David watched through the window as two of the guards picked up Großkopf and put him on the baggage waggon while the other guards stood with their weapons at the ready. When the guards and their load had disappeared from his view, David reached into the basket for another sandwich, then savoured it as he thought. Had to be more than simple smuggling. Why would he run? Something dangerous in the baggage. All the armed guards. Sabotage equipment? Explosives? How would one get explosives in an enemy country? Bring them in, I guess. I'll have the tunnel, but still...
The train jerked into motion, and he watched the small town moving past his window. He studied his map again. Less than twenty kilometres to Belfort and to my last train of the day. After a glance at his watch, he pulled the wad of tickets from his pocket and found the one from Belfort to Paris. Depart 1350, forty minutes from now. Lots of time to change trains.
His mind went back to Großkopf. A German name. Could be a Swiss, a sympathiser from the Germanic portion of the country. There are still many there who haven't yet been sickened by the German atrocities.
As he continued his sandwich and ale, he listened to the dull booming of artillery in the distance above the sharp click-clack of the train. Man has gone completely mad to be doing this. The killing, the destruction, the ruined lives back home. For what? For more power, more land. Good God, Kaiser Wilhelm was already among the most powerful, and Germany was thriving. Why do this? Why ruin it?
The platforms were crowded with soldiers as his train pulled into the station in Belfort. Among them were many walking wounded, and he thought back to his travelling from the Front with his head wrapped in bandages. Seems so long ago, but not even two months have passed. A very full two months. God, I miss her.
He pulled out the section of rail map the Embassy clerk had marked for him, and he studied it as his car slowly passed the milling soldiers. Out through the window, he saw signs on the other side of the platform reading Paris in large type and under it, Vesoul, Langres, Chaumont and Troyes. This'll be easy. A few moments later, his train stopped on a much less busy section of platform beside the Paris train. This makes sense. Stop across from the First Class cars.
David had just settled into his seat on the Paris train when three French Army officers in stained, rumpled uniforms entered the compartment. One had a nearly empty sleeve pinned across his chest, one carried a cane and limped with obvious pain. The third officer appeared not to be wounded until he winced with pain as he sat. All remained silent as they waited for the train to leave.
David thought back to his riding trains through Germany as he was disguised in a German uniform and his face and head were heavily bandaged. Similar scene here, walking wounded heading home on sick leave to finish their recovery. Hospitals are too full near the Front to keep them. The one with the missing arm and the eye patch, I hope he's finished with the war. Hope he's left-handed. David shook his head at the stupidity of his thought. He's certainly left-handed now.
The train jerked into motion, and David watched the scene scroll past his window as he thought of the others in his compartment. All seem shocked and sullen. Should I initiate a conversation? Should I leave them in their thoughts? What did I want? Different. I was in enemy territory and had to remain inconspicuous and disguise my poor German accent.
The two officers sitting across from him, the one missing an arm and the one with the wounded leg, began talking with each other. David turned to the older officer beside him and introduced himself. "Bonjour. Je m'appelle David. Je fus blessé à Ypres... Hello, I'm David. I was wounded at Ypres."
The officer extended a hand to shake. "Jean-Claude. Commandant Poirier. De quel régiment?... Jean-Claude. Commandant Poirier. From what regiment?"
"La 1re Division canadienne... The 1st Canadian Division."
"You're a long way from home and from Ypres. What are you doing way down here?"
"Our position was overrun after I was wounded, and when I regained consciousness several hours later, the Germans had moved their line past me. They were between me and my regiment, so I fled through Germany and into Switzerland."
"That was a risky move. It's a long way from Ypres to Switzerland. Longer because it's all through enemy territory."
"I speak German fairly well, so I stripped a dead German soldier and dressed in his uniform, then acted as one of their own wounded soldiers. They attended my wounds and sent me home on sick leave."
"You appear well recovered. How long ago was that?"
"Two months now, the last week of April."
"That was around the time of the first chlorine gas attacks. Were you involved in those?"
"Two of them."
Jean-Claude shook his head and grimaced. "Horrid. We lost so many there. What were your wounds?"
"I took some shrapnel with my face." David parted his beard and pointed to the scars. "It ripped my mouth down through here to the tip of my chin, knocked out two teeth and put a large three-corner tear across my cheek. The worst of the pain was from the bone bruises. Difficult eating for weeks."
"Your whiskers cover the scars well."
"I'll be able to keep the beard. I've just been transferred to the Canadian Pioneer Battalion."
"You're going back into the battle?"
"Yes, to England first for some training." David thought of Jean-Claude's discomfort sitting. "You've also been wounded? Are you going home to recover?"
Jean-Claude looked down and pointed to his crotch, then shook his head. "Everything there's gone. All of it. I already have eight children, so..." He shook his head again. "Now my wife won't complain about my..." He closed his eyes and fell silent.
YOU ARE READING
Back In ActionHistorical Fiction
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...