Previous Section, Section XXIII
Posted on 2010-12-19
September 12th 1944 - Rosings, Kent
Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form. - Karl Marx
Stan was rather reluctant to mount the stairs that the station taxi had decanted him at the foot of. It wasn't that they were nasty stairs in anyway at all, infact a long deceased architect had spent nights slaving to get them exactly right. It was not the architect's fault that Stan had a nasty feeling that the reception he would find near the top of them would be less than rapturous.
"Stan!" The call caused Stan to whip around and tense, but then he relaxed as he recognised who addressed him.
"Hullo Annie-Bug." Stan relaxed as he watched her approach. "I thought you'd left months ago to do the dutiful to your husband?"
"Unfortunately he then resumed flying and has since been sent to France...or is in the process of getting sent there anyway." Annie-Bug gave a shrug as she reached the bottom of the stairs. "All very hush-hush and I'm not meant to worry unless I've not heard anything by December...very comforting. What's with the lingering at the bottom of the front stairs?"
"I've got a nasty feeling Juliette isn't going to be happy to see me."
"Well if you feel that without even seeing her I can promise that your visit will be ghastly...provided she even lets you in. I was going to stay here, but then with no warning at all Juliette banned me from the house, I'm actually living over at the parsonage and only came here to steal some flowers."
"Does she know you're at the parsonage?" Stan was curious because the parsonage was the one place which Juliette actively discouraged family members from visiting if possible. Stan had been there a couple of times but he'd never found out why Juliette didn't want people going there.
"Certainly." Annie-Bug sniffed and then sighed. "She sent me there."
"Mrs Collins fell sick or something and had to go to somewhere or other somewhere else to recuperate...though I think it was actually some relative who was sick...or injured...something to do with this war anyway. Juliette volunteered me to look after the vicarage until her return." Annie-Bug grimaced. "It's quite interesting actually and a comfortable house, reminded me of all those skills I learnt while living in London."
"Enjoy it and I'll come and annoy you at some point." Stan glanced at the large front doors again and sighed. "Best get it over and done with...she's got to know I'm here by now."
"Undoubtedly...and probably simmering because of your cowardice about approaching the front door." Annie-Bug stepped back, waved a hand and then made her way off down the drive. Stan watched her out of sight and then drew a deep breath before mounting the broad stairs. Stan had been on the verge of ringing when Juliette opened the door and jerked her head to indicate he could enter. Stan eyed the dog which sat be her feet for a moment and then carefully stepped through the doorway.
"How's Anneliese?" Juliette closed the door and indicated that Stan could deal with his own hat and coat.
"Bit miffed you volunteered her but seems happy...she stole some flowers."
"Just as long as she doesn't go grumbling to everyone she knows of what happened." Juliette rebolted the front door and pushed her hair out of her face. "Do I simply ask why you're here? or do I offer tea and cake, a seat and all the usual comforts."
"Umm." Stan paused and looked around the front hall before suddenly frowning. "Who was that?"
"Who was who?" Juliette looked perplexed.
"I saw a child on the stairs."
"Oh." Juliette was silent for a long moment, then she sighed and lead the way into one of the parlours. "I'll be back shortly so make yourself comfortable."
"Right-ho." Stan settled down in the chair he usually appropriated on the rare occasions that he visited the house. His peace didn't last long though for barely had Juliette departed when the door opened again and a small child slid into the room. It was a young girl, sunbrowned, barefoot and bright eyed with hair which probably curled wildly when it wasn't so rigidly disciplined by tight braids. Stan eyed the child thoughtfully, slightly amused to note that the child viewed him with equal gravity. Had he been an external viewer he might have been amazed by the general resemblance they had in a family way. She was dressed in a rather aged dress which had probably once been blue, but was now faded to a grey-ish colour. Stan would have assumed her to be the daughter of one of the household servants except that he knew perfectly well that the few people who helped maintain Rosings these days came in from outside each day. There was also the fact that the child did not behave like the off-spring of a servant. Possibly she was an evacuee, but a house like Rosings would have got many more than just one if it had taken any.
"I've been gardening." The girl finally moved away from the door and settled herself on a stool.
"Do you like gardening?" Stan studied the girl some more as he sought to understand how she might fit into the household.
"Oh yes." The girl gave an emphatic nod and tucked her barefeet out of sight. "I've been weeding the border today. It's special because usually I only dig for daisies and dandelions on the lawn."
"What else will you do?"
"Hopefully some more gardening." The girl abruptly stood up and hurried across to open the door. "I knew he wasn't father but you didn't say I need to go to my room."
"I'm glad you entertained him." Juliette carefully put the tray down on its usual table. "He's your Uncle Stan."
"How do you do, Uncle Stan." It was a very creditable curtsey for such a veritable urchin.
"I am well and I trust you are well too."
"Yes thankyou." She straightened up, then hastily curtsied again and fled from the room. Juliette carefully closed the door behind the child and then resumed pouring tea.
"Who was that?" Stan accepted his tea and watched as Juliette sat down.
"You have no thoughts?"
"None that I'm willing to voice."
"How annoying, I would have sent her to her room and denied her presence had I known you had no idea of her existance."
"Who is she?"
"That is Elizabeth Alexandra de Bourgh."
"Interesting." Stan gave a very slow nod. "I assume that she is the Elizabeth Alexandra for whom you hold Rosings in trust for."
"That is correct."
"Interesting." Stan fell silent for a long moment and then he sighed slightly. "Why has nobody met her?"
"Many people have met her at very regular intervals. Her existance is no secret."
"But..." Stan stopped and sighed again. "I have been rather preoccupied for the past couple of years, and even if I hadn't been I would not have looked for the heir to Rosings in a ragamuffin group of children climbing trees and stealing fruit."
"She lives for the most part with Charlotte Collins, attends the local school and is blissfully ignorant of the fact that she would be treated very differently if the people here didn't assume she was an orphan."
"How on earth does that work? She's uncommonly like you."
"You see the similarities in her good manners." Juliette had crossed to the window. "Most of the time she tears around with a bunch of other children, her hair all over the place and clad in shorts and shirts. Our features are not really as distinctive as people like to say for you may remember that Anneliese successfully hid from the media for most of a year simply by cutting her hair."
"She knows I'm her mother, knows that I'm proud of her and knows that if she has problems she can come to me...she also knows that her father would worry unnecessarily if that became public knowledge...she considers herself quite the big girl to be responsible for such a big secret."
"Why not just keep her here?" Stan frowned. "Surely such exposure increases whatever danger there is."
"It is her father's request that she be allowed to run wild in such a fashion." Juliette gave a small smile. "Even you should know that a village only talks about what is hidden from it. The people around here presume her to be an evacuee wished on me by the government, and whom I do not ignore in fear of the government...though rarely permitted into the house."
"Oh." Stan's smile grew as he realised the brilliance behind the scheme. "Le Deuxieme?"
"Yes." Juliette acknowledged the guess with a wry smile.
"Why does she not carry her father's name?" Stan shifted the conversation from the forbidden topic which hung so temptingly in the air.
"My grandmother." It was a dry comment and Stan nodded in swift comprehension. To many that might seem an unrelated response, but only if they hadn't known Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Conversation then lapsed into utter silence which on Stan's side became progressively more uncomfortable, though he concealed it creditably behind drinking tea.
"How old is she?"
"Of whom...Alex is five, almost six."
"I see." Stan fell silent again as he considered the information he had available to him. "Any sons I presume have taken their father's name."
"That is correct." Juliette was silent again.
"I presume he, or they, are well?"
"You know as much as I do."
"I..." Stan hesitated. "I wanted to say that what has happened occured without my consent."
"Oh, I knew that." Juliette rose and crossed the window. "The James Darcys of this world never ask for consent, they simply act in the manner which they consider right."
"May I see more of Alex while I'm here?"
"You'll have to because Mrs Collins will be away for another month yet and Annie-Bug is not a fool."
"Hence you discouraged visitors to the vicarage."
"As you say."
"Alex, please." Juliette went to the door with a frown.
"It's the baby." Alex actually looked genuinely scared.
"Oh, heavens." Juliette sighed, glanced appologetically at Stan and then departed, she returned ten minutes later with a genuine baby in hand.
"Why..." Stan stopped abruptly realising he'd been about to ask an amazingly stupid question.
"You're a Godfather, unnamed for some unexplained reason...and this is Christina Slavica."
"A de Bourgh?" Stan extended a finger for the baby to sniff.
"No, my grandmother isn't around to insist...and she is not a dog."
"I don't know what to do with a baby."
"Learn fast...by gossip you're going to have dumped her here on your departure."
"You would prefer the gossip to accredit her to unmarried me?"
"You're not unmarried."
"And I'll thank you not to let the gossips hear that." Juliette handed the baby over and then spent a couple of minutes arranging Stan so he held it safely.
"Scarey." Stan eyed the little bundle warily. "Hullo?" The baby blew a bubble in response. "How is gossip going to be told I dumped her here."
