At the back of the house by the old stables, Amelia watched North, the young man her husband Aubrey had brought down from London to be footman and chauffeur, wash down the car. Must you go? she had asked, and knew as the words left her lips, that of course he must. He spoke of duty to King and Country, and she nodded. Aubrey had enlisted the young man into his own regiment. Not to be without him, he had said. But what of her? she had mused silently, watching the strong hands and arms move over the car. He called her Madam. Spoke softly. She sighed. He held his head to one side like a bird looking for worms. She smiled as she walked around him as he worked. Madam sounded so distant. Amelia she had said, call me Amelia. And he had, the few times, alone together; had held her and she melted as if her body were ice left in the sun. She remembered his hand in hers. Felt it again as she sat in the dining room at breakfast. Aubrey’s letter on the table in front of her, dated that fateful year 1916. North lost to us. The word us touched her. She wondered if Aubrey knew he’d been cuckolded. Her eyes were full. She gazed at the room; at Aubrey’s ancestors looking down at her from their stiff frames. Nell, the maid stood by the window, her small hands tucked inside each other, gazing out at the cold morning. Amelia wished she were one she could express her grief to, but she was too young; a gossip she expected. What could she say? Whom could she ever tell? She felt the tears brimming up in her eyes. The room became watered and blurry. She lifted a spoon to her lips, but stopped as if she never wanted to eat again; never wanted food or drink to pass her lips again. Suddenly, the sobs broke from her, as if an enormous eruption of grief could be contained no longer, and broke free from her in such a way that the maid stood and stared as if her mistress had broken into a brief, but deep madness. Amelia stuffed her napkin to her mouth the hold back the eruption; her hands acting like headless chickens, moving wildly. Nell, after a few seconds of hesitation, ran to her mistress; stood awkwardly, gaping, unsure whether to hold or touch or run for help, but broke from her restraint; embraced Amelia as if she were a child who had been badly hurt. Amelia sensed the embrace; wanted to sink deeper and deeper; to lose herself in the small arms and stiff breast. Her sobs broke out. Her hands held close the body of the maid as if to a lover, as if it were North himself had come back to her. Nathan North, Nathan. The name in her head rang out like a bell. Nell looked down at the hair and head against her; felt her own tears welling up. She mumbled words, but they were lost amongst the waves of grief; tossed aside as so much flotsam on the waters of this broken heart and soul. Calmed, Amelia lifted her head, dabbed her eyes, smiled weakly at Nell, held one of the small hands, looked at it, held it briefly against her cheek. Bad news, she muttered. The War. Deaths always deaths. The Master had written. North had been killed. Nell sensing nothing of deeper grief, bit her lip; stared at Amelia, pushed her free hand to her mouth; let tears fall. Later Amelia stood at the window of her bedroom and stared at the moon in the night sky. Nathan North was out there cold in the night air. His hands and arms still now. She sighed. Aubrey spoke of other things in his letter, but they were as nothing to her. She moved her finger along the glass pane as if to write the name there; to write all that she felt and suffered. Nell stood beside her in silence. Words seemed wasted. What were words worth now? Amelia thought, sensing the maid at her side, smelling the scent of soap; the scent of flowers. She wonder what the girl made of it all; what she thought about the tears shed; the moodiness; the refusal of food; the deep sighs. She wondered how Nathan had died, how he had met his end. Had it been sudden? She mused, biting her lower lip, letting her hand fall from the windowpane and rest by her side, touching briefly that of the maid. Tomorrow she would go to the stables, stare at the car; see if North was there. Maybe it was a mistake. she told herself, maybe Aubrey had got it wrong, had named another. She had the letter in the pocket of the dress she had worn that morning. How cold ink seemed, how indifferent to the message written. Nell spoke. Words. Soft words. Words that hung in the air like cigarette smoke. Amelia shook her head. Stay, she had muttered. She wanted the girl to stay. Not leave now. She asked; did not order; looked away from the window; gazed at the maid; gazed like one wounded. The girl nodded. If Nathan were here, would he have nodded, too? she wondered, smiling sadly, touching the girl’s small hand. Stay. Nodded. How to heal such pain, how to comfort such grief, none knew. Nell drew the curtains as if the show had ended; moved to turn down the bed; waited like one in the wings for the next act to begin, for the next change of scenery, the learned lines to be forgotten. All was set. The lamp was dampened. Darkness embraced them. And out in some cold field on foreign soil North lay spoiled and lone, as far off two bodies embraced searching for him in their grief held sleep.
A WOMAN GRIEVES FOR THE LOSS OF A SECRET LOVER DURING WW1.