AUTHOR'S NOTES: Once again, I am so very sorry that this has taken so long, but as I'm so busy right now; I'm currently in the last two weeks of the semester so my life is nothing but exams, essays and deadlines. However, this chapter is much longer than the rest, so I'm hoping it'll keep you satisfied! :P
I do know what I'm going to be doing for the next couple of chapters, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to get another one up before the end of my university semester...I'll try my very best, but my uni work has to come first. But, once the first week of December is over, I'll be free until the end of January so I'll be writing loads more!
Just a note, I have already started the next chapter of "A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever" so I'll try my vert best to get that up within the next week or two.
I hope you enjoy this chapter!
A Life Worth Living
One chilly April evening, Bert was making his way home from work – brushing stray pink petals off his shoulders as he did so. It had been a long day at work and he couldn't wait to get back home and spend some quiet time with his family. For the most part, that was what kept him going during his rougher work days. He tilted his neck to the side and he heard it release a loud crack; his winced slightly. Whilst he adored his work, he couldn't deny that some days took their toll on him, but then he supposed that every job was the same; he eventually came to the conclusion that no matter how much you love what you do, there will always be bad days, but if Mary had taught him anything, it was that a bit of positive thinking went a long way, so, he made sure that the smile returned to his features as his continued to stroll home.
He found himself whistling a familiar tune as he walked by his old apartment block – the one that was still home to many of the sweeps. He stopped for a while to admire it through nostalgic eyes. A slight sigh left his lips, but it was not one of regret. He did miss being a sweep, the late nights dancing and singing and the chance to work with his friends, but he did not regret his decision to give it up, after all, he got to draw for a living – something else that he just loved – and he knew that he was providing for his family; that made his heart swell with pride, he wasn't one of self-praise, but he was proud of himself because he was doing what he could and felt that he was doing it well.
"Hey Bert!" he heard a voice call.
He whipped his head around and saw one of the sweeps – Tommy – dashing towards him.
"Hey, Tommy! Long time no see!" Bert grinned as he shook the sweep's hand enthusiastically.
"Yer tellin' me! 'ow 'have you been? 'ow's family life been treating ya?"
"I won't lie, it's been pretty great!" he smiled – and he meant it.
"Well, I'm glad t' 'ear it…'ow are Mary and the little one these days?"
"Mary is doin' great – she's as wonderful as ever…" he blushed slightly, "…and Evelyn is just growin' up so fast, I'm not quite sure where all the time's gone!" he chuckled.
"I've 'eard it goes by fast…bet your little girl is a right trouble maker…is she walking an' talking yet?"
"She's talkin' a little bit, but she still needs a bit of practise with walking"
"Ah, so we can't teach 'er to step in time yet?"
"I'm afraid not, but I'm sure it won't be too long until she's tryin' to copy 'er dad's old dance moves"
"She might even be better at it than you are!" Tommy teased.
"We do miss you, Bert, it can sometimes feel a bit lonely up on the rooftops without ya"
Something tugged at Bert's heart.
"I miss you guys too, sometimes I find myself just itchin' to run up to the rooftops and 'ave a dance…but I know that I've made the right decision, I've gotta do what's best for my family and I'm extremely 'appy with my life"
Tommy smiled warmly.
"And that's the most important thing, we all want ya t' be 'appy, Bert"
"But come see us some time…bring the family with ya"
"We'll see" Bert chuckled.
Bert chatted with Tommy a while longer, but managed to return home at the usual time. Things were quiet when he entered the house – something he wasn't quite used to. He raised his eyebrows to no one in particular as the lack of noise whipped around him. He wasn't quite sure what this meant…he suspected both mischief and problems; so, he all but crept into the house. He made his way into the drawing room and soon discovered why the house was so silent: on the sofa lay his sleeping wife with the now eleven-month-old Evelyn snuggled next to her – also sleeping. Bert sighed softly to himself and couldn't stop a smile from spreading across his face. He felt a warmth move through his chest and his stomach flutter slightly as he knelt by the sofa; he smoothed his hand over his daughter's hair before doing the exact same thing to Mary…he swore he'd never seen anything so beautiful than his two favourite girls so at peace. He wished he could capture this moment…perhaps he'd draw it one day? Still, he'd never be able to capture just how blessed he felt. He moved in and feathered a lingering kiss on Mary's forehead.
"I love you, my beautiful Mary" he whispered.
"I love you too" she whispered back in a semi-conscious tone.
Bert jumped slightly from the sound of her voice, but then watched as a smirk began to spread across her still soft features.
"'ow long 'ave you been awake?" he chuckled as Mary gently sat up and held their still sleeping daughter in her lap.
"I think I stirred awake when you came in" she smiled.
"Ah, damn, I thought I'd gotten quite good at not makin' any noise"
"You have, Bert, it's just that I happen to have exceptionally good hearing!" she half-joked.
"Well, that's 'cos you're an exceptional woman"
"Oh, honestly!" she scolded.
"Give 'er 'ere, I'll put 'er upstairs until she's ready to wake up"
"Thank you" Mary said softly as she handed Evelyn to her father.
Bert crept up the stairs and when he reached Evelyn's cot, placed a kiss on her forehead and laid her down as delicately as he could. He took a moment to just gaze at her, soon she would be a year old and he did he best to fully comprehend it all; how much his life had changed and how he never thought he could be so happy. He had a family with Mary, something he'd only ever dreamed of, and yet, here he was. He just couldn't believe how much their lives had changed…and he certainly could believe that his daughter had been with them for almost a year.
"Sleep well, my darling" Bert whispered to Evelyn as he left the room.
"Oh, Bert…" Mary beckoned as he made his way down the stairs.
"I just remembered that a letter was delivered here shortly after you left…it's for you"
She handed him the envelope.
"That's what it says" she giggled.
"I'm just surprised… 'oo do you think could be writing to me?"
"Well, open it and find out"
He did so and there was a short, stiff silence as he let his eyes study the page. Mary watched him with intrigue and waited patiently for his explanation.
"Hey! It's from me brother, Jerry!" he beamed.
"The one that couldn't come to our wedding because he fell out of a tree?"
"Yep, that's 'im..." Bert laughed, "… 'aven't 'eard from 'im in a while, wonder what 'e's been up to?" he asked no one in particular.
Another silence fell as Bert read through the letter and as Mary watched – slyly – she noticed the way his expression changed, I didn't morph into shock or sadness, but there was some sort of emotion there…some sort of disbelief.
"Bert, darling, is everything alright?" she asked softly.
"Yeah…yeah, everything's fine" he breathed.
"What did Jerry have to say?"
Bert paused briefly.
"He said that 'e's going over to America for a while…a long while… 'e says 'e met a girl out there the last time 'e went and he's goin' over t' visit 'er…'e says if things go well, 'e might stay over there…"
"Surely that's a good thing?"
"Oh, yeah, it is an' I'm very pleased for 'im…I guess I just never thought that he'd leave…I mean, 'e moved away from London a good few years ago, but 'e was never too far away, after all, 'e was still in England…but America is so far away…"
"It's natural that you're feeling a bit torn about it all, darling, but think about how wonderful it'll be if Jerry makes it work with this girl"
Bert took Mary's hand and smiled.
"You're right, love"
"Of course I am" she teased, "When is he leaving?"
"Soon, real soon, says that 'e's takin' a boat out from Southampton on the tenth of this month"
"Gosh, that is soon!" she pondered, "…why Southampton?"
"Says it's the only tickets 'e could get, 'e says they're 'ardly worth anything but 'e says the ship 'e's sailing on is a real good 'un"
"Well, send my love and luck when you write back"
"I will, but only if you give me some of that love first" he said mischievously, and she raised an eyebrow at him, "…I 'aven't had my welcome 'ome kiss yet" he reasoned.
"Very well" she chuckled before pressing her lips to his lightly – but not without feeling.
Bert responded by wrapping his arms around her waist and holding her against him. They let the kiss linger and not only did they savour their closeness, but also the fact that Evelyn was not there to interrupt them. Bert rested his forehead against Mary's when their lips finally parted.
"I was thinkin', why don't we see if we can take Jane and Michael out on the weekend since we 'aven't 'ad a chance to yet?"
"Sounds like a wonderful idea…" she replied with a whispered as her gaze darted to his lips for just a second, "…did you have anything in mind?"
"Well, I've got a few empty canvases upstairs that I'm sure will come in 'andy"
"I'm looking forward to it" she smirked before he kissed her again.