"Gossip isn't going to be told anything, it is what they will assume because of Christina only becoming visible after your departure."
"Oh." Stan found himself locked in a staring competition with the baby.
It was a month after Stan had left Rosings that he returned, this time in his 'James' disguise for an official visit. The gossip network of Hunsford worked well and Stan made a mental note to himself not to return as Stan any time soon. James received plenty of bad press concerning his apathetic attitude towards the war...but most of that was deliberately encouraged through public behaviour, James did nothing to remind these people of what he had done in the past and just who was refusing to put him on active duty. Standard Robinson though, that name was on par with Hitler around Hunsford for not only did he not take responsibility for his own off-spring, but he also didn't fight. Stan was actually looking forward to the magical moment in time when he could leave England again...which was a very sad thought.
September 14th 1944 - Gemmano, Italy
Never let the job description stand between you and a good meal.
Rory scowled at the mud which clung to his person. Whoever the idiot was that had sung of the beauties of the Adriatic coast was in desperate need of an intra-cranial inspection. The man clearly had no brain at all. One of the Nazis rumoured brain chopping experiments could only be an improvement in this particular case. Rory wasn't totally certain that it wouldn't be an improvement for himself as well, after all he was wallowing in this mud on a wage more minimal than the Tommies who shared the same mud...and half the time they were doing the same job. Tom had been stolen by an official badge days ago, leaving Rory with the order to 'stay put, we'll be back'. Such a pity that staying put had resulted in him being recruited into three offensive drives on Gemmano and a week as a signaller...Rory still couldn't comprehend how they expected him to manage, he was a supply officer, not a signaller. Not that he was complaining, there had actually been eleven assaults on Gemmano...which meant he'd successfully avoided recruitment for eight assaults.
"You didn't stay put." Tom Mallern dropped into the grubby niche Rory had found for himself with a weary groan.
"Tell me we're leaving?"
"We are." Tom gave a faint smile. "You're going to curse me though."
"Unless you're going on a bog tour, I doubt it."
"I am so going to slaughter any diggers I meet who you spent time with." Tom had hesitated for a moment before he'd groaned. "I almost got killed for using something I'd caught from you."
"Yank didn't take kindly to being called a poor sodding bastard."
"Was he a poor sodding bastard?"
"Oh definitely, lat. was out of quick lime so the chump in charge had thrown half a litre of fuel in for sanitary reasons...Yank lit a match while using it..."
"That qualifies." Rory's voice was stifled in his effort to not laugh. "New I take it?"
"New as they come." Tom rose to his feet. "Come on, we've got the width of Italy to cover in the coming month or so. Alexander's worried we're going to be completely axed due to the D-Day landings being such a success. Yanks never fancied this assault and we need something if we're to stay in business."
"Fine, to save my non-existant pay, I'm staggering after you." Rory untangled himself, grabbed his pack and duly staggered.
October 1944 - Switzerland
"There's no such thing as luck." - Obi-Wan Kenobi (StarWars IV: A New Hope)
Alec woke to found himself in an unfamiliar room. It was without doubt a room in a hospital or nursing home though, for it was too white and sterilised to be anything else. A couple of careful exertions and Alec managed to get himself sitting up against the headboard. The curtains were pristine and starched, the floor was wooden, the walls were white and besides the bed a small stool was the only bit of furniture in the room.
"Nice to see you're awake." The man who entered the room was grim-faced and weary looking. "Right old fright you gave us with that concussion on top of everything else."
"Where am I?"
"Switzerland. You staggered into town about a week ago completely off your head and we brought you here as a safe precaution...and yes, this is a T.B. Sanatorium. We've confirmed that you're clean and as soon as you're a bit steadier you'll go to one of our more comfortable nursing homes."
"Was...was there anyone with me?"
"No." The doctor gave a small shake of his head. "You were expecting someone else?"
"I don't know." Alec sank backwards in bewilderment as he struggled to remember anything at all. "At the present moment I can't seem to remember anything at all."
"Well we sent the boys out in the direction you'd come, but either your course was very erratic or someone else must have found anyone who was with you. The boys found nothing. We'll put an alert through to the neighbouring towns though and tell them to be aware that there may be someone about."
"I'm sorry to be so much trouble."
"No trouble, I'm afraid we called your contact in Geneva and they're paying your expenses. More likely to keep you here extra time since you're actually paying."
"My contact in Geneva?"
"The name and address of a clockmaker. He seemed a trifle surprised to hear from us until we explained that we had an escaped prisoner from Germany who'd given us the information. Chap was up here two days ago to see you, seemed almost as surprised as you that there was no one with you, but he provided a name and information for the police. We refrained from throwing you into gaol as a result of the information he provided."
"What is my name?"
"Sub-Lieutenant Alexander Masters, RNVR, by the clockmaker, captured after your boat sank and wrongfully imprisoned in Buchenwald. You escaped during transfer to an Oflag."
"Oh." Alec conceded that they had his identity and capture correctly recorded, but his escape was not tallying at all with what his mind was failing to remember. It felt wrong. Alec had barely finished the thought when he realised that he'd fallen asleep without realising it, there was no other explanation for why he would now be waking up.
"Trains." Consideration of his scatty memory brought up several different trains, which would be present if he had been being transferred to an Oflag...but it still felt wrong, if for no other reason than that he'd never figured out why he hadn't been executed on capture for being a spy. Afterall he hadn't had any ID on him and he had been dressed as a local. The Nazis had every excuse to execute him and no reason at all to decide he was an officer who'd been mis-filed.
"We had a question." The doctor abruptly swept into his room. "Were you aware that you had a note on you?"
"Uhh." Alex blinked, and then frowned as he considered his memories. "For the clockmaker..." The words seemed to ooze out of the deep fog of absent memories. "Deuxieme, Good weather for a holiday. Benji Black." Alex blinked again. "Yes...didn't realise I had the contact details for the clockmaker though."
"We'll let the clockmaker see you next visit then." A curt nod and Alex was left to his considerations of the ceiling. At least this time he actually felt himself falling alseep.
The sorry piece of paper which had made the long journey was shredded viciously and fed to a dog. Le Deuxieme was not happy. In truth Le Deuxieme was downright ticked and was brimming with the intention of ringing the neck of one James Darcy should he ever show face again...an act which would normally be preceded by a Benji Blue note...though he had failed at that in the past...perhaps he deserved some lee-way, at least this time he'd remembered to send out the notice that he was terminating all communications before he did so.
October 30th 1944 - Romagna Plains, Italy
There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship. - Thomas Aquinas
Rory heard the most devine words that could ever be spoken. They floated through a barely lifted tent flap along with mist and rain. It was possible that they were almost caught by the mud on the floor, but they managed to reach Rory's ears before they gave up the struggle against the elements.
"We're off to Rome in the morning." Tom Mallern barely even shoved his head into the tent before he was off again, leaving Rory to figure out exactly how to pack everything up since it seemed to have been raining without break since August, and on the trip to Rome they could not simply carry the tent loose or pitched on top of whatever supplies were in the back of a truck. Nothing was sacrosanct near the front and it was best to keep important things like tents and food where you could see them and were in immediate physical contact with them unless you actively wished to lose them. A run back to Rome meant it didn't matter if they lost stuff, but they did have to be compact and they had to be able to move fast. It wouldn't be the first time, and it probably wouldn't be the last time, that making a connection included mad running and throwing yourself at a moving vehicle in hopes that some Tommy would pull you up before you got run flat.
"What?" Rory scowled at the twit who'd interrupted up his efforts to pack their mess. Exactly why the local tommies had decided to mince his surname was beyond him and he was still trying to think up an appropriate way to disuade them from so mangling his name.
"Your fancy dude's in trouble."
"Tell him not to die until I get there." Rory waved the man off and scowled at the two small packs and the immense pile of stuff that supposedly was going to fit into both of them...he'd learnt long ago that Tom and packing caused an unparalleled disaster when combined. Like that stuff his chemistry teacher liked to cast into water to start fire.
"He's in trouble."
"What sort?" Rory shifted half a pile to another pile and squinted in hopes that that would make the end result look smaller.
"Did he send you?"
"Is he conscious?"
"Can he walk?"
"Is something going to stop him getting back here before tomorrow?"
"Then he's not in trouble." Rory began stuffing things into packs, he had hoped to avoid packing by force but it really was the only way and fortunately the tommie had departed.
"Were you aware the half the front is talking about you?" Tom had arrived with the dawn and said nothing until he woke up four hours later, the truck had managed to drop it's entire backend into a shell-hole and everyone had had to lend a hand in gettieng it out again. Not even Tom could sleep through that sort of effort.
"Apparently you refused point-blank to help pull me out of the bog."
"I was packing and the tommie said it wouldn't stop you from returning in time to catch our lift." Rory paused in helping to reload the packs before bundling back in to secure the corner he'd annexed in the interests of preserving the solitude of their packs.
