|Primary Characters:||Jack, Daniel, Beatrice, Evie|
|Warning:||adult (as in grownup, not sexual) themes|
|Description:||Jack and Daniel are abducted by a madman with a grudge against Jack. They are locked into an enclosed underground space where Jack gets flashbacks to the war. From then on things go from bad to worse.|
“I’m proud of you, Bea.”
Beatrice’s husband looked around the work rooms where busy little seamstresses were stitching away at what looked like ballgowns in colours he couldn’t even name. But he was proud of his wife; how she had built the business from nothing, when she was left alone in the world by her selfish, ruthless father. Her accomplishment in raising her headstrong younger sister, Evangeline was no less impressive.
This latest renovation and enlargement of the work rooms was the most extensive yet, and Jack could not but agree with his wife and her sister. The House of Elliot was a fine establisment. Everyone who was anyone in London had to wear something from the House of Elliot.
Beatrice beamed back at her husband. Jack meant the world to her. Who would have thought that they would end up a happily married couple? The man had been intolerably arrogant. After getting to know him the way she did now, she realized that this behaviour had merely been masking his insecurity.
“Well, I don’t mind saying I’m quite happy about the whole thing. And let’s not forget Evie’s contributions. I couldn’t have done any of this without her. Or Tilly. Or you.”
The seamstress who was more friend than employee shyly smiled back at her boss.
Jack decided it was time to go. All this praise being volleyed back and forth was more than a little tiresome. He would meet Beatrice at home for dinner. On his way out, he met Evangeline’s fiance, Daniel.
The artist seemed relieved to be allowed to leave this feminine stronghold. Though from what Jack had heard on the grapevine, Daniel was no stranger to the charms of the gentler sex. In his day, Jack himself had been known as quite a lady’s man, but having at last found peace with Beatrice, he had turned over a new leaf. He knew Daniel had done the same. The past was better off laid to rest.
“Can I drive you anywhere?”
Jack knew that the young painter couldn’t afford to drive around in his own car as much as he used to. Petrol was expensive these days. Now that Daniel and Evangeline were planning their wedding, he knew that Daniel was trying his best to save what little money he had.
“Thanks. Awfully decent of you. I have a job to do. Over in St John’s Wood. But drop me off anywhere on your way.”
“That’s on my way, actually. I’ll drive you there.”
“You’re a prince among men, Jack. I can see why Bea is so devoted to you.”
“No great mystery there. What girl can resist a man with an automobile? Speaking of which, I had to park the thing around the corner. This way.”
But the automobile appeared to be nowhere to be seen. Jack looked around, scratching his head in confusion.
“I’m sure I left it here.”
Another car drove up to the kerb and pulled to a stop right in front the two men. The door opened and a man stepped out, and walked around the car.
Thinking the man needed to ask directions, Jack faced him. To his utter amazement, the man pulled a revolver out of his pocket and even more puzzling, he pointed it straight at Jack.
“Now just a minute here -“
“No. Not another word from yer. Just come along with me, nice and easy or I’ll be forced ter fire this thing. And yer know I can do it too. Captain.”
Addressed by his former rank, Jack raised his eyebrows inquiringly. He didn’t think he had ever laid eyes on this man before, but he might be mistaken. Most of the time, mercifully, the years in the trenches were a blur in his memory.
“Doncher recognize me?”
“I can’t say I do. What is the meaning of this?”
Daniel had noticed what was going on and watched the developments with interest, while casting a look around for a bobby or any able-bodied gentleman who might assist them in their predicament.
“Ye’ll learn soon enough. Get in.”
“I have no intention of -“
“Get in. Or yer mate ‘ere gets it in the chest.”
Now the deranged stranger was pointing his weapon at Daniel. Though far from a daredevil, Jack possessed a certain amount of courage. Just like his fellow Englishmen of his class, he was rarely moved to anger. This, however, was a different matter. A friend could not be allowed to suffer in his stead.
“Calm down, man. No need for hostilities. What can I do for you?”
“Oh, I’ll let yer know soon enough. Just get in the bleedin’ car, will yer.”
“Very well. There is no need to drag my friend into this. Let him go.”
“I’ll ‘ave no witnesses running around. ‘e’s coming with us.”
There didn’t appear to be anything they could do about the situation, at least for the moment. Helplessly, Jack was forced to watch Daniel get into the stranger’s car, and hurried along by the unpleasant sensation of a gun at his back, he himself got in beside his friend.
No talking was allowed by the deranged gun-wielding stranger, so for the time being, Jack and Daniel remained silent, their minds feverishly seeking a solution. They must attack the man, but they must not give him any excuse to fire his gun. But there were two of them, surely that ought to give them an advantage?
The man kept driving until they were leaving London behind, turning onto what was more or less country roads. By the time Jack was afraid they’d be going to the next county, the man turned onto an even smaller road that was no more than a track. Ten minutes later, he pulled up in front of a small farm house, in a small grove.
“Right. Get out. Both of yer. No sudden moves. Over there.”
He was indicating a smaller outbuilding of some kind. Jack thought he could guess what Daniel was thinking, but he didn’t like the odds one bit, even two to one. Their captor was alert and his attention never wavered. Jack found himself hoping the younger man wouldn’t make a sudden move that might cause one or both of them to be seriously injured.
The door to the shed was unlocked and the man seemed to mean for Jack to open it. So open it he did, slowly, hoping for an opportunity that never came. Daniel was right behind him.
There was a sort of trapdoor in the floor straight ahead which was gaping open in a highly unnerving way. Suddenly, Jack knew that whatever the risks, there was no way he was going down into that hole. He tensed up, bracing himself for the desperate stand.
But his attention was caught by a noise from behind and he whirled around to face whatever was about to happen. No bullet in the back for him. In whatever form it had come to seek him out, he’d look death in the face. But what he saw didn’t seem to involve his own death at all. Daniel had made a rash move, and as it turned out, it had been far too soon. The man was prepared for the attack and descended on his captive with a vicious swipe of his gun. Daniel fell forward and down into the hole in the floor.
“What yer waiting fer? Get in, or do yer want me ter use this thing? I can see that yer don’t remember me, but I can assure yer that I’m quite the marksman.”
