Historical Fiction Romance Drama

A heavy shudder shook the window panes as she wrote. The rushed keys of the typewriter pounded in unison as mortar after mortar fell decimating the city. London was falling but the letter had to reach him by morning. Emily wrote as fast as her fingers could but the ink on the ribbon seemed to fade after every turn of the paper. She couldn’t run out of ribbon at this exact moment but try as she might the ink would not stick to the paper.

She jerked the paper from the typewriter and ran to the next; abandoned by its typist. The rushed words still seemed to swim in front of her. She aligned her page and resumed her familiar position as her fingers struck the letters with its usual rhythm.

The heavyset man sat motionless as he waited. Lord Archibald became agitated as the news from the front was delayed in its arrival. He was certain he heard his butler, Patrick, come through the door. He expected the man to be as punctual as the soldier inside of him.

      “Patrick, has the post arrived?” Archibald hollered down the hall.

Patrick wasn’t excitable but as soon as the amber envelopes arrived he became energized. The mistress in the letters was unknown to him, but her flair for words excited him more than anything else. He felt a little ashamed to scramble through Archibald’s letters but the gluttonous man didn’t deserve the admiration he was afforded.

Patrick secretly despised the old soldier sitting in his wing-back chair. He watched closely as the man yelled his inquiry. The whiskey glass filled to the brim sat next to the old man untouched.

    “The mail Sir.” Patrick handed the packet of letters to the old man.

       “I had a rather inconvenient morning Simmons.”

    Archibald looked over the rim of his spectacles at the handsome young man, looking for any sign of discomfort.

      Patrick knew that Archibald expected deception at every turn and should he seem rattled the nasty secret he carried could be uncovered.

     Archibald was satisfied that Patrick knew nothing and that pleased him. He turned to the letters in his aging hands. He untied the ribbon and let the letters fall into his lap searching for the familiar amber envelope that stopped arriving a few weeks ago. He recollected the letters in a heap and continued.

      “I had a terrible dream. I was standing on the front lines at Normandy, looking to see if there had been any action at all. It was all gone, the ships, the German soldiers, all of it. The beach was clear, just as in my youth with the noonday sun shining brightly on the azure waters.”

     Patrick frowned heavily, angry that such silly dreaming can cause any distress at all.

    Archibald could sense the anger emanating from his young butler. He shoved slightly in his chair knowing that he had touched a nerve.

         “Do you think it frivolous Patrick?” he challenged.

     “No Sir, it sounds rather beautiful knowing what the beach actually looked like.”

       “Do you not wonder why the dream was rather unsettling?” Archibald challenged.

         “No Sir, my opinion is of no importance. Have a drink sir and catch up on your reading.” Patrick had no desire to know more and started to walk away.

           “Patrick.” Archibald commanded.

           “Yes Sir.” Patrick paused mid turn.

      “I know what you’ve been through. I experienced my own tragedies in France during the previous war, expected it to be the last, but alas here we are yet again. My dream was unsettling because it is incorrect. I was angry when I awoke to find the dream mocking me. I wanted you to know that.”

        Lord Archibald seemed rather honest and his insistence upon the explanation triggered a sense of panic in Patrick’s heart. He felt the pain in a flutter of emotions as images flooded his mind. He lost Lionel on D-day. He felt nauseated just thinking about the moment his younger brother by eight years boarded the Higgins boat ready to take him to the shores of Normandy. The beach was crowded by swarms of men, falling one after the other as they were bombarded by German artillery. If only he could have taken his place and suffered instead.

         “I know Sir, thank you.” Patrick turned quickly and left the old man to his letters where he surely delved into the action of the war he was no longer able to partake in.

Emily rushed through the rubble down to the train station hoping to get a nice spot. The nights were freezing and the tunnels offered little warmth. This time she would avoid the open tunnels gushing icy winds though its corridors.  She held the letter tightly in her hands wanting to re-read it again, its poetry running like a river over her tattered soul. She didn’t know who her correspondent was but she was a hundred percent sure it wasn’t Lord Archibald.

