Lost Love's Return
by Alfred Nicols

Published: 2021-06-18T00:0
Paperback : 290 pages
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For fans of Nicholas Sparks, Amor Towles and Kate Quinn , comes a tale that asks one important question Can love prevail from the battlefields of WW1 Europe, to postwar Mississippi and into WWII?

In 1918, in a dramatic battlefield scene on the Western Front, young American soldier ...

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For fans of Nicholas Sparks, Amor Towles and Kate Quinn , comes a tale that asks one important question Can love prevail from the battlefields of WW1 Europe, to postwar Mississippi and into WWII?

In 1918, in a dramatic battlefield scene on the Western Front, young American soldier Peter Montgomery sustains a severe wound. He’s transported to a British hospital, where he falls hard for Elizabeth, a young English nurse, and she for him. Upon his release, they engage in an intense love affair, forever changing both of their lives.

Separated and shipped home, Peter tries desperately to reconnect with Elizabeth, but the War and the Spanish flu epidemic have the world in turmoil. Despite his every effort, desperate and in great distress, he is unable to reconnect with her. And then, suddenly, all hope is gone.

For the next twenty-seven years, Peter stoically meets many challenges in his life: finding a way to make a living during the Depression; being a devoted father to his son, born eleven months after marriage to a woman he does not love.

This debut novel from Alfred Nicols takes you from the battlefields of Europe during WWI to postwar Mississippi and into WWII and begs one question. Will true love prevail?

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Elizabeth began to play with the small patch of chest hairs she had come to love, coming out above his undershirt near her face. She felt a tension, a tension unique for her; a tension that needed something other than talk.

“You know, Elizabeth, I wouldn’t say this to many people, sure not to my Mama and Papa, but I hated all the churching and all. Them preachers, they go on and on—talking about sin—this sin, that sin, the next sin. Ain’t supposed to lie, and steal, and kill, and take the Lord’s name in vain—that’s cussing and all, you know. And that adultery—that’s the worst—they’re always preaching on that. And if anybody thinks there’s any of that adultery going on, that’s all they talk about around the store, and all. I doubt there’s anywhere more gossiping goes on than our store.”

He paused, took a deep breath, began to stroke her hair softly, then went on: “And they’re always talking about gettin’ saved, asking if you know for sure you been saved, ’cause if you ain’t and you die, you’re going to hell and all.”

Neither of them spoke for a full twenty seconds. His breathing became discernably more labored.

“Elizabeth, I ain’t stole, and I ain’t much of a liar—and I don’t do no cussing—and I couldn’t commit no adultery, not being married and all. But I sure have done some killing. His voice had a tremor in it, a tone of anguish. “I don’t even know how many I’ve done killed—least five or six—maybe more’n that . . . and I never wanted to kill nobody— Nobody.”

“Peter, you couldn’t help it. You did what you had to do, because you are a soldier, and this is a war, an awful, senseless, bloody war. When soldiers fight a war, they kill people. Because that is war.”

“I try to think I done it because it was my duty—they call it. And my family, they expected me to go do my duty and all. And I killed ‘em because they was trying to kill me first. But I’ll always wonder if they was just like me—they didn’t want to kill nobody neither. Somebody made them think killing me was their duty, and all—that them German fellas I killed was just fellas like me—not knowing what they was doing—just doing what they thought they was expected to do—like I was.”

“Peter, the Germans started this awful war. They deserved what they got. You have nothing to feel bad about.”

“You think them German fellas I killed knew who started it?”

Elizabeth wasn’t sure how to take the question. Was it an expression of cynical doubt . . . or sincere hope? They lay together, close and tender.

“You need to tell me about you, Elizabeth,” he said. “You’ve learned all about me—in the hospital and all, and now here. And I don’t know nothing about you. Tell me about your family, your growing up, your school, your churching, and all.

A minute passed. Then another. Peter found himself in the grip of an apprehension. Maybe she had been married before; maybe he had been killed early in the war, now in its fourth year. Maybe tonight he was standing in for a memory.

“You don’t have to tell me nothing—if you don’t wanna. I know there’s times when people don’t wanna talk about the past. Sometimes there’s been bad things they don’t wanna talk about—it brings back bad memories and all.”

“It is not that bad, I suppose,” she said, moving away enough to look into his face. “My life has just been so different from yours that I don’t know where to start. There is no family, like yours to talk about. I have only the vaguest memories of my mother. I know nothing at all about my father. If I have brothers or sisters, I know nothing of them. I have no place like Glasper. No regular church. No baseball. No fishing.”

She put her head back on his chest, no longer looking at him. Other than small segments with Dr. and Mrs. Prince, never before had she shared much with anyone other than Agnes about the events of her life, her feelings, her pain, her loneliness, her hopes, the person she really was.

She told him about her early childhood in the East End slum, where her mother shared a wooden shanty with another woman, and with Agnes, another child about her age, and how the two women stayed inside for most of the day, sleeping a large part of the time, then dressing and putting on strong perfume and going out at night. She told him about how cold and dirty it was, and how scared she always was as a child. She told him how she and Agnes were taken to the orphanage.

