Catherine’s Castle - The Story
The continuing adventures of the Colorado Girls.

Chapter 10

Catherine’s Castle © Linda Pilkington

“I heard that your cousin’s family moved away.” The dark-haired boy said.

“They moved, but they plan on coming back. My uncle transferred out of state for a couple of years.” Melinda Emerson muttered.

For a few minutes, the boy walked silently beside her. Then he chanced a sidelong glance and as usual was devastated by the sight. At school, he knew prettier girls than Melinda Emerson, but when he was with her, somehow, he could never remember their names.

An empty silence stretched on and he grew desperate.

“I watched your cousin, Lance, play in every game that last year – he was really good. I bet the team misses him.”

“I suppose.” Melinda said. But she didn’t look at him. 

And then more silence.

He wasn’t sure whether that meant that he shouldn’t talk about Lance Collins.  He hesitated, unsure, and then blundered on.

“That poem that Mrs. Johnson read- everyone said that it was like him.”

‘A knight loved chivalry…’ He paused self-consciously, struggling to find the words. And Melinda who had a mind for poetry went on…
‘A knight there was,
That, from the first
Loved chivalry,
Truth, honor, freedom and courtesy.’

“Those aren’t the exact words; it’s from the Canterbury Tales-Chaucer.” Melinda said. Her voice seemed a little shaky.

He couldn’t think of a response to Chaucer, or to the girl who could quote him. Somehow he didn’t think it was a good idea to keep talking about her family.

He started to ask her something about school, but abandoned the question before it reached his lips.

“One more minute of silence and I’ll snap.” He thought,

He stole another glance and caught Melinda looking at him.

To his disgust, he flushed self-consciously.

She turned away, but he could tell that she was smiling.

“Stay calm. Stay cool. This is no big deal.” His mind, prepared by weeks of rehearsal, instructed.

“So, do you like working at that discount place?” she said. He was relieved that she sounded more like herself.

“It’s not so bad.” He had prepared some really clever comments about his job but discarded them as not funny enough.

Unconsciously he sighed. Lance Collins would have made her laugh.

He thought of the times that he had followed Lance and Melinda Emerson home from school, trying to stay close enough to eavesdrop-close enough to hear Melinda’s laugh.

“I’ve got to pick up my sister,” Melinda said. But to his relief she hesitated.

“Wait, do you go out -ever?” he asked. He barely surpressed a groan. “I have one chance to talk to her in five weeks, and everything I say sounds idiotic.”

“It depends on what you mean by ‘go out’”.

He rushed on.

“I don’t mean anything bad, what I mean is…” he said.  He had gone blank, totally blank. Finally his brain rebooted.  “I don’t mean what most kids mean when they say that. I know what you think about …”

He was babbling. Suddenly he felt hopeless, his words choked off.

It was one of those movie moments-when the character has lost all control. But he was committed. If an asteroid had picked that minute to fall on them, he probably would have continued to ask Melinda Emerson to go out with him.

A car, radio pounding, roared past -closely followed by a slower moving red truck. Melinda had turned at the noise, and he rejoiced at the distraction. Quickly he took half a breath, which was all he could manage, and forged ahead.

“Listen, do you want to go to a show Friday night?” He blurted –to the back of her head.

She turned back, stared at him blankly for a moment, and then suddenly smiled.

“I guess so. What time?”

“Seven ok? Or I could call you if that’s ok.”

Once she had turned away, he raced towards home, blind to everything around him.

Thankfully he was himself again, an ordinary guy-no longer a babbling idiot.

Minutes later, he turned into the driveway of his house – a wide and blissful grin covering his face-amazed at his luck, astounded that he had finally found the nerve to ask, and panicked when he wondered what he would find to talk to her about.

“Music. I won’t have to say anything if the music’s loud enough.” He thought, relieved.

Melinda finished her homework and went to sit in the family’s small T.V. Room. This room was oddly situated just beyond the kitchen, in the low half-tower of the Victorian House.

Her younger sister, Gwynie, had fallen asleep in the living room and so Melinda curled up on the tower room sofa, glad for some time to think.

“He was trying to get my attention. Every day he shows up in that stupid red truck that he thinks is so great. It doesn’t matter what route I take home. He goes roaring by, and never even glances at me.”

