Rated: 13+ · Short Story · History · #1897549
Toronto, 1914, WWI. Also a love rectangle.
Patrick dashed across the manicured lawn to Marilyn's home with a letter clutched in his fist. A somber look in his eyes betrayed the contents of that letter.
Marilyn shot out of her white wicker chair on the wraparound porch at the sight of him, and the urgency in his face.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I've been called to duty."
Marilyn's daughter Grace fluttered by with a wooden toy horse in her hands, but the two didn't break their gaze. Reality began to sink in.
"When?" Marilyn asked.
"But that's just two days away! Whatever are we to do in two days?"
"There's no time to think of that now," he said, averting his eyes. He did that when he felt uncomfortable.
"Have you called Ivan?" she asked.
"He's on his way."
They made their way to the pair of wicker chairs, but Patrick couldn't sit. He paced in front of his fiancée, running his fingers along the polished banister enveloping the porch of her three-story home. After what seemed like an eternity of an awkward silence, a friendly voice came to greet them.
"Good God, man! I moved hell and high water to get here straight away! What on earth could be so urgent?" Ivan asked as he came up the steps.
"He's going to war," Marilyn whispered. She could barely get it out, and tears threatened to break away at the corners of her eyes.
"Come again?" Ivan asked.
"She said I'm off to the war," Patrick sighed.
The three eventually sat with blank stares on their faces as Grace sat singing a jolly song to her toy horse in the corner.
Patrick then broke the silence. "I suppose this is for the best."
"But how could you even say such a thing?" Marilyn cried. "What, to have yourself killed in battle? I'll have none of it!"
"There's not a damn thing you can do about it!" Patrick hissed, rising from his seat.
Ivan held up his hands as he, too, rose. "Now let's everybody take a deep breath. She's just imagining the worst, good chap, don't ya see? And you, dear lady, it doesn't help to talk of such things in his presence when he's leaving --"
"Sunday," Marilyn and Patrick said in unison.
"There you have it," Ivan said. "I do say, I'm a bit hungry. Why don't we go to that nice little cafe that just opened up, La Piece de Resistance? That should take our mind off things for a while.
"For a while," Marilyn muttered under her breath.
As Marilyn rose to take Grace inside with the au pair, the two friends lit cigarettes on the porch steps, but said nothing.
Suddenly a footman came running down the street and up the path leading to Marilyn's home, and they all recognized him as one of Ivan's footmen.
"Peter, what is it?" Ivan called out before he reached them.
"I've an urgent telegram for you, sir."
Marilyn's heart sank even further at the prospect of losing not only her fiancé but her fiancé's best friend and cousin, who had become a dear friend of hers as well. The look of approval on Ivan's face jarred their nerves, and they awaited the news.
"It seems I am going to join you in the Royal Canadian Army, my boy," Ivan declared, squeezing Patrick's shoulder.
Marilyn felt faint as Patrick looked to the sky as if to ask Why now? Their wedding was to be in a month. Those plans would have to be put on hold.
"Well, we should be off to the cafe," Ivan said.
Before they could get five paces down the lawn, the faint ringing of the telephone floated into their ears. Marilyn stopped, foreboding tickling her spine. The two men marched ahead, but when Mr. Jameson, her butler, came out to alert her that Mr. Gavin, as he called Patrick, had a phone call, she rushed over to the others to bring them back into the house.
Patrick picked up the ear piece and began speaking, and his voice cracked.
As the other two waited, his eyes grew wide, then squinted, and then all life seemed to have fled from them completely. When he was finished with the call, Marilyn tugged on his coat sleeve.
"What is the matter?"
"That was the house. I'm to report for duty tonight. They've moved the date up. My valet will begin packing my things. I'm to leave at once."
As Mr. Jameson entered the parlor, he tripped over one of Grace's porcelain-faced dolls and landed on his hands and knees.
Marilyn shot out of her chair. "Mr. Jameson! Are you all right?"
"It's nothing, ma'am," he said as he rose, red-faced and brushing off his hands and knees. "There's a telephone call for you."
Butterflies flittered around in her stomach as she made her way over to the parlor's telephone. She adored that invention.
"This is Mrs. Williams."
"Fancy a ride through town in my new Cadillac Roadster?" the voice inquired.
"Ivan! You're back so soon?"
"It's already been six months! How much longer do you wish me to stay away?"
"No, no, I didn't mean it that way. It's only -- well, what of Patrick? Have you heard from him?"
"He writes every week, and so do I. Sometimes the letters are delayed and they arrive two at a time. But say, let's catch up over some ice cream! I'd do anything for an ice cream right about now."
"You've got it. Allow me to gather my things and to wash Grace's face, and then we'll be ready in a jiffy."
A half hour later, Ivan arrived with his chauffeur, Marshall. Marilyn noted how he was dressed in civilian clothes rather than in his military livery.
Mother and daughter eagerly climbed into the brand-new automobile, gathering the skirts of their matching baby pink dresses and sat in the back. Grace giggled as she held her doll close to her. Marilyn, unlike other mothers, let her bring her toys out in public. It was the surest way to keep the child occupied.
"Where to, sir?" Marshall asked.
Ivan turned around, beaming at Marilyn. "Randy's Creamery!"
As they pulled away from Marilyn's house on Third Avenue, she secured her face veil. There was nothing worse than a dusty face after a ride through the streets. Making their way into Rosedale, Grace began to squeal when she saw the ice cream shop.
Holding Grace's hand, Marilyn walked beside Ivan as they made their way over the cobblestone ground to Randy's, leaving Marshall behind. A crisp breeze of that March day blew at such an angle that it swept her white wide-brimmed hat clean off her head. It fell into a puddle, and she cried out.
Ivan hadn't seen the incident, and turned around to find her red hair tousled by the breeze, however many bobby pins may have been holding it in place. Attempting to wipe off her hat with a kerchief, Marilyn frowned.
"Never fear, my lady. We're off to a hat shop straight away."
"But what about the ice cream?"
"It must wait. There are more important matters at hand."
Smiling, he held out his elbow and she took it, reassured by his offer.
As they walked back to the car and Marshall, she felt her dress skirts being tugged.
"Mommy, are we getting new hats?" Grace asked, her eyes wide with joy.
"I am, dearest, because mine dropped into a puddle."
"But I want one too!"
"Very well, we shall see. That is, if you behave like a little angel the whole ride there and the whole ride back."
Grace straightened her shoulders and seemed to walk with more of a purpose now as they approached Marshall.
"That was quick, sir," Marshall remarked.
"Indeed it was. We had a bit of a wardrobe mishap on Mrs. Williams' part, but we're off to the shops now to fix the problem. What say you, Perry's shop on Park Drive?" he asked, turning to Marilyn.
"That should do."
Within the shop, she perused the aisles casually, Grace on her heels, imitating her every move in an almost comical fashion. She made her selection within five minutes, and Ivan grinned.
"What is it?" she asked.
"You're rather an expeditious shopper for a lady."
Marilyn smiled. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"I meant it as a compliment."
They gazed at each other for a moment before he turned and snatched the hat out of her hands and made his way to the counter.
Ignoring her, he proceeded to pay. As she stood back helplessly, Grace approached her with a miniature pink hat, an exact replica of her mother's.
"Very well, dearest."
Turning around, Ivan plucked the miniature hat out of Grace's hands with the swiftness of a magician and gave Marilyn a stern look as if to warn her to not insist that she pay for it herself. Once the purchase was made, Ivan turned around with a casual smile on his face, and handed one hatbox each to Grace and Marilyn.
"Where to now, my lady?"
"Ice cream!" Grace piped up.
"Oh, shoot! I'm afraid we can't," Marilyn told Ivan. "I forgot her father is coming to pick her up this evening, and I don't want to be late. I'd hate to inconvenience him. You know how he gets."
"Yes, I know," Ivan said, rather tersely.
Mr. Williams, Grace's father, had divorced Marilyn after he fancied himself a mistress. Deciding to marry his mistress, he abandoned his wife and daughter and fled Canada to elope with the seductive Ms. Danielle Porter, and they spent two years abroad. When Mr. Williams finally had the gall to return and show his face again, Marilyn didn't want to let him see Grace, but he threatened to go to the courts, so she reluctantly allowed him his visitations every other weekend.
"Daddy's coming?" Grace asked, doe-eyed.
"Yes, dearest, this evening. That's why we must hurry home so as not to be late! We don't want to worry him."
