The grave lay close to a Weeping Willow, the leaves of which had fallen and were scattered over the surrounding area like autumnal confetti. The late afternoon air was burdened with a grey ice-tinged fog that left only a few pockets of visibility as it whispered its way from the moors and towards the town of Whituth. Elizabeth brushed away some wet leaves clinging to the black marble headstone, then pulling her red coat tight against the chill, set off across the rain-swollen lawns and toward the exit leading to the Moor above.
As she walked, her boots crunched along the gravelled pathway and in the distance, the upper windows of the house where her mother had lived as a child watched her silently. She stopped still and stared back at them. It was at that precise moment when Archibald Templeton stumbled across her.
“Stanley thought I might find you here,” he said in an abrupt manner before adding an unsure smile as an afterthought.
Elizabeth was surprised to see him. She couldn’t remember the last time they had met, but it had to have been several weeks ago now.
“Really? How strange -– it’s not as if I had planned on being here today or anything. Well, not consciously anyway.”
She sensed he was feeling awkward; he certainly gave that impression as he shuffled his weight from one foot to the other and played with the rim of the dark brown trilby he was holding.
“Stanley wondered...well, we all did really, when will you be returning to RoYds?
She froze and then found the courage to answer, “I’m not sure...after that last experience with the young girl and... Grispheran. In fact, I’m not even sure if it’s the right thing for me to be doing anymore.”
The wind began to pick up and a leaf-filled gust swirled across their path. Elizabeth shivered.
“It’s too cold to be standing around here chatting,” Archie said cheerily, pulling up the lapels of his perfectly tailored Harris tweed jacket. “Why don’t we go somewhere warm and talk about it?”
Elizabeth sensed he was feeling protective towards her and the better part of her nature nodded her agreement to his suggestion. Several minutes later they found themselves sitting in front of a roaring log fire in the lounge of the Red Lion.
“We’ve all been through something like it, you know? At least I think we all have. During the Great War every second held as much fear for me as the thought that each one could be my last. The thing is, like all matters in life or delay -– it’s always best to get straight back to it. The longer you leave it, the harder it will become.” He finished his sentence with a nod of his head as if to affirm his words.
“You think so?”
“Well, I’m no expert but I do know that running away doesn’t help anyone. Over the past few years, I’ve had to face an awful lot of bloody dodgy situations, I can tell you. Come to think of it, school wasn’t much better either!” He laughed heartily and Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile.
There was an awkward silence before Elizabeth eventually broke it. “I... Grispheran made me relive the worst moments of my life. It came as quite a shock to face up to what I really am.”
He reached over and patted her gloved hand tenderly. “It’s no different for the rest of us, dear. Don’t blame yourself for not being something or someone you were never meant to be. We can’t escape from who we are just because we want to.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I suppose you’re right. I will give it some thought. Promise.”
Elizabeth lost count of the time she spent wandering around the town before she eventually plucked up the courage to enter the gothic-inspired town hall and ordered a copy of a death certificate from the Registry Office within. She apologised for the lack of information when the clerk scowled.
“I know very little about my mother’s family, and I only know this much because of what I could find on the gravestone. My mother died when I was young and...”
The clerk interrupted her mid-sentence, “Well, I can’t promise anything. We have to go through each of the indexes manually. It could take some time," he said curtly. "Take a seat and I’ll come back to you as soon as I can.” The clerk closed the opaque glass window as Elizabeth sat down in the pleasantly furnished waiting room.
Elizabeth’s curiosity about her mother’s side of the family had been roused by Lady Mabel Theawicke’s recent mention of her grandfather Billy Lawrence. Elizabeth had little knowledge of him except for a vague memory of sitting beside a roaring coal fire with him as a small child, drinking strong sweet tea. It was going to be interesting to learn more about him and hopefully solve some of the mystery surrounding her family’s past.
On the rare occasions when any of her immediate family had ever had cause to speak of Billy, they had always employed hushed tones and harsh words, giving her the impression that he must have been a horrible person. Once though, Stanley surprised her when he’d told her, “You're great company! Just like your granddad Billy!”
Elizabeth had been shocked. How could a wicked man like her grandfather ever have been on friendly terms with anyone as wonderful as Stanley?
Forty-five minutes later, Elizabeth was interrupted in her musings when the clerk reopened the window and proffered the death certificate she had requested.
“Thank you so much,” Elizabeth said softly. The clerk, making as little eye contact as possible, smiled faintly and closed the window.
Elizabeth scurried outside and scanned the Cause of Death column on the freshly created document:
II Internal haemorrhage
III Punctured wounds of both lungs and left ventricle of heart
IV Fracture of the sternum and fractures of rib
V Penetrating wound due to bullet in the P.M.”
It was true! What she thought she had once heard was correct. She studied the death certificate further. Date of death, July 1940. Yet the original death certificate had not been issued until December 1940. The death had been informed by the Coroner, and there under the column headed “Signature, description, and residence of informant” she discovered something that she had previously overlooked: Inquest held 16 July 1940.
Her next stop would have to be the Local Studies Centre.
Labels: Billy, Elizabeth, Present Day, Refuge of Delayed Souls, Volume 2, Web Fiction