We came down with wet in January and it lasted until the first of March. If it didn’t rain it fogged us in or the frost was so heavy it looked like snow. Thoroughly miserable weather. If Cutty and Beck managed to get over they were there for days. Out in the countryside the roads became nearly impassable.
We celebrated my 24th birthday with a little house party of four plus the ladies.
"You could do shooting parties, you know." Beck suggested one day while we watched the wind blow the trees about in the garden.
"I don’t do shooting parties." I replied.
Beck looked over at me. "I know…I was suggesting that you do."
"I don’t like shooting. I don’t like guns."
"A countryman who doesn’t like guns." Berk shook his head.
"You forget, Becks, he’s an American." Cutty reminded him.
"I do forget. You’ve become quite acclimated."
"I’m at home here," I answered. I was at home. Blackstone had become my home. For the first time in my life I could say those words.
"Well a house party then…when the weather clears."
We’d been discussing the size of the house and how most of it wasn’t used at all.
"I’ve been told that my father had house parties. He still entertained but not as much or on as grand a scale as he did before his family died."
"Yes, he did. Always good food and drink to be had here.
"When the weather clears." I answered.
When the March winds began to blow away the wet clouds, Beck disappeared to London. We made remarks about the reason for his absence but in truth we wished we could be there visiting our girls. Eventually Cutty disappeared too and Peter and I were left with the business of Blackstone which we’d neglected blaming weather.
It was the first of May when Beck arrived with a house party in tow. He’d given me warning so we were ready for them. I’ll introduce his intended now, her name is Maddie Hampton. She’s a tall girl with hair the color of wheat and soft brown eyes. He’s made a good match. She brought friends, he brought friends so at last Blackstone was nearly full. Mr. Makewell never sat down for the month of May.
We hadn’t seen Beck or Cutty since March. Cutty didn’t come and I asked about him. Beck said he was busy with a new pursuit and all would be revealed. We were out on the lawn one day with the men trying to teach me cricket. I loved to watch the game but had a devil of a time understanding it.
Everyone pointed to the sky and began calling out. I too stopped and looked up.
"It’s an aeroplane-"
"Where did it come from?"
"Oh dear God in heaven what’s he doing?"
We all began running down the lawn. The thing was going to set down. When it finally rolled to a stop Cutty jumped down. He’d been off taking flying lessons. It fascinated me. I could only imagine what it must feel like to be aloft. He regaled us with stories of his flights. When asked why on earth he decided to fly he said it was a lark.
There was nothing for it. It was a lark I had to take up. The more he talked the more determined I became. Peter told me to get my affairs in order. I laughed away his fears and a few of my own. I enrolled myself in Cutty’s flying school at Larkhill. It began as a lark but soon became a love affair with the sky. I cannot describe the feeling of being able to reach out and touch the clouds and have their mist swirl about you touching back or to come suddenly upon the sun on a cloudy day.
When coaxed back to earth we spent a good deal of time on sport. We attended cricket matches and I became sufficient enough to know when to cheer and when to keep silent. However, they never did invite me to play. We went to London for a few weeks and to Wimbledon for tennis. Tennis I could understand and was quite good at it.
I should say that summer that we moved about as a group. There were ten to fifteen of us at all times. I made good friends with both male and females. One female in particular called Beth. Once we established our ground rules we became the best of friends. Beth was not attracted to men and I was in love with Faith. We made a good pair.
I had nearly given up writing to Faith. She never answered my letters until I wrote about flying. I got a short reply telling me to take care because she hoped to see me again. I have to admit that brought my spirit right up there with the clouds. At least now I knew she was receiving my letters and had for some reason decided not to answer. It spurred me on in my letter writing campaign. However, I was very careful in how I worded my letters because I didn’t know who was reading them.