Anger him is more accurate, she thought.
Holding her skirts in one hand and the hatbox in the other, she stepped up into the car but her boot slipped and she fell backwards, landing on her bottom.
"Marilyn!" Ivan cried.
Marshall ran around the car to find Ivan scooping Marilyn up into his arms, lifting her completely off the ground. Their eyes met for what seemed like an eternity until she found herself speaking.
"You may put me down now," she whispered.
"Right, forgive me."
"No, thank you for helping me up."
"There was nothing to it, my lady. I would only hope you'd do the same for me."
She threw her head back in laughter, and Marshall's lips curled up at the edges into a smile as he started the engine. Once they were all inside, they set off for the house.
Realizing that she didn't want to face her ex alone, yet again, a sudden inspiration came calling to Marilyn.
"Ivan, would you like to stay for dinner?"
Turning around to face her, he frowned ever so slightly. "I don't know if that would be prudent, my lady."
"Oh, nonsense. You'll stay, and Marshall can dine with Mr. Jameson and the others."
"It's a pity we didn't have the chance to go for an ice cream. I was so looking forward to it."
Turning back to face the road, he carefully lit a cigarette, cupping his hand around the flame so as not to have it blown out by the wind.
"I suppose Mr. Williams is staying for dinner, too?"
"With the new Mrs. Williams? Not in my house. Not as long as I'm still living and breathing."
He turned around again, a smile of approval on his face. He liked women with spunk.
The thirty-minute ride passed quickly, too quickly in Marilyn's opinion, as she dreaded seeing Mr. Williams yet again. Taking off her white gloves as she entered the foyer, Mr. Jameson shut the front door and walked over to Marilyn.
"You've two visitors, ma'am."
"Mr. Williams, and --"
"I'll see to it. Thank you, Mr. Jameson."
Marilyn entered the parlor, followed by Ivan leading Grace by the hand, still holding her own hatbox. There they found a smug Mr. Williams sitting in Marilyn's favorite Queen Anne parlor chair, reading the evening newspaper.
"Ah, Marilyn! You're late."
"No, Rodney, you're early."
"Be that as it may, I'm ready to go." He set his newspaper down and stood up from the chair, opening his arms wide. "And there's my little princess!"
Grace let go of Ivan's hand and dropped her hatbox to rush into her father's arms. It was only then that Marilyn noticed her other visitor, standing beside the warm fireplace with his back turned toward her. When he turned around, she found before her a soldier with a maple leaf insignia on his hat and neck lapels.
Marilyn walked alongside the train as it crept its way out of the station. Waving her silk embroidered kerchief at Patrick, tears fell plentifully onto the cold ground. Toronto was bidding farewell to more and more of its finest lads, Patrick and Ivan amongst them, and she couldn't bare it. Ivan had bid them adieu two days before, and the three shed tears together silently at Marilyn's before Ivan's train departed, for they weren't at all certain when the three of them would meet again, if at all.
The wedding was splendid, as Ivan served as best man and Marilyn's sister Beth was maid of honor. Grace looked almost like a little magical fairy in her violet dress and violet satin shoes, matching her mother's dress and shoes. Marilyn never thought she would be an army wife, but here she was.
As Marilyn made her way back into the station, something pulled at the back of her dress. Curious, she turned around.
"When's Papa Patrick coming back?" Grace asked.
Marilyn's breath caught in her chest at the realization that she had forgotten that Grace was with her in the train station. She was so lost in her sorrow for Patrick leaving that she was blinded. Scooping her daughter up into her arms, she made her way out onto the busy street to meet her driver. Marshall, now without an employer while Ivan was away, had agreed to offer his services to Marilyn. She hadn't an automobile, and Ivan was more than delighted to allow her the use of his.
Driving through the streets of downtown Toronto, Marilyn wondered about the fate of her young chauffeur.
"Haven't you been called to duty, Marshall?"
"I've a bum leg, me lady."
"Oh? I haven't noticed anything of the sort."
"Slight enough for the army to see me unfit for duty."
"And does that sit well with you?"
"Certainly not, me lady. I can't stand the idea of those great lads Mr. Gavin and Mr. Navratil risking their lives for the sake of you and me, so that we may live in peace. I just can't take it."
"There's no need to fret, Marshall. I'm sure there's something you can do for the cause."
"I haven't the slightest clue where to begin looking."
"Let me help you. I'll set off tomorrow in search of a way that you and I can both contribute to the cause."
"My eyes! My eyes! I can't see anything!"
While the soldier shouted hysterically after waking suddenly from a nightmare, the doctor, two nurses and volunteer ran to his aid. Private Johnson was but a young man of eighteen, barely old enough to be drafted. He scratched at the bandages wrapped around the upper half of his head, and the doctor and nurses had to restrain him so that he wouldn't uncover his eyes.
"Mrs. Gavin, please give me a hand over here," Dr. Lyons said. Hurrying to his side, she held Private Johnson's left arm down while Dr. Lyons slowly unwrapped the bandages to examine the damage that had been done.
Marilyn wasn't prepared for what she saw that day. Two gaping holes where Private Johnson's eyes should've been in the eye sockets stared blankly back at her, ghastly, making her stomach churn. Feeling like she might vomit, she turned away, letting go of the soldier's arm.
In one swift move his fist landed squarely on Dr. Lyons' jaw, as if he had seen him with a perfect pair of eyes. Stunned, Dr. Lyons took only a moment to react before barking out orders to restrain the soldier once again. Marilyn took baby steps backwards until she was at the door, then bolted, and never looked back.
"What do you mean you've left the hospital?" Beth inquired.
"I couldn't take it," Marilyn said. "The whole atmosphere was dreadful, and the awful sight of that poor man with -- oh, I can't even tell you, it's too horrible."
The heels of their gray boots clicked along the newly cemented sidewalk on Salmon Avenue.
"Any word from Patrick?" Beth asked.
"Yes, I've received a letter from Patrick stating that he'll be taking a leave in a month's time. He and Ivan should both should be arriving together. Thank God, for I don't know what I would do without the pair of them."
"They really are capital fellows."
"They're in the same battalion now. In his last letter, Patrick apprised me of the fact that Ivan's been watching his back, so to speak, and has saved his hide a pair of times. He owes him his life, he says."
"Their bond must be ever stronger now than it was before, I imagine," Beth observed.
"I believe so. I must thank Ivan at once upon his arrival. I owe him at least that."
"So what will you do now that you're not a volunteer at the hospital?"
"Oh, I don't know. I suppose..."
Her thoughts trailed off as they passed a group of women handing out pamphlets. Marilyn took one, and it was entitled Support and Substitution. It went on to appeal to women to work in munitions factories, for the men's population available to do such work was sparse, as most of them were at the front.
"This is it," Marilyn breathed.
"Is what?" Beth asked.
"This is what I'm going to do."
Beth took the pamphlet, glimpsed over it, then looked up into Marilyn's eyes, a bewildered look on her face.
"Have you gone mad?"
"Dear me, no! For once in my life, I feel like I have a purpose. I can do some good in the world. Or at least for my country."
"But a munitions factory? I mean, really, that's way below your class."
"All notions of class have nearly been eradicated the minute Germany declared war. We must all band together as one, and fight the good fight, men and women. If I can't be of any use in the hospitals, I must serve in the factories. Who knows, maybe the weapons or ammunition I make will even be used by Patrick or Ivan."
"Oh, dear Lord."
"And you must join me."
"I most certainly will not!"
"Yes, you will, and I will drag you by the hair if I have to. Come now, we must prepare. We will report tomorrow, bright and early. The early bird catches the worm, you know."
"Right! Let's move it along, ladies. At this rate, the war will be over before we've produced anything here."
Marilyn stood in line next to a young woman who had introduced herself as Abigail. The former knew that Abigail came from old money; it was in the way she did her hair, and the collar of her shirt, and the embroidery on her kerchief when she wiped her brow. The two felt an instant kinship, and thereafter remained joined at the hip in the factory.
Theirs was responsible for the blending of the gunpowders for time fuzes. The fuzes would detonate after a certain period of time by way of a mechanical device. The factory's time fuzes were mainly used for Mills bombs, another name for British hand grenades.
"How long has he been gone?" Abigail asked.
Marilyn hadn't yet told her that Patrick was in the Royal Canadian Army, but she seemed to have figured it out for herself.
