Welcome to The Writers’ Block by Austen Authors!
Jane Austen’s Reading Salon is the board where we freely showcase our writing: short stories, excerpts, deleted scenes, poetry, and other assorted samples, both Austenesque and beyond Austen’s world. This is a “read-only” board. Read to your heart’s content and check back periodically for new posts.A A A
February 10, 2017
Der Schwartzwald, 7 km below das Wildschwein Haus, Bavaria, July 31, 1947
The speeding open-topped Kübelwagen hit another rut hidden in the darkness of the road snaking down the rugged slope beneath the craggy overhangs that had swallowed armies from the Romans nearly two millennia before to the Americans in the most recent spasm besetting humanity, ending just two years ago. Or had it? The jolt sent the yellowed cones spilling weakly from filthy headlamps ricocheting around ancient conifers leaving the road surface, such as it was, hidden in the post-midnight gloom.
Another juddering crash as an alluvial chasm grabbed first the left front wheel and then, after releasing it, the right. The car pitched violently, its real wheels leaving the ground for a moment, but long enough to send the engine racing; its screaming revolutions ascending the octaves until the tires slammed back down making the entire vehicle groan in protest as the added torque threatened to twist the war-weary chassis around the drive shaft. The driver, though, navigated the obstacles steering with only his left hand. His right was feverishly trying to keep a blood-soaked battle dressing clamped against the seeping flow running from the side of the soul slumped in the passenger seat.
Denis Robard shouted over the sounds of kicked-up gravel exploding against the rusted floorboards, “Damn you, Allie. Don’t you dare die on me!”
Then Robard grunted as his left hand, slick with blood from his own wound, a slash across his forearm “lovingly” administered by a glistening SS Ehrendolch,[i] slipped over the cracked Bakelite rim of the steering wheel. He struggled to keep the weaving car out of the ditch and headed down the mountain before once again risking a rightward glance to see how his brother-in-arms and cousin by marriage was faring.
The stroboscopic rays of the full moon flared as the tree canopy opened and closed above the fleeing auto. What Robard caught as his friend’s face was alternately illuminated and darkened was the sight of half-opened ice blue eyes surrounded by grayish skin. A small trickle of blood, chocolate black in the neutral radiance of that cold hearted orb,[ii] ran from the left corner of his mouth and dripped onto his camo blouse, itself cast only in hues of grey and black. Alois Schiller was in desperate straits and needed every ounce of the treatment available at the base infirmary now within 4 km.
If only we can get there in time. Campbell must have at least one more miracle left in his bag of tricks, even though it has been sorely depleted by these infernal pitched battles with die-hard black helmets. Will this war never end?
Robard caught sight of a pair of headlights cutting through the overnight mist. The MPs had waited idling along the side of the road against this particular eventuality. Robard remembered that the Jeep was equipped with a 50-caliber mount that could easily riddle both him and Schiller with half-inch holes if the private manning the weapon got nervous. But, Denis could not release the wheel to flash the pre-arranged recognition signal. He would have to count on the fact that the sergeant would overlook that missing element and connect on the fact that a car noisily racing down the mountain was not trying to sneak past and effect a breakout.
Robard grimly hissed between clenched teeth as the gap closed between the two utility vehicles, “Just remember that if you die, your Lizzie will kill me. And, if she doesn’t punch my ticket, my Letty surely will close out my account!”
The surprised faces of the two Americans flashed brightly as one of the KW’s headlights caught their features. The three-striper reacted first, playing a spotlight that lit the cab of the tub car as it flew by. Instantly recognizing Robard and seeing that Schiller was badly injured, the sergeant grabbed the microphone dangling by his right leg. Radioing ahead to the base, he alerted the guards to clear a path straight to the base hospital. Then he hauled the Jeep in a gravel-blasting u-turn and chased after the other car.
The remaining klicks passed quickly—barely more than four minutes were required—and without any further violent bounds as the road moved from a water-worn bare track to packed gravel and then new tarmac. Shepherded closely by the Jeep, the Kübelwagen flashed beneath the raised barrier, roared onto the base past the original barracks erected in 1892,[iii] and skidded to a stop by the double doors leading to the infirmary’s Emergency Ward.
