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Love on Wheels, Part 4

Tristan settled well in England. He studied hard in King’s College, London. He found a simple hostel and life was fine. He earned some money as well, working hard as a free-lance writer and contributing several articles for the local newspapers. All the time, his life was centered around his books, his articles and Victoria… They exchanged many love letters and Victoria would sometimes send Tristan a box of chocolates from home, while Tristan would send his prized articles to her.

Life went on fine for the both of them. Even though they were seperated by the seas, their love for each other remained the same. Perhaps the roots had gone even deeper, for absence made their hearts grew fonder.

March 1914. An urgent telegram arrived for Tristan one day, just after he returned from a lecture at college. It came from Vancouver and bore the simple troubling message.

“Tristan come back. Victoria. Accident. Sick. Bad.”

All sort of wild thoughts ran through his mind. He felt sick at heart. He wanted to fly home immediately… to his Victoria. He quickly dropped everything at hand and went to check out the next available steamer leaving for Vancouver. It turned out that the next steamer scheduled to leave London for Vancouver would take three days later!

That evening, he hurriedly made his way to the phone company and got a line through to the Clair estate. When the household finally recognised the caller, everyone rushed to speak to Tristan. He thought he heard his mother crying on the other line, but everything else was unclear. Unfortunately for Tristan, due to the stormy weather in London these weeks, most of the telephone wires were damaged. Tristan could not get a good reception and before anything could be asked about Victoria, the line was disconnected. After several tries again, the telephone receptionist had to give up for the lines were hopelessly disengaged.

Tristan spent the next three days in a worrying and restless mood. He could do nothing but wait for the steamer to take him back to Vancouver. He lost interest in his books and his articles. He had no appetite to eat and was sleepless during the nights. He just wanted to know that Victoria was well. Finally, after a long and tiring journey by ship and train, he arrived at the Clair estate. Everyone in the household rushed out to meet him in anguish. He dropped his luggages in the hall and looked at everyone in tears.

“Where is Victoria? Where is she? How is she? What happened? Tell me!” demanded Tristan from his parents.

“Son, she’s… she’s in her room,” Tristan’s mother replied, trembling with tears.

Tristan pushed everyone aside and rushed up to Victoria’s room. He anxiously stormed past the door and the sight that beheld him caught him totally off guard. Victoria… His Victoria laid in bed peacefully asleep as her mother sat beside her and held her hands in prayers. His beautiful Victoria had been reduced to a pale and thinly figure.

The sun had been shut out from the window. The room was dark and filled with sickness. Victoria’s mother reached out her hand to Tristan and led him to Victoria. He sat down beside his Victoria, he held her cold pale hands in his and tears flowed from his lids. He gently ran his fingers along her sweet little face. He could not resist the sharp pain piercing into his heart.

“What happened? Please, tell me what happened? I have the right to know!” Tristan begged Victoria’s mother for an answer to this agony that had befell so unexpectedly on him and his Victoria.

The gentle housewife replied in tears, “She… went out one day… She wanted to go to the town central to post you a letter. She… She was riding her bicycle when she crashed into a… a car.” The little woman sobbed uncontrollably, “It was an accident, Tristan! But she’s never going to be the same again! Oh, there was so much blood on her. We thought she was going to die. But the doctor saved her and we thought everything would be alright. But… she’s never going to get well again!”

“When did this happen? Why can’t she ever get well? Why?” Tristan grabbed the poor lady and demanded.

“It was a month ago. We didn’t tell you at first for we didn’t want to disturb your studies. But when things went terribly wrong, we thought we couldn’t hide this from you anymore. We all know how much you love Victoria!”

“So what went wrong?” Tristan softened his tone as he ran his fingers through Victoria’s hair.

“She cannot wake for a time. The doctor says she has a brain damage. He says she is in coma and don’t know when she’ll wake up again.”

“Coma… Didn’t the doctor try to give her an operation?”

“Yes, he did that already. But it was a terrible accident. She lost too much blood. Her condition was very critical and the operation was very risky. He only managed to keep her alive, but somehow, she just can’t wake. He says she’s going to lose her memory even if she wakes.”

