Authors: J. P. Francis
A PLUME BOOK
THE MAJOR'S DAUGHTER
J. P. FRANCIS
is a professor in New Hampshire.
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First published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
Copyright Â© 2014 by Joseph Monninger
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REGISTERED TRADEMARKâMARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Francis, J. P.
The major's daughter : a novel / J. P. Francis.
eBook ISBN 978-0-698-15794-1
1. Women translatorsâFiction. 2. Prisoners of warâFiction. 3. World War, 1939â1945âPrisoners and prisons, GermanâFiction. 4. GermansâUnited StatesâFiction. 5. Stark (N.H.)âFiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Jan Taigen
For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins,
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten.
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.
âAlgernon Charles Swinburne, 1837â1909
For if the end of loving is sorrow beyond bearing, is it not better from the first to forswear love?
Remember those in prison as if you were there with them.
In April 1944 one hundred and fifty captured soldiers from the German Afrika Korps arrived by train to a detention camp in Stark, New Hampshire. For two years they worked as loggers, bringing out pulp for the Brown Paper Company. In a world consumed by war, the German captives discovered an innocent haven, largely removed from the hostilities that raged across Europe and the Pacific. Working beside the New Hampshire loggers in the great northern forests, the German soldiers found commonality with their prison guards and lived through what one author on the subject called “examples of moral courage and decency holding out against crushing odds of baseness and depravity.” Every act of kindness redeems the world anew, and in a tiny hamlet in the White Mountains of New Hampshire two enemies put down their arms and picked up saws and axes instead.
That was long ago. Camp Stark is a meadow now. The only reminder of the prison camp is a stone fireplace, tired and fragile, that keeps final vigil. Near the road, before one enters the meadow, the state of New Hampshire has placed a small plaque that outlines the history of these several acres. In all of its detail, the plaque does not mention Collie, a young girl whose war began as the Germans arrived. Nor does it mention August, her one love, who arrived in the White Mountains of New Hampshire on a train going north.
ollie Brennan woke to the sound of reveille as she had done nearly every morning of her young life. It was a joyful sound, she had always thought, and during her two years at Smith College she had missed it and often felt like a lay-a-bed in her morning languor. She could not confess such a thing to her father, but it was true nevertheless, and as she listened to reveille's final notes she opened her eyes and peered out the window that had begun to gather the light of a fine April morning. New Hampshire, she reminded herself. Camp Stark. Today, she knew, the German prisoners would arrive, and she imagined her father had been awake for hours, nervous and keyed up at the lack of materiel, the somewhat slapdash quality of the prison camp. Really, she should rise and get about the day, but the morning air, the bright mountainsâwhat had they called the formation above the village? The Devil's Slideârose like a granite frown on the western ridges and she let her eyes rest on it, contemplating its features. Beneath it was the lovely town, with a bright white church at its center, and a charming covered bridge that carried traffic into the small village properâall of it cinched and held together by the Ammonoosuc River, a black band of water that arrived pure and sweet from the mountains. A postcard village, truly, and she had already sent a note to her dearest friend, Estelle, describing the features of the little hamlet. She had called it just that, a postcard village, and Estelle had written back with a tinge of envy that she remained trapped in Ashtabula, Ohio, a backwater town of no special beauty. She was in exile, she lamented, for the duration.
All of these thoughts spilled in with the fresh air, and Collie took them in a moment longer before pushing back the deep down coverlet. It felt cold outside the bed, even on such a glorious April morning, and she dashed lightly to the water closet down the hallway. She smelled breakfast cooking downstairs; Mrs. Hammond, she was certain, had breakfast well in hand, and Collie washed quickly, wondering if her father would return soon, and if he would bring anyone with him. Her father proved a magnet for men, which was another point, Collie remembered, that Estelle had made concerning their two different lives. With the men drafted and gone to war, Estelle lived among women; Collie, on the other hand, remained surrounded by men. It was an amusing observation.
