booksandstories.com

July 2003 Review

Web Page Progress

I've had a look at my site's positioning in various search engines using a free ranking program on the internet. It checks your position for a range of keywords. My site doesn't come out too badly considering that I don't really market it at all. For some keywords I can get into the top five, for others, the top twenty. Anyway, it's good to know that at least the site comes up when you are looking for something to read online. Nothing much else to report on really, apart from that.

On the musical front, I haven't found anywhere to stick any audio files for accessing through my site, and I don't really want to get caught up in any piracy wars, so I'll just have to leave the music pages with only the lyrics listed. What do you think of them?

Talking about your views, I still haven't had any takers for the chat/forum. It's been up for two months and I will probably remove it in August if there is still no response. Ah, well, I try...

By the way, the UK site, readstoriesonline.com, will be stuck in June due to a platform upgrade. I will bring it back upto date in August.

Writing Progress

“The Friendly Ambassador” is moving forward again, if a little slowly. I have also caught up on my Short Story episodes. So I plod on with little reward except the warm glow that seeing the completed chapters brings to me. Shame it doesn't last (or pay).

With regards to money, I sent off an inquiry to a publisher a couple of months ago and only just received the reply. They just said send in your material. So I will. I'll let you know what happens in October's Review.

Now, for those of you who have visited this site more than once, and there are a few of you out there I am sure, you may have noticed “The Heroic Englishman” on the List Page. It's been in preparation for several years because I lost heart with it. There were about eight chapters completed when I stopped. Despite my lack of interest there was some interesting features to the story and I am considering revitalising it for the next Short Story Serial. So watch this space.

This month sees “A Fine Woman: Part II” take its turn in the Short Story Serial. “The Curfew: Part III” has been added to the List Page. Next month its “The Curfew: Part IV”.

July's Short Story: A Fine Woman: Part II

1948

Captain Taylor smiled. “You aren’t going to make this easy for me, are you?”

“Not at all,” Sister Marie-Therese replied. “So continue, Captain. How did this woman make contact with the French Underground? Where did she go on her holiday?”

Captain Taylor sighed and began again.

“She came here, of course, to Antibes. She hired a small Château on the road to Juan-les-Pins. The first day she went walking with the children. She asked a few locals some rather pointed questions. Most of the people ignored her or avoided her. Some even shouted at her. They all knew she was German, and none of them trusted her. But she got noticed. And on the second day she was contacted. But not by the people she wanted to meet.”

1943

Helga left the Château in the morning to walk down to the town with the children. As on the previous day, Tirpitz and Bismark went with them. She kept Tirpitz on his lead while Jacob walked with Bismark. He also held Peter’s hand as the two of them walked along. The other two children walked hand in hand next to Helga. She kept hold of Klaus’s hand and the boy held on to Antoinette. Antoinette clutched a doll in her other hand. It was a permanent fixture. All the children looked very different from when she had first met them. They were clean, well fed and well dressed. They were all wearing coats and Antoinette had a woollen hat. They were all probably in a better condition than they had been for a very long time. They were also a lot less scared. But they weren’t happy children either.

Although it was winter the skies were clear and it was a bright morning and through the trees it was possible to see the Mediterranean. It was very blue.

Jacob turned to Helga as they walked along the country road. “I think we should go back home.”

Helga smiled, but the expression left her lips very quickly. “My home is in Germany, and Germany is not a safe place for Jewish children.”

“We were safe in your summerhouse.”

“Yes, but for how long it is difficult to say. No, we have to get you out of harms way. We are doing the right thing.”

“But it’s dangerous. They don’t like us here. They don’t like us anywhere.”

“That’s not true. It’s me they’re frightened of. I can speak French rather well, but my accent is very obvious. They know I’m German and they know you aren’t mine. They’re suspicious. But word will get through sooner or later. Someone will contact us. They will be too curious not to.”

Jacob looked at her as she walked proudly along the road. She was like that all the time, a Countess. She even introduced herself as a Countess. Countess Burbeck. She never hid who she was.

