"Some People Pass By, Some People Pass On, Others Pass Through"
The second part of "When What To My Wondering Eyes Should Appear?" which can be found on Literotica at "https://www.literotica.com/s/when-what-to-my-wondering-eyes" should be read first, to preserve the story and the reader's continuity.
Clutching the small box with its precious contents inside, old Jim knelt there alongside the tinseled tree, trying to make sense of the non-sensical, his tears gradually subsided, his emotions still in free-fall. He tried to remember... but the past was giving up no secrets. If his subconscious held any clues as to this paradox, it wasn't about to lay them out for him.
Cassandra had been his wife in the last century - that inarguable truth was clutched in his hand and somewhere in the recesses of his mind - he knew it to be true notwithstanding. How then were they ever parted? And by what cosmic intervention was she able to visit him on this yuletide eve?
His worsening arthritis was no aid to standing from a crouch and this Christmas morning he found inordinate difficulty and discomfort in assuming an erect posture. Holding on to the chair-back for a few moments to stabilize himself, he felt all of his sixty four years and winced as a sharp pain took his breath away momentarily. For an instant everything faded, and then with its passing, he reflected again on the morning's events and assuring himself that since nothing here was going to further his cause - he would venture outside to seek inspiration of sorts. Making then a detour to his small bedroom, he stared at the bed recalling to mind the expended passions of the night passed and the seeming miraculous return of his youth at a time when it was sorely needed. The twin indentations on the mattress brought fresh tears to his eyes and it was all he could do to get dressed in his threadbare trousers, shirt and outerware. Turning, he headed slowly for the front door.
Not expecting a blizzard on opening it, he put his hands instinctively up to his face for protection, fully unable to see anything of his front yard or barely even the doorstep, which he now stepped gingerly across. Turning, to close the front door, he was smitten speechless to find his hands making contact with nothing - it was no longer there. Only snow blizzarding down and piling up behind him even as he watched. His home snatched away by madness, everything familiar to him gone and yet ahead of him, through a lessening of the wild precipitation, he thought he could make out fields stretching before him. Having little option, he put his head down and trudged in the direction of a soft glow he could divine on the horizon.
By degrees, the snow abated somewhat and he was able to make out what appeared to be a road of sorts, at some distance beyond the field that he was currently struggling through. On reaching it, he could see it was no more than a dirt track yet something about it sparked his memory and he knew instinctively which direction to take. His stride increased and he felt an intensity not present in his demeanor earlier. The change continued gradually but as he now glanced downwards he could see his old threadbare clothes had metamorphised into sturdier work clothes of the 1800's, a wide-lapelled leather coat was well ahead on points in repelling the cold, aided in no small part by the knee-high boots that encased his lower legs, neither of which had any knowledge of their owner's former arthritic incapacity in another life.
He thrust a gloved hand into his pocket and was relieved to feel there the small heart-shaped box. It was late Christmas morning and he had to make good on his promise to be home in time for the roast turkey Cassandra would have waiting for him. The Portsmouth township of Fratton was but a twenty minute brisk walk from where he stood and Cuthbert Road barely a mile along St Mary's Road itself. He might even achieve his goal in just over a half-hour if he hurried.
Several horse-drawn conveyances passed him as he strode roadside, following the route he knew so well and that he had traversed in years past since gaining employment as the Manager of the Carpenter's Arms in Portsea. Broughams, cabriolets, phaetons, hackneys - even a couple of hansom cabs passed him either way, as he walked east towards his destination. More than once the drivers and occupants would call out "A Merry Christmas to you good sir" as they passed by. One older gentleman even resorted to a brief touch of his forelock. The snow by now had all but ceased but was several inches thick on the ground and drifts up to four or five feet in doorways were a common sight.
He had just reached the intersection of Kingston and St Mary's roads in Fratton, when having crossed the now muddy street, the snow and dirt churned up by multiple cart wheels, he passed a figure dressed in a well outfitted Santa-Claus costume, standing on the corner and ringing a small bell, to invite passers-by to drop a few coins in the open bag at his feet, for distribution amongst the poorer, less fortunate citizens of Portsmouth. As he passed, the figure inclined his head towards Jim and spoke.
