An Avalon Amour
By Jamie McGraw
America was nothing compared to the homeland. Vast stretches of desert and plain, not the emerald hills, the crystal brooks and sprawling cottage gardens of old England. And Emma, who could forget Emma? With hair the color of fire and eyes like jade, she occupied every one of Daniel's waking moments. It was a pity she wasn't there to share America with him. But Daniel was working, working to build a place for her, and he was confident that within the year his hog farm would be growing enough meat - and his trapping business providing enough income - for her to move over as well. Daniel missed Emma and England.
Reining in on the horses that pulled his wagon, Daniel came to a halt outside Avalon's Presbyterian church. People were streaming in from the surrounding countryside, come to worship and pray before God. The fields would be left untilled today, and many of the animals would have to find food on their own. Sunday was a day of rest. Guiding his horses to the shade of a gnarled oak, Daniel took off his hat and headed towards the church himself. He wondered if Emma would be going to church at this very moment. But no, it would be early morning in England. Most likely she would be curled up in her bed, dreaming of Daniel and America.
God did not comfort his pain as he entered the church proper. In fact, his pain seemed to become worse. They had agreed to move to America because of their religion (less persecution over there, people said), and Daniel didn't want any of his children to become coal miners, like he had been for fifteen years. Here there was opportunity. In England there was only the drudgery of knowing you would stay in a rut, unable to find a way out. But England was still more beautiful than America.
The minister greeted him at the door. "Daniel, it is good to see you again. How are the pigs? Caught any more beaver?" Minister John Davies took Daniel's hand and gripped it firmly, shaking it with the strength of a fervent believer. He smiled at Daniel, and Daniel saw the sympathy reflected within his dark eyes. I know you miss your wife. Daniel had just about had enough of their pity... but it was good to know that people cared. "Come, we have a pair of new additions to our flock. I want you to meet them." Without any further words the minister dragged him like an oxen pulling a plow, guiding him through the assembled worshippers with ease. He halted before a pair of bashful, slightly bewildered people who looked at the reverend with relief, a familiar face in a sea of unknowns. "This is Samuel Fine and Catherine Aragon - they're starting up the cattle farm a few miles past your place."
"You're not married?" Daniel knew the words were stupid as soon as he said them, but he couldn't think of any dignified way to recover except by making a fool of himself even more.
"We are betrothed," the young man explained, leaning forward to shake Daniel's hand. "The only reason we were not married in England was because only one ship left from our town every six months - we did not want to wait that long. And you? Are you married?"
Daniel wanted to ask which town they came from, but found himself saying, "My wife is back in England. I'm preparing a place for her in Avalon."
"It must be difficult for you, without her." They were the first words Catherine spoke.
Daniel looked at her, and saw a glint of passion (?) in her eyes. She was the sort of woman that caused men to sin. Her hair framed a face so perfect that angels might have fallen from the sky and carved it. The dress she wore revealed just enough of the body underneath, without being considered immoral. It was more like a wedding dress, white as the fur of a polar bear, matching her blonde hair the way baby Jesus might match a statute of the Virgin. She had been a fire snare for Samuel.
"Pleased to meet you." Catherine reached forward, and when their hands touched Daniel could feel a spark of diamante fire leap between them. Her hand was slightly sweaty, but it was soft and supple and yielding under Daniel's skin
The minister clapped Daniel and Catherine on the shoulders, and directed a smile towards Samuel. "I'll leave you three alone. I have a sermon to conduct."
Daniel realized since she'd spoken he hadn't said anything. He glanced at the minister as though he was an annoying fly, nodded, then turned back to Catherine. "I am pleased to meet you as well."
Was there a curtsey in Catherine's movements, a slight incline of the head? Daniel couldn't quite make it out, but before Daniel had any more time to make a fool of himself Catherine disengaged her hand from his and said, "I'm sure we will see each other again."
Daniel realized only then how long they had been holding onto each other's hands. He directed an apologetic smile towards Samuel, who gave an icy stare in return. "I hope you enjoy Avalon." He knew his words sounded hollow, but at least they were something.
Taking hold of his fiancé’s hand, Samuel turned her and started walking further into the bowels of the church. Daniel watched Catherine as they departed. There was a sway to her hips, suggestive, implicative, symbolic... her shoulders were back, and her head was held high. She walked as though she was a queen - and all the men that came near her undoubtedly treated her like one.