She was very beautiful. Jacob had never seen someone so beautiful and elegant. Her blue eyes were always cool, and she always seemed to be in charge. Nothing seemed to frighten her.

A large Citroen drove up the road towards them. They moved out of the way but the car slewed to a stop right next to them. Jacob had seen the uniforms inside before it stopped. He instantly looked down, but Helga kept her head held high as the German Officer stepped out. He was tall and quite lean with dark hair and eyes. The uniform he wore was from the Wehrmacht, the regular army, not the SS. The Officer clicked his heels and bowed curtly.

“I am Leutnant Spiegal, Countess. Oberst Riner has sent me to escort you to his office in the town. He wishes to speak with you.”

Helga didn’t flinch. “I was on my way into town. I was hoping to walk along the ramparts to The Bastion with the children. It is a very interesting historical sight.”

“It is important that the Oberst speak with you.”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“I promise the Oberst won’t keep you long, Countess.” Leutnant Spiegal held open the back door of the car for her and bowed once more.

She nodded at last. “Alright.” She turned to the children. “In the back seat, all of you! Come on now! Bismark! Tirpitz! Behave or you will be made to run behind!”

All the children piled into the back of the car. Helga waited until the dogs had got in as well before she climbed in herself and squeezed onto the seat. Antoinette had to sit on her knee. She had taken over in an instant, and Leutnant Spiegal had to climb in the front seat next to his driver.

The now heavily laden car turned and drove back down to the town. The town looked old and quaint with its narrow streets and wide squares. The buildings were made of stone with red tiled rooves. As the car passed through the centre several people noted the occupants. One of those who noticed was sitting at a street side café sipping coffee. He had jet-black curly hair and he was unshaven. He watched the car go by over the rim of his cup.

The German Headquarters was in the Château Grimaldi near the Place Massena. It wasn’t far from the ramparts Helga had told Spiegal she wanted to see. The outside of the building was draped with red banners bearing the Swastika. The car parked close to the entrance where guards stood with machine guns. If the children were scared by the sight, Helga didn’t let them dwell on it.

“Out! All of you! The Château Grimaldi is an excellent building! Now you will see it on the inside! Come! Jacob! Bring Bismark! Klaus! Help me with Tirpitz! Come on children!”

She bustled passed the surprised guards with her dogs yapping and wagging their tails and the children hurrying along. Spiegal had to chase after her so that he could give her directions. She seemed to walk deliberately faster.

“This way, Countess! Through here!”

Inside, surprised soldiers sprang to their feet as Spiegal went passed with his unusual entourage. They reached Oberst Riner’s office as the door opened. An older man with greying hair wearing the uniform of a colonel in the Wehrmacht appeared in the open doorway. Oberst Riner stared at the commotion in his anti-room. The barking of the dogs had brought him out, and they hadn’t stopped yet.

“What is going on here, Leutnant?” he said above the yapping.

Spiegal stood at attention and clicked his heels. “The Countess Burbeck, Oberst!” he almost yelled.

Helga at last subdued her dogs. “Bismark! Tirpitz! Heel! Quiet now, my boys!”

The barking stopped and silence returned to the Château. Oberst Riner bowed to Helga.

“Thank you for coming, Countess.”

“The Leutnant insisted,” she replied.

“It was at my insistence. Now if you would come inside, I would like to speak with you. Alone.”

“Then my children will need looking after during our meeting.”

Riner nodded and turned to Spiegal. “Make the children comfortable, Leutnant. Bring them something to eat and drink.”

“Yes, Oberst!”

Helga instantly added, “My dogs will need water, too.”

Spiegal bowed to her. “Of course, Countess.”

He hurried away and began to shout orders at the other soldiers nearby.

Helga went to kiss each of the children in turn as chairs were brought for them. “Wait for me here, my darlings. Do not worry, I won’t be long.”

Jacob was the last one she kissed. He watched Helga go through into the office and the door close. Then he sat the children down and sat next to them.

Inside his office, Oberst Riner motioned Helga to a seat in front of his desk. As she sat down he went around the desk and sat in his chair.

