Love in the Time of War Ch. 04byjerseyblue©
Dinner was a much better occasion tonight. The conversations didn't seem forced and there was a lot more laughter around the table. Perhaps it was James' presences or Charles being home for a second day but it as close to the days before the war as possible.
Charles found himself seated between Patricia, James' wife and Catherine. It was no mistake that his mother placed him there. He always liked Patricia and believed she made a great wife for James. Her quiet demeanor offset James' bombastic outbursts but also hid a strong determination. She was not afraid to speak her mind but she also knew when to hold her opinions. She was not the beauty Catherine was and no one ever said she was. Her brown hair framed a pretty face and a smile that could captivate those she liked. Since her marriage and the birth of two children, she had gained weight. Though not matronly, she was not thin young woman Charles knew before.
"I sometimes wish James would realize that he doesn't need to entertain people," Patricia whispered to Charles.
"He has always been that way," Charles replied.
"Yes, I know," Patricia said. "But he doesn't need to. I think he tries too hard."
"Well, he has to prove his worth. He has the burden as heir."
"He is successful," Catherine added.
"Yes, he is but I feel he wants more. He feels that he is in a contest that he must win every time," Patricia said leaning closer.
"In what way?" Catherine asked.
"He wants a son badly, to carry on the line. We have tried but without luck."
"But you have two daughters! Doesn't he...?" Catherine inquired.
"Yes, and he loves them dearly. Charles, you must know how he feels. You mentioned the burden."
"Yes, I do but that is the luxury of being the third son. No pressure."
Patricia put her hand on Charles' arm and looked at him, then Catherine. "I wouldn't be so quick to say that."
Charles looked at Patricia and then Catherine in time to see her blush. Suddenly he understood her meaning.
As dinner ended the ladies left to freshen up and the gentlemen retired to the library for a smoke and talk. James turned to Charles as soon as the doors were closed.
"Have you given any thought to what you are going to do after the war is over?" he asked.
Charles paused for a moment. "I really haven't given it any thought. You see, I live day by day at the front." He hoped James got the point.
If he did, he ignored it. "Surely it must end some day and with the Yanks now all in, it must be soon."
"Yes, Charles, I agree with James," Father now joining in. "Any ideas?"
"Not at this time,"
"Come, come, that won't do. Surely you will marry. Perhaps stand for Parliament. What do you think of that?"James, looking at their father, pressed the issue.
"Sounds good, I suppose," Charles answered without feeling.
Father stood in front of the fireplace, cigar smoke wafting upper. "Your mother and I always thought that you and Catherine were so right for each other. Just imagine our surprise when William asked for her hand."
"Yes, Father, I can imagine." Charles walked to the window and looked out at the darkness. "So this is how it will be," he thought. "A life all planned out." He needed to say something, to put a stop to it right now. He turned and faced them.
A sudden knock and the doors opened allowing the ladies to enter. The entire mood of the room brightened. Catherine made her way to Charles' side. Alice moved towards the piano in the corner.
"I hope you men were not discussing the silly war. Time to lighten the mood," Mother said. "Alice, play us a song."
Yes, Mama, but only if Charles accompanies me,"
"Oh please, Charles, sing for us," his sister Mary asked. "It has been so long. Please."
Charles walked over to the piano. "Alright, only one song." He sat next to Alice. "How about 'Mademoiselle from Armentieres'?"
"Charles!" Mother scolded.
"Alright then." He began to sing, "I'm Enry the eighth, I am. Enry the eighth."
Alice hit him on the shoulder. "Be serious or I shan't play." By now everyone was laughing.
Charles held up his hands. He whispered in Alice's ear and she smiled. She started to play and they sang together.
"Sometimes when I feel bad and things look blue, I wish I a girl I had...say one like you. Someone within my heart to build a throne, Someone who never part, to call my own."
Their two voices sang as one as the music filled the room. Its sweet sound filtered through the house and the servants stopped their work to listen. Even Buxton found it in his heart not to say anything. As the song reached the chorus, those in the Library joined in.
"If you were the only girl in the world, and I were the only boy, Nothing else would matter in the world today, We would go on loving in the same old way."
As he sang he looked over at Catherine. She was sitting there, looking so beautiful. Her sparkling blue eyes had filled with tears and she wiped one away with her gloved hand.
Alice and Charles finished and hugged each other. "There. I said I'll do only one." He stood up.
Alice grabbed his hand. "You must do one more."
"Then it must be your choice."
All right. How about 'Keep the Home Fires Burning'? Let's all sing it."
Everyone moved around the piano. Alice began to play and all sang along.
"They were summoned from the hillside, they were called in from the glen, and the country found them ready at this stirring call for men."
Downstairs Mrs. William saw Buxton standing, listening."Listen to them," she said. "The old house hasn't sounded like this for a long time. It does everyone good to hear it." She squeezed his hand and to her surprise he squeezed it back.
As the song ended, everyone slowly said their good nights. Catherine stood next Charles and asked if they could go somewhere to talk, in private. The two exited out to the veranda, watched by his parents. His Lordship and Lady smiled hopefully as they climbed the stairs.
The night was unseasonably warm but they could smell that fall was in the air. They reached the railing, Charles stopping to sit, Catherine standing near. He looked over at her.
Catherine was perfect on every way. Her blonde hair complimented her blue sparkling eyes. Her smile lit up the room when she entered it. Her grace and form spoke of eloquence. The light from the house show the silhouette of her figure.
He was such a fool. If he had only spoken up, she could have been his. But he didn't love her even though he had some feelings towards her.
"So you must leave tomorrow?" she asked, not looking at him.
"Yes, I'm afraid so," he replied.
"There is never enough time, is there?"
"For what, Catherine?"
"For us." She walked away.
Charles rose and followed her. "I don't understand. What are you saying?"
"I never loved him, you know," she said, lifting her head.
Charles put his hands on her shoulders and turned him around. "Then why did you marry him?"
"Because I was young and foolish, because he said things a girl wants to hear. Things I wanted to hear from you."
"But I could never sound like him. I'm not William." There was confusion in his voice .
"I know that. I wanted both of you to fight over me. I wanted to make you jealous. Don't you hear what I'm trying to say? I was wrong, so terribly wrong. I have always loved you." With that she slumped onto the railing, burying her face in her hands and sobbed.
Charles rushed to her and put his arms around her, holding her, comforting her. He lifted her chin and wiped away a tear. An overwhelming desire swept over him. He could feel her warm body beneath the material of her dress. He could imagine the softness of her skin. He kissed her.
Standing in the Library, helping tidy up from the night's activity, was Kathleen. She had witnessed the whole scene.