Love in the Time of War Ch. 06byjerseyblue©
The dugout shook from an explosion and the dirt drifted down from the ceiling. Captain Stewart was jarred from his day dream by the shock. He tucked Kathleen's locket into his tunic. Both lieutenants sat bolt upright. "Damn, that was bloody close," said Lt. Smythe.
Stewart rose and grabbing his Enfield, headed for the door. "I'll check and see how close."
He stepped outside and the air was cooler compared to the stale air of the dugout. He tucked his scarf that Alice had made him into his tunic and shivered. He stamped his feet on the duck boards. Silently he thanked God that the trench was somewhat dry. He took a deep breath and headed along the trench lines. He started carrying a rifle with him about a month ago. It was against regulations but he didn't care. They needed all the fire power they could get.
He came upon two soldiers seated on the fire step. They stood and saluted as he approached. "Sergeant White and Private Jackson, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir," they both replied.
"Report, Sergeant.Anything new?"
"As you can hear, sir, they have been shelling the right all day. They just started on the left about an hour ago. They have also tossed a few our way," Sgt. White said clearly.
"Anything from the listening post, Sergeant?"
"Who's out there?"
"Mathews and Duhon."
"Good men. Keep me updated, Sergeant. Keep your heads down. Carry on," Stewart patted the sergeant on the back as he headed down the trench.
"I'll don't like officers but I'd follow that one to bloody Hell," the Sergeant said to Jackson.
Stewart continued down the trench. Most of the company was in their dugouts but there were a few posted on watch. The report was the same at every post. The shelling increasing off to the left and seemed to be creeping closer. The Captain turned and headed back towards his dugout. As he neared, Sgt. White stopped him and began to report on some activity in front.
Suddenly a tremendous explosion ripped the air. A violent flash and Charles felt himself being flung into the air. Then all went black.
Lord Berwick was walking the grounds of Stanhope, enjoying the early spring air. He loved this time of year. It was the time of renewal, a time when the birds began to sing and the flowers bloomed in a riot of colors. He was accompanied by Alice, his youngest daughter, and she was telling him the latest from her fiancé in America. He worked in the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. and knew all the news. Alice had hoped for a fall wedding and was excited about it, being the last daughter to marry. His Lordship enjoyed these walks with Alice as her enthusiasm helped keep him from thinking about his youngest son.
"Isn't that Buxton headed this way?" Alice said pointing towards the house.
Buxton hurried up to his Lordship and handed him a telegram. Lord Berwick opened it. He read it slowly as the color drained from his face. He read it again.
"Buxton, does anyone else know?"
"No, your Lordship," he replied.
"Please be so kind to tell the family to gather in the Library. I'll speak to them there. You may tell the staff yourself, after I tell the family. Understand?"
"Yes, your Lordship. Right away." He turned and hurried off.
"Father, what is it?" Alice asked, taking his arm.
"Don't tell anyone. It's about Charles. Come, we must hurry."
The family gathered in the Library. James and Patricia with their two girls had come up for a few days. Catherine had been spending more time at Stanhope, having become very close to Alice. Mary was off with her husband, the naval officer. Lady Berwick arrived last.
"What is it? What is so important?" she asked.
"Please, Elizabeth, sit down. We are all here?"
"Very well. I just received a telegram from the Secretary and it is about Charles."
Both her Ladyship and Catherine gasped. James helped his mother to a chair.
"The good news is he is alive but badly wounded. It doesn't say how badly."
James spoke up. "I'll make some phone calls. I know some people who can help." He left the room.
The room was a buzz. Each one tried to comfort each other. Lord Berwick turned to Buxton. "You may tell the staff and then have McHale come up here to see to her Ladyship."
"Yes, your Lordship. May I?" he asked for the telegram.
Buxton called the staff together in the kitchen. After everyone gathered, he cleared his voice and began "We just received some bad news. Mr. Charles has been wounded and we don't know how badly."
As he finished there was a crash and a deep sob. They turned to see Kathleen standing there, her hands to her face and a soup tureen shattered at her feet. She began to sway and Montgomery rushed to her side. He got her seated and Mrs. Williams took her hand. "It will be alright, child."
Buxton took charge. "McHale, her Ladyship needs you in the Library. Montgomery, please see to his Lordship. Eliza, Annie, go and see if the other ladies need you. Mrs. Williams, will you be handling this?"
"Yes, we'll be fine." But as she looked at Kathleen, she wasn't so sure.
He seemed to be surrounded by darkness. A vast emptiness. He tried to speak but he couldn't hear himself. If he remained still, he could feel a light touch and a soothing sound. It seemed to calm him.
"Doctor," the young nurse quietly motion for him to come over. "He seems to be coming around." She placed her hand on the captain's arm. "There, it is alright."
"Stay with him, nurse, and don't let him thrash around. He'll be confused when he fully awakes. Keep him calm."
The nurse continued to talk quietly to Charles and it had the required affect. Charles regained consciousness but with the realization that it was still dark. "I'm blind!" he suddenly thought. "Oh dear God!" He began to panic.
The young nurse tried to calm him but her words and voice no longer could. "Doctor, I need you!"
The doctor hurried over. "Now, now, Captain Stewart. What is all this fuss? It won't do."
Charles groped towards the sound. "My eyes, I can't see!"
"Calm yourself. It is the bandages. Your eyes were full of dirt and the flash of the explosion may have injured them. It is only a precaution. Let's take them off and look."
Slowly the doctor removed the bandages. "Please keep your eyes shut until I tell you to open them. Understand?"
The doctor motioned for the nurse to sit on the bed. He wanted the Captain to see something nice instead of the old doctor when he opened his eyes.
"Now, Captain, open your right eye. Slowly."
Charles did as he was told, slowly opening his right eye. The light of the room was almost too much but slowly his eye adjusted. There on the bed he could see the nurse. He smiled. "Why, hello there."
She smiled back.
"Very good, Captain. Now try the left one."
Charles did as he was told. Slowly he opened his eye, allowing for the light. As it was totally opened, it was not the same. It seemed as if a heavy gauze was across it. He could make out shadows but no features. The pretty nurse was just a blur. He blinked but it didn't clear. He explained what he saw or did not see to the doctor.
"I was afraid of that. Please place your hand against your right ear. Listen to me and tell me what you hear."
Charles did and as he listened, it sounded as if had cotton in his left ear. Again he explained the situation to the doctor.
"Captain," explained the doctor, "The severe explosion has affected both your left eye and left ear. I'm not sure if the effect is permanent or not. It could be just a severe shock. I don't know. You may have noticed that your left arm is in a cast."
For the first time, Charles looked at his arm.
The doctor continued, "Your elbow was badly broken. We saved your arm but it will have limited mobility. You won't be able to straighten it. I don't believe that it will retain all its strength."
"Doctor, when can I leave here?"
"Don't be in such a hurry, Captain. We have some very pretty nurses here to help you," the doctor replied, laughing.
Charles smiled and looked at the nurse, now standing beside his bed. "I realize that but I really like to be getting back."
"About 1 or 2 weeks and then we will see how you are doing. As to getting back, Captain, for you the war is over. You are going home."
Charles sunk back into his pillow. He let the doctor's words slowly sink in. He was going home.
James was able to pull enough strings to find out what exactly happened to his brother. Rather than call, he was driven to Stanhope. He met with the family in the library. Patricia didn't come with him. She stayed with the children but he was so kind to pick up Catherine from her home and bring her along.
He began, "It seems the Huns were firing shells into our lines just before their big push. Charles left the safety of his dugout to see how his men were faring, seeing if they were alright. He checked the length of his lines and was returning to the dugout. He was stopped by one of men before reaching it. A shell scored a direct hit on the dugout, killing everyone inside. The explosion was about 10 yards from where he was standing. The soldier who stopped Charles also died but it seems this poor man shielded Charles from most of the blast. He was injured but is in one piece. He is in hospital in Brighton. From what I heard, he will be home in one to two weeks."
Alice stood up, "We must go see him."
Father stepped forward and held up his hand. "No, dear daughter, you'll not go. Nor anyone else. James and I will see if we can visit. I think you may understand why."
"That's settled. This is the best news we have had in weeks. God knows, we deserved it." With that, they rose and left the room. All that is except Catherine, who sat still in her chair, hands in her lap. Alice noticed and returned to her side. Kneeling, she said, "It is good news. Cheer up!"
Catherine looked at Alice. There tears in her eyes. "All of this has been too much," she sobbed. "He promised he would return to me. He promised."
Alice hugged her. "He has, dear Catherine, he has."
Downstairs, alone, Kathleen wept upon hearing the news.