Belinda slitted her eyes open against the rays of the morning sun, then quickly closed them and pulled the blanket up around her face for protection. It was early, too early to risebut she wouldnt be able to sleep any longer with the sun shining in her eyes.
Even in her sleepy state, she knew something was atypical. Previous mornings she had not awakened with the sun shining directly into her face. The drapeswhy are the drapes not pulled? she wondered groggily. And then things began to filter back into her foggy consciousness.
It was the moon that had kept her from pulling the drapes across her upstairs bedroom window the night before. Its so full and golden and shining, she had commented to herself when she went to shut it out. She had impulsively decided to watch it as she lay in her bed. She would get up later, she thought, when the moon had passed from view and properly close the heavy curtains for the night.
But sleep had claimed her before the moon moved out of sight, and now the sun was streaming in the tall, elegant window, refusing to allow her further sleep.
Belinda pushed back her covers and slowly crawled from bed. If she was to get any more sleep, she had to shut out the early morning sunshine. Still tired, she yawned as she reached for the pull, but she couldnt resist looking out over the lovely garden at the bright summer day.
Already the elderly gardener, Thomas, was bending over the flower beds, coaxing begonias to lift their bright summer faces to the sun. What beautiful flower beds hes laid out, Belinda thought. Why, Aunt Virgie said just yesterday she doesnt know what in the world she will do should Thomas decide to retire.
Belinda smiled affectionately as she watched the old man. She did not share her employers fears. She could see his love for the flowers in his every careful move. One might as well ask Thomas to stop breathing as to stop nursing his beloved flower beds.
Sudden determination made Belinda drop the drapery pull. With such a beautiful day beckoning her, she could no longer stay in bed. She would dress and slip out to join Thomas. Maybe he would even let her pull a few weeds.
Belinda hummed as she pulled a simple gown over her head and tied a bow at her waist. Aunt Virgie would not waken for some time yet, and Belinda would be free to enjoy the early morning hours.
She carried walking shoes in her hand so she would not make any noise and a hat to protect her face from the sun. She left her door slightly ajar so as not to disturb her employer in the next room with the sound of it closing. She slipped silently from the room and descended the steps.
Belinda left the house by the veranda door, pausing on the steps to breathe deeply. The heavy scent and beauty of summer blossoms filled her senses. It truly is beautiful here at the Stafford-Smyth home, Belinda decided for the umpteenth time. Her longings to be back in her small-town prairie setting were not because she did not appreciate her present surroundings. Her people, her family, were the reason her yearning thoughts so often turned toward home. And thinking of them, as lately she seemed to do almost constantly, her heart ached for a chance to be a part of their lives again.
But Belinda refused to dwell on her loneliness. As she had often done in the past, she firmly pushed it aside and thought instead of the things she had to be thankful for.
Mrs. Stafford-Smyth had been ill for almost two weeks with a serious bout of influenza, but now, thankfully, she seemed to be gaining strength each day. Belinda was greatly relieved. It wasnt the constant nursing or the loss of sleep at nights that bothered her. It was the worrythe possibility that her friend might not be able to shake the disease.
Belinda loved the elderly woman almost as though she were truly kin. They even enjoyed their own little game of belonging to each other. Mrs. Stafford-Smyth had asked Belinda if she minded calling her Aunt Virgie, and Belinda had been pleased to comply. In turn, Aunt Virgie always referred to Belinda as Belinda, deah, with her intriguing eastern accent. The arrangement satisfied them both.
The lady seemed to have long ago concluded that neither grandsonPierre and his Anne-Marie, nor Franz and his Yvettewould ever consent to share her Boston home with her. Indeed, Pierre and Anne-Marie had sent word from France that they were soon to be joined by a third family member. Aunt Virgie and Belinda, sharing joy over the great-grandchild to come, had even sat and knitted gifts to send to the new baby. But both had concluded without saying anything to the other that it was most unlikely Mrs. Stafford-Smyth would ever personally see or hold the child.
Belinda stopped to admire a climbing rose. The bright pink bloom filled the morning air with a sweet sunshine all its own. Mrs. Stafford-Smyth said that Thomas had developed the lovely flower in his own greenhouse. Belinda breathed deeply of its scent, then moved on into the garden.
McIntyre, Thomass canine companion of many years, slipped alongside to sniff at Belindas hand.
Good morning, Mac, Belinda greeted him, running a hand over his graying head. I see youre up early, too. The old dogs eyesight was failing and his hearing was not as sharp as it had been, but he never missed an opportunity to be at his masters side.
Thomas heard the words and straightened slowly, blinking as though not sure he was seeing right. He put one hand to his creaking back, then grinned slowly, showing a few gaps where teeth were missing. Miss Belinda, he said, how come ye not be abed?
Its too nice a morning to sleep, Belinda answered good-naturedly.
But Thomas responded with a twinkle in his eyes, Tis jest the same as any other mornin, tis.
Belinda smiled. I suppose so, she admitted slowly. I really wouldnt know, I must confess. But once I saw the day, I couldnt resist getting out into it. It will be hot and stifling later on, Im thinking. And Belinda cast a glance at the bright sky with the sun already streaming down rays of warmth.
Aye, spoke Thomas. Twill be a hot one today, Im afraid.
I noticed your rosebush is covered with flowers, Belinda went on. It smells most wonderful.
Thomas grinned widely at her comment. Aye was all he said.
He bent back to his work again, and Belinda ventured closer and knelt down beside him.
Could I ... would you mind if ... if I pulled a few weeds? she asked timidly.
Weedin ye be wishin for? His eyes widened, no doubt picturing milk-white hands in such an endeavor. Ye pulled weeds afore?