Back in her room, Collie dressed quickly. She wore a narrow skirt with a jacket over a white blouse. The jacket had only two buttons, the maximum allowed during the war effort. She wore no nylons, naturally, because the war had taken them, so she made due with a pair of socks at the bottom of her bare legs. Afterward she spent a few minutes at the small vanity Mrs. Hammond had brought from somewhere in the house to her room. Mrs. Hammond said she was accustomed to male boarders, loggers and workingmen who populated the rooms above her, but she had found the vanity as if by magic. The mirror was clouded and insufficient, but if Collie bent close enough and carefully kept her shadow out of the glass, she could catch an impression of herself. Her soft, blond hair hung in loose curls down to her shoulders. Her mother had maintained she was an Irish colleen stepping through a backlit doorway, a description Collie always found accurate. The skin beneath the blond hair was darker than her hair would suggest, except where a moon-shaped scar ran along the right side of her chin. The scar was the legacy of a bicycle accident many years before, and she did not mind seeing it, though the sun brought out its lines and made it more visible in contrast to her tanned skin.
She gave herself one last look, pulled together her bed and tidied the room for a moment, then quickly descended the stairs to the large dining room. A crisp fire burned in the large hearth at the end of the room. Men had already collected there, some of them dressed for logging, others wore the uniforms of the U.S. Army. Collie said good morning, and the men answered, three of them beginning to rise at her appearance, but she made a quick motion of her hand to keep them in place. She crossed the room and pushed through the swinging doors that led to the kitchen, nearly bumping into the serving girl, Agnes, as she did so. Agnes held a large tray of cups on a wicker tray, and she looked uncomfortable with it, like a man jamming the butt of a violin under his chin. Collie held the door wide for her.
“Good morning, Agnes,” Collie said. “A beautiful day, although I suppose it may cloud over.”
“The Germans are coming,” Agnes replied.
“Yes, I know. They have a pretty morning for it at least.”
“Not that they deserve it,” Agnes said as she slid past with the tray.
“Well, the sun falls on everyone.”
Collie let the door swing shut behind Agnes, then passed farther into the kitchen, where she found Mrs. Hammond standing in front of the large cookstove, rashers of bacon and ham bubbling on a cast-iron skillet. Mrs. Hammond was a stout woman, with gray-black hair that flew away in wisps as the day progressed. She wore a starched white apron over her dress, and her hands went to it often to brush them clean of each cooking task. She had the back door propped open, but the cool morning air could not mitigate the swelter of the kitchen. When the heat became too much, she daubed her forehead with the hem of the apron, then returned to cooking with even greater energy. She reminded Collie of a steam engine when she stood in front of the stove, and Collie had learned in the three months they had been stationed here not to get in her way while food was in the equation.
“I'll just get the coffee,” she said to Mrs. Hammond loud enough so the woman could hear her over the pops and sizzle of the cooking meat.
“Germans today,” Mrs. Hammond said without properly turning to see her.
“Yes, it should be quite a day.”
“Your father came by earlier in a vehicle. He said he'd return for breakfast.”
“He's a busy man today.”
“Almost ready here.”
Collie wrapped a towel around her hand and carried the coffee out to the table. It was not her job to help, specifically, but she found it better to be busy. Besides, Mrs. Hammond was shorthanded; she had not bargained for the POW camp to descend on her small boardinghouse in the tiny village. No one in the town had bargained for such a thing, but it was happening all the same and Collie determined to do her part. She held the top of the pot as she went around the table, pouring coffee in a clockwise turn. Agnes finished unloading the cups at the other end of the table and hurried back to Mrs. Hammond for more instructions.
Collie had nearly emptied the pot when she heard a vehicle arrive outside, and a moment later her father entered the room. The collected men stood. It was prideful to relish the respect her father received, but she could not help it. He stood in the doorway for a moment, a white handkerchief pressed to his lips. The handkerchief signaled many things to Collie. It meant, mostly likely, that he had experienced a difficult morning. During the Great War he had suffered chlorine poisoning; his lungs had been glazed by the green, noxious gas, and now he carried the weight of the gas inside him, choking on it still, his health permanently undermined, his voice somewhat cracked and permanently pinched. He had turned fifty-two a week before, and though he was tall and slim and filled out his uniform admirably, quite handsomely, in fact, a sense of fragility clung to him in equal measure. The handkerchiefs he brought to his mouth occasionally muffled his speech; he had told her once that the Allied troops had been instructed to use cloths dampened by urine to protect themselves from the chlorine gas, and she could never see the handkerchiefs without thinking of that horror. She wondered how he could remain so equitable facing the prospect of German troops coming under his jurisdiction.
