Chapter 28 - Telling the boys
As they left the hospital, they stopped in the grounds for a moment. Grandma Burns wanted to go with them, but Ted could not control his tears, he felt the sadness of the others, he clutched and hid his tear-stained face in the folds of his mother’s dress. All three adults were much the same, trying to control their emotions. Grandda’ Burns did this by not speaking and withdrawing into himself. Grandma Burns spoke to Jane.
‘You and Grandda’ Burns should go to the orphanage and see the boys. They’ll be wanting to say goodbye to their father in the morning. I’ll take Ted home, I think the poor mite has had just about as much as he can take today’.
They all agreed that this was the best policy, Grandma Burns took hold of Ted’s hand, as Jane and Grandda’ Burns moved away he pulled after them, but grandma Burns had a very strong grip, he continued to sob, Jane turned and looked at him.
‘Now you be a good boy for your grandma, me and grandda’ will be back soon.’ He just nodded through his tears.’
She was glad that his grandmother was taking him back, he was tired, and she would have had to carry him. She could here Grandma as she walked on talking to him.
‘Well look at those tears, and this runny nose, well grannies got a hankie in here. We’ll soon put a stop to all that’.
She knew that a none to gentle sprucing up would now take place followed by the instruction for a big blow, she would always say to anyone observing her roughness “Its boys we’re bringing up not china dolls”.
The walk to the orphanage never seemed so long, neither of them new quite what they would say to the boys, they pondered as they walked, they both stared at the ground. The world seemed to have discovered a new bleakness, they had no real wish for conversation, each retreated into their own world, a sanctuary with their own thoughts for a few minutes; just the mechanical movements of their bodies drawing them nearer to the orphanage.
They arrived and went to the office at the front. as they were about to enter, Grandda’ Burns touched Jane’s arm for a moment, she looked at him.
‘Would you like me to talk to them? I could tell the boy, it’s a lot for you to do.’ A thin smile appeared from her, this was the compassion that Albert had inherited, she knew it well.
‘No thank you dad,’ she whispered. ‘I’ll be okay, I have to do it’.’
‘Okay love if you’re sure, I’m here for you all though.’
She opened the door and they went in. They were fortunate in that there were several members of the staff in the office at that moment. As the door opened, they stopped and raised their heads. They closed the door behind them and approached the nearest desk, where one of the younger members of staff was seated.
‘Excuse me but two of my sons are here and my husband’s just died; and he’ll be buried tomorrow, and I really would like them to come’. Jane had blurted it all out in one breath, she paused for a second at which point this young officer interrupted. His tone was formal and the manner of one who had not suffered close personal loss.
‘I’m sorry madam; I don’t know who your sons are?’ Jane touched her brow, she had suddenly become very hot, the room became unclear for a second, but she remained standing.
‘It’s Matt and Luke Burns, I’m their mother.’
‘Ah, yes Burns A, and Burns B’, came the answer from the young officer. As he said it, a chair could be heard from the other side of the office, as it was pushed back and the owner approached.
‘Mrs Burns, please let me extend my sympathies to you and your family at this time’ he held out his hand to first Jane and then to Grandda’ Burns.′ They reciprocated not knowing who was addressing them. Grandda’ Burns stated as he shook hands. ‘I’m the boys grandfather.’ the man opposite continued.
‘My name is Gregson I know your boys very well, one of my duties here is that of bandmaster and I have the pleasure of instructing your sons’. He could see he had struck the right note, Jane responded courteously as always.
‘Thank you, Mr Gregson, it is kind of you to look after them.’ He knew it was time to move on she had pressing matters.
‘I shall go and fetch your boys immediately for you, please come with me there is a small office next to my desk, it will be more suitable’ They both thanked him for his kindness.
The young officer was still observing all and caught Mr Gregson’s eye, it was a small opportunity for him to vent his displeasure at his inept handling of the situation.
‘Please pour Mrs Burns and Mr Burns a cup of tea while I’m away’ the young man responded not wishing to increase his bad situation.
‘Certainly Mr Gregson, I shall do anything I can to assist!’ With that Mr Gregson escorted them into the office and offered a chair to Mrs Burns. He spoke briefly after she sat.
