Harry knew he had done the right thing. Maud wouldn’t agree. She would be angry or worse still, upset. But it was time to act. He had sat on the sidelines for too long while others did the dirty work. Harry wasn’t young anymore. He was almost 40. But, he had acquired the skills of the trade the hard way, in South Africa. With his knowledge and expertise he could no longer sit idly by.
As he opened the door, he was surprised to find himself enveloped in darkness. That’s odd, he thought. There had been no mention of Zeppelins in the paper so it couldn’t be a blackout. The gas lines weren’t down otherwise the streetlights would be out. They were functioning as normal and smothered in moths.
“Maud?” he called nervously as he closed the door behind him.
“I am in the kitchen,” came the reply.
“There’s something very important I need to tell you,” he said as he struggled to hang his coat in the dark. The door at the end of the hallway opened. Candlelight illuminated his way to the kitchen. Inside, he found his wife, dressed in her blue “Sunday dress,” sitting at the small kitchen table. A single red candle sat between a couple of vases holding daffodils. His meal was ready, hers as yet untouched.
“We’re using your Grandfather’s silverware?” Harry asked in bewilderment.
“You forgot didn’t you?” Maud asked sadly.
Harry suddenly thought back to the newspaper stand he’d seen on the way home. “May 26th 1916” it read. It was their wedding anniversary. Their tenth year together.
“Oh my love,” he said humbly as he reached across the table for her hand.
“It’s fine,” she said as she drew her hands away. “I know you’ve been busy with work and everything. I just thought it would be nice . . . Dad is watching the kids.”
“I love you,” Harry said quietly. “It looks like a wonderful feast.”
Maud giggled awkwardly. She had wanted to cook something special but all the stores were suffering from shortages. No fresh vegetables, no pork, no fruit. The canned corned beef and peas were the best she was able to muster.
“Corned beef is my favorite,” Harry joked.
On the other side of the table, he could see some familiar faces glinting under the candlelight.
“Is that our wedding day?” he asked. Maud silently handed the framed photograph to him.
Harry smiled warmly. “You looked so beautiful. I’ll admit, I was worried. When you said you were wearing your mother’s dress I didn’t know what to expect.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, you know,” he replied nervously. “You’re very slender, and your mother is?
“Large?” asked Maud. “You know she had eight children. That will happen to me at the rate we are going.”
“She also has a tendency to overindulge on the fruit cake.”
Maud playfully slapped her husband on the arm. “One more word and I’ll tell her what you said!”
Henry shook his head wistfully. “I remember that Vicar. He kept blowing his nose. My stepfather claims he was in the eye of the storm when he sneezed during communion.”
Maud smiled but quickly slipped into a quiet state of melancholy.
“And your poor old Grandfather,” said Harry sensing the cause of his wife’s mood change. The old man, a retired tailor, died the day after the wedding.
“Well,” said Maud, sadly “there was him. We all loved Grandad. But in his own words he ‘had a good innings.’ At least he had a life.”
Harry adjusted the picture in his hands so he could see the back row more clearly. There he stood flanked by his best man and his wife’s two brothers. The night before, they had played dominoes at The Hand and Crown pub together. Over the last year, the three young men had fallen much like the game pieces.
Henry, the younger brother, was never meant for the army. He was a shy, sensitive soul more interested in reading. He emigrated to Sydney to avoid the war. But work was scarce. Six months later he enlisted with the 2nd battalion of the Australian infantry. His first action was in Gallipoli. He lasted two days.
Cousin John — Harry’s best-man — joined the army under duress from his father. Six months in the military would straighten him up. He was a profligate, a lady’s man. John never saw action. His transporter ship was sunk off Malta, just a month after Henry died.
William — Maud’s older brother — he was always destined for the military. He wanted to emulate his Grandfather who fought in the Sudan. His artillery brigade was sent to Gallipoli after his brother died. He exacted his revenge as best he could before being sent to Ypres. Shellfire took his life just before Christmas 1915.
Harry, placed the picture frame back onto the table. Reaching past the candle, his hands were met this time by his wife’s. As their fingers interlocked, she raised her head and looked longingly at him. Neither spoke. It was unseemly to have outbursts of emotion. This was England, it was all about taking it on the chin. Harry bit his lip, Maud puffed her cheeks up to contain her tears. 30 seconds passed and simultaneously they both released their grip and started cutting into their corned beef.
“Hmm,” said Harry, “it’s good!”
“Thank you,” replied Maud meekly. “By the way, when you came in, you told me you had something important to say. What is it?”
Henry slid his hand into his trouser pocket. He tapped his finger on the enlistment card stowed inside. The London Rifles were waiting for him. He wasn’t a conscript, he had volunteered. It was his way of honoring his fallen comrades.
“Well,” asked Maud impatiently. Harry let out a deep sigh.
“It’s our anniversary,” he said almost in a whisper. “It can wait.”