Peter and I came home in July to take care of business. I’d been flitting about like a guest at my own party. I had duties to attend to that I had sadly neglected. Good management kept the estate moving along but as Peter pointed out clouds were gathering on the horizon. As I’d flown over Blackstone I knew there were areas of forest that could be taken for timber. Peter negotiated the price and the trees were cut and sold. I realized cash was not a crop but figures in black and white opened my eyes. I was considered one of the landed gentry; rich in lands but not necessarily in cash.
He opened my eyes to many things that were changing in the world. England was no longer self sufficient and imported many goods it used to produce at home as in dairy products that now could be shipped via refrigerated ships from the other side of the world. He encouraged me to read something besides the sports pages in the newspapers. There was a good possibility that our way of life was fast coming to an end.
Feeling thoroughly chastised I did as he suggested bypassing parties and trips to London for the rest of the summer. I did not give up my flying, however, and I was off to the fields when weather permitted.
September came in with welcomed cool crisp air after a stifling August. My resolve to lay off partying went by the wayside for awhile. Beck was getting married. We did all we could for him and delivered him up at the altar as a ready sacrifice. He’d asked me to be his best man and I did my part but I was losing him to Maddie. As much as I cared for Maddie things wouldn’t be the same now. We all realized it. As our eyes met around the group we silently laid him to rest.
Cutty came home to Blackstone with us after all the wedding festivities were over and his brother had driven off with his bride for a honeymoon in Venice. Still in formal dress but in some disarray we sat in my study over a bottle. Cutty and I were discussing our present state of frustration over the virtues.
I said something about Faith’s keeping me at arm’s length when Cutty said, "She doesn’t think she is worthy of you."
"What? " I laughed. "What a ridiculous thing to say."
"This is not known anywhere outside of her family and I wonder at Hope telling me but please," he looked over at Peter, "do not let it go outside of this room. Faith had a child when she was twenty. It died soon afterwards as there was something wrong with it at birth."
I went silent.
"The father was some hapless young man attached to her father’s ministry. He died when his bicycle hit a stone and threw him into a bigger stone that broke his head. He died before the baby was born."
I stood up and walked to the bottle and poured another drink. I now knew why she kept me at bay. I knew the reason for her quiet reserve. "It doesn’t matter," I said and took a drink. "There are things in my past that top that. It doesn’t matter, Cutty." I turned and looked him in the eye. "I mean to marry her."
Cutty smiled slowly, "I knew you would say that. You’re that kind of man."
I wasn’t sure what kind of man I was but I knew in my heart I was unworthy of Faith. I immediately wanted to go to her and tell her. Cutty advised against.
"Let her tell you in her own way. Rushing off to tell her you’re a cad won’t make it easier, John."
He was right, of course.
After Cutty’s revelation to me about Faith I upped my letter writing campaign begging her to write to me. She finally relented and though it began more or less keeping me abreast of the weather conditions and the number of ‘inmates’ in the wayward women wing of their house she gradually began to respond. Small things, silly things, her likes and dislikes. The way she would describe a sunset or the smell of leaves burning put me at her side sharing the experience. She never once mentioned her mother, who’d been arrested along with a group of other women for throwing rocks at Parliament. Her mother, a suffragette and feminist, now had her picture in the paper. Among other things they rode as a group into London on bicycles and tied up traffic for hours. As I say, she never mentioned it but I thought it must have been an embarrassment to her daughters. I was wrong on that account.
"Look here," I said one morning as was reading the piece aloud to Peter. "It’s just occurred to me that Mrs. Holcombe has been going about her business of disrupting London when she’s supposed to be in mourning!"
"You’re right." Peter was as astonished as I was. How unconscious had we been? I drove over to Beckinsdale’s to look up Cutty.
We were soon on our way to London. We made our way down to Holcombe House and presented ourselves to the butler and stated we were here to see the Misses Holcombe. At first I thought our message had gone awry. The aunt I’d met at my town house appeared. She appeared much taller that she was seated in my ballroom. A formable woman dressed in black.
After greetings were exchanged she asked for the nature of our visit.
Cutty blurted out, "We’ve come to see the virtues."
I gave him a quick elbow to his ribs. "We thought we might have a visit with your nieces."
