In years to come, Laurence Bartram would look back and think that the event that really changed everything was not the war, nor the attack at Rosières, nor even the loss of his wife, but the return of John Emmett into his life. Before then, Laurence had been trying to develop a routine around the writing of a book on London churches. Astonishingly, a mere six or so years earlier when he came down from Oxford, he had taught, briefly and happily, but on marrying he had been persuaded that teaching was not a means of supporting Louise and the large family she had planned. After only token resistance he had joined her family’s long-established coffee importing business. It all seemed so long ago, now. There was no coffee, no business – or not for him – and Louise and his only child were dead. When his wife and son lay dying in Bristol, Laurence was crouched in the colourless light of dawn, waiting to move towards the German guns and praying fervently to a God he no longer believed in. He had long been indifferent to which side won; he wished only that one or the other would do so decisively while he was still alive. It would be days before the news of Louise and their baby’s death reached him. It was not until he was home, with his grief-stricken mother-in-law endlessly supplying unwanted details, that he realised that Louise had died at precisely the moment he was giving the order to advance. When he finally got leave, he had stood by the grave with its thin, new grass while his father-in-law hovered near by, embarrassed. When the older man had withdrawn, Laurence crouched down. He could smell the damp earth but there was nothing of her here. Later, he chose the granite and spelled out both names and the dates to the stonemason. He wanted to mourn, yet his emotions seemed unreachable. Indeed, after a few days shut up with his parents-in-law, desolate and aged by loss, he was soon searching for an excuse to return to London and escape the intensity of their misery. As he sat on the train, returning to close up his London house, he had felt a brief but shocking wave of elation. Louise was gone, so many were gone, but he had made it through – he was still quite young and with a life ahead of him. The mood passed as quickly as it always did, to be replaced by emptiness. The house felt airless and stale. He started packing everything himself but after opening a small chest to find a soft whiteness of matinée jackets, bootees, embroidered baby gowns and tiny bonnets, all carefully folded in tissue paper, he had recoiled from the task and paid someone to make sure he never saw any of it again.
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