Love in the Time of War Ch. 10byjerseyblue©
The foul breath of the Hun caused him to feel nauseous as they rolled in the mud. The man's eyes seemed to bulge with both terror and anger as the two men were entangled in a fight to the death.
Charles awoke in a panic. Where was he? How long he had slept? As he cleared his mind, he realized he was alone. Kathleen had quietly left him on the sofa. It took him a few more seconds to orient himself before he headed towards the kitchen and the smell of hot food. His appearance there took Hodges by surprise.
"Sir!" she said. "I'm not really ready to serve breakfast yet."
"That's quite all right," he replied. "Just hot tea. I'm not quite ready myself. I must look a sight." He saw his reflection in one of the windows. He was unshaven and disheveled, a sight few had seen of him. "Thank you, Hodges," he said taking a hot cup. "If anyone is looking for me, I'll be in my room. Could you have someone bring some warm water up? Please."
Charles felt much better after shaving and putting on clean clothes. McTavish offered to help but Charles had shaved himself every day in the trenches so it wasn't a problem. Of course, warm, clean water was a problem then and clean clothes were out of the question. He always tried to look fresh and clean for his men. In a way, it was the same here. If you looked like you knew what you were doing, people believed you did.
He looked in the mirror after he finished. Besides the scars, which really weren't that noticeable, no one could see any damage. The eye looked clear and there was nothing visibly wrong with his ear. He decided he looked older but that didn't bother him. It was the invisible wounds that worried him.
Just as he exited his room, Kathleen was hurrying down the hallway. "Quick, you must come quick. The doctor needs to see you." By natural reaction, she grabbed his hand as they headed off. They met the doctor outside of Alice's door. "Yes, what is it?" Charles asked quickly, almost breathlessly.
"Good news, sir. Alice's fever has broken. She is very weak and we are not out of the woods yet. But things are improving." The doctor said quietly.
"May I see her?" Charles asked.
The doctor raised one finger and then disappeared behind the door.
Charles grabbed Kathleen and hugged her. "Did you hear that? Her fever broke. It might be all right now." He held her tight. She could feel his arms holding her and she didn't want the feeling to end.
They released each other as the doctor opened the door. "You may see her for a short time and please be quiet. She is still very weak." Charles followed slowly and quietly behind the doctor. What he saw gave him pause. Alice looked so weak and pale that it frightened him. It was not the rosy cheeked, upbeat sister he was use to. She moved her head to look at him. Stretching her arm towards him, she whispered,"Charles."
He moved quickly to the bed and sat beside her. Taking her hand, he kissed it. He then soothingly ran his hand across her forehead. "You really had us worried, Alice."
She smiled weakly. "Just keeping you on your toes. It was getting too easy for you. That is what sisters are for."
"When you get better, we'll see about that. You just concentrate on that."
"How is everyone? Don't lie to me. You know I can read you like a book."
"Mother and Father are doing much better. Father won't listen to the doctor, of course. Everyone on the staff is doing fine. Buxton is still in bed, acting much like Father, I'm afraid."
Charles put his head down.
"She isn't...?" Alice gasped.
"No, no, she isn't. She is next door but it isn't good. The doctor said the next twenty-four will tell."
"Oh, Charles, I'm so sorry."
"No, Alice, things are going to work out. You take care of yourself and let me worry. Now rest and we'll talk later." He kissed her forehead and left the room. As he left, he asked the doctor if he could look in on Catherine.
"I rather you didn't," the doctor replied.
Charles nodded. As he walked down the hall, he knew he didn't tell Alice about James. She didn't need to know. No one had called so no news was good news. It was time to tell Father though he dreaded the reaction.
He found Father in the Dining room eating some cold meats.
"Charles, isn't that great news about Alice. Now we need the same about Catherine and it seemed we have made it though the siege. I didn't realize that so many here and in the village became sick. The doctor told me quite a few in the village, about half who were sick, have died. Simply awful."
"Father," Charles said as he took some toast and jam. "We might not be out of this yet."
"Yes, Catherine, of course." His Lordship said taking a bite.
Charles sat down next to his father. "I need to tell you this now that you are feeling better."
"Tell me what?"
"Patricia called and she said James is very ill."
Father put down his fork."Dear God. How sick? How long have you known?"
"About 2 days. I didn't feel you or Mother was up to being told so I waited till now. I'm sorry."
"No, boy, no need to be. Have you heard anything since?"
"No, nothing. I was going to call later."
His Lordship stood up. "No, you have done enough. I 'm very impressed how you have managed everything considering all the stress you are under. I know how worried you must be about all this. It's time you got some help with it. I'll call. And I'll tell Mother." Father began to leave when he stopped and turned. "Son, get some rest. We'll not be having you getting ill."
Charles decided to walk the grounds. He felt that the cool crisp air of late September would be good for him. He needed to clear his mind and be ready for anything that came his way. He really couldn't fathom what would happen if either Catherine or James died. The grief would be almost unbearable. As he walked, he surprised himself to the depth of his feelings towards Catherine. Maybe he did care for her more than he really knew. If she died, he knew he'd be crushed.
As for losing James...well, that was unthinkable. He wasn't close to either of his brothers but he always looked up to James. James was the heir, the next Lord Berwick. He couldn't die. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. James was to get the title, William the charm and easy life. Charles Stewart could choose his own life, marry who he wanted, and do anything he wanted, without interference. Instead it was all coming apart.
He stopped and looked at the old oak tree. It had been here forever. Alice and he played under it and climbed it. He kissed his first girl, Catherine, under its spreading branches. It had been here for as long as anyone could remember. It had seen many changes but it was still here, strong and sturdy. Charles smiled and thought, "Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Whatever happens, You will have to deal with it." He headed back to the house. As he entered, Mrs. Williams was there.
"Thank God, you are back, sir! It's Catherine!"
Charles flew up the stairs, two steps at a time. He ran down the hallway and burst into Catherine's room. He entered into a scene that quickly propelled him back to the trenches. The doctor was holding Catherine's head over the side of the bed and blood and bloody foam was spewing from her nose and mouth. One of the maids was holding a porcelain basin to catch it. Charles reeled in horror.
"Shut the door, man," the doctor yelled. Charles did as he told.
"Can I help?" he asked.
"Yes, help me hold her until it stops."
This continued for over a minute when it suddenly stopped. Charles eased her back into the bed. Catherine looked deathly pale and felt clammy to the touch. He looked at the doctor in desperation.
The doctor talked to the maid first, telling her to remove the basin and bring cold compresses back. He then turned to Charles.
"I'm sorry but it is out of my hands now. Catherine will have to fight against it herself or..." he trailed off. "Do you understand?"
Charles nodded and then made a dramatic decision. "Yes, doctor, I do. You have done enough and there are others who need you. Now will you please leave us. Please do not return and allow only Kathleen to bring cold compresses here." He turned towards the bed. "Thank you and good day."
He took off his coat and draped it over the chair. Pulling it close, he rolled up his sleeves and sat down close to the bed. He took Catherine's hand in both of his and leaned in close.
"Catherine," he whispered into her ear. "I made you a promise that when I went off to France that I would return. I kept my promise. Now I need you to make a promise to me. You will not leave me. Promise me."
For the rest of the night, he stayed with her. Kathleen was the only one allowed in and she brought cold compresses with her. Charles gently and lovingly placed them on Catherine's forehead. He used others to wipe down her arms. Other times he talked quietly to her, letting her know he was there.
Around 2AM, Kathleen entered the room and found him, head down on the edge of the bed. She touched his shoulder and he slowly raised his head. "I wasn't sleeping, just resting."
"Charles, my dear, you can't keep this up," Kathleen said putting her arm around him. "You need to eat something and get some rest."
He looked at her and gave a small smile. "One way or the other, it will be over soon. She can't keep on like this. Then I'll sleep. Not till then."
'All right then. The next time I come up, I'll bring some tea and biscuits."
"Kathleen, you need to sleep too. You don't have to keep doing this."
"Don't worry. I'm getting some. It is the least I can do," she replied.
Charles held her in his arms. "This is so crazy. My nightmares make more sense."
"It will be all right," she said as she opened the door and left. She leaned against the wall and cried. If Catherine recovers, she thought, she will resign from her position because it was becoming obvious. The more she was with Charles, the deeper in love she was falling.