"Have you forgotten, Sir, that this is a house of mourning for my late brother?"
Cutty and I exchanged a look.
"As you’ve come this far-" she left us.
"What a thing to say, Cutty." I admonished him for his outburst.
"Sorry, it just spilled out."
A few minutes later the three ‘virtues’ were ushered into the room looking like they’d been caught out in something untoward. I saw immediately that the aunt was not going to leave us. Frustration reigned.
Tea was served and we had exchanged pleasantries until I’d run out of pleasantries. At last the aunt was called away and Charity found a novel to read. I looked across at Faith and she rose and went to the windows at the far end of the room. I followed.
"Why have you come?" she asked.
"To see you. Meeting once a year is...it’s not enough, Faith."
"I can’t think why you would waste your time with me. I would have thought you’d met some lovely thing and married by now."
"I haven’t. Not that I haven’t met lovely young things, you understand, but marriage is for me a rather serious matter."
She looked away. "Why…why did you take up flying isn’t that a dangerous occupation?"
"To be quite honest, I am more afraid right now than I was the first time flew on my own."
"You would do well to fear me. You would do well to go away and forget you ever met me."
"I can’t do that. I once asked if I could call on you. I’m asking again."
"It’s impossible. As you see we are in mourning."
"Faith don’t use that as an excuse. If you say you hate me then I’ll go away."
"I don’t but that’s beside the point. I’m not someone you should be seen with. I’m not...what you think."
"Neither am I." I managed to get out before the aunt returned and loudly thanked us for coming.
I hesitated even then to leave her. There was never enough time to talk and I so wanted to talk with her.
Cutty wasn’t much better on the way back into London. "I want to get totally pissed." He said.
"So do I."
"My father’s in town."
"Let’s go to my house, it’s shut up but there’s drink enough to do the job."
The house was dark with the gas shut off. We found candles enough to make a cozy glow in the upstairs sitting room. With bottles and glasses at hand we began to drink our frustrations.
"I’ve asked Hope to marry me. I thought with Beck married…I didn’t consider that she would wait on Faith."
"Ah, Cutty, what a mess we’ve made. I can barely get Faith to talk. I have wild thoughts of kidnapping her and locking her in a room with me so there is no escape. Why is it so difficult to have a conversation?"
"Time and place. I swear I dare anyone else to pop off this year. You take care of the old ladies, John, if one of them goes it’s all over for us."
"I should install a doctor on call." Wearily I sat back on the chair. A fire had been laid and Cutty got it going for the house was cold. "She won’t even say I can call on her…it’s a house of mourning now."
"I asked Hope about that. Her mother is ever the unconventional one and does as she wishes. The Auntie has taken over the household to try and save some semblance of normalcy."
"It was all right when they were in London…all right to call on her then. I…I don’t’ know what has changed."
"I can’t answer, John. For me once Beck married the pressure was off. Hope’s unconventional family is not quite as important as it was."
"You mean your mother approves?"
"Not exactly approved but she has softened. She’s never met Hope Holcombe. I think if she did then she might welcome her into the family. Damn her father for dying."
"That’s rather strong don’t you think?"
"No I don’t think. If he hadn’t taken ill and died you’d be well on your way to marriage yourself."
"I’m not sure that’s a fact. My situation is a bit different."
My situation was even more frustrating. Something had passed between Faith and me. I felt it…I knew it and so did she. Somehow I had to get to her. I wasn’t about to pour my feelings out on paper for someone to pick up and read. I could only hint at what I really wanted to say. Time and place. Somewhere they existed and I had to find them.
"It’s cold." Cutty remarked.
"Yes, too cold."
We left my cold town house and went over to his house. His father was surprised to see us in town but thankfully didn’t ask why we were there. He was in town on business and we were left alone.
"I’ve got an idea," I began, "what if I send her a note to meet me in the park."
"Ha, I can see auntie bundling up for the trip now."
"You can’t stop that."
"No but I can ask her if it might be possible to come alone."