Daniel tore his gaze from the woman and tried to find a pew as far away from her as possible in the congregation. He thought of Emma, back home, working so hard in a York bakery for him and the family they planned to raise. Emma was his life, Emma was everything to him... but Emma was not here.
Daniel waited in the minister's office like a schoolboy about to be chastised. The simple fact was he could not get Catherine off his mind. Emma had occupied every one of Daniel's waking moments. Catherine did that... but Catherine occupied his sleeping moments as well. He had only seen her twice since their meeting one and a half weeks ago, but both times she had been looking at him, like a succubus inviting him to her den. He needed to get his desires off his chest.
The minister opened the door to the office, and came to sit on the chair beside Daniel. His congregation had soon learned their minister thought it better if there wasn't the wide expanse of a desk separating anyone seeking guidance. He laid his hands on Daniel's wrists, as if that would give him strength. "Daniel, you've never been to me before. What is the matter?"
Half-jokingly Daniel said, "Maybe it was better if I joined the Catholic faith. I really need a confessional."
"I believe we Presbyterian ministers serve just as well for vessels of people's sins."
"What I've got to say, it's pretty hard to tell you." Daniel fiddled with the hat in his lap, as though that would somehow make it all better.
"I have heard a lot of stories in my eleven years as a minister. Nothing comes as a shock to me anymore." He said the last words wistfully.
Daniel looked up at the minister. "I desire Catherine Aragon."
There was silence in the room. It wasn't normal silence, either. It was the type of silence laden with guilt, and shock, the type of silence that has all manner of portentous soothsaying contained within. It was a dangerous silence. "This can't be."
Daniel ducked his head, staring down at the carpet of the minister's office. He couldn't bring himself to stare into the minister's eyes - the sinner against the saint, the saint against the sinner. He already knew which one would win. "Ever since you introduced me to her... I haven't been able to get her out of my mind."
"We are talking about... the physical kind of affection here, aren't we? Not just as friends?"
Daniel shook his head. "No, not just as friends."
There was a brief pause, and a sharp intake of the minister's breath. "I can understand how a man becomes attracted to a beautiful woman. It is no sin to appreciate the beauty that God has given her - or anyone or anything else for that matter. But to desire her when she is already betrothed..." Samuel moved his head from side to side, making tut-tut-tut sounds.
"I can't stop thinking of her. I know I'm married to Emma, but she is so far away and-"
"And that is another reason why you should stop desiring Catherine right now. What do you think Emma would say, if she knew you were gazing carnally upon another woman?"
"What if she is gazing carnally upon another man? What if she is making love with another man and I don't even know about it? What if she is making love with another man right now?" Daniel knew the minister would have no answer for that, and yet it was one of the fears that haunted his mind every day. He held his face in his hands, not wanting the minister to see his concern.
"You must have faith. Jesus had faith when he was tempted by Satan - he overcame Satan's wiles. So must you. From everything you've told me of Emma, she is the perfect wife. And I remember all the times you've told me about her, Daniel. She was your life... she still is your life."
Daniel waved his hands in the air. "But what can I do to make me stop thinking of Catherine?"
"In the Bible, it warns against carnal excess. Do you remember that?"
"'Husbands, treat your wives as if they are your own body.' This is what God has to say about marriage and adultery. Because make no mistake Daniel, that is what you are considered - adultery. Even by looking at her you are committing a sin."
"I can't help it," Daniel moaned, though he barely had strength for the protest.
"I know that. Which is why I will be watching you. It is my God-given duty to watch over my flock, to make sure sin doesn't permeate it. Sometimes it does... but that is only in our human nature. In effect, I will be your guardian angel, at your back whenever you need me. And bear in mind to keep thinking of Emma."
"Thank you, minister. You've been a... help." Rising from the chair, Daniel put on his hat and headed towards the door. In a brief private reverie, he realized he now felt even worse. But John - Daniel had privately come to think of him on first-name terms - would be there, hovering behind his back and warning him away from lustful excess whenever need be. With a quick goodbye, Daniel began to walk out of the rectory. And as he did so, he thought the minister was trying to set himself up as God.
At least Daniel now had some peace. But it wasn't true peace, because thoughts of Emma and Catherine still saturated his mind. What he was doing now was better than remaining at home though, sitting in his chair, looking at the portrait of his wife on the kitchen table and wishing it was a portrait of Catherine.
