Love in the Time of War Ch. 03byjerseyblue©
Next morning everyone was up and dressed before Charles made his appearance at breakfast. It was a tradition cold breakfast but the tea was hot. Everything tasted wonderful and he felt more at ease than last night. It was wonderful what a good night's sleep could do for one's spirits. He made directly for his mother. He didn't notice last evening how she had aged since he last saw her. Father was right about her dying a little each day.
"Mother, you are looking well," he lied, kissing her cheek. "I'm so sorry about last night. It was very rude of me."
"That was alright. You must be under a terrible stain over there."
"No more than you and the others here. There is no excuse," Charles apologized.
"Do you have any plans?" she asked. "I took the liberty of inviting James and his family to visit. I also invited Catherine. She is such a nice girl, Charles, so young, so beautiful, such a tragedy. I so want the whole family together."
How could Charles answer? That he didn't want to see James, Patricia, and the girls. That all he wanted was to relax, not put on airs, not to be put on display. He knew that since William's death, Mother had felt that Charles and Catherine should see one another again. The two were the same age having virtually grown up together. The family at first thought it would be Charles and Catherine who would marry but William used his charms to win her. Charles was angry at him but not enough to create a stir over it. As usual he looked at the big picture. Creating a stir would have caused problems within the family and no one wanted that. Beside Catherine seemed happy with her choice.
"No real plans, Mother. The weather being so nice that I thought I might stroll into the village, take in the old sights," he replied.
"Don't be gone long. Don't forget, James is coming."
He walked the grounds, alone with his thoughts. Returning to Stanhope had brought back feelings that he had long suppressed. Perhaps Alice was right. Perhaps he was in love with Kathleen. Then what? Should he tell her? And if she said she loved him, as Alice believed, what should they do? Marry? What would Father and Mother say? Suddenly life at the front became easier. It was black and white, life or death there. No grey area.
McTavish found him pacing beneath one of the ancient oaks and handed Charles a note.
"It is from Mrs. Williams, sir," he said.
"Why, thank you, McTavish. Here is a coin for your effects.
Charles read the note telling him that she and Kathleen had left for the village and one of the stops would be the local butcher. He stuck the note in his pocket and headed off.
He waited around the corner from the butcher shop and right on cue, Mrs. Williams and Kathleen exited. He walked up to them.
"What a pleasant surprise! Good afternoon, Mrs. Williams, Kathleen," he said tipping his hat. "May I walk with you?"
"Please do," Mrs. Williams replied.
They walked around the village, stopping at the shops, gathering supplies. The three of them made small talk as they walked, discussing old times. Kathleen told them about her son, Johnny. He was a little over three and lived with her mother. She saw him every weekend as they lived in the next town over.
Mrs. Williams excused herself as she recognized an old friend. They had finished their shopping and Charles had his hands full with the bags. Kathleen and he headed back to Stanhope.
"Finally, Kathleen, we can talk," Charles said. "Why are you avoiding me?"
"I'm not," she said softly. "I am afraid to talk to you. I'm afraid of what might happen, what I might say."
"I should have never come back!"
"I glad you did!" Charles exclaimed.
Kathleen turned her head away.
"Kathleen, I'm going to be honest with you. We may not have a lot of time so I'm going to take a chance. I love you and I have for a long time," he blurted out.
Kathleen stopped and looked at him. "You have no idea how long I have waited to hear that." She wanted to put her arms around him but with all the bags he was holding she couldn't. The two did a small dance attempting to find a position to do it. Finally they both laughed.
"So now what?" Kathleen asked.
"We'll talk tonight. We'll figure something out."
They entered the kitchen and placed the bags on the table. Looking around and seeing no one, they embraced. "Till tonight."
Charles headed up stairs. On his way he ran into Buxton.
"I was looking for you, sir," Buxton said. "You are wanted in the Drawing room. James and his wife are here."
"Damn." He looked at his watch. He didn't realize how late it was. "Tell them I'll be down in a minute. I have to change for dinner."
"Very well, sir."
Charles hustled up the stairs to his room. He needed time to think about what had occurred between Kathleen and him but he wasn't going to get it. He found his dinner clothes laid out for him so he quickly dressed and rushed off to the Drawing room. He took a deep breath, opened the doors, and stepped in.
He was surprised to see every one there, his 2 sisters, Mother and Father, Catherine, Patricia, and of course, James. He seemed to the center of attention, as he always was, entertaining with some story of London and politics. Charles caught the names Winston and Lloyd George being bantered about. He stood quietly off to the side, not wanting to interrupt.
James finished his story with a hearty laugh that everyone joined in. Looking around, he exclaimed, "Charles! Hail the returning warrior," With a few steps, he reached him. Putting his arm around Charles' shoulder, he turned around and moved to the center of the room.
"I willing to lay a L5 note than he hasn't told any of you the good news," James announced.
"What is it, James?" Mary asked.
"Yes, what have you been keeping from us, Charles?"
"It is really nothing," Charles mumbled.
"Nothing!" James loudly said. "My dear brother is to be mentioned in dispatches and probably promoted to Major for behavior last month. Are you going to tell them or should I?" He didn't give Charles a chance to answer.
"Well then I will. It seems the dirty Huns broke through our lines and were threatening a lot more. Captain Stewart and a sergeant..."
"Collingswood," Charles added.
"Yes, quite right. Charles and this Sergeant Collingswood charged down the trench line until they came to a junction. There they erected a barricade. The two of them stemmed the Boche advance until others could be rallied and rushed to their aid. That's right, isn't it, Charles?"
He wanted to tell them that at the time he was filled with pure blood lust and wanted just to kill as many Germans as possible. That he wasn't thinking, just reacting. How a grenade bounced off his helmet and exploded behind Collingswood, horribly wounding him but the sergeant kept fighting. He wanted to tell them that afterwards he broke down and was emotionally drained. Instead he only nodded.
"According to my sources, he will be given a MC for his actions and there is talk of a DSO," James added, obviously proud of his youngest brother.
Alice rushed to his side."So you're a hero."
Catherine walked to him and placed a hand on his arm. Looking into his eyes, she said, "That was an incredibly brave thing to do. You must take more care of yourself." The meaning of what she said wasn't lost on those who heard it.
Buxton entered the room at that moment. "Ladies, gentlemen, dinner is ready."