Oh yes, quickly responded Belinda. Back home I always helped with the garden.
Ye had ye some flowers?
Oh, not like here, Belinda was quick to explain. Nothing nearly as grand as this. But Mamas always had her flowers. Roses and violets and early spring tulips. She loves flowers, Mama does. But she spends most of her time in the big gardenvegetables, grown for family use. Mama has fed her family almost all year round from the fruits of her garden. Belindas voice had grown nostalgic just thinking about it. She could see Martys form bent over the hoe or lifting hot canning jars from the steaming kettle.
Aye, said old Thomas, nodding his head in understanding. My mither, she did, too. Belinda thought his eyes looked a little misty.
Be at it, then, Thomas gave her permission. Mind ye pick careful. An dont prick a finger on a thorn. Then Thomas handed her his own little hand trowel, and Belinda leaned forward and let her fingers feel the warmth of the sun-heated soil.
They worked in silence side by side for some time before Thomas spoke again. Tis a new rose I have now. In the greenhouse. It has its first blossom just about to open. Ye wish to see it?
Belinda straightened her back, smiling her pleasure at the invitation. Oh, could I? she asked eagerly.
Aye, the old man said with a slight nod. He lifted himself slowly to his feet, moving his hunched shoulders carefully up and down to ease the ache. Then he cast his eyes around the yard to find old Mac. The gardener never took a step without checking on his dog. With Macs senses no longer what they had been, he had told Belinda he feared the dog might not notice his departure.
McIntyre, he spoke loudly now, we be movin on.
Belinda loved to hear him speak the dogs name. He rolled the r off his tongue so effectively.
The dog lifted his head, then slowly pulled himself to his feet. He moved to Thomass side, and as one, the figures moved toward the greenhouse.
Belinda fell into step beside them. She stopped only onceby the side of the climbing rose.
Its so pretty, she murmured, touching a leaf gently.
Aye, acknowledged old Thomas with a twinkle, reaching out a hand to stroke a velvety petal. Tis Pink Rosanna I call er.
You gave it a name? asked Belinda in surprise.
Aye. I always name me new ladies.
Belinda smiled at his description of his new rose hybrids.
At the greenhouse, Belinda waited while old Thomas carefully opened the creaking door. McIntyre found his own gunnysack bed by the entrance and flopped down. Even Old McIntyre was not allowed any farther into Thomass sanctuary.
Belinda followed slowly, moved to exclaim over and over as her eyes swept the massive foliage and glorious blooms, but she held her tongue.
At last they were standing before a small rosebush. With obvious skill and affection, it had been grafted onto another shoot. Belinda could see the slight enlargement where the grafting had taken place. But her eye passed swiftly from the stem to the delicate bud that was just beginning to unfurl. On the same stem, another bud had formed, and a third one was slowly breaking from curled greenery.
Oh, murmured Belinda, no longer able to restrain herself. Its ... its so beautiful. Ive never seen such a pretty rosesuch a combination of lovely colors.
Thomas could not repress his smile or the shine in his eyes. Aye, he nodded, and his gnarled old hand reached forward to caress the flower.
Then, before Belinda could catch her breath, he lifted his sharp pruning scissors, snipped the flower from the stem, and extended it to her.
Belinda reached out her hand and then just as quickly withdrew it. But ... but ... she stammered.
Go on wit ye, now, the old gardener said, easing the bloom into her hand. Tis only fitting ye be the one to have the first bloom. He lowered his eyes to his worn-out gardeners shoes. When he lifted them again, Belinda thought she could see a flush on his weathered cheeks. I named her Belinda, he confessed. Princess Belinda.
For a long moment Belinda could say nothing. Her hand slowly curled around the flower and she raised it to her face. Breathing deeply of the fragrance, she brushed her lips against the soft petals. She felt her eyes filling with unbidden tears. Its beautiful, she whispered. Thank you, Thomas.
Aye, the old man nodded. Tis my thanks to ye fer bein so kind to mlady.
Belinda understood his simple explanation. She nodded in return, then smiled and carefully found her way outside.
As she walked back toward the veranda, Belinda studied the flower in her hands. The soft cream of each petal slowly blended into a deeper yellow, which in turn changed into an apricot. Belinda was sure she had never seen such a pretty rose. To think Thomas named it after me! she marveled. She felt at once exalted and deeply humbled.
Belinda lifted her face to the sun, now higher in the eastern sky. The summer day was well on its way. Aunt Virgie would soon be awakening. Belinda knew she must hurry to bathe and change from her soiled gardening gown. No longer tired, there was a spring to her step and a light in her eyes. She was ready to face this new day. She smiled to herself.
Her eyes turned back to the exquisite rose.
What a difference one bright flower can make in a persons life, she mused. But then she corrected herself. No, she told herself, it isnt the flowerpretty as it is. It is a person who has brought joy to my heart. Thomas. A dear old manjust a gardener in some folks thinkingbut a beautiful person. One I have learned to love.
The thought did not surprise Belinda. There were many older people in this household whom she had learned to love. Aunt Virgie, old Thomas, the straightlaced Windsor, Cookeven the stern-faced Potter. Belinda smiled to herself. She loved them all, actually. They were part of her life. Her Boston family.
Oh, she knew others her own age might pity her, being stuck in a houseful of the elderly, but Belinda didnt feel shut in, restless, and forgotten. Not since she had given God the proper recognition in her life. She felt loved and protectedand needed. If only ... if only I didnt feel so lonesome for those back home, I could be quite satisfied and fulfilled living and working for Mrs. Stafford-Smyth at Marshall Manor, she thought.
Love Finds a Home (Love Comes Softly, Book 8) by Janette Oke
Copyright © 2004
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.