Se­rial con­clud­ing part: Af­ter The War Is Over by El­iz­a­beth Dale

Af­ter the war is over It seemed aw­ful to be so happy when not ev­ery­one had such good newsÉ

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - News -

The sTory so far: Lady rose fort­se­cue has per­suaded her mother-in-law olivia that al­fie, the baby aban­doned on their doorstep, is a good in­flu­ence on David, Olivia’s shell-shocked and in­jured son. Re­luc­tantly, Olivia has agreed the baby can stay, but she’s writ­ten to Rose’s hus­band

Lord Bernard fortes­cue in France, who has de­manded Rose sends the baby away. Know­ing that her per­sonal maid Elsie, who has grown close to Al­fie, would be dev­as­tated, Rose has hid­den Bernard’s in­struc­tion from Olivia. Mean­while, a tramp has called at the ser­vants’ door ask­ing to see Elsie, but has been sent away by Cook. Elsie, wor­ry­ing that he could be an old fam­ily friend, rushes af­ter him, in vain. But later, Elsie is ac­costed by a stranger wait­ing in the shad­ows. It’s Will, her miss­ing fi­ancé – un­kempt but very much alive! The story con­cludes…

Elsie stared at Will in­cred­u­lously.

‘Is it you?’ she whis­pered. ‘Is it re­ally you..? Or is it a ghost?’

‘Touch me!’ Will laughed, hold­ing out his hand. ‘You’ll see it’s me! I’m real!’

Elsie reached out ten­ta­tively

and touched his fin­gers, and

then, with a squeal of de­light,

she flung her­self into his arms.

‘Will! Oh, Will!’ she sobbed. And then she couldn’t speak any more.

She sim­ply held him tight, as though she was never, ever go­ing to let him go.

Fi­nally, he pulled away. ‘Let me look at you,’ he said, ‘Oh, dar­ling, you look just the same! As beau­ti­ful as ever.’

‘Well, you don’t!’ cried Elsie, and he laughed.

‘I can’t be­lieve it!’ she con­tin­ued, ‘You’re sup­posed to be dead! I got the tele­gram months ago.’

‘No!’ he said. ‘I’m so sorry. I was with a group of men when a shell hit us. So many men were killed, blown to smithereens. I sup­pose the

bod­ies couldn’t be iden­ti­fied prop­erly… I was cap­tured and taken to a prison camp, but I es­caped. I ar­rived back in Eng­land two days ago and came straight here.’

‘And Cook turned you away!’ Elsie cried. ‘Why didn’t you tell her who you were?’

‘I was just so dev­as­tated when she said you’d gone and she didn’t know where.

Be­fore I could re­ply, she’d shut the door in my face!’

‘She thought you had fleas!’ Elsie gig­gled.

‘I might have! We had lots of lit­tle friends in the trenches.’

‘Then we must get you home and into the bath!’ laughed Elsie. ‘I can give you lots more hugs af­ter!’

Elsie’s heart sang as she

walked back hand-in-hand with Will. There was so much she wanted to tell him, but he looked so tired and they had all their lives to­gether to catch up. She hoped so, any­way.

As they reached the ser­vants’ door, she stopped.

‘This war,’ she said. ‘I know it’s truly aw­ful out there, it changes peo­ple… So I’d quite un­der­stand if…’

‘If what?’

‘Well, if you’d changed your mind about mar­ry­ing me.’

Will stared at her. ‘Of course I haven’t!’ he cried. ‘Out there, all day ev­ery day, the thought of you was the only thing that kept me go­ing!’

Elsie smiled at Will through tears of joy. ‘That’s good,’ she said. ‘Be­cause…’

Sud­denly the ser­vants’ door was yanked opened and Cook and Lady Rose came rush­ing out.

‘I don’t be­lieve it!’ cried Rose. ‘Will? It is you!’

‘Yes, it’s me. Hello, there,’ he said, sheep­ishly.

‘Well, I never!’ cried Cook. ‘I’m so sorry, lad.’

‘It’s OK,’ grinned Will, ‘as long as you let me in now !’

‘Cer­tainly!’ laughed Cook. ‘As long as you have a bath im­me­di­ately! While you do,

I’ll heat you up some stew – with ex­tra dumplings.’ As they all stepped into the kitchen, Lady Olivia walked

in, car­ry­ing Al­fie. ‘Did none of you hear..?’ she be­gan, and then stopped. ‘Who is this?’ she cried.

