Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 64

Harry knew what he was doing, alright, even if it might not have seemed that way to Danny. When he looked at Lillian McFry as she seemed to struggle to respond to his question, he saw a strong woman – a survivor. He was pinning his hopes on using the information he’d gleaned from Colin McAllistair to get her to open up a little, to reveal her secrets.
“What do you know about Jonathan Harcourt, Mr McFry?” she asked, deflecting his question with what seemed to Harry like practiced ease. He thought a moment, before replying:
“I know he was a journalist on the Daily Herald. I know he traveled to Spain to cover the Civil War. And I know he was decorated – received the same medals as the one’s you gave to Danny to pass to Laurel.” He paused a second, then continued:
“And I know that he probably never existed.”
“Jonathan Harcourt certainly did exist, Mr McFry,” Lillian said, (and Harry noticed a slight tetchiness to her tone) “even if I haven’t seen him in almost 70 years.”
“Do you mind talking about him?” Harry asked, carefully, sensing just the slightest undercurrent of wistfulness in Lillian’s qualification.
She seemed to relax just a little. She hadn’t spoken of Jonathan Harcourt to anyone in such a long while, and it felt to her as though she was unlocking a place somewhere deep in her heart.
“No. No, I don’t,” she replied. Later, she would recall how wounding it had felt to be told that Jonathan had ‘never existed’, to imagine that she had spent her life pining for someone that might have been a figment of her imagination. That might be why she felt compelled to open up to Harry McFry, to tell him all about Jonathan – to prove that he had, at least, ‘existed’.
She told him how they’d met, in Madrid. She may not have mentioned the night in the Retiro Park – but then, she didn’t need to. By the time she had finished her account, no one who had heard it could have doubted how very much in love they had been.
“Have you ever loved someone, Mr McFry?” she asked. “And I mean loved someone so much that, when you are apart it is like you have lost something of yourself?” Harry blushed a little, and thought of Ana. He knew, he thought, exactly what Lillian was saying.
“Yes,” he said. “I believe I understand what you are saying.” His response sounded just a little matter-of-fact to Lillian, though.
“Jonathan Harcourt was my ‘lost’ love. He was everything any woman would ever want: handsome, of course. I had my pick in those days, you know. He was strong, but sensitive. He cared about people. And he saved my life more than once in Spain. At Jamara. Do you know about Jamara, Mr McFry?”
Harry wanted to ask Lillian to call him ‘Harry’ but, he thought, he had better defer to her. She seemed – at last – to be opening herself up, and he couldn’t risk jeopardizing the position.
“Yes, I know a little. Mainly what McAllistair told me. But I also read about the battle once, and I read George Orwell. It must have been terrible.”
“Orwell wasn’t to be trusted, Mr McFry. I met him once. Not the kind of man you could pin down. Jamara was a hopeless position for us. But we felt we were all there was between Franco getting to Madrid,” Lillian said, then looked him square in the eyes and continued: “I killed someone for the first time at Jamara. Do you know how that feels?”
Harry shook his head. He saw Danny, sitting by the window, and noticed he seemed mesmerized by Lillian. Danny was wanting to ask Lillian all about George Orwell – he could hardly believe he was sat so close to someone who had met an author of Orwell’s stature.
“No. And I can’t imagine it, either,” Harry said.
“In the training, they tell you not to think of them as people. That it gets easier after the first, then the second, then the third. But it’s not true, Mr McFry. It doesn’t get any easier to know that you have deprived some poor woman of her husband, or her son, simply by pulling on a trigger.”
Lillian paused. Something seemed to occur to her.
“But tell me, Mr McFry. You said Jonathan Harcourt never existed. What made you say that?”
Harry thought of Bill Blunt, and wondered how he was doing with his contact in the National Union of Journalists.
“Because there’s no record that Jonathan Harcourt was ever born,” Harry replied, watching the colour slowly drain from Lillian’s face even as he spoke the words. Her hands seemed to be shaking as she gripped the arm of the chair. ‘Too harsh, Harry!’ he thought – better retrieve the situation quickly.
“What I mean to say, Mrs McFry, is that I have every reason to suspect that Jonathan Harcourt was a pen-name. That he was really someone else.”
Lillian seemed to gather strength from inside herself. No longer relaxed, she was fighting through the memories, trying desperately to make sense of what Harry had told her. Why of course! Why had she never thought of that? No wonder she had never found Jonathan Harcourt after the war! ‘You stupid woman, Lillian Blyth!’ she was thinking, ‘You stupid, stupid woman!’

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