Saturday, 17 April 2010

Would you love me when I'm dead?

Mystery by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (1865 - 1953)

"Would you love me when I'm dead?" from Northern Sky by Nick Drake

I entered the Crown Regent Hotel with my good friend Lady March and as we crossed the large atrium towards the restaurant, I noticed the tall woman standing by the wall facing a large painting of Marshal Zamorna a notable hero of the Merovain Campaigns some five years ago. The woman wore a long brown leather coat and about her head a dark blue scarf. About her neck was some kind of medallion that she had been toying with in an absent-minded way with her long slim fingers. At one point, she pushed the medallion outwards from her with two fingers together as if she were both offering it to the portrait and at the same time blessing him. She was pale and it was not the pallor of cold or of a natural complexion, rather it was as if she were drained of all blood and filled instead with a strange and deep melancholy.

"Come," said Lady March taking my arm and leading me through to the restaurant.

We sat and ordered tea of which Lady March was quite fond when not taking wine. Through the tall wide windows of the restaurant, I could see and admire the great portrait of Marshal Zamorna. He was a handsome man in his way I suppose, tall, with dark wavy hair and bright blue eyes and a tanned skin from having been in the Army most of his life. He was certainly intelligent for he had written books on the Merovains some ten years ago when our country was not at war, nor inclined to want to wage such folly for nobody's glory or honour. He had also written a few novels and a remarkable book on political philosophy that was much praised by the critics. He was not married, though this was not for want of love, for many women adored his mix of intelligence, charm and good looks. It was said there was but one woman for him and nobody knew her name but he. That much I knew and it was as much as anyone else knew.

I glanced down from the portrait to the tall woman below it and frankly admired her. The darkness of her hair and eyes gave a fine contrast to a handsome face. The coat marked her out as an aviator and I wondered for a brief moment if the medallion was for her own deeds in the air. Lady March harrumphed delicately and told me that if I only had eyes for that young lady, she would leave me forthwith to take tea on my own. I apologised and remarked the fascination the woman had for Zamorna's portrait.

"That young woman Mr Pelland, has good reason for her interest and if you will pay me a little attention... well, I shall make you!" she teased with a good natured smile.

I laughed and pleaded with her - if she had a tale to tell then I should long to hear it. I always did like a well-told tale, even when I was a boy and my mother read me stories of Russian witches and giant killers and Arthur's knights. She poured the tea and pushed the sugar bowl to me.

"Zamorna died two years ago, that we all know. Equally, it was widely reported that he loved someone, but nobody knew her name or anything about her. Well sir, on your promise to keep it to yourself, you may know that the young aviator is that woman. She lived here at the Crown Regent as I have since my husband's death and one evening I came upon her prostrate upon the stairs. Naturally I did not wish to rouse up a fuss, so I had her brought up to my chambers by Lorani and Stubbs my good friends. I confess I took pity on her, but that evening she did not stir. So after the two gentlemen had bid me goodnight and gone, I undressed her and put her to bed and that night I slept on the couch. I have often done such things in my younger days, so don't look at me like that Pelland!

In the morning, I made her coffee and roused her up. She was silent and torpid and for a moment, I wondered if she might have been drugged. The Peromian Republic would like nothing more than a few of our aviators to teach them how to fly a Philobe Mark IV and I wouldn't put it past them to have sent agents to grab a few of our aviators. But I quickly realised that rather than drugs this was an emotional trauma that affected her. She had suffered some loss so deep that she seemed to have given up all hope and this resulted in her collapse. The coffee roused her and I asked her if I might call my own doctor - you know Callender, the younger one, not the old man, he retired last year. She insisted that she did not require a doctor and asked where she was at which I told her and asked if I might call for someone for she did not seem to be quite in the world of the living. In fact, seeing her so pale and lacklustre, I even put a little cognac in her coffee. I believe it did some good, it always has with me. She sat up and fingered the medallion for a moment and asked if she might take me into her confidence for she did not care for the press to know. I agreed willingly, for I knew there was a tale here and I love to know something that others do not. Call it a failing of mine if you wish, but I cannot help it.

In any case, it seems that she, I will not say her name, was once deeply in love with Zamorna. At first he was cool but after a while, her constancy and gentleness - and her being an aviator changed his mind. He won a Dasher medal in the Merovain Campaigns - I mean before the government finally saw sense and made him a Duke and awarded him the King's Double Sabres medal. What a man he was Pelland, what a man! It is the Dasher that you see about her neck, he gave it to her with a pledge that when the war was finally over with, they should be married. She teased him, she asked him what would happen if she was shot down.

'Would you love me when I'm dead?' she asked him.

He took that as a question of his constancy and fidelity and swore that he should love her as much dead as he did alive.

'Cross my heart and may I be struck down if I lie.' he had answered.

She kissed him then and a week later he was sent to Caerimion-su-Lisiel. She was sent to her squadron at Bagnordigan and they wrote constantly to each other. It seems she could not forget him and longed deeply for him. She felt sure he felt the same as am I.

