What Secrets Are Kept In The Heart Of A Queen
She paused and took a deep breath. Jack looked up into her face with a plea.
“Please, Aunty Sue,” the lad implored, “don't say that's the end.” She smiled at his eager brown eyes and placed a soft, wrinkled hand on his brow.
“It is, child,” returned Aunty Sue. “Stories don't last forever.”
“Do you have another one, I hope?” said Jack, not without a small sigh, for he was resigning himself to his fate. She thought for a moment, black eyes twinkling behind the round glasses.
“I don't think...” she began, frowning. “Oh, this old brain; the rusty wheels don't turn as well as they used,” with a pleasant chuckle. “While I'm thinking, dear, would you be a brick and fetch us both a cup of tea? I think there is a package of Earl Grey in the pantry.” Jack, who was a cheery, rosy lad of about eleven, ran to the kitchen, glad to be of service to the elderly lady who had so often bewitched him with her fanciful tales. People with bad tempers called her “batty”, but by those who really knew her, she was well-beloved as “Aunt Sue”. What her last name was, none of her friends seemed to know or care; nor did they question her background and relations. Something about the smiling old face, radiating beauty as it must have prodigiously well in its youth, made one want to sit beside it and pour out his troubles and heartaches trustfully. Young folks loved her for her youthful heart, still so merry and witty, and older folks loved her for her wise advice and caring spirit.
As Jack came back through the passage, carefully bearing the teacups, Aunt Sue nodded her head and talked to herself. “Yes,” she thought, “that will do just fine. I think he's ready to hear it. Jack, my child,” (aloud) “how delightful! Just set mine on the table here, that's right, beside the lamp. Do you take sugar? Yes, there is some in a cupboard in the pantry, the same one where you found the tea. It's a blue flowered bowl. That's right. Now how about cream? In the icebox.” Once they were again comfortably settled, Aunt Sue set down her teacup and smiled. “While you were getting tea,” she said, “I did happen to think up another story.”
“Hoorah!” cried Jack, almost upsetting his tea.
“But I'm afraid, child, it is the last one.” She grew sober, and took another sip of tea. “I say, Jack, that's a jolly good cup. Now, don't look so sad, child, but listen....
“It was the day before my wedding. My parents, my sister Lucy, my cousin Eustace, and three good friends of ours were coming, and my brothers Peter and Edmund had already arrived. Now Peter and Edmund had been gone for a couple days (they hadn't told me what they were doing, but I was too wrapped up in my wedding preparations to notice anything), and were going to pick up our people at the station on the way home. I remember waiting, waiting so long for them to come back that day. Since all preparations were finished, all I could do was wait, and I was becoming impatient. Finally, I rang the station. The man on the other line, to my horror, told me there had been a multiple train crash. I used to imagine the worst case scenario when I was young, so you can imagine how terrified I was. Feverishly, I asked him which trains (I, of course, had the numbers). The trains with all who I was expecting, my family and our friends, had crashed. I begged the man to tell me which hospital they would be at, but he said they hadn't found any bodies yet.
“'Gosh miss,' he said sorrowfully, 'I'm right sorry; but you'll have to wait.'
“Wait? my insides screamed. 'Thank you for your kindness,' I managed to say. I hung up and grabbed my coat. My one thought was to drive to the railway station and find Peter and Edmund. But I could not take the car to the station because my fiancé was using it; so I hailed a cab. If the driver noticed the immense tears streaming down my face, he didn't say anything. We drove to the station in tense silence. My hands were trembling, my eyes blurred, and my mind was in so much turmoil I could only say in my heart 'God, not my sister, not my parents! My cousin, our friends! No! Not dear, sweet Lucy!' I could not even be grateful that I still had my brothers.
“And yet, I had no cause to be grateful in that quarter, it turned out. Arriving at the station, I tore out of the car and ran. I stopped short when I saw the smoking, ugly wreck with a smell of something rotten-I dared not imagine what. Policemen were holding back the curious bystanders while more searched the train. I threw myself at a policeman.
“'My friends, and my family!' I sobbed. 'They were on the train!' I clutched at his uniform. 'Please, please let me through!' He shook his head.
“'Sorry lady,' he said, looking only a little sympathetic, 'but we've got orders not to let anyone through.' Perhaps he thought I was merely looking for an excuse to nose around the wreck. At any rate, his matter-of-fact tone increased my grief.
“'My brothers?' I gasped. 'They were waiting on the platform. Let me find them then!'
“'The train wiped out the people on deck, too,' his voice now was sad. 'There was no way they survived.' I stared at him, shocked; then blackness covered me.
“I woke to the sound of quiet voices. I felt clean sheets about me and saw a shiny ceiling above. I wondered if I had dreamed, but looking at my surroundings showed me to be in a hospital bed. I sat up in a panic, only half-awake, and began feeling myself, trying to find where I was hurt. A firm hand gently pushed me back onto the pillow while a soft voice told me to be still.
“'Why am I here?' I demanded. A kindly old face appeared in front of me.
“'Last night you went into a faint. You were talking so deliriously we put you here to make sure you weren't sick. Now that we know you are all right-'
“'What happened to my family?' I asked shakily. The doctor hesitated.
