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Nellie, Clare, and the Special Pen
A story for Pentrace readers
from the fountain pen of Hal Arnold
It was a gray December day, and the wind played tag with the last brown leaves between the shiny rails. Nellie shivered from the cold and her anticipation. He was coming home at last, at long last and he was alive. Would he know her, would he remember her, after those two long years in Europe?

Clare, or Clarence, had left Ohio and Pine Grove, in early 1917. He had traveled to New York State, and trained with other soon- to-be soldiers. There was talk of America getting into that Great War across that ocean so far away, and she didn't completely understand why American boys, and Clare, would be involved or die.

He had left New Jersey, with one of two regiments of army soldiers, in mid-June. He wrote that it had been a rough trip, with seasickness and long days of boredom, and most of the young soldiers had never even seen an ocean.

Once on French soil, the group had been renamed the First Infantry Division, the first American doughboys that would face the German Army. He wrote that training continued, but they were becoming a sharp outfit, and that General Pershing visited them often.

Clare was now a second lieutenant, and commanded a platoon of young farmers and shopkeepers, who had no thoughts of ever being killed or wounded. They were there to beat the Germans and to sail back home as heroes. How mistaken he would be.

His letters to her continued, at least one a week, and she could tell he was filled with confidence and adventure. In October 1917, the Division moved into the line at Luneville, near Nancy.

His letter in mid-November had a harder edge to it, when he described the first casualties suffered; three killed and eleven taken prisoner after a platoon had been trapped by artillery fire. He said he knew all of those who had been killed.

His letters came at a slower rate now, only once a month or at longer intervals. His writing was tense, the sentences short, and he described places named Soissons, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne.

No longer did he make any mention of men dying or being wounded. She knew, he was trying to spare her those details, lest it reflect on his own mortality, and the ever-increasing number of deaths among the younger officers and enlisted men, all of whom he knew.

In the summer of 1918, the letters stopped arriving at the post office completely. She continued to write one letter a week, but as the time went by without a response, her fear grew and weighed heavily upon her.

In early fall, a Telegram arrived from the Department of War. She could not read it and she gave it to her father to read. He said to her, that Clare was still alive, but had been seriously wounded. He had been in coma for several months, but was awake now, and had suffered a complete loss of memory.

It was stated in the telegram that it would be best if he remained in France, and not return to America because the trip could put him back into a coma. There was an address of a field hospital included, and Nellie once again wrote her letters to Clare. She never received any letters in return.

The Armistice was signed and the world in Europe was over, but Clare and his division stayed on. There was no hopeful news from the Army Hospital, now near Paris, that Clare knew who he was or where he was.

Almost a full year went by, with Nellie writing a letter a week, sometimes two, but she received no letters in return.

In early fall 1919, another officer wrote Nellie that the Division would be coming home, their job now complete. The Officers and men would be in New York on September 10, 1919, for a huge welcoming home parade. Clare would return with the division, but he was still not recovered.

Nellie decided not to go to New York, but would wait in Pine Grove. >From what she understood, Clare would not know her even if she were there in person.

In late October 1919, to Nellie's amazement, she received a short letter from Clare - it was written by someone else but it was from him; it contained his thoughts, and he expressed his concern for her. He asked her not to visit him right now, but to wait until he was better.

November passed, and his letters grew more frequent. He seemed like the gentle boy she had loved so deeply before, but there were bits and pieces missing, like pages fallen from an old book.

In December, a telegram arrived from Clare, telling her he was well enough to return home, and that he needed her very much.

So, on that cold December afternoon, In the distance she heard at first the whistle, that mournful moan, as the train approached the Pine Grove station.

The engine, now in sight, slowed and pulled into the yard, surrounded by a cloud of cinders and steam and noise.

At once she saw him, stepping from one of the dull green passenger cars. He looked older, much older, and had lost weight, but his uniform was new, his boots shined, and the sun sparked off the medals on his chest.

He saw her, smiled and his hesitant at first stride increased. She started toward him, and as they met, they embraced as for the very first time and the world around them stood still and stopped. They were the only ones in the universe in that moment and Nellie once again felt his protecting arms around her.

As they slipped apart, after much too brief a time, they looked into each other's faces, and silently in their hearts, thanked God for this moment. He kissed her, and then kissed her again, with more warmth and desire with each kiss and embrace.

He pulled away, and fumbled in his pocket, and brought out a small long box. He cleared his throat, and said, "This is for you. It has a date on it, and I always want you to remember that date".

With shaking hands, she opened the box, and a slender black shiny pen was lying inside, wrapped in tissue. There were two small gold bands on the body of the pen; one was engraved with her name, and the other engraved with the date October 25, 1919. She thanked him, and hugged him, but perplexed, asked: "Clare, what does the date mean?"

He held her shoulders, and said almost in a whisper, "That was the date in the hospital that I remembered you, remembered your face, and remembered the love that we had for each other."

"Never forget that date," said Clare, "and I will never forget the love that you sent to me across thousands of miles, by way of your wonderfully written letters."

And Nellie never forgot October 25, 1919, never forgot Clare's love and strong arms, and kept the pen, and wrote with it, until the day she died, shortly after the 70th anniversary of her marriage to her beloved Clare, in December 1919.

The End

1999 by Hal Arnold. All rights reserved.

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