Today Jane Richards is interviewing her character Erik Gustafson from HOME FIRES
Anne Wakefield travels halfway around the world for love. But when she arrives in Canada from England at the end of World War Two, she discovers the handsome Canadian pilot she’d fallen in love with has married someone else. Heartbroken, she prepares to return to London, though she has nothing left there to return to. Her former fiancé’s mother makes a suggestion: marriage to her other son.
Badly wounded and scarred during the war, Erik Gustafson thinks he’s a poor substitute for his brother. Although he loves Anne almost from the first time he sees her, he cannot believe she would ever be able to love him as he is – especially as he might be after another operation on his bad leg. Anne sees the beauty of his heart. The cold prairie winter may test her courage, but can she prove to Erik that her love for him is real?
Jana Richards: I’m pleased to interview Erik Gustafson from HOME FIRES today. Erik, tell us a little about yourself.
Erik Gustafson: There’s not much to tell. I’m a simple farmer. I work the land and look after my cattle, just like my father before me. I live here on the farm with my mother and sister. We don’t have a lot of money, but we get by.
JR: What about your service in World War Two? What can you tell me about that?
EG: I’d rather not talk about it. It’s over and done.
JR: I can understand why you’re bitter. You were badly injured at Dieppe.
EG: Bitter? No, what I am is angry. Dieppe was an unmitigated disaster. We crossed the English Channel with the mission of raiding the city of Dieppe on the coast of France. They said a successful raid would show the Germans we could walk in anytime we wanted to. We were going to take the defended city, destroy the harbor, and then withdraw by sea. It was going to be a cake-walk, they said. Too bad they didn’t tell the Germans that. Everything went wrong. Over nine hundred Canadians were killed, and nearly two thousand were taken prisoner. Another couple of thousand were wounded. Like me.
JR: You were nearly killed. You almost lost your leg.
EG: (Looks away) I still could. But at least I’m alive. A lot of men didn’t make it.
JR: Are you angry about the scars on your face too?
EG: I wasn’t much to look at before, but now…
JR: A lot of women still find you handsome.
EG: (laughs) I find that hard to believe. My brother Anders, he’s the one who got all the looks in the family. He got through the war without a scratch.
JR: Yes, Anders. It’s because of him that Anne is here, isn’t it? She was going to marry him.
EG: Yes, she was. (Clenches jaw) He had no business getting involved with her in England when he already had a fiancée at home. He’s put Anne in a terrible position.
JR: Anne is very beautiful, isn’t she?
EG: (Regards Jana warily) Yes, she is. What of it?
JR: Your mother Astrid suggested that rather than go home to England, she stay here and marry you. And she agreed.
EG: She had nothing to go home to. Her family had been killed in the blitz.
JR: Do you think that’s the only reason she’s agreed to stay in Canada? Because she’s lonely?
EG: (Shrugs) She misses her family. She’s become close to my mother and my sister Ingrid in a very short time.
JR: And have you become close to her in the short time she’s been at your farm?
EG: (Averts his gaze) Like you said, Anne is a very beautiful woman. She’s probably the strongest woman I’ve ever known. Did you know she was a nurse during the war?
EG: She looked after people hurt during the blitz in London, people with terrible injuries.
JR: People like you.
EG: Yes, like me. What can I possibly offer her? A life of work on a farm with no modern conveniences, no running water, no electricity, no telephone. And me? I’m no prize as a husband. I have a scarred face and a leg that barely lets me do the farm work. What if I lose my leg? How could I provide for her then?
JR: But she said yes. She said she wants to marry you. She’s seen exactly what life on the farm is like. She knows about your injuries and she knows what could happen, but she said yes anyway. Doesn’t that tell you something?
EG: (shakes his head) I can’t believe…
JR: What can’t you believe?
EG: That she could want me.
JR: What does she have to do to make you believe she loves you and wants to be with you?
EG: (looks away) I don’t know.
JR: Erik, thank you for letting me interview you today. I wish you much love and happiness.
She offered him her hand. Erik looked at it for a moment, then at her face. Not a trace of pity marred her beautiful features. He took her small, soft hand in his, and was surprised at the strength with which she pulled him to his feet.
“You’re a lot stronger than you look.”
She laughed, the first genuine sound of amusement he’d heard from her. “Probably comes from spending the war lifting men twice my size.”
“Anders said you were a nurse. Are you planning to continue nursing now that the war is over?”
Her smile disappeared. “I hope not. I’ve seen enough misery to last me the rest of my life.”
He nodded. After witnessing the blood bath at Dieppe, he knew exactly what she meant.
“How far is it to the house?” she asked.
Erik leaned on his cane. “Not far. Wait. You’ve got dried leaves stuck in your hair.”
He pulled the offending leaves from her hair, letting his hand linger on the silky tresses. She looked up at him, her dark brown eyes huge and round. But she didn’t move or stop him from touching her. With her porcelain skin and fine bone structure, she looked like a delicate English rose, yet he detected a strength in her that would put any man to shame.
“We should go,” she whispered.
Erik dropped his hand. What was he doing? This beautiful English rose was still in love with his brother. His handsome, fit, unscarred brother. She didn’t want him.
He’d do well to remember that. He’d already been rejected by one beautiful English girl because of his scars. Another rejection would be more than he could bear.