Jane and Michael could hardly contain themselves when Mary showed up at their front door a couple of days later; it had been such a long time since they'd all seen each other. But once they were reunited – so to speak – it felt so blissful, and, in a way, it felt like nothing had changed at all, like they had never really been separated. They suspected that time has no real affect on bonds that are strong enough, that even if people have been apart for years, they can always pick up where they left off. In such circumstances, time is irrelevant. Mary lead them over to an empty section of the park and they soon found Bert who was stood by a mounted canvas and had Evelyn wriggling happily in his arms. He smiled at them warmly as they approached.
"Afternoon, you two! It's been a long time!"
"Hi, Bert!" they both greeted – almost in unison.
When they were all stood together Jane stared in fascination at the infant in Bert's arms…Michael not so much.
"She's so cute!" Jane gasped.
Evelyn stared at Jane for a while – her eyes wide – but after a few moments, she giggled musically.
"I think that's 'er way of sayin' thank you!" Bert laughed.
"How old is she now?"
"Eleven months" Mary answered.
"Wow…I can't believe it's been so long" Jane pondered.
"I was just thinking the same thing"
"Where are we going today, Bert?" Michael interjected – proving once again that he wasn't too interested in baby talk…but who could really blame him?
"Got a real treat for ya today…one of the most beautiful countryside meadows you'll ever see! …" he beamed, "…the fields stretch out so far that you'd think they go on forever and it's covered with more flowers than you've ever seen in your life!…plus, there's some woodland on the outskirts that's 'ome to some of the most hospitable animals you'll ever meet!" he smirked at Mary.
"Can we go there now?" Michael asked excitedly.
"Well, there's no time like the present" Mary chirped as Bert flipped the canvas around to reveal his creation, "Join hands please"
"Hold tight, Sweet'eart" Bert whispered to Evelyn.
"As always, on the count of three…"
It was almost natural to Jane and Michael by this point and within mere seconds they had been transported into a meadow that seemed to be even more stunning than the one Bert had described; and, as was customary, they had new clothing to show for it. Jane wore a puffy dress of the most soothing sunny yellow fabric whilst Michael's small suit was a handsome navy. Mary looked down at her own attire and smirked at her husband; Mary found her figure hugged by the dress made of the most stunning blue material, deep blue – like the ocean – her favourite. Bert's new suit was light, but his tie – of course – matched his wife's stunning attire. Even Evelyn had been given a new dress.
The meadow popped to life with a joyful array of flowers that glittered the grass with every colour imaginable; they filled the air with a sweet fragrance…it made everything seem so pure, so natural and so very perfect. A dense woodland surrounded the outskirts of the meadow – providing them with a unique sense of privacy, as if is was their own little world – well, it was. A couple of bay horses grazed calmly in the meadow and caught the eyes of the Banks children.
"Are those horses friendly?" Jane asked as she pointed out to them.
"They sure are!" Bert beamed.
"Can we go and say hello to them, Mary Poppins?" was her next question.
"Well, if you must you must, but don't get into any mischief"
The siblings cheered before running down the hill and towards the flat horizon of the meadow.
"And don't smudge the drawing!" Mary called after them.
"Well, what do you think?" Bert smiled as he nuzzled her hairline gently.
"As always, my dear, you've done another fantastic job…it's the first time Evelyn's ever been in one of your pictures" she commented sweetly.
Bert's smile shone under the chalk sunlight.
"Hey, so it is!" he beamed, "D'ya like it, sweet'eart?"
Evelyn mumbled at him incoherently, but eventually laughed to show her exceitment.
"I think that's a yes" Mary chuckled.
Bert knelt down and let Evelyn crawl onto the ground, she seemed fascinated by the soft grass beneath her and found herself staring with awe at all the colours that surrounded her – stimulating her senses to new and thrilling heights. She laughed sweetly as a butterfly fluttered in front of her face, she reached out for it and followed it with her gaze as it flew over her head…which caused her to tumble backwards. Mary and Bert chuckled as their daughter giggled again and scrambled back into a sitting position before investigating a nearby flower. The proud parents now sat at the base of a towering oak tree and watched Evelyn with fond eyes – they couldn't help but smile at their beautiful girl, she had grown so much and was a sheer joy to behold; how she was so sweet, so curious and – in their eyes – so perfect. Mary snuggled into Bert's side and nuzzled her nose into his neck – savouring his scent. He slipped his arm around her and sighed contently.
