Love in the Time of War Ch. 05byjerseyblue©
"Well, James, I think the evening went very well," Lady Berwick said to her husband as she climbed into bed. "Did you see Charles and Catherine together? Don't they go well together?"
"Yes, they do but we thought that they always went well together," he said settling in on his side.
"Yes we did," Elizabeth said. "I've always wondered what happened between them."
"We'll never know." He turned to her. "I have to tell you something very important, Lizzy. It can't wait."
"What is it, James? You haven't called me Lizzy in such a long time."
"I'm afraid I have misjudged our son."
"No. Charles. There is much more to him that I thought. He may more deserving to be my heir than James. He has shown to be strong and he seems to understand what it all means. The responsibility, the meaning, the burden that goes with a title. And that leaves me to fear the worst."
Lizzy sat upright in the bed. "What can you mean? Fear the worst?"
Lord Berwick got out of bed and began to pace. "William joined because he felt it was his duty. He was unsuited for his rank but he took it because he had to. He shouldn't have gone."
"I don't understand. What is this about?"
"William was killed because he didn't know what he was doing and like so many thousands of others, he died."
"Why are you bringing this up now? He's been gone for almost 2 years now. Why now?" She began to wring her hands. "Why are you upsetting me?"
"Because of Charles." He stopped pacing and faced her. "I don't mean to upset you but we must face facts. Charles joined because it was the right thing, not because he had to. He is a natural leader. You heard the story James told us. He'll put himself in danger because it is the right thing to do. He doesn't think if it is the right thing, he does the right thing, regards of the cost. Look at James. There is calculation in his every move. William was the same way. "
"And you think that we should expect the worse?"
"More than anything, my dear."
Lizzy was now the strong one and she patted the bed. "Come back to bed. Between the two of us, we'll get through this together."
Deep down inside they knew that this war was slowly destroying their family and their life.
Charles walked Catherine to the foot of the stairs. There he said good night and watched her ascend the stairs. She was so beautiful. He then headed outside to think. Yesterday his life was unburdened with difficult issues. He lived from moment to moment, day to day. He came home and found Kathleen here. Then tonight he was reunited with Catherine and she confessed her love to him. He believed he truly loved Kathleen but he also understood what Patricia said at dinner about needing a male heir. His family would never accept him marrying Kathleen; a son from that marriage wouldn't be considered a suitable heir. He promised Kathleen he would talk to her before he left. He headed for her room.
He went up the backstairs to the servants' sleeping quarters. He knew because of the reduced staff Kathleen would have her own room. He knew which door to knock on.
"Kathleen," he whispered.
"Go away" came the answer.
"Please, let me in," he begged.
The door opened. Kathleen stood before him in her gown, loosely tied. "Come in and be quiet."
Charles entered and she shut the door. Before he could speak, Kathleen said, "I saw you kissing Catherine. I understand. She is a beautiful woman and you were planned for each other. You and I, it would never work. Your family would never allow it. So leave now. I don't want to cause a scandal."
"I don't care about any scandal."
"But I do," Kathleen retorted. "It would ruin any chance of happiness for us, even for Catherine, your family."
Charles turned and began to pace. Kathleen sat on the bed, waiting for him to speak. He stopped in front of her and sank to his knees."I never said I loved her. It is you I love."
"Be sensible," she said cupping his face in her hands. "It can never work. Catherine and you live in the same world. You and I are worlds apart. I know you love me." She took one of his hands and placed it on her heart. "I will always have you here."
He stood up and kissed her, a warm, passionate, loving kiss.
Kathleen reached down to the hem of her gown. Grabbing it, she pulled it over head and stood before him, naked. She lay back on the bed, inviting him to take her.
Charles sucked in his breath. She laid naked before him, offering herself to him. Her white breasts, smooth skin, the flaring of her hips were before him. But more than that she was giving him herself, without ties or limits. God, how he wanted her.
A different man wouldn't have hesitated. A different man would have taken what she offered with pleasure, without pause. Instead Charles took the bed sheet and pulled it up, covering her. She gave him a puzzled look.
"I'll not have you this way," he said quietly. "Though God knows I want to. When I have you, it will be in a proper way, as man and wife, not before. I'll not cheapen our love." He kissed her forehead. "Good night, Love."
As he walked down the hallway, he felt better. The problem had not gone away. As a matter of fact, it may have gotten worse but he felt an inner calmness in himself. A feeling he hadn't had in quite some time.
Next morning he was up early. He dressed in his uniform. He found it cleaned and pressed and he smiled as he wondered who on the staff did it. He looked in the mirror and admitted that these few days at Stanhope had added some color to his cheeks.
Breakfast was similar to yesterday but no one was up yet. He filled his plate with the offerings; knowing that tomorrow's fare would be much different. He sat down and looked around. There was so much here at Stanhope, the history, the tradition, the people. If only these walls could talk, such stories they could tell.
"Morning, Father. You are up early."
Yes, son. I was afraid you would try to slip out, save everyone's feelings." His Lordship poured himself some tea.
"Something like that."
"I won't let that happen," Father said, shaking his head. "You will be given a proper send off."
Slowly the others gathered for breakfast. It was quieter than usual. Even James had little to say. It was as if no one wanted to anything that would break the spell.
Finally Charles spoke up. "It is getting near that time. I would like to say my good byes to the staff and then I'll be back here. So excuse me."
He made his way down to the kitchen. He knew he find almost every there. As before when he entered they stood up.
"God's sakes, be seated and finish what you are doing." He scolded them. "I've only come to say good bye and I expect to find the house in the same shape when I return."
Buxton and the other men offered their hands and the women, led by Mrs. Williams, hugged him. Only Kathleen held back. There was an awkward silence.
Mrs. Williams spoke, "Take of yourself. Come back safe." There was catch in her voice. "Kathleen, would you please come with me."
Charles watched them go and after a few minutes, he followed. He found the two in the office.
"I'll leave the two alone. You might have something to say to each other." As Mrs. Williams spoke, she left the room and shut the door.
"So this is it?" Kathleen said.
"I'm afraid so."
"I want to give you something." She turned her back to him. When she turned back, she handed him a locket. "This was my mother's and I want you to have it."
"I can't take this!" Charles tried to give it back.
Kathleen closed his hand around it."No, take it. My mother would want you to. I want you to. Promise that you will return it to me."
Kathleen grabbed his hands. "Promise me you will bring it back to me. Promise me, Charles Stewart!"
Charles put his arms around her and pulled her close. He kissed her hard and deep. He pushed her up against the wall, pressing his body against hers. Visions of her body raced though his mind. Her body responded to his kiss. He wanted her this very moment, here and now. He felt her move against him. She wanted him too. Breathless, they broke the kiss and Kathleen buried her face into neck. "Promise me," she murmured. "Promise me!"
He cupped her face and kissed away a tear. "I promise." He tore himself away from her, leaving her standing alone.
He hurried out to the front. Clark, the chauffeur, had the car ready. The entire family was there. His two sisters tearfully hugged and kissed him goodbye. Mother held him in her arms. "You must come back to us," she said. Father shook his hand. "Son, take care of yourself. Please." He kept his jaw clenched as he spoke.
"Where's Catherine?" Charles asked, looking around.
"Right here," she said, stepping around the group. "I would like to go with you, if it is alright with you?"
"By all means," and Charles showed her to the car.
They rode in silence on the way to the station. Neither knew what to say and small talk seemed out of place.
Catherine took his hand and held it on her lap. "This is so different than when William left. We all thought he would be back soon. No one thought..."
"Yes, no one did," Charles nodded.
"I didn't feel like this when he left."
"Charles, I meant what I said last night. I didn't love William and I meant what I said at his funeral. You must come back to me." She started to cry.
He leaned over to look at her.
"No, you mustn't see me this way. I don't want your last sight of me to be me crying." She sobbed.
"Catherine, it doesn't matter." He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. They rode the final mile to the station in silence.
At the station, they walked quietly to the cars. They held hands as they faced each other. Catherine kissed him on the cheeks and then stepped back. As the train pulled away, she said under her breath, "You will come back to me."