Daniel enjoyed hunting. Not only was it an agreeable sport, but if you were good at it you could make some money as well. Coats from native American animals were in heavy demand back in England and Europe - and the major American cities. Perhaps a quarter of Daniel's income was supplied by the pelts and meats of various American animals. That suited him fine. Hogs were all right, but they required much more work than trapping. And anyway, trapping was more enjoyable.
He had set three snares in the small copse of forest south of Avalon, and was now checking each one. A rifle was slung over his shoulder, just in case any of the animals were still alive - if he saw a turkey or boar in the forest, he would not hesitate to bring it down either. The forest was much cooler than the road outside, where the sun beat down and turned the earth into an oven. The forest reminded Daniel of England.
Cresting a small rise, Daniel saw the road south of Avalon that led to a box canyon and waterfall - since European settlers had arrived the place had become a popular picnic area. The road was several hundred yards away, but Daniel could still see a figure strolling along it. Was that Catherine? Unshouldering his rifle, Daniel spit in the dust and began to walk down the rise, his finely toned legs covering the ground between them.
Men rushed out from cover. They were upon Catherine in a matter of seconds, three of them, pawing at her like ravenous wolves desperate for food. They mustn't have seen Daniel, because they paid no attention to him coming from the rise. He ducked down and scampered to hide behind a rock that rested on the gentle slope. Catherine was being dragged off the road now, her attempts at dislodging her assailants feeble and weak. Daniel aimed his rifle. It was obvious these people weren't friends of hers.
Just like shooting beaver, Daniel thought, and fired.
The first shot burned the dust just inches from one of the men's feet, exactly as Daniel had planned it. The man retreated even more quickly, but Daniel thought he could catch a glimpse of the figure drawing a revolver. Cursing lowly, Daniel adjusted the trajectory of his rifle. Just like shooting beaver. His chest is the same size as a beaver.
The shot was true. Catherine screamed in fright and pain, but the man who held her fell to the dust, his chest a flower of red. The other men retreated into the hills and boulders.
Daniel rose and fired another shot at their departing figures, then ran down the slope to Catherine. There was a graze on her shoulder from where Daniel had fired the rifle. "You need some help?" Coming forward, Daniel delicately parted the piece of material that his bullet had ripped. He looked inside the wound and frowned. "Ooh. Nasty. But it only looks that way, doesn't it?"
"That's good. Means it hasn't sunk in too far."
Daniel thought he heard a noise, and aimed his rifle towards the hills where the men had retreated. "You sure they aren't still here?"
"Who were they?"
"I don't know." Catherine shook her head. "Bandits, maybe."
"Let's see." Going over to the dead man, Daniel knelt by the corpse and rifed through his pockets. He came out with a pouch, a half-empty bottle of whiskey and ammunition for the man's revolver. "Not much in here," he commented, sorting through the pouch like a light-fingered thief, "just a few coins. You want to keep it?"
"I'll... give it to the church."
"That may be a good idea." Daniel looked at the pouch and frowned - dark blood soaked the untreated leather. "I guess you'll be wanting me to carry it?"
"Yes please," Catherine nodded, the first saltwater tears finding their way into her eyes.
Daniel came forward and patted her shoulder - she was quivering like a lamb. "You're... shaking."
"I know," Sobs were just beginning to rack her body.
"Come on, we better get you home." Daniel took hold of her elbow and guided her along the path, aware that the other two bandits might still be watching. Catherine was in no mood to protect herself - and Daniel would not have time to defend them both if his back was turned. Keeping his rifle in an easily accessible position, he gave Catherine a sympathetic look and tried to keep her in good cheer. He had wanted to be alone with Catherine, but in his dreams this was not exactly the way their meeting had been planned.
Daniel hefted the ax, and brought it slamming down. The ax’s blade pierced the wood, sending splinters flying in every direction. He gave a grunt of satisfaction when he felt the ax-blade bite the stump, then watched the piece of timber fall in two pieces. With a flurry of despair he looked at the pile he had cut, and the pile that still needed cutting. He would be here well after sundown.
This was good work, honest and hard. There wasn't anything devious or crafty about cutting wood. It was work the made you sweat and wipe your brow, and long for a drink of water and a cold bath once you were done. It was the sort of work Daniel enjoyed. Winter was approaching, an ominous premonition in the air, and Daniel knew it was better to get all the wood cut before the first snow.
