Love in the Time of War Ch. 08byjerseyblue©
The shells came closer, working their way across the desolated landscape. It was obvious that the Huns were following the explosions close behind. They were headed straight at them. Captain Stewart crouched against the trench wall and waited.
"Captain, what are your orders," Sgt. White yelled to him. The Captain looked past the sergeant to the faces of the young men behind him.
"We stay here, Sergeant. Understand?"
"Yes, sir," the sergeant replied.
The Captain grabbed the sergeant's arm. "We are staying because it is the right thing to do. The right thing to do!"
Suddenly the shells were all around them. The men pressed themselves against the wall. The barrage passed over them quickly. The Boche followed it into the trench. A large German grabbed the Captain by the tunic and raised a trench knife over his head. The Captain pulled out his revolver and shoving it into the Hun's face, pulled the trigger. The man's face exploded into a crimson shower.
Alice shook his shoulders. "Charles, wake up. You're dreaming."
Charles tried to break free. "Kill them! Kill them all!"
Buxton pressed his hands on Charles' shoulder as he continued to struggle.
Alice repeated, "Charles, wake up!"
Charles opened his eyes. He had the look of a confused animal. He looked around in panic. It took him a few second to collect himself.
"I'm alright. Please, I'm alright."
"Are you sure?" Alice asked gently.
"Yes,yes, I'm fine. You can let go now"
Buxton stood up straight. He looked over at Alice.
"Buxton, you made go. Thank you. And Buxton, not a word."
"Will you be dressing for dinner, sir?"
Alice looked at Charles then Buxton. "Remember, Buxton. Not a word."
As Buxton left the room, Alice turned to Charles. She sat on the bed next to him. "Are you sure you're alright. Do you have these dreams often?"
"No, not often," he lied.
"You can't lie to me. How long have you been having these episodes?"
"Let me get dressed for dinner.' He showed her the door.
Charles looked in the mirror as he splashed water on his face. Each dream was different than the other but usually the dream found him lost in the dark, unable to find the light or unable to move. This one was real and he could remember all of it, especially the line about doing the right thing. It didn't make it clear what was the right thing. What frightened him was the violence. He had some violent dreams but not like this one.
Dinner was as entertaining and relaxing as usual. One of Father's rules was that conversation at dinner should remain polite and civil. Dinner was not the place for heated discussions. James had lots of information concerning the war. For the first time in almost four years, there was talk of the war coming to an end. Alice was able to share some news about President Wilson's plan for peace she learned from her fiancé. James also announced that he and Patricia were returning back to London tomorrow morning. The rest of meal contained light banter among them all.
Every one gathered in the Drawing Room to play Charades. As the game continued, the mood became lighter and lighter until all including Charles were laughing. He glanced over at Catherine and he saw a beautiful sight. He saw the sparkle in her blue eyes as she laughed and it brought back memories of the two of them before the war. He remembered the two of them under the old oak tree and it was there he first kissed her. It was then he knew that he could no longer put off a decision.
As the game ended, Charles approached Catherine and asked her to accompany him for a walk. She happily agreed and the two walked out the French doors on to the veranda. The night was warm and the scent of flowers was in the air.
"It is a beautiful evening, isn't it?" Catherine sighed. "I love spring at Stanhope."
"Yes, it is. Catherine, we need to talk," Charles said, not looking at her. He was afraid if he did he wouldn't be able to say what was needed to be said.
She moved closer to him. She had an idea of what was on his mind and it made her nervous. She waited quietly, waiting for him to start.
The scent of her light perfume was a distraction to him but he remained determined to have his say. "It seems that for the longest time it was assumed that you and I were to marry. Since we were young, that was the conclusion," he began.
"Charles, don't..." Catherine interrupted.
"Please, let me finish. Instead you married William and I did nothing to stop it. I let it happen."
"What could you have done," Catherine said turning to him. "Cause a family scandal?"
"I should have said something. Instead I let it happen. How can you love a man who would just let you walk away?"
"How you must hate me to think me that shallow!" Catherine turned her back and walked a few steps away.
Charles rushed to her and placed his hands on her waist. He could feel her suppleness through the materials. "Hate you? I can never hate you." As he stood close, he could smell the scent of her hair and feel the warmth of her body. He turned her and they faced each other.
"Catherine, look at me. I'm not the same man who went off to war and you made promise to return. I can't see clearly. I'm almost deaf. I carry my arm like the bloody Kaiser. I have scars everyone can see."
"Can't you understand? I don't care," Catherine pulled him close.
"I do. You are the most beautiful woman I ever have laid eyes on. You deserve more than someone like me." With that, he pushed her away.
"Charles, sometimes all scars are not visible," she said with resignation.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh Charles. I treated love as a game, a silly juvenile game. I wanted you and your brother to fight over me, to build my ego. Instead I married a man I did not love. I let him into my bed and to use me. It is me that doesn't deserve someone like you. Can you forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive but I'll not saddle you with another bad marriage."
Catherine rushed to him. Throwing her arms around him, she put her head to his chest. "I have enough love for the two of us. I know you haven't asked me but when you do you should know my answer will be yes." She held him tight. Letting go, she walked back into the house, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
Charles could not remember how long he walked the grounds that night but it was late when he re-enter Stanhope. He spent the time thinking. Knowing he must end the confusion, he had to make a decision. On one hand was Kathleen. He believed he truly loved her but marriage raised many dilemmas. Two people would be happy but a large number would be hurt. Would society ever accept her as his wife? And then there was Catherine. He was confused about his feelings about her. He did not feel the love for her he felt for Kathleen but there were some feelings. If he married her, many people would rejoice but one. Love versus duty, personal feelings versus family. He must do the right thing.
Charles came down to breakfast early. Knowing that James and family would be off, he wanted to make sure he missed no one. When he was sure everyone was in the room, he knew it was time.
"Everyone," he said clearing his throat and making sure he had everyone's attention, "I have an announcement to make."