11 comments

Drama Romance Historical Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of sexual violence.

Post Office Telegraphs. Augustine Madlain to Imogen Eley — (Received 3 August 1914) 


Believe war entry likely STOP Paris in uproar STOP Holiday enthusiasm STOP All very exciting STOP ᛭ Auggie



10 October, 1914

Dear Auggie,


I was so glad to receive your letter last week. Imagine your marching in shirts and ties through the countryside — suppose a cow, for instance, had seen you? What must the poor creature have thought? And I don’t think it’s fair of you to complain of learning to cook “like women-folk.” You say it’s hard on fellows but I see right through your dignity and know the truth — that for you, it’s all rather fun. It’s lovely how a thing as terrible as war can really be made into a sort of game for “able-bodied young men” (so goes the fashionable epithet): first the privilege of actually being present in Europe when whatever-his-name is killed, then the chance to form great social parties to wait in line at the recruiting office, and now what seems like boxing matches, shooting practice, and mess with chums every day. Whew! Suppose you never want to come home?


I myself have been quite well. I take Nelson on long walks each morning (our dog, of course, not the fallen hero) and try to enjoy the out-of-doors, learn from nature, that sort of thing. The afternoons are mainly spent sewing and reading by the little brook in the park. Mostly I enjoy penny dreadfuls but I’ve been trying to better myself and consume one book of real literature for every three novels. I’m reading Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur just now — it’s very slow going. Sundays are for church, where my mother and I pray for you and Keith unceasingly.


By the way, I read your letter out loud to Mother (well, most of it, of course) and we agreed it was splendid to hear that you and Keith are in training together. She said it was like losing both her infant sons and then learning they’d been “salvaged from the wreck” and “raised as one in a foreign land” (you know how she is). I had to remind her that you are not her son as, after all, you and I aren’t even engaged. She looked at me so archly (it was really insufferable) and said it was only a matter of time. What cheek! (Although can one’s own mother give one cheek?)


Anyway I choose to believe the rumors of a swift, victorious conclusion to this conflict, that you’ll be home by Christmas, and that we’ll have a spring wedding (only teasing of course) thanks to my two brave, glorious, wonderful boys, no matter what that gloomy old Lord Kitchener predicts.


God save the King! Love conquers all!


Your own and loving

Jenny



21 September, 1915

Dear Auggie,


“Deployed” — how strange it is to think you’ve finally left English shores. I am not sure how the autumn goes in France (and you thought you could put me off the scent with your vague “somewhere on the continent” — I’m not all that dull, you know) but in Surrey the days have cooled, the trees have put on their red hats, and boys in rough shirts and neat trousers plough the fields and sow barley. Your descriptions of infantry living conditions are all rather dreadful but I hope you will get to see some real fighting soon to put all these small unpleasantries out of your mind.


My taking a position in Sir Philip Woodard’s household has been something unfortunate although necessary. I suppose anyway it’s nice to feel that I’m contributing to the war effort. Since Keith was not home by last Christmas (and, incidentally, neither were you, my love) and cannot of course provide for poor Mother, then isn’t my taking a job in his stead the same as if I were dug into the trenches myself?


Sir Woodard is fifty-two years old and so too elderly for military service, but I can’t help disdaining him for all that. He is quite rich and drives (what else?) a German car. He’d bought it before the war of course but I think he should have got rid of it anyway on principle, out of zeal for Merrie Old England and the Empire and our boys overseas and so on. His bonnet ornament too is a very indecent bronze engraving of a mermaid with bare and erect breasts.


On about my fourth day as a housemaid he asked if I’d be willing to marry him. I told him my concerns about the car and the mermaid. I was very upfront about it. Then he asked would I marry him without the car. So I tossed my head as scornfully as I could and told him that my fiancé (you won’t mind I’ve begun calling you my fiancé, will you? It sounds so much more romantic than “beau” and I knew he’d take us more seriously this way) was a captain of the 21st Division, thank you very much, and I’d rather have one honorable fiancé in the army than dozens of wealthy old husbands safe from harm in their luxurious beds. I thought he’d be properly shamefaced but I think he was only amused.


I promise I’ll read The Song of Roland for your sake, once I finish the latest Sherlock Holmes. I continue to hope in the forecasts of imminent victory.


Your own and loving

Jenny


P.S. Nelson (the dog not the admiral) is not fond of Sir Woodard and I was obliged to leave him with Mother. She’ll spoil him and never take him on walks — I fear he’ll get fat, fat, fat!



1 July, 1916

Dear “Captain Madlain”,


I’m surprised at the tone of your last letter. I’m very sorry about chlorine gas and barbed wire and machine guns and things but I don’t think it excuses your accusations. Firstly, I am still employed by Sir Woodard because of his great generosity, not because I enjoy his company in a capacity greater than that which is demanded by master and servant. I can keep Mother very comfortably and will send her on holiday to Bath for the first time in over thirty years — I believe that is enough said. Anyway he isn’t so very old as you put on, younger than my father would be were he still living.


Secondly, I do try to understand and sympathize with your troubles, but since I have never actually experienced bombardments or fields of corpses it is hard for me to feel much else other than desire. Yes, desire! I wish I were a man and could be there rather than here. I think you should feel grateful that you’re not cooped up like poor Keith with the ’flu. (I’m slogging it through Shakespeare at the moment and he seems to believe men have a real physiological need for warfare. Do you expect Othello would have had the time to murder Desdemona if he’d only been off fighting someone else?)


Thirdly and lastly, I have never in my life wished you ill. I’ll describe to you however my feelings on a certain afternoon after I accompanied Sir Woodard (no fits, please) to a memorial service in honor of mothers and widows of the dead from our township. The priest and the mayor intoned their names with wonderful gravity and I kept a close eye on the women the whole time. Can you believe it — I was jealous, actually jealous! Their sorrow seemed to touch them with a sacred dignity that sent real chills up my spine. Their sons and husbands were heroes and they themselves partook of that heroism. I was covetous, ravenous for just a crumb of it!


On the way home I suppose Sir Woodard noticed I was flushed and unusually silent, as he asked me why I thought these “fools” (most of them were volunteers) had chosen to leave such beautiful women simply in order to march to an unnecessary death. I seemed to hear the brass bands booming behind me, the Union Jack flapping merrily in the breeze as I replied: “For Honor.” He laughed in my face (I suppose I was rather ridiculous — suppose you’d have been there — would you have laughed yourself? oh I hope you wouldn’t have had the heart to laugh at me just then) but the spirits of King Arthur and Saint George and Henry IV on Crispin’s Day were with me.


Prayers for a speedy return, though I must say it sounds grim.


Sincerely

Miss Imogen Eley


P.S. Or was it Henry V? You know how I get these sorts of things muddled. Either way, my patriotic sentiments had reached such a pitch I wished I had dozens of “fiancés” to send off to France, never to return. xxxxx J



23 July, 1916

Dear Auggie, dearest Auggie, loveliest, darling Auggie,


It’s been three weeks since I sent my last letter but I haven’t received yours. I pray it was lost or will cross paths with this one over the channel or that you were simply too upset with me to respond. Mother and I have heard dreadful things about the Somme. I need to explain some things to you because I’m really afraid I’ll never get the chance to explain myself to you again.


It was wrong of me to speak flippantly of your sufferings, but it was for two reasons: to cheer you up (though I don’t suppose this was successful), and to hide my own misery. I’ve gone to great lengths to keep it a secret from Mother and Keith because I don’t want them to feel badly for sending me to work, and I’ve kept it a secret from you so that you won’t decide you don’t love me anymore (I’ve met other girls in my situation who have suffered such a fate).


The truth is, Sir Woodard has taken advantage of me several times. He’s threatened to dismiss me and accuse me of loose conduct to any future employer if I complain. I have tried to convince myself of my civic duty to keep my chin up, take care of Mother, and see the job out to the end of the war, but I often find myself wishing desperately that I were a man and a soldier. I was envious of you, of all people, and was not as sympathetic to your sufferings as I might otherwise have been. Perhaps I should have told you sooner, but I thought I’d rather withstand all such insults in silence than risk dishonoring myself in your eyes. I don’t care anymore! I don’t care about anything as long as you are saved.


Oh Auggie, each night I grind my teeth and bite my tongue till it bleeds to keep from crying out. I pray you might turn coward, preserve your life even at the cost of Honor, at the cost of my own life, even if I never set eyes on you again, even if I never know whether you have survived, even if you love another woman and I am forced to watch. I don’t care. I don’t care! I love you Auggie, body and soul. I have always known that man was not made for warfare but for love; Othello was not meant to kill any more than Desdemona was meant to be killed.


Your own and loving, eternally and forever

Jenny



31 July, 1916

Auggie


please answer me


Jenny



Post Office Telegraphs. Military Secretary’s Department to Imogen Eley — (Received 3 August 1916)


Deeply regret to inform you that Captain Augustine Madlain Infantry is officially reported as killed in action July first STOP dead in the trenches STOP perhaps instantaneous perhaps not STOP pity and pride once stirred by deaths of principle now exposed as twisted hateful false STOP all sorrows the same sorrow all deaths one death since the beginning of death STOP treachery to have forgotten even one instant the crush of suffering immemorial yet who is culpable when ignorance is only defense STOP where is that Honor which sent him to the killing floor STOP sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal STOP the symbol signifying nothing unless grinning mockery is a something STOP and what could you mean by soul without flesh to be ensouled or what by heaven if there never was an earth STOP he is dead and all the world with him STOP the world ceased by a single cessation yes STOP and who is it making that noise like a wounded beast it is you you you you you STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP

August 25, 2023 15:50

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

11 comments

17:12 Aug 25, 2023

Very creative writing. Kudos to researching a WW1 scene. The confusion and pain of separation comes through in the last few exchanges. Also the story highlights the reality that in every war the establishment send all the young people to fight their battles while they profit at home.

Reply

Katy B
23:09 Aug 25, 2023

Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Scott, and I'm glad those themes stood out to you.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Chris Miller
17:00 Aug 25, 2023

Very interesting, Katy. Making the exchange largely one sided was a good idea. I particularly like the last message and the way it blends the real text with the psychological impact of the receipt. Really nicely written. I didn't go for the epistolary format because I just couldn't think of an interesting way to do it, but this is a very good response to the prompt.

Reply

Katy B
23:08 Aug 25, 2023

Thank you so much for the kind words, Chris!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
06:32 Aug 29, 2023

This is another strong piece Katy. The devolution of the MC's optimism and positivity as realities of harsh life catch up on her is very well done.. and the last paragraph is chilling.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Rebecca Miles
09:26 Aug 28, 2023

This really feels of the age with the naive fiancé, probably one who would hand out the white feathers, looking after mother and trying to pass the time by reading fiction which glorifies self sacrifice and war. I found it fitting that she slogs through tragic works like Othello which of course feature sacrificial love. The volte face was probably true of many women who waved their menfolk off as heroes and then rued the day. The final end telegram is thought provoking. As so many missives were censored it made me wonder if the sender had ha...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Michał Przywara
01:45 Aug 28, 2023

Enjoyable - and a great shift in character. She goes from being the idealist, wholly believing in Honour and other such things, to realizing what's truly important in her life. Too late, alas, but she nevertheless gets there. I particularly like her feelings of jealousy for Auggie himself. Yes, we learn that partly it's because of her abusive work conditions, but partly, it's also an actual desire to be on the field. She begins to understand that war is not as pretty as the government sold it, but she nevertheless years for it as a kind of ...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Aeris Walker
00:52 Aug 27, 2023

The idea of telegraph correspondence has always appealed to me, and I love how you utilized it here to make this work immersive and gripping. Well done. I enjoyed the depth of the main character, how her tone changes as the years go by and she herself begins to feel the effects of a world at war. Great job.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Mary Bendickson
22:02 Aug 26, 2023

Katy, you are so gifted. Reveal so much in one-sided correspondence. Captured the history and the humanity.

Reply

Show 0 replies
15:32 Aug 26, 2023

This was very gripping. I was able to follow the narrative and feel the character within the story comfortably. Very well written. The mechanic you used to draw the story to a close, whilst illustrating the trauma the news wrought was very clever too.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Katy B
16:02 Aug 25, 2023

For this story I wanted to mirror the cultural shift of WWI in letter form, following the gradual disillusionment about the nature of war and the emergence of artistic/stylistic movements such as modernism. I thought it would also be interesting to see how this shift looked from the perspective of a civilian woman rather than a soldier or academic; she is suffering violence that is doubly painful because she is more likely to be turned against than called a hero. But like Imogen from Shakespeare's "Cymbeline," I believe she is more than her ...

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.