“'Your brothers-' he began.
“'-are dead, I know,' I whispered, not caring that I interrupted him twice. 'But what about my parents and my sister? My cousin, my friends?'
“The doctor reached up and wiped his eyes. 'I am sorry,' was all he said, but his eyes told everything. I rolled on my side, covered my face and wept.
“That was all I did for days and days: wept. I barely ate or slept, and I never stepped outside, not even to go to church. God seemed far away, farther than He had been previously; but He was there, under more than one guise, though I didn't recognize Him under either. I felt I had to scream at Him because of the abyss I imagined between us, asking, begging 'Why?!'
“This was not the end of my suffering, though. I thought I had endured every kind of pain there was...but it was not so. My fiancé left me. Though of course sad, he was a little annoyed that I canceled the wedding. Yet when he tried to comfort me and I just pushed him away, he was angry; and after weeks of the same treatment he disappeared. I had not meant to shun him. I merely wanted time alone. But no matter how I tried to clear myself, I knew I was at least partially to blame.
“God totally removed from my life after that. I no longer bothered to even shout at Him. I ignored Him. I wandered aimlessly through my house, crying. Dust covered the rooms and the curtains remained closed. I did normal routines listlessly, mechanically. Often I didn't do them at all. I was in the deepest, blackest hole of despair.
One night, I crawled into my bed and my head sank onto the pillow. Dark thoughts filled my head and horrible voices seemed to ring in my ears. I shut my eyes and half-heartedly closed my ears. The voices continued, shrieking morbid temptations in my head. They were thoughts of suicide. Yes, even I, who always thought myself so sensible and down to earth, let myself consider it, horrible deed it is!
“Suddenly, a loud noise like the blast of a cannon or the rumble of an earthquake, or both, rang in my ears. It tore my eardrums, it was that huge; but somehow it seemed familiar to me. I jumped out of bed, roused for the first time in days, weeks even. I was frightened by this, the while it filled me with an awe-like joy. It was like a match struck in a dark room or a hot drink on a cold day, shocking at first, but so delicious and warm later. My first thought was to run to the window and see what made that noise; only an elderly chap and his dog out on a late night walk were there. They obviously neither made the noise nor heard it. Had I been what I was like weeks ago, I would have investigated. I was used to days of inactivity, however, so after drinking some water I went back to bed.
“That night I dreamed, one long, strangely sad and wonderful dream. I saw Peter and Edmund standing on the train platform, joking and talking. They each held two small cases of something. Then a picture of Lucy and my parents on the same train but in different cars flashed across. Both images were so real I almost shouted their names. I saw next the train with Lucy and my parents (and my cousin and his friend) come flying down the track. At the same time, a train from the other direction, with our two other friends, whizzed past and the two collided, rolling over and over towards my brothers. I gasped and the picture quickly changed. I saw a handsome, princely young man fighting with a sword. He was battling fierce dark-skinned men and wild beasts. Beside him fought other beasts, tamer ones, and two children. I recognized them as my cousin Eustace and his friend Jill, though both had been on the wrecked train just a few minutes before. They also were fighting bravely and skillfully, but not good enough. The dark men were too many, and the three fair ones, along with their allied beasts, were thrown into a crude stable; the dark men set it on flames. I screamed 'No!'
“Swiftly a new scene flashed across, showing all the people and animals I had just seen killed, with the ones in the train crash (except my parents), running tirelessly across a beautiful plain. The humans were dressed in lovely clothes and all, especially Aunt Polly and the Professor (our other two friends), seemed younger and more vigorous. They were having such a grand time, laughing and talking. I longed to run with them. They swam up a waterfall. Oh, you had to be there to see, or be dreaming to see I suppose. They ran some more, fast as a unicorn's gallop or the flight of an eagle. Suddenly an immense hill loomed in front of them, with a the most delightful garden, and splendid huge golden gates. All sorts of mystical creatures were there before them. Across a huge valley beside the hill, I thought I could see my parents, waving and smiling.
“Then I saw a golden lion, giant in all his glory, standing in the midst of the people. His deep eyes turned this way and that, as if he was searching for someone. I was surprisingly fearful those eyes should turn on me. I shook and slapped myself until I woke.
“It was morning. For once I felt refreshed and actually somewhat happy. 'What a lovely dream,' I sad to myself. I opened the curtains, washed, dressed and ate some breakfast. I even applied some lipstick and a little blush. I was walking about the house when the postman rang the bell. I decided to answer the door that day. The postman was pleasantly surprised and asked if I'd been on holiday.
“'Well, I have been gone,' I answered. I took the letters and flipped through them, opening some, tossing others. Lastly I opened a letter from my aunt Mary, who lived in America and whom I visited once.
“When I read the lines 'and how are your parents? And your siblings? Give dear Lucy a big hug for me, and tell her I'm sending a nice present for her birthday', I wept and wept and wept. The letter dropped from my trembling hands and I slipped off the couch onto the floor. I had been able to push down my sorrow for that morning, until I was brutally reminded of it. I cried until I had no more tears, and heaved shuddering sobs.
