Love in the Time of War Ch. 02byjerseyblue©
Before either of them could speak, Mrs. Williams came around the corner.
"For Heaven's sakes, don't just stand there," she said taking Charles by the hand. "Kathleen, you can't have him all to yourself."
Mrs. Williams was in charge of the girls and along with Mr. Buxton, kept Stanhope up and running. It was their job to make sure everything was done and done right. Mrs. Williams had been there as long as Charles could remember and he had heard both his father and mother comment on what a fine job she did. When Mrs. Williams spoke, people moved.
As Charles entered the room, the staff was seated around the kitchen table, relaxing from their long day. They stood the moment he entered the room.
"Oh please, sit down," Charles said as he took a seat at the table.
"This is highly unusual," Buxton groused.
"Buxton, you know I have felt more at ease here than upstairs. Beside I wanted to say hello to your staff and meet the new ones. Mrs. Hodges, could you make me a cup of your best tea? Let's see if you remember how I like it?" Charles smiled.
Mrs. Hodges, the cook, got up. "Yes, sir and I do remember. Just you wait and see."
She returned quickly with the tea and placed in front of him. He took one sip. "Bravo!" he said. "Now, Buxton, who do we have here?"
Buxton introduced the people around the table. There were two maids, Annie and Elisa, across the table and both had arrived since Charles left. Mother's lady, McHale, who had been with the family as long as Mrs. Williams, was seated next to them. Kathleen was seated at the foot of the table. There were two men seated on the same side as Charles. One was Montgomery. He was father's valet and had been with him since the Boer War. The other was new, like the girls. His name was McTavish, a Scot, about Charles' brother's age. Charles had seen him upstairs.
Charles shook hands in greeting each one, new and old. There was something about him that the staff always liked. There was no airs about him. He made them feel comfortable in his presence.
As Charles reached for McTavish's hand, the Scot seemed hesitant. It was then Charles realized that he missing two fingers on it.
"I see," Charles said withdrawing his hand. "Sorry."
"No need, sir. It's me Blighty wound. Got it at Loos. King's Royal Rifles, sir"
"That's was my brother's battalion. He was killed there, you know," Charles said softly.
"Knew of the major, sir. He was a good man."
"They all were, McTavish. Please, sit."
The conservation turned light and soon everyone was enjoying themselves. Other maids came in as the dinner was ending or the family was retiring. Each was introduced to Charles. Again some he was familiar with and others were brand new. So the room began to fill. McHale and Montgomery had gone upstairs to tend to his Lordship and lady, Buxton and McTavish to see to the others. Charles rose to leave.
"Please, stay seated. You have no idea how much I enjoyed this time. I'm sorry if I kept you up. I know you have a busy day. Good night," Charles said. "If I may, Mrs. Williams, may I have a word with you?"
The two went out of the room and out of earshot.
"I know this unusual, but do you have any errands to run tomorrow?" he asked.
"Why, yes. Why?" she replied.
"I would like you to allow Kathleen to accompany you on them and tell me when you are going."
"Yes this highly unusual," Mrs. Williams said. "But I believe it can be arraigned." She smiled, understanding his meaning.
"Thank you, Mrs. Williams. You are a dear," With that he kissed her on the cheek and left.
He wasn't ready for bed quite yet so he headed for the library. Upon entering he saw his father and Buxton engaged in conversation. He began to retreat.
"No no, Charles, stay. Buxton was just leaving," Father called to him.
"Anything else, my Lord," Buxton said, bowing.
"No. That will be all. Thank you."
As Buxton closed the door, Lord Berwick said to his son, "Care for a drink, a night cap?"
"Yes, sir," Charles replied walking towards him. His father was not an overly large man but he filled the room with his being. He was the upper class, nobless oblige, and he knew it. He commanded respect from all, even his family. His grey hair bespoke his age but added to his bearing.
Pouring Charles a drink, he said, "You know you upset your mother at dinner tonight."
"Yes, Father, but," Charles began.
"No buts. There is no excuse,"
Suddenly changing his tone, he put his drink down. "Your mother is very worried about you. Especially since William's death." He turned away and walked towards the window. "I believe the women have it worst than the men, like you. As cruel as it may sound, William died once but your mother dies a little every day."
Charles walked and stood next to his father. They stood in silence.
Without looking at him, his father spoke. "Is it as awful as they say it is, over there?"
"Father, it is worst than you can imagine. The smells, the sights, the horrors. I've witnessed things that I won't wish on anyone. It's bloody hell."
His father put his hand on Charles' shoulder. He was so proud of him. Charles was his mother's favorite and he took more to her side of the family. Smaller than his two brothers, he also was the quieter one. There was something inside him that made him seem stronger, a natural leader, someone you could count on. It was at this moment that his father realized this. He squeezed his shoulder. "For God's sake, take care of yourself." He whispered.
Quickly he turned and left the room leaving Charles speechless.
Placing his drink down Charles headed upstairs to his room. As he approached his sister Alice's room, Kathleen was leaving it.
"Kathleen, we need to talk," he said to her.
"Good night, sir," she said continuing on her way, leaving him standing there.
As he began to move on, Alice opened the door. "Come in here," she beckoned.
Charles entered, finding her seated on her bed, dressed in her nightgown.
"I shouldn't be in here. It isn't proper."
"Oh stop being silly. Remember we use to bathe together. Now shut the door and sit here."
"That was when we were three and four. That has nothing to do with this," he whispered.
He sat on the bed, resting against the bedpost. "This better be good."
"Well, have you talked to her?" she whispered.
"Talked to whom? What are talking about?" he raised his voice.
"Kathleen, silly. She works here now."
"I know that! Why would I want to talk to her?"
She shook her head. "Because you still might be in love with her?"
Charles stood up and walked to the other side of the bed. "What gave you that idea? She is a servant, a widow with a child."
Alice leaned across the bed. "This is your sister you are talking to. Your best friend. I know you and you have been in love with Kathleen since you first met her. All those years ago. Haven't you?"
"Let's say I am. So what? She won't even talk to me now." Charles held Alice's hands. "What chance is there in that?"
"Dear brother, don't sell yourself short. A little bird told me you have a very good chance."
"Good night, Alice. I think it is good to home. At least for a short while," With that Charles kissed Alice on the forehead and headed off to his room. As he settled into the bed, he thought to himself, "We'll just see what tomorrow brings."