"You poor dear. I couldn't even imagine. My brother's the one who left, and inspired me to join in the effort. He's a captain now. We're all so very proud of him."
"You should be. That's quite an accomplishment, and in such trying times as these."
"What rank is your husband?"
"He's a lieutenant. He has his master's degree, and so they made him an officer rather than being just a private."
"You should be proud of him, too," Abigail said as she wiped gunpowder dust from her forehead. It left a black smear.
"I am. It's only..."
"Well, I only think about --"
"Don't think about it. If you do, you'll go stark-raving mad. Just think about the present, what we're doing right here, right now, the task at hand."
"I suppose you're right."
"Of course I'm right," Abigail laughed. Wiping her forehead again, it began to turn gray. "Fancy a cigarette?"
"Oh, I don't smoke," Marilyn said.
"If you didn't before, you will now. It calms your nerves, trust me. It's the only thing that keeps me sane throughout the day."
Abigail led her out of the factory into the cool Toronto sunshine. Having washed her hands, she lit a cigarette with a match, then handed it to Marilyn.
"What do I do with it?" Marilyn asked.
"You smoke it, silly goose!"
At the first drag, she began to cough violently. Abigail patted her back, reassuring her that it was all right, and to try again.
It got easier, and when they put the cigarettes out, Marilyn thought she had gotten the hang of it. Leading her back into the mixing room, Abigail stopped suddenly, turning to her.
"Say, are you going to the gala tomorrow night?"
"The one at Sir Templeton's. It's officially named Sir Charles Templeton's Military Gala. All officers retired or on leave and their families are encouraged to attend."
"It doesn't matter if Patrick isn't here?"
"Of course not! You're one of us now. It'll be loads of fun, you'll see. Sir Templeton had one to benefit our troops not two months ago, and it was a smashing success. Let's just make sure we get cleaned up really well before we go out."
They giggled as they sat back down to resume blending the gunpowders.
Sir Charles Templeton's estate was crowded with guests and littered with tables, chairs and canopies with many a gentleman or lady holding a drink in their hand. Walking across the lush green lawn up to the main house, Marilyn held Beth's arm tight. Never had she been nervous to attend any sort of social function before. This was different, however. She had become an army wife, and would soon meet others just like her.
"I'm going to go fetch a drink," Marilyn said. "I'll be right back."
Walking through the thick crowds inside the foyer and inside the small hall where the drinks were being served was no easy feat. She pushed and shoved, and stepped on the trains of a couple of dresses on her way over. Having arrived, she sighed with relief after accepting a champagne flute from a waiter.
"Mrs. Gavin! I was wondering if you would be here."
Marilyn turned around to face the woman speaking and found Abigail. The diamond-studded chandeliers' light bounced off of Abigail's pistachio evening gown, and Marilyn thought she had never seen anyone more beautiful. Genuine pearl earrings hung beneath her curled and upswept blond tresses.
"You've met Lieutenant Navratil, haven't you?" Abigail asked.
The lieutenant appeared from behind Abigail, adorned in his finest mess dress for the occasion. The red of his coat and the black of the lapels matched Marilyn's red dress decorated with black flowers in the print. Marilyn's breath caught in her chest at the sight of him, but when he smiled, she regained her wits.
"Ivan!" she cried.
"In the flesh, my lady," he said as he took her black-gloved hand, bowing to kiss it.
"Oh, so you know each other?" Abigail inquired, very interested.
"Mrs. Gavin's husband, Lieutenant Gavin, is my cousin," Ivan explained.
Abigail nodded her head in understanding as Marilyn took in the full view of the officer standing before her. He wore the finest of fine things before, no doubt, but this was really something.
"I see you've had yourself a glass," Ivan continued. "Might I offer you something as well, Ms. Pembroke?"
"I'd be delighted," Abigail breathed, not at all containing her admiration for the fine gentleman-turned-officer before her. Smiling, Marilyn followed them back to the counter where the waiter poured the two their glasses.
"A toast," Ivan said, raising his glass. "To Patrick."
"To Patrick!" Abigail said.
Marilyn couldn't speak. The mere mentioning of his name brought back horrid images of what she imagined warfare to be like, and the memory of that eye-less soldier still haunted her to that very day. Closing her eyes tight, she steadied herself before taking a deep breath in, then smiled and reopened them.
"To Patrick," she declared.
Sighing, she finally found the courage to speak. "Where is he, pray?"
"We couldn't take leave at the same time. They let me go first instead of him, and when I offered to let him take my place, they said it was too late."
"Oh, poo," Marilyn said.
After politely sipping their wine for the length of one song, Ivan invited Abigail to a dance. Marilyn stood back and watched as they fluttered around the dance floor, as graceful as butterflies, and a pang of jealousy twitched in heart. Never had she learned to dance as well as Abigail could. The poor dear was cursed with two left feet, and everyone knew it. No one bothered to invite her to dance at functions anymore because of said feet, and one of the reasons why she loved Patrick so much was that he was more than content to simply sit back with her and observe the party from the sidelines. How she missed him in that moment, standing beside her, watching the others drink and dance and carry on as merry as if there hadn't been a war going on on the other side of the pond.
Setting her champagne flute down on a table, she reached into her red beaded clutch to fish for a cigarette. Having bought a pack the day before after smoking for the first time in her life with Abigail, she found that she already smoked half the pack. With the cigarette bobbing from her lips, she fished around again for the matches, but a swift waiter was there in time to light it for her, and she smiled at him in thanks.
As the dance came to a close, a beaming Abigail returned to her friend with Ivan in tow. When the next song began to play, Ivan held out his elbow once more, but Abigail understood it wasn't for her. Marilyn stared at him blankly.
"Would you do me the honor, Mrs. Gavin?" he asked.
While she blubbered incoherent sounds that weren't even close to resembling coherent speech, he took that as a yes and took her arm into his, leading her onto the dance floor after Marilyn handed her cigarette to Abigail.
Sweat and trepidation gathered at the nape of her neck as he placed his hand onto her hip ever so delicately. She loathed dancing more than anything else imaginable, and yet she found herself attempting to follow along with the others.
Feeling like she was doing a dance that would make her ancestors roll over in their graves, she dropped her arms and turned away from Ivan, making her way back off the dance floor. When a forceful grip yanked on her arm, pulling her backwards, she stumbled until she turned around and ran straight into Ivan.
"You're not getting off that easily, my lady," he admonished, a cool grin setting into his face.
"But I --"
"Never mind that. Just relax. Don't think about it. Follow my lead, and whatever you do, don't look at the floor."
Following his advice, she moved her satin-slippered feet around in patterns that made no sense to her, and never would, but she tried to let herself go in the moment.
"That's it, you're doing just fine," Ivan encouraged her.
When a thousand years seemed to have gone by, the song finally ended, and she fled Ivan and the dance floor to seek shelter by the champagne table again. Grabbing another glass from the waiter's outstretched hand, she downed its contents with passion in one fell swoop. Abigail looked on, wide-eyed, as Ivan returned to join them, shaking his head.
"You'll have a splitting headache if you keep that up, my lady," he said.
"You just worry about yourself. I reckon I can hold my liquor just fine, thank you very much."
Raising his eyebrows, Ivan turned around and walked away.
"Ivan, I --"
It was too late. He had disappeared into the thickening crowds within Sir Charles Templeton's mansion.
"It's all just too much," Marilyn explained, taking a third glass and lighting a second cigarette.
Abigail nodded her head in understand, patting Marilyn on the arm.
"I have no idea how he's doing, what he does, if he's injured," she continued. "A letter could take weeks to arrive! Just imagine!"
"You mustn't fret over that now," Abigail said. "If the last letter he wrote to you said that he was all right, then you have to trust that he is."
"But the constant possibility of -- oh, it's just unbearable. Sometimes I hate this war. I hate this stupid war, and I wish they would all come home and be done with it. But I'm torn between that and my need to support our troops. I can't sit back idly as they struggle to keep us safe from harm. I must do my part, and that's why I joined you ladies at the factory."
"And we're lucky to have you."
"It's simply -- oh, Abigail, I feel so confused. I --"
Marilyn broke off at the sight of Ivan returning to join them. She didn't like to discuss her personal feelings or her sentiments about the war in front of other men, especially those who were currently serving.
"Might I have a word with you, my lady?" Ivan asked Marilyn.