It suddenly dawned on Tristan the impact of the tragedy. She was going to forget him and the love they shared, everything. But right now, he just wanted her to wake up from her sleep and smile at him again.

That night, Tristan stayed with Victoria, not leaving her for a single moment. He spoke to her all through the night, about his life in England, of his love for her and of his desires that she would soon get well. If only he did not leave for England. Nothing else would have happened. He would have been there for Victoria, to protect and save her.

He was saddened with guilt. He wished he had never gave Victoria the confidence to ride a bike. He wished there was no bike at all. He held her hands and slowly stroked the wedding band that she was still wearing on her finger. He bent his head in tears and prayed.

Tristan never went back to London again. He stayed and took care of Victoria. Since the incident, he became a quiet man and always kept to his thoughts. He seldom talked to anyone, not even his parents. He only told Victoria what he felt. For a long time, he never touched his books again, and was even too tired to pick up his pen to write anything. The whole household was grieved to see Tristan in misery.

Three months later, Victoria finally woke from her coma. And as the doctor had predicted, she had forgotten everything, everyone, including herself. To Victoria, she had never known Tristan all her life and this broke his heart terribly. Even though, it had been months since the accident occured, Victoria’s health condition never fully recovered. She became very delicate and fell sick easily. She did not step out into the sun anymore. She never run again. She was just very sick, very weak and helpless.

To Tristan, Victoria had become a stranger. Someone totally different from the one he first fell in love with. Her beauty had faded away. Her shine had been lost. She did not remember him at all. And he felt as if he did not know her either. He missed the Victoria which he held in his arms and exchanged sweet words with, just before he left for England. He missed his Victoria very much, but she was never going to come back. Tristan wanted very much to leave everything behind and escape this harsh reality. He thought he needed to be away and find himself again.

August 1914. His chance of escape came when World War I broke out. Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany meant that the entire empire, including Canada, was at war. After a massive recruiting effort, the first contingent of thirty-two thousand men went overseas in October.

Tristan was among the thirty-two thousand. He had volunteered himself to serve his country as a soldier in the war. Amidst the threatening bombs and flying bullets, Tristan wanted very much to forget that Victoria had ever existed. He wanted to lose his soul to the war. He came very close to death several times. He survived when his airplane crashed in Africa. He survived when shells burst into his camp one night. He fought and killed an enemy with his bare hands. He suffered shot wounds and was held as a prisoner of war in Germany for six months. He watched his friends fighting and dying.

In April 1915, Canadians suffered six thousand casualties and endured the war’s first poison-gas attack in Belgium. Tristan came through with all these. Finally, towards the end of the war, he was severely wounded in Italy and spent a long time recuperating there.

During the five months which he spent in an Italian medical camp, he thought very much about Victoria and their love affair. During the war, he never wrote a single letter home. He had thought that he would die, but he survived the war somehow.

After finally becoming at peace with himself, he started writing many letters to Victoria, reminding her page by page of their love story and what they had been through. He wanted Victoria to remember him and their love.

After the war had ended, Tristan went back to Canada, but he did not return to Vancouver. He settled in Montreal instead. He went back to his writing and found a job as a reporter, working for “Vancouver Sun.” Later, he worked as a correspondent for “Toronto Star.”

During the couple of years in Montreal, he worked very hard and tried to put the war behind him. He went for several psychiatric counselling and soon recovered from his post traumatic disorder. He became a quiet and simple man, but his works were soon being recognised as in-depth and emotionally powerful and was soon gaining fame nationwide.

All this time, Tristan never stop writing his letters to Victoria. Until one day, he read the letter from Victoria, requesting to see him again, did he realised that it was finally time to go home. Since the war began until then, he had not seen Victoria for almost six years. He missed Victoria.

After having taken care of his duties, Tristan immediately arranged to make a trip back to Vancouver, back to the memorable Clair estate. He remembered to bring along his precious silver locket. It had been with him throughout the war, just as Victoria had always been constantly on his mind.

©1998 Jessica Yeow