This was the sort of work that cleared his mind, too. He found he could think of Emma better when he cut the wood. Catherine was just a pleasurable tickle in the back of his mind, but he knew he could easily overcome her. Looking at the wood, he remembered that this was the reason why he and Emma had agreed to move to America in the first place. They wanted to build a home, and America seemed like the most suitable location. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he gazed at the log cabin he had built with pride. Smoke plumed from the chimney, and the shutters were open to allow in the breeze. All he needed now was Emma - and a few children - and the scene would be complete.
"Fancy finding you here."
Daniel turned, and squinted at Catherine in the dying sunlight. She was wearing quite a pretty dress for such an ordinary day. It was white - no, cream - and seemed to be crocheted. Daniel walked a few paces towards her, out of politeness, but he was focusing on her dress more than anything else. It wasn't crocheted - it was knitted cream. The bodice stretched below her collarbone. Daniel could see the swell of her breasts under the knit, but none of her chest heaved above the neckline itself. Daniel blushed when he realized he had been staring. "I'm sorry," he panted. "I just have to get my breath." He sat down on the stump where he had been chopping wood and waited for Catherine to come over. That she had chosen this time - and that dress - for a visit was not a good sign. Her husband-to-be was away on a buying trip at a cattleyard out of Avalon, but Daniel didn't know where - all he could glean was that he was too far away to know what was happening with Catherine.
Looking down at the splinters and weeds that choked his chopping stump, Daniel shook his head. Those thoughts were blasphemous - he shouldn't have let them even enter his mind. Without offering any explanation to Catherine he got up and headed to the well, taking a tin mug of water from the bucket that had already been raised. The cool, clear liquid parched his dry throat. "How's the house going?"
"It's beginning to look more like a home," Catherine replied, clasping and unclasping her fingers in front of her. "I went to the general store yesterday to buy some pots and knives - you know, housewife sort of stuff."
Daniel threw back his sweat-dripping hair and nodded. "Oh yeah. And the farm? The cattle?"
"Very well. Samuel is on a buying trip down south."
"So you're here all by yourself?"
"It appears so."
Seating herself on the edge of the well next to Daniel, she said, "It must be lonely, this way. With your wife back in England, and you here without anyone to keep you in good spirits."
"I deal with it."
"Am I allowed to come inside? It's getting chilly out here." Catherine wrapped her arms around her body to prove her point.
For the first time that evening Daniel felt the chill kiss of the North American breeze on his perspiring skin. He didn't want to let her in... but it would be impolite to refuse. He got up and opened his cabin door, allowing Catherine to enter. "Have you had supper?"
"Not yet, no."
It was dark inside, and Daniel lit several candles that rested on his homemade table. He had built it himself - one of the legs was too short, and the table rocked like a ship tossed on the ocean if anyone pressed on it too hard. But all the money he saved by building his own furniture would add to his life with Emma.
Catherine seated herself at the table, her hands gliding over her buttocks and thighs as she smoothed out her dress. "So this is your place? It looks... small."
"I'll make it bigger when Emma comes here. And when we have a little boy or a girl."
"I know how it feels, to be lonely at night." Catherine directed her stare towards Daniel's face. "I only just realized it when Samuel left. You're in a bed, all alone, no one to share your joys, your comforts. No one to share your failures, if ever they happen."
Daniel licked already dry lips. "I hope Samuel returns soon."
"He won't be back for two weeks. Two long... weeks." Her last word was barely a whisper against the moan of the wind outside.
"Don't worry about it. He'll be back in no time."
"You know, when you saved me from those bandits... I began to think of you in a different light. I had always thought you were handsome, but then I realized just how good a person you are too."
"Those bandits were nothing," Daniel answered, playing down his heroics. "The sheriff said they were just petty thieves."
"Still, you saved me."
"In the same circumstances anyone would have done the same."
"Do you... want to keep me company at night?"
