The Beauty of Mourning

The girl looked at me. She was scared and I could understand. She had belittled me, though accidentally, and she expected the violence and anger that most of the male sex would respond with. I did not believe in hitting woman, in hitting anyone for that matter, especially for a twist of the tongue. So the blow or spittle did not fly towards her and she eventually relaxed her pose when she noticed that it never would.
“You did not strike me” said she.
“No, I did not” I replied. She wrinkled her nose in confusion.
“Why not? I insulted your reputation, that is worthy of a violent retort, is it not?” she truly did not believe that one man could allow a possible blow to his pride to slide by without a battering of an eyelash.
“I am not insulted, do not worry. And I would never hurt one as pleasant as you” I answered, flashing her a smile, and privately basking in her blush at the compliment.
“Sir, I am glad that you have taken no offence from my words. Not many would be as soft as you when hearing what I said to you” she curtsied and I cringed inwardly. My being a scholar meant that people, especially those of the fairer sex, treated me with far more respect than I felt I deserved. I did not save your father from a burning building, I simply didn’t blemish your face. That deserves no respect, only acceptance.
“Thank you for your kind words. I do not deserve your bows, I merely see no reason for this offence that you seem to believe that I should feel. Yes I have servants, but do not worry, I have the ability to dress myself without their assistance. I am not as feeble as my other pompous peers” I joked, earning myself a small giggle from the young woman.
“You’re quite the jester” she laughed, her voice flowing like bird song into my ears. I grinned,
“I try my best” I quipped with a wink, causing her to laugh harder, covering her mouth as she tried to catch her breath.
“But the point still stands, let me apologize properly for what I said, even if it was merely a slip of the tongue” she stood up straight and I knew better than to insult her by declining any offer she may make.
“What did you have in mind?” I raised a curious eyebrow. She tapped her feet together in a show of her coyness that only served to make her more endearing to me.
“My brother is rather proficient with the violin. There is a concert tomorrow evening in the Royal Albert, I am guaranteed a good view” she proposed and I smiled slowly, liking the idea,
“This sounds acceptable; I rather like the melody of the violin. Shall be coming as your plus one?” with this, the woman’s blush returned full force as she mutely nodded, too red to meet my eyes. I suddenly cursed in my head at my lack of gentlemanly behaviour,
“My apologies, kind lady. You have invited me to such an event and yet I have not asked your name” I bowed my head slightly to try and show my sincerity. She lifted her head to answer,
“Cecilia, Cecilia Brownwell. And same to you, what is your name, kind sir”. I held my hand out in introduction,
“Leonard Powell. But close company call me Leo” and I placed a gentle kiss on her hand that she extended out to me. Squeezing my hand slightly in embarrassment, I caught her stammer,
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr Leo” and it gave me a large smile to have such a beautiful woman speak my name,
“And the same to you Miss Cecilia” and we stood in the cold of Trafalgar Square smiling at each other like a pair of utter buffoons as the world rushed around us, paying us no attention. So this was what the poets called love.
I went to the concert that weekend and revelled in the company and the beautiful melody that played along to our happiness. My world was filled with beauty and fire that summer as Cecilia and I often met together for formal and informal meetings, dinner dates, and walks through the suburbs of London. There were gatherings with our friends and our brothers in which we felt accepted in this family that we had compiled. I felt like nobody would ever understand me like she would. We could discuss politics and the state of the world like we had made our home in Parliament, but we could also giggle like school children running from the matron. Life was blissful. We were free and happy.
Until the day of the announcement. Britain was to assist a war torn France from the invading Germany. Cecilia and I were in my apartment when we heard the news and my head fell into my hands. Suddenly life was falling apart. I wasn’t going to fight. I would be hopeless with a gun; I would never wish to take a man’s life, even if he was on the opposing team. They were still men and I would not take their lives. Cecilia admired me for this when I told her. My father on the other hand, did not. I was labelled as a disappointment and an insult to the family. My brothers were signing up, fighting for their country, why couldn’t I?
In order to find a middle ground, I became a doctor. I would be assisting the men who wanted to fight a ticket back onto the battlefield, helping them to battle their fears, the demons that the war left in their heads. This seemed to appease my family to a degree. But not Cecilia’s parents. They saw me as a coward, a stain on my English heritage, and prevented my fair lady from seeing me ever again. We wrote letters when we could, passed through sympathetic friends and youths who needed the spare change. As the patients flooded back from the front lines, my days were filled with men screaming bloody murder as shell shock and pure insanity took over, the boys that snuck to the front suffering worst of all. And, though I tried my damndest, I couldn’t help them all and this guilt lay heavy on my heart. But I had my letters from dear Cecilia to keep me going.
Sadly, over time, I was too busy to write and, as I soon found out, she was too ill. Influenza was a bitter way to die, yet this was my love’s poor fate. One day my good friend Harrison brought me a letter, not from Cecilia, but her younger brother, Julian. I had met Julian on a number of occasions when meeting with his sister so it wasn’t too much of an anomaly to have a letter from him, but I had an inkling of the subject matter and Harrison swiftly guided me to a nearby seat in order to collapse once I saw the words on the page.
Dear Leonard,
It pains me to write this letter as I assume it will pain you to read. But I felt it my duty as her loving sibling to inform you of my sister’s passing. A strong wave of influenza caught her early this September and she never recovered. She died surrounded by family and she can now find peace with the angels in Heaven. I apologise for my parents’ treatment of you as I found you, as my sister did, a decent fellow with good morals and a strong love of her and the world. I wish that you had more time with her before she left this earth. The funeral will be in a week, though you are not officially allowed to attend, I shall wait for you once the others are gone to allow you the grief that you need and deserve.
My regards and sympathies
Julian Brownwell
I heard nothing from their parents and stood in the shadows during the funeral procession. Julian spotted me loitering by the cemetery after the others had gone home.
“Come, I’ll take you to her.” 

He took my hand and guided me to Cecilia’s grave. I pulled out a single rose from my pocket and lay it on her grave. To my surprise, I did not cry; I did not feel like I had to cry. Julian did not judge me for my lack of tears and, looking closer at the boy, I saw his face was also clear from signs of weeping.
“Cecilia didn’t like crying on her behalf. I guess we naturally accepted that.” Julian smiled and I silently agreed with him, offering the younger man a smile.
“She truly was a blessing. A smile seems a more fitting send-off” I replied, and we left the cemetery offering each other stories of our times with the woman that brightened both of our lives.

Published by Hannah Rachel

I am a Writer from the North West of England with a passion for books, writing, art and everything creative.

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