Paul remained unconscious for the next couple of days and as time went on, Edgar could tell that even the doctors were beginning to lose hope. The day after he arrived in London, he drove to Oxford and collected Tom from school, bringing him back to the Watsons’ Kensington home, where Elsie, Clare and Lily were now staying in order to be closer to Paul. Elsie was returning to hospital every day, spending every possible minute either at her husband’s bedside or on the chairs outside the room, accompanied by either Clare or Edgar, while the other stayed behind to look after the two children.
Elsie did her best to remain hopeful, but she was absolutely distraught and by the end of the second day, Edgar called his wife and asked her to come over to be with her friend. Their daughters' half-term had just begun, and Evadne hastily arranged for them to stay with Anton and made her way to England with Henry the very next day. Ned was staying with the Pepperells for his own half-term, and with their elder children being looked after elsewhere, the Watsons were able to give all their attention to helping the Rodwell family through this difficult time.
From Evadne’s point of view, Elsie and her children were not the only ones who needed looking after. Edgar was remaining very stoic, refusing to discuss things with his wife, insisting that it was Paul’s family who needed the help not him, but Evadne knew her husband too well for that and she could tell that this was tearing him up inside. Not sure what else to do, she made a point of making things as easy as she possibly could for him, letting him know that she was there if he needed her and hoping that he would eventually open up.
Then suddenly, on the evening of the third day, as Elsie and Edgar were just preparing to leave the hospital to return home, Paul stirred and finally opened his eyes. Elsie cried out as she looked up to see him staring at her blankly and Edgar ran from the room to call a nurse. By the time they returned, Paul was unconscious again, but this time it was in a deep and peaceful sleep.
Over the next couple of days he began to rally a little, getting gradually stronger, and things were looking hopeful. Then on the third day, the doctor finally deemed him strong enough to be told about the amputation and suddenly things took a turn for the worse. To begin with Paul refused to believe it, claiming that he could still feel his leg, could still wiggle his toes. As he had also bruised his back in the accident, he was unable to sit up so the doctor had to use a mirror to show him that it was true. Then, while the nurse changed the bandages on his stump just above where his knee had been, the doctor sat with him and gently explained that the sensations he was feeling were what was known as a phantom limb.
Once he realised that he really had lost part of his leg, Paul sank into a deep depression and had remained in it for over a week. He seemed to have no will to fight, to want to live, and as time went on he gradually became weaker and weaker, until the doctors became increasingly concerned for his wellbeing, to the point that they were thinking that his death was only a matter of time.
As a last ditch attempt to try and get him to put up a fight, the doctor pulled Elsie and Edgar aside one evening as they took a break from sitting with him, and spelled out his concerns to them in no uncertain terms. As the doctor finished speaking, Elsie stared at him for second, her face ashen, and then turning on her heel, she walked quickly back in the direction of Paul’s room. Edgar went to follow her, but the doctor grasped his arm and held him back.
“Let them be for a few minutes – maybe she can get through to him now she knows.”
Reluctantly, Edgar did as he was asked, and sinking into a nearby chair, he leaned forward and put his head in his hands.
Paul slowly turned to face Elsie as she returned to the room and sat beside him, taking hold of his hand. She watched him for a few moments, her jaw shaking, and then tightened her grip on his fingers as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Paul, please, you have to fight this. The doctor says it’s all down to you, they can’t do anything else. Please you have to fight, I need you, the kids need you - you have to do this.”
Paul stared at her for a second and then shook his head and tried to pull his hand from her grasp.
“You’re better off without me,” he replied, his voice flat and cold. “I’m not much use to you now. I’ll have no job, no leg, nothing to offer. The savings won’t last us long with what it will cost to take care of me. I can’t look after any of you. You’re free to go whenever you want. I won’t hold you back.”
Elsie stared at him in disbelief, tears falling down her cheeks as what he had just said began to sink in. “But I don’t want to go, I want to be with you,” she pleaded, gripping his hand even tighter. “We’ll manage somehow. Tom doesn’t have to go to Harrow, he can go to a local school, so can Lily. And I’ll get a job - I’ll do anything, I don’t care. Paul, please just try and fight. You have to live, I need you.”
Paul bit his lips hard, and shook his head.