“Interesting choice of names for your dogs,” he remarked as he made himself comfortable. “Although I see no resemblance with their namesakes.”

“I named them after our battleships. The wolves of the sea. I thought it humorous at the time.”

The Oberst signed and shook his head. “What am I going to do with you, Countess?” he said getting to the point.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“A German woman, a Countess, goes around the narrow streets of town asking covert questions about the underground, about the French Resistance, and you think it wouldn’t come to my notice? What kind of a fool do you think I am? What kind of a fool are you?”

“A fool living next to a large concentration camp where a thousand people are shot everyday and their bodies are buried with mechanical diggers. The smell has become intolerable.”

Oberst Riner was rendered speechless by her directness. He just sat back in his chair and watched her reach into her bag and bring out a slim cigarette case. She took out one of the cigarettes and Riner quickly picked up a lighter from his desk and leaned forward to light it for her.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Are the children Jewish?” he asked her as he put down the lighter.

She nodded. “And yes, I am foolish. I found them by accident. And what happens to them is of no consequence to Germany or to the Reich. Turn a blind eye, Oberst, I will not be here for long.”

Oberst Riner rubbed his chin before shaking his head. “What you ask is not possible, Countess. I am not SS, but there are Gestapo agents based at Fort Carré with the main garrison. They will know about you soon, and they will not take your actions or motives very lightly. I know very little about the camps you speak of, but what I have heard is unpleasant. I don’t doubt your word, and I sympathise with you, but I cannot help you. Your father is well known and respected in Berlin, that respect will give you a margin of security. But what you do is dangerous and your protection won’t last. It will damage him as it will damage you. Go home, Countess. I will give you the rest of today, but tomorrow I don’t want to find you still in Antibes. And you don’t want the Gestapo to find you either. Do you understand me?”

Helga nodded and put out her cigarette. “Yes, Oberst Riner. Thank you.”

They both got to their feet.

“Do you need a car to take you anywhere?”

“No, that won’t be necessary. We can walk from here. The dogs need the exercise.”

Oberst Riner opened the door for her. “Walk carefully. And avoid the café’s and restaurants around Port Vauban after dark. The people there don’t like Germans at all.”

Helga looked up at him for a moment and then nodded. “I understand, Oberst, and I thank you again.”

She held out her hand and he raised it to his lips and kissed it. “Goodbye, Countess.”

“Goodbye, Oberst Riner.”

-o-

Jacob reflected on the day. The morning visit to the German Headquarters had terrified him and the other children. Only Helga’s bright and calm arrogance when faced with all those uniforms and guns had stopped them all from panicking. That it should be like that was a testament to the Countess’s courage on their rail journey across Europe. She had treated everyone she met as her own personal servants. The higher they were in authority the more she had bossed them. It was an approach that was fraught with danger, but Helga had pulled it off each time with flair.

And so it had seemed again. But this time Helga was more reserved on their walkabout through the town. Unlike the day before she didn’t approach anyone with her questions. Instead they had a pleasant day out. They ate at a street-side restaurant and finished with ice cream. Then Klaus and Peter ran along the ramparts with Tirpitz and Bismark pulling them along. And Antoinette actually smiled and laughed.

When it became dark and she still hadn’t approached anyone, Jacob began to think Helga had given up. They were sitting at a café in the Port Vauban area. The children had lemonade while Helga drank Cognac.

“Are we going home soon, Countess?” he asked her.

“Possibly,” she replied. Tirpitz and Bismark lay sprawled at her feet panting loudly, their tongues hanging out. They were still tired after their run.

“What did that German say to you?”

She looked at him. “Oberst Riner?”

“Yes.”

“He told me I was foolish and that we should go home.”

“Maybe he was right.”

Helga turned away from him. Jacob felt deflated. It was difficult for him, he was only fifteen, still a boy, and Helga was so grown up and aloof. He still didn’t know how to talk to her. He wanted to say so much to her, about so many different things, but he just didn’t know how to say what he felt. He always got it wrong.

A couple wondered towards one of the spare tables. The waiter hurried over and spoke to them in a whisper that Helga quite clearly heard.