“Morning,” her father said to the gathered men, dropping his hand holding the handkerchief to his side. “Will breakfast be long?”
“Shortly,” Collie called to him, and he turned and smiled.
“MajorÂ .Â .Â . ,” one of the men started, and Collie knew as she carried the coffeepot back to the kitchen that the man had buttonholed her father on the German subject. It was all anyone talked about, perhaps understandably, but she knew the topic occasionally wore her father out. He had traveled to Boston many times for briefings and was on the phone constantly with various political entities inside and outside of the military, but the truth remained that no one knew precisely how to operate a prisoner-of-war camp in what was a modified conservation camp. The facts were simple: pulp was necessary for the war effort, but most of the loggers had been drained away to the war or to the munitions factories farther south. Many of them went for better pay and safer work, and who could blame them? So the War Department had looked around at various conservation camps built during the Depression with government monies, and a few had been selected to become prisoner-of-war camps for the overburdened British. No one thought it was an ideal solutionâand an avalanche of criticism followed the announcement that Camp Stark would be converted to prisoner-of-war footingâbut now the theoretical was about to become the practical, and her father, for better or worse, was the lightning rod for every theory or opinion about the project.
Meanwhile, Agnes began carrying large serving trays of scrambled eggs and pancakes out to the table. Collie held out a second tray and received another pot of coffee, sausage and ham and scrapple, and a few pots of jam. Staples were often an issue, but today, at least, there was ample, and when Collie pushed back into the room she saw the men had already taken up their places, leaving the head of the table for her father.
“.Â .Â . the Geneva Conventions saysÂ .Â .Â . ,” spoke one man, a short, fiery little man named Johns who Collie did not particularly like. He was a saw sharpener, or something of the kind, and she found him too opinionated for the little he knew.
“Coddling them,” another man cut off Johns, this time a soldier with a blank face and large, hairy wrists extending from his ill-fitting jacket. “These men have caused the world more trouble and pain by their actions, and when I think of them arriving in this townÂ .Â .Â .”
“Hardly a town,” someone joked, but Collie didn't see who spoke.
“Major Brennan,” Johns asked, his hand taking a spoonful of eggs while he tried to make his voice heard over the murmur, “how do we know these men won't escape and kill us where we sleep?”
Gradually the table grew quiet. Collie watched her father gather himself. He appeared tired; she was certain he hadn't slept well these last weeks.
“A prisoner,” her father said, his voice tightened as it sometimes did when emotion mixed with the effects of the chlorine gas, and Collie noticed the men tried to be quieter with their serving spoons and coffee stirs, “is entitled to fair treatment regardless of the forces that brought him to our door. They can be asked to work, and we must pay them in scrip if they agree. The officers may refuse and we may not put any of the men to work at labor deemed too dangerous. There's been some debate, as you know, to determine whether logging is too dangerous for captured belligerents, but Congress has given us authority to make them work. So now you know as much as I do about the proceedings, gentlemen, and I hope you'll let me sit with my daughter for a moment before the day becomes too hectic.”
And that was all it took. The conversation turned to logging, the other great topic of the day. Collie finished with her tray, then quickly sat on a small chair pulled up at the corner of the table. She felt a moment's unease at sitting at a table full of men, and she would not have done so if her father hadn't been squarely in command. But he had held out her chair and kissed her cheek when she sat beside him, and she felt happy being near him.
“You're in for a full day, too,” he said softly, buttering a corner of his pancake. “It's all hands on deck, I'm afraid.”
“I'll be up right after breakfast.”
“I hope we're ready. I suppose we'll find out soon enough.”
“Everything will work out, Papa.”