Dear Fr Bill,
I made a new friend yesterday, Mathew. He’s a favorite of the captains at the barracks. No one matches his skill in making bows, arrows, and fishing hooks. Like all the boys from Mogul, he’s stout, tall, and swift but exceptionally kind and gentle. I read a text from the book of Exodus with him. I don’t know if he liked it but he kept asking why I read the Bible every day. It seems he has been watching me for a while. He promised to craft me a satchel where I can keep it. I guess he will use goatskin. It’s what we use for our waterskins.
Life out here is hard Fr Bill. We have to cook our food and for the captains. I miss eating fish spiced with mint and cumin. Every night I dream of the nut cake and the banana flavored cookies. The training is intense which means we have to eat more. Last week we ate roasted game. It’s not tender but the boys here gobble it mercilessly. I offered to make a cake for the captains and they liked it. One of them calls me the cake boy. They allow me to pray in the morning and the evening for thirty minutes.
Greetings to all the boys at the seminary. I hope to see them after the training. Quick recovery to Fr Thomas. I’m sending him this wooden donkey I made out of the oak tree.
Your loving son,
Bartholomew (Jan 17th, 1887)
Dear Fr Bill,
Every night I revisit your old letters for strength and encouragement. Five months ago, you told me to do more penance but I think this training itself is a penance. My body bears the marks of a chastised body. The soft fluffy palms I cherished are as hard as those of a fisherman. My legs are tattooed with scars. The forest is full of thorny trees, poisonous leaves that give you an itchy skin for two days. I’m not good at hunting so I have to fish. We only fish at night but I’m afraid of the dark. Mathew says that spirits of the dead hover over the waters at night. What if these spirits take me? I’m tired of this place. It’s vile and sucks all happiness from you.
I hope you’re able to read these words. I can barely write with bruised hands. My hands shake as I write this. I have to stop here. The captains are limiting our letters to only half a page. I will use the other half for the August letter.
Bartho (April 23rd, 1887)
To Fr Bill,
I am sorry about the grumbling in my last letter. You say I shouldn’t whine and complain but bear all things in love and joy. Am I becoming unfaithful? I don’t know. I haven’t read the bible in 3 months. Five more months here and I will be lost. Mathew introduced me to the Mogul boys. They don’t know God but they are kind. Every night after the training we make a fire and tell stories as we drink some aged rum and ale. Now that I’m 19, I’m eligible to take alcohol. I’m sure you have no problem with this. You would gladly drink this rum and ale. Afterall every dinner you have wine at the table. Most of them don’t believe in God. They say seminarians shouldn’t be sent here to undertake military training. But it is a requirement from the state that all boys undergo training.
Last week we traded with the merchants from Nashville. The Mogul boys were happy to see young beautiful girls there. They gave them flowers. I was afraid to do so. There was this girl clad in a white dress, golden hair, dimples with a scar on her lower lip. She smiled at me. I smiled back. It felt so good. Mathew patted me and said he’s proud of me. In three weeks, we might go back to Nashville. If I see her this time, I will give her flowers and get to know her name.
Bartho (August 27th, 1887)
To Fr Bill Francis,
I haven’t received any letter from you recently. I heard about the attacks last month. The captain told us most of the homes in the city were destroyed. I tried to ask him about our church and the seminary. He said nothing and told me not to bother him anymore. I hope you and the boys are well. How about Fr Thomas, Fr John-Mary and Silvanus?
I smile as I write this. It’s something you don’t want to hear but you always told me to do things that make me happy. What gives me peace and joy. The girl from Nashville. Her name is Vannelope. Her father died five ago. She lives with her mother twenty kilometers from the city center. She comes by the wagon to trade squirrels for bread and threads. Her mother taught her sewing. She owes her hunting skills to her late father. She gave me a wrist ornament made from squirrel claws. It looks good to me. I gave her my bible to read until we go back to Nashville. Mathew also has a girl he talks to. She gave him a painting of themselves. She’s good at painting. Next time I will get a painting of my own with Vannelope.
I hope to hear from you soon. At the start of next year, I should be able to come back to the city.
Your loving son,
Bartholomew Stan (November 19th, 1887)
In hopes that Fr Bill will read this. I address this letter to you my Loving God to read it to Fr Bill. For how long have you been dead Fr? You should have written to me before you died. You died during that attack in October. I don’t know how much we lost. How many were lost? Fr Thomas wrote that you passed on to watch over us from above. His letter was cold. I have so much to tell you. So much to ask you. You have been a father and at the same time a mother. I hope you’re watching over me at this moment. Next week the training will end. I have learned so much. Fishing, hunting, shooting, and self-defense as the captains call it. I think it’s killing an enemy, not self-defense. He says they have prepared us in the best way possible. Whenever needed, we are to respond without hesitation.
I’m torn between coming back to the seminary and heading to Nashville. Vannelope’s mother said it’s okay to stay with them. This way I can spend more time with Vannelope. I don’t feel like coming back to the seminary. I sense I’m a changed man. But then someone has to fill Fr Bill’s place. Who else but me? He always told me to go after that which gave me joy. I see myself as a happy man with Vannelope by my side. But coming back to the seminary is more than a personal gain. It’s a service. The training here has taught us to serve others. Living for others.
Mathew is going to Nashville next week to meet his love. The other Mogul boys will go back to their homes to be with their parents. Tonight, we have a campfire. There I will wait for your answer Fr Bill. I know you’re watching over me. Shall I choose service or happiness?
Your loving son,
Bartholomew Stan (January 1888)