“I am sorry, we are closed now.”

The couple glanced at Helga and the children and then walked away.

Time passed on. Helga ordered another Cognac and more lemonade for the children. They began talking again, but Jacob was never sure whether Helga was paying him her full attention. It was as if she was waiting for something.

Gradually the people at the café began to leave their tables and walk away. And the waiter told one or two more people that came close that they were closed. Then three men turned up and sat at the table next to Helga and the children. The waiter didn’t approach them. Helga ignored the three men, but their presence caused the children to become silent. Even Jacob watched them with trepidation. And when the last of the other people had left, one of the men spoke. He had jet-black curly hair and he was unshaven.

“You have fine children, Madam,” he said in French in a polite and soft voice.

Helga nodded to him. “Thank you.”

The man leaned forward in his chair. “Permit me, I have not seen you before. You are not local I think?”

“That is correct. We have travelled far to be here and we must return tomorrow.”

“Is this what you planned?”

“No. But my presence here is an embarrassment to some. I have been asked to leave.”

“Ah! I understand! The war reaches even the Cote d’Azur! But were you here for holiday or for business?”

“Business.”

“Business that causes embarrassment?”

“The items I wished to trade carry a certain stigma.”

The man’s eyes flicked to the children. “Do you still wish to accomplish your trade?”

“If possible.”

“I might know someone who could help you.”

“I would be willing to meet them. Can you take me to them?”

“I could. But first we must know one another. My name is André Vignal. You are?”

“Helga Burbeck, Countess Helga Burbeck.”

“You are German?”

“Yes. And my father is a General in the Wehrmacht in Berlin. It is the reason why I am considered an embarrassment. It is also the reason why I am still at large and able to make the trade I seek. At least until tomorrow, when the Gestapo will probably learn of my activities from one of their agents. My immunity may not be so effective after that.”

André paused a moment and sat back in his chair. Helga waited and sipped at her Cognac. Jacob and the children also remained quiet. Only the dogs made a noise. Tirpitz yawned noisily and rolled over, stretching out his paws. André looked down at the two large Alsatians.

“The dogs maybe a problem.”

“I could take them back to my Château but it would cause a delay.”

“You could leave them here with the café owner.”

“Would they be safe?”

“They will come to no harm. The French do not make war on dogs.”

“Even German dogs?”

“Even German dogs. I give you my word.”

Helga looked around at the waiter who was standing in the doorway of the café with another man. They both looked nervous. She turned back to André.

“I will accept your promise, André Vignal. I will come with you with my children. I will place my life and their lives in your hands with the same ease I do with the lives of my dogs.”

Before André could reply Helga had stood up.

“Come, children! We’re leaving now!”

Jacob and the other children got to their feet. So did Tirpitz and Bismark. Helga bent down to pat and stroke the two dogs.

“Stay here, my fine boys! We will not be long!” She straightened up and held out her hand to Antoinette. The little girl quickly grabbed it. “Come children! Jacob! Bring Peter and Klaus! Hurry now! Don’t dawdle!”

André and the other two men had also stood up, and they were all looking around as nervously as the waiter at the noise and commotion Helga caused as she gathered her children.

André turned to her. “Do you have to be so loud?”

Helga was unrepentant. “I have found that the best way of avoiding interest in ones activities is to cause too much disturbance. I am a German Countess after all. How would you expect me to behave?”

André stared at her a moment before turning to his companions and motioning them away. Both men hastily walked down the street. André then beckoned Helga to follow them.

“This way, Countess. I will lead the way.”

Helga bowed to him and then turned to the children. “Come children!”

With Antoinette in tow, Helga led Jacob, Peter and Klaus after André and the other two men. Tirpitz and Bismark would have followed too, but Helga called to them over her shoulder.

“Stay, Bismark! Stay, Tirpitz! Stay!”

They both sat in the shadow of the empty table, and Bismark shook his head and uttered a comical yowl.