"What if I'd been hit by something?"
"I write letters and wash floors in hospitals...sometimes they let me wash the dishes, but usually the staff deal with that. I know essentially nothing about major injuries and therefore would be more of a nuisance than an aide...if you were dead the case would stay the same. Much better that I ensured we were packed and could catch our ride back after someone else fished you out...now go back to sleep!"
"Mm." Tom closed his eyes and settled down against one of the packs, he was indeed being unnecessarily snappish, but a bad conscience did that for you. Tom hadn't said anything yet, but he knew that this was the end of his time in Italy and he couldn't afford Rory Halifax in England...he couldn't even afford to get Halifax himself back to England, let alone the menagerie he travelled with, and the wage which would be the man's right in England was completely impossible. He'd only managed to last here as long as he had because Rory and his wife seemed to share a genius for finding food and shelter from seemingly thin air. In honesty Tom Mallern knew that he'd never have lasted half of the African Campaign if he hadn't had Rory Halifax, and he certainly would not have been sent up into Italy. Maybe tomorrow he'd find the courage to mention that the money had finally runout, this last tour had been a desperate bid to hang on long enough to pick up a contract when the troops headed into Austria...but the uncertainty of the past year had become certainty and there were no more contracts. Even if he switched over to only photography there were no spare contracts lying around and he really didn't like photography, far too many things could, and usually did, go wrong. Bloody Yanks and their belief in the direct road...couldn't they see that the Italian Front still had the most direct and useful road...even if it was a bit less friendly for mechanised transport and armour...it certainly lacked the political clout of romping across western Europe...brute force was their taste, none of the niceties of turning the terrain against the enemy and letting the land fight for you. Not his problem, he wasn't a power that was, he was just a war artist who had runout of funds to draw and needed to return to England before he ran out of funds altogether. Well, a war artist with that and also a bad conscience because he really didn't want to tell Halifax that the money was gone...he rather liked the Halifaxes as a whole and he knew that he'd been rather essential to their survival for a while now. Tom made a mental note to at least try to keep in touch with them and then settled down to sleep, confident that Rory would wake him on when necessary and he'd get some seriously good sleep for the first time in months.
Posted on 2011-04-04
November 23rd 1944 - Weybridge, England.
Don't fix it if it ain't broke!
Dr Adams had been enjoying a relatively quiet morning until there had been that soft tap on his door. Not that soft taps were unusual, they were usually nurses with information about one patient or another. Not this time though.
"Dr Adams?" The man who came into the room was reprehensibly dressed in an atrocious suit of old flannels. The suit was so bad that Adams did not initially recognise the face which was above the clothes. Adams would have said the nose was unmistakeable, for the nose of Dr Jermyn Alasdair was a significant part of the man's face. Adams did not recognise the face immediately because he was a trifle too busy being horrified over the clothes. Did anyone move around in such ragged clothes?
"Uh, yes." Adams had waved the newcomer to a chair. "Can I help you?"
"Authorisation from McKenna for access to his medical files." The man handed over a sheet of heavily scribbled paper. Adams actually took three looks at it before he actually found the authorisation cramped into one corner in a gap of some equations.
"I..." Adams had been on the point of objecting loudly when he realised who he was actually talking to. "Why on earth was he ever in my care?"
"I'm retired." Alasdair grabbed the file which Adams pulled out of his desk. "Wouldn't be here now but for the fact that I was asked to have a look at this."
"Is Wing-Commander McKenna unhappy?"
"Mac is totally miserable." Alasdair was frowning at one of the x-rays. "But then, that particular group of idiots are invariably miserable if they can't pass themselves off as healthy...I was sent under orders to get an authorisation out of him and involve myself in this mess." Alasdair turned the x-ray around. "What have you done to him?" Alasdair glanced over the top of the x-ray.
"Haven't seen him since we released him back in..." Adams died off and frowned, it had to have been something in the vicinity six months since he'd last seen Wing-Commander Ellis McKenna. How on earth had that happened? McKenna should have been in at least once a month, if not more frequently.
"Who does he see if you aren't the on-call medic?"
"He didn't tell you?"
"No." Alasdair frowned again. "Some local doctor I assume?"
"It was the Vickers medic who usually referred him here...but he's the equivalent of the local GP since everyone uses the man."
"Right, call whoever in and also tell Mac he's due in yesterday."
"Uh...wouldn't you rather call..." Adams' face dropped at Alasdair's curt negative.
"If I read this correct you've done nothing for his neck?"
"What could we do?"
"Just verifying that there wasn't going to be any surgical scar tissue to worry about if I go in." Alasdair rubbed his nose for a moment before he abruptly grabbed the telephone on the desk and put through a call to London. "Alasdair here, get down here...yes, bring anyone who's even vaguely interested...no I do not advise that...well of course...no...Weybridge, Kent...some sort of base hospital...bring full kit, we won't persuade him to go to London...precisely, I'm confident that he won't be able to travel." Alasdair hung up the receiver, frowned at it pensively for a moment before he grabbed it up again and punched in another number. "Alasdair...I'm under orders and so are you, so please tell me you don't need an ambulance...oh lovely, we'll see you within the hour at Dr Adams' office then." Alasdair hung up the receiver again and slumped back before resuming his perusal of the file. "You'd best get hold of the local GP...or at least find out if he can add anything to this mess, I've already got Mac coming in within the hour and a friend of mine will be coming down by the lunch train to stand consultant."
"Er." Adams was not accustomed to people moving so calmly and quickly.
Hope McKenna had been fiddling rather pensively with her slide-rule for the majority of the morning. If someone had asked, she'd have provided a valid problem in the current pile of calculations which lay in front of her. It wasn't that she wasn't working on the problem, it was just that the majority of her mind was not working on the problem. Yet again the twins were on the aerodrome for the day. Yet again Hope knew that she was going to find reason after reason for why she didn't pack up and go home when evening came. Hope would have quite happily worked through to the wrong side of midnight, slept in her office and begun work again at dawn rather than go home, the twins needed to sleep though...and by nine Mac had usually fallen asleep on his current cocktail of painkillers. Mornings were an exercise in stealth and speed. Hope found the days automatically easier if she was actually successful in getting the twins up and off to school before Mac woke...and that included the two hours Marmelade was spending with the dogs. They'd learnt in the last few months that no price was too high to pay if it meant avoiding Mac and his temper. The only thing which was worse than Mac disturbed in the morning, was Mac in the afternoon if he'd lost his temper in the morning. It had been a shock when Hope had realised that she no longer had the worst temper in the house. The worst part of it was realising that Mac really did not want to lose his temper, and that every time he did lose his temper, his temper became worse in his anger over his failure to control his own temper. It had started with a simple fall...not even a fall actually, for Mac had quite deliberately thrown himself to the ground, it was the only way he could save the last of Agrippina's last litter. Three pups and the bitch lost...the two surviving pups requiring hand-rearing for Octavia had whelped earlier and had been well past weening. It had been Marmelade who'd raised the two surviving pups, Mac had been almost completely crippled from his efforts to save the two pups. Mac never had said a word about Agrippina, but Hope had a feeling that having to destroy one of his own dogs had a lot more to do with Mac's current temper than the man would admit. The telephone rang, causing Hope to drop her slide-rule...at least this time she didn't break it like the pencil yesterday.
"McKenna." Hope wasn't really listening as she answered the phone, it was undoubtedly just the report from the last crash.
"This is Dr Adams from the base hospital."
"D..." Hope blinked and then frowned. "You were in charge of Mac's shoulder weren't you?"
"I would sooner accuse his shoulder of having been in charge of things, but yes, I was the doctor in that case."
"Just wanted to place who you were." Hope picked up her pencil and began to scribble. The Base Hospital really was a bad place to hear from when Mac had been left alone in the house...though she trusted Nemo to come to the aerodrome if anything went wrong. Mac had seemed surprisingly well and active this morning. Hopefully this did not mean anything too dire. Pigs might fly as well.
"You've placed me."
"Wing-Commander McKenna said that you were probably the best person to come collect the dog."
"Ne...what happened?" Hope was aware of terror for the first time in quite a while.
"Nothing, Wing-Commander McKenna came here voluntarily for a consultation and his dog is a trifle underfoot."
"Is he there?"
"Would you like to speak to him?"
"Yes please, I would like to speak to him."
"Here he is." There was a clatter over the line.
"Sorry if he worried you, Hope." Mac's voice was calm and contained as ever...infact he sounded a bit like he was making a report.
"He wouldn't have worried me at all if I'd been aware that you were considering of going within sight distance of a hospital."
"I wasn't until late-ish this morning." There was a moment of silence. "I've told Nemo to go with you so he shouldn't be a problem...he'll be at the front railing."
"You actually think I'm going to let you sit around in that bloody hospital alone?" Hope almost dropped the telephone receiver.