I suppose it wasn’t or she didn’t’ want to come. I spent the next day walking and sitting in the park. She never came. I went back to Blackstone leaving Cutty with his father.
I was feeling rather wounded when I arrived home. That led to a cold and I took to my bed for a few days where I could nurse my wound in private. As private as one can be in a house full of servants, three lovely ladies who came to worry about me and Peter.
When I was alone all the old wounds opened and so I was in abject misery. Damning myself and at the same time feeling a little sorry for myself. Something I’ve never given into before.
When the doctor arrived I knew I’d really played it for too long. Peter had called him in. There wasn’t anything really wrong with me except a cold which was on its way out. Being a modern forward thinking fellow he prescribed fresh air and exercise. Just what I needed.
I threw myself into Blackstone and involved myself in every aspect. I went down to the area where we’d cut timber and talked to my manager about a new plantation of trees. We worked it out and the work began. Good time to plant, I’d timed it just right.
I also sold off an odd shaped piece of land. My solicitor told me my father and his father before him had argued over that little lay of land. It adjoined a neighboring estate and my neighbor was awfully glad to have it back. I was glad to see the cash in the bank. Following Peter’s advice it was to stay there and only to be used for emergencies.
I paid a visit to the quarry that gave Blackstone it’s name. It was no longer mined and had filled with green water. The area was littered with fragments of the black granite that had been mined there. I picked up a piece of it and took it home with me; heavy, smooth and solid…Blackstone. There was a chess set in the library made from this stone. A sense of belonging made its way into my shell. I was a part of Blackstone and it of me and the shell around me began to harden. I suppose it was a form of self protection.
We made it through gray November and once again the Christmas season was before us. I decided not to go to the extravagance of a ball in London but I did open the house and as people do they gathered there most evenings before going out to other forms of entertainment. Our group was especially lively and great fun. Cutty, Peter and I made our rounds to the parties. We went to the theater and to the cinema. Beck and Maddie joined us for awhile. It was good to see he was still Beck.
I didn’t expect to see any of the virtues out and we didn’t. I stopped writing after that day in the park. I sent one short note apologizing for any offence she may have taken by my last missive. I expressed my love for her and signed off. I suspected she threw it in the fire with the rest of my letters.
I ran into Beth and she and I went around together for protection. Beth was good looking girl and there were times I wished the attraction worked both ways. She was a good friend and sympathized with my lovesick ways. She advised me not to give up. I was beginning to think it was an impossible situation as Faith had said.
Peter and I returned home a week before Christmas. Mr. Makewell had erected a Christmas tree in the great hall and along with the ladies we decorated it with delicate glass ornaments from Germany. This was the first tree we decorated since my coming to Blackstone. It held a special meaning for me for indeed it was the first Christmas tree I ever remember decorating.
Christmas Eve we were invited to Beckinsdale’s for dinner and afterward we went to church in our village for the midnight service. Peter and I and the ladies filed into our box. It’s hard for me to express what I felt that night. I will only say I was brought nearly to tears.
Everything…down to the number of candles on the altar, the songs we sang and the warmed bricks at our feet was etched in my memory. There was no way at that time for any of us to know what the next year would bring.
Peter was sick and unable to go to London with Cutty and I for New Year’s celebrations. I offered to stay home with him but he insisted I go. He said the world was changing so fast we might not see another year. I’ve often wondered what he saw in his tea leaves.
We picked up Beth from her family’s home on the way in. It was all much the same as it had been before only I remember it as being louder; more food, more dancing, more music and more drinking. Midnight found me with Beth. I kissed her at midnight trying not to remember two years ago in the same house out on the balcony.
I will never forget the three of us; Cutty, Beth and I walking arm and arm from the party house to Beck’s singing Auld Lang Syne at the top of our voices.
Mid January I had a visit from Beck. He and Maddie were down at his father’s for a week. It was awfully good to see him on his own.
"I thought I’d better come and tell you before you hear it elsewhere. I’m going to be a father."