‘Will!’ ev­ery­one cho­rused, and Lady Olivia looked even more stunned than they had.

‘Never mind me,’ said Will, look­ing down at an equally stunned Al­fie. ‘Who’s this?’

‘This is Al­fie,’ said Rose proudly. ‘He was aban­doned on our doorstep a few months ago. We’ve taken him in and we’re rais­ing him be­tween us.’

‘Re­ally?’ cried Will. ‘Oh, isn’t he adorable!’

‘Yes,’ said Cook, ‘He’s saved us all, es­pe­cially your Elsie. She was dev­as­tated when she thought you’d died. Well, we all were. How did the Army get it so wrong?’

And so Will quickly ex­plained it all again while Elsie ran his bath. Then, when he reap­peared, neatly shaven and wear­ing clean clothes, Cook dished up his favourite stew and a suet pud­ding she’d

been sav­ing for a spe­cial oc­ca­sion. Elsie sat with him, but she couldn’t eat. All she could do was stare at the man she thought she’d lost for­ever.

Af­ter­wards, they were called up­stairs and Will met David, who was as pleased as any­one that he was back. Olivia and Rose joined them,

ea­ger to hear first-hand sto­ries from the Front. But Will soon grew tired.

‘Look at you. Af­ter sleep­ing rough for so long, you must be des­per­ate for a night in a soft bed!’ Lady Rose said. ‘We can talk more to­mor­row.’

Will smiled his thanks and, as he left with Elsie, Rose asked Cook to stay be­hind.

‘I’ve got a bril­liant idea!’ she said. ‘To wel­come Will home we must have a big cel­e­bra­tion din­ner! All to­gether in the din­ing room. Can you man­age that, Cook?

‘For us ser­vants, too? Up here?’ asked Cook, sur­prised. ‘What a lovely idea, my Lady! I’ll go and start plan­ning the menus now!’

As soon as she’d left, Olivia turned to Rose, dis­ap­prov­ingly.

‘Dar­ling,’ she said, ‘I didn’t like to ar­gue with you in front of the ser­vants, but you’ve got com­pletely car­ried away. Throw­ing a meal for us all to wel­come Will home just isn’t ap­pro­pri­ate. He’s a ser­vant.’

‘A ser­vant who put his life on the line, who went to serve his coun­try just as David and Bernard did,’ said Rose. ‘They did no more and no less than him. All three were pre­pared

to make the great­est sac­ri­fice asked of a man. We wel­comed David back, and we will wel­come Bernard – just as we will now wel­come Will.’

Olivia shook her head. ‘In the old days we would not…’

‘Times have changed, Mother,’ said David. ‘The old days will never be back. And I agree with Rose. We should all wel­come Will back as the hero he is.’

Olivia shook her head. ‘If you in­sist,’ she sighed, ‘as long as these things don’t be­come a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence.’

‘Well they say this is the war to end all wars!’ said

Rose. ‘So hope­fully there will be no more he­roes’ re­turns

in the fu­ture.’

✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ The cel­e­bra­tion meal took place two days later. In all that time, Elsie hardly saw Will. He just slept and slept, ab­so­lutely shat­tered from his war­time ex­pe­ri­ences and long jour­ney home.

Cook re­ally went to town pre­par­ing the spe­cial feast. It

was the first time for years that she’d had the chance to cook some­thing grand, and she re­ally en­joyed her­self.

On the big day, Will and Elsie got dressed up in their

best clothes, and even Al­fie had a spe­cial new romper suit, though he was tucked up in his cot be­fore the meal

be­gan. There were five cour­ses – all of them Will’s favourites – and beer and cham­pagne, too. They all drank toasts to re­turn­ing and ab­sent he­roes, and the re­lief was pal­pa­ble.

The fact that Will could come home when they’d thought he was dead gave Cook, Olivia and Rose hope that their loved ones, still very much alive, would come home safely, too.

When the meal was over, the cel­e­bra­tions con­tin­ued down in the ser­vants’ hall. Elsie and Will were just hav­ing a dance around the kitchen ta­ble when the door­bell rang. They frowned. Who could it be at that time of night?

Will rushed to an­swer it, but when he came back, his face was pale. In his hand, he was hold­ing a tele­gram.

Cook im­me­di­ately shrieked and sank onto a chair, con­vinced it was for her – about her Ge­orge. But he quickly re­as­sured her.

