Meant-to-Be Baby(8)

By: Lois Richer

“Yes, but Jerry contracted scarlet fever. Tillie and Margaret delayed their departure to nurse him at a friend’s home but his recovery was very slow.” As usual, Victoria felt a rush of sympathy for the two couples.

“I’m listening,” Ben encouraged.

“The missions’ society sponsoring the aunts kept pressing them to leave to replace other missionaries due to return to Canada. Jerry and Tom did, too. They wanted the sisters to keep their commitment to the society.”

“Why?” Ben frowned.

“Because as the sons of missionaries who’d served in Africa, Tom and Jerry knew what the mission meant to the Africans. They insisted the aunts shouldn’t break their promise to the society,” Victoria explained.

“Strong men.” Ben sounded approving.

“Very. Anyway, Tillie and Margaret left believing their fiancés would join them later. They were in Africa four months before they learned Tom had had a heart attack rendering him unable to travel. The aunts prepared to return, but the men telegrammed begging them to stay. The men had heard rumors that if left understaffed, the government would probably close the sisters’ Rhodesian mission. They did not want Tillie and Margaret to alter what they believed was God’s will.”

“So they stayed here and built The Haven,” Ben guessed.

“You’re jumping way ahead,” Victoria protested.

“Missionaries get furloughs, don’t they?” Ben asked.

“Yes. A month after Tillie and Margaret returned to Canada, Tom had a second heart attack. And another after that. Everyone feared he’d die.” Victoria could hardly bear to think of her aunts’ distress. “Aunt Tillie told me she and Margaret took turns nursing him until he slowly recovered. The aunts returned to Rhodesia after Tom and Jerry agreed they’d follow when possible. Again they made plans to marry.”

“Even fifty years ago, it must have taken a fortune to buy all the land and build The Haven.” Ben frowned. “The aunts gave up a comfy life.”

“Oh, the brothers weren’t wealthy at first. In fact, they supported their widowed and ailing sister and her two children.” Victoria smiled. “It took years before they became successful. But I digress.”

“They couldn’t go to Africa,” Ben guessed.

“No, because their sister died, leaving them guardians of her daughters. Both were sickly. Tom and Jerry eventually realized that their own poor health would never allow them to travel to Africa.” Victoria saw empathy flash across his face.

“Just shows how our plans can change in an instant,” he murmured.

Boy, did Victoria know about that. She’d never planned to be a single mother.

“Go on.” Ben leaned forward in his eagerness to hear the story. She liked that he was so interested in the aunts’ history.

“Well, after much prayer, the men decided God had planned a different future for them. They raised their nieces in the fresh mountain air, which seemed to help their unhealthy lungs,” she said.

“And then?”

“Tom and Jerry invented a medical item that helped hospitals enormously and made them wealthy. They bought acres of land and built this house, a home for their nieces and for Tillie and Margaret when they finally returned to Canada for good.” She waved a hand. “Tom and Jerry lovingly thought out every detail of The Haven. They were amazing men who truly loved the aunts.”

“But Tillie’s always signed her letters Miss.” Ben’s blue-eyed gaze studied her. “Didn’t they marry after all?”

“I have to tell it in sequence, Ben,” Victoria chided. “The nieces contracted polio and never recovered, dying just weeks before the aunts finally returned here. After a period of mourning, the four again planned their long-anticipated weddings.” Victoria paused in the sad tale, then added, “Tom and Jerry went on a bachelor hiking trip through their beloved mountains three days before the weddings. They were fatally shot by illegal poachers.”

“Oh, no. After all that waiting.” She liked that Ben seemed genuinely moved. Proved he was nothing like stone-cold Derek who felt nothing for his own child. “It must have been hard to accept that, after all their sacrifice, God didn’t give the sisters their own happy ending.”

“Didn’t He?” Victoria tried not to smile, relieved Tillie and Margaret hadn’t heard that. “Tom and Jerry left their fortunes and The Haven to the sisters to, as they put it, continue their missionary work. So the aunts got busy being missionaries in their community.”

She stretched her neck, suddenly weary. This motherhood thing was taxing.

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