This is a day late, sorry 🙂 I forgot to schedule this post for yesterday, like I usually do and by the time I remembered….well, it was pretty late and I couldn’t be bothered 😀 But here’s chapter eight!
Rain was dripping down my neck, soaking me to the skin, as Simeon and I waited for the cab to halt by us. Neither of us spoke. Though Simeon had not mentioned again my wild display, I could see by the set of his face that he was anxious.
The horses stopped, their hooves kicking up a spray of rainwater. Simeon grabbed my sleeve and dragged me into the cab, still without speaking a word.
Once we were in the cab, Simeon leant against the door and pulled a sodden map from his jacket. He pored over it, occasionally glancing at his wristwatch. I wanted to ask him where we were going, but I kept my mouth shut. I’d wrecked enough in the past few hours.
“Why would you risk your life to help me?” The question came out of its own accord.
Simeon glanced at me, then his attention went back to the map. “I owed you fellows one.”
He’d said that so many times. I looked out at the rain pattering against the window. My fingers tapped a restless tune on my knee. That couldn’t be all there was to the story. No one risked their lives because of a photograph of a grave.
I closed my eyes. “That’s not it. There has to be more to it than that.”
Simeon shook his head and glowered at the map. “Why should there be?”
“Because no one sacrifices their life on a whim,” I returned.
Simeon sighed. He was silent for a long time, then he looked up at me. “I’ll tell you, Alan, but you cannot breathe a word of it to anyone.”
“My younger brother, James, and I are very close. We always have been. Because I was his big brother, he idolized me. And as soon as I joined the Flying Corps he wanted to as well.
“I didn’t want him to. I tried to stop him, I really did. But he threatened to run away and sign up under another name if we didn’t let him enlist. My mother let him.” I looked at him, but he turned his face away. “James went to France, but I stayed here, to work as a medic. A few months later, James was shot down. He was taken prisoner of war, but that was all my mother and I knew. We heard nothing from him, or from the Corps, for months.
“And then, we received a letter from him. He’d sent it in Holland and was very vague. But we gathered that he’d escaped the camp. We couldn’t have guessed half of it though.
“Over time, the full story came out. James had been held in a camp, but while there he’d met a young German soldier. This soldier, a guard at the camp, had seen enough of death, and he wanted to desert. He’d befriended James and they’d run together. They fled to Holland and there they lay low, until his friend could go to America, where he wanted to find a new life.” Simeon’s voice became dry. “He probably is on the inside of a camp there now.”
Simeon paused and then looked back at me. I saw tears glistening in the corner of his eyes. “In some ways, you reminded me of James. That was why I helped you. I watched your plane go down and all I could see was James’ plane going down in France. My mother is forever indebted to that German boy…and I hope yours will think of me every time you smile at her.”
“I’m sorry.” I could think of nothing else to say.
“Don’t be sorry. I’m repaying my debt.”
The rain had abated to a light mist as we stepped out of the cab at the railway station.
It was Sunday afternoon and few people were about. None of them paid attention to us as we hobbled to the platform, sat down and waited for the afternoon train.
A paper boy was trying in vain to sell the Sunday paper. A large stack of soggy papers testified against his success. Simeon called him over, paid him for a paper and then flicked the paper open and began to read. He gave me no further attention.
I sat, musing with my chin in my hands. Remembering the tears I’d seen in Ella Carter’s eyes as I had fled that morning. I clenched my hands. Then a light tap on my shoulder made me look up. I met the eyes of a girl, younger than me, with bright red hair. She grinned at me and I smiled back, confused by the way she leant against me.
“Why aren’t you doing your bit for England, handsome?” she asked, taking my hand and slipping something into my breast pocket. “No amount of good looks is going to stop you from being a coward.” She laughed, patted my cheek coquettishly and then flounced over to Simeon.
Simeon glowered at her, but she kissed him on the cheek, laughed again, and then disappeared.
I glanced at the girl’s retreating figure and then at Simeon. My hand went up to see what she’d put in my pocket. Something soft and filmy. I pulled it out and stared at it. A white feather? I glanced again at Simeon, confused.
“A white feather girl,” Simeon murmured in reply. “A symbol of cowardice. Those girls go around giving white feathers to all the boys they find not in uniform.” He looked down at his own uniform, distaste twisting his lips. “It’s a horrible way to shame young men into the army and glorify those who are already fighting.”
I shuddered, feeling sick. Simeon grunted, rubbed his cheek and went back to his paper. I allowed my eyes to roam around the station, taking in a noticeboard on the wall a little way from me.
Posters covered it. Posters which depicted soldiers in khaki and nurses in grey. My gaze alighted on one poster. A grotesque German soldier was in the act of running his bayonet through the breast of a beautiful girl. She was the picture of innocence, with her white dress and golden curls. Through a fog, I felt my jaw drop open.
“Do they really think of us this way?” I breathed, pointing at the poster.
“Be quiet,” Simeon replied, his voice low but sharp. “Don’t say ‘us’.” he hesitated, and then he nodded. “Some of them do.”
Another shudder ran down my spine. “But…” I didn’t know what I wanted to say, so I shut my mouth and closed my eyes. Pictures of the posters I’d seen in Germany appeared before my eyelids. Posters exclaiming Gott Strafe England!
How we hate each other…
I found myself fiddling with the white feather the red-haired girl had given me. How I wished to tell her off. How I wished to tell her to leave those other boys alone. I was no more than a boy myself, even Ernst had told me that. But I had fought and killed. And I’d been portrayed and stereotyped as a child-murdering monster. I was only nineteen.
If only this war had never happened, I thought, not for the first time.
And not for the last either.
How have you guys been? Sorry for my late post and my total lack of post last week! I definitely hope to be back into posting by tomorrow, but we’ll see how it goes. Things have been pretty busy of late 😊