"Congratulations, Beck, well done." We had a drink to celebrate.
"Yes…well." He smiled broadly. "I believe it’s to make its arrival in June."
"Not during Wimbledon tell her to wait." I laughed.
"I don’t think she’ll appreciate that. How are you, John, keeping up?"
"I’m all right…keeping up as things go."
"Have you seen Cutty?"
"Not for a fortnight, why?"
"He and Father made a visit to Holcombe House. He’s formally asked Hope for her hand in marriage."
"Ah…I thought she’d declined because of Faith?"
"It seems she’s changed her mind."
I stretched it a bit, "I’m happy for him…glad she came around."
Actually I was happy for him but it made my situation all the more painful. Beck stayed for most of the day and I was sorry to see him leave. Rare days when it was just the two of us. I supposed when Cutty married it would be down to Peter and me.
Beck had got himself some sort of a job on somebody’s staff. I forget just who it was. As I have stated, I’m not political and have no idea who reigns power in London.
A word about Peter. He set up shop in the library. That’s where he kept Blackstone’s accounts and read the papers and the latest novels. It was good for each of us to have our own space, mine being the study. He is a very intelligent man and better read than I ever hope to be. I do pick up a novel now and again and read it but I find it hard to sit in a chair long enough to read with any comprehension. I got through Harvard indicating that when forced I can comply.
He’s a very quiet sort of fellow but always ready to climb aboard anything we might have going. He drinks in moderation and doesn’t smoke. He tends to be shy in company and I think it has to do with his speech. He might have been the bottom rung in his father’s house but here he’s treated as an equal and given an allowance as are the ladies. I’ve always introduced him as my cousin Peter. I know he’s grateful for what I’ve done for him but I won’t let him go on about that sort of thing.
Peter is also a pacifist and a feminist. Needless to say he keeps his political opinions to himself around Beck.
I will admit I had newfound double respect for Cutty for going after his heart’s desire. Unlike me who retreated in the face of rejection, he stood up for what he wanted and got it. A wedding was planned for August.
On February 3, I had a rather shocking visitor. I’d been in the library with Peter when Mr. Makewell came to tell me I had a visitor. As I walked out into the great hall I saw a woman sitting on a bench near the door. This was not my visitor but the driver. Mr. Makewell guided me into the drawing room. A lady rose from her seat.
"Lord Blackwell, I’m Martha Holcombe…Faith’s mother."
"Very Pleased to meet you," I said or something to the effect. She shook my hand and we went to our respective chairs.
Without preamble she reached into the leather bag she carried and pulled out a bundle of mail. I felt the heat in my face for there were the letters I’d written to Faith. At least they hadn’t met with fire.
"I have not read all of these letters, Sir, only a few…enough to get an idea of what’s been going on with Faith. I’m here to ask you if your intentions toward my eldest daughter are honorable?"
I finally found my voice. "Yes, Madam, my intentions are honorable, however, I have found it extremely difficult to make them known to your daughter."
"I’m glad to hear that. I will tell you she has been in a state for some time. My sister-in-law told me you and Mr. Beckinsdale were down a few months ago. While it was highly irregular it does not concern me. Only recently has it come to my attention that there was a problem with Faith. I’m not one to pry into my daughters private rooms but I took exception when my conversation with her produced nothing but tears."
I was cut to the bone. To think that I had caused her such distress.
She continued, "She broke down and told me of her feelings for you and at the same time said it could never be. My Faith has a very low opinion of herself and considers herself unworthy of you or any other man who might be looking for a wife. I assume you are looking for a wife?"
"With Faith there could be nothing else, Madam."
She went on to tell me of the child Faith bore. The story I already knew but I didn’t let on that I did.
"She was awash with shame. A shame no woman should have to bear. My husband never knew of her condition. I had arranged for the child to be put up for adoption but alas God had other plans. There was a lung defect and the child only lived three days. She was some time coming out of the double tragedy of losing the young man and her child. It was my idea to put her with her sisters and send her out into society. I thought it would do her good to get out and mix and mingle with other young people.