"I suppose so," she said hesitantly. Looking to Abigail for help, the latter averted her eyes as if to say You're on your own.
Marilyn put out her cigarette before Ivan led her up the grand staircase enclosed by a mahogany banister, and they joined only one other couple up on the balcony overlooking the dance floor. The other couple sat in chairs in the corner, and they wouldn't be disturbed.
"I don't enjoy seeing you this way," Ivan began.
"Like this. Drinking. And smoking! It's not you."
"I drink plenty!"
"What, on New Year's? That hardly counts as plenty."
"And my birthday!"
"Which arrives nearly six months later. So you have occasion to drink twice a year. I reckon you're not too taken with the bottle, and I don't like to see you devouring three or four drinks in a ten-minute time frame."
"What's it to you?"
"Now, don't get all indignant with me, my lady. I promised Patrick I'd look after you if he weren't able to make it back, and that's what I'm going to do. So gather your belongings as we're heading home at once."
"We are not!"
"Indeed, we are. Now if you'd prefer that I cause a scandal by throwing you over my shoulder like a potato sack, then so be it, but I'm telling you, my lady, we're leaving. Now."
Pouting, Marilyn followed him back down the staircase and over to a curious Abigail. When she informed her that they were leaving, a look of desperation betrayed Abigail's eyes.
"So soon!" Abigail cried. "But -- well -- Lieutenant, when are you going back?"
"In two days' time."
Abigail's eyes pleaded with him to ask her if he could call on her before he left, but when the words never left his lips, her shoulders slumped as she stood watching them leave.
"I cannot believe you're making me leave!" Marilyn hissed as they crossed the street and into Ivan's cold car. Marshall fired up the engine, having not been prepared to see them so soon, and listened with intent ears at the scene that ensued.
"Believe anything you want, but you were out of control."
"Me! Out of control? You don't even know what you're talking about."
"I know you better than you think I do, my lady. We've known each other for how long? Four years? Anyways, I'm a good judge of character."
"Ba! You've no right to judge me."
"Indeed, and I'm not. I'm simply trying to avoid an uncomfortable situation, lest your lips become a little too loose and you mouth off to the wrong person in Sir Templeton's, or even better, have you stumbling drunk all over the dance floor as you try to find yourself yet another glass of champagne."
"Well! If that's what you think of me, then good night, sir!"
She turned on her heels and sprinted down the street, but Ivan was close on her heels.
"It's Lieutenant!" he shouted.
Catching up to her, he grabbed her by the elbow and spun her around to face him.
"You're not going to run all the way home," he continued.
"Oh, yes I am!"
"You will not, and I'll drag you by your dress train back to the car if I have to."
Pressing her hands onto her hips, she glared at him, but his gaze never faltered. It was equally as intense, not one of malice, but of determination.
As they walked back to the car, anger flooded her again at the thought of him dragging her out of the ball, and she turned to kick him in the knee.
"You are such a pain in me arse!" he cried, hopping on one foot as he rubbed his kicked knee.
"Your Irish roots really come out when you're mad, eh?"
"Don't get testy with me."
Not finding any comeback, he shook his head and opened the car door for her. She couldn't climb up into it without holding his hand, and she took it as if it were a dead rat.
"Don't worry, you'll be rid of me soon enough."
"And good riddance," she muttered under her breath.
"I heard that," he snapped.
Sighing, she closed her eyes, immediately regretting her words. She wished no ill will on Ivan, especially not on Ivan, as he was Patrick's right-hand man. The two were inseparable. One couldn't live without the other.
Deciding against apologizing, they returned to her home in silence. She would write him a letter the following day, saying she was sorry for her childish behavior the night before.
They walked up the steps to her home, and Ivan almost turned around to return to the car when they were met with a bewildered-looking Mr. Jameson at the door. Ivan froze, as did Marilyn, as neither knew what had frightened the man so.
"Forgive me, madam, but there's a letter arrived by special courier late this evening. It's from the War Office. I..."
Marilyn would have to scold Mr. Jameson later for having opened and read her mail, for she was morbidly curious as to what the letter had to say. Ivan stood beside her anxiously, and it was only when Marilyn fainted into his arms that he understood it to be true.
A banging at the door caused a flustered Mr. Jameson scurrying to answer it. Marilyn awoke at the sounds, for it was well past midnight. Rushing down the stairs, she found a stumbling Ivan pushing past Mr. Jameson through the doorway.
Ivan smiled crookedly as he looked up at her on the stairs. "Maaarilyn! Sho lovely to shee you."
Descending the stairs carefully, she shook her head as she led Ivan into the parlor.
"I am not!" he exclaimed. Giggling, he broke away from her grasp and stumbled over to the fireplace.
"Why'sh there'nt a fire goin' on down here? It's bloody cold!"
Marilyn's quick look to Mr. Jameson had him fetching one of the maids to bring in some kindling. Once the fire came to life, Ivan plopped down right on the ground in front of it, holding out his hands in front of the flames.
"Ivan! You'll burn yourself!"
"Nonshensh. I'm right cold, ish all."
When the passing of time dawned on her, and realization came that it had been more than three days since they had seen each other, since she received the letter, her heart skipped a beat.
"Ivan! You were supposed to report for duty two days ago!"
"So, I'd think it's safe to say you've gone AWOL!"
He shrugged his shoulders and looked back to the fire. "Shee if I give a damn."
"Yesh, my lady?"
Grabbing him by the shoulders, she shook him like a ragdoll, but when the silly-stupid look wouldn't leave his face, she slapped him as hard as she could.
"Good grief, Ivan! Wake up! Keep carrying on like this and you're going to be court-martialed!"
"Ha! That'll be the day."
Rising to go sit in a chair, he crossed his legs and closed his eyes, then began to sing at the top of his lungs:
"Sure, I've got rings on my fingers,
Bells on my toes,
Elephants to ride upon,
My little Irish Rose
So, come to your Nabob
And next Patrick's Day
Be Mistress Mumbo Jumbo Jijjiboo J. O'Shea!"
The song had been made popular in 1909 by Ada Jones, and was one of their favorites, for it was such a silly song. But the men especially loved it, for it reminded them of their Irish blood.
"You can't go on like this, Ivan. You've got to snap out of it. They'll arrest you, sooner or later."
"That'sh -- if they can find me."
"Oh, you! Don't even say that."
Resignation began to set in as she realized that trying to reason with a drunk was like trying to shoot bullets at a freight train. She asked Mr. Jameson to find Ivan a few blankets and a change of clothes from Patrick's closet, but Mr. Jameson was already two steps ahead of her, bringing her the items before she could open her mouth.
"I'll not have them take you prisoner, you know," she said.
"I can't lose you, too."
Tears began to fall when she realized that the "too" implied that she had already lost someone: Her husband. Now an idiotic Ivan was threatening to make matters worse by going AWOL and showing up three sheets to the wind to her house at three o'clock in the morning.
Mr. Jameson helped Marilyn remove Ivan's coat, undo his Ascot tie, and unbutton his shirt. When it came time to remove the shirt, Ivan all of a sudden became very shy.
"My lady! I couldn't poshibly --"
"You hush and get changed. You're going to bed and that's all there is to it."
When the whole ordeal had been accomplished, some twenty minutes later, Ivan was wearing the late Patrick's nightclothes and Marilyn felt like she would die of heartbreak right then and there.
"Well, good night then," she rushed as she ran from the room, leaving Mr. Jameson to put Ivan to bed on the parlor's couch.
Marilyn splashed water on her face in the factory's women's washroom, but the black smears wouldn't fade. Soaping her hands, she scrubbed at the delicate skin on her face, skin that had never been cursed with a blemish in all her adolescence, and frowned at the silver-gray shininess staring back at her. Giving up, she dried her hands and face and went outside to join Abigail for a smoke.
"I've received a letter from Lieutenant Navratil," Abigail told her.
"Yes, from Ivan, as you call him," Abigail laughed. "The lieutenant has had quite a time since he left, I must say."
"It's been two months. How's he getting along?"
"Well, they court-martialed him and he spent a month in the stockade with no pay. Upon his release, he was sent back to the front, and wrote me straight away."
A pang of something etched itself into her heart, but Marilyn didn't know what it was. It couldn't have been jealousy, for she didn't love Ivan, or even like him as Abigail certainly did. Still, she was curious as to why he wrote her friend and not her. She thought they had parted on good terms after his embarrassing night on her parlor chaise.
