20 April 2012

Esther 1916

1916 love story
The year is 1916. Esther Chapman, a girl in her mid twenties, shares a house in an English village with her housekeeper, Mrs Cooper.

Esther's housekeeper entered the room with the urgent, determined bustle so often associated with those who know they face the uphill task of cheering up someone who doesn't want to be cheered up.

She knew she would find Esther either sitting at the piano or staring out of the window. This afternoon Esther was being carried away - far away - on the sweet melody of a much loved tune.

"Why Miss Esther, I thought you would have been down in village by now"

Esther stopped playing and paused a second before rising.

"What is there in the village to interest me Mrs Cooper?"

Mrs Cooper gave a sigh of mock exasperation, although if truth be told there was much honesty in her gesture.

"Why Miss Esther, the children are down at the fair. You know how much you used to love watching them and even joining them. I remember when you and Mr........"

She stopped.

Esther walked towards the window where she stood staring. Mrs Cooper had noticed the ritual was always the same, though she did not know why. Esther would stand for a moment and then her hands would move slowly to her breast. Mrs Cooper was aware that the movement was subconscious and that a smile would appear on the sallow, sad expression on Esther's face. A face etched by the cruel chisel of uncertainty, waiting, fear, and of heartbreak.

Mrs Cooper knew that today would be a trying day for both of them.

Two years ago Esther was indeed in the village with that nice Mr Chapman. Oh how they laughed and teased the children. The children would giggle without a trace of the self consciousness so evident in the adults during these troubled times.

Mr Chapman would give the children piggybacks and run around the green as young boys pretended to be knights in shining armour and girls were golden haired damsels in distress.

Miss Esther was a bright young thing back then. Mrs Cooper recalled how she insisted that Mr Chapman gave her a piggy back. He refused, feigning tiredness and saying he could not carry her. She poked her tongue out at him. He of course, gave in.

Those were such happy days.

But today was different. Mrs Cooper watched as Esther's smile came then vanished as quickly as it had come.

There would be no chasing, no teasing. No laughing.

Only tears.

For it was a year ago today that Mr Chapman stood on the front doorstep, the buttons on his uniform shining like miniature suns as he kissed Esther goodbye.

"It will all be over by Christmas" he told her. Esther fought back the tears and summoned a brave laugh.

"Well you make sure you bring me back something nice from France. And keep away from the French ladies, George"

George - Mr Chapman - almost looked hurt. He held Esther close and rested his head on her shoulders.

"No lady in France, or indeed anywhere can hold a candle to you my love."

Mrs Cooper held Esther as they stood watching him walk down the garden path. Before opening the gate he turned towards them.

"Take good care of her Mrs Cooper. Take good care of her.

Mrs Cooper smiled - they all smiled to give lie to their sorrow, their fear.

"Don't cry Esther, I will be home soon. I will be back for you I promise"

A year had passed, but George had not returned.

****
Mrs Cooper was worried. She had seen Esther down but never this bad. Later in the day, when she went to inform her that dinner was ready, she found Esther sitting on the sofa rocking her head and humming a familiar ballad. That she had been crying there was no doubt. All day Mrs Cooper had heard her sobs.

Esther hardly touched her food and though normally Mrs Cooper would gently scold,t his time she left well alone.

She wanted to call the doctor but Esther would not hear of it. It was nothing to worry about she assured her.

Although grateful that Esther had decided to retire for the night, Mrs Cooper could not relax. She sat awake knitting to pass the time but always with an ear cocked for Esther.

Esther lay in her darkened room thinking as always of George. How they laughed, how they teased each other. His hands were so soft, so tender.

Esther could not believe she felt so tired. She tried to keep her eyes open but these days her will was weak. Slowly they closed.

Usually before going to sleep she would say a little prayer. Two simple wishes, but ones that meant so much to her. "Please Lord, let me dream of George." and "Please Lord, let George come back for me"

***
Mrs Cooper was getting tired as well. She told herself that she would stay awake just in case Miss Esther wanted her. She put down her knitting and listened more closely. It seemed silent, no sobbing. Good, she
thought to herself, "the poor young thing is asleep and dreaming of her young man. I hope. I may have a little nap in that case."

***
"Come here my sweet. Come let me hold you"

Esther smiled. She knew this dream well. George would hold her close and kiss her forehead. Oh how she enjoyed this dream. Then she would wake and realise it was just a dream.

"Come here my sweet. Come let me hold you".

Please Lord, don't let me be disturbed tonight.

Esther was not disturbed. She would shed no more tears. Mrs Cooper was asleep but somewhere, somehow she heard a voice whisper,

"Please don't' weep for me Mrs Cooper. Be happy for me. My own tears will now be tears of laughter. George has kept his promise. He has come for me".

Wherever you may be - be safe  
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