Having seen at close range what his adversary was capable of, Jack had no wish to test the man’s statement. Besides, he had to make sure Daniel was alright. He had hit the dirt floor down there with a sickening thud and since then there had been an ominous silence. What if – Jack was as fond of young Evie as if she’d been his own sister. Coming back to Bea and Evie without Daniel didn’t bear thinking about.
Looking closer, he spotted a precariously flimsy old ladder descending into the darkness below. It didn’t look as if it would bear Jack’s weight, but fortunately the dirt floor wasn’t all that far down. That was one of the things that bothered him about the small storage space. It was cramped, had no windows and at first glance no apparent ventilation. How were they going to survive down there? Did this madman plan on burying them alive?
With an effort, Jack smothered his incipient panic and focused on his friend. It was dark down there, and it was hard to make out Daniel’s unmoving form. Now the trapdoor swung shut above Jack’s head and it became even darker. Using his hands, Jack was able to find the wall of the small enclosed space. It was so close, he had to take a deep breath before he moved on to find Daniel. The panic was lurking just underneath the surface but he couldn’t let himself go. Not when a friend’s life was depending on him.
His hands moved over Daniel’s face and found no apparent injury. Jack fumbled over the younger man’s head, and noticed a small swelling right beside the ear. A painful lump, but as far as Jack could tell, there was no severe damage done. Daniel might suffer a bad headache, but there wouldn’t be any concussion or worse.
Reluctantly, Jack made himself continue the examination. He was far from a doctor, but if Daniel had dislocated a shoulder or – It might be best to do this while his friend was still out cold. Just like all other Englishmen of his class, Jack shunned physical contact with anyone except his closest family and – his wife. There had been a time, not so long ago when he hadn’t been as discerning, but those other people had not included any men.
Jack’s hand came to a halt over Daniel’s left leg. It was twisted at an unnatural angle underneath him and there was no way there could be a harmless explanation to that impossible position. The leg was broken. Possibly the femur. Jack was breaking out into a cold sweat. How could he deal with this injury? He struggled to remain calm while he considered his options.
First he removed his coat and placed it on the floor. Very gently, he tried to shift Daniel from his awkward position. It was just as well the poor wretch was out of it. Jack could only imagine the pain Daniel would be in as soon as he regained consciousness. The place was damp and chilly, like every basement, cellar or for that matter any house in England almost any time of year, but Jack ignored his own comfort and removed the jacket as well, placing it on top of Daniel.
That should do it for the time being. When Daniel came to, Jack would inquire about the pain. Not that his questions would help. The truth was, nothing they could do from in here would do any good. When would someone miss them? Tonight, when he failed to show up for dinner at home?
Did Daniel have a tryst with Evie planned for the evening? Even so, who would know where they had gone? England was a small island, but it was quite large enough for two men to lose themselves permanently or long enough that finding them would mean nothing to their grieving loved ones.
A moan from the man on the floor called Jack’s attention. Daniel was coming to. Trying to keep his voice even, so as not to unnecessarily alarm the artist, Jack called out a greeting.
“So you’ve decided to come back to me? The accomodations aren’t that prepossessing, but daresay we shall have to make the most of them. How are you feeling?”
The only reply was another moan. Were Daniel’s injuries worse than they at first appeared? Jack knew far too well that his knowledge of physical injuries came only from painful personal experience or at first hand from watching friends die or leave the trenches as invalids.
Eventually, Daniel became more lucid.
“Jack? What happened?”
“I’m afraid you’ve been injured. That cad knocked you down here and you seem to have hit the floor in a particularly unfortunate way. I – That leg is broken, I take it?”
“I think so. Hurts enough.”
“How does your head feel, old boy?”
“My head? Oh. There’s a bit of pain there too. But nothing worse than I’ve had before on occasion.”
Jack could imagine. He’d woken up in that state himself more times than he could remember. Yet another reason to bless married life. Bea would never stand any nonsense on his part.
“I see. Jolly good.”
“What was this all about? Any idea?”
“Sorry. Not a clue. The man obviously has a grudge against me.”
“Your guess is as good as mine, my friend.”
“A jealous husband or irate father?”
Embarrassed, Jack took a while to reply. At times you could tell that young Daniel wasn’t quite pukka sahib. But the lad was a good friend and these were different times. You had to move on.
“I should think not.”
It was a while until Jack’s underlying meaning, and hidden criticism of the suggestion filtered through to Daniel. But how was he to know? Many men in Jack’s position had been tempted by women below their station, just like ladies of Jack’s class liked to stray to the other side of the fence on occasion. So did men, but Daniel had to draw the line somewhere. And since meeting Evie, he focused strictly on the painting, not on romancing the old biddies.
“Forgive me, my friend. That was out of line.”
“Think nothing of it. I’ve done other things I’m not proud of in my time.”
With distaste, Jack forced down a memory of Daphne. Those days were over. But whatever grudge this man had against him, it had to lie in the past. The question was how far back.
“I have been trying to think. But I’m afraid the man does not look familiar. Let us hope he gets to the point soon. Then maybe we can both get out of here.”
Jack didn’t bother mentioning to Daniel that the madman might easily have brought them to this place to leave them to die. No one would ever know they were here. Perhaps years from now, someone would buy the place and even open the trapdoor and discover their whitened bones.
But wondering about who the dead bodies had belonged to wouldn’t make the new owner of the house that much wiser. It was a chilling thought. Now more than ever, Jack wanted to live. He and Bea had only started their new life together. One day there might be a child. It couldn’t be allowed to end like this.
With sudden desperation, Jack decided to explore the cramped space he was trapped in. There had to be something. Though the man would certainly have blocked their way out, Jack found his awkward way to the ladder and climbed up. It creaked ominously under his weight, but didn’t break. Unfortunately, the attempt to open the trapdoor failed, as Jack had already known it would.
There seemed to be enough fresh air to breathe so he assumed there had to be some means of ventilation. After some groping, he found a small hole in the wall. It was smaller than Jack’s hand, and he didn’t think the discovery would be of any help, other than making sure that they had fresh air enough for their enforced stay in this miserable place. If he heard anyone outside, he’d call for help, but that was the extent of the use he might have for the hole.
“There’s an opening here. We’ll have enough air at least.”
“Terrific. Now all we need are a few beers and sandwiches and we can have a picnic.”
