Hope's Calling- Chapter 79
Disclaimer- The only thing I can claim for M*A*S*H is a great affection for one of the greatest TV shows ever made. Hope Jones and her family are my very own creations.
My apologies for taking so long to post this chapter. Life happens!
He was cold, lost and hungry. Worse than that, Francis Mulcahy was frightened in a way he'd never experienced before. During the worst times in the war he'd been afraid, but never alone. Now he was in an unfamiliar place with no one to share the fear that gripped him.
Where was Hope? Hadn't she promised to take care of him? He pulled the belt of brown corduroy bathrobe he wore as tight as he could and continued walking with no particular destination in mind.
He continued on, leaving the little town of Between behind him and entered the surrounding countryside. The paved road ended and became a broad trail of hard-packed Georgia red clay. Francis took no notice of livestock or fields full of collard greens, pumpkins and other crops ready for harvest. He was oblivious to the dark clouds forming in the sky above him and unable to hear the thunder that accompanied them.
Only a large, fat raindrop that plopped down on his forehead before running down the right lens of his glasses got his attention. He looked heavenward and saw clouds lit up by flashes of lightning. Seeking shelter immediately became the most important thing on his mind as the rain began to pelt his body. He quickly took off the bathrobe and held it over his head as a makeshift umbrella. In desperation Francis cried out, "Lord, if you won't help me in any other way, at least help me find a place to get out of the storm!"
He began a desperate search for a barn or shed where he could shelter until the storm passed. Not a sign of any sort of building for half a mile or so discouraged him but continued on until a white frame building came into view. Francis thought it was odd that a barn would be painted white but as he grew closer to the structure and saw the steeple atop it, he realized it was a church. He hurried up the steps that led to a large red door and leaned against it. Tears of gratitude welled in his eyes when discovered the door unlocked.
He entered the darkened church and felt his way along the wall, hoping to find a light switch. After a minutes of searching he located it but was disappointed to find that the storm had knocked out the power. Rather than stumble around in an unfamiliar building, Francis located a pew and sat down. He removed the sodden bathrobe and laid it beside him. The quiet darkness enveloped him and he relaxed as he whispered, "Thank you Lord." For the moment it was enough that he'd found shelter. Any other questions or decisions could wait and the priest lay down, immediately falling asleep.
Hawkeye found Martha Jones' reaction to his news that Francis had disappeared unusual. He'd expected her to be visibly upset but she seemed to be holding in any fear she might be feeling. Maybe that was standard operating procedure for her; he just didn't know her very well. As for himself, he was about to climb the walls waiting for word from George Williamson who volunteered to drive around the area to look for their errant patient.
When the phone rang Hawkeye snatched the receiver off the hook and barked, "Yeah, did you find him?"
A few seconds of silence greeted him before a familiar, yet unexpected voice stammered, "Ha… Hawkeye?"
Hawkeye was certain he'd finally and completely flipped out. It was BJ's voice on the other end of the line!
Again BJ said, "Hawkeye?" No response came. "Damn it, say something! Tell me to go to hell. Just answer me!"
Hawkeye decided to play along with the trick his mind was playing on him. "Yeah, I'm Hawkeye. Who is this?"
"Hawk, it's BJ. Did you forget the sound of my voice?"
Hawkeye desperately grasped at reality. He so wanted it to be his best friend, the one he never thought he'd see or hear from again. Tentatively he answered, "Beej, guess I did… just for a second. Why are you calling the Jones?"
"Why are you answering their phone?" BJ countered.
"Because I'm standing in their house next to the phone. Next question?"
BJ sensed the agitation in his friend's voice and went directly to the reason for the call. "I read about an experimental surgery that might help the deaf hear again. I wanted to share the news with Hope. Francis' sister told me he was staying with Hope's family for a while." He paused, wondering if Hawkeye was aware of how profoundly hard of hearing their friend was. Well, surely Hawkeye had figured it out even if he'd only been around the priest for a short time.