-o-

Jacob had become worried as soon as the three men had appeared at the café. Up until that moment he had never imagined that Helga would be successful in contacting the French Resistance. And now that she apparently had, he was worried that something bad might happen. He didn’t know why, he should have felt elated, happy even. These people would be able to help them. They would treat them well, all of them. But it wasn’t him and the other children that Jacob was thinking about. He was thinking about Helga. How would they treat such a loud and over-bearing German Countess with a father in the German Army?

The house the three men brought them to was reached by such a tortuous route that by the time they got there Jacob no longer knew where they were. Not that he knew the town very well anyway. Helga didn’t seem to care. She was as calm and confident as usual. And André remained polite and respectful to her throughout their journey. Everything changed when they went inside.

As soon as the door was closed behind them, several men and women jumped them in an explosion of noise and violence. Even André and the two men with him turned on them. The children were all grabbed and pulled away, and Helga was grabbed by at least three men who forced her roughly and violently to the floor.

All the children cried out, but it was Antoinette’s howls that had the most effect. She sounded the most terrified as she screamed for her mother, and what she screamed was in French. The young woman who held her wasn't much older than Jacob, and she looked up in shock as Antoinette screamed and struggled in her arms.

“The little one is French, André!”

“She is Belgian!” he snapped back at her with an angry expression. “They are all Belgian! Keep her quiet! Keep them all quiet!”

The woman almost reluctantly covered Antoinette’s mouth, smothering her shrieks. The other children were also similarly silenced.

André pulled a knife from his pocket and looked down at Helga on the floor. Two men were now holding her down. One pinned her arms to her sides while the other man had his arm around her throat and a hand over her mouth. She didn’t struggle. She just lay there in their arms looking back up at André. It was as if she was just waiting for him to kill her.

As soon as Jacob saw the knife he kicked and fought more furiously, temporarily breaking the hold about him. He immediately pulled the hand from his mouth and shouted out.

“Don’t kill her! Don’t kill her! She’s a good woman! She helped us!”

André looked up and his anger grew. “Shut him up!” he screamed.

Jacob had a hand clamped over his mouth again and at last the house became silent. Only deep breathing and Jacob’s continuing struggles could be heard. André looked down at Helga again. She still wasn’t struggling. She didn’t even look scared. The man who had his hand over her mouth pulled back her head and moved his arm to expose her throat. Andre got down on one knee and brought the knife closer. Then he seemed to hesitate. It seemed to anger the man who held her.

“Kill her, André! She is Bosh!” he said in a course whisper.

“Wait, Stephane! Let me think!”

“Why? So she can expose us all?”

“Her father is a General! If we kill her there will be reprisals!”

“We cannot let her go free! Kill her!”

“We must be sure first!”

Stephane looked away in disgust and André turned to the young woman who held Antoinette.

“Monique! Talk to the little girl! Ask her where she is from! How she got here!”

It took a little while for Monique to calm Antoinette enough for her to stop screaming as soon as the hand was removed from her mouth. It took even longer before she was calm enough to answer any questions. But when she did begin to talk clearly, the answers she gave led one by one to far more difficult questions. And when the heart-wrenching truth was finally out, the house was completely still.

“And this woman helped you when she found you?” Monique asked at the end.

Antoinette nodded. “She gave us food and washed us. She kept us at her house for a while and she let me play with her dolls. She said she would take us somewhere safe. That’s why she brought us here. We came a long way. She bosses everyone, even the Germans.”

Everyone turned to look at André. In response he stabbed the knife down into the floor next to Helga.

Stephane reacted instantly. “This is madness!” he shouted. “She must die!”

“Then you do it!” André shouted back.

Stephane let go of Helga’s throat and snatched up the knife. He pulled her head back again and placed the blade to her throat. Helga didn’t flinch. She just closed her eyes and waited. She was completely passive. At the last moment Stephane also hesitated. André immediately taunted him.

“Go on, Stephane! Do it!”

Stephane held the blade to her throat with a shaking hand. Still no blood was spilt.

Andre smiled as he sat back on the floor. “No, Stephane, not even you can kill her! You can’t do it because she wants you to kill her! And you know it! She wants you to kill her because she is ashamed! Ashamed because she is German!”