Melinda gave a little triumphant laugh, and then the thought occurred, that the reason Derek Phillips didn’t look at her was because he had not seen her.

She sighed. The thing she didn’t like about life was that you could never be sure of anything.

The phone by the sofa rang; she stretched to get it, and then sank back into the softness of the cushions.


“Hi, it’s just me.”

“Cath, I’m glad it’s you- I was trying to talk myself out of being depressed.”

“What’s wrong?” Her sister asked quickly.

“Nothing, what should be wrong?”

“Nothing, but –why are you almost depressed?”

“Just stuff. Did I tell you about Derek?”

That guy who took you to the drunken party? So you went out with him again?”

The inflection was slight but Melinda heard it.

“I went out with him one other time- that time we went to a show, and everything was fine-actually pretty nice, at first. Then I went to the bathroom, and Ansley Putman was there. As soon as she saw me she started shrieking at me. She likes making scenes; I felt like a fool. And I walked out of there shaking like a leaf.”

“So, Ansley Putman is his girlfriend?”

Former girlfriend.” Melinda stressed.

“Did she know that she was a former girlfriend? Did you tell him about it?”

“You know how I am. I stood there-with a bathroom full of strangers watching while she called me names. Of course, I told him about it- all of the way home.”


“He said that he had broken up with her a month before. I’ve avoided him ever since, but he keeps showing up wherever I go. ”

“Please remember something; you can’t always believe what men say,” Catherine said. 

“You believed Liam.”

“Liam was different. My current policy is not to believe a word that men say. The lies flow, effortlessly, out of their mouths. Listen-I don’t plan on spending my life at home, but some guys are a real waste of time.”

“Catherine, sometimes I think the same thing-that people are a waste of time. Why are there so many awful people? Is it inherited or something? And why do we lose the good people?”

“Manna’s right- people have changed, they aren’t as kind or honest and…”Catherine began.

“‘The good ones are harder and harder to find,’” Melinda said. 

“I wish life could stay as good as it was when we were little. Remember Iowa in July, and staying at Aunt Colleen’s? Everything was so green and alive…”

“Do you remember being a ‘Prairie Princess’ at the July Jubilee?” Catherine laughed.

“I loved those costumes. Long skirts and bonnets all in red white and blue for the 4th,” Melinda said. She blinked away the tears that suddenly filled her eyes.

“We did The Founding of America in fourteen different versions. I swear, all of those plays were  alike. And when I was ten I believed in everything. Truth and justice- that there were lots of good people of high integrity…”Catherine said. Then her voice trailed off as if she was lost in thought.

“You don’t seem sure of anything anymore,” Melinda said. She sounded anxious and as young as Gwynie. “You and Lance were always so sure of your beliefs. You’ve changed.”

Catherine paused, and then sighed, “Brittany says that too. Don’t worry, I still believe in right and wrong. Lately, I’ve grown disillusioned with people.”

“I believe in the ideals of this country. And I wish that the politicians did. There are too many people without principles, or courage. It’s the people that I have lost faith in,” Catherine said.

“But what about you? What’s this about losing good people…”

“Everything is ok. It’s just that I was walking home with this guy and he started talking about Lance. And I realized for about the millionth time that you are gone, and that Lance is gone- I have lost my two best friends. That’s all,” Melinda said.

“That’s enough. But, remember, I’m not ‘lost,” Catherine said. And then she asked, “Have you heard from Aunt Margaret?”

“Not for awhile. Mother will call her this weekend. Last weekend we decorated the house for Christmas. It seemed strange without you or our cousins, even Christmas has changed.”

“I wish that they had stayed in Colorado. I think people should stay close to their memories.”

“What if those memories are too close for comfort?” Melinda wondered.

Catherine went on, “I can still hear you, Lance and Arthur laughing as you sent your trucks crashing down the stairs on Christmas day.”

A few more silences, a few more words, and the girls hung up.

Melinda had a dozen jobs ahead of her, but she sat a bit longer in the dark dimness of December, pondering Catherine’s words and struggling to hear a voice from Christmases past.


The tower room where Melinda sat was either at the back, or the front of the house-whichever way you chose to look at it.

The house, viewed from the street, showed a sturdy Victorian facade-rather plain for the style, situated on a patch of land sliced from the park that ran behind and around it.

