~ Chapter Six ~
Rosie ran out of the carriage, thanking the driver over her shoulder as she opened the front door. She let herself in and was greeted with silence.
"Mother! Mother!" Rosie called through the house. She ran into the sitting room. Empty. Kitchen. Empty. 'That's odd' she thought to herself. "Mother?" she called again hesitantly, her voice filled with questions. Surely she couldn't have gone out, it's past midnight. Her mother always waited for her to ensure that she got home safely.
Rosie walked slowly upstairs, her heart beating in her chest. She searched her mother's bedroom. Empty. Her own bedroom. Empty. She was beginning to panic before she found Eva in one of the few spare bedrooms kneeled over a large cardboard box. She was clutching a piece of clothing to her face. Rosie recognised it almost immediately. "Mother?" Rosie asked in a small voice. Her mother didn't move. Rosie kneeled down beside her. "Mother?" she asked again, placing a hand on her shoulder.
Eva looked up, startled from the contact, to her daughter. Her eyes were red and puffy from, what Rosie could only guess, hours of crying. "Rosie?" she pulled the dark blue knitted sweater away from her damp face. "Oh Rosie, I'm so sorry. I didn't think you'd be home just yet." She dried her face, embarrassed.
"It's fine, Mother, really. Are you okay?"
"Why'd he have to leave us? Why…"
Rosie wrapped her arms protectively around her mother as Eva sobbed gently on her shoulder. "To protect us. He left us to protect us." Rosie gently rubbed her mother's back and then slowly pulled her away. She looked down over her father's old jumper. Rosie ran her fingers over the woollen fabric remembering how he used to look in it by the fire at Christmas time when it was cold and snowing outside. It was one of her earliest memories that she could recall. "He'd have wanted us to be proud of him."
"I was- I am" Eva sounded slightly shocked as she corrected herself.
Rosie grabbed both of her mother's hands in hers and looked into her eyes with worry. "Mother? Maybe he'd have wanted you to move on-"
Eva shook her head furiously. "I can't Rosie, I just can't! It's too soon. How can I move on when I'm still waiting for him to come home? I can't Rosie."
"He's not coming home! Please, stop hurting yourself. It's killing me to see you like this. I know it's been hard but it's been almost twenty years. He's gone. I'm sorry, but he just is. It's time… I want you to be happy again. You deserve to be happy."
Rosie's mother said nothing but gently stroked Rosie's hands. Suddenly she paused and ran her thumb over Rosie's new engagement ring. Her eyes flicked up questioningly. "Is this…"
"Ah. Um, yes. That was what I was going to tell you." Rosie could feel herself blushing as she had almost completely forgotten. "Henry proposed! We're going to get married!" Rosie beamed at her mother, hoping her smile might be contagious in a desperate wish to see her mother return the smile. However, she knew that this probably wasn't exactly the most perfect timing to bring up this conversation.
"Awww Rosie! My baby girl!" Her mother embraced her tightly and Rosie became aware that her mother was crying judging from the subtle rise and fall of her shoulders.
"You approve of Henry, don't you?" Rosie asked doubtfully.
"Approve? I'm delighted! I'm so happy for you!" Eva gave Rosie an encouraging squeeze. "You two are so perfect for each other; you're like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that interlock with one another."
Rosie gave a small laugh. "Let's go get some tea."
Downstairs in the kitchen they talked endlessly about wedding preparations and arrangements and what needed to be done. However, the prospect of war was greatly suppressing the happiness that she should be showing for her engagement. Eva soon noticed Rosie's subdued behaviour and asked if everything was alright. Rosie didn't want to upset her mother more than she had already been and explained that her quietness was because she felt tired after such a busy day. It was midnight after all. Eva didn't question her justification and suggested that it was probably time to call it a night; they can always talk tomorrow.
Rosie lay in bed for hours. She couldn't help but think of how she had found her mother; huddled over a small box of her dead husband's clothes, the scent of him long gone and his memory not far behind it. Was that how Rosie would be in twenty years' time if Henry was lost in action?
Somewhere in her dark trail of thought, Rosie managed to fall asleep but she was haunted by faces she wished that she could ignore and forget. The faces of cowards such as Mr Solomon who hadn't fought mixed with brave soldiers, such as her father's face which she only knew from photographs.
She woke early before the sun had risen and sat wondering when the 'right' time to get married would be. If they postponed the wedding until after Henry had returned from war, it would give him more motivation to return and fight for survival, but that could be years away and what if Henry never made it back to her? She'd be waiting forever for him to return to her and would never be able to look at another man on the off-chance that he did show back up. Just like how her mother was waiting. On the off-chance. Even though she knew her husband was dead but she chose not to believe it. Would Rosie be like that too?
But then would it be any easier if they were married? Yes. At least then he had her and they were formally tied together by marriage. Deceased soldier's girlfriends were never really looked after, even if they were engaged. Unless they were married, society presumed that the widow wouldn't have any trouble in moving on and finding another man.
Then it, in Rosie's mind, was decided. It wasn't just for her; it was for the both of them. The wedding would need to be before Henry left for war.