Stephane suddenly released Helga and threw the knife at the wall in his anger. Then he scrambled to his feet and stormed out the door and was gone. The knife was left quivering in the wall.

André turned to Helga and waved aside the other man who held her. “You must forgive Stephane, Countess. His family were tortured and killed for failing to give him away when he joined the resistance. He is not over their loss. He can be very violent, but the gentle man inside him will still not allow him to kill an innocent.”

Helga sat up on the floor and made a show of rearranging her hair and clothes. “I am far from innocent.”

“I doubt it,” André replied. “Ignorant too, maybe. And foolhardy, most definitely.”

She ignored the taunts and turned to the children. “Release my children at once.”

André nodded and in a scramble of tears and hugs the children rushed forward and pounced on Helga. Jacob hugged her the tightest. He kissed her along with the others, but it meant more to him. Helga was almost embarrassed by the show of affection.

“Now, now, children! Calm yourselves! You didn’t really think they were going to hurt me? I am a Countess after all!”

-o-

With the threat of murder removed, the house took on a far more friendly and safe atmosphere. It turned out to be the home of Monique and her mother and father. Monique was seventeen. She and her parents made the children very welcome. Food and coffee was produced out of nowhere and the children all sat around the kitchen table. There was a log fire to keep them warm and they soon became a lot calmer. André stayed behind while most of the other men left. He had things to say to Helga that she didn’t want to entertain. He took her into the front room where only a short time earlier he and Stephane had nearly killed her. Jacob watched them go.

As soon as they were alone André pushed Helga against the wall. “You have to stop this, now,” he said very firmly.

“No,” was the equally firm reply.

“Are you mad? Do you really want to get killed?”

Helga answered with disdainful assurance. “I am safe from reprisal by the SS. I told you, my father is a General in the Wehrmacht. What I didn’t tell you is that he is on the Führer’s staff at the Reichstag. Even the SS are scared of him.”

André saw Helga’s haughty expression and shook his head. “And what of us? What of Monique, Stephane and the children you drag around with you? We don’t possess your immunity. What happens when the SS follow your brash and loud-mouthed trail? What happens when they come here?”

The haughty expression faltered. “I know I put you at risk, and I am sorry. If I could do this on my own I would. But my permits will not allow me to travel into Switzerland. I can only travel freely in German occupied territory.”

André didn’t let her off the hook. “What you do is dangerous! You must stop!”

“I can’t stop!” Helga blurted out, her cool calm lost at last. “I’ve seen them! I’ve seen the bodies! Smelt the death! And only a short distance from my home! Can you imagine what it’s like? Can you imagine what it means to me? A German? Knowing that my countrymen can even conceive of such an evil atrocity? I have to do this! I have to! Again and again! Until my conscience is cleared or they shoot me!”

A quiet voice from the kitchen door caused them both to pause. “Are you alright, Countess?”

Helga turned away, seizing the moment to wipe away a tear that threatened to expose her. “Yes, Jacob. I am fine. Go back inside.”

Jacob paused. But then instead of going back into the kitchen he quietly closed the door behind him and stepped forward.

“I’m coming back with you.”

Helga turned and looked at him in surprise while André threw his hands to the heavens and turned away muttering and swearing. Helga put on a bright smile.

“Now, Jacob, don’t be silly. How can you come back with me? Where do you think a little Jewish boy can live on my estate without notice, in the middle of Germany, with the SS stationed at the camp only a short distance away?”

She had intended to be cruel, but it didn’t work. Jacob had heard enough. “If you’re going to do this again you will need me.”

Helga laughed at him. “I am a Countess, I don’t need your help. You are being foolish, go and join the others at once.”

Jacob stood his ground. “Will the Germans let you walk along the railway trucks and pick those you want to save?”

Helga just stared at him. André came to stand next to her. He also stared at Jacob. But to Helga’s surprise he sighed and said, “He’s right. If you are serious about doing this you will need him. Among the others he is just another child, a child the Germans don’t care about and won’t notice.”

Helga spun round to face André. “I will not take him back!” she said angrily. “What was the point of bringing him all the way here just to take him back again?”

