|Miss Annersley surveyed Cecil as she sat drinking coffee in the comfortable chair opposite. She herself was still quite shaken; but Cecil appeared calm. Of course, Miss Annersley reflected, she had barely known her cousin John. The Maynards, after a short but sharp period of worry, had received confirmation from the Ministry of Defence that Mike Maynard had survived and was uninjured. Details were sketchy, and classified, but John’s photograph had been printed in several newspapers. Miss Annersley sighed, she had fond memories of the little boy from the Die Blumen nursery and later, of her visits to the Quadrant. |
“Daphne will return next week,” she said, in her golden tones. “I’m sure I don’t need to ask you to look after her at this difficult time.”
“No, Auntie Hilda,” Cecil said very properly.
“As you know, Laura Gardiner has left us this term, to return to her people in Canada.” Miss Annersley continued, placing her own empty coffee cup down. “She was a very good Head Girl, and will be difficult to replace.”
“Yes, Auntie Hilda,” Cecil responded, but then her curiosity got the better of her and she leaned forward. “Why is she going so early, exactly? I mean, it seems so mysterious!”
“There’s no mystery;” Miss Annersley wondered, not for the first time, why Cecil Maynard had to dramatise everything. “Quite simply, Laura’s mother has recovered very well from her operation and they wish to return home. Laura has no examinations to take, unlike you, so there is no real need for her to stay.”
Cecil nodded, self-important to be the subject of adult confidences. She wondered how she was to take on the Head Girl’s duties and still make time to fuss over Daphne; even the tragedy – which she did fully appreciate, having seen her parents’ distress and recalling those worrying few hours when they thought Mike was drowned - didn’t make her like her effervescent cousin any more than she had.
“So,” Miss Annersley continued, “I hope you’ll be able to fully support Daphne. We’ve decided to make her our Head Girl for the remainder of her year. I do so hope the challenge will take her mind off such a sad loss. Oh, there’s Miss Dene ringing for me. Do run back to class, dear, and I’ll speak to you soon.”
Cecil left, only just stopping herself from slamming the study door behind her. She made no effort to return to her History class, instead running to the dormitory where she burst into angry tears. Daphne as Head Girl!
“Daddy, there’s a telegram,” James, alone for once as his brothers were out with Mary-Lou, ran into the surgery at Howells. Normally they were discouraged from the rooms their father used; now things were different.
Rix was distracted; sorting papers in his shirtsleeves. “Hello, James, what did you say?”
“There’s a telegram. Daddy. Daddy - why are we moving?”
“To go and live with Granny and Grandpa.” Rix said, disregarding the telegram. It would only confirm what they now knew. Both Daniel Lyndhurst and Jem Russell’s enquiries of well-positioned friends over the last week had extinguished all hope. He put it on his desk and turned his full attention to his eldest son. “We’re going to live at the Quadrant and help with the farm. Don’t you think it’ll be fun?”
“Because Uncle Maurice is going to live in Australia now; and it’s time I went back anyway. The Quadrant will be mine eventually, and one day it will be yours. We should learn from Grandpa how to run it, shouldn’t we?”
James nodded; it made sense. “Will we ever come back here?”
“For holidays, maybe.”
“I like it at the Quadrant, Daddy.”
“I know, so do I.” Rix picked up the hateful telegram, and then put it down again with a sigh. He would open it later.
There was nothing; and then suddenly everything was pain. Then again; nothing.
The next time; was pain, and people. John Bettany blinked; the light made his eyes water and they hurt. Everything hurt.
He closed his eyes and the return to unconsciousness was swift and welcome.
“Maynard?” Sub-Lieutenant Dean poked his tousled head around the door of the Chapel. Mike Maynard sat at the very front, lost in his own thoughts. There was nobody else present. The Sub-Lieutenant had no hesitation, however, and strode to where the younger man was sitting. Mike looked up, his expression showing that he was expecting bad news. His rosary was clutched firmly in his fingers.
“He’s awake, Mike,” Robbie Dean said, as kindly as he could. “They just radioed to say so. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Will he be all right? Have you told my family?”
“I know the next of kin was told – a Dr Bettany? I asked Lt McLaughlin. He said they sent the usual communications. They also said in Valletta that he was responding well to treatment and stable.”
“Good,” Mike felt a slight lessening of the pressure he had felt. The last two weeks had been awful.
HMS Camaraderie had been lost. They had been lucky; relatively. All of the company had made it across with minor injuries, if any at all. McLaughlin had sent a helicopter to rescue both John and Keeler the instant the winds had died down enough to make it practicable. The pilots had made it to the stricken ship, by that time only barely afloat, and found John on the deck, gravely injured and losing blood; unconscious. Keeler was missing. He was still missing, now presumed dead.