Peter began to wish he had not made her revisit these painful memories.

“You don’t have to tell me about all this, and all, if you don’t want to. I can understand if you don’t want to. I can only know what I know about you now. That’s all I need to know.”

“No. I want you to know who I am, where I have come from as a person—like I now know where you have come from as a person. Then I hope you want to accept me and want to be with me, knowing all there is about me.”

“I’m definitely gonna do that. I’m sure gonna do that.”

“Looking back, I know that being taken to Barnwell was the most fortunate event of my life. It is very structured there, with everyone wearing the same clothes and having the same haircut—the boys and girls are largely kept separated. They want to give children like me and Agnes all the basic protection and necessities that a young child needs, and a basic elementary education.”

“I bet you was good in school—made the best grades of anybody, and all.”

Elizabeth strived for the most modest tone she could manage. “I did quite well.”

“I didn’t make the best grades, probably not good as I should have,” he said, “got by, and all, but probably spent too much time fishing and playing baseball. How long did you stay at this orphanage, this Barnwell?”

“When I was twelve, I was sent to do domestic work for Dr. Prince. So much of my life, Peter, so much of who I am today, comes from going to work for Dr. Prince. His name was John Prince. He was a prominent surgeon, with a big house and an office in a very fine neighborhood called Mayfair. Going to work for the Princes was a blessing for me indeed.”

“Is Dr. Prince still alive?”

“Yes. But he is quite old and it is beginning to show. He uses a cane now. Mrs. Prince is showing her age too, but she is still able to get around quite well. She never forgets my birthday, and always buys me something for Christmas. I love them so and visit them whenever I can.”

“I’d sure like to meet them, Dr. Prince and Mrs. Prince. Do you think I could ever go with you to meet them?”

“Peter, I shall certainly try for us to do that, if you would truly like. I know they would enjoy meeting you.” In that, Elizabeth was most sincere. Mrs. Prince had long insinuated that she thought Elizabeth was a trifle slow in finding her a man, always quizzing her, “Are you seeing anyone special these days, my dear Elizabeth?”

With her right hand, Elizabeth again began to unconsciously stroke his chest, above the top of his undershirt, stretched and baggy from age. He noticed her doing it. He liked it.

“When I was about fourteen,” Elizabeth went on, “Dr. Prince decided I should help him in his clinic. I was expected to clean the clinic, which was not very large, and I was also allowed to help with his patients, eventually even help with some of his surgeries. Then, one day, when I was seventeen—as we were finishing up for the day—Dr. Prince told me he thought I should train as a nurse, and he wanted to enroll me in a training program at St. Thomas Hospital. Then the war came, and so many trained nurses were needed in the military hospitals.”

Elizabeth raised her head, looked him in the eye and dramatically announced, “And that—Peter Montgomery—is how I came into your life!”

She put her head back on his chest. He gently stroked her hair, her shoulder, the side of her back. They lay in silence, basking in the moment, in the warmth of each other’s bodies.

Peter broke the silence. “Did you ever see your mother again? Do you know what happened to her?”

“No. But about two years ago I went back to the East End looking for her. One person remembered her and told me to go look for Beatrice Denny at the fish market, that she was the woman we lived with when I was little. Took a lot of searching, it is such a big market, but I finally found her, a gray, wrinkled woman, at a table dressing fish. She said my mother had died of a fever in 1913.”

“What about your pa?” Peter asked. “Did you ever find out anything about him?”

She fell silent. Finally, she answered the question, in a voice that let him know she was about to cry, “I asked Beatrice Denny if she knew anything about my father . . . if she knew who he was. ‘Ain’t no knowing little lassie,’ she said. ‘Your mamma didn’t know. Weren’t no way for her to know.’”

Elizabeth began to weep. Peter said nothing, continued to stroke her as she cried. In time she stopped and looked up at him, tears still flowing down her face. “Peter, my mother was a whore. Whoever he was, my father is unknown—because he paid to be unknown.” This was something she had never before said aloud to anyone else.

She pushed her face tighter against his chest. There was neither sob nor sound, but tears continued to seep from her eyes.

Suddenly Peter could hear his grandfather’s voice, words he had heard all his life: “We Montgomerys . . . we Montgomerys . . . we Montgomerys.”

“We Montgomerys are hunters.”

“We Montgomerys believe the Bible is the word of God.”

“We Montgomerys do our duty in time of war.”

These words had brought Peter heartache, pain and resentment so many times in his life. They were now words he realized he had been blessed to hear. He hugged Elizabeth harder than ever.

They lay there together on her couch, in this embrace, her against him, his arm around her. In time he stopped stroking her. All was quiet and still. Peter was not about to break the silence. There was nothing he could think of to say.

Then she said to him in a voice so soft it was barely audible, “Peter do you have anyone special back home in America, someone special who you know is waiting for you.” She could be haunted by the question no longer.

“Nah,” he said, in a firm, sincere tone. “I ain’t got nobody back home.”

It was a moment of mutual gratitude. Her question and the tone of her voice had answered a question for him too, one that he had harbored for at least as long.

There was another period of silence. Her breathing became more pronounced.

“Peter have you ever made love, had sex?”

