Chapter 8, Pt 4 of 6
WAR TIME INCIDENTS
I took her into the drawing room and sat down beside her. “Are you feeling all right?” I asked.
She tried to force a smile but the tears came instead. “No,” she sobbed. “I am not.” She unfastened her handbag and brought out a snow-white handkerchief and also a telegram, which she handed to me.
“May I read it?” I asked.
“Of course. It came yesterday. The man who brought it looked so solemn that I guessed there was something wrong. My brother took it from him, and wouldn’t give it to me at first. He doesn’t usually open my correspondence, and yet he opened this telegram and before he could utter a word I knew what was in it. I had been feeling it for days that all was not well with Cyril.”
I glanced over the telegram – “Regret, your son Cyril Burningham, Royal Marines, number …. is missing, believed, killed.”
“I am sorry,” I said as I placed my hand on her shoulder. “But there is still hope you know.”
“I doubt it. I knew when I said goodbye to him that I wouldn’t see him again. He had that look in his eyes.”
“You are a very brave woman Mrs Burningham.”
“I suppose I am but I can’t pull myself together just yet. I shall get over it. Again I am not the only one. Even in our road alone three of the other lads are missing.”
“I suppose you have got in touch with the proper authorities to keep you informed with the further development.”
“Yes, I have contacted the Red Cross Society in London. They are doing their best for me.”
“Have faith, my dear. For all you know your Cyril may be alive and well.”
Mary, my maid, brought a cup of tea for her and she sipped it quietly and it certainly revived her a little.
I couldn’t get Mrs Burningham out of my mind all that week. I rang her up once or twice and asked whether she had heard any more news of her son. No, she had heard no more and in this case she didn’t think, “No news was good news”. She sounded very strange on the phone.
“If you don’t mind, I will not come over to do any sewing next week. I simply do not like coming out of the house at all. My brother keeps saying there is hope. Everybody keeps saying the same. But between you and me, I have lost hope. The suspense is simply driving me crackers.”
I felt really worried about her. I told Sheel to mix a bottle of tonic for her, which I sent to her by Mary. Then a couple of days afterwards she came to me quite unexpectedly. I was pleased to see her though she seemed worried and downhearted.
“No news yet?” I asked.
“No, nothing,” she said and she was quiet for a long while. “I have come to ask you Mrs Chowdhary if you do believe in dreams. I dreamt of Joe, my husband last night. He stood beside my bed in his golfing outfit (he played golf a lot you know, and I had always admired him in those clothes). He smiled at me and what do you think he said. ‘What are you worrying about? Cyril is all right,’ and that was all. He spoke no more. Now what did he mean? Did he mean to tell me that Cyril was with him and was all right, or did he want to tell me that he was alive and well? I cannot fathom that out, can you?”
“Well,” I said, “I have had dreams which have partly come true and something connected with them has happened the next day, but it is unwise to dwell on them too much. Has the dream made you feel better or worse? That is the point.”
“I think I feel slightly easier in my mind. I feel that whatever happens, I will take it and survive it.”
“That is it,” I said, “that is more like our Mrs Burningham.” I moved closer to her and comforted her a little.
A week went by without any further news from her. Then one afternoon I picked up my receiver and found myself talking to my seamstress friend. She babbled away at first. It seemed she was lost for words.