 The man was ancient in his sixty year old body. He might have been a valiant soldier once but his time in the trenches ruined his legs and he would forever be in a wheelchair, maimed beyond belief. She felt sorry for the man she was supposed to be corresponding with.

Her agency was a secret one. Writing to heroes of old, stroking their egos and enticing them with a little action, not much from the battlefront but rather form the bedroom. She despised her job, but the current trend was paying the bills and during the war her modesty had to give way in order to survive.

What she didn’t expect was the response to her eighth letter. Emily was following her usual pattern when the response changed. She instinctively knew that the man replying was indeed not Archibald himself. The handwriting was almost identical and one could see an imitation was attempted, but the prose failed. It was a little startling at first, but as their correspondence grew it became real, more personal than anything she had ever encountered. She found herself slipping away into the arms of a stranger she longed to embrace.

“Emily!” she heard her name called above the clamor.

Emily spotted Margaret waving at her from the opposite track. Emily pushed through the crowd and climbed the stairs that led to the opposite platform to find her.

“Where have you been?” Margaret demanded.

“I had to finish the letter to Archibald.”

“You are incredulous, writing to a poor old man only to deceive him with your affections.”

   Margaret didn’t agree with Emily’s line of work. Even though they grew up in the poorest district of Manchester; they had more etiquette than the Queen. 

“Selling your soul to pay for your bills is not the way we were raised.”

Margaret tilted her eyebrows at her awaiting an answer but Emily just smiled, trying to avoid the accusation once again. She rolled out her bed and made herself as comfortable for the night as possible. The shelling had ceased and she had hoped that this night would be their last in the tunnels. She admired Margaret but still hated her a little for her condescending nature. Emily wasn’t a reject and she didn’t sell her soul to the devil. She scoffed at the thought but remained quiet.

As soon as the crowd settled and silence engulfed the cavernous tunnel she re-opened the letter and read softly to herself. The words spoke of unification and all her heart wanted to do was say yes, but her mind told her otherwise. If she attempted to meet the man that spoke softly in prose to the empty void in her heart she might be disappointed. What was the purpose of a meeting if it would mean the end of their conversations? She had learned a long time ago what men were really like. They speak nothings into your ear until they have you under their spell. Then they break you and discard you, leaving you to mourn the loss of their embrace as the war takes them for fodder.

Tears started to roll down her cheek as the thought obliterated the image she had been building in her mind; an image of being loved and cared for. Maybe even a person who honestly wanted her for who she was and not for her fabrications in the confines of a bedroom.

The tunnel shook violently as a stray missile crashed into the earth hundreds of feet above them. Emily hardly noticed as she re-read the letter over and over expecting the hero to come to her rescue, but always the cold nights kept him away.

Archibald tried to twist onto his other side but the lack of movement from his legs inhibited him to utter frustration. He pulled himself up into a seated position, lit the lamp by his bedside and opened the drawer. Lying neatly in a pile of eight letters were the last vestiges of his desire. The amber letters were the only remaining items he cherished. Archibald knew that they must be a fabrication of affection but still he held onto them as if it promised vitality.    

More than once he started to write, demanding new letters but dreaded to be written to by another lady. It was evident that his correspondence had stopped and that something dreadful must have happened to the lass he preferred. She would never just stop writing. London was a pile of rubble and still some mortars fell from time to time. Sole pilots brave enough to cross the channel into enemy territory.

Archibald was furious and yet he knew that these would be his last letters he would ever receive. A solitary thought crossed his mind. What if he asked to meet the girl? Admittedly she would be a shadow of the woman in the letters, but if he promised protection and offered money, she might agree to come and live with him. He so longed for company, especially that of a young woman.

Emily shook off the restraint of aching fingers as she stood to deliver her latest envelope to her employer. With every letter she handed over to the editor she felt the grime of prostitution stick to her fingers. Words were like actions, although it was entirely fictional, she still felt the betrayal of her virginity.

She dusted off her shoes, sticking to her cheap polish, readying herself to go home. The shelling had ceased and the news from the front grew more positive by the day. Soon the war would be over and time to rebuild would ensue. But it meant little to her. She would still be writing her dirty letters to broken men hoping to make a pretty penny to buy bread.  

