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Though none go with me, p.13
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       Though None Go with Me, p.13

           Jerry B. Jenkins
 
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  “Which one would you like?” Will said.

  Elisabeth’s eyes were glued to the one before her. “This would suit me just fine,” she said.

  “That’s a relief. It’s yours.”

  She laughed. “And have you arranged a tour? I’d love to see it if we have time. We must get home soon though, mustn’t we?”

  But Will was out of the car and coming around to her side. As she stepped out she noticed keys in his hand. “Will. What is this?”

  He took her arm and led her up the icy front steps and onto an expansive Victorian porch. The roofline was all angles and gingerbread. Elisabeth was falling in love with the place, still unsure what to make of it and not wanting to get her hopes up. It was impossible they could afford something so extravagant and more than they would need until they had half a dozen children.

  Will unlocked the door. The house was bare, but the fireplace in the living room blazed. Someone had been put up to that. She could only hope it was a realty agent who knew better than Will that this was beyond his reach.

  The interior was even more impressive than the exterior, everything freshly painted, scrubbed, and waxed. Elisabeth enjoyed the beauty, imagining what she would put where. Will was maddeningly silent, grinning, and—she feared—wasting their time. He had proved to be a bright man, a fast riser within Fairbanks-Morse, the youngest manager in their history, and much more handsomely paid than she ever dreamed he would be. But perhaps he was still naïve. Maybe because he had never lived in this ward he was under the impression that a person could take out a mortgage on a place like this and help make the payments by taking in boarders.

  By the time they reached the kitchen Elisabeth had had her fill of the excursion and was through dreaming. “We really should go, Will.”

  “We really should stay,” he said.

  “No, really.”

  “Just one more room,” he said.

  She sighed and followed him to a glassed-in sunroom in the back. She looked past the tarpaulin-covered piles that filled half the room, apparently belongings that had yet to be moved. Elisabeth was struck by the wide lawn that led to the river and the tree-lined horizon beyond. The sun would set over those trees and create an enchanting vista. “It’s gorgeous,” she said. “All right? Can we go home?”

  “We’re home, Elspeth. Look here.”

  He pulled the tarpaulin off the piles and she saw it was his things and hers from the other house. “We need to talk,” she said. “This is ridiculous.”

  Will found two chairs that looked shabby in their new surroundings, and set them next to the window, facing each other. Elisabeth reluctantly sat across from him, and he took her hands in his. “Will, I don’t need this. I don’t want this. We’re sensible, middle-class people.”

  “You were raised in this neighborhood,” he said.

  “Not on this street I wasn’t. This is above me. I wouldn’t feel comfortable here, knowing the hole you had to put yourself in to get it. We’ll look silly, rattling around in here—”

  “Until we start filling it.”

  “You can’t take in boarders in this neighborhood.”

  “I meant our own family.”

  “Will, we’d live under the mortgage for years and we’d never be able to live up to the expectations of the—”

  He let go one of her hands and put a finger to her lips. “If I can’t persuade you,” he said, “I’ll put it back on the market tomorrow. But hear me out. I have been saving every spare penny since I was a child. For years that meant just a few cents a week, but then it became dollars. When my father died we had some tough years, but the boarding house was cheap and quickly paid for, and you know I did most of the work myself. I sold the house and the business. If we went back there, we’d have to pay rent.

  “I’ve had my eye on a place like this since I was twelve years old. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to disappoint you if I never achieved it. My life’s dream was to go into our marriage with only a small mortgage. I make a good salary, and our only debt is a mortgage that will pay off the balance in ten years, about the same amount we would have paid for rent or for a smaller home in another ward.”

  “Which would have suited me perfectly.”

  “That’s one of the things I love so much about you, Elspeth. But even without you working, we can easily make the payments, cover other expenses, and even save. I’ve worked toward this my whole life, but I’m not married to it. I’m married to you, and all I want is to make you happy. Tell me what would make you happy, and I’ll do it without looking back.”

  “You’d sell this place and we could set up housekeeping in a normal house?”

  “If that made you happy.”

  “But I want you to be happy.”

  He smiled and shook his head. “I’m happy if you’re happy.”

  “That gets us nowhere, Will. Tell me what you want.”

  “You know what I want. I want to give you this.”

  “That would make you happy.”

  “That would thrill me.”

  She studied him, loving him all the more. “Then I accept.”

  “Really?”

  “Absolutely.”

  “And all your objections?”

  “I’ll get over them. I might feel self-conscious for a while, but who wouldn’t love this place and be grateful to God for a husband so kind?”

  Will slumped in his chair. “I was afraid you were going to refuse.”

  “When have I ever refused you, darling?”

  He smiled. “There was that night on the way back from camp.”

  She laughed. “Obnoxious as you were, who knew you were right? I’ll never refuse you again.”

  Elisabeth settled in more quickly than she could have imagined as the only matriarch on the street without professional help. She decorated rooms, arranged furniture, and set about preparing the home to entertain. She reminded Will often that she could only feel comfortable in such opulence if she shared it as a gift from God. Her Sunday school classes, the choir, the missionary society, their friends, Will’s coworkers, just about anybody and everybody was welcome to parties, dinners, or even to stay overnight. Visiting speakers at church and other dignitaries learned to call the place their home away from home. To the consternation of some of the snootier neighbors, the Bishop home became a catalyst to bring a new class of people into the neighborhood.

  Elisabeth’s days were full and rich, and for the first time since she had made her lifetime commitment to Christ, she felt God was smiling upon her. She knew she didn’t deserve it, that she hadn’t earned it. But she believed God would honor obedience and dedication. All right, perhaps the sacrifice part was in the past, but hadn’t she had—as Pastor Hill’s wife once lamented—too much at too young an age anyway? Maybe she had already had her allotment of turmoil for one lifetime. She occasionally felt the guilt of living in such comfort, but neither was she possessive or worshipful of it. The more she was able to give, the happier she was.

  Elisabeth rose early enough every day to send Will off with a hearty breakfast. Every other day he walked all the way to the factory, so he was in the best shape of his life. She, on the other hand, busy as she was, was eating well too and found herself picking up the occasional pound. No one else, not even Will, noticed. But she did.

  When Will was gone she spent an hour in the sunroom reading her Bible and praying. Then she sat at the piano, brushing up to accompany the singing at church—and improving her memory of every verse of every song in the hymnbook. It was an unusual ability and one that never ceased to amaze Will. During congregational singing, she never looked at the hymnal and never missed a word. Soon she even played from memory. Hymn lyrics had become nearly as dear to her as her Bible, and she loved meditating on them.

  Elisabeth was busy at church and in the community, and near the end of their first year in the new house, few would have believed that she was yet to turn twenty-one. Elisabeth was an established woman about t
own, married to a most successful and prosperous young husband only a few months older than she.

  On her twenty-first birthday Will took her out for dinner and gave her a beautiful necklace. “I have something for you too,” she said.

  “A present for me on your birthday?” he said.

  She nodded. “Just a bit of news I hope you will like. Sometime around the end of July I should be able to refer to you as Daddy.”

  She loved his dumbstruck look. “You mean it?” he said, a little too loudly.

  Elisabeth put a finger to his lips. “That’s not the kind of a thing I’d tease about.”

  She suffered a difficult pregnancy and a nearly unbearable summer of heat. On July 25 she gave birth to a son they named—not merely with Will’s permission, but with his insistence—Benjamin Phillip Bishop. He was a sickly, colicky baby who kept them up all hours, causing their first angry words and heated argument, yet they loved him with all that was in them.

  Benjy, as Elisabeth called him, nearly wore her out, and by the time he was two she confessed to her physician that she wasn’t sure she was ready for another child. Her beautiful home had been reorganized to accommodate an energetic, curious, extremely strong-willed and messy toddler. She spent most of her day keeping track of him and trying to discipline him.

  Will proved a good and attentive father. Elisabeth, though, because of her lack of time to take care of herself, felt unattractive. Pregnant with their second child by late 1923, Elisabeth suddenly felt older than her years and worried about maintaining the idyllic marriage she and Will had begun. But he was wonderful about getting home at the same time every night and spelling her so she could have a break and get some rest.

  May 15, 1924, Elisabeth Vera was born, and the Bishops called her Betty from the beginning. Just about the time Benjy had shaken all the physical ailments from his infancy and had become a stubborn and tireless three-and-a-half year old, Betty was diagnosed with chronic asthma that the doctor predicted would plague her all her life.

  Elisabeth was distraught but determined to provide for all of her children’s needs, whatever they might be. As exhausting as these first two were, Will still looked forward to a house full. In her more rational moments, after a good night’s sleep or when the babies were napping, she realized that Will was right. He acknowledged that she had the tougher job, but this too would pass, and they envisioned a big happy family of children who would come to Christ and serve God. That, she and Will agreed, was their highest calling.

  Late that fall Elisabeth asked Frances Childs to come and watch the kids while she went to the doctor yet again. While she held her suspicions until she knew for sure, she hoped Will would be more excited than she was about yet another pregnancy. She could not tell him of her growing despair. She knew she would get over it and love the child.

  PART TWO

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  On the way home from the doctor’s office, Elisabeth prayed for the grace to accept yet another child and the emotional freedom to share Will’s likely excitement.

  She could not deny God’s obvious blessing in her choice of a marriage partner: Will seemed always to rise to the occasion, being patient and kind with her even when she was testy. It was difficult even to fault him over the division of duties. She handled the household and he worked full-time, and after several years of marriage and two children, he was still quick to help and even to anticipate when she needed it.

  Elisabeth had in her mind a vision of the perfect mother, and she feared she had never matched it. In fact, she was more sympathetic every day to the temperament of Aunt Agatha. Elisabeth wondered if she had been as challenging a baby or toddler as her two were. If she had been, it was no wonder Aunt Agatha turned her out the first chance she got.

  With that realization came a wave of gratitude. Why had she never thought of it before? As she walked up the front walk—eager to know how Frances had made out with the children and also conjuring a way to break the new baby news to Will—she stopped briefly and surveyed her beautiful home in a new light. She had always been thankful for it, but she had seen it as something Will had done for her. Yes, he was the wonderful husband God had provided, but now for the first time she understood that this place, this house, was God’s recompense for the loss of her childhood home.