Now, at the village of Caerimon-su-Lisiel he met a woman who was said to be not quite human. That is, she was, depending on who you asked, either a witch's or a faery's daughter and she took a liking to our Zamorna. At first, his letters from our lovely aviator and his own love for her kept his heart strong against this woman's onslaught, but before long, her wild green eyes and blazing red hair turned his attention to her. He saw that she was handsome, but told her that his heart was spoken for, even to death. He told her that his love was true and strong and he would love only one woman even when she was dead.

You know that old cliché Pelland about hell having no fury like a woman scorned? Well this woman's fury at being rejected was more than even Hell could boast it appears. She swore that she would be revenged. Zamorna wrote directly to his love and told her everything and begged her to be careful for he did not know if the woman had relatives at Bagnordigan who might do her harm. His love thanked him for his warning and took care as you might imagine. But one night, Zamorna awoke to find himself alone on field lying on a stone table in one of those ancient places thought to be temples. He was unsure if he was dreaming at first, but the night air was cold and he got off the table and headed cautiously back to camp for he was unarmed. As he left the stone table he heard a loud laugh and a woman's voice telling him,

If she will love you when you are dead
For five years after and no other,
And take no lover to her bed
Then she'll be your wife and a mother.

But if her heart shall stray from you
Never again her face you'll view.

Zamorna took this as a foolish prank and a nonsense. For if he were dead how might she love him after five years. Still, on hearing of this, his love bid him make instruction to write in his will for a bell to be built that he might ring it should he live. She also sent him a small cross made of iron, a simple thing made from horseshoe nails. For love of her he wore it and of the strange woman nothing was heard of again at
Caerimon-su-Lisiel. Three years later it seems, in the heat of the battle, the cross was dashed away from him and he fell as if dead. He has lain in his tomb ever since. Will he rise again, like King Arthur? My dear, who knows, but the romantic in me would wish it were so."
I chuckled for I could believe her a romantic. I thanked her for the tale and swore my secrecy on it.

Now it is all out and everyone knows it, I will add this much. Three years after that day with Lady March, I had mostly forgot that tale until I opened my newspaper and there on the front of it was the astonishing announcement that the Duke of Zamorna lived, that the bell of his tomb had been heard most vigorously ringing the previous afternoon. All our nation rejoiced, it said in the press. I forswore my breakfast and hurried over to the Crown Regent Hotel and asked after Lady March. In the atrium of the hotel were a great many flowers and I was told that I might go up to her. I did so, leaping up the stairs, my heart pounding with astonishment. I knocked at her door and she opened it with a frown that turned quickly to a smile.

"The aviator, my Lady, the aviator?" I said breathlessly.

She took my arm and drew me in. There, seated by the window was the aviator in the most beautiful long cream satin coat, in cut like her aviator's coat. She wore silk trimmed with velvet, but most of all, she wore the happiest smile and turned to me, glancing at Lady March.

"My dear," Lady March forestalled her, "My good and trusted friend, Mr Pelland, who has kept with me the secret for all this time - though to be honest, he most likely forgot it!"

She winked and the aviator lowered her head and in the loveliest voice forgave her.

"Madam," I said joyfully, "Let me be the first to congratulate you. I hope you shall both be very happy."

She thanked me and as she did so, Lady March coughed discreetly. I turned and there in the doorway with a slow smile on his face stood the Duke himself, unchanged at all. He did not even look at me, for which I cannot condemn him. His eyes were all for the woman whose fidelity had brought him back home to her. Lady March took my arm and firmly led me from the room and downstairs to the restaurant. We breakfasted together, though how I ate anything I do not know. The Duke and the Aviator were married at the end of that week and there was much rejoicing in our city and indeed, our nation.


Rosemary in Utah said...

Sometimes the names you choose for yourself (Pelland as the "I" in the story) make me think there is a hidden reference--but I can never find one!
Howard Hughes and "Out of Africa" are my first thoughts if romance+airplanes is the topic. (Amelia E. not so much!)
And again, you've introduced me to another artist--
(thank you!)

madameshawshank said...

Oh, look at her!..that mouth..all colour drained..what colour when she first met him? Mystery indeed..and memory...Griffin, I imagine their voices..'n to imagine her as an aviator!

achingly intense..'n the happiest of smiles deep within's time..

Griffin said...

Rosemary, there's no hidden reference, honest! The 'I' in the story is just a device for telling the tale and no more.

Zamorna is a reference tho' to the Duke of Zamorna as written of by the Brontes in their juvenilia - Tales from Angria. The aviator as a woman makes the tale more interesting for me, it places her on an equal level with Zamorna.

Madame, what colour indeed. So much colour in the intensity of emotion.

madameshawshank said...

May we have a follow up story..the Duke and the Aviator together..please :-)

Griffin said...

Oh now look what I've done!! I will have a think and see what I can do. It feels tough at the moment to write, but I will see what I can come up with.