Emma remarked gently, “You look very tired, Edwin. Is something wrong?”
The tense tableau held its position a little longer, until Edwin admitted with a deep sigh. “I did not sleep all night.” He closed his eyes and covered them with his hands.
“What is it?” Anna and Emma exchanged a look of concern. Even Lucy, while not mollified, sank back into her chair and waited.
“Not something to do with Amanda?” Anna asked.
Edwin shook his head. He sat upright again and placed his hands on his knees. With a deep breath he explained, “Just — nightmares.”
The sisters exchanged glances again. They too knew about his visions.
“Not Gerald?” Emma asked in concern.
“No.” For a moment the word lessened the tension in the air, but his sisters continued to stare at him expectantly. Edwin realised he couldn’t just leave it at that and admitted, “It was worse than anything I’ve ever seen before. It wasn’t one person or even an accident with several, it was thousands and thousands. All being blown up or burnt alive.”
“You’ve taken these accounts of Auschwitz too much to heart and your over-active imagination is tormenting you,” Anna diagnosed.
Edwin gazed at her sadly. “I wish that were so, but these people were being blown up by bombs and burnt in their own homes.” From the kitchen came the faint yet shrill whistle of the kettle as the tea water started to come to a boil, but Edwin ignored it. “They were being killed by Allied bombers, our bombers. I am convinced we have committed a horrible crime. I don’t know where, but I know it was utterly unnecessary.” The kettle started to squeal like an air raid siren, but still Edwin ignored it to finish what he was saying. “What we have done will tarnish our just cause. It will detract from our victory and, saddest of all, besmirch the memory of those who have given so much to bring this war to a successful conclusion. We did something last night out of sheer hubris — not because it was necessary and useful but simply because we could.”
“Would somebody get that flipping kettle!” Lucy demanded. Emma moved to get up, but Edwin waved her back, standing to go to the kitchen himself. He heard the words “overwrought”, “over-active imagination” and “over-sensitive” whispered behind his back, but he didn’t care. He took the screaming kettle off the burner and turned off the stove, but he found himself unable to pour the water over the tea leaves waiting in the pot. He was seeing the images again.
“Edwin?” The voice was gentle, and he felt a warm arm around his shoulders. It was Emma, of course. “Edwin? Are you all right?”
He drew a deep breath and shook his head. “No, I don’t think I am all right. I just wish…”
Emma took the kettle from him. It was still steaming gently. She poured the water into the waiting teapot. “Come back and lets all have a cup of tea—”
Anna was in the doorway. “Edwin. There’s someone on the phone for you.”
“There’s a telephone call?”
“Didn’t you hear the telephone ringing?”
“No. No, I didn’t. I don’t feel up to talking to anyone. Is it something important?”
“I have no idea. I didn’t recognise the voice, but it sounded like a young man.”
Edwin caught his breath and then pushed past Anna as he hurried to the telephone. “Hello? Hello?”
“Reverend Reddings? It’s Kit Moran, here. You asked me to ring you?”
“Kit! Thank you for getting back to me. I just wanted to check…that you’re all right.”
“Yes, I’m fine,” Kit sounded slightly amused. “I’m about to have a cream tea at the mess after spending a pleasant morning shooting hares with some of the other chaps. Howard and Sayers asked me to go shooting with them.” Edwin could tell that Kit was pleased about that. “We bagged two. I hope to see Georgina after she gets home from school this evening. Is there some reason you wanted me to ring you?”
“I — um — I was wondering. Did you fly last night?” Edwin wanted to be sure he hadn’t misunderstood.
“No, they’re still refitting the mid-upper turrets and replacing the armour plating after our last op.”
“But there was a raid, wasn’t there?”
There was a pause and then Kit admitted. “Yes, rather a large one. It will probably be on the BBC soon enough, I suppose.” Edwin could hear Kit’s reluctance to talk about operations.
“Do you know anything about it?” Edwin prompted. “Anything you can share?” He knew that although information about an impending raid was shrouded in the strictest secrecy, once an operation was complete details were usually released to the press and broadcast on the BBC.
Kit hesitated for a second, but then answered. “Apparently at the request of the Soviets, we and the Americans sent over three waves of bombers. Close to eight hundred RAF aircraft took part and I believe the Americans put up another five hundred. So thirteen hundred bombers altogether. I don’t know anything about fighter escorts.”
“But 617 squadron didn’t fly on it?”
“No, none of us—”
“I’m so relieved.”
“Something terrible happened. I saw it in a dream, and it terrified me like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was all so pointless and — how do I explain this? — so impossibly arrogant. Destruction just for the sake of destruction. Sheer hubris. Do you know where?”
Again, Moran hesitated, clearly uncomfortable, but the BBC would name the target soon enough. “A place I’ve never heard of before,” he admitted. “Dresden.”
“Dresden,” Edwin echoed the name in a whisper, more shattered than ever. Reddings did know Dresden. He had been there as a student between the wars. It was a beautiful baroque town strung along the banks of the gentle Elbe. A minuet in stone, he had thought at the time of his visit.
“Pilots of 627, which did take part, report there was quite a fire storm,” Moran admitted.
“What we did was wrong, Kit.” Edwin had no doubt in his mind, and he spoke with the conviction of his profession. “There was no legitimate military target there — not like Hamburg. And it was full of helpless refugees with nowhere to go.”
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