As the wind picked up, it loosened a couple of curls in Abigail's pinned-up golden hair.
"I do hope he returns for another visit," she continued, her emerald eyes glistening underneath the sun's rays. While taking out her hair pins, Marilyn put out her cigarette on the heel of her boot. When she looked up, she found Abigail's waist-length hair flowing down her back, blowing in the breeze like a radiant Aphrodite.
Smiling, Abigail gathered her hair once more to tie it up, then secure it safely with a couple dozen pins.
Marilyn looked on in silence. She was certain Ivan would return for another visit. If for nothing more, to see Abigail again.
Feeling like chopped liver, Marilyn sighed and turned to enter the factory.
"Hold up!" Abigail called out, but Marilyn let the door slam in her face.
"Are you all right, my lady?" Virginia whispered.
Marilyn opened her eyes, groggy and exhausted, and looked up into her lady's maid's face. Her eyes wandered past Virginia over to the wall, where they fell upon the antique grandfather clock. It was half past noon.
Groaning, Marilyn turned over onto her side and closed her eyes once more.
"Leave me alone."
"Are you ill, my lady?"
"No, I certainly wish to sleep."
Not satisfied, Virginia fidgeted with her hands as she glanced over to the doorway where Mr. Jameson stood waiting.
"Shall I call a physician?"
"No!" Marilyn cried. Springing out of bed, she dashed over to the door, grabbing Virginia by the hand and pushing her through it. "Now leave me be!"
As she slammed the door in their faces, she saw a hint of worry in Mr. Jameson's eyes, but dismissed it. So what if she wanted to sleep a little more than usual? It wasn't anything to write home about.
No letters had arrived from Ivan, but Abigail kept her apprised of his whereabouts and goings on. She visited weekly ever since Marilyn stopped working in the factory, for the latter found it ever so difficult to rise out of bed that early in the morning every day. The weeks turned into months, and the months turned into nine. When Marilyn had given up all hope of ever seeing Ivan again, she slept peacefully for the first time in ages.
Dreams of Patrick still haunted her in the night, however.
"Damnit all to hell, son of a bitch! You've done it again!"
Eric McNealy cried out those words every time Ivan won his hand in Texas Hold 'Em. Not very pleased each time he had to fork over the dough, Eric spit tobacco juice into a tin can he kept on the floor next to his feet. It was a seedy joint Ivan frequented, not very becoming of his class, but he enjoyed it all the same. It hosted the best Texas Hold 'Em tournaments he could find.
"You just keep your pants on, laddie, and deal me another hand," Ivan drawled.
The barback brought another round of brews, and Ivan sighed deeply, breathing in its fresh aroma of barley and hops. It was the only pub in Toronto that still imported authentic Irish beer during the war.
Eric dealt the men their cards over the round table, then paused to study his own.
Ivan was overjoyed. He held a Royal Flush in his hand, in the suit of hearts. Thinking back to Abigail, he sighed and closed his eyes, but only briefly. He opened them quickly when his thoughts shifted dangerously to Marilyn.
"Ain't fallin' asleep there, are ya me boy?" Eric asked.
Chuckling, Ivan shook his head and took a sip from his mug. The dim light in the joint shone faintly on his chocolate hair, and his piercing black eyes seemed to stare straight through Eric. The latter shifted in his seat, not liking it one bit.
"Just show me what ya got," Eric continued.
The men laid down their hands, and they all guffawed when they realized the hand that Ivan held. As realization dawned on Eric, he shot out of his chair and went swinging at Ivan in a murderous rage.
"Bloody cheater! I'll beat your arse to a pulp, I will!"
Staving off his attacks, Ivan ducked just in time to dodge Eric's outstretched fist aiming squarely for his nose. As he pushed Eric backwards, the latter fell back onto the table, spilling all of the beer mugs onto the floor, much to the dismay of the barback.
"I'll kill ya! Hold me back!" he shouted at the others.
Nobody moved, for they all thought it best to let these two duke it out on their own. As Eric swung, Ivan ducked and darted to the side, light on his feet. Realizing that the only way to fight fire was with fire, he delivered a sobering blow to Eric's abdomen, knocking the wind out of him.
"Get a hold of yourself, laddie! I swear I haven't cheated ever in me life!" Ivan cried.
Dissatisfied, Eric swung again, this time meeting Ivan's nose effectively with his fist. Dazed for only a moment, Ivan took a step backwards and instinctively reached up to feel his broken nose as blood began to ooze out of it.
"This means war!" Ivan declared.
The battle that ensued in that tiny Irish pub was a scene that many would remember for months to come, and all because one had accused the other of cheating. When the two combatants finally became worn out from enough fighting, they fell back into their chairs, spent and out of breath.
"Give us another round," Eric called out. "It's on me."
Shaking his head, Ivan carefully lit a cigarette. Finding it difficult to breathe through his newly fractured nose, he inhaled and exhaled solely through his mouth.
Suddenly a great commotion was heard outside, and a young man burst through the doors of the pub, slamming the door open against the wall.
"Fire! There's a fire! Come quick!"
The men who had only played a leisurely game of poker not minutes before found themselves dashing through the streets towards Park Avenue. Horror seized Ivan in his throat when he saw that the raging inferno was coming from Marilyn's home.
"Good Lord!" he cried.
A frantic Mr. Jameson was wringing his hands on the sidewalk, pacing to and fro. Upon seeing Ivan, he sprinted over to him, grabbing him by the shoulders. Now was not the time for social niceties.
"Lieutenant! The madam is still within the house! Hurry, you must save her, for I fear the fire department will not arrive in time!"
Stripping off his coat and hat, he sprinted into the house as he loosened his Ascot tie. Flames licked at him, threatening to burn holes in his clothes as he made his way up the stairs. Smoke invaded his lungs, but it was a different smoke than that of his cigarettes; it was a suffocating smoke, and he found himself gagging, and fearing that he might choke to death before he could reach Marilyn.
He found her in her bed, lying as still as a corpse. Fearing the worst, he ran over to her and noticed that not an inch of her body had been touched by the fire. Scooping her up into his arms, he held his breath as he dashed down the stairs three at a time until he was outside on the lawn, and collapsed.
Cheers and hoorahs greeted him as he lay on his back, exhausted and choking. The worst was over, and he could rest assured that they were all safe. But when the strong hands of Mr. Jameson yanked him up from the ground and shook him silly by the shoulders, the cold finger of death stroked his spine.
"Lieutenant, Grace is still inside as well! You must go back! Her room is next to Marilyn's. Please, do hurry, good sir!"
It was a closed-casket funeral, as the burnt body of the six-year-old was too gruesome of a sight for the eyes of polite society. Marilyn was in shock, to say the least. She hadn't cried a tear since the night of the fire, nor had she slept.
Ivan insisted that she stay in his house until she could buy another one, and she hadn't the strength to argue with him. Having lost everything, her husband, her daughter and now her house, she found no point in arguing. Moving into Ivan's with no belongings didn't bother her in the slightest as she felt no emotion whatsoever; she was void inside, and hadn't a care in the world, or so she thought. Only months later would she realize that her soul had begun to rot on that fateful night.
When the time came for Ivan to return to the front, he left her in Beth's and Abigail's care. The two were deeply concerned for Marilyn's mental health, and expressed their opinions openly with Ivan and Marilyn's physician. Nothing can be done, they all agreed. Only time would heal those enormous wounds.
As Ivan's train pulled out of the station, a pang of nostalgia pulled at his heartstrings. Only Abigail was there to see him off; Marilyn was at his home, in bed. How he wished that it were her instead of Abigail that was there to bid him a safe journey back.
Upon arriving back at Ivan's house, Abigail instructed Ivan's butler to order the cook to prepare a chicken broth for Marilyn. Having refused to eat for the last ten days, she had lost a considerable amount of weight, enough to worry everyone around her. It's a good thing Ivan won't be here to witness her spiraling downhill even further, Abigail thought to herself.
"Dearest, may I come in?" Abigail called out at Marilyn's door.
When no reply came, she opened the door to find her friend staring blankly up at the ceiling. Setting the tray with the broth on the nightstand, she pulled up a chair to sit beside Marilyn's bed, and took her friend's hand in hers.