"A very merry Christmas to you sir," As Jim looked up into the man's kindly eyes, he felt a chill. He knew this man - but how and from where?" The tall figure caressed his white mustache - a gesture that somehow was so familiar that Jim realized he was trembling.
"I... I know you," he mustered.
"Perhaps then we have met before," came the reply, "Remember my friend, we all have a past as well as a future!" The words jolted him badly and though he was unable to divine the true meaning of them, he knew now that this was no accidental meeting and that it was simply something destined to be.
He felt in his pockets, found a few coins and dropped them in to the bag.
"Will we meet again?" He asked the tall figure, having no idea why he asked that.
"That is something outside of our control young sir. If it be orchestrated in years ahead, then I look forward to it. Meanwhile, thank you kindly for the consideration you have shown." So saying, he looked down at the bag at his feet.
Jim could not find any appropriate words, so simply touching the figure on the arm, and muttering "A merry Christmas to you Sir also," he turned and walked on. Without looking back, he knew the man was still watching him and he shivered.
Turning right on to Cuthbert Road, the lights from the oil-lamps in the little house on the right, three down from the corner, flickered their yuletide welcome. He ran the last few yards and beneath the sprigs of holly and mistletoe entwined atop the tiny wooden porch, he rapped twice on the sturdy wooden door. Footsteps could plainly be heard running towards the front door. Thrown open in a trice, his pretty young wife stood there and threw her arms around him.
"Jim, Jim," she cried, hugging him to her, "You're right on time, the Christmas dinner is almost ready!"
He glanced over her shoulder and could smell thyme and sage and other wonderful aromas emanating from the little kitchen.
Holding her hand, he guided her first into the small lounge-room on the left, where a fine Christmas-tree sat, bedecked in earnest with handmade decorations, tinsel and other ornaments befitting the Christmas period. She had not opened any presents yet, awaiting his return quite obviously. He had her sit down in the worn but comfortable old chair alongside the fire-place, that right now was ablaze and warming the little room, courtesy of the logs he had cut down just the previous day. He leant across and kissed her.
"My dearest Cassandra," he said, addressing her at eye-level. "I want you to open this first. It's not much but something I hope conveys just how much I love you!" He withdrew from his coat pocket the little box, wrapped as it was in the thin paper and handed it to her. Already, tears were forming at the corner of her eyes and her hand trembled as she took it from him.
"Oh Jim," she muttered, "Whatever it is, I'll love it!"
"Slowly removing the wrapping, she lifted the lid of the tiny box and carefully retrieved the contents. The tears were not to be interrupted as she read the inscription inside.
"My dear and kindest Jim," she said, "Although I know already how much you love me - that is very obvious from the way you've always treated me, but this is the most beautiful present I have ever received, I shall treasure it always." She then handed him the locket and turned her head, intimating it should be fastened around her neck. It was the work of but a moment.
For an instant he was suddenly aware of an image forming in his head - that familiar Santas Claus on St Mary's Road not an hour earlier. Somehow it was connected but he failed to piece the events together - something integral to the mystery was missing from his past and his memory!
Hand in hand they walked to the kitchen and Jim helped Cass (as he usually called her) with final preparations for the meal. She had the small table beneath the kitchen window ready, set out with cutlery, plates and condiments. Jim busied himself opening a bottle of wine he had brought home from the Carpenter's Arms a few days earlier. He also turned up the wick of the oil lamp to shed maximum light while they ate.
Cassandra excused herself for a few minutes and returned just as Jim finished slicing the turkey on its outsize platter. She had changed into a pretty floral dress, tied her lustrous-brown hair back with pink ribbons. Just a hint of scent completed the image - one that Jim never ceased to be thankful for. Still only nineteen, she was a dream to behold. As she walked back into the kitchen Jim pulled her to him and being but five foot two inches tall, she had to stand on tiptoe to hug him around the neck.
