“Such a beautiful smile, and hanging from so blushingly youthful a face.”
Catherine affirmed his description with reddening cheeks, and re-started counting his weak pulse against her fob watch. As she did, Frederick slipped one last time from consciousness and back to the mute battlefield. The gulls outside the ward window segued into German whizz-bangs, and the crashing surf into artillery blasts.
Numb, tinnitus-bound in blast deafness, he lay at the edge of a crater, overshadowed by the shattered remains of a tree. Every inch of its bolus and boughs was stripped of bark and leaves, and splinters like the one in his chest radiated out from its heart in silhouette against the blue Belgian winter sky.
Oak? Ash? He cried at the rape of the tree, and mourned that it never would be subject of or material for an artist’s easel, nor home for rook or nightingale. He would not carve his beloved nurse’s initials upon it; its fibres would not be mashed to make a writing block, or imprinted with his posthumous collection. It would, rather, finish its existence in mute attempt to warm the bones of shivering soldiers in their muddy trenches.
Repatriated to a convalescent corner of Albion, the war poet died with words pinned to his heart, and the science of war-mongers lacerating his body.