"I do not presume to tell you that I know what you're going through," Abigail began. "You've been through the pits of hell, and you may stay in bed for as long as you'd like. Just keep in mind that we all care for you and love you dearly, and we wish you well as soon as possible. May our Lord bless Patrick's and Grace's souls, and may He keep them beside Him always."
A single tear crawled down Marilyn's cheek from her right eye, and Abigail couldn't contain herself any longer. The tears began to flow freely, and she felt ashamed at worsening the situation when she ought to be strong before her ever-weakening friend.
"Oh Marilyn, if only I could take away your pain, share it in some way, unburden you from it all, I would if I could my dear, I swear I would."
"I wouldn't wish that upon you," Marilyn whispered, still staring upwards.
Abigail started at hearing the words pass through Marilyn's lips. Not a sound had been made from her ever since that awful night. It was enough to make them all wonder if she had become a mute.
"But I'd take away your sorrow in a heartbeat," Abigail continued.
"It'd be too much for you to handle, trust me."
"No, it wouldn't. I could do it, I promise."
"It's all a moot point, anyway. What's done is done. We cannot go back and alter the past. We must forge on, and try to heal."
"Are you saying that you're ready to begin healing?"
She finally glanced sideways at Abigail, and her eyes bore into her friend's, piercing her soul.
"Not in the slightest," Marilyn said.
"Then what of your future?"
"I have no future."
"Certainly you do. You just don't see it now."
"I repeat, I do not. Now leave me be. I'm tired. I'll drink that broth if it'll make you feel better."
As Abigail descended the stairs from Marilyn's room that was adjacent to Ivan's, she found the butler opening the door to receive two guests. Not recognizing them, she put on a false smile and went to greet them.
"Mr.?" she asked.
"Navratil," the elderly gentleman responded. "Ambassador Evzen Navratil. I'm Ivan's father. And this is a colleague of mine, Sir Robert James Griffin."
"Charmed," Sir Robert said, a young man of only twenty-five, a few years older than Marilyn and Abigail. He removed his hat in the presence of the lady. Mr. Navratil did the same, and Abigail's smile remained on her face, while her heart began to die a slow death that day for her friend.
Mr. Jameson came crashing into the parlor, followed by Ambassador Navratil's Yorkshire Terrier. The sudden commotion reminded Marilyn of the noise Grace used to make, and she almost expected to find her chasing after the dog. When she found no child there, she looked back out the bay windows at the window seat, her knees held close to her chest.
"Forgive me, madam," Mr. Jameson rushed.
Marilyn waved her hand in dismissal and he scooped up the dog, retreating back into the foyer. A casual smile on Ambassador Navratil's face as he entered the parlor made her wonder what was so amusing.
"I've a letter from my dear son," he began.
"Oh?" she said, vaguely interested.
"He says he'll be on leave in two weeks' time, and thereafter he will return home. He writes of you, inquiring of your well being."
"Please respond that I'm doing as best as I can."
"Of course, madam. Given the circumstances," he sighed.
Sir Robert then entered the parlor, also smiling, for he had a certain interest in Marilyn, however aloof she was in his presence.
"Fancy a ride through downtown?" he offered her.
"Another day, perhaps," she said.
"There's no day like today," he insisted.
"I agree, madam," Ambassador Navratil added. "Some fresh air might do you a bit of good. Come now, Mr. Jameson will fetch you your coat and hat, and off you go."
Reluctantly following Sir Robert into his automobile, she noticed how he had no chauffeur.
"Where is your driver?" she asked.
"I have none. I prefer to drive myself."
A faint smile etched itself into the corner of her mouth, but it quickly vanished when Sir Robert looked back at her to take her hand.
Remembering how she had slipped and fell that one day with Ivan, and how he had picked her up and held her in his arms like a princess, she breathed in deep, the air catching in her chest. Not certain why, she regained her wits about her and took her seat in the car, and waited for Sir Robert to start the engine.
As they made their way downtown, she was appreciative for the silence. Sir Robert wasn't one to press the issue, and he respected her delicate situation. He did yearn to pull her out of the endless sorrow she was in, however, and had endeavored to do so ever since the day they had met. This was the first time she had let him.
Driving down to St. Andrew's College, Sir Robert parked in front of the massive library and climbed out of the car, helping Marilyn do the same.
"They've added an annex," he explained. "I wish to show you their new collection of the classics."
Not one too taken by literature, she casually followed him into the great limestone building and up to the second floor.
"Just look at it. Isn't it breathtaking?" he asked.
"Indeed," she lied.
He led her over to a tall shelf reaching up to the ceiling, one in a row of what seemed to be twenty.
"A Room With A View. Have you read it?" he asked, plucking a book from the stack.
"I'm afraid to admit I haven't."
"Then allow me to borrow it for you so that you may read it. I agree, I haven't read it myself either, but my sister gave it a sparkling review, and I trust her judgment. I imagine you'll enjoy it."
Taking the book, they made their way back down the stairs in silence. As Sir Robert checked out the novel, she was glad to be leaving so soon. She felt intimidated by all of those books and people reading them so expertly.
They drove in silence once more, and this time he stopped at an ice cream shop. When tears began to well up in her eyes, he fretted, and revved up the engine once more.
"Forgive me madam. I didn't mean to upset you."
"Oh, it's not you, Sir Robert. You couldn't have known. It's just that..."
"Well, we were supposed to go to a creamery, Ivan, Grace and me, but I insisted that we return home for I didn't want to keep my ex-husband waiting. He was coming over to pick her up. How I wish that I had let him wait so I could let my dear girl enjoy her ice cream, what would possibly have been her last."
As she sobbed into her white-gloved hands, Sir Robert was at a loss for what to do. Slowly reaching over to wrap his arm around her, she flung her arms around his neck and cried into his shoulder. He felt like tears would begin to fall on his own face as he witnessed this beautiful lady cry before him. Yet he stayed strong for her sake, and when she was finished, he smiled encouragingly at her and started the engine once more.
"There, there, I do hope you're beginning to feel better," he soothed. "Sometimes it's wise to let it out. To heal, I mean."
"Perhaps you're right." She sniffled as she wiped her nose with a kerchief, and smiled weakly at him. Appreciating his kindness towards her, she began to feel grateful for his presence in her home. In Ivan's home.
Driving through the streets back to the house seemed to pass quicker than the ride to the college, and she entered the parlor, relieved to be home yet again. Shock, anger, surprise, eagerness and joy flooded into her, all in that order, at the sight of Ivan standing next to his father, dressed in his finest army livery, with Captain insignia on his shoulder lapels.
"How have you been?" Ivan asked over tea. It was just the two of them, and Marilyn found herself almost excited.
"That's a stupid question," she retorted, the excitement fading.
"Forgive me, I didn't mean to speak out of turn."
Sighing, she waved her hand in the air, as if to brush aside her remark. "No, I didn't mean to be rude. It's just that -- well, you know. It's been so difficult."
"I can't imagine."
He ventured to take her hand in his, and she closed her eyes at his touch.
"I'm pleased you decided to stay here," he said. "I know you're well taken care of."
"That I am. I only regret having to dismiss Mr. Jameson and the others. I do hope they'll return to their employment once I've secured a new residence."
"I'm sure they will."
Sipping their tea, they gazed out the window at the falling snow. Grace loved to dance in the snow and catch the flakes on her tongue, Marilyn remembered. It seemed like a distant memory now.
"I visit her every weekend, you know," she continued.
"I'd love to accompany you one of these times. If you don't mind."
"Not at all. I know you loved her. You were like her uncle."
He nodded, placing his teacup on the table and releasing her hand.
"How is Abigail getting along?" he asked.
"You may ask her for yourself. She'll be stopping by tonight."
"Is that so?" A hint of joy passed into his amber eyes, and she found herself uncomfortable with that.
"She'd love to see you," she said.
"Would you love to see her?"
"I'd say love is a strong word to use."
"But you like her?"
"She pleases me, if that's what you're asking."
"Would you ask her to be your sweetheart?"
"I reckon I would, if she'd have me."
Rising suddenly, she let her teacup slip out of her hands, and it spilled into Ivan's lap, burning his leg.
"Ouch!" he cried as he, too, rose.
"Good day, Ivan. I'm rather tired."
"Are you miffed at what I've told you?"
"Not at all," she lied. "Now tidy yourself up before she arrives. You don't want her to find you in tea-soaked trousers."