The ship’s surgeons had done as much as they could; then John had been flown away at full speed to the nearest base, Valletta, to the military hospital there. By all accounts – and Mike had pestered them for daily detail - it had been touch and go whether he would even survive. The news today was better. Mike smiled for the first time in weeks.
Replacement vessels had been sent to cover the Beira Patrol once the Admiralty could manage, and HMS Commitment, very overloaded with personnel but with nobody minding very much about it given the alternative, was on her way home.
The pain seemed like nothing on earth. He faded in and out of consciousness, aware of people around him, but unable to respond to them. The room seemed full of people. The morphine made his dreams wild and frightening.
So when he finally woke properly, it was disconcerting to find himself all alone, in a high white bed. A machine bleeped next to him and his bed seemed full of wires and tubes. Other than that; it was so silent.
His head ached as he tried to remember where he was; what had happened. He could not.
A nurse came in, exclaiming to see him awake.
“Where am I?” he asked; hesitant. His voice was croaky, underused.
“You’re in the military hospital in Valletta,” she said, calmly, “The doctor is coming. Please do not worry.”
“Jo! Don’t stand outside in the cold, for heaven’s sake!” Matron opened the French window, making those mistresses in the resultant draught shiver violently. The January air was cold. Joey Maynard quickly climbed through, slammed the door closed behind her and hastily divested herself of her outer garments.
“I’ve got wonderful news,” she exclaimed, taking the cup of coffee she was offered with a grateful nod. “I’ve just got off the phone with Mollie. John’s safe – badly injured, I understand – but he’s going to recover. Isn’t it wonderful, Hilda? A real miracle.”
“That is wonderful news, my dear!” Miss Annersley embraced her. “Rosalie, do fetch Daphne, won’t you? And Cecil too, and Phil.”
“Of course!” Rosalie dashed for the door of the study.
“How did you hear?” Matey asked.
“Mike wrote to us – I have his letter. Mollie and Dick were so thrilled, Hilda. I believe they’d quite given up hope. I’ve suggested he come to us – he’s in Malta at the moment, it was the nearest place. He could go to the San, of course, then to us when he’s recovered, just until he’s well enough to travel back to the Quadrant. I expect Mollie and Dick will fly out.”
“What are the injuries?” Matron asked.
“Mike didn’t know the full details; but we’ll find out shortly I expect. He’s alive, that’s the main thing.”
“I knew he’d be OK,” David grinned from his desk in the San. “Why didn’t you just open that telegram?”
“I know…” Rix just shook his head, he’d felt nothing but relief since his mother’s tearful telephone call that morning. “I’m an idiot. Mary-Lou already pointed it out. Still, we’re all so relieved.”
“Did you tell Lyndhurst?” David asked, tapping his pen against his papers.
“No – I’ll tell him when I next write. I think he’s in London these days.”
“I’ll phone him later – I’ll tell him.” David remembered the incident in the lane, how Daniel had asked after John, and wondered. He looked up at his cousin. “Actually, I want him to see the Olsen girl.”
“How is she?” Rix frowned.
“Much better – out of danger, in fact. So it’s good news all round.” David shuffled papers, distractedly. “Do you want to see her? She’s in Ward Three. Are you doing any work today?”
“Not unless you’ve anything urgent for me. I’m finishing up at Howells.”
“Oh yes, hard luck.” David was sympathetic.
“It’ll be fine. I had to go home sometime.” Rix shrugged.
“When is John coming home?”
“When he’s fit enough to travel. I don’t know when that will be, but hopefully soon. Uncle Jack suggested he go to the Gornetz Platz. It’s probably a good idea – the Quadrant won’t exactly be peaceful when we all pitch up there.”
“Switzerland seems sensible. If it’s better that he come here; just let me know.”
“Thanks, Davy.” Rix shoved his hands into his pockets. “I suppose I’d better be going.”
“Didn’t you want to see Jana? Just give me two seconds to finish this, and I’ll come with you.”
“Lieutenant Commander. If you are feeling up to it; we’d like to ask you a few questions,” the officer – John couldn’t identify his rank immediately – looked like he meant business. John nodded, immediately wishing he hadn’t when it made his head hurt.
“We’re from the Regulating Branch,” the other offered, unnecessarily. John knew that from their behaviour. “We just thought it would make sense to clear up this business before you go back to Portsmouth.”
“They told me I’m not going anywhere for weeks,” John sighed.