"It's one thing to keep the twins out of the way so your temper isn't made worse, but I'll be damned if you're in a hospital without anyone but the nurses to abuse."
"What are you even doing there?"
"Someone persuaded Alasdair to take a look at my file."
"I don't want to know and I'll be there just as soon as I get the twins on the ground...don't you dare eat anyone until I get there. I refuse to be absent when you descend into cannibalism."
"Hope, do you mind explaining to me exactly how you got from Jermyn Alasdair to cannibalism?"
"I've got a very bad feeling about this indeed...and Nemo will remain with me until you arrive with the twins...ask Bobby to look after them, I'm warned this will take a while."
"Wonderful." Hope terminated the call and promptly asked for a patch into R/T, she had some twins to get back on firm land.
"That sounds like Hope." Mac shifted uneasily in his chair as he glanced towards the door. Nemo stirred but didn't move otherwise. Dr Alasdair didn't even glance up from the file which he was still reading over...though he now had an extra three x-rays to study. Dr Adams glanced first at Mac and then at the door and wasn't really surprised when about half a minute later Hope McKenna swept into his office with two children in tow.
"Can the children give their father a hug?" Hope looked directly at Adams as she asked the question.
"Same as always." Adams shifted back in his seat slightly as the two children tore towards their father.
"What is the problem?" Hope's look was straight.
"We can't totally say." Adams shifted uneasily in his seat again. "A preliminary x-ray has shown a deterioration of the atlas and axis and quite a few bone fragments. We're in the process of arranging for exploratory surgery and hope to clean the area up and reinforce the damaged bone. There is a risk but we're opti..."
"Basically I'm too busted to heal...which we've known for a long time." Mac entered the conversation having dispatched the twins and Nemo on their way back home. "Jim apparently got annoyed with the situation though and since he couldn't find a current specialist who could give the mess appropriate attention he dug Alasdair out of mothballs. They're going to chop me open, have a poke around, remove the little bony floaters which broke off and are trying to do the dastardly to my spinal column, stick a bit of tin around the dodgiest bits and then sew me back up. Probability of success...minimal to non-existant. However if nothing is done then I'm guaranteed to just continue as I have been...getting worse rapidly."
"Thanks...so that's why Vickers have given me leave." Hope took a seat and ignored the scowling doctor. "You decided?"
"Anything is preferable to scaring the lot of you out of the house...again." Mac gave a shrug. "Even being stuck here again."
"What is the likely convalescence period after he can be released?"
"He'll need to go into a nursing home for a while..." Adams was a little worried, all the nursing homes in these parts considered McKenna to be a forbidden name as a resident.
"What type of convalescence is he facing?"
"Six months of declining care in the best case scenario...and he'll be free for transfer in about a week."
"Thankyou." Hope swung back around to face Mac. "I'll call Nelli and Lucille...see if they can fit you in with an acceptable level of care...then the twins can go with you as well as the dogs."
"It's already been cleared." Alasdair didn't look up from the file.
"Sounds like by far the best option." Mac hesitated only momentarily before he complied, but Hope could see the doubt in his eyes.
"No, Mac, the twins will not be happy if they are cut out of your life for another convalescence...particularly since they've lived through the last couple of months. Let them help...it might give them a little more confidence in your durability."
"You do wonders for my confidence." Mac's smile was twisted.
"I should." Hope glanced between Adams and Alasdair for a moment before fixing her attention on Alasdair. "You settled things with Nelli in advance?"
"Of course." Alasdair did glance up at that. "Miss Bingley has been concerned since she was down here two months ago...she's been talking with Nelli, Pyro's visit last week was because of those conversations. Pyro authorised this to go ahead...infact I'm here under orders to do anything necessary to stabilise Mac."
"But..." Mac was frowning.
"Apparently Jim was concerned when he stayed with you back in...whatever month it was. Jim knows more about stuff than most of us could forget. Jim gave some pretty specific orders which I can promise you we will be following...unless of course you think yourself as capable as Jim at making things nasty for someone."
"I really hate that kid." Hope was frowning and shot half a glance at Mac. "After all this time you'd think I'd be used to it...but I'm not."
"At least he's not the Major." Alasdair's grim comment drew a wince from Mac.
"I agree with that o..." Mac died off in a hiss.
"Now will you stop refusing the ice pack and neckbrace?" Alasdair lifted an enquiring eyebrow.
"Why...why is this happening now?" Hope was frowning at Alasdair as the man rather firmly positioned the neckbrace before ordering Mac off for yet another x-ray.
"Jim Darcy spoke and so it will happen." Alasdair managed to make it sound profound and important. "Otherwise known as the Darcys have supported some of my more hair-brained experiments since 1909...least I can do is patch up friends of theirs when they get busted."
"Why now? Why not when he originally had the crash which made this mess?"
"He's a non-combatant...and an unemployable non-combatant at that. No chance in hell of him getting the required skill this case requires...unless he's got a Darcy weighing in for the fight...and apparently even they can suffer a bit in the hands of red-tape...most of the time he's been trying to prise a current consultant out of the system to do the job. The blunt reality is that he's relying on my reputation to get someone on the case because I know it's interesting and risky as all hell. Darcys usually try to work with the system, but push them far enough and they'll push straight back and to hell with standard procedure."
"What is going to be the situation after this?" Hope was silent for a moment and then elected to ignore the topic, getting mad over the mess was less than pointless, for now she was simply going to give thanks that the annoying twit who was her husband's godson, and focus on surviving the future.
"Couldn't really say." Alasdair gave a shrug. "Best case scenario, he'll have a stiff neck for life and otherwise be pretty nearly fit except for a few pain issues...worst case scenario...well, it is possible that something goes pear-shaped and he comes out a quadriplegic."
"Quadriplegic or dead?" Hope lifted an eyebrow.
"Dead." Alasdair gave a faint shrug. "In truth he'll either be the best case scenario or dead...but I'm pretty confident in saying he'll be dead either way within the next six months." The silence remained unbroken until Mac returned with a rather dark scowl and a still dripping x-ray.
"You do realise this contraption restricts all mobility above the waist?"
"Why you weren't in one for the past few months I have no idea." Alasdair had the x-ray up to the window and was scowling at it rather darkly. "Get used to it, you'll be living in one for at least the next four months...unless of course we fit you instead for a nice oak coffin."
"Will it jeopardise my survival if I tell you that I dislike you?"
"No...unless of course you think you can do it in more than fourteen languages."
"Who did that?" Mac lifted a brow. "Ashie was never in your paws and the Major didn't have that good a grip on any language but English."
"Jim spent a couple of months in my care and by the time he hit the second month he was ordering in grammars and dictionaries to increase his abuse of me. I refused to accept dialects though, which cut the number of insults rather signigicantly. He was also slightly limitted by the fact that I was intercepting most of his mail at the time...though I'm still going to find out what he wanted an Ancient Egyptian lexicon for though...dead language that and we're not acquainted with how they may or may not have written abuse." Alasdair dropped the x-ray onto Adams' desk and stretched. "This is going to take a while and a lot of talking...do prepare your patience and your stock of quiet entertainments."
"As long as Hope brought her bag, we're fine." Mac had noted Hope's bag with a faint smile. Somehow he knew that things were going to be fine.
December 3rd 1944 - Rome, Italy
Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies. - Erich Fromm
"A second one?" Rory was frowning as he noticed the small boy who was teasing Mylena.
"Named Royal Anders...Halifax. The husband was killed at Casino and mum decided she couldn't cope with a foreign country and...ended it." Annette's expression was stubborn. "I wasn't in time to prevent the authorities from getting his sister, but it's not his fault and you're going to have to call me a liar if you don't want him to be permanently ours."
"I've told them that his mother had me listed as godmother and she died of fever."
"How old is he?"
"Oh, that kid." Rory sank down and scooped the boy up. Royal giggled at Rory swung him through the air and Mylena returned to some game she played only with her dolls and in complete silence. "How are we going to manage?"
"Same way as we always have." Annette gave a shrug.
"Annie, we already have two dogs, a cat, three birds, a mouse and a baby."
"No cat, no mouse, only one bird and only one dog...and it's officially a toddler, not a baby." Annette held out a hand for young Royal.
"Ho..." Rory looked around the room sharply and realised what he had unconsciously known before, Diemos was no longer draped over any of the furniture. "Whe..."
"He died a week ago and the other three simply vanished."
"How are you handling it?" Rory pulled Annette up so he could inspect her face closely.
"I remembered what you said about looking at the little things." Annette's face quivered for a moment.
"Royal, you go play with Lena and we'll give you a treat for dinner." Rory put the boy down and then pulled Annette aside into the bedroom. "Annie?"
"You can't bribe them like that to behave Rory."
"I'm not. I told him what to do and told him what we'd be doing later...treat's not too big a problem, got some chocolate left from the last game in the truck...bit mushy but I'm figuring that chocolate is still very rare." Rory glanced out to where Royal was trying to find out what Mylena's game was. "That was not what I was asking about and well you know it." Rory kicked the door shut. "Now, spill."
