Change isn’t always for the best. Just ask the Stewards.
1914. The Steward family is eagerly preparing for the event that will forever bind them to the Bartlettes: the wedding of Hettie and Geoffrey. Little do the families know that the winds of war brewing in Europe soon will rip them apart.
Hettie and her brother, Freddie, join the Canadian Army Medical Corps. This decision is met with resistance and disapproval, causing a rift in the siblings’ relationship with their parents.
Meanwhile, a decades-long friendship is tested, two other daughters’ marriages are in tatters, and the scourge of influenza sweeps through the civilian population.
Will the Stewards bend under pressure or become stronger and more resilient?
Those Left Behind is the second in a trilogy following Hettie and her family as they navigate the challenges and heartbreak World War 1 brings. Each novel is a standalone story. Those Left Behind is the home front story. It is a collection of slice-of-life pieces that collectively tell the story of what happened in Canada while the events in Angel of Mercy were occurring. They are based on Hettie’s letters.
Also available: Angel of Mercy, the warfront story. Adjustment Year, the homecoming story, coming in April 2021.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
“Those of us who are left behind are the ones who suffer,” Freddie Steward tells his sister Hettie in Angel of Mercy, the first book in this trilogy. Freddie was referring to those left behind when a member of the Canadian Corps dies, but the letters Hettie receives from her mother and sisters during the war hint at a different kind of suffering – that caused by worry, fear and missing loved ones. This is a collection of slice-of-life pieces that collectively tell the story of what happened in Canada while the events in Angel of Mercy were occurring. They are based on Hettie’s letters, which also appear in this book.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Those Left Behind is the second book in a trilogy of standalone stories. The characters that appear in it were originally developed for the first book in the series, Angel of Mercy.
The Dress Fitting Aftermath
“Your sister is incorrigible,” Lucretia Steward said to her second daughter, Mabel, as they tramped down the sidewalk. “I don’t understand Hettie at all.”
Mabel resisted the urge to sigh. “Well, Mother, it seems to me she simply enjoys what she does.”
“I enjoyed teaching, but I gladly gave it up to marry your father. You should talk to her, Mabel. Put some sense into her head.”
“What?” Mabel turned her neck so quickly her massive hat bobbled. “Why me?”
“Don’t sound so surprised. I know you still share secrets. She’d listen to you if you told her about the merits of marriage.”
The merits of marriage? This wasn’t a subject Mabel was certain she knew anything about.
She swallowed. “I’m sure she knows, Mother, or she wouldn’t be getting married.”
“I hope Miss Fletcher wasn’t too embarrassed,” Lucretia said, referring to the dressmaker who had witnessed the family squabble scant minutes before. “I plan on talking to your father about all of this as soon as I return home.”
“I’m sure Miss Fletcher deals with families all the time. Ours can’t be the only one with a strong-willed daughter.”
Lucretia waved her hand in front of her face. “You will talk to Hettie, Mabel.”
“Yes, Mother.” Mabel shrugged, wishing this conversation was over.
“When is your dress fitting?”
Mabel dreaded the idea of owning a dress she would wear only once. Her bridesmaid dress was a beautiful, light lilac, but it was not to her taste, and she knew it would linger for eternity in her closet. The dress was bold, like Hettie, whereas Mabel was more retiring. Perhaps the fabric could be repurposed into nice curtains for the little window above the kitchen sink.
“Do you want to stop at the tea shop and see if anyone is there?” Lucretia said.
The teashop was one of Lucretia’s favorite places. She often ran into her sisters and sisters-in-law there, and they could gossip for hours. Unlike her mother, Mabel was unable to quickly turn off her negative emotions, and social interaction at the moment sounded as appealing as enduring quarantine.
“No, Mother, not today. I don’t feel well.”
“You had best not feel ill for any wedding events lest you spoil them.”