"Beej, Francis has got another problem. Maybe worse than being deaf." Hawkeye choked up and it took him a few seconds to regain his composure. "He's going through the DT's and it's pretty bad. Plus, he's disappeared. Half of Between is out looking for him right now. And Hope doesn't know about it. She was on leave but got called back to base. Anyway… when and if we find him… I'll tell him about the surgery. It could be just the thing to give him a reason to get sober and get on with life."
"Yeah it could. Listen Hawkeye, when everything settles down call me so we can really talk. I've missed you so much." BJ prayed the talk would happen soon. He wanted to know, really know how his Swampmate was faring now he was home. "I'll talk to you later. And Hawk?"
"Call me when Francis is found 'cause I'm going be doing some long distance worrying now."
"Sure thing. And Beej?"
"Good to hear your voice."
"Yours too, my friend. Talk to you real soon."
"Count on it. Bye BJ."
Hawkeye hung up the phone and found Martha looking at him. Her whole body was a picture of expectancy as she moved to the edge of the sofa and leaned forward, hoping he would give her news of her future son in law's whereabouts.
"Well Hawkeye, any word on Francis?"
He shook his head before answering her. "No, I'm sorry. It was a friend of mine, BJ Hunnicutt. We served together in Korea."
"Why would he be calling here?" Confusion and disappointment were evident in her voice.
Hawkeye sat down beside her before explaining why his friend had called. "BJ read about an experimental surgery that might restore at least some of Francis' hearing. He called Francis' sister and she told him that her brother was here. So that's the reason for the phone call."
Martha sighed and brushed an errant curl away from her eyes. "That's encouraging news but not what I was hoping to hear. I wished it had been George Williamson telling us he'd found Francis."
As glad as Hawkeye felt in hearing from BJ, part of him wished the same thing. "Me, too."
The windshield wipers just couldn't keep up with the torrents of rain pummeling the windshield on Tommy Miller's pickup truck. He'd been driving slowly for thirty minutes, hoping the rain would let up. Finally, he'd had enough and pulled over to the side of the road. If it hadn't been for his Aunt's phone call to enlist his help in looking for Francis Mulcahy, he wouldn't have ventured out in the storm.
Leaning against the driver's side window, Tommy closed his eyes and thought about his cousin's fiancée. Francis was a good man, worthy of Hope's love and a welcome addition to the Jones family. Now if he would just come home and let the family help him heal!
The rain began to slack off enough to make the road visible once more. Tommy eased the truck back on the road and drove a mile before the storm regained strength and the deluge started again. Creeping along at less than 10 miles an hour, he felt like he'd be looking for Francis the rest of his life!
He felt some measure of relief when he saw what looked like a building a short distance away. Maybe there would be a place to get out of the rain for a while and possibly a telephone he could use to call Martha and report in. As he got closer to the building Tommy realized it was the church he belonged to. He parked as close as possible to the front steps and hopped out of the truck, certain the door was unlocked and dashed inside.
He was thankful that the congregation had decided to have a phone installed the previous year. It was in the small office at the back of the building. After discovering that the power was off, Tommy slowly made his way through the sanctuary. It was a place so familiar to him that he was confident he wouldn't stumble as long as he used the pews as a guide.
All he heard was the sound of his footsteps until he was almost to the door that led to the back of the church where the office and Sunday school rooms were situated. One of the wooden pews creaked. This sound was followed by a groan. Tommy froze in his tracks.
There was another groan, louder than the first. Tommy turned around, his heart pounding. He could make out a figure in the darkness but couldn't see the person's face. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
He waited a few seconds more before approaching the figure in the darkness and repeating, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
Tommy's question was met with what seem like an echo. "Who are you and what are you doing here?' the figure asked.
Now Hope's cousin was somewhere between fear and anger. He let slip "who the hell are you? Answer my question!" and immediately regretted cursing in the middle of the church. Well surely the Lord would understand how strange the situation was!
With a silent prayer to his guardian angel Tommy walked right up to the stranger. There was very little light in the church but he immediately recognized the man in the pew. It was Francis. No wonder he'd received no answer to his question! Francis couldn't see him well enough to read his lips. He then got right up in Francis' face, hoping he could understand him. "Francis, everyone's been out looking for you.