He let his eyes fall onto Jane and Michael – who had just discovered that animals could always talk in Bert's pictures. They were changing too. Sure, he'd met them two years, but he could see how they had grown too; he suspected that the improvement of their home life had had a big effect on them – not that they lived in sadness beforehand, but Mary sure could do wonders. He occasionally found it baffling how the affection of their father could do so much for them, but then he would also wonder how it could be any other way? When he looked at them – running through the meadow with two horses on their heels – he could see just how blissful they were and how they seemed to be so at ease with everything. He couldn't help but smile at what his wife had done for them…he also wondered if they would still be so free spirited if she had not helped their family?
"Sorry to interrupt your reverie, Bert…" Mary suddenly said – doing just that, "…but I think we should probably spend some time with Jane and Michael, after all, it's what we're here for"
He smiled at her warmly.
"An excellent idea, Mrs Alfred!"
Bert scooped Evelyn into his arms before helping Mary to her feet, she didn't need help, of course, but Bert prided himself on his chivalry. Mary giggled at the ridiculousness of it all, but couldn't hide the slight blush the rose in her cheeks.
"Thank you, good sir"
"The pleasure was all mine, madam"
They strolled over to Jane and Michael – who were stilled thoroughly entertained by the talking horses – smiling as they did so.
"Fancy goin' for a bit of an explore in the forest, you two?" Bert asked.
"Oh, Yes please!" Michael enthused.
"Come along then" Mary instructed.
"Goodbye Molly, goodbye Rufus" Jane called back to the horses as they began to walk away.
"Goodbye!" they neighed in response.
"Do you know those horses too, Mary Poppins?"
"I know all of the animals in Bert's drawings" she stated simply with the tiniest of smirks.
"An' they certainly all know Mary, too!" Bert added – causing the woman in question to blush slightly.
The trees of the forest towered mightily above them – creating a permeant shade and a feeling of tranquil isolation. The forest was an empire of the most luscious greens and flowers sprouted in a rainbow of colours – it couldn't have been more perfect. There was a sweet fragrance in the air and it circled around them delicately, like an invisible murmuration of art. They continued to navigate through the forest – their feet crunching crisply over twigs and leaves – and a small herd of timid deer skipped past them, eliciting chuckled from them all.
"So, tell me you two…" Mary began, "…how is your mother doing?"
"She's fine, but she gets tired quite easily…like you did, Mary Poppins" Jane said innocently.
"Well, it's not easy when you're having a baby" Mary laughed.
"But father says that we'll have our new brother or sister with us really, really soon! He said that it should happen before the end of the month!" she enthused.
"Well, that's terribly exciting, are you both looking forward to having a younger sibling?"
"I am, but Michael's not"
"And why is that, Michael?"
"I said that I wouldn't mind, as long as mother has a boy and not a girl"
"An' what would be so bad about 'aving a baby sister?" Bert chuckled.
"Girls aren't as fun as boys"
Jane tutted to herself.
"Well, I 'ave a younger sister an' we get on like an 'ouse on fire…and besides, you 'ave fun with Jane, don't ya?"
"I suppose…" then a thought occurred to the boy, "…Mary Poppins?"
"Well, before Evelyn was born, I asked you if having a baby hurt…"
"You did indeed" Mary did a rather good job of hiding her flushed cheeks.
"…well, you said you'd let me know when you found out, but you never did" he said quietly.
Bert gave Mary a smirk and silently wondered how she'd handle yet another of Michael's personal questions; She scowled at her husband playfully.
"Is there any reason why you're so curious, Michael?" Mary asked kindly.
"Well, I don't want it to hurt mother" he all but whispered.
Mary looked across at Bert and her eyes softened – she'd never heard anything so sweet. She then knelt in front of Michael and put her hand on his shoulder.
"That's very sweet of you, Michael, but you needn't worry about your mother, she's a very strong woman and she's had children before so she knowns what she's doing" she smiled.
"Okay, Mary Poppins"
Her eyes met Bert's as she spoke again,
"Having a baby is a very wonderful thing…so the most is important thing is that you focus on that"
And so, everything was positive for the rest of their day…
When Bert awoke a couple of weeks later, he found Mary's side of the bed empty and cold. Something was wrong. He sat up instantly and looked around their bedroom – she was nowhere to be seen. He felt a chill creep up his back, he didn't know what it was, but he just knew that something was wrong. It was some sort of intrinsic knowledge, something coming from the depths of his mind. He climbed out of bed and went straight for the door. He poked his head into the nursery and found Evelyn sleeping peacefully in her crib – streams of sunlight framing her delicate form. He sighed once he knew that she was alright…but the chill was still there. He crept out of the nursery and made his way downstairs – each step filling him with a new and heavy sense of paranoia. His chest fluttered with nerves.