‘It’s for Lady Rose,’ he said. ‘So, I thought you’d like to take it up to her, Elsie?’

Elsie fal­tered. They all knew that a tele­gram could mean only one thing – that Lord Fortes­cue had been killed in ac­tion. She would have done any­thing not to have to take it to Her Lady­ship. Far bet­ter, surely, to give her the tele­gram to­mor­row and give her an­other night’s peace, hope and hap­pi­ness… But she knew she mustn’t de­lay. So she took a deep sigh, climbed slowly up the stairs and knocked at Lady Rose’s door.

Rose turned from her dress­ing ta­ble and smiled to see Elsie. And then she saw what she was hold­ing…

‘I’m so sorry,’ said Elsie. ‘It’s only just come.’

‘It’s all right,’ said Rose, qui­etly, hold­ing out her hand.

Elsie didn’t like to leave her. As she watched her mis­tress open the en­ve­lope, she

ad­mired her calm self-con­trol. But then, as she took out the slim piece of pa­per and read the ter­ri­ble words, Rose sud­denly broke down in tears. Elsie rushed for­ward, try­ing

des­per­ately to find the words to con­sole her, but in vain.

‘I’m so very sorry, Lady

Rose,’ Elsie said, tears fill­ing her own eyes.

Rose shook her head. ‘It’s

all right, I’m fine,’ she sobbed.

‘No, you’re not. I feel ter­ri­ble,’ said Elsie. ‘There we were cel­e­brat­ing my Will com­ing back and you’ve had the worst news of all. This has ru­ined the evening.’

‘No! It mustn’t. Don’t let it,’ said Rose.

‘Of course it has,’ Elsie said. ‘How can I pos­si­bly be happy now? My heart is break­ing all over again, only for you.’

‘No, please, re­ally,’ said Rose, quickly wip­ing her eyes.

‘But I know just how dev­as­tated you must feel…’

They all knew that a tele­gram

could mean only one thing

‘No you don’t,’ said Rose. ‘Well, no. Of course, I hadn’t been with Will as long…’

‘No,’ said Rose, look­ing up. ‘You have no idea what I’m go­ing through or how I feel.’ She blew her nose. ‘I can’t have you be­ing so up­set on my be­half. I’m not dev­as­tated with grief as you imag­ine.’ ‘Sorry?’

‘My tears are more of re­lief.’ Elsie frowned, com­pletely taken back.

‘I had an aw­ful life with my hus­band,’ said Rose.

‘Well, I know he used to get very an­gry some­times,’ Elsie said slowly.

‘Yes.’

‘But…to be re­lieved that he’s dead?’

Rose bit her lip and frowned. ‘I wouldn’t wish him dead, Elsie, I’m just re­lieved he’s not com­ing back.’

‘Just be­cause he used to get cross?’ Elsie frowned.

‘More than that,’ Rose whis­pered.

‘I don’t un­der­stand.’

‘He used to hit me.’

Elsie gasped, hor­ri­fied. ‘No! I’d no idea!’ she cried.

‘Oh, he was al­ways very care­ful,’ said Rose. ‘He used to do it be­hind closed doors and tried to en­sure he didn’t leave a mark, but some­times he got car­ried away.’ She shud­dered. ‘Do you re­mem­ber my bruises from fall­ing off Starlight?’

Elsie nod­ded. Rose was al­ways fall­ing off her pony.

But not since Lord Bernard had gone away.

‘Well, I never fell off her. Not once. Those bruises were all Bernard’s do­ing. He was a brute of a man. And then there was the men­tal bul­ly­ing. He used to be­lit­tle me in front of his friends. He wor­ried

I was much clev­erer than him, so he con­stantly put me down. I joined the suf­frag­ists as soon as he went off to war,

not just to fight for women’s rights but be­cause I knew that, if he was here, he’d hate it and stop me. It was my one bid for free­dom. These years with him away have been the hap­pi­est of my life. I’d been dread­ing him com­ing home.’

Elsie couldn’t be­lieve her ears. To think what had been

go­ing on un­der this roof! She’d heard Lord Fortes­cue shout­ing some­times, and she knew he could bully ser­vants – she re­called only too well how he’d forced her Will to join up when he was med­i­cally un­fit. But she’d never dreamt he was vi­o­lent!

