I didn’t get my promised post out yesterday, but hopefully it will be coming soon. Fingers crossed, I’ll be finishing off my series on Christian fiction over the next two weeks and then I’ll be moving onto a few more fun posts, before we get back into some more discussions that I have planned. For now, it’s chapter nine of Comrade.
Steam swirled outside the window and the faint scent of smoke stung my nose as the train hissed to a stop at the station. I glanced out the window to see the straggle of people climbing onto the train—an elderly woman with three young children, a sailor and a stocky woman.
Simeon and I were sitting in a draughty corner of a deserted carriage, but the stocky woman climbed into our carriage. She wore a white dress and a mauve sash which was scrawled with English letters. She took one look at Simeon and myself and then whipped out of her pocket two white feathers.
Simeon was no longer wearing his uniform, and she gave him a long scathing look, before turning that look on me. “Cowards,” she muttered, pressing the feathers into our hands. She sniffed, glowered, and then sat as far from us as was physically possible. As if cowardice was a disease that could be caught if one didn’t follow the proper procedure.
Simeon stared straight ahead, jaw clenching. “I’m a traitor not a coward.” He said. He kept his voice low, but I realised that he had spoken loud enough for the woman to hear him.
I kept glancing at the woman, watching the sour look on her face. You should know who you’re judging before you judge them, I thought. How horrified would you be if I stood up and handed you back your white feather and told you I was a German. A Hun.
A thick silence reigned for the rest of the trip. When the train stopped in Dover, we left the stocky woman to her judgement and white feathers
We made briskly for the docks, which were empty, even though it was only two in the afternoon. “They’re all at war,” Simeon said. “And the U-boats keep the steamers at bay. There’s not much business in ships.” He halted and cast his gaze around. “We’re looking for a brawny fellow. Brown hair, brown beard, tough.”
I looked around, but I could see no men matching that description. Simeon suddenly stiffened and nodded to his right. “Over there,” he murmured. “Blue shirt, leaning against that sailboat, Mermaid.”
I spotted him, then murmured back, “Who is he?”
“Garth Sullivan, a people smuggler. Fisherman, but he also works bringing Belgian and French refugees here, sticking them on ships to America.” He stopped and caught the man’s eye. Sullivan gave him a slight nod. “Your name is Roy Bell. No Alan Bennett now. He doesn’t know anything and he won’t ask, though with all these rumours abounding, who knows what he thinks. But he won’t speak. He’s the kind of bloke that’ll do anything for a large enough sum of money.” He strode in the direction of the fisherman-cum-smuggler. “Roy Bell,” he muttered under his breath.
“Good morning, sir,” Simeon called out to Sullivan. “A fine day, isn’t it?”
Sullivan grunted, then spoke with a thick accent. “Every day is fine when you’ve got a price on your head, I expect.” He cast a pointed look at me.
“I imagine so,” Simeon replied, his back stiff. “What do you want us to do?”
“Before we get too carried away, I’d like my money.” Sullivan crossed his arms. “Smuggling is a risky business.” Again, he looked at me.
Simeon paused, then nodded. He unslung his bag from his shoulder, rifled through his rolled-up uniform and then produced a thick bunch of notes. “Satisfactory?”
With a meticulous eye, Sullivan counted the notes. I didn’t know how much each of the notes were worth, but I could see that even the smuggler was impressed. He smiled, stuffed the notes into his trouser pocket and nodded. “All right. Get in.” He jerked a finger at the fishing boat.
Simeon held up his hand, then he took me by the shoulder and led me aside. “Here is where we part,” he whispered in German. I thought I heard regret tinging his voice.
“Ja,” I said, my tongue unable to work anything else out. “Thank you for everything. I-I don’t know what to say…” I spread my hands helplessly.
Simeon waved it away. “My pleasure. I had to help you.”
“No,” I said. “No, you didn’t.” I met his dark eyes earnestly. “You could have been like everyone else. You could have been like those girls with the white feathers, calling me a coward. You could have been like the people who believe those posters, who believe and call us monsters and child killers. It would have been so easy for you to be like them. But you aren’t. You see me as a person, not as a monster or a murderer or a coward. It would have also been easy for me to hate the English, but because of you and Nurse Carter and Dr Roberts, I can’t possibly do that. Thank you.” I knew there were tears glinting in my eyes, but it didn’t matter.
Simeon smiled and this time tears glimmered in his eyes. “You’d better get in that boat. Before Sullivan goes without you.”
I tried to keep back my own tears back, and didn’t completely succeed. I hesitated for a moment, and then I threw my arms around Ben Simeon and hugged him. Despite his stiff posture, he didn’t resist.
After a long time, I let go and turned away. Simeon helped up the gangplank onto the deck, patted my shoulder in a final farewell and then left.
Sullivan showed me into the bowels of the boat. I clumsily dodged miscellaneous fishing gear and finally found myself in a room that served as a cabin. It was decorated with a hammock and a large chest. I eyed it sceptically. How could this boat serve as a smuggler’s craft?
As if guessing my thoughts, Sullivan laughed. A low, grating laugh. He pulled a small knob on the wall, listened for a click and watched as a small door appeared. The door looked too small, even for my narrow shoulders.
I stared at it for a moment, then Sullivan jerked his head towards the little door. “Get in.”
I hesitated. If I crawled that door, I would be leaving England, possibly forever. For some reason, I didn’t like that knowledge as much as I would have a few months ago. I wanted, oh so much, to get back to Germany, to speak freely in my own language. To see my friends and my family again. But England also held a spell over me. It cried out, with a cry that came from Ella Carter and Benjamin Simeon.
In another time, in another world…if there was no war, no death, no bullets or planes. If there was none of this chaos.
But there was.
I hunched over and crawled through the door.
We’re getting very close to the end now! Only three more chapters to go. What do you predict will happen to poor Wolfe next?