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Till I Come Marching Home

Till I Come Marching Home by Elsan H. Stafford
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Scott Kilmeade backsteps through time and travels the now ravaged cities of war-torn France, not only to rejoin the past and restore the vacant slate of his mind, but to recapture what at present remains a nagging fragment of one visionless memory: the certain knowledge that once, in a life not so long passed, he had been deeply and irrevocably in love.
SynergEbooks; October 2005
71 pages; ISBN 9780744310757
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Title: Till I Come Marching Home
Author: Elsan H. Stafford

He sat there at the small table on the sidewalk cafe, a stone's throw from the blue waters of the sultry Mediterranean. The strand that lay between was thronged to the inch with the usual mass of Sunday bathers. The cacophonous infusion of their myriad voices into the intermittent roar of the waves that crashed against the crags along the shore, tainted the summer air. But the young man seemed oblivious to the distraction of the concomitant tumult.

To a casual observer, the slight upward tilt of his head suggested the focus of his gaze was directed further out to sea, where in the distance, gracing the pictorial seascape, a painted vessel lay quietly at anchor, its white sails furled and lashed, its highest mast bearing a flag that proudly waved in the gentle breeze . . .a star spangled banner! Rather, it was the anticipatory posture of a man in the strained attitude of listening for some particular sound out of the mysterious past illusive of its capture.

The extravagance of all the artistic beauty of this scenery was wasted on the visual senses of the silent erstwhile observer. The large, dark glasses he wore to protect his eyes from the bright summer sun, and the red and white cane he couched across his lap attested to an affliction of extreme visual disability. Beneath the recent tan of his handsome features, acquired from the long sea voyage from America, lurked a pallor suggestive of a protracted and exacerbating illness, both physical and mental. On his forehead, just above his left eyebrow, he bore a six-inch livid scar . . . a remnant of his military service with the Second U.S. Infantry Division on its drive from the bloody beach at Normandy to Paris and beyond, which a bursting shell fragment had ended abruptly several months before the capture of Berlin and the cessation of hostilities in the European theater of World War Two. His wound had assessed a double indemnity, for with his sight, imposing fate had also deprived him of his memory!

At the same table, across from him, sat his constant companion and manservant, as well as physician; an older man who had attended him the several years he had been hospitalized, and subsequently retained by him upon his discharge from the military hospital in New York. Three more years had elapsed since then . . .years lost in time, whose ravages were inconsequential to him, for time has no dimension to a man who lies inert in darkness and is bereft of the knowledge of identity. A vegetable has no knowledge of self!

Some time before leaving America on his voyage to France, his functional memory suddenly began resurrecting itself. His mind became spasmodically assailed with intermittent and increasingly vivid flashes of disturbing, nostalgic scenes and sounds, attended each time by a precursor of intense physical pain in his head. Finally, as these transient images persisted, their replication and extended their tenure of existence in his mind, he gradually began to discriminate their structure. Then, with seemingly sentient determination, they metamorphosed finally into some semblance of availability he could relate to, and realized they must somehow have been a consequential, if not vital link in the broken chain of his interrupted life!

Yes, he knew he was alive now! He knew he was a man! It was the eternal darkness he did not understand! But instinctively he knew these pictorial flashes were a psychic or spiritual message importuning him to reclaim an essence of great value that had once belonged to him and, still existing, could be his again, for the taking.

Progressively with each resurgent experience the accompanying physical pain diminished, to be superseded by a nostalgic echo in his empty heart, and an escalating resolve to recapture his memory and secure the substance of this lost beauty that seemed so dear to him.

And then one day, as he reclined fretfully in his easy chair listening as his friend read to him from a book of poetry, a vital incident of memory flooded back upon him for an instant, in a great deluge of passion and alarm! And at last he knew his pain was love, for these two are inseparable. And he knew that love was stronger than death and that love had given back his life to him. If only a thread! It was a clue . . . a beginning! Yes, there had been a girl. And they had been inconsolably in love!

He held the reins of his life in his grasp once more, and he knew what he must do. With unrestrained eagerness he interrupted the reader, almost shouting: "Richards! I remember . . . I have seen. I must go to her. Come, let us begin at once, now . . . Prepare to leave for France. It is there I will find her . . . My beautiful Mignonette." He paused for a moment, struggling for rationality. "Dear God!" he groaned, "How long has it been? Years? Oh, my darling. What must she think of me." Again, "Tell me, how long has it been?" His voice was distraught with anguish!

His companion, himself shaken by his friend’s exhibition of unrestrained grief and his revelation of memory, answered in a tone adopted to soothe the young man's dismay, but his words were also designed to impart the necessary and inescapable truth. "More than five years, I'm afraid, Colonel, since you received your wound . . ." He paused, then continued, directing his speech to the matter of the moment, "Your yacht is ready to sail, sir. I have arranged for you to meet with a number of brain specialists in Europe, who have indicated optimistic hope your sight and your complete memory can be restored. We can leave by tomorrow evening, if you wish. It's early summer, and the weather is calm. I'll alert the crew at once, to make ready."

"My wound? Yes, of course! There must have been a wound. That explains much of this." He paused thoughtfully, "And this darkness . . . I am blind!" And then hopefully, "But my memory . . . it is returning. I must be patient. And I must find my Mignonette. I must find her. I will do whatever I must to accomplish that . . . and as quickly as possible." He reached out and touched Richards, his voice tinged with restrained emotion . . ."You have been a great friend to me, sir. I shall be ever obliged to you."