The last night of the nineteenth century was cold and chilly. Caleb had to keep piling logs on the fire as the night wore on. Inside the house the mood was warm and cheerful. George and Laurel were both completely white-haired by now, and they moved around the house more slowly than before, but they still loved each other very much and greatly enjoyed each other's company in their golden years.
Caleb and Rachel were also very happy together. Caleb, whose hair was now getting thinner on the sides, had taken over the running of the newspaper entirely since his father had retired, and Rachel enjoyed being a mother to their two children. John Robert Townsend was a sensitive and precocious boy who earned high marks in school and yes, he did have a keen interest in Greek mythology. "I never realized that that kind of thing could be inherited," Laurel said laughingly.
Jack's sister Lydia was the family's little darling. Everyone was eager to shower her with love and affection, especially her grandfather. It was as if George were trying to make up for all the love he would have shown to Rachel when she had been that age if he had been able to. Both children were completely normal and healthy, which Laurel considered to be another miracle.
After Lydia's birth, Caleb innocently remarked that she was the first girl born into the Townsend family in three generations. George and Laurel exchanged a silent but meaningful glance. Rachel noticed this interaction and the now-familiar feeling of tightness in her lower abdomen returned once again. "Jack will be so happy," she said, eager to change the subject.
"I think we'd better let Rachel get some rest now,' Caleb said, and his wife smiled gratefully at him.
Robert and Nancy and the Sommersby children were visiting for the holidays this year. William and Julia were nearly grown now. William planned to follow in his father's footsteps at the factory, and Julia wanted to be a schoolteacher like her Aunt Rachel before her. Rachel very much enjoyed helping her young niece with her preparations for her career. She saw her niece and nephew so infrequently that she was always amazed at how much they had grown and changed every time she saw them again.
Young Jack had finally lost his battle to stay awake with his older cousins to see the new century, and he was asleep on the sofa with his head in his grandmother's lap. After many protests Lydia had been allowed to stay awake past her normal bedtime, only to fall asleep in George's arms and be taken to her bedroom and tucked in by him.
To help everyone else to stay awake until the clock chimed in the new century, George had gotten out some old family photos and was showing them around to the others. "Rachel, did I ever show you this photo of my brother Horace? It was taken right after he joined the army."
Rachel studied the photo of Horace Townsend in his Confederate uniform for a long time, trying to figure out why it looked so very familiar to her. Then she remembered the photo of her father Jack Sommersby in his own Confederate uniform and in her mind something clicked like all the pieces of a puzzle coming together at one time to form one unified whole. She understood the deep pain her mother had felt over all these years, the pain of loneliness and grief compounded by another pain that was more vague but which Rachel saw clearly now. She understood why her mother was so happy with George without anyone having to say a word.
The details no longer mattered because she knew that her father had loved her and had given her everything he had to give, up to and including the ultimate sacrifice. In her heart she felt peace and acceptance. Not all questions had to have an answer and some mysteries were meant to remain just that.
Now the clock was striking midnight. Rachel hugged George and kissed his cheek. She finally knew why she was so dear to him, and he to her, and that it would always be that way. "Happy New Year, Uncle George, and thank you so much for sharing that photo with me." "Happy New Year, dearest Rachel," he said with a broad smile.