She was about to leave when her employer called her to her office.

“I have a very big proposal for you young lady.” Rose was radiant as she explained the news in simple terms.

Emily was excited but was overtaken with surprise.

“You mean to say that I will be going to see Lord Archibald at his estate in the Lake District?”

“Not just to visit but to live. Imagine a new life away from the broken walls of London. A life filled with opportunity and even love.”

“Love, I dare say that Lord Archibald only knows my depraved mind. My letters aren’t exactly filled with hope or opportunity, if you know what I am saying?”

“Emily, the man needs a companion, not a lover. He is unable to use the lower part of his body; the offer is solely platonic in nature.” Rose was unwavering.

Patrick was surprised to find Lord Archibald dressed to the tee and ready to apprehend the day. It had been months since he even dressed in anything other than a pair of slacks and a faded shirt. He had ample helpers and Patrick feared that his presence would not be required for much longer. He entered the parlour to find Archibald awaiting him with a thick envelope in his hand.

“Good morning Sir, what is the purpose of the packet in your hand?” he asked dubiously.

“Simmons it has come to my attention that you are a well versed young man and to keep you here as a butler is rather selfish. You are capable of so much more. I have decided to let you go. I have arranged for lodging in a cabin on the USS Trinidad. You will leave tomorrow afternoon. It will take you to New York. An old friend owes me a favour. He will collect you from the harbour and set you on a train to Los Angeles where you can work as a scriptwriter, a position I feel would be far better suited to your character and flair. Do you accept?” Archibald waited for the impact of the news.

Patrick was stunned. This was a childhood dream and now the road was paved for him. How could he refuse, yet his heart was still in London. Was he able to leave the woman he loved behind?

“Well Simmons, are you alright?” Archibald was worried for a moment, afraid that the tethers of the war would keep this young man from a future many would grab hold of in an instant.

“I accept Sir. Thank you.” Patrick smiled broadly.

“I need you to do one more thing for me please. Just one last favor before you leave for South Hampton. I have a visitor coming tomorrow morning; a young lady from London.”

“A lady Sir?” Patrick was surprised.

“Yes, I had been corresponding with her and she had agreed to come and stay with me. Keep me company of sorts. It is a far better option than the war ridden city could ever offer. Please collect her at the station, accompany her to the car and see her off before you board your train. I would be forever in your debt.” Archibald smiled and handed him the envelope filled with a year’s wages.

Emily realized that her entire life could actually fit into a single suitcase. She had few belongings and even fewer dresses. She used the last of her money to buy a pretty frock accompanied by a bonnet and satin gloves. She had never felt more beautiful and yet she dreaded the life she was about to step into. A life lived in a colossal estate with only an aged paraplegic to call home.

The thrill of the latest letter was overshadowed by the reality of her predicament. She would never again have to write a dirty letter, but she feared that her dirty letters were about to become her reality. The thought repulsed her but she had to admit that a privileged life away was worth far more.

   The train lulled her to sleep and before she knew it she was dreaming of bombs falling and her life ending in a sudden flash of fire. She jerked awake as the train came to a standstill at Windermere station. The premonition of her death seemed a reality. She wanted to remain seated, take the train farther to Manchester and disappear back into its dingy neighbourhoods, but she knew that it was even worse than London.

  She picked up her suitcase, handed it to the porter and straightened her dress, put on her gloves and settled her bonnet on her head. Her blonde curls threatened to fall from its clips.

        Standing in the doorway the young woman tried to rescue her unruly curls when the gust took her bonnet from her head. She grabbed the hem of her dress and held it tight as the wind blew. Patrick observed her as she stepped from the train, placing her small feet on the rungs of the ladder steadying her against the wind. When she looked up and her eyes met his, Patrick’s heart imploded.

“Good day miss.” Patrick looked into her eyes and she stopped short.

She was exquisite. Was she really the girl from the letters? Would she even think of asking who he was? Was he going to tell her?