Marilyn applied rouge to her lips, smiling at the results. She hoped the others wouldn't notice how dolled up she was, in comparison to her drab appearance as of yet. A new goal had been set: To win over Ivan's affections. Or rather, to steal them away from Abigail, for the pair of them being together didn't sit right with her.
Smoothing out her pastel pink and pistachio dress, she descended the stairs just in time to find Abigail entering the foyer.
With clutch in hand and baby blue wide-brimmed hat on her head, Abigail gave Marilyn a run for her money, Marilyn realized, disheartened. Feinting a smile, she went over to greet Abigail and lead her into the parlor.
"Thank you for coming to tea," Marilyn said.
"Not at all. I was delighted to receive the invitation." Not concealing the enthusiasm in her voice, she sighed and glanced over at the window at the falling raindrops.
"It's a shame it had to drizzle today," she continued. "I so wanted to go out for a spin with Ivan."
"Oh?" Marilyn said. The false light of the parlor shone on her red hair, making it look almost orange, but she couldn't see it. Abigail did, and smirked.
"Where's our gracious host?" Abigail wondered.
"He'll be down any minute now."
"I do say, I'm quite hungry. I wonder if I might stay for dinner this evening. I fear tea might not be enough!" she laughed.
Clenching her teeth behind a fake smile, Marilyn nodded her head in agreement. This would certainly throw a wrench into her plans.
In a chocolate three-piece suit, Ivan entered the parlor, accompanied by Sir Robert. The latter beamed at Marilyn, causing her stomach to undulate. She didn't know if that was out of excitement or discomfort.
"There you are!" Ivan said, immediately approaching Abigail to kiss her on the hand. He behaved in such a gentlemanly fashion, one would think he was the knight and not Sir Robert.
"Madam," Sir Robert said to Abigail, then to Marilyn, taking her hand as well to kiss it.
She couldn't help but feel flattered. However, she wouldn't be moved. Her plans must remain intact.
"How goes the good day, Sir Robert?" Abigail asked.
"Lovely, I must say, now that I have two fine women before me. I must say I'm a lucky man." He glanced at Marilyn, and winked at her so that the others wouldn't notice.
Turning her head swiftly back, Marilyn jumped into the conversation. "How goes the work at the factory?" She was attempting to remind Ivan that Abigail did the work of lower-class women, and she no longer did.
"Very well indeed," Abigail said. "Although I admit I'm quite fed up with dirtying my face with that wretched gunpowder every day!"
"That's not a suitable job for you," Ivan agreed. "Perhaps it's time to reconsider your options."
"But how could I leave now? Especially after all we've been through, and all the progress that we've made? No, now is not the time to move on. I intend to remain there until the war is over."
The two were quite cozy in their conversation, and Marilyn didn't like it one bit. Perhaps she would try a different tactic.
"Fancy another spin through town, Sir Robert?" she asked.
Perking up, he touched her hand momentarily before withdrawing. "I'd enjoy that very much."
"Where will you go?" Ivan asked.
"I imagine an afternoon on my boat shall do the trick," Sir Robert said.
"How lovely!" Abigail agreed.
"A fine idea," Ivan said.
Realizing that it was not working, Marilyn began to fret. She kicked herself for securing an entire afternoon alone with Sir Robert, and that would mean Ivan would have an opportunity to call on Abigail. This would not do.
"Perhaps you'd like to join us?" Marilyn offered.
"Oh, I fear I couldn't," Abigail said. "You see, I get a little seasick."
"That's all right," Sir Robert said. "More time for the two of us." He winked at Marilyn once more, and she smiled weakly at him.
As a clap of thunder echoed through the sky outside, the young couples turned their heads toward the ceiling-high windows. Rising, Abigail made her way to them, placing her gloved hand on the cool glass, and shivering as she felt its coldness all the same.
Ivan went to join her. Marilyn observed that he stood behind her quite close.
"It's beautiful," Abigail whispered.
"The rain?" Ivan asked.
"Indeed. Everyone thinks it such a nuisance, but I only regard it as something lovely. It cleanses the earth. One could say it cleanses us as well.
"How poetic of you."
"Oh, I'm no poet," she laughed. "I speak nonsense sometimes. You mustn't pay attention to me."
"I can't help but pay attention to you."
Turning around to face him, she noticed he was gazing intensely into her emerald eyes. The false light of the parlor bounced off of them, only adding to their charm.
All the while, Marilyn paid close attention to their hushed conversation as Sir Robert sipped casually on his tea. When she feared for the worst, she sprang up from the chaise where she sat next to Sir Robert, causing him to spill his cup.
"Sir Robert! Forgive me, I didn't mean --"
"It's nothing, don't fret. I'll tidy up in a jiffy."
Abigail and Ivan had turned around at the commotion, ripped out of their trance. Having lost the moment in which to declare his feelings, Ivan returned to his chair and sought solace in his teacup.
A disappointed Abigail remained at the window, gazing at the gray clouds hovering over Toronto. Oblivious of Marilyn's deliberate actions, she found herself lost in her own thoughts. Thoughts of Ivan.
As Sir Robert returned to the parlor ready for action once more, a knock at the door sounded. They waited for the butler to answer it, then were curious when he arrived with an envelope in his hand.
"A telegram, sir," he told Ivan.
With eyebrows drawn together, he opened the telegram, already knowing what it was. As his eyes gazed over the length of the paper, he drew in his breath. It read:
3300 Galbraith Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4B 2B4
Lieutenant Ivan Navratil
Report at once Friday 0900 hours leave of absence concluded report to Major
Wilcox will give instructions will return to active duty.
"Well?" Marilyn said. "What does it say?"
"I'm to return."
"Oh, dear," Abigail whispered.
"It was bound to happen sooner or later, good chap," Sir Robert said.
"I know," Ivan agreed. "I just had hoped I would've had a longer leave this time. One week wasn't nearly enough."
"When will you leave?" Abigail asked.
"Friday." Sighing, he walked toward the parlor's entryway. "I suppose I'd better start packing. I've only a day and-a-half left, after all."
Ambassador Navratil, Sir Robert, Marilyn and Abigail all stood on the station platform as Ivan's luggage was loaded onto the train. Marilyn held back tears, but Abigail didn't.
"Will you write?" she asked between muffled sobs.
"Every chance I get." Glancing over at Marilyn, he squeezed her hand and nodded his head. "And to you, too."
"Thank you," she said.
"Very good. Well, that's that, I suppose. Father, wish me luck. Sir Robert, always a pleasure."
Shaking hands with the men, he smiled bravely before kissing the hands of the solemn women before him. Abigail held onto his head a moment too long, and a pang of jealousy swept over Marilyn.
"Farewell, then," Ivan called out as he boarded the train. He made his way to the compartment where he found his seat, then opened the window to wave at them. "Wish me luck!"
"Farewell!" they all cried out sporadically, Abigail the loudest. Annoyed, Marilyn rolled her eyes and turned on her heels to make her way back into the station. The others followed suit with heavy hearts.
The drive back to the house was a silent one, Sir Robert playing the role of chauffeur with Ambassador Navratil beside him. Abigail couldn't contain her emotion in the backseat, and compassion finally invaded Marilyn's spirit as she took Abigail's hand in hers.
"There, there. Don't cry, dear. You'll make me cry, and you know that once I cry, I won't stop."
Smiling weakly, Abigail held her breath, trying to fight back the tears. "You're right. You're absolutely right. And he'll be just fine, we'll see. He'll be back before we know it, and the war will be over sooner than we think."
"Let's hope so," Sir Robert agreed over his shoulder.
"Amen," Ambassador Navratil called out.
Back at the house, Marilyn realized how foolish she had been. Her husband was only a year in the grave and here she was pining after his cousin. Regret seized her and she fell into a sorrowful pit of agony once more, and Abigail noticed, although she never knew why.
Sir Robert attempted to make the most of his time alone with Marilyn, but she would have none of it. She rejected him time and again, respectfully but firmly, and after many failed attempts, he backed off. That's when the letters began to arrive.
Abigail was in sheer delight every time she came to the house to read one of Ivan's letters. They spoke of friendship, then admiration, then increasing interest in her as a woman, but in a tasteful way. He wrote her poems, and she giggled in joy. Truly happy for her, Marilyn shared in her joy, no longer the jealous rival. She had her own worries to deal with, and one of them was dodging Sir Robert.
