Part IV - At The Hermitage
A two-hour drive brought them to an isolated mountain valley in central Pennsylvania. Christian stopped the car at the top of the mountain so they could look at the valley spread out below them.
"And God looked upon his work and called it good," said Stan to himself. “It's beautiful," said Chris.
"Yes," agreed Christian. "With fertile soil, flowing streams, usually enough rain and with no season too extreme for long. Though there have been occasions, in the midst of a blinding blizzard with wind chills way below zero, when we think things could have been organized better."
"They always can," replied Stan. "Always."
"That's why we're here," said Johannes. "In this valley, this garden. We're finally grown up, matured as a species, to realize that our parents, even our divine ones, are not all knowing, or all powerful as they once seemed to us. We know that they are not just similar to us: they are us. It's taken a long time to understand that, to see them beyond our need for them, to understand them from their point of view, not ours, to forgive them for not being more than they are and, finally, to ask their forgiveness for our misunderstanding. It's hard to grow up sometimes."
"Indeed it is," said Blain. "The hardest thing of all."
They stared silently at the narrow valley walled in on its north and south sides by long, parallel ridges that stretched to the horizon yet came together at the point where they were standing. They went down the steep road into the valley which eventually brought them to a place of log and timber-frame buildings where ducks and geese and turkeys and chickens freely roamed among the buildings and at the pond on the other side of the road.
"We're home," said Christian.
"Home," replied Chris.
"Home," said Blain
"Home," added Stan.
"Yes," said Johannes, "We're home."
The men toured the Hermitage. They saw the craft houses, the bird houses, the barn, the bake oven, the hermits' houses, the fields of hay, corn and flax, the meadows and pastures, the streams, the pond, the well, the spring.
Later, on the porch after supper -
"So, you want us to stay here this weekend while you two go to this craft show to make money?"
"Yes,” explained Christian. “We the money for daily expenses. Normally leaving for the weekend wouldn't be a problem as the animals fend for themselves off pasture this time of year. But Flora, our Jersey cow, is near term with her first calf and I'd feel better if someone were here in case she gives birth this weekend."
"I don't see any problem with that," said Stan. "Do you guys?"
"No," said Blain
"Not at all," replied Chris. "It'll be fun."
"You sure you have time?" asked Johannes. "We can get one of the local farm guys to look in on her if you can't."
"Not at all," said Blain "We've got all the time in the world. Right guys?"
"You said it," added Chris.
"So, it's all settled then," said Johannes. "We'll leave early tomorrow morning, before sunrise, and we'll be back late Sunday night. There's plenty of food for you guys in the pantry and the root cellar. Make yourselves at home. The Hermitage is yours."
"We really appreciate your kindness," said Stan. "We haven't had that for a long time."
"Well, we appreciate your help," added Johannes. "I feel better knowing someone is here to look after Flora."
"You guys just to go to your festival, make money and don't worry. We'll handle anything that comes up. Right, guys?" asked Chris.
"Right," agreed Stan and Blain
"Well," said Christian. "Good night then."
All five held each other close, kissing each other on the cheek. Stan even kissed Johannes on the lips. Then the men departed for their respective rooms and sleep.
It was night. Stan was in the kitchen looking for something to eat when he heard crying. He went into the dining room but it was empty. Then he realized the crying was coming from upstairs. Candle in hand, he went up the winding stairway the locals call snail stairs in their Pennsylvania German dialect.
The room above was a small dormitory. But what Stan saw was Chris holding a candle before a wall of pictures. He was looking at the pictures and crying.
Stan came closer and held his own light up to the drawings and photographs. They were of buildings, a community of some kind, then Stan realized this was the community located at the spring they had first visited. This was the community named in honor of Chris. This was what it had been when dozens and dozens of his brothers had come here from Germany, brothers and lovers, too. This is what they had built to honor Chris, and to be his new home. This was the community he had never seen until now. And now it existed only in pictures on this wall. Stan set his candle down and took Chris' candle as well. Then he led him to one of the beds, sat him down and held his crying, shaking body for hours.
Johannes and Christian left early the next before before the three were awake. Blain was making breakfast when Stan and Chris came in together. Facing them with a smile, Blain said jokingly, "Well, I bet I know what you two were up to last night."
Seeing Stan's glare, Blain added, "Well, I guess I don't."
The three of them sat down to eat in silence. Finally, Chris spoke.
"I had a dream last night," he said. "My father appeared to me and said he was taking away my titles, my duties, my position. He said I would have to go with him to London, leaving my dear brothers behind to be sent to America. I would only regain my position if, and when, I proved myself worthy."
The other two stopped eating and just looked down at their plates.
"And you know what?" Chris asked. No one spoke. "I told the bastard to go fuck himself!"
Stan hooted then slammed the table with a fist, banging the china. "All right!" he said.
"Go baby!" said Blain. They laughed and ate some more. Then Blain put down his fork and looked at the others.
"I had a dream last night," he said. "My brother had just stumbled and struck his head on a rock. His blood was soaking into the sand. I rushed to him, wrapped a cloth around his head, stopping the flow. He finally came to after several hours and asked me for water. I gave him some from my hands. He drank slowly, haltingly, but the water gave him nourishment and strength.
"Finally he tried to get up. I kept him from falling and helped him back to our home. Father saw me and rushed to help get Abel into bed. Mother prepared hot broth with sweet herbs that also nourished him. Healing was slow but he recovered. I saved his life." The three sat in silence for a while, then Stan spoke.
"I never knew my mother, yet she came to me last night in a dream. I was in a strange place, dark and cold. I couldn't move. I was trapped, immobilized, in ice. And I was cold, so very cold. All I felt was pain. I hurt so much. Even my lips were frozen shut so I couldn't even scream aloud. So I screamed inside my head and screamed and screamed.
"Then someone touched my face. I forced my eyes open as even they'd been frozen shut, and looked into the face of a beautiful woman dressed all in blue. She didn't seem cold at all. She put her arms around me and held me close to her. She warmed me.
"Gradually even the ice melted around me and I was free. She helped me. She supported me. We started walking. 'I've come to take you home,' she said. 'And father?' I asked. "'Let's wait and see,' she said as we walked through darkness that gradually turned to light. I awoke and it was morning."
The three looked at each other then continued eating. Suddenly Blain stopped and rushed out of the room, shouting back at the others, "It's time!" They all ran down to the stable.
A newborn calf was already laying on the straw when the three entered the stall. It was red, with a white stripe down its back. It was trying to stand up but its feet were still shaky.
"All right!" shouted Blain.
"This is great!" said Stan, as they knelt by the calf and watched its struggles to stand.
"How's Mom doing?" asked Chris.
Blain checked her out. She was still on her side and had not started to lick her calf yet.
"The front looks good as far as I can tell," said Blain. Then he inspected the birthing end.
"Wait. There's another one!" he shouted.
"Jackpot!" cried Chris.
They watched as part of a clear bubble emerged from the cow.
"Come on, baby, come on," urged Stan.
But nothing more happened. The bubble seemed stuck, half in and half out of the mother. Blain got closer to actually look inside the bubble.
"Uh oh," he said. "We've got trouble."
"What is it?" asked Chris.
"It's positioned wrong. The front feet should show first. All I see is a snout. That means the feet are wedged inside somehow."
"Can you do something?" asked Stan.
"I'll have to go inside, find the feet and pull them out."
Blain broke the bubble by putting his hand in it. Fluid washed over his hand and sank into the straw. Then he put his hand further and further into the cow's body. She moaned but did not move.
"Hurry! Hurry!" urged Chris.
"I am. I am," replied Blain. "Uh, there they are." He started pulling his arm out. Both feet appeared in his hand.
"There," he said to Stan . "You take one. I'll take the other and we'll pull together."
"All right," said Stan. "Let's do it."
"But gently," stressed Blain. "Don't pull it apart. We're trying to save it."
"All right. All right," said Stan impatiently.
They pulled gently but firmly. It didn't move.
"Again," said Blain.
This time it started to slide out. The mother moaned but Chris stroked her head to keep her still.
"Come on. Come on, baby," urged Blain.
"Come on," urged Stan.
Finally, with a large sucking sound, the calf was pulled free of its mother and laid on the straw. Blain started to gently slap its rear end to get it breathing.
He slapped harder. The calf lay still.
"No, baby!" said Blain. "Come on. Breathe. Breathe!"
He slapped and slapped the calf. It just lay still, a lump of clay.
"We've got to do something!" shouted Chris.
"There’s nothing we can do!" said Blain. "Can't you see it's dead?"
Stan looked at them grimly.
"It's time to call Daddy."