"There's nothing too spill."
"Annie, you look like you've used starch instead of powder on your nose. You only look that way when you're trying not to crack up. Now, 'fess up!"
"Diemos was on Eoan's back when I was crossing the road...I didn't see a bus and would have been hit but Eoan knocked me back into the gutter...Diemos was dislodged by the lunge and was run over before he got back to his feet...because the bus was trying to dodge me."
"That's not pleasant." Rory had been silent for a long moment. "Strange cat that Diemos, looked like moths had been at him...nice neck-warmer in winter, though. I think I may even miss him."
"Rory..." Annette dropped her objection rather abruptly as Rory's words seemed to rearrange something in her head. Miss Diemos' moth-eaten presence she would, but in truth she'd already known that the cat couldn't possibly last another winter and better he'd died quickly than died of illness, probably drowning from pneumonia. Annette rested quietly against Rory as her brain re-sorted itself, maybe someday she would figure things out faster and not need him to make her talk, but just for today she was going to rest where she was, thankful to be alive.
"Annie...we've got troubles coming." It was quite a while later when Rory spoke and Annette had just begun thinking of the two children who sat just on the edge of sight, but otherwise unattended. It held the potential for chaos, but Rory's words were enough to swamp that fear with a greater fear. "Tom's been recalled to England and he's only just got funds to get himself back to England...I'm out of work and with this battlefront being dispersed, I will not get another job easily."
"Next time don't you dare scare me so badly." Annette jabbed firm elbow into Rory's ribs. "I thought you were going to say you were coming down crook...or something worse."
"Annie, I haven't the means to bring in money right now, and this place does actually cost us money."
"Pff." Annette wrinkled her nose. "My work with Madame will be sufficient to keep us fed and sheltered...you can probably wake up some of my old editor connections and given a few months we should be able to scuffle around the edge into France. I know you have friends in France who will give you work."
"For better or worse means for better or worse and I'd rather you were temporarily out of a job than crocked up even more." Annette rose to her feet and stretched easily. "You, go deal with Royal...Mylena will need a bath by now and we're almost out of food...next door owes us a loaf so go ask nicely if they can spare us a bit of food since I'll have some more money tomorrow."
December 18th 1944 - Canada
When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. - Mark Twain
"It's freezing!" Anneliese Darcy Fouchiard was not happy with her current place of residence and she wasn't afraid to let the world know that fact.
"You've been saying that at least three times a day since we arrived." Jeroen glanced up from his paper. "I trust you'll figure out what's bothering you before you offend these people by your complaints about their weather...they seem to think this weather remarkably warm for the time of year."
"They complain even more." Annie-Bug frowned.
"It's their weather...and I trust you recall your response to the Yanks who complained about our weather."
"Their complaints were completely unreasonable. The weather was lovely."
"The weather was lovely for England...they were out of California...and apparently it doesn't rain there."
"Must you aways be reasonable?"
"Would you prefer me unreasonable...or would you prefer I made like James Darcy?"
"At least with Jim I can claim a failure to understand as a reason for completely ignoring him." Annie-Bug dropped into a chair with a huff. "I'm home-sick."
"Home-sick or Rosings-sick?" Jeroen seemed dubious.
"Not Rosings, Ju's been in a temper since Stan dumped his brat on her...she was pretty unhappy at having to take the evacuee back into the house and I think Stan dumping the brat and Jim not taking his dog back were the proverbial straw...though the last I heard Button still had Eoan so she's definitely got priority on the dog disposal front."
"By now I'd be guessing that Button will resist being separated from Eoan." Jeroen was frowning slightly. "Juliette only showing temper to you?"
"No." Annie-Bug gave her head a vigorous shake. "Most of Hunsford is talking about it because she ripped a strip a mile wide off the mayor when he went to complain about the oaks...not that I can blame her, the mayor complains about the oaks three or four times a year, but any suggestions to fix the problem are disapproved of."
"What is the problem with the oaks?"
"They're old...means they've got big roots and it's breaking up the lane. Ju's more than happy to get the things cut down...except Hunsford charter put the wretched things down as protected history some eighty years ago. Means we have to find a way to de-root the things without touching them."
"That would be a problem." Jeroen settled back into his paper.
"Juliette never struck me as the type to be bothered by Stan's..." Jeroen finally settled for a faint shrug. "The man is not reliable and any woman who voluntarily leaves a child that young with him..." Jeroen gave another shrug. "The baby and the evacuee can hardly be the genuine cause for her temper...she's more Darcy than de Bourgh by temperament and Darcy's don't leave family in the lurch...I'd think she'd be more relieved to have it delivered then her having to leave and collect it. Evacuee is possible, but that was only returned to her because Mrs collins had to help family...even if the evacuee wasn't originally her responsibility, the fact she's at Rosings would have ended up with the child being there."
"Well, it's the only thing new which can explain her temper."
"You really think that?" Jeroen eyed his wife for a long and thoughtful moment.
"You think it's something else?" Annie-Bug's expression was dissatisfied.
"Juliette has never struck me as the type to publicize ill-temper over something which really will bring her nothing but bad press. Very appearance conscious that twin of yours." Jeroen returned his attention to his newspaper and carefully ignored the nasty feeling which lurked in the back of his brain. As he had observed, Juliette deBourgh Darcy was hardly the sort to encourage bad press, and her behaviour was apparently drawing bad press into a family scandal. Not at all the behaviour of Juliette, which brought the thought that all was not as it currently appeared.
December 25th 1944 - Pemberley, Derbyshire
Germans break the allied lines at Ardennes (...and all the washing's in the mud.) - Spike Milligan
"I am absconding with your husband for the day." Wing-Commander Ellis McKenna, could move surprisingly silently for a man who was so braced and bandaged.
"I will scream if you continue to creep up on me like that." Lucille took a moment to scowl at the thoroughly unrepentent McKenna.
"I'll ask Nemo to stomp then." Mac gave a grin. "So, any objections? or is it merely a shopping list of things to pick-up while we're gone?"
"Why so determined to go not only today, but now?"
"We've suffered a reverse, which means the beer will cost less, there'll be lots of cranky talk and to be perfectly frank it's been a year since Brian's left this place without going straight to London...and that's not healthy."
"Why not abscond with someone else?"
"Because Brian needs to go out." Mac scowled. "I knew him before the bombs, and he had his weekly at the local pub...I'm damn certain he's hiding here and if it goes much longer you'll need Jim himself or some unparalleled miracle to shift him. I don't think you want that, hence my intent to abscond."
"I presume I'm to be left the task of explaining to Nelli where her patient has got to?"
"No, I'll have to speak to Nelli to get Brian, since they're consulting about something or other to do with Pemberley. I promise, no sneaking out...this time."
"Fine." Lucille spoke with a short snap and then sighed. "If he's blotto, beaten up or otherwise under the weather you will pay with a weed-hook on the drive."
"Blotto or under the weather, I can't guarantee he won't potentially get beaten up. I'm figuring it's nothing worse than talk and my bandaged personality should be enough for talk to work even if normally it wouldn't...however, no promises."
"Fine." Lucille picked up her mending. "Keep it in mind you'll never get more than the one afternoon a week for absconding and only for this week will you not pay with a weed-hook if he's anything less than fine when you return."
"Deal." Mac knew when to run for it, though he also knew a degree of relief that the women had been aware of the problem. "GIBBOUS!" Mac acquired an arm and started to drag the man for the nearest car.
"Mac?" Nelli's eye was arctic.
"I've already promised the lady there'll be no brawls or blotto." Mac raised his free hand. "Just...need an afternoon off...everything."
"Fine." Nelli gave Mac a pointed look. "Lucille and I are going to spend a frivolous afternoon forgetting that men exist."
"Dandy." Mac had them in the car with both dogs and had the engine turning over.
"Mac..." Brian was clearly uncomfortable.
"I need a wingman, Gibbous, or they wouldn't let me go."
"I can't go into Lambton, Mac."
"Yes you can." Mac stopped the car for a moment and scowled at the other. "I know the locals, and if I'm wrong I'll buy the beer further afield...otherwise you buy it here."
"Ronan's on his second warning from the bobby, I can't risk him defending me in another fight."
"Then the bloody bobby needs to get his brains sorted." Mac slammed the car into gear and headed for Lambton, intent on either beer, or murder. "Relax, Nemo will take the blame if the bobby gets ticked."
"Don't I feel fabulous." Brian sank a little lower in his seat and wished, not for the first time that he was still flying bombers to Germany.
"Two pints." Mac leant cautiously against the bar and watched the familiar room with a wary eye. Brian had taken a quiet corner for them and was being guarded by two dogs the locals were a little wary of coming near. Host was new, not promising since Mac didn't recognise a single face in the crowd...not that he really expected to, it had been rare for them not to drink the beer at Pemberley.
"You have to bring him with you?" The first pint had arrived and the second was already filling.
"Huh?" Mac blinked at the tapman.
"O'Niell...bloody coward that he be. Did you have to bring him? We thought we'd got rid of him when they first came."
"O'N..." Mac blinked and shoved over cash when the second pint arrived. "His name is O'Niell?"
"His Mam was Housekeeper at the big house, he made friendly with the family and got thoughts above his station but chickened out when the war started."
"Strange." Mac pulled in a mouthful of beer and glanced around the bar. "That his rep. in these parts?"
"You think it might be otherwise?" The tapman gave a snort and waved a couple of lumps over. "Ask anyone you like, O'Niell's only got a spine when Master James is around to give it to him."
"Interesting." Mac sampled the beer again and eyed the lumps who seemed torn between supporting the tapman and heading across the room. "You delierately ran him off?"
"You know the host?" There was a sudden wariness in the group which had clustered around him.
"Not to my knowledge." Mac gave a shrug. "I'm afraid you'll have to put up with him, though, I've got orders to bring him if I come and I'm not willing to go dry."
"We can make him unwilling to come...should loosen the limits."
"Hardly." Mac gave a snort and eyed the men. "You any idea who I am?"
"Not for specifics." It was one of the older men who spoke up. "You used to be seen with the old General before the death of his wife made him wierd...you were something in the last war as I recall."
"That makes no sense of why you're willing to hang out with a coward."
"I hadn't realised he was." Mac picked up the tankards and looked around for a way through the crowd.
"Has to be a coward or he'd be out fighting." the tapman gave a shrug.
"If you insist." Mac finally made a vaguely impatient noise, he actually did want to get back to his seat.
"Why do you hang out with him?"
"He's a friend." Mac finally settled for giving the tapman an arctic eye. "You tend not to forget the man who saves your life."
"You think he's not a coward?" There was more sneer than query to the words.
"Considering he's a decorated war pilot who was six months in medical care before they signed off his medical discharge, against the wishes of his CO...no, I don't consider him a coward." Mac settled for shoving his way through the crowd to return to his seat.
"You aware this mummy thinks you're not a coward?" It was one of the lumps who stomped up to the table. "Keep in mind that dog dies if it lays a tooth on me."
"Mac...what have you been doing?" Brian took his tankard and shuffled a bit further back on his bench.
"Nothing, Gib, they just asked what I was doing with you and I just asked and answered some questions."
"Why's he call you Gib?" The query was suspicious.
"I call him Gib because that is the name I've referred to him by this past decade at least." Mac eyed the lump with distaste. "Do step back before you crowd Nemo to snapping."
"Wha..." The lump jumped back from the visible canine. "Sergeant Wallace won't have that dog misbehaving."
"Nemo has never been in Lambton, let alone shown a tooth here." Mac eyed the man with distaste. "Any other pubs around, Gib? This one is not as quiet as it once was."
"Relax, you're safe from any further annoyance." The tapman hustled the crowd away, off-siding someone who had pull was not smart and this old fogey obviously wanted quiet. It left Mac and Brian in beautiful isolation.
"What the hell was that?" Mac was quite honestly confused, he'd never run into such a situation in his life.
"That was Jim being thorough."
"Eh?" Mac settled for confused blinking.
"We fought if you don't remember." Brian gave a shrug.
"But how did he do it?"
"Not certain, he just made it old news that 'that O'Niell' wasn't me...not like I'd been around much, I preferred summering with Ashie's crowd to summer alone at Pemberley, and after I joined I was never around more than the odd day here or there and Mum's no gossip."
"I will never figure Darcy's out...and since I'm feeling annoying, we're dragging our leave out to the very limits. Drink slowly and we can discuss...something."
"Oh dear." Brian gave a snort. "You think these jets will ever become a reality?'
"No idea...probably. I remember the birdcage which couldn't get over twenty miles an hour." Mac settled down comfortably and the subject of jets was thoroughly hashed over and considered.
"GIBBOUS!" The roar caused Mac to spill his beer when he jumped and he swore before turning to scowl across the room. Apparently there was a local RAF base, there was no mistaking the type, even if they weren't in uniform.
"Don't even try." Brian was snickering under his breath, then he straightened up. "MICK! I thought they'd canned you?"
"No such luck." Mick O'Rourke secured his tankard and shuffled over to settled next to them. "How'd you know it was me? I thought you were bat-blind...coming back?"
"Miss a yell like that?" Brian gave a snort and shuffled aside as more came over as more joined them. "How're the others?"
"Franz is working on his medical degree here...he regrets the fact that he will most likely not qualify before the war ends."
"What happened? Navigators aren't that common we send 'em back to school."
"Got creased and now wears a thoroughly piratical eyepatch...I'll let him know you're up here since you did the dirty and completely dropped off the radar."
"Ouch, tell him good luck from me." Brian scratched his head and then cracked his jaw. "Joe?"
"Grounded for shooting smiley faces during a target test. Dobbey's the poor sod with him as a gunner." Mick waved to a dark-haired speciman wearing wings.
"So you're Gibbous." Dobbey offered a hand before dragging over a chair for him. "Your bandaged friend?"
"That's Mac...he's a Vickers test pilot." Mick sent out a call for more beer.
"Actually not, haven't been fit for a couple of years." Mac grimaced. "Bandages are the result of a last ditch effort to fix up my last crash."
"Well you look like that crash man from that flick."
"Good eye, Mick."
"Gib, we should have left before this crowd came." Mac pinched the bridge of his nose.
"We definitely should have." Brian's tone drew him several sharp looks. "Someone better step in before there's a brawl, I'm not much liked here."
"Wh..." Mick dropped it and bolted across the room to collar what was promising to become trouble. "What's the trouble, Ox?" The sharp question went to one of the blues who'd been involved.
"They was..." Ox clenched his hands, clearly unable to continue.
"I asked why willing to hang with a coward and liar like O'Niell."
"Huh?" Mick blinked at the tough who'd backed his belligerance with dutch courage and was obviously itching for a fight.
"'Im." The gesture was unmistakeable and rather crude.
"I gathered who you were referring to." Mick's tone was arctic. "My problem is that you apparently think he's a coward and liar."
"Biggest white lily this side of the equator and a disgrace to the country."
"You take this Gib?" Mick half-glanced back.
"Don't make a habit of hanging out in these parts." Brian gave a shrug.
"Well, pardon me, but there's no way in hell I'm sitting back and hearing that." Mick turned back to the tough and fixed him with a decidedly nasty look. "Know who I am?"
"Flight Sergeant O'Rourke." The tough gave a shrug.
"You accusing me of not knowing my own captain?"
"Huh?" The tough was starting to get the hint that his abuse was not welcome and they now had a significant crowd.
"That man was my Captain for three tours of Bombers, one of Coastal and then trust me, we transferred straight back to him when he came back to Lancasters in '43. You think I don't know the man?"
"He's a coward." The mutter was sullen. "Lying coward of a housekeepers son with thoughts above his position."
"He's Wing-Commander Lord Brian O'Niell, DSO, DFC and bar as well as others since there's no way that last thing didn't win him some tin..."
"Bar to the DSO and an MC." Brian spoke softly.
"Ooh, nice." Mick refocussed on the tough. "Given that, I don't see how it's possible to get thoughts above your position."
"Now, push off, I've got to find out how he's dealing...specially considering that he wouldn't have crocked had he just let us crash in Germany. I've got to meet his wife and mother too since I owe them thanks and I reckon I'm not the only one who'll turn out if they ever need help." The locals melted away like snow in summer and Mick resettled and turned his attention to a pleasant evening of bringing Gibbous into the local squadron.
"I'll get more beer." Mac eased out and went after beer, smiling quietly to note to the almost fearful aspect to the locals. Mick O'Rourke's presence had been fortuitous and Mac knew that the weekly at the pub would now be pleasant, even if the local boys weren't around.
"He don't look injured." The tapman looked more than a trifle ill as he began to draw more beer.
"Concussion blast." Mac gave a shrug, he'd seen others recover from lesser exposures, but they'd been further away, the blasts had been smaller and they'd been hospitalised immediately. "He can kind of hear if he thinks about it and I believe he can actually determine some colours these days, though he can't see to walk alone...some of the worst injuries aren't visible." Mac grabbed the second beer and tried to banish some old memories. "Just...stop the lynch-mobs, stop the bad-mouthing and we'll have no reason to do anything but come for a weekly beer or two...and quite frankly, that's all we want." Mac checked his grip on the beer before he returned to the seat he came from. Technical talk was flying in the crowd of fliers and Mac pushed the beer into Brian's hand and he settled back to watch with the odd addition of his own. It was nice to know the local bombers came here, not as cut-off as he'd feared and Brian would do well with some friends coming to call occasionally...and Lucille would definitely put the boys to work on something or other. Good all round. Now all that needed to happen was for there to be some good news from that bloody bulge the Nazis had nabbed.