It didn’t escape Mabel’s attention that Lucretia didn’t ask about her symptoms or even about how long she had been ill. She was well aware that a Steward marrying a Bartlette was a momentous occasion that could not be interfered with for any reason – the families were as close as blood, and Hettie and Geoffrey’s marriage would permanently unite them – but she couldn’t help it if she felt ill.
“No, Mother,” she said, shaking her head and opting not to argue.
Mother and daughter kissed each other on the cheek and parted ways with the promise that they would see one another tomorrow. Mabel exhaled slowly, allowing the breath to pass through her parched lips with coolness, and savored this short period of tranquility between dealing with her mother and her husband’s arrival home from work.
Mabel and Gardner Hill had been married for a year and in that time they rarely disagreed. Of course, they rarely agreed either. They merely co-existed, speaking only when circumstances necessitated it. Wasn’t this something that was supposed to happen to couples who had been married for decades, who found they no longer had anything in common Mabel wondered? It wasn’t expected in a couple whom many still considered newlyweds.
When they were courting, Gardner was sweet. He brought her flowers, quoted love poetry and took her on long walks. Mabel enjoyed his company and looked forward to seeing him. Those days were gone. Now she dreaded hearing the front door open.
Every workday, it was the same routine. Gardner came home, replaced his shoes with slippers, petted the dog and gave his wife a kiss. If it could be labeled a kiss. There was nothing remotely romantic about it. It was more like a peck one might give a close family member. Some days it wasn’t even a peck but more of a lip grazing. This lack of spousal affection was followed by the short walk to the dining room as Gardner inquired about the menu for that night’s dinner. Once in the room, he took his place at the head of the table and looked about, overly pleased with himself as if he had done something worthy of her praise.
“How was your day, darling?” Mabel said, standing with her hands firmly clasping the back of one of the chairs.
“I’ll tell you once dinner is served.”
“Very well.” Mabel turned on her heels.
Gardner did thank her when she returned from the kitchen with the dishes, but his sincerity seemed faked, and she accepted it without a smile. It was like this every evening. It didn’t matter what she cooked, if he liked it or not, if something exciting had happened that day. Food was more important than conversation.
Mabel slowly cut her meat and placed a dainty, overcooked piece into her mouth. Gardner, meanwhile, unceremoniously shoveled mashed potatoes into his own orifice while relating with some pride the tale of a bridge and his role in its construction. She merely nodded before they fell back into silence.
Gardner finished his potatoes, and Mabel perceived his eyes upon her. She tried to focus on her carrots, which she had no appetite for, when she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
“The thing with Hettie and your mother was this morning?”
Mabel set down her fork, and it clanged against her china plate. “The thing? Do you mean the dress fitting? Yes, that was this morning. Hettie despises the dress Mother picked and wants to continue working after she gets married. Mother is livid. She wants me to talk to her, to talk sense into her. Me?!”
Gardner said nothing, and Mabel laughed nervously before continuing. “Hettie studied hard, was admitted into a prestigious nursing school and graduated with honors. Why shouldn’t she be permitted to put her education to use? Isn’t that what Father always wanted us to do, educate ourselves for the betterment of society? Whereas, I, on the other hand, I never was ambitious. I only completed grade 12 because it was expected of me. It was a struggle, I tell you. I had difficulty living up to our parents and teachers’ expectations. But not Hettie. She handled the pressure with ease. Never mind it made me feel inferior because she is two years younger.”
A venomous smile spread across his face. “Are you quite finished? What difference does any of that make? All I asked was whether the appointment was today.”
She blinked. Far be it from her actually to attempt to confide in her husband. “Yes, the wedding party’s attire is underway.”
“Good. Has Geoffrey found them a place to live yet?”
“He’s in the process, I believe. It’ll probably be a rental somewhere in or around H-block since his family —”
“A rental? I don’t know why Hettie wants to —”
“Because she loves him,” Mabel said, not wishing to hear his full sentence.
“Well, we’ll see how much she loves him when she’s living in poverty,” he said, the smile still on his face.