‘Did I understand you right Mrs Burns when you came in, you said that you just had news of your husband’s death this very day and he is to be buried tomorrow?’
She confirmed this to him of the visit from the policeman and how she had rushed to her husband’s parents and how after viewing her poor dead husband, how paupers were to be buried. She had been given a schedule and her husband was scheduled for burial at nine that very next morning. She had come poste-haste to tell her sons, in the hope that they would be able to say farewell to their father. He was aghast and quite taken back by it all.
‘You would like your sons to go to the graveyard tomorrow morning, if I understand you correctly Mrs Burns?’ she looked up at him, it appeared that whatever happened in the world around her at that moment, she would have not noticed such was the question he had asked.
‘Indeed, Sir that would be my wish. That I might have the boys to attend the graveside of their father. I came to request it Sir, in the hope that the notice would not be too short. And whoever I might have to petition, would be available for me to see.’ He looked at both of them they were indeed in a pitiful state.
‘Mrs Burns I will arrange all. I will escort the boys myself in the morning to ensure that they are in good time. Now if you can just bear with me for a moment I will fetch your sons.’ He indeed was a very kind man and with that he went back to the outer office.
‘Would anyone know which class the Burns boys are in?’ It was now that the young officer was of service, he paused for a moment holding the tray of tea which he was taking to Mrs Burns and her father-in-law.
‘Yes Mr Gregson, they will be in the Nile Classroom, I believe it is basic navigation at the moment.’
It was now that Mr Gregson addressed the young officer ‘Thank you Mr Quinn, I shall leave Mrs Burns and Mr Burns with you.’
‘Certainly Mr Gregson,’ he now continued on his way with the tray, order had been restored.
There were several classrooms in the main building each of them named after a great sea battle. Mr Gregson knocked and went in the class, it had approximately sixty boys in it. Who were currently engaged in a navigation lesson, one of the boys was stood up reciting the navigation rules for leaving a harbour. As he would reach a certain point the teacher would stop him usually with a variation, on a trade route. The boy if correct would be told to sit down and a new victim would be called to stand in his place.
Mr Gregson spoke. ‘Excuse me for interrupting your lesson Mr Maven, may I have a private word?’ The reply came instantaneously.
‘Certainly Mr Gregson, Jackson, you’re the senior cadet keep the boys at it until I return.’
With that, the two officers went outside the room from within the room, you could hear Jackson continuing with the general quizzing. Mr Gregson explained all to Mr Maven, and within a moment they both re-entered the room Mr Maven went to his usual teaching position whilst Mr Gregson remained by the door facing the class, it was Mr Maven who spoke.
‘Burns A and Burns B, put away your exercise things and accompany Mr Gregson, Jackson I will speak to you at the end of the lesson’.
The boys turned and looked at each other they had no idea what could be happening, had they not performed one of their tasks correctly, what could be so important that the bandmaster had taken them from the class, their minds worked overtime as they opened the desktops and put their exercise books in.
They followed him out into the corridor, he didn’t talk but walked far enough until they were in a discreet corner where they could not be overheard, he turned around.
‘Well boys, your mother and grandfather are in the office. I’m afraid they have some bad news. Now I would like you to be as strong as possible, your mother has had a terrible shock. I want you to make your father proud.’
Matt stood resolute, in disbelief while the involuntary tears ran down Luke’s face. Mr Gregson looked at Luke, ‘use your sleeve son, no ones watching you today’.
It was Matt who answered. ‘Are we to go and see our mother now sir?’
‘Yes, you are, take as long as you need, I have already had a word with your mother’.
They followed Mr Gregson, who ushered the boys into the small office and then closed the door, so their grief as a family was not witnessed. The death of Alice had prepared the boys well, and so they went through the motions. This time there would be no grand cortege, or visitors to the house, this time it was a very personal affair.
They were not trying to hide their shame, there was no shame in a pauper’s funeral, they all new that this is what their father would have told then to do for him. It was his sacrifice up till the end. This was not a pauper they were burying, but the greatest man in their lives; better than any statesman, a selfless man going to the ground with all his virtues intact. This service to them, would be of greater consequence than any state occasion of mindless patriotism and mark their progress as men.