The feeble joke only marginally cheered Jack. There didn’t seem to be anything more to say or do. He could hear Daniel’s teeth chattering from the cold, and with a sinking feeling, Jack realized that all his efforts to make his friend more comfortable might be in vain. Jack was a bit cold himself, but that was the least of his problems.
By now, the full impact of their situation was beginning to sink in. There was every chance that they would never again see the light of day, but that didn’t worry Jack as much as it might have. His main concern was a more direct one. This place bore an uncanny resemblance to the trenches where he’d spent greater part of his youth.
Though he struggled to supress his panic it was beginning to resurface. He had been convinced that he’d left his memories behind long ago. Wasn’t he a new man? Apparently, the peace of mind had only been skin deep. Now the closeness and the darkness of the small enclosed space were beginning to get to him.
Daniel was talking to him again, but Jack was a thousand miles away. In France, in a trench, among the wounded, the shellshocked, the dead, and the rats feeding on the dead. A couple of yards away, the vast no-mans-land stretched endlessly, with its minefields, barbed wire and those who had been left behind after the last retreat.
His best friend, Nigel, not much more than a boy, slowly dying from a horrific wound. The medic couldn’t do anything for him, and though the boy was unconscious, Jack was sitting by his side, holding his hand. They had signed up together and vowed to return together. That was nearly two years earlier. The war would be over by Christmas? How foolish, how innocent they had been. Nigel would never go home again, except in a coffin.
From somewhere far away, someone was calling his name. Who was it? Nigel? No. The boy would never speak again, except in Jack’s memories.
“Jack. What’s wrong? Are you injured too?”
“No, it’s Daniel. Jack, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing. What are we doing here in the dark?”
A pensive pause, then a changed inflexion of the voice out of the darkness.
“Jack, old man, take it easy. It’s shellshock. But the war’s been over for years. Concentrate. You and I were taken away at gunpoint by some madman.”
Another pause, in which Daniel fancied the tension in the room decreased somewhat.
“Forgive me. Unforgivable display.”
“Don’t mention it. My cousin was out there.”
That was explanation enough. Anyone who had been in the trenches or even known someone who had was familiar with the pressure it placed on the veterans. Older men couldn’t begin to understand. The veterans of earlier wars despised the spineless young fops of later years. But a man who had fought in the Boer war couldn’t possibly imagine the horrors of the battle of the Somme. Or Cambrai or any of the battlefields of the Great War.
Daniel began to speak calmy and reassuringly to his friend, but though Jack did his utmost to remain in the present, the past returned to haunt him as the slow hours of the late afternoon passed.
In the meantime, Evie was leaving the House of Elliot to see her hairdresser. To her astonishment, she was just in time to watch her fiance Daniel and her brother-in-law Jack disappearing into a car she had never seen before. Who was picking them up, and more importantly, why hadn’t Daniel thought to inform her of his plans for the afternoon? On an impulse, Evie hailed a cab and told the amused driver to follow the car speeding away ahead of them.
He was even more amused when she instructed him to keep his distance so the driver of the other car wouldn’t suspect he was being followed. Since the young lady was paying, why not let her have her little fun?
By the time they were well out of the city, Evie was beginning to have second thoughts. What could her fiance possibly be doing out here? Perhaps she ought to have left him to his own devices. Either this was to do with his work, or some surprise for her. In the latter case, ought she really spoil the surprise? But it was too late for hesitation now. She could see the other car turn onto a small dirt road, but her own driver appeared to have had enough.
“That’s it, miss. As far as I go. Can’t let the car bounce about on that.”
With a gesture of finality, he indicated the state of the road, or track, which appeared to be a better description of it.
Evie decided to see the expedition through to the end, and prove once and for all what a modern woman was capable of. Whoever said women couldn’t stand a bit of hardship? With a look of determination on her face, she paid off the driver and continued on foot towards the farm house.
In the deepening twilight, she tried her best to approach the house noiselessly. She wasn’t completely successful, but no one appeared to be about, and she managed to sneak up to the windows without calling anyone’s attention to her presence. The windows were grimy, and though she nearly pressed her nose to the panes, she couldn’t see much of the rooms inside.
What she could make out was that the farm appeared to have been abandoned some time ago, possibly due to the economic recession. Nevertheless, she had seen for herself that a car had made its way to this place, despite the poor condition of the road.
Now where was that car anyway? Evie had a vague idea that if she found the car, that would somehow lead her to her missing fiance. Eventually, she did find the car in a shed. There was no one near it, and no apparent traces of Daniel or Jack. How extremely odd. If they weren’t in the house and not near the car, where could they be? Somewhere on the grounds? In another outbuilding?
By now, Evie was rapidly forming the opinion that something was very wrong. Surely Jack and Daniel couldn’t be involved in anything – criminal, now could they? Of course not. She was being silly. There would be some perfectly normal explanation for the whole thing, and then she’d look a little foolish. Maybe this idea had been a mistake from the beginning to the end.
She turned to leave, wondering where she would find a cab, or failing that, an omnibus to take her back to London, when she walked straight into a strange man. Not a gentleman either, as far as she could tell. His first words confirmed her initial impression.
“Oy. What ‘ave we ‘ere? Such a pretty little lady out ‘ere all alone? What might I do for the likes of you?”
“Excuse me. I appear to be a little lost. Could you tell me how I can get to -“
Evie searched her mind for the name of the nearest town. Nothing came to her, and in any event her performance didn’t appear to have fooled the man for a moment.
“Miss Evangeline Elliot. Charmed, I’m sure.”
His tone of voice told her he was making fun of her. Apparently the joke really was on her. He knew who she was, and had from the start. Now he was toying with her.
“How do you do?”
“Me? I’m doing just fine. And yer coming with me. Come along now, let’s not make this any ‘arder than it ‘as to be.”
-No. What are you doing? Let me go.
The man grabbed Evie’s arm and proceeded to drag her over to a shed some distance away. He opened the door, while still holding on to her with his other arm. Hard. Evie’s eyes widened in fear. No one had ever treated her like this in her life.
Beatrice had slapped her face once, when she’d nearly burned herself on a hot stove, but that was when she was 7 and Bea 19. A very long time ago. And afterwards, she had realized just how close she’d come to getting hurt. Bea had only acted in her best interests. Somehow, Evie couldn’t imagine that this man had her wellfare at heart.