        They stood on the platform un-moving, silent. The wind gave another breath as the train departed leaving them alone on the platform.

       The sun caught a glimmer off the man’s glasses. Emily watched in amazement as he removed them to reveal clear green eyes that conveyed a familiarity that was unnerving. She knew this man. It was the man from the letters, it had to be. But how was it possible? He reached out to her and without hesitation she took his hand and moved closer. 

      Patrick embraced the girl in a tender kiss and knew immediately that he would never be able to live without her. She in turn held onto him as if she was already betrothed to him. The world stood still and nothing was more important than this union, formed in an instant but predicted by fate.

      Lord Archibald waited excitedly in the parlor unable to contain his emotions. He heard the car coming down the graveled drive and he found himself pushing for the front door before the new butler could even properly open it.

     The car door opened but only the driver exited. He handed a confused Archibald a note written in Patrick’s hand.

   Dear Lord Archibald.

It is with a sad heart that I have to inform you that the girl had never arrived.

I have to thank you again for your kindness and the precious gift that you have given me.

Kindly yours, Patrick Simmons.

   Archibald cursed under his breath and felt the pain of rejection once more. He ordered the butler to bring him a glass of whiskey as he retired to the drawing room, alone.

August 25, 2023 09:07

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Driekie Olwage
20:02 Sep 06, 2023

Beautifully written! I love historical fiction and this one truly got the theatre of the mind going with the different characters and their different worlds... You write in such a way that the reader are able see into each character's soul, drawing me into what they might be feeling. Gripped me till the end... Hopefully there will be much more coming from your pen in the future, Magdalena...


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Robert W
06:40 Sep 01, 2023

Hi, Magdalena, as a 'Brit', I found your dystopian image genuinely disturbing and thought-provoking on a Stephen King level. What indeed would have happened if D Day had failed, and Britain had ended up being pounded into submission? Your concept of girls having to write "dirty letters" to old men just to live is both wholly unexpected and totally original (not drawn from life, I hope?! LOL). You just need to clarify your geography. I know only too well what an enormous country the USA is - at the end of my holiday in Florida some yea...


14:12 Sep 01, 2023

I am flattered by the comparison with Stephen King. Thank you so much for your great review and the way you corrected me in such a kind manner. I agree that a few tweaks in the geography would clear up a lot. Luckily the kind of letters written are totally fictional. I look forward to reading more of your work as well. Enjoy your writing!


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Christina Cooper
03:41 Sep 01, 2023

Wow, this was like catfishing in the early stages! I loved this story. Felt bad for Archibald, but liked the ending.


14:13 Sep 01, 2023

Thank you very much Christina. I appreciate the great review.


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Anne Abraham
18:34 Aug 30, 2023

I enjoyed reading this story very much! The themes were wonderful and I loved how I was able to tell exactly what time period this story was set in from the very first paragraph.


14:13 Sep 01, 2023

Thank you kindly Anne.


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Kevin Marlow
21:38 Aug 28, 2023

This is the best historical fiction I've read on here in a while. I like how you let tension build between the two would-be lovers, without giving anything away until the very end.


08:29 Aug 29, 2023

Thank you Kevin for your comment. I appreciate it very much.


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Adele Gray
19:40 Aug 28, 2023

What a lovely, evocative story. Sweetly romantic yet never saccharine. Can't wait for more from this talented writer.


14:14 Sep 01, 2023

Thank you so much Adele. I look forward to reading some of your work soon!


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Monja Anderson
19:09 Aug 27, 2023

Really enjoyed reading it and seeing the world through her eyes and words. Each person had their own battles and even though I feel for Archibald...the romantic in me loves the end for Patrick and Emily!


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L Baben
17:48 Aug 27, 2023

Great story! Very well written. Well done on developing the characters in such a short space of time. Happy ending for Patrick and Emily, but I do feel a little bit sorry for Sir Archibald... Well done!


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11:49 Aug 27, 2023

Wow, love this story. Amazingly well written. Took me on a journey and got me thinking about it well after I finished reading it.


14:04 Aug 27, 2023

Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it!


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