André held his finger up before her face. “You need him, and you will take him!”

Helga folded her arms in a stubborn manner. “I will not! I absolutely refuse!”

“No you don’t! Not if you want to work with us! Because if you are going to do this, you will do it our way!” André began to count off the points on his fingers. “He goes back with you. He picks the children. He brings them to you. If he gets caught he’s dead on his own. You are in the clear. You handle the transportation only. You bring the children here; you meet only with Stephane, or me, no one else. We take the children the rest of the way. If we are caught, you are still in the clear. And you bring Jacob with you each time and you take him back home with you. Each time.”

Helga didn’t like the plan. “Why does it sound like I am avoiding all the risks? Why am I always in the clear?”

André stood nose to nose with her. “Because you have a father in Berlin, we don’t. The Germans won’t take the boy or us while we are with you. They will take us when you have gone, when you are safe. So long as we both understand this then we can work around it. You keep Jacob with you all the time. When you have the children you can be as brash and over-bearing as you wish. Attract as much attention as you wish. Dare them to take you. But when you get here you will do nothing but wait in your Château at Juan-les-Pins. We will always contact you. We will take the children from you. Next day you go home. With Jacob. Do you understand?”

“Do I have any choice?”

“No.”

Helga turned away from him and tapped her foot in annoyance. “Alright,” she said finally.

Jacob smiled. He was suddenly her protector. Or that’s how it felt. It was exactly what he wanted.

There was a knock at the door. It was followed by two more quick taps. André nodded and stepped forward.

“That will be Stephane with your dogs,” he said as he walked to the door.

He was right. Stephane and another man were each holding one of the leads of the two dogs. But as soon as the door was opened Bismark and Tirpitz broke free with a surge and bounded in with a flurry of wagging tails and licking tongues. Helga got down on her knees to greet them.

“Oh, my boys! Have you missed me? There, there!” She patted and stroked them as they pranced up and down whimpering and yowling.

Jacob watched her with the two dogs. She always fussed over them. Even on their journey she would talk to them and feed them tit-bits. She almost treated them like her own children. They even slept on her bed in the Château. He had seen them when he peeped through the open door in the morning. While he continued to watch, Bismark ambled over to him, his tail wagging, and nuzzled him. Jacob smiled and stroked the large Alsatian.

While the reunion was going on, André had quickly explained to Stephane what he had agreed with Helga. The addition of this new member to their group didn’t please Stephane.

“Are you insane, André? You not only allow her to live, but now you want us to work with her?”

“She can be useful.”

“Useful? She is Bosh!”

“Exactly. And her father is a General in Berlin. In the Reichstag.”

That final statement silenced Stephane’s arguments. It also caused Helga to look up at them both.

“You expect me to spy for you?”

André nodded. “Our co-operation must be paid for. We are taking all the risks, not you. Remember?”

“I have money- ”

André waved aside her offer. “Your money is no good to us. It would help, but not as much as the information you can get for us, information that comes directly from Berlin.”

Helga stood up and faced him. “My father will not betray the Wehrmacht.”

“No. But you could visit him in Berlin at the weekends. You could visit him at his office in the Reichstag. You could see the officers that are present. You could hear things. See things. Letters, maps, uniform insignias. And what you see and hear you will tell us. It will be the least that the English will accept when I tell them about you later tonight.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then I will ask Stephane to kill you. This time he will not fail.”

Stephane made a show of going to retrieve the knife that was still stuck in the wall. Helga watched him hand it back to André who put it away. Helga then glanced at the third man who stood leaning against the door. She hesitated, but André finally made up her mind for her.

“Remember, Countess. The quicker the war ends, the quicker the killing near your house will stop.”

Helga gave in and nodded.

1948

“Later that night, André contacted the British in London and told them about Helga. They didn’t care much about the smuggling operation but they liked the idea of having someone in Berlin with a contact on Hitler’s staff. André made it clear that to get one they needed to allow the other. They accepted and gave Helga the codename: Trojan.”