"You look so beautiful Cass," he said, "I don't know what I did to deserve you but 'tis a fact, I love you more than life itself." Thus saying, he kissed her passionately before pulling out a chair for her and she sat down, hands in her lap while he apportioned the best slices of turkey he could find on to her plate. Together with roast vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, green peas and in his opinion at least, Portsmouth's best gravy (her mother's recipe) the meal was inarguably heaven before you die. They drank each other's health and then had only time for a few words each between mouthfuls.
The main meal complete, there was still the small matter of the Christmas pudding that had been maturing in the bread bin for several days. Topped off with warm brandy sauce, Cassandra came off the wealthier of the two after she espied the traditional sixpence amongst the crumbs on her plate.
Looking out of the small window, Jim saw that it was once again snowing and putting his arm around her shoulder said "Let's go and walk off some of that food Cass, I think I need to exercise now. They both laughed. Rugging up against the bitter cold and tossing long comforters around their neck and shoulders, they stepped outside and began tackling the slight ascent up to St Mary's road.
"Which way shall we go Jim?" she asked, as they reached St Marys. Not relishing the chance of any further encounter with Santa Claus, he answered "To the right Cass." As they walked roadside, the falling snow grew heavier still and more than once they had to move away from the road as slush was thrown up across their boots by various cart-wheels. Walking on, despite the adverse conditions, including a light wind that had now sprung up, the scenery was so beautiful. Gabled houses with icicles hanging off them, front gardens with the virginal snow following the contours of stone walls and fences. Several children equally rugged-up, building snowmen, while their parents looked-on either from their front porches or through lounge-room windows, where could be seen the illumination of roaring fires in the hearths. Several people waved to the young couple as they drifted past.
Slightly ahead, the road curved to the right and Jim whispered in her ear. "Just another quarter of a mile Cass, and we'll go back." She nodded. It was the last gesture she was ever to make. Too late, they heard the clattering of hooves and the screech of a cart's wheels on sheet ice across the road. The Hansom cab began to drift sideways as the driver tried to regain control. They were still turning round when the conveyance slammed into them both side on with full force. They would have been unconscious before they even struck the huge oak-tree, followed by the cab itself. Both died instantly. The driver was thrown out, critically injured and the one passenger, suffering compound injuries from deceleration forces when the cab struck the tree itself.
Both sets of parents were inconsolable obviously - the only slight compensation for both was that they knew their children had not suffered.
In time, a headstone was erected at the local cemetery in Kingston, opened just eight years earlier.
"HERE LIES JIM BRIGGS 28 AND HIS YOUNG WIFE CASSANDRABRIGGS 19 WHO DIED IN A ROAD ACCIDENT, CHRISTMAS DAY 1862. GREATLY MISSED BY FRIENDS AND RELATIVES"
The incident was reported in the local newspaper and was talked about by local residents for weeks afterwards. Both Jim and Cassandra had been popular members of the community.
What was never published were the many sightings of two shadowy figures walking hand in hand amongst the gravestones at Kingston on moon-lit nights. A girl resting her head on the taller man's shoulders as they walked. "Something around her neck glinted in the moonlight" insisted one witness!
In response to neighbors' calls to the Hampshire Police, a brightly colored Police BMW X5 pulled up outside Jim's house. He hadn't been seen since Christmas Eve and no-one apparently was answering the door. Three uniformed officers exited the car and strode up to the front porch. One knocked and receiving no answer knocked a second time - considerably harder.
"Use the lock bypass Henderson," muttered the senior officer. The younger constable retrieved the implement from his kit and inserted what looked like a short metal spike attached to a square black box little larger than a small bar of chocolate, into the lock itself.
Depressing a flashing green button on a remote keypad the slightest "whoosh" was audible and a minute wisp of smoke exited the lock. They pushed the door open - and had to take no more than three steps into the room to find the explanation.
Old Jim was lying where he fell alongside the chair, one arm stretched out as if reaching for something. Another officer bent down and retrieved a tiny piece of discolored paper just a few inches from the outstretched hand. He sniffed it then tossed it away.
"Smells like really old wrapping paper," he said to no-one in particular.