“Again the dust bunnies littered the floor, and again the curtains stayed closed. I did not care how long the nightmare would last. I felt more secure in my grief and didn't want it to end.
“A few days later, I wandered through the upstairs bedrooms. The house I lived in had been the one I grew up in, so I walked through Peter's, Edmund's, and lastly Lucy's bedroom. I sat on her bed and rummaged through her trunk, the one she had put together when she was about fourteen. Tears splashed on photographs of us kids, when we were little, older, of trips to the beach and the park with our parents. I fondled old baby dresses of Lucy's, her dresses she had just outgrown and costumes she had made. I plundered the whole trunk and laid its contents on the bed. I felt the bottom of the trunk, to make sure I missed nothing; and to my surprise, a false bottom opened. Wonderingly, I lifted it off. A portfolio lay there. I opened it and saw a large packet of drawings. I remembered that Lucy drew, for I had forgotten. I picked them up and started. I saw drawings of many strange creatures, like the ones I had seen on the great hill with the golden gates in my dream. I tried to recall their names. Faun, Dryad, Naiad, Dwarf, Centaur, River-god. 'That's right,' I smiled, satisfied. 'I know what they are...or knew. What was that country they lived in?' I flipped the next page and saw a map of a country that I recognized instantly and gloated over, like one who has met a friend he hasn't seen in many years. I read the name: Narnia. Of course. 'That was it!' I cried. 'But how do I know it? Was it a game we used to play? It seems so real...' I next uncovered not a drawing, but a simply lovely painting by Lucy. In the middle stood a majestic, huge lion. On either side of Him stood four children, two girls on his left and two boys on his right. I knew all of them, though they were very young; they were myself and my siblings, dressed in royal clothing with crowns on our heads. Above us in flowing script were the titles: High King Peter the Magnificent, King Edmund the Just, Queen Susan the Gentle, Queen Lucy the Valiant. At the top of the painting, in the same writing, were the words Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen. I smiled and whispered, finishing the sentence I knew, 'Bear it well.' I rubbed the lion's picture gently.
“He came one day soon after, Aslan that is. I still remember what He told me after we talked about the railway accident.
“'Dear heart,' He said, so sweetly with a deep rumble in His words, 'I cannot take you home with me now. You forgot Narnia and all I have taught you; so you must live out a long life here in the Shadow Lands. But it is not an unjust punishment, for this I promise you: one day, you will return to your true home. For what do I always say? Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen. And you will not be alone. I am present here too. You know where to find me,' and I still do.”
Jack came and knelt by Aunt Sue's chair, silently handing her a handkerchief when he noticed her tears. She sniffed and wiped her eyes, but she was smiling.
“Jack, my dear boy,” she said softly, “go into my bedroom, the first door at the top of the stairs, and open my wardrobe. Take out the large bundle wrapped in a sheet there and bring it to me.” Jack did as he was bidden, and soon returned, panting slightly under his heavy burden. By then Aunt Sue's tears had dried, and she briskly opened the box.
“Here Jack,” said she, lifting out a portfolio. “These are my sister Lucy's drawings. Oh, but won't you be delighted to have pictures to accompany all the stories of Narnia I've told you! Lucy really did have a knack for drawing, and painting. They're quite lifelike.” She set them on Jack's lap, and he searched through the papers eagerly.
“But where's the painting?” asked the boy. She laughed and pinched his cheek.
“Don't look so worried, it's right here in the box.” She drew out the painting, unwrapped the sheet and handed it to Jack. The colors were as bright as they had been when they were first painted on the canvas. It was beautiful, and Jack was all admiration.
“Are these really lifelike?” he wondered, gazing up with sparkling eyes at Aunty Sue.
“Oh yes, very like.” Jack practically glowed with a thrill of excitement.
“Aunty, you were so, so” -he scratched his head shyly and boyishly- “so pretty. And is that really the High King Peter you've told me so much about? And King Edmund? And Queen Lucy? Oh, and is that” (pointing with one finger) “Aslan? What was He like? Was He really that big? And where is Cair Paravel, is that in the painting too? This is just jolly.” Aunt Sue laughed gently and patted the stack of drawings.
“Would you like to keep them?” she asked. Jack's dark eyes grew wide.
“May I?” he whispered. She laughed again and nodded her white head. The boy flung his arms around her neck.
“Aunty Sue, you're a brick!” She disentangled herself and pointed to the painting.
“Why, it's nothing. Now wrap up that painting before it gets damaged. That's one thing I ask of you; do take good care of them.”
“Did you think I wouldn't?” said Jack. He grinned and put the artwork back in the box. “Don't worry, Aunty, I'll keep 'em forever and ever, without a scratch.”
“I'm glad, Jack. How about another cup of tea?”
And so the curtain falls on Aunt Sue, again telling the tales of her and her brothers' and sister's adventures in Narnia to an ever-eager listener, his hand resting protectively on a box wrapped in a sheet. Outside, the snow drops softly on a chilly world, whirling around the lampposts in the quiet streets, reminiscent of another snowy day, another lamppost, and the little girl who walked there, long, long ago.
Author's note: Jack was the childhood nickname of C.S. Lewis.