Sister Marie-Therese had listened to his story with the same almost casual demeanour she had maintained since he had entered. But now she looked momentarily puzzled. “I do not see the analogy.”

Captain Taylor smiled. “To the Germans it would be obvious that she was smuggling Jewish children, but the real cargo was being transported in her head.”

“Ah, I see. So she did as they asked? She betrayed her country?”

Captain Taylor was taken by surprise by her remark. “That’s a bit harsh.”

“Is it? To give away state secrets to a third party, secrets that can lead to your own country’s defeat in war, is a betrayal, is it not? Could you forgive her if she was American?”

“Could you forgive her if she was French?” Captain Taylor countered.

Sister Marie-Therese thought for a moment. Finally she pursed her lips and shrugged. “It is difficult. I have taken vows that allow me to forgive anyone, even the Germans, so the question is not for me to answer. There will always be some whose hearts are hardened by what has passed. They cannot forgive. And yet we must understand their pain and be able to forgive them. But I digress. I did not intend to judge her. Continue, please.”

It took a moment for Captain Taylor to regain his thoughts. “Well, like I said, Jacob stayed with her. Helga brought him back with her and at first he lived in the summerhouse. It wasn’t very comfortable but compared to his more recent conditions it was pretty heavenly. Helga brought him food during her walks. Those dogs got more and more exercise everyday. But Helga soon worried that Jacob would be picked up, that one day he would simply not be there. So she moved him into the house as a sort of personal footman.”

“You said that some of her servants were not as trustworthy as others,” Sister Marie-Therese replied conversationally. “Was this not dangerous?”

“Oh, there was some friction. But Helga knew who she could trust. She also knew which members of her staff were party members. She didn't discuss anything with any of them. She shut them all out, those she could trust, and those she couldn't. She just bossed them about more.”

Sister Marie-Therese nodded. “She implicated no-one. But the presence of the boy must have been known?”

“It was. But she was immune, remember? And while Jacob was in her house they weren't going to seize him.”

“Such boldness,” Sister Marie-Therese remarked.

She didn't say anymore, so Captain Taylor took the opportunity to shift his position on the chair before he continued.

“At the weekends Helga went to Berlin on the pretence of shopping and getting away from the stench that pervaded the countryside near her house. She took Jacob with her in case he got picked up while she was away. I guess he didn’t like those trips to Berlin, being right in the middle of it all.” Captain Taylor became more introspective as he went on. “I suppose Helga and Jacob got to know one another very well during that time. A sort of bond must have formed between them. The kind of bond that grows when you face danger almost constantly.”

“And did they face danger constantly?”

Captain Taylor nodded. “Yes. And they took increasingly more risks. Helga became quite adept at picking up information at the Reichstag. She didn’t just observe and listen. She searched and ferreted. She stole and copied things. She took risks. And what she learned she told André. The smuggling also grew more dangerous. What started as only a few children soon developed into complete family units. Here it was Jacob who took all the risks. It was almost as if they were competing with one another.

“Jacob would go down to the summerhouse with Helga and get dressed in his original ragged clothing. From there they would go down to the camp together. He would hide near the railway tracks when the trains arrived while Helga would conveniently lose her dogs and cause a commotion. Obersturmführer Meir was usually the victim of her outbursts and complaints about the smell. Jacob would sneak under the train and beckon first one, and then another child to join him. The parents were only too eager to push their children forward. Sometimes he had to turn some away. Gradually they began taking older children, then the mothers, and finally both parents.”

“And the Germans never suspected?”

Captain Taylor smiled, but it was without humour. “Oh, they knew alright. Helga’s repeated one-way trips with different children were easily worked out. But they never suspected that she was also spying. Her father was powerful, so they turned a blind eye to the smuggling. But the Gestapo watched her. Even Obersturmführer Meir knew what she was doing. I think it became a game with them. They both knew that the other knew. They both knew that Jacob was living in her house and that she was smuggling his prisoners away. The game was trying to catch one another out. The verbal sparring between them must have been very interesting. Interesting and dangerous. And each time it got more and more dangerous.”

End of Part II. Part III in two months time.

Copyright © D. G. Richards 2003

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