"I got caught out in the rain… and came in the church for shelter."
The voice sounded weak, but familiar. Tommy inched his way closer to the person who'd answered him. "Francis?" closed the distance between where he'd been standing and the pew where Francis was sitting. He placed a hand on Francis' shoulder and leaned in to see his face. "People are out looking for you. Why did you leave Aunt Martha's house?"
The answer came in childlike innocence. "To look for Hope. She said she'd take care of me. Where did she go?"
Tommy hadn't been at the Jones house when all the drama with Francis unfolded. He had no idea about any promise Hope made to Francis. He only knew what Martha had told him; Hope had been called back to Fort MacPherson.
"Francis, her leave was cancelled and she had to report for duty at the base hospital. She wouldn't have left you otherwise. Don't you remember what the Army is like? They play the tune and you gotta come when they call you."
Francis' emotions overwhelmed him. All he felt at that moment was a sense of abandonment. "She left me, just when I needed her most!"
Deciding it would be a bad idea to try and reason with Francis, Tommy changed the subject. "You need to go back to Aunt Martha's house to a warm bed and a hot meal. This cold, dark church is no place for you to be right now." He stepped over to a window and peered out, trying to see if the rain had let up some so they could leave. It was hard to tell through the stained glass but he thought it seemed lighter than it had been when he pulled his truck up to the church's front door. "I think the rain's slacked off. Let's get you home"
He helped Francis up from the pew and guided him down the aisle out into the narthex. As Tommy opened the front door the lights came back on revealing a small gallery of photographs. He spoke to the picture closest to the door. "Thanks Uncle Ed."
Francis silently added his thanks to Tommy's. Edward Jones must've been his guardian angel, watching over him. Francis had found shelter in the church and Rev. Jones' nephew had found him there.
Hope had been on the move from the moment she entered the base hospital and was thankful to be so bus. There had been no time to worry about Francis or examine her feelings for Hawkeye. Once she sat down in the staff lounge to take a break all those emotions rose to the surface. No one else was there so she gave into them, watching the tears that rolled down her cheeks splash into the cup of coffee she held with both hands.
She heard approaching footsteps but didn't turn to see who it was, hoping they wouldn't notice her.
The other person poured a cup of coffee and then sat down across from her. "Hope, are you alright?"
Relief at hearing Steve Newsome's voice washed over her. With him she didn't have to pretend that everything was alright. Hope raised her tear stained face and sobbed, "No. It's Francis… he…"
Steve placed a comforting hand on Hope's arm. "Yes, I know. Hawkeye told me. Francis will be alright. He's in good hands."
"I know Steve. It's just I'm not able to be there to help take care of him."
He pointed at the phone that sat next to the coffee pot. "Why don't you call your mother and check on him? Maybe that'll put your mind at ease a little."
"O.k., it couldn't hurt." Hope went over to the phone, her heart hammering and hands shaking. "Steve, would you dial the number for me? I don't think I can do it." She glanced up at the doctor standing beside her. "Besides, I'm sure you know the number by heart."
He grinned. It was true. He called that number every chance he got so he could talk to Faith. Steve made the call and handed the receiver to Hope. After about ten rings Hope was about to give up on anyone answering when she was greeted with a breathless "hello".
"Yes Hope, it's me."
"Are you alright? Sounds like you've been running."
"No, no…I was outside when I heard the phone ringing. Just rushed inside before whoever was calling wouldn't hang up before I could answer." Martha didn't reveal to her daughter that Tommy had just arrived with Francis in his truck. It was not the time to tell Hope about what had been going on since she'd returned to duty at the base hospital.
"I called to check on Francis. How is he?"
Before Martha could formulate an answer that wouldn't alarm her daughter, there was a commotion in the background. The voices of Tommy, Francis and Hawkeye were unmistakable. It was too late to keep Hope in the dark about her Francis leaving the house.
The alarm in Hope's voice was evident when she asked, "Mama, what's going on?"
