The Colonel’s Wife

As the Daimler slowed to a halt outside the chapel, she looked up and their eyes met. The General, waiting in line with the escort party, felt his heart lurch and his pulse quicken. As always, one glance from her and he was rooted to the spot.

Her face was covered by a veil which fell in smoky clouds from her broad-brimmed hat but he saw just the hint of a smile on her lips. Even in grief, he thought, she is so beautiful… And the diamonds suited her so well. 

‘My mother-in-law had such beautiful jewellery,’ she’d once told him with a sigh. ‘But I only have a few trinkets.’

Her eyes had lit up when he’d given her the diamond ear rings and it was touching that she had worn them today. They certainly gave her a regal quality.  

The funeral director crept slug-like between them and opened the car door. ‘This way, Mrs Scott…’

Isobel took his proffered hand and stepped out. Instantly, the General was consumed with jealousy. Why hadn’t he thought to open the door and offer her his hand, damn it? If he’d been a bit quicker, he could have touched her one more time.

The last time he’d been with her was in an oak panelled room. They’d lain together in a four poster bed under a canopy of muslin curtains the day before the regiment was posted back to Blighty. He sighed inwardly. In that little room, she’d taken him to paradise and back. An involuntary groan escaped his lips. It had been so long… too long. His throat tightened and as he turned away, he accidentally trod on someone’s foot. The General gave him an apologetic nod but Major Thomas hadn’t even noticed.

His eyes were on the grieving widow.

As the pall bearers lifted the Colonel’s coffin out of the hearse, Isobel opened her handbag and appeared to be looking for something. 

Snatching his handkerchief from his top pocket, Major Thomas stepped forward and held it out for her.  She took it with the briefest of smiles. 

The Major felt his knees turn to water as he realised she was wearing the diamond pendant he’d given her the last time they’d met. 

As the Major of the regiment, he could always expect to be invited back to the big house after mess dinners. Isobel was the perfect hostess. She made everyone feel most welcome and she was the soul of discretion. No-one knew that the red leather chesterfield was their transport to paradise and back. He’d never known such a wonderful woman. So giving, so exciting… so needy. 

He’d begged her to leave the Colonel but she was too loyal, too much the dutiful wife. She was old fashioned that way. 

When he’d given her the necklace, costing half a year’s salary, she’d actually wept. ‘Oh darling, how wonderful. I adore it.’

Isobel and the rest of the family melted into one long procession as the coffin was carried shoulder high into the crematorium. As Major Thomas slid noiselessly into a pew, someone’s hat rolled onto the floor. Picking it up, he handed it to a rotund little man who nodded his head sharply. 

Corporal Smith was beginning to feel embarrassed. He shouldn’t have come, he knew that now but he wanted so badly to be here for the Colonel’s wife. He saw her looking round at the assembled mourners and just for a nanno second, their eyes locked. As she touched the veil on her hat, his heart soared. She was wearing his grandmother’s diamond ring on the little finger of her left hand. Wearing it for him! What a woman! What a lady…

Corporal Smith’s knee began going up and down in an agitated way. He couldn’t help it. He longed to dash out in front of all these stuff shirts and say, don’t you worry, Ma’am. I’ll look after you. After all, she’d paid him the highest compliment, hadn’t she? 

As the first hymn began, he found his mind drifting back to the time when they began their secret rendezvous in the old conservatory. At first, he couldn’t even believe she’d be interested in someone like him. When he’d come on to Mavis Prim from the pub, she’d said he was a silly young fool, but the Colonels’ wife… he could never bring himself to call her Isobel… she made him feel like a millions pounds. That meeting had been the first of many. His heart would pound and his knees would turn to jelly whenever she gave him that certain look.

That’s why he’d given her the ring. It was the only thing of value he’d got; handed down through generation after generation of the Smiths. She’d protested of course, but he’d insisted. He told her he’d be honoured if she’d wear it, and here she was, on the day of her husband’s funeral, still doing her best to make him feel special. 

Corporal Smith willed himself to concentrate on the eulogy, now being delivered by Captain James, the Colonel’s solicitor. 

‘The Colonel was a brave man,’ the Captain was saying, ‘a man decorated for valour. He was a good husband…’

Isobel’s eyes met his and the Captain shifted his feet uncomfortably. His expression tried to tell her, ‘You poor dear, I know this is agony for you…’

When he noticed just the flicker of a smile on her lips, it gave him the courage to go on. He took a deep breath. He had to concentrate on this damned speech but she looked so fantastic wearing the diamond brooch he’d given her.  After last week, he’d buy her a shed load if she’d let him. What a pity the Colonel hadn’t understood the needs of a woman like her.

The Captain wished with all his heart that he could sooth away her pain  but later on he knew he’d have to hurt her again when he read the Colonel’s Will. What on earth had possessed the man?  How was he going to explain to her that for some totally inexplicable reason, the Colonel had bequeathed his wife to the regiment?

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