“Better sooner than later. We still have an officer missing and anything you could tell us would be useful.”
“I don’t remember very much. I hit my head.”
“We’ll see how we go. We’ve got most of the account from your first officer. You left your post and went aboard the HMS Camaraderie. Why did you do that?”
“One of the Midships from the Camaraderie told me there were depth charges still set. I couldn’t take that chance. I wanted to check for myself.”
“Understandable, if against procedure. What happened then?”
“I-I went down, below deck. I assessed the situation with the charges; it was still rocky but I could see it was safe for the time being. I sent the men there across to the Commitment. I remember that most distinctly. One of them was my cousin, you see.” They nodded; they knew. John continued.
“I went to the Bridge. There was water coming in – I remember splashing through it. It was dark. That’s it – I don’t remember anything else.”
“Do you remember seeing Commander Keeler?”
John frowned at the name, but the pain in his head was unbearable. “No. I’m sorry. I don’t remember anything between going down the passages through the water and then waking up here. It hurts…”
“We’ll leave it there. Well done, Lieutenant Commander. You were quite the hero by all accounts. I’d be surprised if you don’t get something for this little effort.”
“I’m being invalided out.” John would have turned away, if his ribs had been able to take it. “So it’s pointless. Besides, anyone would have done the same.”
“Well,” the two men looked at each other. “Thank you – we’ll be in touch if we need anything else.”
“Maynard – come with me. I’m going to sort out the Captain’s personal effects for him. You can help.” Lt McLaughlin said, coming across Mike at a loose end.
“Why?” Mike was frightened. “He is all right, isn’t he? Nothing’s changed, I mean?”
“Not so I’ve heard.” Lieutenant McLaughlin ignored the lack of formality. He realised the younger man was overwrought and exhausted. “He will need his belongings though, hopefully sooner rather than later. Come on then.”
“Yes, sir.” Mike followed him into John’s cabin. It was tidy, although the bedcovers were still disturbed from the night of the storm. Nobody had been in to it since.
“Is it everything? Isn’t he coming back, sir?”
“Now don’t start worrying again – I’m sure he will. No, certainly not everything, but I imagine he’ll want some of his things. His razor, books, his personal papers, that kind of thing. If you could pack those up please. I’ll come back later this afternoon to go through the ship’s papers. Good afternoon, Midshipman Maynard.”
“Good afternoon, sir.” Mike saluted, hastily, as McLaughlin departed to return to the Bridge. Mike turned his attention to the task in hand.
John’s desk was very tidy. Mike ignored the majority of the papers, McLaughlin and Sub-Lt Dean would deal with those. John had two books from the ship’s library - they could be returned - and a strange one written by a psychologist. Mike opened it but couldn’t understand a word. A key fell out of it with a clunk on the desktop.
The desk drawer had been locked. Mike tried the key and it clicked open. He pulled it open and saw letters. They were crammed in haphazardly, Mike saw. Some of the letters weren’t even in their matching envelopes.
Mike would never read anyone’s private letters, but he knew how important the part that correspondence from home played in naval life. Equally he was not na´ve enough to believe that the captain’s cabin would be left unused for long. He would just have to sort them into some kind of order and hope that John wouldn’t mind.
Dumping them all out on the desk, he set to work.
Captain Walsh, who had known John professionally for many years, hesitated outside the door. It was open, and John was lying still on the bed. If he wasn’t sleeping then he was certainly dozing or sedated. The doctors had explained about the memory loss but too much remained a mystery. What had happened to Keeler? Why had Bettany gone after him?
Walsh sighed. The outcome was the best possible, even with the loss of Keeler; but there needed to be a full debrief, questions asked and lessons learned.
John lay as still as possible, trying to will the pain away. His head, his back, his ribs, his broken wrist were all too much despite the medication. He was worried about the operations the surgeon had told him he would have to have. He had never had a day’s illness in his adult life.
He heard the sound of footsteps and opened his eyes, warily.
“My dear boy,” Captain Walsh came forward and took a seat next to the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“I’ve been better. You didn’t come out specially, sir?”
“Of course I did, Bettany. We lost the Camaraderie and one of my best officers is injured. They told me that you know about Lewis Keeler.”
John flinched. “Yes, sir.”
“I know you were friends. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t remember. I’ve already told people. I just remember the water coming in. I don’t even think I saw him.”
“Take it easy, Lt Commander,” Walsh was alarmed. In all the years he had known John Bettany, he had never seen him get angry. “We won’t discuss this now.”
“What if I never remember?”
Walsh looked at him directly. “It’s a tragedy that Keeler is dead, but it would have been so much worse if you hadn’t acted as you had. The whole company might have been lost.”
John looked away, feeling woozy with the drugs. He wished Walsh would stop talking, or better still, leave. Even though nobody had mentioned it yet he knew he was finished in the Navy. Once that would have been unbearable, but now he didn’t know how he felt.
He couldn’t think about Lewis dying. It hurt more than anything.
Daphne secretly found the Head Girl thing a bit of a bore; but she was so thrilled about John being safe that she was happy to go along with all the fuss. The only thing she did resent was the idea of giving up her little bedroom at Freudesheim, leaving the aunt and uncle whose company she enjoyed in the evening, and having to move to the school.
She still intended to go to art school and got on very well with Miss Yolland, however she had seen the sense of finishing her year at the Chalet School. Also, she had been lonely as the youngest child; educated at home and delicate, and it was good to have friends of her own age.
Cecil was a problem. Daphne mused on this instead of finishing her English essay and stared out of the Library window. It was partly her own fault; she had baited Cecil in the past over rules she found silly and about Cecil’s ridiculous attitudes, but now it had gone too far. Cecil was pale, she had alienated most of her friends and her work was beginning to suffer. Daphne’s overtures had been ignored; but she resolved to try again. She glanced across the room to the table – the furthest away, of course! - where Cecil was sitting making heavy weather over some maths.
Sighing, she pushed her essay, finished at last, and copy of A Tale of Two Cities away, and opened her writing case. She wanted to write to John, of course, though Rix had said in his last letter that John might not be well enough to read. She also owed Bride and her mother letters and they would be pleased to know about being Head Girl.
Cecil watched her, her prep disregarded, plotting her revenge.
It was months before John was well enough to be flown back to England. He’d had two operations on his spine and would require another, but he would be able to walk in time and would hopefully make a full recovery in time. How much time would be another matter.
Letters had arrived, in their dozens, but it hurt his head to read, so he had been sparse in his own correspondence. Telegrams were easier, short and to the point. He had one of the administrators write to his parents, Rix, and Daphne in Switzerland saying that he was fine and looking forward to coming home and to pass on the news to the family. He wrote a short letter to Daniel himself, struggling through the pain and knowing he wasn’t expressing himself well. He posted it to the Eaton Square flat.
Rix immediately wrote back saying he would come out but John told the doctors no. He didn’t want anyone to see him in such bad shape.
He fretted over whether they would discharge him medically. His back was painful and there was no guarantee that the third operation would make him as fit as he had been before. Sometimes at dark moments he wished he’d left the remaining sailors on the Camaraderie to their fate – even Mike and Lewis. He had to stop thinking there. Lewis was gone forever.
It was very early morning when the plane touched down. John would go by ambulance to RNH Haslar, in Hampshire, where his parents would meet him, by special arrangements. He hated the wheelchair and the bright morning sun hurt his eyes. His mood didn’t improve when a man ran up to the fence and took photographs of him.
“What the hell is that?” he said, to Captain Walsh, forgetting to whom he was speaking. Walsh swore and ordered the attending naval nurse to push John’s chair into the hospital.
“The press.” He said, shortly, once they were inside the hospital itself. “We’ll have to call a press conference at some point. You’re quite the hero, you know.”
“Rot, sir. I didn’t do anything.” John scowled. Captain Walsh, not for the first time since the sinking of the Camaraderie, wondered if John’s uncharacteristic irritability was a result of his head injury. He wisely left the question of the press conference until later. No doubt now they were back in England, John would find out about the enormous amount of public interest for himself.
They went into the hall and then his father was there, and his mother, who threw her arms around him and squeezed as though she would never let him go.
“Jackie, mavourneen,” she said, regardless of the fact that his senior officers were present, and burst into tears.
“I’m fine, Mother, absolutely fine. It looks worse than it is. Please don’t cry.” John held her tightly, almost overcome himself.
“Madam, if you would like to come with me, I have arranged a private room,” Commander Lawton led the elder Bettanys away, leaving Captain Walsh to follow with John’s chair.
Once reunited, Lawton and Walsh left the Bettanys alone for several precious moments.
“Bad business about Keeler, sir,” Lawton said, cautiously.
“Yes,” Walsh paced the corridor. “You don’t think…”
“Nothing – I’m being fanciful. Bettany did well. I’m putting him up for a decoration.”
“Good – but will he be discharged, sir?”
“Who can tell,” Walsh replied, but his dark expression showed he feared it was so. “Come on, Lawton. I hate to break up the happy reunion, but the sooner he can be debriefed and we sort out this blasted press conference the better for everyone.”
Sequel to They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships.