The icy breeze rushed past the generalmajor and the headmaster’s wife and cascaded over the parapet, crossed the island of Helierhou, and plunged into the English Channel. The Normandy Coast sparkled white across the glimmering blue-green to the east. Sark, Jersey and Guernsey lay south, just visible from the top of the ancient stone fortifications on which they stood. One hundred years ago, the skeletal stone parapet became the foundation of Helierhou’s Academy for Dependent Children. In the 17th century, it was a stronghold for various refugee Royalists. Prior to that, it was a monastery which housed Catholic monks from 1400 until the Presbyterian Synod took over during the 1600’s. Over the last three years, it has housed the island’s headquarters for the German occupation force.
Wild flowers – bluebells and daisies – scented the air despite it being only early spring and vied with fish smells of the harbor to the west and the village of Gueschlin nestled along the shore.
A plane flew overhead quite low, and the two people watched it land in the airstrip just past Helierhou’s forest.
“That will be my replacement.”
She nodded to the old man shrunken beneath his heavy woolen and ermine coat.
“Oberst Karl von Kruppstieg is a fine man by accounts. Combat trained, aristocrat by birth, but this is his first war, so he’s still hungry.”
She nodded again.
He leaned his shoulder against hers, “So be careful.”
She met his eyes.
“I wish you would come with me. You wouldn’t need travel documents at my side. You know you’d be welcomed.”
“Thank you, but I belong here.”
“There are children you could teach in Germany. My grandchildren could use you as a governess. My wife wants you to come.”
She turned and took his hands, warming them in her own. “When the war ends, come back. You and your wife will be most welcome in my home.”
A car wound through the forest towards the academy.
“It depends on how the war ends…”
“Not to me.”
He kissed her forehead and they began the slow descent down the parapet’s icy stone steps.
At the base of the stairs, she glanced at the newcomer. He stood in the foyer; well-balanced muscles and height; shoulders broad without looking like a beast of burden; tight butt and narrow hips without a hint of femininity. Blonde and blue eyed, but his skin had had a hard time with chicken pox. The smell of him – crisp aftershave, pipe tobacco and male sweat – wafted toward the headmaster’s wife. She blinked in surprise at the desire his presence imbued. She was not one swayed by desires – denied to her for so long - but her skin tingled of its own accord. Then his eyes met hers.
Power. Power was embedded within the flesh of his face. Intelligence marbled his features. He was at the age when men are truly men, somewhere between 38 and 55, when the number of years lived no longer matters, but the way these years are spent means everything.
Oberst Kruppstieg didn’t smile, but he licked his lips and inclined his head. He turned to the man at her side and saluted, “Generalmajor Brucke, I bring you greetings from Berlin. My orders.” He handed an envelope to the tall thin man.
Brucke gave them a cursory glance and pocketed them. “Come to my – your new office.”
The headmaster’s wife walked past the Oberst, trailing a light scent of French lavender. “I’ll bring you coffee after I’ve settled your valet.”
It was hard to tell, swathed as she was in a worn woolen shawl, but Karl got a definite impression of sensuousness about her. She moved like a tree sprite from out of the Nordic legends, sure of her feet and the paths they trod. She belonged here; he could almost see the ethereal threads binding her to this place and this place to her.
The commandants sat, first the Generalmajor behind his desk, then the Oberst in the rich leather and mahogany armchair beside the matching couch.
“Did you have a pleasant journey?”
No, he had not. But truth mattered little here where courtesy and form must hold sway. “Yes, thank you.”
“How is your father?”
Von Kruppstieg raised an eyebrow at this informality.
“I knew him. Served with him during the Great War. We were in the cavalry together. Your father sat a horse better than –“
A light tap on the door interrupted him. Both men said, “Come.”
A gefreiter opened the door and the headmaster’s wife carried a large wooden tray to the buffet. The soldier grinned at the new commandant; his uniform was neat and tidy, but too large for such a young boy. As with most replacements at this point in the war, he was barely older than fifteen.
Von Kruppstieg looked again at the young private. “Schmidt? Wilhelm?”
The boy’s grin brightened into an adorable smile. “Yes, sir. It is me.”
“I had no idea you knew your new oberst. Why didn’t you mention it, Schmidt?” Brucke asked.
The boy reddened and looked at his feet.
Von Kruppstieg gently came to his rescue. “You look very fine in your uniform, private. It suits you well. Do you like it better than the livery?”
The boy opened his mouth but frowned, unsure which answer would be best. “I am proud to be in the army.”
“I miss the horses.”
“I would imagine they miss you, too. You have a gift for horses, Wilhelm. And I’m sure my children miss you, too. I will call you if we need anything.”
Wilhelm saluted and quietly shut the door behind him.
Brucke and Delamair exchanged glances. They had both grown fond of the teenager. When he was off-duty, Wilhelm played with the students rather than drink with the other soldiers. He and an orphan by the name of Pettigrew had become fast friends; Wilhelm taught him how to ride and Pettigrew taught him how to read. The fact that the new colonel also knew and liked the boy boded well for him.
Without speaking, the woman poured two large cups with coffee and dropped a single sugar cube in one, followed by a small dollop of cream. She ignored the utilitarian mugs the kitchen always set beside the tray. She used the china set her brother-in-law had given her as a wedding present. The pattern was Blue Willow and it was a testament to her mind-set that even though the Germans occupied her island, they were still guests in her house. She brought the cup and saucer to Brucke and asked, “How do you like your coffee, Colonel?”
“The appropriate term is Oberst,” he corrected her.
The Island Remains
© Evelyn Rainey
Whiskey Creek Publishing
ISBN tba June 2014