‘I’m so sorry,’ Elsie said. ‘It must have been aw­ful. I wish I could have helped.’

‘You did help,’ said Rose, smil­ing through her tears. ‘You were al­ways so kind to me, you were like a ray of light in my dark­ness.’

‘Did Lady Olivia know what was go­ing on? Or David?’

Rose shook her head.

‘They knew Bernard could be dom­i­neer­ing, of course they did. But they had no idea how he treated me.’

Elsie sighed. ‘How ter­ri­ble!’

‘So please for­give me for cry­ing tears of re­lief,’ said Rose. ‘I never like to hear of any­one dy­ing, of course, and Lady Olivia and David will be dev­as­tated, but I am just so thank­ful that I have a chance of a bet­ter life, as will Al­fie.’

‘Al­fie?’

‘Yes. I didn’t tell you, but Lord Fortes­cue had or­dered him out of this house.’

Elsie was hor­ri­fied. ‘No!’

‘Don’t worry. I ig­nored him,’ Rose said. ‘His Lord­ship had no idea, of course, but he

would have sent Al­fie away as

soon as he came home.’ ‘Poor Al­fie!’

‘But now he can stay!’ smiled Rose.

‘Thank you so much,’ said Elsie. ‘I’m so sorry you’ve had such a ter­ri­ble time but so re­lieved for you that your

hor­ri­ble or­deal is fi­nally over.’

‘Thank you,’ said Rose. ‘But, Elsie, please, please don’t tell any­one apart from Will.’

‘Of course. And I’ll swear him to se­crecy. So, as for Lady Olivia and Mr. David?’

‘I will be the dev­as­tated, griev­ing widow. To tell them the truth would be cruel. Bet­ter to leave them with their own happy mem­o­ries of Lord Fortes­cue.’

‘Of course. When will you tell them?’

‘To­mor­row,’ said Rose. ‘I’ll

give them a night’s peace first.’

Once she’d made sure Rose was all right, Elsie hur­ried back to Will. She’d been

hop­ing that they could fi­nally have a good chat, but when she reached the kitchen, Cook told her he’d gone to bed.

‘He could hardly keep his eyes open, poor lad,’ she said. ‘How was Lady Rose? Shall I take up some warm milk to help her sleep?’

‘No, she just wants to be alone,’ said Elsie. ‘Thank you.’

✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ When Rose told her the bad news, Lady Olivia was so up­set, she re­fused to come out of her room for days. How­ever, David, who’d known so many sol­diers who’d died, sadly told Rose that he’d al­most ex­pected the tele­gram.

A stunned si­lence fell on Fortes­cue House, and Elsie and Cook went about their du­ties as qui­etly as they could. Three days later, Rose

and David were just fin­ish­ing a late break­fast, and Elsie was pour­ing their tea, when there

was a sud­den flash and loud bang out­side.

Rose jumped up in alarm and David started. But then

there came more flashes and bangs – lots of them, all to­gether – and Rose and Elsie rushed to the win­dow. Peo­ple were spilling out onto the street, look­ing around. Then a car horn sounded and an­other. Fi­nally, church bells started ring­ing, then more, un­til a joy­ful ca­coph­ony of sound filled the air.

‘The War is over!’ cried

Rose. ‘It has to be.’

‘Thank God!’ ex­claimed David, as Cook and Will came rush­ing in.

‘The War’s over!’ Elsie told them, her eyes shin­ing.

Cook crossed her­self and Elsie rushed over to hug a stunned Will.

Soon there was shout­ing out­side, peo­ple were rush­ing out of their houses, wav­ing

flags and cry­ing and singing

as they marched along.

‘I can’t be­lieve it!’ cried Cook, join­ing ev­ery­one at the win­dow. ‘I thought this day would never come.’

‘Me, too!’ laughed Will.

Elsie smiled. Un­til a week ago, she’d been dread­ing it, but now it was the most won­der­ful news in the world.

‘Ev­ery­one will be go­ing to num­ber 10, Down­ing Street, I’ll be bound,’ said David. ‘They’ll want to thank the Prime Min­is­ter.’

‘Let’s go, too!’ cried Rose. ‘All of us!’

‘Us, too?’ asked Cook.

‘Yes!’ Rose cried. ‘We’ll put Al­fie in his pram and push

you in your wheel­chair,

David. We’ll all cel­e­brate!’

‘I don’t think I should go,’ said David. ‘It seems wrong to be cheer­ing and cel­e­brat­ing so soon af­ter, you know… I’ll stay here with Mother.’

‘Of course,’ said Rose, sud­denly sub­dued. ‘We’ll

both stay and look af­ter Al­fie.

All the noise might frighten

him, any­way. You three go!’

‘I am just so thank­ful that I have

a chance of a bet­ter life…’

And so they did, and it felt to Elsie like the most ex­cit­ing thing she’d ever seen.

The noise grew louder as they reached Down­ing Street, and then there was the most re­sound­ing cheer as the Prime Min­is­ter ap­peared.

‘Else! Else!’ Elsie heard then. She turned to see Juliet. ‘Juliet!’ she cried, as her sis­ter fought her way through – and was stunned to see Will.

‘Sorry! I haven’t had time to tell you,’ Elsie laughed.

‘So, we can truly re­joice and look to the fu­ture!’ said Juliet. ‘We’ve got peace, votes for women, jobs for women, in­de­pen­dence for women!’

Elsie laughed. She hoped her sis­ter was right.

Then Juliet went off to join her friends from the mu­ni­tions fac­tory, and Elsie, Cook and Will walked back to Fortes­cue House. But Will was sub­dued.

‘I can’t help but worry what will hap­pen to us all,’ he said. ‘Mr David is Lord Fortes­cue now. Will he want to keep us on? Even stay in that house? Maybe he’ll want to move out of Lon­don with­out us? ’

Elsie frowned. She’d been wor­ried about that, too. And

what about lit­tle Al­fie?

‘Lord help us!’ cried Cook. ‘Where would we go?’

Elsie didn’t know. A day that had started so won­der­fully sud­denly seemed so bleak…

When they got back, they were called into the draw­ing room. All three ex­changed wor­ried looks. And when they saw Mr David there with Lady Rose, who was hold­ing

Al­fie, their hearts sank fur­ther.

‘Don’t look so wor­ried,’ said the new Lord Fortes­cue. ‘We wanted to set your minds at rest about the fu­ture. I will be stay­ing on here with my mother and sis­ter, who’s kindly agreed to help me run this house. And we would very much like you three and ev­ery other ser­vant who went

off to fight to con­tinue work­ing for us here, if you wish?’

‘Oh, thank you!’ cried Will. ‘Yes please,’ smiled Cook. But Elsie was still anx­ious.

‘What about lit­tle Al­fie?’ she asked Rose.

Rose smiled. ‘Don’t worry. My brother-in-law has kindly agreed that he can stay. Af­ter all, he’s part of the fam­ily now – so much so that we think

Al­fie should be adopted.’ ‘Oh!’ Elsie cried. ‘Who by?’ ‘Well,’ said Rose. ‘The adop­tion board would only ap­prove a mar­ried cou­ple. So it should be you and Will, as soon as you’re mar­ried.’

Elsie gasped. ‘Oh, yes – yes, please!’ she said. ‘You do agree, don’t you, Will?’

‘Of course,’ he smiled. ‘I’d like noth­ing more.’

Lady Rose gave Elsie a know­ing look, adding, ‘Af­ter all, there could be no-one bet­ter…be­cause, you see,

I think Al­fie is ac­tu­ally your baby. Am I right?’

It was Will’s turn to gasp, and Elsie blushed.

‘Yes,’ she said shyly, turn­ing to Will. ‘I’ve been try­ing to tell you, Will, but there’s never been the right time.’

She turned back to Rose. ‘It hap­pened on the last night of Will’s home leave. And then I got that aw­ful tele­gram just be­fore I dis­cov­ered I was preg­nant. I thought Lord Fortes­cue would throw me out. I was des­per­ate.

‘For­tu­nately I didn’t show much, and when my time was near, I went to my aun­tie’s, pre­tend­ing she was ill. Af­ter

Al­fie was born, I brought him

back here and left him on the

step for Cook to find. ‘You’re so kind, Lady Rose. I hoped and prayed you’d take my baby in. Thank you!’

‘No, I should thank you,

Elsie,’ smiled Rose. ‘Al­fie has been won­der­ful for us all. Are you all right, Will?’

But Will couldn’t speak. He was too busy gaz­ing in won­der at his beau­ti­ful baby boy. What a great day for cel­e­bra­tion in­deed!

THE END

El­iz­a­beth Dale, 2018

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.