The day eventually came when an urgent telegram arrived at the house for Ambassador Navratil. He eagerly opened it, with morbid curiosity, and his heart sank when he read its content. When he told the others that Ivan had been wounded and was transported to an army hospital just outside of Toronto, they feared the worst. Deciding upon seeing him, his father planned the journey, taking along Abigail. Sir Robert and Marilyn remained behind.
"I do hope it's nothing grave," he told her over lunch one gloomy February afternoon. The weather outside seemed to match their sentiments, as their thoughts revolved around the injured Ivan.
"The ambassador promised to send a telegram once he is apprised of Ivan's condition. I hope it isn't serious, either."
"You didn't have to stay behind on my account."
"I felt it imprudent to go. He would rather see Abigail, I'm certain."
"But he is your family."
"Tell me, might we take a stroll in the park this evening?"
"In this weather?"
"We can bring umbrellas if it rains. I'd think it'd be rather fun."
"If you say so."
"So that's a yes?"
"I suppose so."
"Wonderful. I shall look forward to it."
When they rose from the table to retire to the library for a while, he seized the opportunity to take her hand in his. Not knowing what to do, she let him.
"I've grown rather fond of you," he admitted, throwing caution to the wind. It was now or never.
Silent, she simply looked at him, not knowing what to say, or really what to think.
"I've found it rather difficult to hide my true sentiments, and it's been quite a chore, I must tell you," he continued. "I do hope you'll forgive me for being so bold, but I'd like it very much if I didn't have to hide my admiration from you, at least not while the others are away."
Truly flattered, a smile betrayed her face. Taking that as a sign, he let go of her hand, only to place his on the small of her back and draw her close. They gazed intently at each other, his azure eyes piercing hers, boring into her soul, and she feared what he might see there. She was unsure what he might find there herself, for she was quite confused at her own emotion.
"I'd like it very much if I could see you, officially," he said.
With her breasts now pressed against his chest, he kissed the nape of her neck, and she breathed in his scent of fresh cologne. It was a pleasant scent, one to remember. Fearing of what he might do next, and how she might react, she withdrew a bit only to be pulled even closer by his strong arms that wrapped around her small frame. As he kissed her neck once more, her voice let out an agreeable sound that only encouraged Sir Robert to make his next move.
His lips were nearly upon hers when the butler appeared in the doorway. "Miss Beth, madam."
Embarrassed, they drew apart, smiling to welcome her sister who would join them for dinner. Marilyn was pleasantly surprised at how much she thought she enjoyed that close encounter with Sir Robert.
"How are you finding Toronto, Sir Robert?" Beth asked before taking a bite of her smoked salmon.
"Very well, indeed. I find the company I keep even more agreeable." With a side glance, his eyes brushed over Marilyn who watched him for a moment before looking down to her own plate, blushing.
"You're too kind," Beth laughed.
Marilyn knew he wasn't referring to Beth, but she didn't say as much. She simply sipped on her Pinot blanc from behind furtive eyes and enjoyed her own roasted salmon in lemon butter.
"You're awfully quiet tonight," Beth continued. Turning sideways to face Marilyn, she raised her glass and eyebrows before a rushed footman could attend to the refill.
"Oh, it's nothing," Marilyn breathed.
"Really, it's nothing."
"Now I'm intrigued."
"You're making a mountain out of a molehill!"
"If I might interfere, I believe the lady has nothing to say," Sir Robert offered.
"This is between us sisters, good sir," Beth said, not even turning to face him. That was her delicate way of saying Stay out of it.
"I just..." Marilyn's eyes drifted away from Beth's to Sir Robert's, but in his she would find no aid. They then drifted even further to the clock in the corner, when a smile sprang forth from her lips. "Dear me, look at the time. It's nearing my bedtime. Right. Well, you'd best be off then." She rose from her seat to help Beth out of hers, but Beth didn't move an inch.
"I haven't finished eating!"
"Never mind that. We'll send you home with a plate."
"Well! The nerve!" Rising from her chair, she sauntered to the dining room's doorway before jerking around. "Good night, Sir Robert."
After the front door had shut, Marilyn dropped into her chair, exhaling. Sir Robert circled around the table to sit next to her and smiled a sly smile.
"Fancy that stroll this evening?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"I promise I'll make it worth your while."
"How can you promise me that?" she laughed.
Grinning even wider, his pristine teeth shone in the miniature chandelier's luminescence. "You'll just have to wait and find out."
"I'm not too keen on mysteries."
"Whoever said it was a mystery?"
"Well, you certainly won't tell me what it is."
"Very well. If you must know, I was going to take you on an old-fashioned ride through the city in a horse-drawn carriage. You know, like when we were children."
"I remember. It only seems like yesterday."
"And yet, it seems ages ago."
In taking her hand, he brushed his lips over the top, and her stomach fluttered, as if something were flapping its wings from within. "Come on, then."
With top hat and walking cane, he made his way to the door. As she adjusted her feathered hat and put on her black gloves, she checked her face in the foyer's mirror, but out of Sir Robert's sight. She didn't want him to know she cared how she looked in front of him. Not yet.
It only took two blocks for them to arrive at the carriage depot, and giddy with excitement, she climbed up into the cab, gathering her navy wool dress. Never before had she reacted this way to riding in a horse-drawn carriage; why now? Maybe it was because it was with Sir Robert. That thought made her shiver. Whether it was out of excitement all over again or fear, she wasn't sure.
The eight o'clock evening sky shone mild with patches of stars left and right, up and down. Sir Robert noted how the moon's shiny glow reflected on Marilyn's freckles, making them almost sparkle, and he smiled inwardly. He could hardly contain himself.
"I don't normally do this, you know," she admitted.
"Oh? And what is 'this,' pray tell?" he teased.
"Going out at night with a man I just met."
"You hardly just met me, and there's nothing wrong with going for a ride in the evening. It's a fine evening, if I do say so myself."
She couldn't help but smile, and leaned back in her seat, allowing her neck to crane back to gaze up at those shining stars. They gazed back at her, and she felt special somehow.
"Tell me, why was your sister carrying on like that?"
"She does that just to irk me sometimes."
"It was rather ridiculous. She ought to know when to stop."
"That's not for you to say."
"Well, whose side are you on?"
"I can insult my sister all I want, but I'm the only one."
"Forgive me, I didn't mean to speak out of turn."
"It's quite all right. Just don't do it again."
He admired her then. All his life, he was used to the Yes, sirs and No, sirs and As you wish, sirs that became trite after overuse. He would not find that here.
"As you wish, my lady," he said while smiling, and ventured to take her hand.
"I'm not nobility," she said, allowing him to take her hand. "Why do you address me thusly?"
"Can't I call you that?"
"I suppose you can, but it's not true."
"You're not a lady?"
"I am," she laughed. "But I'm not a Lady."
"Don't worry," he whispered. "I won't tell anyone." Baring his teeth again, he grinned from ear to ear, and in that moment she did what she thought was best.
Dropping his hand, she grabbed his frosty cheeks with her gloved hands before placing a quick peck on his lips. Smiling, she drew back just in time to observe the expression of shock and bemusement on his face.
Her heart sank when he turned away, his back towards her. It beat hard in her chest once more when he returned to yank her close and assault her lips with his own. An involuntary cry escaped her throat as he caressed her cheek with his icy fingers, and she shivered. Grabbing his hand in hers, she rubbed it between her own two to warm it as their lips met and parted in a vicious cycle. When they seemed to be satisfied, they leaned back in their seats, her head on his chest.
"That was unexpected," he said, wide-eyed.
Pondering her question, he glanced over at the car next to them, at the couple that argued inside of it. How much they contrasted with Marilyn and himself was incredible, and he was grateful for that moment.
A sudden jerk threw the couple to the left of the open-aired carriage, and another jerk shot Marilyn right out of it onto the street. Her screams could be heard as a vehicle quickly approached, but in a flash, she was out of harm's way and in Sir Robert's arms again.
"That was close," he said.
"Carriage lost a wheel. Ejected you like a cannonball!" he laughed.
"It's not funny," she said, hitting him in the chest.
His laughter subsiding, he erased the smile from his face. "You're right, forgive me. It could've been a tragedy. But it wasn't, don't you see?" Seizing the opportunity, he held her hands in his once more and bore his gaze deep into her eyes. "Marilyn, I've been thinking about this for a while now. I've given it a lot of thought, and frankly, it's all I've been thinking about. Tell me, will you be my sweetheart?"
(More to follow...)