Mabel’s cheeks grew hot. Gardner couldn’t be as happy for Hettie as Mabel was, she knew, but he could at least pretend to be pleased and keep his opinions to himself. Hettie would not be living in poverty, not as people live in poverty in big cities like Toronto or Ottawa anyway. Barrie had less than 7,000 people. Hettie would be just fine. She –
A wave of nausea suddenly overcame Mabel. Startled, she placed her elbow on the table and held her forehead in her hand.
“Now don’t cry,” Gardner said. “It’s not that bad. For us anyway. Let’s take the carriage out after dinner and see if there’s a motion picture playing tonight.”
“I’m not crying. I feel quite ill.”
The nausea grew worse, and Mabel covered her mouth, running as quickly as she could from the room. Her narrow skirt prevented much speed, however, and knowing she would never make it to the bathroom, she headed for the kitchen where she vomited in a cooking pot that had been left on the stove.
When she finished, she leaned gasping against the counter, her fingers gripping the edge of the butcher block as if that could somehow calm her down. Footsteps scraped behind her on the tile floor, and she gripped the counter tighter, her knuckles growing white.
“I didn’t think dinner was that bad,” Gardner said from the threshold.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s the matter.” Why am I apologizing to him? she thought and wrinkled her nose. What? For ruining his dinner?
Gardner put his hand on her back. “Perhaps you had best get to bed in case you are contagious. I’ll have Mrs. Watson clean up,” he said, referencing the housekeeper, “when she gets back.”
Mabel nodded, feeling small and vulnerable but heeded his advice. Perhaps, something she ate earlier in the day disagreed with her and that was all, and she would feel better in the morning. After all, Mabel told herself, Mother will have my hide if I ruin Hettie’s wedding plans.
When Lucretia returned to the Stewards’ Gothic Revival after the dress fitting, she was not expecting to see her husband, Benjamin, sitting in the breakfast room thumbing through the mail and waiting for the housekeeper to serve his soup and bread.
He, meanwhile, didn’t even notice her presence, not bothering to so much as look up when she silently took her seat across the table.
She glared at him, waiting for the moment he would pay attention to something that genuinely mattered. Why was it taking him so long?
“Did you see Mabel this morning?” he said finally.
“Yes, she was there. Hettie, on the other hand, is very confusing.”
Benjamin furrowed his brow and at last made eye contact. “Confusing how?”
“She wants to continue working after she marries.” Lucretia sat forward. “She sees nothing wrong with it.”
He chuckled. “She wants to put to use the education we paid for. How selfish of her.”
“The education you paid for. Your name was on the check.”
“We paid for it. Our inheritances jointly pay to educate our children.”
Lucretia groaned unable to appreciate her husband’s incessant need to instill in their daughters a sense of independence and self-awareness. These were not attributes society permitted women to aspire to yet alone possess, and they caused young women needless frustration when they felt they were entitled to do as they pleased, same as men. Hettie actually wanted to continue working after she married. The ridiculousness, the gall. If it weren’t for Benjamin, she wouldn’t have such notions. Lucretia felt gooseflesh form on her arms as she acknowledged that, in addition to her husband, she also didn’t understand her own child.
“Nevertheless. It is selfish of her. She should think of poor Geoffrey.”
Benjamin again chuckled. “Hettie is a strong-minded female.”
“You’re being very flippant.” Lucretia put her palms on the table and stretched out her arms. “It’s not funny.”
“There is nothing wrong with Hettie loving what she does. But she will quit to stay at home just like every other married woman because that is what society demands. It’s not right, but that’s what society demands.”
“Well, then why teach our daughters to be independent-minded if society won’t permit them to be truly independent?”
He narrowed his brow and looked down his nose at her. “It’s the principle of the thing.”
Lucretia stabbed the butter with the knife, but Benjamin did not flinch. He instead picked up a week-old issue of the Ottawa Citizen and was mentally transported to the city he lived in before he met Lucretia. At least there, no one was harping about women’s status in society.
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