whole body trembling—and painstakingly opened her door to listen. She prayed whoever was down there was unaware she was in the house. Who kept anything of value in unheated upstairs rooms anyway? “Lord,” she prayed silently, “if it’s a burglar, let him look around down there and be on his way.”
Heart cracking against her ribs, Elisabeth could not slow her breathing. When the door downstairs banged open she could tell at least two men were in the house. One said, “Somebody’s living here. Look at this kitchen.”
One shushed the other and Elisabeth had to cover her mouth to keep from whimpering aloud. Why couldn’t they realize they had chosen a poor home and just leave? They had to be strangers. Who breaks into a fourth ward home when first ward mansions are just across the river?
What if they came upstairs? God, help me.
Elisabeth tiptoed to her closet and found the bucket, a mop, and a half-full bottle of ammonia, which she dumped into the bucket. Her eyes and nose smarted from the noxious fumes. She set the bucket and mop quietly near the door, which she closed within an inch of the jamb.
Elisabeth heard one of the men say something about “upstairs” and feared she would collapse from fright. Heavy clomping at the base of the stairs told her the man was large, old, or drunk. “I will not go easily,” she told God. “Give me strength.”
Standing in the darkness she could see through the slightly opened door to the landing midway up where the stairs turned. Elisabeth nearly squealed when the man reached that landing. He was big and slow and ponderous, wearing a navy blue shirt and pants and huge, dark boots. He wore a navy cap as well.
As he reached the top landing a few feet from her door, Elisabeth immersed the mop head in the ammonia and stood back. She held the mop like a baseball bat, the ammonia sickening her and dripping softly onto the floor. She was amazed how heavy the sodden mop was, holding it that way.
When the shadow of the big man’s head appeared in the crack of the door, she swung with all her might. The business end of the mop seemed to move slowly, but it picked up speed with the momentum her adrenaline provided. As the man’s nose poked through the opening, she smashed his face with a mop head full of undiluted ammonia. He screamed as the door swung open and he staggered back into the railing, which met him at the hip and cracked under his weight.
Elisabeth now held the mop like a poker, her left hand down the handle a couple of feet. The tortured intruder blindly lurched toward her, and Elisabeth charged. It was kill or be killed.
She drove the dripping mop into his face again, snapping his head back and making him reel. He stumbled backward again, so she parried and thrust again, this time catching him in the sternum as his weight carried him back. He broke through the banister and went screaming off the ledge from at least eight feet. His big body resounded as he slammed onto the stairs and tumbled the rest of the way down.
Elisabeth stepped out to see if she had killed him. Seeing him lying there motionless, she assumed she had. Dogs barked and through the window she saw other lights come on in the neighborhood. The injured man’s compatriot hollered, “What’s going on up there?”
Ammonia Face gro
“Come on up here,” Elisabeth shouted, surprising herself, “and you’ll wind up right beside him!”
She didn’t know what she’d do if he hurdled his friend and came after her. Being on higher ground seemed an advantage, but how long could she fend off two men with a smelly mop?
“That’s enough for one night, Edgar,” the latecomer said, and he yanked his friend off the floor, steering him toward the back door. “Whew! Have you wet yourself?”
“That’s ammonia, George! Don’t you know anything?”
“You want to see my shotgun?” Elisabeth called after them, wondering where in the world she came up with that. When she saw the men run through the alley toward the west, her knees buckled and she slumped to the floor.
“Hello?” came the voices of an older couple next door. “Have you had trouble here?”
“Yes!” Elisabeth called out. “Call the police! And Mr. Bishop at Central House!”
The clumsy housebreakers were arrested twenty-five minutes later at the hospital at Bonnie Castle, seeking treatment for Edgar’s eyes and assorted contusions. Like the fools they were, they used their real names and were quickly identified. The pair had been fired late that afternoon from the Hazen Lumber Company and admitted they’d heard of an abandoned boarding house assumed ripe for picking.
Will took Elisabeth to Pastor Hill’s home, where he and his wife happily took her in and insisted she stay until the boarders arrived at Will’s. “I lied to those men, Pastor,” she said. “I implied I had a shotgun.”
“Do you want to ask their forgiveness?” he said, smiling.
“But what about driving that poor man over the railing?”
“I wish I’d seen it,” the pastor said.
“Seriously? You had no idea they were bumblers who likely would have done you no harm. You asked God to help you. You operated biblically.”
Though None Go with Me by Jerry B. Jenkins / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes