Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Sangria 26 (though much is taken, much abides); Cookies & Cream 17 (call)
Toppings/Extras: Cookie Crumbs
Word Count: 2123
Notes: September 1943; Edward Iveson, Elizabeth Long. Cookie Crumbs for Truce.
Summary: This was never how Elizabeth meant things to be.
Elizabeth had never meant to abandon Edward. If she’d known that it was how it would end, she would have made herself find the courage not to marry Hugh Taylor, but no one could see the future and she had persuaded herself that things would work out.
Hugh had been younger than she was, and still damaged from the war. That he liked her, that he found solace in her and even wrote her poetry – it had all been so new and overwhelming that she had forgotten herself. They had been careless and gone further she had ever imagined she would outside of marriage, leaving her little choice but to accept his proposal but afterwards, she had lost the child. It was now nothing but a guilty secret known only to her and to Hugh. And through everything Hugh had remained incapable of tolerating Edward anywhere near him. He would not acknowledge that she had been married before; it seemed to throw him into a panic in some way.
If only she could have persuaded Hugh to see a doctor, she thought again, as she so often had. Maybe she should have tried harder. He had had some bad experiences in the hospitals as well as in the trenches. People didn’t understand, so he simply maintained that he was well and in most ways he was. It simply wasn’t the whole truth.
She had done her best, after the first disastrous attempt to have Edward living with them. She had seen Edward off to school and met him at the train station at the end of every term. She had gone down to Kent to see him in the holidays, regardless of Hugh’s protests and she had written to him weekly and shown up for every half-term holiday she could manage.
It had not been enough. It had ceased to be enough quicker than she could have dreamt. Edward was a twelve year old boy, after all. It was natural that writing letters was something he saw as a chore and that he wrote to her less and less often. In the end, she, too, had written only infrequently, not wanting to be an embarrassment to him, in addition to her other sins.
Her visits grew more difficult and more painful, while Hugh never shifted on his stance. He didn’t admit that Edward existed, or her first husband, John Iveson. It seemed to be something he couldn’t deal with. Eventually, in the face of his trouble and Edward’s silence, she took what care she could of Hugh and accepted with what resignation she could that she had lost her son. At least Edward had the rest of her family – Ted and Anne, and Daisy, and the girls. Hugh had only Elizabeth. He had a sister, but she was married and lived away.
Even so, when she read the notice of Edward’s marriage in the paper, she felt it over and above the usual ache of her bruised heart, sharp and sudden. He must have given up on her entirely if he hadn’t even written to let her know. She penned a painful note to congratulate him and included some money as a gift, but he never replied.
The others visited sometimes – Nancy, Daisy, and Anne – and they told her what Edward was doing, but often only with reluctance, as if it was a betrayal. She supposed it might be. She had forfeited her right to know.
She had got everything dreadfully wrong twenty years ago and she and Edward must live with the consequences. Sometimes she wished desperately that John had lived and none of this had ever happened, but at others she wondered what might have happened then, if she had still been dazzled by Hugh’s attentions. She might have lost them both far more swiftly and certainly. She thought not, she hoped not – but one could not be certain. She had learnt never to trust herself again.
Elizabeth thought about going to see Edward herself, but over the years, she’d grown unwell – her nerves, perhaps – an old chest complaint – these things added up and dragged her down. And he had the right to want not to see her. She kept the contact up, writing to him once a year, always making it clear that she would be happy to see him if it could be arranged. He never answered.
She felt sometimes as if her letters were going nowhere. It felt unlike Edward to ignore her so completely. There had been occasions when she had caught Hugh disposing of a letter, but he rarely took in the post these days. His man Jennings usually did that, and for Hugh to order Jennings to hide such letters would mean him admitting Edward’s existence. No, she must accept the truth: she had hurt Edward too badly for him to want to try and re-establish any relationship between them.
She had tried to telephone him once. He had a number in the directory; it wasn’t difficult to find. The first occasion there had been no answer, but on the second he had picked up the receiver and she had heard his voice. He sounded so different and yet still so unquestionably like Edward. The shock of it, the fear that he would refuse to speak to her had been overwhelming, and she’d waited on the other end, mute, while he merely said, “Hello? Hello?” in annoyance and eventually put the telephone down.
If she could have believed he wouldn’t turn her away she might have called for a taxi one day when Hugh was on one of his travel writing tours and gone round to see him, never mind her lack of health, or her nerves, but she had wronged Edward too much to insist on seeing him against his will.
When he called that day, Elizabeth knew it was Edward before Mrs Welland had even opened the door. She couldn’t explain it afterwards – it hardly been expected (except in the way that she never ceased to expect it) – but she’d known it was him from the way he knocked on the door. It had sounded like him somehow.
She held her breath, listening to the conversation in the hallway, trying to quell the wild hope within, but she’d heard his voice again, sounding much as he had on the telephone.
“Edward,” she said, making her way out into the hallway.
He turned and she smiled involuntarily, because she would have known him anywhere. He had grown - too tall, too thin, she thought anxiously – and he was so much older, at odds with the image of the awkward teenager she carried in her head, but he wore a familiar smile as he stepped forward to greet her. “Mother,” he said. “I’m sorry. It’s been too long.”
“Yes, come in,” she said, in much the same understated way, although inwardly she was suddenly unsteady, her frame too brittle a container for her emotion. Whatever he was feeling, he merely nodded and followed her in through to the sitting room. He always had been more like her than John in that way, she thought with a pang of irrational guilt.
Once she was safely sitting again and Mrs Welland had busied herself about finding out what he wanted to drink, she could look at him properly, searching him much as she had used to before she sent him to school. “You look tired,” she said, watching as he sat down in the sofa opposite, perching too near the edge of it to be comfortable.
“Blame the war,” he said, with another quick, uneven smile. “Too many broken nights.”
Elizabeth had wondered about that, what he was doing. Nancy had been to see her a few months ago, but she had been extremely vague when Elizabeth had asked. “And you are –?”
“Busy,” he said, but he met her gaze.
She registered surprise, realising that he still expected her to understand the things he didn’t say. In this case, it wasn’t hard to interpret. “Careless talk, yes,” she murmured. He must be in Intelligence in some way, she knew. She disliked the idea – it wasn’t something she could see Edward being happy with. But that was the war all over, wasn’t it?
“I don’t know what to say,” he said, breaking out of their pretence that this was nothing unusual. “I’m so sorry. All I can say is that the longer it got, the more difficult it seemed to try and see you – but that’s hardly an excuse.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Ned, darling. You mustn’t apologise to me. I never wanted to leave you, but I did. The fault is mine. Let’s say no more about it. There’s nothing to be done – nothing that can be mended. Only that I hope we’ll meet again now – as often as you choose. I knew how angry you must be when I saw the marriage notice,” she added. “Not to tell me. And how could I blame you? I let you have your peace after that, for the most part.”
Edward, who had started looking down, now jerked his head back up again and stared at her.
“I’m sorry?” he said eventually. “Mother?”
She tried to smile. “It’s all right. I understand, darling. How else could you feel, after everything?”
Edward shook his head, leaning further forward. “No,” he said. “It’s not that. Mother, I sent you an invitation. Oh, God, it must have got lost in the post somehow. And I thought – that was the point where I – well, that doesn’t matter, either. I’m sorry.”
“Ned,” she said, again. It was unbearable to have him apologise for something that was her doing. She held out a hand to him and he shifted forwards to take it, then kneeling beside her. She hadn’t lost him, or at least, not in the way she’d thought, gradually letting that sink in. He had invited her to his wedding; he had tried to keep up the connection as far as he could. It had fallen apart after that, with them both hurt over a stupid misunderstanding that had only been the fault of the Royal Mail.
She looked up, hearing the floorboards creak in the hallway as Mrs Welland approached with the tray and Edward drew back onto the sofa.
“How are you?” he said, once the housekeeper had gone again. “I mean – you don’t seem well.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Oh, only my old problems. Nerves, you know. And a few other things. Drink your tea, and don’t worry about me.”
He laughed, and did as she suggested. “You know, sometimes you and Aunt Daisy are rather alike.”
“I doubt she’d be pleased to hear you say so. I thought she was going to eat me last time she was here.” Elizabeth picked up her cup and saucer and tilted her head slightly. “If you don’t have any objection, we have a good few years to catch up on.”
Edward coloured. “You heard – about Caroline?”
“ Yes. I do hear some things, you know. The headlines, as it were,” she said. Divorce to her was a shocking thing, and she hadn’t known what to think for a while, but she had also been almost a little envious. In many ways, it was a shame that she couldn’t have done the same thing. “I was very sorry, darling. Does it still bother you?”
“Only the talk sometimes,” he said. “I’m certainly not pining for her, if that’s what you mean. It was something of a disaster in the end.”
“And is there anyone else?”
Edward took a long sip of his tea, pausing before replying. Eventually he nodded, lowering the cup. “There was, but the war put paid to that. Maybe it wouldn't have worked out, but now we’ll never know.”
“If only it would end,” Elizabeth murmured. The last war had damaged Hugh, and now they were all caught up in another. Edward might not be fighting away, but she wondered again what he was doing and how he felt about it. But, there, one could not write Military Intelligence a note to excuse one’s son in the way one could at school when he was too unwell for games.
“Yes. But I’ll come back,” said Edward. “Soon, I promise. If you let me know when might be convenient.”
She could die now, she thought, if she must. Then she shook herself, knowing that that was mere morbidity, and hardly of much use to either of them. “Do,” she said. “Let’s try not to think too much of the past.”
Neither of them, however, she noted sadly when he had gone, dared speak too much of the future, either.