Posted on 2011-08-31
January 1945 - London, England
Those who are at war with others are not at peace with themselves. - William Hazlitt
"Where is my godson?" Until that sentance it had been a perfectly normal visit and Stan had been almost beginning to think he might have managed another day without being busted. There'd only been five minutes left, and now this. Stan headed for the alcohol without a word.
"Miss Kitty." Daoud had apparently pussy-footed into the room at some point.
"Where is Jim and who is that?" Kitty eyed Daoud unhappily.
"No idea, Miss Kitty." Daoud was tidying up carefully.
"No idea as to Jim or him?"
"Master James, Miss Kitty, the him is Mr Standard Robinson...an ally."
"What's he doing here?"
"Impersonating Master James so should he be damn fool enough to get caught they don't think they've got him and execute him on those grounds."
"So Jim's in France...I don't advise going for the alcohol when you're asked such questions, Mr Robinson."
"By the time you've asked where Jim is, there's nothing saving me so I might as well go for the alcohol." Stan had returned to his seat. "What gave me away this time?"
"Hm?" Kitty blinked at the man.
"Miss Juliette knew I wasn't James because of something I didn't know...Mac knew because his damn dog doesn't like me but does like Jim...Miss Caroline because I was polite on the telephone...Chris...no bloody idea. Pyro apparently had it from Ashie, but he never said how since as far as I know Lord James never knew I existed..." Stan gave a shrug.
"Daoud, does Jim know about this?"
"Has done since the beginning, Miss Kitty." Daoud spoke after a long moment. "Was the Major who made so damn sure Mr Stan survived...Major knew what was coming and dug Mr Stan in deep and good so there was cover with the right face. Worst case scenario, bar execution, there'd be two men living as one somewhere in the nazis. That's no worry now, more concerned about keeping people from knowing Master James isn't here...and how to make sure they don't think afterwards that Master James was not where he was meant to be."
"I want to know what gave me away." Stan made an irritated noise.
"What gave you away is what you're concealing, which is the fact that Jim isn't here." Kitty made an impatient gesture and turned back to Daoud. "When was he last heard from?"
"Several months ago he sent a blackout message, we're waiting for him to surface."
"More recently than Hilde's report?" Kitty's expression was suspicious, not that anyone would blame her, trusting the daughter of the man who killed her sister was no easy job.
"How did that give me away?" Stan had gone for a refill.
"By appearances Jim has quietly lived at home and done absolutely nothing for the past couple of years except keep his nose clean...I believe that as much as I can fly."
"Leaving isn't an option." Stan spoke rather sourly. "Can't cover if I'm not here, so, I need a suggestion on something I can engage in which is still here but will cover for the lack of absence."
"Speeding tickets." Kitty gave a shrug. "Flying...if you can. I'd suggest clean-up crews but I'm guessing you haven't Jim's hand for explosives."
"I don't use explosives at all. I can fly, but anyone who knows planes will know I'm not Jim. I also have no idea where Jim stashed the demon machine of his and no one is going to believe James Darcy engaging in dangerous driving in any other vehicle." Stan's expression was flat. "Sailing and climbing are the only things I can do and neither of them occur in England."
"So go to Derbyshire." Kitty's wave was dismissive.
"Not in this weather." Daoud had Kitty's coat in one hand and hat in the other. "Jim's mentioned leaving town for a bit...act as you normally would if notified of such."
"You mean tell Caroline he's going away." Kitty pulled on her coat and took her hat.
"If that's what you do." Daoud had the door open and was waiting.
"It is." Kitty stood for a moment and then shrugged. "I don't like this, I don't approve of this and I will be speaking to Caroline...assuming she says this is to be supported then I won't say anything to anyone else."
"That is appreciated." Daoud did the usual honours before returning to the small sitting room.
"I'm getting careless." Stan had waited until after Kitty had rounded the corner on her bicycle before he stepped back from the window and glanced at Daoud. "Possibly very careless and definitely criminally careless."
"Without exception, to date the only people who have become openly suspicious are people who are personally close." Daoud finished tidying an already tidy tabletop. "Master James did you no kindness by letting it be known that he had a double the last time around."
"That won't keep him alive or out of clink if it becomes commonly known."
"I suggest going north for a couple of months...if nothing else it means you can take a rest since everyone on the island knows you're not Mr James and no one has gone there since '41."
"Your letter is waiting for you in the study...it arrived by special delivery just after Miss Kitty."
"Nothing else, just the weekly letter from your wife...she may well explain the delay since the postmark is also delayed."
"No, that just means she was out of town." Stan pushed his fingers through his hair and tried to pull forward the memories from before the war, the small flat he'd shared with Helen...so foggy now, but they were both still alive which meant more memories could be built. At least he'd had a choice with his wife, flip of a coin or a handful of years and he wouldn't have had the choice, easier to plan for rebuilding if you knew that your wife actually did like having you in her life. Strange, it was only a matter of time now until the war ended, but it still seemed impossible to think of Europe without active conflict. Would the war really end?
January 30th 1945 - Rome, Italy
If you're not yet dead, then it's a victory.
Annette Halifax had been darkly suspicious of her husband for almost a week. Transferring into the civillian domain had not been easy for him, but Rory had finally begun to pull his weight in the whole survival and not starving to death thing. There was nothing definite Annette could put a finger on to explain her suspicions, no mail, no unreasonable absences, no overly affectionate behaviour...infact but for her nasty suspicious mind she would have assumed that everything was fine. It was her nasty suspicious mind which caused her to now have the neccessary evidence to pick a fight with Rory.
"Do I need to drag you to a doctor?" Annette of yesteryear would have undoubtedly been vomiting by now, for Rory sounded like he was trying to eject his lungs from his body. This was not yesteryear though and Annette found herself rather clinically identifying the cough as an attempt to expel phlegm from deep within the lungs.
"No." It was barely a whisper which came in a brief reprieve as Rory slumped forward against the railing and spat half-heartedly into the empty garden beds below.
"Water." Annette had acquired a glass while waiting for Rory to respond and she offered it now, along with a helping arm to prop him more comfortably than on the railing.
"Thanks." One quick rinse and spit before drinking the rest led to a much clearer response than had initially occured.
"You haven't always been hiding this."
"You've been hacking up your lungs since October and it didn't occur to you to let me know?" Annette shifted back to scowl at him.
"Heavens sakes, Rory, Doctors are not the only option or the only way...they're just the most recognised. There's Madame downstairs and I'll cook for a month if she doesn't have at least three things which might help clear your lungs...by methods other than spitting them out over a railing at night."
"Why are you so mad?" Rory had moved back from the railing, his expression rather confused.
"Because for some stupid reason I actually like having you in my life...and you won't be there for long if something doesn't change." Annette glowered at the man. "You can't keep coughing like that and expect to live long because all else apart you're doing more damage and there's only so much damage you can do before it kills you...and you did plenty of damage before ever you left Burma."
"But you and the kids..."
"We've managed without you for months and we can manage without you indefinitely, but we bloody well don't want to manage."
"You may hate, James Darcy, but kindly remember that my sister is married to his housekeeper's son, I worked for his godfather and my brother flew for his maniac friends. That makes me a responsibility at some vague level."
"The fact that his actions undoubtedly got your throat slit is not part of this equation." Rory sank down to sit on a nearby barrel.
"That's totally a different matter." Annette gave a shake of her head. "Someone within that extensive family undoubtedly knows just how sick you are...probably knows even better than you do...I'm quite certain that should we cease managing we'll be back in England with both kids before I can blink."
"I don't hate him." Rory's tone was weary.
"Could have fooled me...in fact you have fooled me."
"He presents an image I hate...his reality is not the image that he presents." Rory gave a small scowl. "On a side note, I've got wind of some work which may necessitate a trip to France...permanently."
"You wanting to know whether we can go...or are you after an excuse for not going?"
"Can we go?"
"Certainly...just give me a couple of days warning before we actually depart."
"Could be a while." Rory gave a dry little rasp, grimaced and then headed for the rail again.
"I'll speak to Madame in the morning." Annette braced Rory carefully and sent a brief prayer up that neither of the two children woke.
"Why does it feel like you've always been supporting me while I hack up a lung?" Rory slumped backwards as the fit eased.
"Whooping cough when you were twelve...if you don't remember that was the year you were quarantined with us because of mumps."
"Ah." Rory snickered, then swore, he really had to remember not to laugh at times like this he felt ragged enough without instigating more coughing.
"We were quarantined for mumps...but as I recall everyone was sick with something else." Annette had more water waiting when he slumped back down again. "Candy and Luce got german measles...most unpatriotic of them. You got whooping cough..."
"You didn't get sick at all." Rory gave her a dirty-look. "Right mother's little helper you were."
"You should be thankful." Annette gave a sniff and then ruined it with a snicker.
"Why do I not feel as bad as usual?" Rory scratched the side of his head.
"Bad as usual?"
