Haddie Cinder, purple with rage, was pushed into this world without her cooperation or say so. With hearty inhalations between her wails, she eventually turned a healthy pink, which she remained almost to her last days. Born at the very end of Queen Victoria’s reign in Nottingham, she grew up an enthusiastic believer in God, King and Empire.
Haddie was a lovely girl with auburn hair, dark blue eyes and a sprinkle of freckles across her cheeks and nose. She grew up as pretty as a rose in that midland city. Shortly after the outbreak of what would be called the Great War, she and her friends were encouraged to join the Order of the White Feather. And her friends went about the city pressing white feathers of cowardice into the hands of boys who looked to be of soldiering age and able. Haddie however was reluctant to give away the feather she held. It was thus she met young Daniel Coyne, who was just leaving the market with some groceries for his mother. Haddie and her friends were passing just as he left and they whispered to her, Oh, he’s spry. Go ahead, give him one. Go on, Haddie, do it. And feeling the pressure more than usual, she did and young Daniel, unsure of what was being pressed into his palm, blushed scarlet to the tips of his ears. He had never in his sixteen years been touched by a girl before, never mind one as beautiful as this one. When he looked at the feather in his hand, he blushed even deeper.
He returned home and vowed to enlist despite his age. He also found out who it was that handed him that white feather. He wrote her and told her he had joined the Sherwood Foresters and would be going off to train shortly. Haddie visited him before he left, because she felt some remorse about giving him the feather. Before they even were aware of it, the first hint of romance grew between them. After he spent several months becoming a soldier, he was given a week’s leave. He came back to Nottingham in his neat uniform, looking almost a man, but not quite. He and Haddie spent as much time together as they could. She gave him her picture just before he boarded the train that would bring him to the transport ship to France, a newly minted member of Kitchener’s army.
Within weeks, he was marching toward Ypres and planted in the trenches of a contended salient like a sodden potato. He wrote letters to Haddie and received them from her. The letters were full of admissions of undying love as only the very young can avow. There were days of artillery barrages when young Daniel thought for sure he was going mad. He would pull out Haddie’s portrait and just stare at it. Finally, the day came when they poured over the trench parapets and ran forward into no-man’s land. He made it to the line of barbed wire. And one moment he was there and the next he was a pink mist dampening his fellows, a scent for a second, a taste of copper on their lips. All of his worth, past and future, spent there and absolutely nothing gained.
In Nottingham, Haddie received a letter from her dear Daniel. In the envelope lay a white feather and nothing more.
Note: 14,000 Nottingham area men died during the 4 ghastly years of the First World War. Countless others were wounded or driven mad.
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