"Mary?" he called out gently as he entered the drawing room.
He found her there, her slightly weakened form on the sofa and a newspaper in her hands.
"Mary, there you are" he said – his tone verging on cheerful.
But she didn't respond, she didn't even look at him. She just remained still.
"Mary?" he repeated as he took a few steps closer, "Mary?"
The second time brought her back to reality.
"Oh, Bert…" she breathed, but didn't finish her sentence. He moved to sit by her and placed a supportive hand on her shoulder.
"Mary, is everything alright?"
She faced him fully and he could see that her cheeks were paler than usual.
"I've just been reading the newspaper…there's been a terrible disaster, a ship heading for America hit an iceberg and sunk…they say that there aren't many survivors…"
Bert went pale too.
"Ah, that's awful…" he winced, "'ow come it 'appened?"
"It doesn't say much…" she admitted with a slight shake of her head, "…why do things like this have to happen?"
"I don't know, love…" he began, his own voice filled with evidence of dismay, "…I guess that's just the way it is…an' it's just terrible, it really is…I just 'ope that too many don't 'ave to suffer because of it…"
There was a pause.
"What was the name of the ship?" he asked.
That was when time stopped. In that moment, Bert forgot how to breathe, how to speak, even how to think, his palms were sweaty, his hands shook, his ears began to ring and his chest tightened. He could focus on nothing except the whirling of his mind.
"W…what?" he stuttered.
"The Titanic" Mary repeated.
Without a word of explanation, Bert rose from the sofa and stumbled over to the kitchen, his breaths heavy and frequent. He began to frantically search through the draws – his mind clearly holding on to a single goal and a single shred of hope.
"Bert, is everything okay?" Mary questioned as she followed him.
He could barely hear her, instead he just kept searching and tried to ignore the painful banging of his heart. His hands still shook feverishly, but eventually, with his world spiralling away, he pulled out what he had been looking for. A letter.
Bert let his eyes scan each word, frantically searching for what he hoped wouldn't be there. He hoped with every fibre of his being that he would be mistaken, that everything would be okay; he just hoped with every ounce of strength he had left that he wouldn't have to face his now greatest fear. But it was all to no avail. As his gaze scanned the final word, the page fell from his grip and fluttered to the floor with a dying sway. Suddenly, tears sprang to his eyes with full force and flowed violently and painfully down his cheeks. He let out a sob. Mary's jaw fell and her stomach began to twist with fear.
"Bert, what's the matter?" she whimpered.
But at the sound of her voice, he let out another strong sob before crumpling to his knees.
"Bert!" she exclaimed as she knelt down in front of him.
He was crying more forcefully now – his head in his hands and his shoulders bobbing in time with his sobs.
"Bert please!" she pleaded.
Finally, he looked at her and Mary's heart shattered at the sight of him; to see him so very broken, broke her too.
"Mary…" he choked, "…my brother was on that ship"
"What?" she breathed.
"The…the ship that my brother said 'e was takin' to America…it was the Titanic…"
"Bert, no, there must be some mistake…" she suggested with desperation.
"There's no mistake, Mary! I just saw it in 'is letter, that was the ship 'e took and now…now…" his sobs overpowered his words and his fell into Mary's hold.
She kept him securely against her, letting him cry into her shoulder. She tried her best to sooth him, but it was taking all of her strength to not collapse with him. She went to speak, but he cut her off instantly,
"Don't try an' tell me that it'll all be okay…" he whimpered as he moved to meet her gaze with his red, puffy and broken eyes, "...because I know it's not, 'e was in the lowest class possible, 'e was down with all the other poor men and women…there's no way 'e's…there's no way…"
She pulled him back against her and simply let him cry, until, eventually, he choked out a few more words…
"He's gone, Mary…"
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Please don't hurt me! Okay, if this killed you I'm sorry! I didn't actually plan on doing this originally, but the history part of my brain reminded me of the Titanic and I just really wanted to do something with it...hence the ending. I'll follow it up in the next chapter.
Anyway, aside from the sad ending, I do hope you enjoyed this chapter.
Please leave a review!
See you soon! xxx