"Come, let's go upstairs to your room and watch them from the balcony," Bethia said after David had returned from closing the gate behind the departing lorry.
They stood at the railing and watched as the lorry arrived at the border post. A guard directed them into a bay beside the road and approached the vehicle, disappearing from view on its other side. "That's strange," David said, "This hadn't occurred to me before. The driving side, the steering wheel is on the right of the cab, like we have at home in Canada, but traffic here drives on the right."
"Yes, traffic circulates on the right here, like it does in France and Switzerland. Motorcars have their steering wheels on the left so the driver can better see the clearance from oncoming vehicles. With most lorries, though, the driver sits on the right to better see the clearance with the edge of the roadway."
"That makes sense. The lorry can be directed to leave maximum room for other traffic to manoeuvre past." He ran his fingers through his hair. "They seem to be taking a long time over there."
"Likely checking documents. The ownership papers and permit for the lorry and Rachel and Maria's identification documents. There, now!" Bethia motioned. "Maria's climbing down from the cab."
Maria walked to the rear and opened the door, then the guard appeared and looked in. "Looks like they're checking what's in the back. See if they're smuggling people across."
The guard nodded and motioned to Maria to close the door, then he bent down and examined the underside of the lorry. "I suppose people can be hidden up under the frame. It appears they're being thorough," Bethia said.
"Not that thorough, though. The examination of the inside was not much more than a cursory glance. There could be a false bulkhead at the front of the box hiding escaping soldiers, saboteurs, spies or deserters."
"Your mind works in strange ways. I'd never have thought of that."
"It seems automatic. Possibilities are constantly popping into my head. I suppose in some ways it's because I'm still searching for ways I can help with the war."
"But why continue with the war. It would be so easy for you to stay here. Cross into Switzerland and simply stay there with us, with Maria, and let the madness of the war happen without you."
"I've been thinking a lot about that. It certainly would be easy to stay." He shook his head. "My God! Tante, I love Maria. I cannot bear the thought of leaving her. Of not having her in my life. The simplest solution I've seen is to remain. Rachel and I had a long, deep discussion of this on the evening we arrived. I've told myself so many times since, I'm crazy to even consider heading back."
"Stay, then. Help us re-establish in Switzerland. Re-establish yourself there. Why throw yourself back into the risk of more injury."
"That would be so easy. So pleasant. So logical..." David raised his arm toward the border. "There! The lorry's moving again."
The barrier was lifted, and the lorry motored through toward the Swiss guard post, where it was directed into a bay just short of the gates, and three guards approached.
"They seem more serious on the Swiss side," David said. "Three guards, rather than one."
"It's probably because the lorry is arriving, not leaving. They most likely have different procedures for entry and exit."
"That makes sense. Look now, one guard at each door, all armed."
"Being careful. They don't know who is arriving or with what, and until they find out, they need to be cautious. There, now. Maria's climbing down."
"Again opening the rear door to let the guard examine inside."
"Much more thorough. Look, he's climbing in." David pointed.
"One of the other guards is checking the underside."
Rachel and Maria stood talking with the three guards for more than a minute, then one of the guards led them into the border building. "Wonder what that's about. Into the office."
"Most likely paperwork," Bethia said. "Permit for the lorry. Aaron had to get a permit the first time he drove across. It was valid for the year. Odd, there was none required for the waggon."
"Have you ever crossed in the lorry?"
"No, only on foot and in the waggon and the carriage, but that was before the war. What a mess the war has made of things. Of life."
As they stood silently watching the office door, David was deep in his thoughts. It would be so easy for me to remain. To stay in Switzerland with Maria. My God, how I love her. What a magnificent person she is. And so gorgeous. That helps — her physical beauty, but that's the least part of her beauty. What a wondrous spirit she has. How could I leave her? I'd be daft...
"There now! They're coming out." Rachel disappeared beyond the lorry, and a short spell later Maria bent to turn the engine crank, then climbed back into the cab. A guard opened the gate, and the lorry drove through and disappeared from their sight.
"Well, we now know that works. That's a major step." David turned to Bethia. "I cannot believe how much I miss her — seeing her drive away. I feel a piece of me is missing. I've not before had such strange emotions. Such confused feelings."
"Love is a powerful drug, David. It's highly addictive. Once you've experienced love, it's difficult to let it go."
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...