“This way, miss. Hm. What do I do with yer now? Send yer back to yer sister with a message? P’raps not. In the meantime down yer go. To yer brother-in-law. Keep ‘im company, like. ‘e’s going to need it. Gets cold down there, it does.”
Before Evangeline could even open her mouth to scream, the man had unlocked a trapdoor in the floor and pushed her towards a small, flimsy-looking ladder. There was no way she could ever climb down on her own. She was about to say so, when the man grabbed her and moved forward.
“Look what I’ve found.”
To Evie’s horror the man now began to touch her in a very familiar way. Her arms, her shoulders, her face, her hair.
An outraged roar from down there sounded familiar. Daniel. So that was where he was being held.
“Captain. Take a good look at yer wife’s little sister. Wouldn’t want her to get hurt, now would yer? I’m going to send ‘er down ter yer. So ye’d better be quick about it. Wouldn’t do to let the little lady fall and ‘urt ‘erself, would it?”
Jack’s face was chalky white in the light of the naked light bulb hanging from the roof. Unsteadily he got to his feet. Daniel wasn’t moving. Daniel? Was there something wrong with him? Panic swept through Evie as she took in the scene down below.
“For God’s sake, don’t hurt her. Evie, are you alright?”
Her teeth were shaking and and she had trouble getting the words out.
“Yer see. Would I ‘urt a lady? Now look sharp, Captain. Catch.”
And without further ado, the man pushed Evie down through the trapdoor.
Awkwardly, Jack held out his arms to break Evie’s fall, and was partially successful. He stumbled backwards and hit the wall. They both lost their wind, but by the time they’d both got their breath back, it became apparent that neither one of them were seriously injured.
The incident had provided some much needed distraction for Jack, but unfortunately, that was only temporarily. And Evie didn’t make the situation any easier. Her reaction was far from stoic. She was screeching in way that highly tiresome for Jack’s already frayed nerves.
“For heaven’s sake, Evie, will you stop your wailing for just a second? I can’t hear myself think.”
This was a new and changed Jack. Normally, he was very kind and gentle in his dealings with his young sister-in-law.
Evie wasn’t used to being treated this way, and for a time, Jack’s outburst really had the intended effect. Her mouth shut and she pulled back from him, trying to gather her wits. She turned away from her brother-in-law and kneeled by her fiance.
“Daniel? What’s wrong?”
“Must’ve been a little clumsy, sweetheart. Fell and twisted my leg a bit.”
“Afraid so. Don’t worry about it. I’m not in too much pain. It will be alright.”
His words of consolation didn’t even fool Evie. It was obvious even to the inexperienced observer, that Daniel was in considerable pain and though Evie couldn’t quite make out the outlines of his body, her probing revealed that his leg was twisted at an unnatural angle beneath him.
After Evie moved away from him, Jack sank to the floor, his back to the wall. He buried his face in his hands. Now there was one more person to worry about. He knew he ought to inquire about how Evie had ended up out here with them, but at the moment, his mind refused to function properly. The image of Beatrice appeared for a second, but he was unable to hold on to it, and once again he was left in the dark.
Distant sounds of gunfire, and mortars assured him that the battle was still going strong out there. Occasionally, there were cries of agony, ending abruptly. One of the lads had a bad attack of shell shock, and Jack could hear that one of the others were holding him down.
Once, a boy from Lincoln had run out into the spray of bullets. He had managed to get amazingly far, before he crumpled up and fell. For a few seconds, his body still continued, at a crawl, but soon the last movements ceased. His body had never been recovered, and the next night they had been given the order to retreat. Again. It wouldn’t do to lose another of their own the same way.
The nights were never silent. But then no one could sleep an entire night through anyway. There were the sounds of the wounded and dying, and the ones whose minds hadn’t quite succeeded in accepting the conditions in the trenches.
Two months had become two years that threatened to become twenty, or so it felt in the days and weeks of inactivity, only broken by ineffectual ‘offensives’ that only ended in yet another ‘strategic’ retreat. And the numbers of casualties kept rising to alarming proportions. How many of the confident young soldiers who had once set out were still here? How many had returned home, broken in body and in mind? Jack had stopped keeping count long ago.
What was that noise? At first he hadn’t quite realized what it was. So he had approached, still only mildly curious. The stench assaulted his nostrils and he heard a hissing sound, accompanied by the patter of small feet scurrying away at his approach. Fumbling with a match, it was a while until he could strike a light, and even then, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the bright dazzle.
The light fell on Philip’s face. What? A scream tore itself lose from Jack’s throat and he hardly noticed the flame burning his fingers. The eyes were gone, and – no – it couldn’t be – the nose – white bone shone through the wounds that must have been inflicted after death. Philip had bled to death after he stepped on a mine and lost his entire leg.
Though Jack had turned away, and pressed his eyes firmly shut there was no keeping out the grisly sight. Again, he screamed and screamed, until at last another sound filtered through to him. Someone was talking to him, calmly, reassuringly. He recognized that voice. But there was another voice, a higher pitched one, and it was screaming too. Young Miles Hungerford? How could they have sent a boy whose voice had not yet broken to the trenches?
“Jack, old man. Take it easy. Come on. Evie, will you please shut up. You’re only making things worse.”
“But what’s wrong with him? Is he going insane? There’s nothing down here, except us.”
“Hush, Evie. It’s shellshock. He’s not really here. His mind is a thousand miles away, in France. I wish you’d calm down a bit. Jack? Please. Try to remember. The war is over. You’re here, in England, with Evie and me. Damnation. If this leg didn’t hurt so badly, I’d be able to go over there and reassure him. Evie? You wouldn’t -“
“What? I’m not going over there. He’s scaring me.”
Daniel sighed. Evangeline had led a sheltered life. It spoke well of her older sister’s efforts at protecting her little sister, but it didn’t do anything to help their present situation.
“Help me up.”
“But you can’t. You need to rest.”
“Help me get up, or I’ll do it myself. Can’t you hear what a state Jack’s in? I’ll have to do something to calm him down.”
The howl of pain alarmed Evie and she almost let go of Daniel. But she clenched her teeth and at last she managed to help him move the few steps across to Jack’s side of the room.
With a heavy sigh, and a barely suppressed whimper of pain, Daniel was able to sit down, right beside Jack.