"Hope, there's been a problem. "
"What problem? What the hell is going on?"
Reluctantly Martha answered, "Francis…he…he left the house and half the town has been out looking for him."
"How did he get out of the house? Weren't you and Doc Williamson looking after him?"
"George had to leave and I…I…fell asleep. Francis must have left the house while I was asleep and before Hawkeye got back from taking you to Fort MacPherson."
Irrational anger took over Hope and she shouted, "How could you Mama? How could you?"
Martha sobbed, "Hope, I'm only human. Dealing with Francis wore me out. I just wanted a break for a few minutes. I didn't mean to fall asleep. I'm sorry, so sorry. At least Francis is back home now. Thank God Tommy found him."
A sense of guilt replaced the anger Hope felt. Everything Martha Jones did was for someone else! "Mama, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have talked to you that way. I'm sorry."
"Oh honey, I know you didn't mean it. We're all under a lot of strain right now."
By this time the three men were directly behind Martha and Hope could hear Francis say, "Where's Hope? Why did she leave me? She promised…she promised she wouldn't leave me!"
Hope pleaded, "Mama, please tell him I didn't want to leave him. I had to go."
Martha conveyed her daughter's message to Francis and he responded loudly with, "She left me! She lied to me! She doesn't love me anymore!"
His angry words went straight to Hope's heart and she clutched her chest as if he'd stabbed her with a knife. This so alarmed Steve that he took the phone away from her and told Martha that Hope would call back later.
As he steered Hope towards a chair and helped her sit down Steve asked, "Are you alright? What's wrong?"
She looked up at the doctor and sobbed, "Francis thinks I promised I wouldn't leave him but I swear I didn't tell him that! Worse than that, he said I don't love him anymore. Why would he think that? He was in the army. Surely he remembers what it's like…I mean having to follow orders."
Steve knelt down in front of her and told her, "Hope, Francis is very sick and not in his right mind. He'll understand when he's better. Right now, for your own good and since I outrank you I'm ordering you to go to your quarters and get some rest. "
Hope shook her head. "But Steve, what about Major Roberts? She'll have a fit."
He patted Hope's hand. "Don't worry about the Head Nurse. I'll deal with her."
"Thanks Steve." Hope was thankful for the chance to get away from her duties at the base hospital but she doubted that her troubled heart and mind would let her body rest.
After spending nearly two hours dealing with Francis- helping him get warm and dry then calmed down- Hawkeye and Martha sat at the kitchen table too exhausted to talk. Finally Hawkeye broke the silence. "If Francis wasn't so ill I'd throttle him."
Martha sighed and confessed, "Me, too. What was he thinking, leaving the house like that? Thank God he found the church unlocked so he could get out of the rain!"
"The rain turned out to be a good thing," Hawkeye observed. "If it hadn't been raining so hard Tommy wouldn't have stopped at the church and found Francis."
"True enough. I believe Francis' guardian angel was working overtime. I'm just glad he's back home where I can look after him." She couldn't help but wonder if Hawkeye was ready to go back to the medical conference at Emory University. "If you're ready to leave I'm sure Tommy would be happy to take you back to Atlanta."
Hawkeye slumped in his chair, the drama of the day finally catching up with him. "I don't think I'll go back… at least not for another day. I mean… if it's alright with you. Wouldn't feel right leaving Francis now. He's a lot more important than a doctors' conference. I'd rather practice medicine by taking care of him than listen to a bunch of doctors talk about it."
Martha leaned forward and gave Hawkeye's arm an affectionate pat. "You're welcome to stay as long as you want."
Hawkeye gave Hope's mother a weary smile. "Thanks. I was hoping you'd say that. I want to help Francis. We've been through a lot together. And because Hope can't be here now."
Martha Jones knew the days ahead would not be easy for any of them, especially for the young man sitting at the table with her who she knew without a doubt was in love with her daughter. She prayed he'd be able handle what would probably be the most difficult case of his career.
Francis has been found. Now the difficult work of healing begins. Will Francis accept Hawkeye's help and realize that Hope didn't abandon him?
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