Oh, hast thou forgotten how soon we must sever?
Oh, hast thou forgotten this day we must part?
It may be for years, and it may be forever,
Then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart?
- - from the song "Kathleen Mavourneen" (1837)
If the decision had been left entirely in the hands of Almira Hancock, her young son Russell would have been sent off to bed hours ago. However, the lure of hearing stories about the boyhoods of both his father and the Major was altogether too tempting for any child his age to resist, and in the interest of preserving a united parental front, Mira gave in to the inevitable, turning a blind eye as "just one more minute" turned into five, then thirty, and then three hours. The mantel clock that Mira's father had given her as a gift to honor her marriage to Win ten years earlier struck the hour, and Russell's head snapped up. His eyes, which had been drifting closed just moments earlier were wide and bright, and his face was flushed with excitement over the unexpected thrill of having been allowed to stay up past midnight with the men.
"Was Uncle Lewis very bad?" Russell whispered, scooting closer to his father, seeking protection against any possible repercussions for the daring question he had just asked.
Win raised one eyebrow, then leaned forward in his chair and said in a conspiratorial tone, "Well, I don't know if he was so very bad when he was a small boy - remember that your uncle Lewis and I didn't meet until we were grown men - but he was already a legend at West Point when I went there to begin my studies. Why, I remember one tale that involved a raccoon and . . . ."
"Now, I'm certain," Lewis said, speaking softly to keep from waking baby Ada, who nestled in the crook of his arm, "that you know better than to trust a word that father of yours says about me, don't you, my boy?"
Russell looked doubtfully at Lewis and then at his father, clearly not wanting to risk offending either one by suggesting their characters might be anything other than sterling. Finally, Mira took pity on her son.
Shaking her head, she rose and took the baby from Lewis' arms. "I'm sure Russell knows that his father and the Major here are both fine, upstanding men, although both prone to telling the occasional tall tale when impressionable young gentlemen are in the vicinity. And now, Russell, I think it's about time that you got yourself ready for sleep. Remember that we have church to attend in the morning."
Russell nodded agreeably, then slid off the wooden chair he had placed beside his father earlier in the evening. Looking at the dark circles under Russell's eyes, Mira guessed her son didn't mind terribly much having been given an excuse to head off to sleep, regardless of how much pleasure he'd had in the company of the two men.
He said goodnight and trotted off ahead of Mira to wash his face and change into his nightshirt. He's still our boy, she thought fondly. If only she had the power to make time stand still so that nothing ever had to change.
After getting Russell settled under the covers and putting Ada down for the night in her cradle, Mira returned to the front room only to find Win and Lewis kneeling down beside each other in front of the fire.
Win looked up and smiled at her in that way he had that still brought a flutter to her heart whenever she saw it. "Didn't want to disturb you," he said in response to her questioning expression. "Just boiling some water."
Lewis chuckled quietly, rocking back on his heels. "Easily roused to arms, this husband of yours," he said with a grin. "I merely wondered, speaking to myself out loud, as it were, whether he still retained the ability to make coffee or whether all these years being cosseted by your good self had left him a mite soft, and he set to action quick as if I'd questioned his honor."
Win snorted, and Mira turned to watch as her husband attempted to set a pot filled with water atop one of the logs in the front room's small fireplace.
"Soft, he says!" Win scoffed. "As if anybody reaching the rank of Major ever has to lift a finger again in their career." Water sloshed over the side of the pot and hissed in the flames. "Not like some other ranks one might care to mention."
"Like Captains?" Mira asked with a smile. Kneeling down between the two men, she wrapped her apron around her hand and took the pot off the fire. "Perhaps a friendly debate on the merits of your respective ranks is in order while I go into the kitchen and see about fixing some coffee."
"I'm not at all sure about the viability of this plan of yours, Mrs. Hancock," said Lewis. "You are a civilian, after all. But let me see . . . maybe if you sweetened the deal with some of your ginger cookies, we'd be willing to overlook your lack of military standing."
Mira nodded. "I think that could be arranged, Major." As a girl, Mira would have winked as she walked out of the room, but now she just settled for sharing a look of amusement with her husband on her way into the kitchen.
She returned carrying a tray laden with three cups of coffee. Beside the small jug of cream was a plate piled high with the ginger cookies Lewis had wanted and a few of the applesauce ones that were Win's particular favorite. She wondered for a moment that she hadn't even stopped to consider whether she had her own preference, but as both men leapt up from the maroon and gold rug to take the tray from her hands, she realized it didn't actually matter in the slightest, for she liked both equally.
With the children asleep and the sun long vanished over the horizon, the Hancock's small stucco house was quiet, dark, and restful for the first time all day. Mira drank her coffee, closing her eyes and letting the soft sounds of the men's conversation wash over her. After so many years now of traveling with Win from one posting to another, Mira had grown accustomed to being the lone woman in the company of men. She had cared deeply for Lewis' late wife, Cornelia, and still mourned her early passing, but Lewis had spent so much time with the Hancocks in the wake of his great loss that every now and again, Mira had found it difficult to remember she had only the one husband.
Mira's coffee cup rattled on her plate and she blinked, noticed that the candles had all gone out. The only illumination now was the flickering light of the fire, and as she looked across the fire-lit room, she could just make out Lewis and Win, both stretched out on the floor in front of the fireplace. Their heads were resting on their forearms, their elbows almost touching, as they spoke quietly of Lewis' cousin Georgiana and whether they'd ever seen any eyes a brighter blue than baby Ada's and which of the two men had caught the largest octopus in Veracruz back in 1847.
They did not speak of the recent elections - or what Mira knew both men thought of as the coming storm.
She set her cup of cold coffee down beside her on the little oak table they had taken with them as they traveled from St. Louis to Kansas to Fort Myers and back to Kansas again before finally arriving here in this little house in Los Angeles. Win looked up at the sound, and smiled at her, then reached out his hand. Taking his hand in her own, Mira knelt down and settled herself on the rug, legs tucked beneath her like a complete hoyden.
And there she sat, in the quiet, between the two men she loved most in the world, and watched as the fire flared up one last time.