Daniel remembered how his cousin Charles had returned from the war, a mere shadow of his former robust self. All Daniel’s childhood he’d looked up to Charles, idolized him. What was left of his hero now? A broken man, stuck in a nursing home like an invalid, though there were no apparently physical injuries visible on his body.
The first time Daniel had witnessed one of Charles’ outbursts, he had reacted almost the same way as Evie, apart from the hysterics. He’d felt alarm, shock, revulsion. But Charles might have looked a different man, but underneath the startling changes, he was still Daniel’s idol, and after a while, he was able accept what had happened. Once he adjusted to the situation he had soon learned to offer whatever consolation he was able.
Jack was a more recent acquaintance, but he had always been a good friend. How could Daniel leave him in the dark, with his memories without at least trying to reach him?
“Hey, old man. It’s me, Daniel. Come back, will you?”
Awkwardly, Daniel placed an arm around Jack’s shoulder and held him. Normally, as any Englishman, Daniel would rather have faced his executioner than embracing another man. Today, the situation seemed to call for such a desperate measure.
Though he knew his fiance couldn’t possibly see him in the dark, he wondered what she’d make of this overly familiar approach. Forcing down the thought of Evie, which wasn’t easy, considering the fact that from time to time, she’d whimper as a small creature scurried over her foot or – worse still her hands or face. He knew she feared spiders and had a terror of having the things crawling over her hair. Under other circumstances, he’d be right beside her, holding her, comforting her. But Jack did seem to need him more.
“Jack? Please try to focus.”
At last, by the time Daniel thought he wasn’t going to succeed, Jack’s voice lost some of the hysterical edge. He was beginning to make sense again.
“Daniel? I did it again, didn’t I? You must forgive me. Can’t remember the last time I made such a spectacle of myself.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“I thought -“
“Yes, I understand. But it’s alright. It’s over. We beat the Huns, or rather you did. You and the other war veterans.”
“Didn’t seem that way at the time. We were the ones who seemed to be taking the worst beating.”
“I know. My cousin Charles was there. Fought at the Marne and the Somme and just about everywhere else, too, before they had to send him home. His nerves were shot. Never did recover. But you, Jack, you have left the past behind. You found Beatrice, remember? Unlike most of the other poor sods you got back on your feet. Now you’re making a success out of the business. Try to fight the memories. That’s all they are, really, if you think about it. Bad memories. But it’s over. You’re back in England and you must lay the ghosts to rest.”
-You’re right, of course. Terribly sorry. Intolerable behaviour.
“Not at all. Charles is worse, far worse, most of the time. Who can blame you for having flashbacks? I can only imagine what you must have gone through out there. My uncle Herbert was in the Boer war. Never saw anything like you must have. He can’t relate to what you and all the other heroes of the Great War went through.”
“Hero? Me? I was just a frightened boy. If I managed to take out any of the Huns it was purely by accident. Most of the time we just lay there in the trenches, waiting and waiting. For an offensive that most of the time never came. And when it did, we died. Those of us who didn’t, had to retreat and retreat. It’s hard to imagine that the entire war was fought over just a few square miles.”
“Yes. But that wasn’t all there was to it, of course.”
“No, I suppose not, but don’t ask me what it was about. Ours is not to reason why – You know how it goes.”
“Do you think we’ll see another war this century?”
“God, I hope not. But the Germans are mobilizing, or so they say. I haven’t really been paying attention. Will you go?”
“If there’s another war?”
“I’d have to, wouldn’t I? Lord knows I don’t want to. What about you?”
“You’ll think less of me, I know, but I’m so glad I’m too old to fight in any more wars. I’ve fought all the battles I’m going to fight.”
Evie was beginning to think that she was being ignored. She was also a little bit ashamed of herself, and the way she’d acted a moment ago. Daniel was badly injured, in considerable pain, and yet he didn’t hesitate to offer whatever consolation he could to his friend. Jack had become like an older brother, or almost a father figure to her. How could she have reacted to callously to his distress? Driven by a wish to redeem herself, she threw herself into the conversation.
“Daniel, Jack. I’m really sorry I -“
“Yes, yes, sweetheart, it’s alright. I’m sure Jack understands.”
“What? Oh, of course. Evie, I’m terribly sorry I carried on the way I did. Must have startled you.”
“No, that’s alright, Jack. I should have been more understanding. Anyway, I don’t think there will be a new war. After the last one, who would want to start another one? But if there was, who knows? Women might be out there with you, fighting side by side. Or at least driving ambulances and working in the war industries.”
“I really don’t think we’ll have women out near the front.”
The mere thought of women, as well as young boys barely out of school facing the enemy, filled Jack with dread.
Daniel gave Evie’s suggestion some thought. Jack had a point, but on the other hand, Evie was right too, there were so many things a woman could do as well as a man. In some future conflict who knew what sacrifices this country might be called upon to do?
“Evie might have a point though. Maybe not in the next war, but who knows about the future? You know what they say, the female is deadlier than the male.”
This brought a pale smile to Jack’s face.
Evie, however, took Daniel’s words at face value.
“If that horrible man were here now, I’d like to kill him, for hurting you, Daniel.”
There was a stunned silence at this un-ladylike outburst. But Daniel had recognized Evie’s tone of voice. She might not have the physical strength needed to carry out her threat, but he could tell the sentiment was honest.
“Let’s hope it won’t come to that, Evie. I’m going to be fine. Don’t worry about me.”
For the time being, the conversation had managed to pull Jack out of the past. He didn’t think his emotional detachment would last, but he was praying that it would last long enough.
When Jack didn’t come home for dinner, Beatrice decided to call Evie and ask her if she’d heard anything. She didn’t have much hope of that. Frankly, her sister often amazed her with her childish disregard for anything serious. Though Evie might manage to design lovely dresses for the House of Elliot, she still was, at least in her sister’s mind, very much a child.
Not getting any reply, Beatrice was beginning to feel the first stirring of concern. Evie hadn’t mentioned she was having dinner with Daniel that night. They were engaged, and times had changed, so for all Beatrice knew, her sister might be sneaking off for a secret rendez-vous with her fiance.
But she didn’t think Evie would be that irresponsible. Tomorrow morning they had a meeting scheduled at the bank. Both sister were expected to attend.
With a worried frown on her face, Beatrice considered her options. If this was merely a case of some unexpected business keeping her husband away until late, and her sister was meeting her fiance, she couldn’t very well call in the police.
On the other hand, it was getting late, and there had been no message of any kind from either one of the three missing persons. Did she know for a fact that Daniel too was missing? Perhaps she had better make sure of that before she flew into a panic. Wherever Jack was and whatever was keeping him, might not have anything to do with Evie and Daniel.
Half an hour later, after several more phone calls, including one to Jack’s club, Beatrice was feeling much more worried. Something was wrong, she was certain of it. The question was, what could she do about it? Calling the police seemed the obvious solution, but somehow Beatrice hesitated to do so. She wanted to do something herself.
Always decisive, Beatrice lifted the receiver again, this time to call a cab. Soon she was once again on her way back to work. The last time she’d seen Evie, Jack and Daniel had been when they left just after lunch. She had an idea that if she asked around, someone might have seen them disappear. That was all she had by way of a plan, but she was hoping that as she went along she would think of something else to try.
She told the driver to wait for her outside the House of Elliot, while she walked up and down the pavement, looking for anyone or anything that might tell her where her sister and husband had gone.
Her search took her around the block and back again. Not only once but twice and three times did she circle the block, desperately searching for clues, unaware that her odd behaviour had attracted someone’s attention. Not a bobby, fortunately. It was, however, a person who could offer at least as much help.
Mrs Miranda Prescott, once merely known as Nelly, a former dancer, now the proud owner of a small hat shop. She was a great admirer of the smart Elliot sisters. In addition, she liked to keep herself well informed about the comings and goings of anyone passing her shop. As she knew all there was to know about the Elliot sisters, it followed that she also knew their gentlemen friends by sight, as well as by reputation.
Earlier that day, she had been pleasantly mystified by the odd disappearance of the two gentlemen in question. Her elation increased when she realized that miss Bea, as she was affectionately known, had come to investigate her husband’s disappearance.
Beatrice stopped and looked around. Where had that peculiar noise come from? After some careful scanning of the buildings nearby, her attention was caught by the sight of a face peeping out from beyond the curtains of a second floor window. Having been discovered, the watcher now pulled back the curtain and made frantic gestures that seemed to indicate she was asking Beatrice to ascend the stairs.
Further investigation revealed a small, insignificant-looking door on the corner of the building. It turned out not to be locked and Beatrice decided to venture inside and upstairs. She fancied she recognized the woman.
“Come to find out where your husband went to?”
“Yes. If you have any information for me, I’d be most grateful.”
Beatrice didn’t relish confiding her problem in this woman, but realized that most likely, this was her only chance of finding Jack, Evie and Daniel.
“I saw them this afternoon. Your husband and young miss Evie’s fiance. Lunchtime it was. They were looking for the automobile.”
“Your husband’s, I think. They didn’t find it. Some other automobile pulled up beside them, and a man came out. He pulled a gun on them! “
Beatrice greeted this statement rather sceptically. A gun? On a respectable street in London? Perhaps in the last century, but she rather doubted that. What was this woman going on about? Had she lost her mind?
As if she could read Beatrice’s mind, the woman continued her account. -I can see that you don’t believe me. But I assure you it is the truth. I was quite beside myself for a while, but then I told myself this was only some old army friend of your husband’s playing a prank on them. My boy Robert was in the army himself. Those officers like to play a trick or two on their friends.
“No doubt. But now the prank has really gone far enough. Do you know where they went?”
She didn’t have much hope, and the woman’s next statement confirmed her suspicion. And all this meeting had done was increase her concerns tenfold.
“I’m sorry, dear. What I can tell you is that your sister, young miss Evie, came along not long after. She must have saw them, because I seen her hail a hansom and in she went. Following the gentlemen.”
Beatrice bit her lower lip. Jack and Daniel abducted at gunpoint and Evie right in the middle of it. This was turning into a nightmare. She thanked the woman for her information, turning the new knowledge over and over in her mind. How did she proceed from here? It occurred to her that she might ask her own driver. Surely, he’d know of a way of finding out about the cab Evie had vanished in, if not about the other car?
She tackled the man right away. It turned out her suspicion was correct. Finding out about Evie’s cab was an easy matter. From then on, Beatrice knew she would at least not be kept in the dark for much longer. What frightened her the most, though, was not knowing if she would ever see her loved ones again, safe and sound.
Again, she debated with herself whether she ought to call in the police, or continue handling this on her own. She was in two minds about it but in the end, she chose haste over safety.
When the driver who had taken Evie out to the old farm house reached the turning, he informed Beatrice he wouldn’t drive any further. Beatrice hadn’t really expected that he would. She did prevail upon him to wait for her return, emphasizing her request with a substantial sum of money.
The driver eyed her doubtfully, apparently evaluating her stamina. When he had dropped off the younger lady earlier that day, he had assumed she was meeting friends. Now, it was plain that something untoward had occurred, and furthermore, it was pitch black.
“Want me to come along with yer, ma’am?”
Beatrice considered the man’s offer, which didn’t seem to be very sincere. She might need the help of a man. On the other hand, on her own, she was fairly sure she would be able to sway whoever had taken her sister and husband away.
“Thank you, but I think I’ll be fine on my own. Just in case – Should I not be back by dawn, you might want to alert the local constabulary.”
“I’ll do that, ma’am. But surely it won’t come ter that?”
“I sincerely hope not.”
She was astonished to find that she wasn’t the least bit frightened for herself. What weighed on her mind was Evie primarily, but more and more, the safety of the men. Evie would have stumbled into something by chance.
The man was not interested in her. Unless she’d witnessed a crime being committed, one far worse than the abduction of two gentlemen, she would not be harmed, Beatrice reasoned. But the possible crime was what was worrying Beatrice the most, she found. What other reason could a man have for abducting two others in broad daylight? Obviously he had a grudge against Jack or Daniel.
Just like Evie several hours earlier, Beatrice stealthily made her way up to the house. A light was on in the main building, and Beatrice headed in that direction. Now she wished she’d thought to bring a light. If she didn’t walk exceedingly slowly, she risked tripping and falling, if nothing worse happened.
She realized that she didn’t stand a chance blundering about in the dark on her own. After a moment’s consideration, Beatrice made the rather rash decision of braving the abductor. This was a foolhardy thing to do, she fully realized that, but on the other hand, what were the odds of meeting with success, stumbling around in the dark? The man who had brought Evie, Jack and Daniel out here would know where they were, if only she could persuade him to give up that information.
Taking a deep breath, bracing herself for the confrontation, Beatrice walked up to the front door of the farm house. By now her eyes had made the adjustment to the darkness of the night. Raising her hand to knock on the door, Beatrice cast a sideways glance at the window. She couldn’t see anything through the filthy glass. Nothing would be gained by putting the moment off any longer, so Beatrice hastily knocked on the door.
Silence greeted this move. For a while she feared that the man would be elsewhere on the land and if so, what was she to do? Visions of her loved ones murdered and about to be buried flashed through her mind, but she firmly pushed those images away. Panicking would get her nowhere.
At last, she heard cautious steps approaching the door. After another nerve-tingling wait, the door finally swung open. The man inside did not appear to be wielding any fire-arm, to Beatrice’s relief, but he had a look about him that did not bode well. There was a desperation in his eyes, which alarmed Beatrice, though she was determined not to let it show.
“I’m looking for my husband. Perhaps you might be able to tell me where he is?”
Beatrice found that she was falling back on her most peremptory voice. The one she used on her staff, and which invariably would produce results.
To her astonishment, the man blinked once, and appeared to be considering her request. Plainly this was the way to deal with such a person. But her newfound hope faltered the next moment. The man reached out and pulled her into the house.
“What are you doing? Let me go at once.”
And he really did let her go, once he’d shut the door behind them. He gestured at a rather shabby-looking chair, which the stuffing was falling out of. Beatrice didn’t like the looks of the interior one bit, but decided to accept the attempt at polite manners.
“Yer looking for the Captain?”
The Captain? Could this be a man from Jack’s past in the army after all?
“I don’t know. My husband, Jack, was a captain in the war -“
“I take it he is here?”
When the man didn’t reply, Beatrice felt a shiver go down her spine. What if Jack and the others had been here but were now gone?
“Let me tell yer something, ma’am. Yer ‘usband – Jack? – left me fer dead out in bleeding no-mans-land.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I can’t believe Jack would do a thing like that intentionally.”
The man seemed to take in her statement, but his reaction wasn’t immediately clear.
“Have yer any idea what the Huns put me through in their prison camp?”
“I’m terribly sorry about your experience, but I still don’t see how my husband could have been responsible for it. Have you discussed this with him? Where is he? I would really like to speak to him myself.”
Holding her breath, Beatrice awaited the verdict. Would she even be able to reason with this obviously unstable individual? Even if she did, was she too late to find her husband alive? And what about Evie and Daniel? What had they done to deserve being dragged into this man’s scheme for revenge?
As if he hadn’t heard her request, the man continued his chilling tale from the past. Beatrice had to admit he had been treated roughly by the Germans, but surely that was an occupational hazard for a soldier? And she knew far too well what Jack had suffered during his years in the trenches. She wouldn’t allow this deranged person to take out his frustrations on her husband. If she had to, she would find a way of knocking him out.
“Please, let me see my husband.”
She had a sudden inspiration, but she knew that her idea could as easily backfire. Still, it was the only thing she could think of trying.
“How did your wife feel while you were in that German prison camp?”
For a second, Beatrice thought she had made terrible mistake.The man’s face underwent a startling transformation. It crumpled up and for a while she even thought he was going to have some kind of violent outburst.
“She – she – I’ll take yer ter see ‘im.”
“Thank you. What about my sister and her fiance? Are they with Jack?”
“eh? Oh, yes, they’re in the same place.”
The man gestured for her to follow. She fervently hoped they would all be alright. If this madman had harmed any of the people she loved, she would –
He took her to a small shed some distance away from the house. The door was unlocked, and once inside, the man hunched over and did something to a sort of trapdoor in the floor.
“They’re down there?”
Now Beatrice was very close to abandoning all hope. The cramped space which reeked of damp and mould had the look of a tomb. Were they already dead, and was she now to join them? But in the light of the single lightbulb overhead, she could see three pale, stricken faces looking up at her.
“Get them out of there right this minute.”
It appeared the man was considering her command, but now she noticed the state they were all in. Evie close to panic, Jack beyond panic, and Daniel – He had to be injured. Knowing that she might be sealing their fate by her impetuous move, Beatrice kicked off her shoes and began to descend the ladder. It creaked but held her weight.
Evie flung herself into her sister’s arms. Spending precious moments calming her sister down, Beatrice eventually pushed the girl away.
“Evie, climb up. Take off your shoes and get out of here. I’ll deal with the others. Go on.”
“But Bea, they’re completely new – they cost a fortune.”
Inwardly, Bea used a language her aunt would have referred to as un-ladylike, but she didn’t care in the least. Being ladylike usually didn’t get you anywhere in a crisis.
For the first time since her arrival, Daniel made a sound.
“Evie, I’ll take your bloody shoes. Give them to me and I’ll put them in my pockets. Now will you do as your sister tells you? Please.”
His voice was so strained, Beatrice knew he had to be in considerable pain. She would have to get him to a doctor immediately. That was if their captor would allow them to leave. Ignoring her doubts, Beatrice pushed on with what had to be done next. To her intense relief, Evie now braved the ladder. Fortunately, the girl was in quite good physical shape. No alarming sounds reached Beatrice down in the hole, so she focused on the men.
“Daniel? How bad is it?”
This wasn’t Evie. He knew he could use plain language with Beatrice.
“The leg is broken. I’m running a temperature.”
Putting a hand on his forehead, Beatrice could only concur. She knew it was imperative that she got this man to a hospital. Trying to keep her voice level, she continued her inquiry.
“No. You ought to see to Jack though. Shellshock.”
She had been afraid of that ever since she realized what had happened to Jack. Though he hadn’t gone into detail, he had warned her something like this could happen if he was placed in a stressful situation. In peacetime, it hardly got more stressful than this.
She kneeled before her distraught husband. Gently, she held out her hand, touching his face.
Her voice was quite different now that she wasn’t facing a deranged stranger; softer, filled with concern and love for this remarkable man who chosen her over all the made-up tarts he had been consorting with in the past.
When no reply was forthcoming, she put her arms around him, holding him closer, ignoring Daniel for the moment. He was – or soon would be – family, anyway.
“Darling, it’s alright, I’ve come to take you home. It’s over, Jack. Listen to me. You’re coming with me.”
He was back. She had managed to pull him away from the dark memories of the past.
“Yes, Jack, it’s me. Do you think we can get out of here now? Daniel could use your help.”
“Of course. Dreadfully sorry to carry on like this. What must you think of me?”
“Don’t worry about that now. Just let’s get out of here. Do you think you could get Daniel up that ladder?”
“I’m not sure. If there was something stronger – It nearly broke under my weight and I heard it creak ominously from Daniel’s weight as well. Both of us together -“
Daniel heard the conversation, and tried to rally all his strength. There was no way he was staying down in this godforsaken hole a minute longer than necessary. The pain be damned.
“I’ll manage. Just in case, shouldn’t you go up first, Beatrice?”
“Yes, please get out while you can, Bea. I’ll stay down here until Daniel’s safely back with you up there.”
Beatrice knew as well as the two men how little likely it was that Daniel would be able to climb all the way up without falling down, aggravating his injury further. Despite that, she could see how he was anxious to leave his prison, no matter what risks it would involve.
“Alright. I’m going.”
It almost broke her heart, seeing how Daniel shoved Evie’s shoes into his jacket pockets. Almost as endearing was watching Jack help Daniel to his feet. He was fighting down his own reaction to help his friend. Now more than ever, Beatrice was struck by how much she loved her husband. Impulsively, she returned to Jack’s side and pulled him into her arms, placing a quick kiss on his cheek.
Her simple action appeared to help Jack regain some of his strength. He straighened up and pushed her towards the ladder, then turning back to help hold Daniel up while she made her escape.
Up above, Beatrice found their host conspicuously missing, no doubt trying to avoid being picked up by the local constabulary. She had no time to waste on him. Again, she was forced to hold her near-hysterical sister, but as soon as Evie saw Daniel emerge from the trapdoor, she pulled away from her sister, and ran to her fiance’s side. Stifling a cry of pain, Daniel fell down and remained immobile, spent by the drain on his already depleted strength and the emotional ordeal.
Beatrice herself walked over to the trapdoor to greet her husband, who had taken time to gather up his jacket and coat. His face still bore traces of the recent trauma but in his eyes she could read an intense relief. Perhaps this time he really would be able to leave the memories behind for good.
“Let’s go home.”
“Do you have a car?”
“Oh, that’s right. I should do, unless the cab driver has decided not to wait. Jack, what about Daniel?”
“Don’t worry about him. Just get Evie to the cab. I’ll handle Daniel.”
“Evie, come on. Let’s go. I’ve got a cab waiting.”
“Oh, no. I can’t leave Daniel. He needs me -“
“Evie. You and I are going. Jack will get Daniel to the car.”
In the end, Beatrice was forced to resort to mild force to propel her sister towards the car. She knew that Daniel would suffer great loss of dignity as well go through excruciating pain during his transfer to the cab. None of which he would wish to experience in front of Evie. At times, it was better to just let men deal with their own.
Somehow, Jack was able to get the by now unconscious Daniel to the cab, and deposit him in the back seat. It would be a tight fit, but fortunately, London cabs were built spacious. Beatrice was able to cajole Evie into choosing the front seat, next to the driver, while Beatrice herself and Jack sat with Daniel in the back.
After having deposited Daniel and Evie at the nearest hospital, Beatrice could finally take her husband home. By that time, a new day had begun, and Beatrice was expected at work within the hour.
So was Jack, but one of the advantages of being his own boss was being able to make the decision of staying in bed. Fortunately, no important clients were scheduled for that day.
Beatrice, too, was her own boss, but as her day began with a meeting at the bank, she couldn’t allow herself the luxury of staying at home. That was fine, though. From an early age, she had been used to working long hours with little sleep.
Jack saw the necessity of attending the meeting, but that didn’t stop him from trying to keep her just a little longer.
“Don’t go. If I’m going to idle the day away in bed, why can’t you?”
Beatrice smiled indulgently and kissed him. At least he seemed back to normal. She didn’t have any qualms about leaving him alone.
“Because if I don’t go, I won’t be able to afford keeping you.”
“Keeping me? Ah, that’s a thought. A kept man. Sounds good to me. Let me rephrase. Hurry and get that meeting over with and get back to me, so you can start – keeping me.”
“I shall do my best. Mr Bentley will no doubt be very understanding. Unfortunately, I shall also have to keep my sister and her fiance, all without the benefit of Evie’s assistance. She’s forgotten about the meeting and I didn’t have the heart to remind her.”
Jack’s conscience struck him. This light-hearted repartee was pleasant to indulge in, especially after last night’s waking nightmare, but business was something to be taken seriously.
“Would you like me to come with you? For emotional support. I doubt if I can convince mr Bentley of my dress-designing capabilities.”
“Hm. I guess not.”
Beatrice giggled elatedly at the image of her husband sketching away at some dress design.
“What? You don’t think I could design a lovely frock for you or Evie?”
“No. I mean, of course you could. But let’s just stick to our own work. Evie designs dresses, I handle the financial matters and you -“
“Yes, what about me?”
“You stay in bed and regain your strength until I return. I should be back by lunchtime.”
“You don’t need to return to work?”
“I shall make sure someone else sees the customers. One day won’t bankrupt me. Don’t go anywhere now.”
“No, ma’am. Wouldn’t dream of it. You remind me of the old Colonel. Always bossing people around.”
“And I would make an excellent Colonel, I know. If not a General. Oh, well, maybe our daughter will be.”
“You do want a daughter one day, don’t you?”
“Absolutely. And I wouldn’t mind a son either.”
“You see. It’s absolutely imperative that you keep up your strength. I will see you in a couple of hours.”
When Beatrice descended the stairs, she was still smiling to herself. She hadn’t known Jack had such a sense of humour. And the wordplay had helped restore Jack to his usual even temper. Taking half the day off would do them both a world of good. When was the last time they had taken time for themselves? Business was all very well, but there were times when a girl had to focus her energies on her marriage, and the starting of her family.
Hm. Good idea. She wasn’t getting any younger and neither was Jack. It was time they did something about the succession. If they had a daughter, Beatrice fancied she would prefer joining the House of Elliot rather than the army. And she was sure Jack would agree. This family had paid their dues to king and country. They had earned the right to enjoy their good fortune and today was when Beatrice would start doing just that.