He struggled to answer. Should he lie? He remembered his father’s voice, something he’d heard more than once. Don’t ever lie, boy. Do and you’ll just have to tell another lie to cover that one up. And before long you gonna need more lies than you’re smart enough to think up.

“Yes,” he answered, with all the modesty he could muster.

“Many times?”

“Well, I dunno. Guess not that many.”

“I’m a virgin.”

“Certainly ain’t nothing wrong with that,” he said. “But it’d be alright if you weren’t.”

“Will you make love to me tonight?”

“You know I will,” he said, trying not to sound too excited. “Right now?”

“Not quite. I have never taken off my clothes in front of a man. I know I’m skinny and my body is not that attractive. I would like to go take off my clothes and get in the bed under the covers and then have you come to me.”

With that she got up and pushed through the curtains, headed toward her bed. Peter got up and took off his clothes, throwing them randomly on the couch. Then he sat down and waited, naked and eager.”

“I’m ready . . .” she said. Not long had passed, but to Peter it had seemed an eternity. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

Questions from the author:

(1) When should we risk love? What happens to Peter when Hannah doesn’t work out? Why didn’t it work out?

(2) Arthur prays not to die? What is prayer? Is that a part of all religions? What is the value of prayer? What are the proper things to pray about? Are there improper ones? How do we know if our prayers are answered? Is there meaning in unanswered prayers?

(3)) Peter heard his grandfather tell his father that he was afraid Peter was going to be a sissy, not a big man in the family tradition at all. What does it take to be a man? A real man? Would Rudyard Kipling’s immortal poem If bring understanding? Did this experience later influence Peter to join the Army?

(4) What did Peter do that made Sergeant Mulholland suddenly respect him? Isn’t that all it often takes to command respect?

(5) How did a man, raised in a hunting culture, who was once so tinder- hearted he couldn’t bear to shoot a squirrel and see it suffer, later come to kill numerous other men? Did these men deserve to die?

(6) The most experienced sergeant on the Western Front couldn’t kill Bruno the Rat with a rifle, after many tries. A young private his first week in the trenches killed him with a duckboard slat. What did Bruno do that cost him his life? How does that compare to texting when driving? To going on open water without a life jacket? Can you give other examples?

(7) Peter and Elizabeth were immediately attracted to each other. Why? What is romantic love? What makes love last? Is that the same thing as what makes marriage last?

(8) Why did Elizabeth, a virgin until now, so now want to start a sexual relationship with Peter? Did her friend Agnes influence her? How much is our first voluntary sexual experience determined by the appeal of the other person vs. the pull of curiosity? Does the power of curiosity cause us to do much of what we do, often to our detriment?

(9) Elizabeth was thin and skinny, not voluptuous at all like Hannah, but was warm, genuine, supportive, and fun? Isn't that all that really matters to most men?

(10) Peter and Elizabeth’s first sex was far from perfect. She was too tense to be physically ready, and he was all too ready. Did that have any impact on their ultimate relationship? Why not?

(11) Peter suddenly realizes how blessed he is to have family ties, even to imperfect people. Why did it take Elizabeth to make him appreciative? Why does it so often take being exposed to someone who doesn’t have it to appreciate what we have?

(12) When Sergeant Duck wanted sex with a prostitute, he put in his order for the youngest one available. What is statutory rape? What is he legal age of consent? Does it matter if the victim is prostitute? What if the victim’s age is unknown? What if she’s asked and lies?

(13) Peter’s discussion with his sister goes to probably the greatest theological dilemma of all? Why does a loving God will let bad things happen to good people, like Arthur, and good things happen to bad people. Peter gives her the best answer he can. What would be your answer?

(14) Getting drunk and losing control can have life changing consequents. Drunk driving is the one that first comes to mind for most. What are others? Would regretted sex be the second most frequent?

(15) Peter’s father pressures him to marry Emma. He says he does not intend to risk losing his first grandchild to an abortion. Would he feel the same way today, if now available testing revealed the child would be born so severely handicapped it could never walk or talk, feed or dress itself, and by some twist of fate he would be responsible for those things for the duration of the child’s life. What if Evie had been abducted, raped and impregnated at thirteen? What if his beloved niece, only thirteen, was discovered pregnant by her brother, her father, or her grandfather?

(16) When Peter wants to talk Casey and Carrie out of eloping, he confronts them with the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Why is this principle considered the essence of universal morality? Carrie explains she may be a sinner but she doesn’t want to be a hypocrite. What is a hypocrite? Peter wants to help Carrie deal with her guilt at being pregnant, thinking she has shamed her pious family. How did Peter try to do that?

(17)) Peter joined the military without being drafted, as did Casey. Casey’s driver on his mission to find Elizabeth was drafted. Should there always be a draft? What are the consequences of having no draft? Avoiding it by using substantial enlistment incentives?

(18) When Peter so desires to again have sex with Elizabeth, after twenty-seven years, he is humiliated by his impotence. Elizabeth gives him a short lecture about her belief in the power of faith. What is faith? Do you think there is power in faith? What part does faith play in our success and happiness, our ability to deal with our ultimate mortality?

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