Of all the crimes Louise had actually committed in his lifetime, he would hardly have believed stealing flowers was the one for which he'd be most vehemently accused. Or perhaps, most indignantly.
Truth be told he hadn't considered picking flowers, from a yard not even fenced in, a theft at all - though even if it merited the label, theft in of itself would number among the least of his sins.
But from her lips, oh, it might have been the most solemn of crimes to hear it from her. "And what do you have to say for yourself, then?"
His young accuser struck, what must have seemed to her, a most demanding pose. Her hips set to one side, two smears of dirt down the front of her gardening apron, her arms folded with a trowel still in hand. But to him, it served only to point out that even at their widest point her un-muscled arms were no larger than that gardening spade she wielded; that she had to place her hands on her thighs when she stood; and that she could be, most easily, set off balance.
When Louise merely shrugged, and continued to walk on his way she came bounding after him, her short sun bleached hair swaying freely above her shoulders.
"She must be beautiful, the girl you're courting with my parents' stolen flowers," she took up a stride next to him on the sidewalk, her bursts of jogging to keep up making her look even more the child as she scolded him.
"Have your parents set you as their guardian then? Like as not to keep you well occupied I'd wager." He said, the first words he'd dained to return to her.
If he believed he'd heard her indignant before, her reaction now only served to prove him wrong.
"How dare you, steal from a lady and then insult her so." The set of her shoulders seemed somehow more proud to him now. Even at her unusual pace, and with her hair loose, she held herself with nothing less than an air of grace "-they have left me responsible for the garden, their legacy, and the house besides."
He would have to be simple to miss the double meaning she'd intoned. It brought him nearly to the cusp of regret, only for her to open her mouth yet again.
"So are you on your way to her now then? I should like to see her, to ensure she is quite pretty enough to warrant flower theft."
Louise was in fact on his way to gift his stolen flowers, and only now worried at this peculiar young woman's reaction to that moment. Perhaps it would be better to stray from his course- just this once.
"Any lady even half as pretty as you would warrant the theft of flowers..."
"Don't think you can fluster me away from my quest, I'm determined in it now." And so he had feared: the confrontation she must be preparing inside her head, it would be quite wasted on the lady truth awaiting her at his destination.
But where else had he to go? He'd made a promise after all, and didn't think it right not to keep it. Tagalong or no.
"Come along then," he said resigned, "but answer me this, what have you heard of wishing flowers?"
"Dandelions? The weeds? They're for children, and I've had quite enough of you calling me one of those."
He smiled sadly. Personally, he didn't see the point of any flower. Certainly not enough to disdain one as a weed any more than the others.
"Hmm, but they are common though. It seems that no matter where a person may go in their travels they'd be able to find one."
"Unless it was snowing, and icy, or too dry and hot-" she had cut in.
"Sure, sure, but the children I'm talking about weren't thinking of any of that. To them the dandelion was as constant as the moon. That, even when they were apart they'd both be able to find a wishing flower."
"Are you going to spin the tale of your love so I'll not squander your chances with this woman?" she guessed, "because it would need to be some story-"
"Would you rather we walked in silence?" He had slowed slightly, and only now offered her an arm in a sort of unspoken welcome of his new walking companion. She took it, and he thought they must have struck quite a pair, him dressed in formal but old clothes, a bouquet of unbound flowers on an arm, her in her casual gardening clothes, mud strewn and unpinned. Still, if he'd had the mind to ask a passerby he was sure they'd still declare her the fairer of the two.
"No, no, continue."
"Now because they were children and their hearts were full of fancy and nonsense-"
"-they believed," he continued though not without a newly endeared grin, "they could make a wish on a flower and if all the bits of fluff were carried away it would be so, but if any remained the future was uncertain. And because he was going so very far away he made a promise that everyday he would blow all his flowers toward her until one day he would return himself and give her one flower for every seed he had trusted to make it back to her when they were apart-"
"That would be an astronomical number of flowers..." they had stopped at a crossroad and she'd looked up at him with those huge youthful eyes that took up so much of her face.
"And if he didn't make it back to her, the countryside would still be littered with the thousands upon thousands of flowers that had taken root because he'd been thinking of her."
"That's quite the tale," she considered, their route taking them further into a more open part of town among the hills and fields. "but now our boy's a thief who promised a girl a whole countryside of flowers when he returned when he can't even afford an armful."
"Would that our tale had as happy an ending as that-" Louise laid the bundle of stolen flowers between a pair of twin headstones, atop a stack of wild flowers now dried and brittle from the sun. "Wishing flowers don't bring soldiers home."
"The story-" she ran her hand over the engraved wishing flower, half blown away.
"I meant to tell you before we got here..."
Sargent Johnston had always been the more sentimental fellow; the one who knew what to say, and knew when someone was in a bad way. He would have been able to break it to this girl - what he'd promised his old friend. 'If I don't make it- no, no, we have to be realistic now we're here Louise... if I don't, take care of my girl, steal her away if you have to.. and if that don't work, then at least bring her flowers that were picked one by one, so she knows they came from me, at least until she stops crying when you do.'
The young girl, crouching now at the other headstone, felt along the date of a lady who'd never grown old enough to become Mrs. Johnston.
"She passed before he did," her brow creased. "You made it sound like heartbreak.."
"No, a fever. Not romantic, but that's life. Although when news reached us in the thick of it, heartbreak just about took him. Maybe it still did. A heartbroken soldier on the front lines.. he takes risks that men with someone to come home to don't." He sighed as he finally straightened. "But, It's best not to make such accusations of those at rest."
He hadn't noticed her pluck the white wishing flower; it must have been while he was speaking.
"What are you doing?" He asked, though it was clear she'd planned to blow the seeds from the plucked dandelion.
"Making a wish, since you've lost all your fancy and nonsense I wouldn't suggest it; it'd be a waste of a wishing flower, like as not." She nodded most certainly.
"But it doesn't work, if it did Johnston would've been able to come home to her, they'd have a bundle of children all their own to teach about wishing flowers by now."
"Hmm," she blew the white downy seeds from the stem, and watched as they floated gently to the ground around the small gravesite. "I still think they'd like it."
"What did you wish?" He wasn't sure what compelled him to ask, he expected her to tell him it was a secret as all children are told to do lest their wish be spoiled.
"It doesn't matter," she said instead. "It doesn't even matter if it comes true; it only matters that they'd be glad I made one."