Daniel contemplated Catherine's face in the ashen candlelight. He felt as though it was a face he could get lost in, and never find a way to return. The pores of her skin, so small, the eyes that burned with a flicker of ice-blue fire. She was here, offering himself, and Daniel knew he did not want to refuse. But Emma, what about Emma? He would do nothing as long as he was wed to Emma. He would have to inform her of his decision - but how could he tell her in a letter that he was leaving her for another woman? Daniel glanced down at his homemade table. He couldn't leave Emma - he couldn't have anything to do with this woman who was already betrothed. It would be paramount to sin - it was sin. A tumultuous sea of emotions roiled inside his mind, and he knew that with Catherine staring at him he would not be able to think or decide. He would have to refuse her - this time.
When he looked up, Catherine's eyes were filled with misunderstanding - and a little disbelief. Daniel's throat was dry and sore, his lips not wanting to form the words. But he said them anyway. "I think you should leave." Before Catherine could get the impression that he was brushing her off like a stray autumn leaf, he said, "Not because of you! I am confused... I need time to think. Do you understand?"
Catherine pressed her lips together, and nodded. "You need time. I will give you that."
"Thank you." Daniel reached over the table and clasped her hand, feeling the strength contained within her. He smiled wanly. "Thanks for visiting."
Catherine rose, and headed towards the door. A semblance of disbelief was still etched on her face. "When will I see you again?" Catherine asked, turning at the door.
"When I decide. I know that sounds mean, but it's the only thing I can say. Do you understand?"
"Goodbye - have a safe trip home."
Once she was well on her way Daniel closed the door behind her, and headed back to table he himself had made. He was going to spend another night alone.
Sparrows flitted outside the homestead window, and the first rays of the sun broke through the clear grass. Daniel sat at his desk, a piece of paper and a quill pen in hand. It was Sunday, and he was dressed for church. But first he would write to his wife in England. He hadn't seen Catherine since she had come to his home that night, but he would definitely see her now. Her husband was still away on a buying trip, and Daniel knew that today the matters between them would be resolved. But before he did that, he would write to his wife.
Dipping his head close to the paper, and covering his quill with ink, he began to write:
I hope this letter finds you well. I am in good health myself, although here it is starting to get a little cold. The hogs are fattening up, and I even managed to trap a couple of minks last week - they will pay for two weeks of hog feed.
How is the bakery? Hot? I hope it isn't too arduous, and I hope the work isn't too hard. I know it is difficult without me. I know you are brave.
I guess I better give you the most important news. A few days ago, when I was trapping, I spied a woman named Catherine Aragon walking along the road west of Avalon - she and her fiancée have started a cattle farm a couple of miles from my place. She was set on by bandits! I was afraid, but I had my rifle and I fired. I killed one of them - I had to - but the others ran off into the hills. So I'm a hero in Avalon at the moment. What do you think about that?
Emma, there is something I have to tell you.'
Daniel set the pen down, and looked outside. The ax was set against the chopping stump, and a few birds were playing in the woodchips. Further on was Avalon's forest, and amidst that woodland Daniel knew there was a stream with fresh, juicy fish. Such a beautiful country... and Catherine, such a beautiful woman. How could he not resist her? How could he not fall under her spell? She was like a siren, sent to lure and trap him. A siren from which he could not escape...
Then he thought of Emma. More homely - he wasn't afraid to admit that. The sort of person you saw every day, unlike Catherine, who was the sort of person you saw only once a week - at most - and did not forget. Emma, she of the cascading red hair and forest-green eyes, Emma of the woods... against Catherine of Avalon. He bent down to the paper again.
'Yes, Emma, there is something I have to tell you. The person I saved - Catherine - is very pretty, but she is as nothing compared to you. I love you Emma. I've worked out that in four months we will have enough saved for your ticket to Avalon - and I'll think of you every moment till then. You are my life, Emma, you are my world.
Well, I guess I better go, because church is a-calling, but I hope this letter has brought me a little closer to you. I give you a kiss, and I give you a strong bear-hug. Think of me, Emma - just as I'll be thinking of you.
You're with me every moment of my life. I love you, Emma. Goodbye.
Yours With Love,
Setting down the pen, Daniel brushed his suit and rose. Folding the paper ever carefully, he tucked it in his breast pocket and sighed. He would go to the post office in Avalon tomorrow, buy an envelope and a stamp for England... and send the letter to his wife.
Walking out the door, Daniel meandered over to his carriage and climbed into the driver's seat, a quiet content washing inside his mind. He loved Emma. Clicking the reins, Daniel guided the horses and carriage forward - he needed to go to church, even though Catherine would be there.