“Paul, please, listen to me…”
Ignoring her, he turned his head away to stare at the opposite wall. This was too much for Elsie and unable to bear it, she got to her feet and ran out of room. Edgar jumped up from his seat as the door opened and she tried to run past him down the corridor, tears streaming down her face. Reaching out, he grabbed her arm and stopped her, pulling her towards him and holding her as she buried her face in his shirt and sobbed.
It was quite a few minutes before she managed to calm herself enough to tell him what had happened. When she finally got it out, Edgar was staggered at what Paul had said. Walking Elsie over to the nearest seats, he sat her down, leaving her his handkerchief and checking that she would be okay alone for a few minutes, and then strode purposefully towards the private room, ignoring Elsie’s feeble attempts to stop him.
Paul was staring blankly at the ceiling, lost in his thoughts, when the door opened and a stony-faced Edgar entered the room.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself?”
Paul glanced at him briefly and then turned his eyes back to the ceiling, saying nothing. Edgar shut the door firmly and crossed the room to stand at the foot of his friend’s bed.
“Do you have nothing to say for yourself?” he asked, his anger evident in his voice. “You’ve just broken your wife’s heart and all you can do is stare at me?”
Paul’s face flickered for a second before he straightened it back to its former blank expression. “It wasn’t my intention to break her heart,” he replied flatly, “I’m sorry I had to. I just had to tell her the truth.”
“She’s better off without me.”
“Don’t be so bloody stupid…”
“How do you know I’m being stupid?” Paul interrupted, his voice still quiet. “You’ve never been here, you don’t know what it’s like. I can’t provide for her or the children anymore. There are plenty of other men out there who can, she should be with one of them. I told her she’s free to go, I won’t hold her back. I’m no use to anyone, there’s no point in me being around.”
For a second Edgar was speechless, staring at his friend in utter disbelief. Then his anger took over and he regained his voice.
“How dare you, you selfish bastard?” he shouted, not caring whose attention was drawn by his raised voice. “She has sat by your bedside and on those chairs outside day after day since this happened praying and hoping for you to get better, for you to come around, and now you have, you’ve decided you can’t be bothered to live? Your six-year-old daughter said this morning that the only birthday present she wanted was her Daddy back, and your son’s trying to look after his mother and sister, despite being upset himself, because it’s what you’d want him to do. Your family would give up everything they have to keep you, and this is how you repay them? Do you really think this little of them?”
Paul just stared at him, saying nothing, and Edgar gave an incredulous shake of his head.
“You know what? Maybe you’re right, maybe they are better off without you if you honestly think that this accident has made a blind bit of difference to how they feel about you. Your wife is sitting out there utterly heartbroken – she can’t understand why you don’t love her anymore. She doesn’t deserve to be feeling like that.”
There was silence for a moment, and then Paul said quietly, “Of course I love her.”
“Then bloody well fight, man. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for her. It’s the very least you can do.”
“I’m no use to her like this, can’t you see that?” Paul was starting to raise his voice a little, sounding more spirited than he had since he had come round, and noticing this, Edgar continued on.
“You’re still the same man aren’t you? That’s all she wants,” he replied, softening his voice. “She loves you Paul, you’re her life. She doesn’t care how she has you as long as she does have you. Can’t you see that?”
Paul stared at his friend, his eyes suddenly very bright, and for a moment Edgar thought he had finally broken through. Then Paul shook his head and looked away.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t want her pity or yours.”
Edgar was gobsmacked. “You’re pathetic!” he shouted.
At the exact same moment the door burst open and a nurse came bustling into the room, drawn by the raised voices. “What’s going on in here? Get out,” she cried, shoving Edgar out of the way and running across to the bed to check on Paul.
“No, I’m sorry, but he needs to hear this,” Edgar replied, and she swung around, a furious look on her face.
“He’s a very ill man, in case you hadn’t noticed, and you shouting will make him even worse.”
Edgar was beyond caring who he was rude to. He just knew he had to get through to his friend. “It won’t make any difference,” he snapped back, “he doesn’t want to live anyway.”
The nurse gave an exclamation of horror and hurried off in search of a doctor to come and help. Edgar turned back to Paul.
“You’re right, I don’t know what it’s like but I hope that if, god forbid, anything like this ever happens to me, I’d have the backbone to fight for the sake of my wife and kids. If you give a damn, Evvy and I will make sure we look after yours when you’re gone.”