  The fiasco with Aunt Agatha had been Elisabeth’s fault. She had spoken recklessly and then felt obligated to stand by her word. She had been walked on and allowed the wishes of her dear father to be overruled. And yet because in the end she had acted honorably and not in her own interest, God had blessed her. Elisabeth didn’t know what a theologian would say about that logic, but she believed it nonetheless.

  Frances seemed relieved that Elisabeth was home, though she was ahead of schedule. “The children sleeping?” Elisabeth said.

  “They are now,” Frances said flatly. “But they’ve been down only ten minutes.”

  Elisabeth was alarmed at her friend’s tone. “Everything all right, Fran?”

  Frances was busily collecting her things. “Frankly, no. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask that you find someone else next time.”

  “What is it? Trouble?”

  “Just the usual. I’m scared to death I’m not going to get the steamer right for the little one, her breathing is so labored. And I cannot concentrate on her when Benjy is up and around. He doesn’t listen, doesn’t obey. He has such a mind of his own, and, Elisabeth, I know it’s only a stage, but I cannot handle him. I don’t know how you do it.”

  “He’s a handful for me too.”

  “Sometimes I think it’s a godsend that Art and I have so far been unable to—oh, Elisabeth, forgive me. I’m not implying it would have been better if you hadn’t been able—well, bless you. In an emergency, call me. But otherwise …”

  Elisabeth walked Frances to the door. “I understand.”

  “And you won’t hold it against me?”

  “Of course not.”

  “You had a phone call, by the way.”

  “Oh?”

  “Mrs. Phillips. It had to have been Ben’s mother, don’t you think?”

  Elisabeth racked her brain. “That’s the only Phillips I know.”

  “She’s quite eager to talk with you. She asked me to tell you to expect her.”

  Elisabeth was at a loss. “In person?”

  “I told her I couldn’t say whether you were prepared to entertain a guest, but she was not dissuaded.”

  “I wonder how she got my number.”

  “She said she called the drugstore and they gave her your married name. I hope they weren’t out of line.”

  “Not at all.”

  Elisabeth expected Will at six. Betty was up wheezing by four and Benjy shortly made his noisy appearance. How could she possibly see Mrs. Phillips, and what was so important? Elisabeth had never followed through on her promise at Ben’s memorial service to keep in touch, but neither had the Phillipses.

  With dinner on the stove, Betty in her arms, and Benjy testing the back door lock, Elisabeth saw a late-model motor car pull up out front. Mr. Phillips came around to open his wife’s door but then returned and waited behind the wheel.

  “My goodness, you’ve married well, haven’t you?” Mrs. Phillips said as Elisabeth welcomed her in.

  “Not so well as it might appear,” Elisabeth said, “but we’re happy, and we do love our house.”

  “I’m sorry to barge in, dear. In fact, when we learned you had married, my husband urged me to leave you alone. But you deserve to know. I would not have wanted you to find out and wonder why the news had not come from us.”

  “News?”

  Mrs. Phillips pulled from her purse a letter from the War Department. “Let me hold the baby while you read it. She’s not contagious, is she?”

  Elisabeth smoothed the sheet before her and read, “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Phillips: A critically ill unidentified man, long assumed a derelict, has languished for years in a British clinic. Thought to be in hi
s thirties, he was pulled half-eaten and barely alive from the English Channel during the war. Because he was rescued so far from action, bore no clothing, and carried no identification, the prospect of his being a serviceman was ruled out. Due to severe amnesia, he has only recently been able to communicate, and British authorities now believe he may be American military. We’re asking next of kin to some victims of the Great War to provide any clues that might help us determine if he is one of ours. If he is, you may rest assured that we will do all within our power to bring him home and get him the best care possible.”

  Elisabeth could not speak. She traded the letter for the baby.

  “We’re on our way overseas,” Mrs. Phillips said.

  “It’s him?” Elisabeth said, her eyes stinging and her head light.

  She nodded. “We informed them of the unusual formation of three small moles on his forearm that look like a tiny footprint. They told us that was one of his few unaffected areas above the waist. They will confirm with dental records, but we have no doubt.”

  “I—I—I don’t know what to say.” Elisabeth felt as if she were dreaming.

  “That you’re glad to hear he’s alive would be a start,” Mrs. Phillips said, brusquely handing back the baby.

  “Of course! I’m just, just—”

  “Shocked, I’m sure. And you’re married. And a mother.”

  Elisabeth wanted to defend herself, to ask Mrs. Phillips if she had expected her to wait for Ben’s return. Was this possible? How could it be? Who could have known? What would she have done if she’d known earlier, knowing God was steering her toward Will anyway? How would Mrs. Phillips have endured that crisis?

  Dumbfounded and knowing she sounded so, Elisabeth said, “Well, thank you for telling me.”

  “Shall I keep you posted, or would you rather I had not informed you at all?”

  “No, of course, Will and I will be eager to hear if he’s all right.”

  Mrs. Phillips smoothed her skirt and leaned to look out the window at the car. “We already know he’s not all right.”

 
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