But if you took the driveway behind the house, you saw what Melinda’s parents had seen some twenty years before. On that day, Fate, which was often fickle where they were concerned, had conspired to bring them good fortune.

They had viewed the house for the first time from the street, and had nearly driven away as other prospects had before them.

“Look at the trash in the yard.” Young Mrs. Emerson gulped.

“We can’t afford much of a house-but we don’t have to live like this…” Jordan Emerson’s face was grim.

“It’s old. It needs paint on the outside- bet the inside needs it more. In a house that old the plumbing is usually a nightmare and the electricity is hazardous, ” He said.

“Jordan, remember, the price is right. It looks so awful I bet that you could bargain them down. Let’s drive up the drive way and see if the back is as bad as the front,” she said.

“Even worse. What kind of people would leave a mess like this?” He said. He kept the car in gear- prepared to drive back to the street.

He turned to look at his wife. He was sure that her silence was caused by the sight of the yard. A mattress, clothes dryer, and countless bags of garbage, were abandoned there.

But his wife was not looking at the yard; she was looking at the house itself.

“Look, Jordan, it’s turned around- this is the front of the house! It’s bigger than it looked from the street- but really, not too big,” she said. 

“It has one of those low half-towers, like a castle lined with windows- and none of them are broken-which is a wonder. And it looks like all three stories are finished.”

“Honey, this place is a disaster,” Jordan Emerson said.  “And even if it was perfect, what would two people do with such a big house- how would we even heat it? Think of the work, and the money it would take to fix it up. That house would eat us up.”

“We are here, at least we can look at it.”

They had looked at it. And they realized that the house itself- by some miracle had escaped damage, and that it was an unspoiled, and an underpriced jewel left for them to discover.

The Emerson’s knew little about the history of the house. But it was obvious that it had been lucky in its owners, and that they had been people of judgment- whose improvements had truly improved on the original.

Later they were told that the house was built long before the suburb of Castleton had been thought of. Then there had been just a few small, and scattered farms, with farmers trying to eke out a living on the dry, eastern plains of Colorado. Even then, miles to the west of that rural community, Denver had been growing, in fits and starts- in its customary “boom or bust” pattern.

Their house was formed on a firm foundation, well planned, and well built. The builder and first owner, Richard Fahey, had inherited a modest fortune, and a modern outlook. He had purposely built the house to face away from the dirt road that ran behind his property.

Not knowing that they were looking at the backside, his neighbors were surprised by the plainness of the new house.

But when they visited, driving up the curved drive in their buggies they saw a more impressive view. The driveway was wide, and lined by bushes; the yard, what was clearly the front yard, was fenced in low, black wrought iron.

The house, painted white at the beginning of its life, certainly had been intended to be in the Victorian style, but Richard Fahey had imposed his taste, his practicality, and his imagination on that style. The walls of the house were thick to be warm in winter and cool in summer, the windows well fitted- it was built to stay tight and warm.

To satisfy his wife he built a low half tower on the southwest corner, and he trimmed the house with a few touches of gingerbread. After that, he pleased himself.

The neighbors, walking up the sidewalk, to the entry–way, found that the front door was set back into a niche; the door was wide, painted white and had a fan light above it. To the right of the door was a small porch that had narrow windows overlooking it.

On entering, they found a long hall that stretched from front to back door. To the right of the entrance was the narrow window lined room that overlooked the porch and served as the owner’s office. Another hallway to the left led to the kitchen, and beyond that, to the tower room that was to be used as a sitting room.

As one walked further into the main hall, there was a wide stairway hugging the eastern wall- rising in stages. The style was not Victorian, but was in what would later be called “arts and crafts”. The stairway was the focal point of the hallway; it had wide square newel posts at each level, and a pretty stained glass window at the landing.

Further down the hallway were doors that opened to the dining room on the left and the living room on the right. At the back of the house, was a small entryway and a door that opened onto a plain little porch.

The second floor had a windowed hallway that ran along the back of the house-the bedrooms, on the left opened from that hallway. Transoms topped the bedroom doors, they caught the breezes that came through the hallway windows, and provided cross ventilation for the bedrooms. At the end of the hallway beyond the bedrooms was the bathroom. Before that, a door to the left led up a short stairway to the master bedroom.