"She’s had suitors and turned them away without a second thought. You, Sir, are different."
"Mrs. Holcombe, I’ve only had three chances to speak with Faith. The first time I met her I thought she was someone I wanted to get to know. I had a desire to talk with her. The second meeting was at my town house where I gave a Christmas Ball. We actually danced and spoke of trivial things. The attraction grew stronger. Then came the unfortunate death of your husband. As I looked at her that day I knew in my heart that she was the woman I wanted to marry.
"There are none of us perfect, Mrs. Holcombe, including myself. I…I feel something has passed between us. I want to nurture it, I want it to grow, I want the chance to make that happen. That she has suffered the loss of a child and a loved one only makes me more determined to bring us together. I believe there is a great love waiting to be discovered."
"You speak very well, Sir. I cannot, however, physically make her receive you. I can and will encourage her on your behalf. I have hopes that my second daughter’s engagement to Mr. Beckinsdale will also play a part since I understand you and he are well acquainted."
"We are the best of friends."
"So be it," she declared, "now might we have that tea your man has be hovering about the door with?"
I had her blessing and with that newfound hope began to once again bloom in my heart. I was to find out later that Hope had told her mother about me and that had set the whole thing in motion. I had much to thank that young lady for.
I very foolishly sent a sappy Valentine to Faith. She did not return the same.
The weather for the remainder of the month and most of March prevented me from traveling to London but did not prevent a new press by post. I would not let up this time.
Cutty had been spending much of his time in London with Beck and Maddie. They’d taken over the house in town and it provided a convenient place from which to travel back and forth to Holcombe House. He arrived one day at Blackstone riding a motorcycle. I asked him where in the world he’d picked that up and he said it belonged to Beth. I could see that.
"I thought the roads would be washed out again. I’d got as far as Beth’s and she lent it to me."
Cutty spent a week with us and we got caught up on everything London. He said Beck wasn’t any fun anymore since he’d got his position with the Prime Minister’s office. I hadn’t realized he was brushing elbows on Downing Street. We discussed the state of the world for awhile. I should say he and Peter discussed. I deduced that all countries were allies and enemies when it suited and not one trusted another requiring treaties and peace agreements to be signed. Serbia was mentioned and I wasn’t even sure where Serbia was on the map.
At last we got around to what I was interested in…the Holcombes.
Cutty was making regular visits and I envied him to the point I thought of hopping on the back of that motorcycle when he left. It seemed Faith and Charity both had been ill with colds and he hadn’t seen much of them lately. Faith rarely was in company when he visited.
I told him of Mrs. Holcombe’s visit and he wasn’t surprised. Hope had been campaigning on my behalf. I was beginning to love that girl.
We also spoke of flying and looked forward to clear skies again in the spring. Spring brought to mind a house party for the first of May as I’d done the year before. It sounded a good idea and thought I’d make a tradition of it. This year I would invite the virtues.
At last it dried up enough we could get out and drive to London. Peter and I discussed the state of the roads in our bit of the country and how they might be improved. We vowed to do something about it come summer.
Cutty and I left Peter with Maddie and Beck and drove down to Holcombe House. Hope was expecting Cutty but I’d come as a surprise. I hoped it wouldn’t be too much of one and that Faith would be happy to see me.
I was directed out into the garden on a sunny April afternoon where Faith was sitting with several small children reading a book to them. I leaned against an elm tree and listened to her. These were children belonging to the otherwise homeless unwed mothers who lived there in the east wing of the house. I thought of the remarks I’d made in the past about wayward women and she’d let it pass. Now I thought how insensitive that was of me.
Her voice waivered when she caught sight of me but I kept close company with the elm until she’d finished and sent the children off to play.
"I didn’t expect to see you today." She rose from her seat on the stone bench.
"I prayed I’d see you."
I noticed immediately how she wouldn’t meet my eye; looking left and right and anywhere but directly at me. She was embarrassed by her mother’s revelations. I tried to reassure her.