As he finished, the doctor burst into the room, followed by the same nurse, and went to grab Edgar’s arm, but he pulled it hastily out of the way. “It’s okay, I’m leaving anyway. There’s nothing else left to say,” and pushing past the shocked medical staff, he stormed out of the room.
He and Elsie arrived back in Kensington three quarters of an hour later, to find Evadne, Tom and Lily sitting in the front room playing ludo. The two children had waited up for their mother to come home, desperate as they were for news of their father. As they ran towards Elsie, who drew them in for hugs and kisses, Evadne took in her friend’s red, tearful eyes, and turned to her husband with concern.
Edgar shook his head. “He’s still alive. There’s no change.” As Evvy breathed a sigh of relief, he looked at his watch and yawned. “Is there any dinner left?”
Evadne nodded. “There’s some stew in the pot on the stove. There’s enough for you too, Elsie,” she added, turning to her friend.
Elsie stood up, an arm around each of her children, and shook her head. “Thanks, Evvy, I think I’m just going to go to bed,” she replied, as a couple more tears ran down her cheeks. “I…I don’t think I could eat…”
As her husband left the room in search of his dinner, Evadne hurried across to her friend and put her arms around her. “Hey now, it’ll be okay, you’ll see.”
Elsie drew back and shook her head, scrubbing her eyes with the back of her hand, and realising there was more to this than met the eye, Evadne sensibly refrained from saying anything further on the subject.
“Tell you what, let’s get you all up to bed, shall we?.”
“I want to sleep with Mummy tonight,” Lily replied, clinging to her mother, and Tom added his intention to do the same thing.
Evadne nodded and shepherded the three of them up the stairs, following on behind to help Lily get changed for bed.
It took a good forty-five minutes to get Lily ready, as she was full of questions about when her Daddy was coming home, and Evadne took her time answering them as best she could. Finally Lily agreed to go to her mother’s room and get into bed, and once Evadne was sure she was no longer needed, she made her way up the stairs to the top floor, where she peeped in at her sleeping son before retiring to her bedroom. Edgar came out of the ensuite bathroom as she entered the room, and giving her a weary smile, he walked across to the bed and pulled his pyjamas out from under the pillow.
“Edgar, what’s happened?”
Edgar looked across at her for a second, and then shook his head and returned his attention to unbuttoning his shirt. “I just want to go to sleep, Evvy. Can we leave it ‘til tomorrow please?” and turning his back on her, he pulled off his shirt, throwing it over a nearby chair, and tugged his pyjama top on over his head.
Seeing that he meant what he said, Evadne let it go for now and walked across to her vanity, taking off her jewellery and placing it in its case. She quickly changed into her nightdress and paid a visit to the bathroom, returning to the room just as Edgar was climbing between the sheets. Switching on her bedside light, Evvy turned off the main bulb and then climbed in beside him. He had his back to her, and she leaned across and pulled his shoulder towards her.
“Edgar, please, don’t do this. Don’t shut me out.” She tugged at his shoulder again. “Tell me what happened.”
Edgar hesitated for a moment and then rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling as she propped herself up on one elbow, her other hand resting on his chest, and gazed down at his face.
“Paul’s told Elsie she’s free to leave him and take the children,” he replied, covering her hand with his own.
“How can he think she’d do that? She loves him!”
“He doesn’t care anymore, Evvy, “ he replied slowly, shifting his gaze to look her in the eyes. “He’s given up, he doesn’t want to fight. I tried shouting at him to see if I could get through to him - I said some truly awful things - but he still didn’t care.” As his voice began to shake, he stared back up at the ceiling and then closed his eyes. “I’m failing him. He’s been there for me all my life, pulled me out of so many holes and helped me so many times and the one time he needs me, I can’t even return the favour. I don’t know what to do, how to get through to him. I’m hopeless, Evvy, I’m really failing him. And if anything happens tonight he’ll go to the grave believing what I said today is what I really think of him, and it isn’t even true.”
As he finished speaking, his jaw started shaking and tears began to roll down his face. Evadne was stunned. It was the first time she had ever seen her husband actually cry, and for a split-second she had no idea what to do. Then instinctively, she reached across him, placing her hand on his far shoulder. Edgar rolled onto his side so that he was facing her, his eyes still closed, his whole body now shaking, and she wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly as he finally let his pent-up emotions flow.