17. One True Love

17. One True Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

One True Love

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.

~Victor Hugo

When Henri Bissette of Sherbrooke, Québec, went off to fight in World War I in 1917, he left behind his love of four years, Émilie Chevrier. The two wrote to each other faithfully. Letters could not always cross the battle lines, however, and eventually their writing became less frequent.

Émilie missed Henri terribly and constantly prayed for his safe return. One day in April 1918, Henri’s family received a letter informing them that their son was “missing in action.”

When Émilie heard the report she was devastated and refused to believe that Henri was gone. Six months later, when no further information had been received, Émilie finally realized that she would never see her beloved again.

Five months after the armistice was signed, ending the Great War, Émilie received a letter that Henri had written almost one year earlier. In it, he wrote about his feelings of desperation and his longing to leave the horrific war. His only desire was to return home to Canada so that he and Émilie could be married. The letter reassured Émilie that Henri’s love was a true one, and although she kept all his letters, she treasured this one the most.

Émilie felt deep in her heart that she could never love another man as much as she loved Henri. He was her one true love, and she promised herself that she would never marry. In 1921, however, she met a kind, caring man named Joseph who she married shortly thereafter. They moved to Ottawa, where they raised a family of four children and lived happily until Joseph passed away in 1959.

Émilie was sixty years old when Joseph died, and her full-grown children were living lives of their own. Finding herself alone, she decided to return to her hometown of Sherbrooke, Québec, to enjoy her retirement years.

One day while out shopping, Émilie met an old school friend and the two reminisced about their past. During their conversation her friend mentioned Henri — she hadn’t known about his war experience or his being “missing in action.” When Henri’s name came up, Émilie told her friend about everything that had occurred over forty years ago.

When she heard the story, her friend replied, “How odd! I’m sure I remember hearing that Henri bought a farm up north in the 1930s.”

Émilie assured her friend that she must have been misinformed. After the two parted company, however, Émilie couldn’t help wondering about the woman’s story. Could it be true? she wondered. Surely, if Henri were alive, the two of them would be together now. Émilie needed to know the truth, but Henri’s family had long since passed away. She began to investigate on her own and soon discovered that there was a Henri Bissette — he owned a farm just west of Trois-Rivières, Québec. Émilie decided to visit Trois-Rivières and make a trip out to the farm. She did not hold out much hope that she would really find her Henri. It was over forty years since she had received word of his death. In all likelihood, when the farmhouse door opened, she would simply find some farmer standing there — one who might be amused by her story.

When Émilie arrived at the farm and knocked on the door, however, she received the shock of her life. As the door opened, a farmer indeed stood there, but it was her own beloved Henri! He was greatly aged, of course, but still as handsome as she remembered. Henri gasped, recognising her instantly, and whispered, “Émilie!”

The two fell into each other’s arms, so overcome with emotion that for several minutes all they could do was hug each other, crying and trembling. A lifetime had passed since they had last seen each other, but now it felt as if no time had passed at all.

When they calmed down, they both started to talk at once about what had happened over the years. Henri explained that after being wounded, he had spent over a year and a half recuperating in a hospital in Europe. When he finally did return to Sherbrooke, his family told him that the heartbroken Émilie, believing he was dead, had married and moved to Ottawa. They had no other information about her whereabouts. Henri was greatly saddened, but didn’t want to disrupt Émilie’s happiness in her life. He bought his farm shortly after, and had lived alone there all these years. He had never married because he knew that Émilie was his one true love.

With tears running down her face, Émilie pulled Henri’s wartime letters from her purse.

“I never forgot you either, Henri,” she said. “These letters have meant more to me over the years than you can ever know. I would always read them over and over when I began to feel sad, and it made me so happy to remember that you were the most special part of my life.”

All at once the forty years of separation melted away. Finding each other had made them happier than they had ever been. Shortly after their reunion, they were married, and spent the rest of their days together on Henri’s farm.

 

~Crystal Wood
Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

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