When David and Maria walked into the kitchen, they found Bethia and Rachel amiably chatting as they prepared breakfast. "What can we do to help?" David asked as they walked toward the two women.
"Nothing at all," Bethia smiled as she turned her cheeks to receive his good morning kisses. "We have everything nearly ready. We started preparing when we heard the whoops announcing completion of your morning rituals."
"I guess I was a bit noisy," he said as he kissed Rachel good morning. "But it was far too good to keep corked inside."
"I thought I was the noisy one," Maria looked at him and giggled.
"It was glorious harmony, Sweetheart. So warming to an old lady." Bethia walked across the kitchen and pointed to chairs. "Come, sit here and here. We'll have the table groaning in a minute. Do you take anything in your coffee? Do you prefer tea? It's so good to have family again. It's been quiet here these last months."
"Coffee strong and straight for me," Maria said. "That's how I survived those long hours in the gasthaus after classes."
"Rachel was telling me about your studies and your nursing skills." Bethia headed back to the counter as she talked. "Are you going to continue your medical studies once you're back in Switzerland?"
"I hadn't even thought about it. Guess I've been too busy nursing David's wounds and Mama's sprained ankle. I really enjoy it."
"You're very good at it, and it appears intuitive, so you must continue. You can probably go to a Swiss school and challenge..." He paused and tilted his head. "When were your exams to be in Freiburg?"
"The first week of June. We were finishing our second last week of instruction when I left. The rest of May is reviews and essays."
"This might sound crazy, but why don't you go back to Freiburg and finish your year there?" David asked. "Bethia's truck goes to Freiburg every third day with deliveries to the Kaserne. The house is still in Gottenheim. Your German papers are in order. There's no border to cross."
"Yes, it does sound crazy," Maria said with a shocked look. "Very very crazy. We just spent a week and a half sneaking and hiding in the wilderness to get from Gottenheim to here, and you're suggesting I go back. Are you crazy?"
"Not that I'm aware of. Think about it. You thought the border was closed when we left, and our only option was to sneak across. Now we see the border crossings are open again. You have freedom of travel with your German and your Swiss papers. Things have changed. Things always change. If we don't change with them we —"
"But all the time and effort it took us to get here," she interrupted.
"Those days brought us closer together." He laid his hand on hers and gently caressed it. "But let's look ahead, not back. You said you were at the head of the class. You won't need much time to catch up the missed week. Your instructors should be pleased to assist. Then get your essay assignments and come back here to write them and to review your texts and your notes. First week of June, go back and write the exams and do the practicals."
"But how will I explain my sudden departure at the end of April?"
"A family emergency. No further explanation needed. A bonus to this is you can bring back some 1911 Bestes Fass as well as your clothes and your mother's."
"The more I think about your idea, the less crazy it becomes..." She paused and nodded. "It really is the best thing to do, isn't it?. I love your wisdom. I love your concern for me." She picked up his hand and kissed it.
"I've never allowed myself to care for anyone before," He shrugged and looked into her eyes. "I guess I've rarely thought of anyone but me. Never let myself love. This is still so new and confusing. I hope you'll continue helping me with it."
Bethia and Rachel had stood silently, their breakfast preparations on hold, as they were captivated by the two-minute discussion. "That was some of the interaction I was telling you about," Rachel whispered to Bethia after they had turned back to the counter to finish arranging the food.
They were all quiet in their thoughts while Rachel and Bethia placed the platters on the table and poured the coffee. As they began eating, David broke the silence with compliments on the delicious spread of meats, cheeses, breads, pastries and dried fruits. "This is so different from the Canadian breakfasts of bacon and eggs and grilled bread Dad always insisted we have. I guess this is what Mamère so often said she missed. And croissants; she always talked about how much she missed croissants."
Maria shook her head and frowned. "It sounds like your father didn't listen, or didn't catch her desire."
"No, he heard her. He's stubborn and set in his ways. Bacon and eggs, ham and eggs, sausages and eggs, a real breakfast for a hard-working family, was his set response every time the topic arose."
"What does he do?" Rachel asked. "What's his hard work?"
"He owns a timber company. He buys logs from the cutters and sells them to the mills. The company has grown rather quickly to more than he can comfortably handle, and he was grooming me to be the accountant and the administrator."
"So that's why the fancy prep school and university," Maria said.
"Yes, but it was not what I wanted. The inflexible and mind-numbing accounting and the rigidity of the management theory and procedures left me no room for creativity; left me no freedom to explore and to invent."
"So is that why you spent so much time alone in the mountains?" Maria tilted her head. "Escaping?"
"Escaping maybe. But more driven by the foreboding of my loss of freedom when I headed to University School, to prep school, as you called it. Mamère tried to intervene, but Dad was unrelenting in his plans for me. I spent two and a half months climbing that summer, mostly alone until I met Conrad. Three months the next summer before I went to Vancouver to begin university."
"So, you went straight from school to the mountains and then straight back to school?"
"I paused at home for two or three days at the beginning and end of each summer. Spent time with Mamère and Dad. She was sympathetic, but he was still inflexible."
"How many years did you do this?" Maria asked.
"Four years. Four glorious summers of unbridled freedom, unfettered joy, mostly alone with nature. I'd dip into the valleys from time to time for supplies, but headed right back up to continue climbing and exploring." He paused for a sip of coffee. "I needed the time and the space to clear my mind of the rigidity and the inflexible structure of the courses. I needed to purge my system from the steady inculcation of accounting, organisation and administration theories."
"It sounds like you didn't enjoy university. You must have done poorly." Maria shook her head. "Why ever did you stay?"
"The work was simple but so rigid and boring. As much as I disliked it, I did very well. The topics are simplistic and logical, and I was among the star students in each subject. I also took several courses of interest to relieve the boredom — geology, geography and linguistics. For release, I took long walks in the evenings, and on most weekends, I climbed in the North Shore mountains or up the Fraser Valley."
He shook his head and looked at each of the women. "The only good thing so far for me with this war against Germany is that it gave me an excuse not to go back to another year of mind-numbing rigidity."
YOU ARE READING
In the early months of the First World War, a young Canadian soldier uses quick thinking and ingenuity to evade capture after being wounded fighting in Flanders. While escaping through Germany to the Swiss border, he becomes intimately entwined with...