"Been weeks since I cleared it all in one go...usually I'd be out again about five to clear the rest." Rory glanced at Annette. "Tonight I've cleared it all and I'm not feeling totally dead on my feet."
"Probably because you haven't had to do it all yourself...you look dead on your feet regardless ofhow you feel." Annette gave him a hand back to the bed before she took a moment to check the two children were asleep before she rejoined him. "The water helped you, also the fact that you weren't having to brace yourself as well as cough...in future wake me up, suffering in matyred isolation is too boring for words."
"So you want me to suffer with an audience?" Rory dug himself down into the bed.
"Precisely, I'll mark you on cough and spit distance...free points when you rattle by simply exhaling."
"You are horrible." Rory shifted as Annette settled herself into the bed. "They're asleep?"
"Dead to the world." Annette gave Rory a look. "Today I speak to Madame, you go get that job and then you can explain how we'll get there since there's no civillian transport that I'm aware of."
"There are a few ways to get there...but the job may just get us there without a plan from us required."
"Pigs are waltzing around the bed as well."
"That is about as likely." Rory murmured the last wryly. "Night, Annie."
"Night." Annette felt him quickly slide into slumber and she spent the time waiting for sleep to take her wishing that porkers could and would waltz.
February 18th 1945 - Pemberley, England
If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music. - Gustav Mahler
"Number two of credit to you." Brian brushed a finger gently against one of the little hands and it was gripped tightly. "What do we call this one?"
"Mm." Brian gave a slightly preoccupied nod as he brushed another finger against the other little hand and had that caught as well. Brian then began slowly lifting his hands. The baby rose slowly, its arms stretching out before it's body finally began to rise.
"It's fun." Brian carefully lowered the baby back down so it was on its back once more. "Owen now has a little baby brother. Not too tired?"
"Dumb question, I'm about to fall asleep." Lucille gave a grin.
"Do so, and I'll go break the news to all and sundry who don't want to know."
"Liar." Lucille wriggled more deeply into the bed and sighed before closing her eyes.
Brian stood watching his wife and second son for a long moment, then he turned and left the room. It had been a good hour since Nelli had been satisfied that her part in the proceedings was complete and had gone down to sleep. Brian probably should follow her lead, but somehow he didn't want to sleep tonight. Infact he quite often didn't sleep during the night hours, those were the hours for working and remembering.
Things had begun to look promising after the hard labour of last year. They would conquer Pemberley and restore her to her former glory. Friends and acquaintances were roped in at any opportunity to help with the digging, turning and seeding. Currently the resident 'friend' was a very reluctant Pyro, who had expressed not a little distaste at being put in charge of fourteen children for a night. Pyro was supposed to be sleeping in the living area of the second cottage for the night, but frankly Brian didn't know, or care if he was. There had been at least one birth already that these children had been through, even if they didn't remember it. The children were neither stupid, nor awake, and that meant there was nothing to worry about.
The night air was cold as Brian stepped out into it and he shivered as he turned his rather preoccupied steps towards the lake. Clogged with weed, stagnant and evil, the lake seemed to belong to the home wood now, not to the formal gardens it was actually part of. The lake's level was rather on the high side and it was rather thoughtfully that Brian rambled around its clogged edges until he reached the small stream which emptied out of the lake. The stream was clogged with mud, weeds and dead animals. Brian grimaced as he prodded his foot against the foul muck which obstructed the waterflow. They'd ignored the lake, hoping a good winter storm would clear it. Such was not their luck and they'd taken to other bits of wishful thinking. Perhaps in a season or two the lake would carve for itself a new path of escape from the lake. Perhaps the new stream would free the lake of its strangling weeds. Perhaps any number of things, but one thing he did know was that the lake would stink until it resumed normal flow. If the lake stank the gardens stank, and if the gardens stank pretty much the whole valley would be affected, and last year had proven it would only get worse as the weather warmed. Brian grabbed a nearby stick which had fallen on the path and began smashing his way down the stream's path. There was no sense forcing the lake to find a new escape it only one foul obstruction was preventing it from using the old escape. An hour later Brian was satisfied that the foul dam was the only obstruction and he returned to the lake, its dam and his vague considerations of possible clearance of the obstruction. If James had been around Brian knew exactly how that blockage would have been cleared, a small explosive charge, a suitable fuse and a hurried retreat to a discreet distance while thermal expansion dealt with the muck in the stream bed. Admittedly such methods were not precisely sensible since the next several hours would undoubtedly be spent in ensuring that nothing nasty had gone where it shouldn't have gone. However James was not around, Brian had no explosives and even if he had, he was not the one with the brain which knew how to judge the usage to such a nicety.
"Nelli is asking for you." The quiet voice startled Brian and he looked up from his efforts to see a dark shadow near the trees.
"Hullo?" Brian wiped his hands on his trousers and squinted into the darkness.
"Just me, and your mother wants you." Pyro moved out of the shadows to investigate Brian's labours in the stream bed.
"Any reason why?"
"Not beyond maternal concern that you've committed suicide over having acquired a second son."
"Then I'm sure she can wait another half hour while I finish clearing this mess."
"It is rather a mess." Pyro picked up a stick and began excavating in the mess himself. "Ripe old stink too."
"Couple of carcases...and not just fish carcases." Brian levered a mess of branches aside and grabbed them before they fell back into the stream. "Dry this stuff and burn it. Hell of a lot to do here."
"Well, it has been ignored for rather a lot of years." Pyro shifted a large stone back to the hole it had been knocked out of in the bank. "Going to restore it all?"
"I'll bleed them for every penny I can." Brian spoke grimly as he lifted another load of pure muck up onto the bank. "Far too good land to let it rot."
"Why not build a simple farmhouse then and free up the extra space."
"Probably would have." Brian scooped another huge armload of muck up onto the bank and smiled grimly as the stream gave a gurgle and water charged through the remaining muck, sweeping it away as it swept downstream and into the bushes. Hopefully a couple of good storms still remained and they would clean the entire lake, leaving just the weed to contend with. "I probably would have if they hadn't tried to wriggle out of the contract." Brian climbed out of the streambed and dropped onto the grass with a sigh.
"Feeling a bit vindictive?"
"I'm feeling very vindictive, thank you very much. The Darcys have more than paid the value of this property out in premiums and those idiots want money for nothing."
"Would the outcome have been different if Stan hadn't been masquerading as James?"
"How do you know that?"
"Brian I am still Ken's legal guardian and James, knowing my dislike of the position, would have relieved me of the burden months ago if it really was him. I had a chat with Annie-Bug and she confessed to having a half-brother Standard who looked uncommonly like Jim."
"Juliette would have a fair bit to say if she knew you'd been bullying her twin."
"Bullying? I wouldn't even consider it. Ken knows the difference between the two men and I decided I was tired of not knowing who the impersonator was. Only logical place to look was in Conrad's illegitimates, since the Major never had any and Jim is a definite Darcy."
"No, the result would have been the same, though undoubtedly the battle would have been slightly longer. The house was insured against any ills as a historic monument and heritage artifact. Reason for the exorbitant premiums. It never occured to the fools that the Nazis would be quite willing to flatten one of our historic monuments if they thought there was a reasonable chance of getting James at the same time."
"I would have thought it impossible to build a common farmhouse if Pemberley was listed as a historic monument...what is it historic for?"
"No definite idea, some treat was signed with a thug back when Stephen and Maud were running around. It was a mustering point for half a dozen wars and it gave shelter to some king on the run. Miss Darcy is the one to consult on the history of the place. We can build anything we like if we lack the funds to rebuild...we just have to use all the available funds to try and restore it if possible."
"James Angel I asked you to send him home...not stand gossiping in a damp ditch." Nelli emerged from the early dawn shadows with a dark expression.
"I was cleaning the stream bed and wanted to finish." Brian rose from the grass and rubbed his head. "What's the problem?"
"Nothing at all, except young Owen wants his father."
"Ah." Brian glanced at the gurgling stream and then looked up at the sky which was beginning to colour for what would undoubtedly be a spectacular sunrise. "James is coming home."
"What?" Nelli had begun leaving and Pyro had been piling up the sticks, but both jerked around to stare at Brian.
"Sorry?" Brian looked at his mother in confusion.
"I thought you just said that James was coming home." Nelli chose her words carefully.
"Oh." Brian frowned at the stream for a moment and then nodded silently. "I don't know how I know, but I seem to know...he'll be with us in less than a year."
"A year's an awful long time." Pyro turned back to the sticks as he spoke.
"Not really." Brian took one final look at the colouring sky before following his mother up onto the gravelled path. "He's coming home, but I doubt his road will be easy."
"Mm." Pyro glanced at the stream himself and then up at the sunrise. How Brian could speak with so much certainty was uncanny. However, uncanny things did happen for Ashie had undoubtedly known Florrie was dead even though he hadn't known about the test all those years ago. Could it possibly that within a year James really would be standing on the soil Pemberley?
To Be Continued . . .