The farmers’ wives had seldom seen such luxury.

A house with three finished stories, the third story a bedroom, with a large closet-rare for those times. Most surprising of all-and what they most envied was the upstairs bathroom.

Opposing feelings rent the hearts of the ladies of the neighborhood. Most of them lived in small, drafty houses.

This house was fresh and new with conveniences that they would never have. No matter what the minister might say about being covetous, it was impossible for them not to covet the house.

In the end, the farmers agreed that the Faheys’ seemed like nice people, but the farmer’s wives pronounced them as, standoffish, and house proud.

After the builder, the house had housed many families. Someone had added better windows, others a downstairs bath, and a bathroom on the second floor. All had used the best design and labor.

The owners that Jordan Emerson most blessed were those who had installed electricity, good insulation, and a modern furnace system.

“Because,” he had told his daughters, “your mother fell in love with the house at first sight, and was ready to move in that first day- old mattress, dryer, garbage and all.”

And so the Emerson’s made the old Victorian house their own City Castle.

Melinda walked to the windows and looked out into the dusk. Catherine was wrong. Dwelling on the past hurt too much.

But because she missed him so much, she allowed herself to remember that last Christmas walk that she took with Lance.

She had spent the entire walk fuming because her parents wouldn’t let her go to a Christmas party.

“What I don’t get is why you want to go. You know the kids- you know what will happen. Mostly it will be people throwing up, or out of it, and staring off into space, and then, of course, there’s the fighting.”

She hadn’t listened to him.

“I’m never allowed to be a normal kid.” She complained.

“I don’t think throwing up and fighting is entirely normal,” Lance said.

“Don’t you ever want to fit in?” she asked.

“Sure, lots of times, at least, sometimes. But I don’t try to be like everyone else. ‘Everyone else’ isn’t that terrific,” Lance said.

“Lance, it would be so lonely to live the way my parents want me to live. I mean, you just can’t wait around for people with integrity to show up and offer to be your friend. I don’t think I have enough character for it.”

“Well, I’ve always thought you were a character.” He grinned.

“Just stop,” she said. 

“All of those stories they told us about King Arthur; all of that stuff about honor, kindness- doing the right thing. No one is honorable anymore. If I live the way my parents taught me I’m going to end up just like them.”

“At least you know that there’s a choice. Most kids don’t know anyone like your parents. You do. You get to decide what’s better- what you see at school, or what you see in there,” he said. He pointed at the Victorian house, which was glowing with the lights of Christmas.

“Why should I listen to a guy who missed- by a hair, being named Lancelot,” Melinda said.

Lance laughed and walked on.

“Life has to be practical, something that lasts,” Melinda said.

“She cries out for something practical, something that endures!” Lance picked up some snow and rolled it into a snowball.

“This lasts!” He yelled and pelted her with it. “Kids have been making snowballs for years.”

Melinda dodged away and began rolling her own arsenal.

Later, wet, chilled, and tired they welcomed the warmth of the house.

Inside, Christmas seemed to be everywhere. There were the old decorations, the stockings, the nativity scene, and the fragrance of the pumpkin bread that had baked that morning.

They followed the voices of their families to the living room. Standing quietly, just outside the room, they watched Arthur Collins, Lance’s younger brother; methodically shake the presents; while Melinda’s mother and father listened to Margaret Collins.

“Of course, there are those who will argue that King Arthur never existed,” Margaret Collins said.

Lance grinned at Melinda.

“You wanted something practical- well, there’s your family; they are practical people. And if they haven’t endured long enough there’s always King Arthur,” he whispered.

Then her father had looked up, and smiled. 

“ Here’s some more of the brood. Come on in, and welcome to the City Castles’ Christmas.”

“It’s not a castle- it’s an old house, Popsie.” 

“Pray, read the plaque on the wall behind my chair,” her father said.

Lance cleared his throat, ‘When Love enters in- every house becomes a castle!’

“ Smastle, Castle..who cares? Arthur Collins piped up from under the Christmas tree. “I say it’s time to open some of my presents.”


Melinda started at the sound of her father’s car in the driveway, and reluctantly turned away from the ghosts and the memories of Christmas Past.

“Lance was right. It was beautiful, but I couldn’t see that. Not then. I didn’t see how wonderful everything was, until it was gone,” she said.