"I think I understand why you kept me away from you. I want you to know that there is nothing under the sun you could have done that would change the way I feel for you. I’ve said it on paper and I’ll say it now to you. I love you, Faith. I want the chance to prove that to you. I want the chance to see you and talk to you. We need to get to know one another. It’s important."
"I want to see you…but-"
"No, no, no don’t add a thing to that statement. You want to see me and you will because I can’t stay away from you any longer."
I thought the afternoon went well. We talked of her family and I tried to veer away from mine for the time being. It was too complicated for an afternoon in the garden. We stayed for tea and it was then that I put for the invitation for a house party for May 1st. Her mother was not convinced and asked about chaperones.
Cutty was brilliant. He said I had three Aunties living with me to keep an eye on things. The aunts hadn’t occurred to me. Mrs. Holcombe gave her permission for the virtues to attend for a week. We were extremely lucky and full of ourselves.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the first week in May. The evenings were cool but days were warm and sunny. We had picnics on the lawn and spent as much time outside as possible. Cutty and I had worked feverishly getting the tennis court back in order and we put it to good use. There were 13 of us all together an odd number but we didn’t consider it an unlucky number at all. We missed Beck and Maddie but she didn’t feel she could enjoy herself in her advanced state but promised ahead for next year.
I remember that week for the fun we had, the ladies in pastel dresses, cool lemonade after a set on the tennis court and laughter. Charades in the evenings and the dining table full. I remember it for Faith. It was a time of discovery of shared things. I told her about my past. I’d never told anyone on this side of the ocean about my mother and father and the way I was brought up. I told her about Mr. Briggs and that I had a benefactor that sent me through school. I did not tell her about Julia as I knew her. Maybe someday I would but it didn’t seem to have a place there on the sunlit lawn. It still lay like a rock on my conscience and would torment me if I looked at it for too long a time.
The aunties played their role as chaperones but really we were a well behaved civilized lot. Gentlemen behaved as such in our group and ladies were ladies with the exception of Beth who arrived on her motorcycle with a friend on the back. I introduced her to Faith and I thought they got on rather well.
I will admit there were a few kisses exchanged but we tried to keep all above board and look after one another so that nothing got out of hand.
By the time Faith left there was an understanding between us. We were a couple. She wanted to hold off announcing us as such until after Hope and Cutty were wed. She didn’t want to take away her thunder. I hadn’t actually asked her to marry me yet but it was understood that was my intention. I introduced her to my mother’s portrait as my future wife.
As the house cleared out Blackstone claimed me for awhile but given the chance I was in the air again in a dreamlike state. I climbed ever higher than I’d ever been up above the clouds. I’d learned a few tricky maneuvers from my instructor and tried one out on my own one day. Something happened and I began to spiral downward. I felt my whole life being sucked into a vortex. For a moment I felt powerless until the training I’d had clicked in and I pulled myself out of it. That was the closest I’d ever come to death. It scared the hell out of me.
For a week I kept my feet on the ground but I knew I had to go back up and face it down. I couldn’t let fear take away the joy of flying. I got past it but I didn’t forget. I talked to Cutty about it and he said some get hypnotized by it and don’t pull out. They freeze up. I was lucky.
There was something new I was intrigued by; aerial photography. I’d seen pictures at the training field at Larkhill. I inquired and was allowed to take a two seater up with a photographer. I flew over Blackstone and the surrounding area. I thought it a good idea for the road construction planned for later in the summer.
We’d met with neighboring estates earlier and we all agreed something had to be done about the roads. They were little more than narrow one lane carriage routes and never designed for automobiles. Everyone who’s land they crossed agreed to contribute toward the construction. My photographs would prove to be invaluable.
Roads were important as I was continually back and forth to London. I took Faith to the cinema to see Charlie Chaplin. I took her to Wimbledon. I did not take her to Beck’s to see Maddie who was about to deliver. It may not have bothered her but I was trying to consider her feelings.
Cutty with Hope and Mrs. Holcombe were planning the wedding for August 25. London was busy and crowded for it was the summer season and young ladies were making their debuts. The round of parties no longer interested me I’d found my lady. I planned to open Blackstone’s town house for the month of August so that we might send Cutty to Hope in the same state we sent Beck to Maddie. I’d been staying with Beck when in London but with the arrival of his parents I went ahead and opened the house on a lesser level with minimal staff so that I might have a place to stay out of the way of all the Beckinsdales.
They were in the city for the birth of their first grandchild who made her appearance on June 21, 1914. I went over to congratulate the new parents. I knew Beck wanted a boy but if he was disappointed he hid it well.
I was back at Blackstone a few days later. We had another meeting concerning the roads, came to an agreement and construction was to begin immediately. I spent some time down at the home farm. We had a dairy there and had added on to it in the fall. It was now complete and I had to inspect it. It had been electrified and looked quite modern and clean. As we left Peter remarked.
"We’re self sufficient here at Blackstone."
I will admit I’d never given it a thought. "I suppose we are. However we don’t grow our own clothes and we both have to be kitted out for Cutty’s wedding. I’ve made an appointment with the tailor for the 30th so don’t make any plans for that day."
We entered the house and Mr. Makewell met us in the great hall.
"There’s a telegram come for you, Sir."
"Telegram?" I took the envelope from the silver slaver.
It was from Beck dated June 28, 1914
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria assassinated.
I sat down on a chair and let it fall to the floor. Peter picked it up.
"God help us," he said.
We made our way to London and a more solemn trip I can’t remember. Peter said he thought something was going to happen. The world had been simmering and it was only a matter of time until the pot boiled over.
I didn’t think anything except that perhaps there had been a mistake. My hopes were dashed as we reached the city. Already newsboys were touting the headlines. We went to Beck’s. Cutty was there and the house was full including some member‘s of our group. Beck was with the minister. Beck’s father, a veteran of the Boer War sat in the drawing room and predicted war. He was creating a rather gloomy atmosphere and Cutty and I with Beth and a fellow by the name of Rhys-Carlton left for my house.
I will state here that I was not completely ignorant of the world although I tended to skim through the papers until I got to the sports results. I had enough knowledge to realize we were on a dangerous spiral.
We remained in London. Beck kept us abreast of the diplomatic manoeuvring taking place. He was a rather harried looking fellow to say the least. With a wife and new baby demanding his attention and Mr. Asquith’s office claiming the rest he rarely had a moment.
One of the saddest indications of looming disaster was when Heinz Boehner, Bones to our group, was called home to Germany. I remember him standing in my sitting room finishing up his drink and carefully placing the glass down on a table. He’d come to say good-bye.
"Gentlemen," he began, "I hope to see you all again at Blackstone where I have spent many an hour in friendship and sport." He shook our hands and departed. The room was silent for some minutes until Cutty remarked.
"Well, gentlemen, there goes peaceful Germany."
Cutty and I made several trips to Holcombe House. Mrs. Holcombe was abreast of the events taking place and angry beyond words. She had a wedding to plan and all this talk of war was upsetting Hope who was that day having her wedding dress fitted upstairs. She railed for some time about men and their warlike manner.
Faith and I walked in the garden and tried to think of other things to talk about. The roses were especially fine that year but we clung to one another in unspoken fear.
There were those, of course, that fear never touched. The young ladies in the midst of the summer season trying to make a good match. The young men aimlessly moving with the tide drinking the last of the summer wine. Young Americans having their European tour interrupted and complaining about having to shift to England. England was isolated from Europe. England was safe.
I’d never seen Beck so absolutely defeated. We were gathered there in his drawing room on August 4, when he came in at 2:00 in the morning and announced Britain had declared war on Germany. We’d been alerted earlier in the evening that something was up when he didn’t come home for dinner. I’m not ashamed to say that we as grown men shed a few tears on the occasion. Without question our lives were about to be changed forever.