A grim-faced burly redhead dressed in the pristine white uniform of a chief surgeon supervised two orderlies who gently lifted Schiller from his carmine drenched seat and placed him on a wheeled cart. A stolid nurse, her greying hair telling a tale of years spent bringing men back from the precipice, slashed the wounded man’s right sleeve and jabbed his arm with a needle trailing from a tube leading down from a bottle of plasma held high by a third orderly. Robard raced around the front end of the still vibrating car, its engine spluttering and smoking from the past half hour’s abuse. He grabbed the doctor’s arm and shot a worried inquiring look into the other man’s eyes.
Dr. Campbell growled, “Nae now son. As my bless’d grandfather would’a said, ‘ther’s a wee bit ‘o hard work yet ta be done.’ But, my family’s been sewing up yours for more’n a century, so we got some experience.
“I’ll do my best, and will let ye ken. But, ye’d best be prepared for the worst, though I think we can hope for the best. Young Schiller is his father’s son. A strong man from what Gramps said, standing up ‘side the Countess that day. He’ll keep the boy ‘mongst the livin, I think.
“Now are you going to get on the blower and call the Earl an’ your da’? Best they not be getting’ the news from lips other ‘n yours.”
With a swirl of his gown, Campbell turned and strode into his surgery.
Longbourn Estate, Hertfordshire, August 1, 1947
The late afternoon storm had rumbled its way off to the northeast leaving behind bright green, freshly mown lawns surrounding the ancient manor house. The building’s central wing had been especially situated nearly three centuries earlier by a master and mistress looking across the Mimram Valley from the raised seat of their rented carriage. The couple, he of nut-brown complexion and she of the milkiest of sun-protected skin, had enjoying the manner in which the setting sun dipped behind the Chiltern up-thrust and had desired to enjoy that view over the anticipated decades of their residence as newly-minted landed gentry. Now Longbourn’s window-punctuated western front glistened as the droplet-dappled ivy overgrowth reflected Sol’s rays, brightened now in their passage through atmosphere swept clean of the noxious fumes of an industrial age.
A carriage, most assuredly an anachronism in this age of automobiles, turned off the lane shielded from the mid-summer swelter by stands of sentinel oaks and transited between the great granite pillars before moving onto the grey and white river stone drive leading up to the home’s front portico. No footman raced out to greet it, rather the driver hopped down from his box to open the door and lower the step. This lack of hospitality played poorly with the watcher looking down from a window opening onto the living quarters. That omission, that clear evidence of poor household management, rankled; for such would never have happened under her guidance, but also served to confirm in her mind the fixed sentiment that something was not according to Hoyle.
She observed her husband, wearing a suit cut in an island style favoring lighter colors with a lightweight topcoat, tan waistcoat, and matching wide-drop trousers, step down from the vehicle. She snickered as he planted his straw plantation hat atop his thinning thatch of greying brownish hair. He suddenly glanced up toward where he knew her to be. He raised his right hand in greeting before striding up the weathered limestone steps and into the house. As he vanished from her view, she turned away from the portal and crossed to a workspace where she settled in an overstuffed armchair to await his ascent to her cell.
For his part, if he had known of her feelings, Thomas Bennet would have told his spouse that her discontentment with the situation was matched…and likely exceeded…by his. His study, having become progressively browner over the past two weeks, turned inward as he placed his straw on the table adjacent to the front entry.
This had been a day of contrasts for the putative Master of Longbourn. Awakening early as he had for nearly every day of his four-and-fifty years, Bennet had bade his wife farewell before softly turning the key in lockset gracing the white enameled oak door confining her in her chambers. Then he had mounted his carriage for the brief transit to a small warehouse/stable located off of Meryton’s High Street where the coach and its equine power plants were hidden away. Swiftly peeling off the suiting style that had graced his frame since he had reached his majority, he donned a lightweight tan cotton double-breasted style appropriate for the humidity that bedeviled Town during the summer months. A serious-faced attendant handed him his double-belted leather briefcase and his snow-white Panama hat. Then Bennet dropped into the backseat of a non-descript maroon Rover 16 saloon for the chauffeured twenty-mile drive to the Bennet Family Trust.
On this first Friday of the month, he had hoped to meet with his grandson to sort out Mrs. Bennet’s status. However, the moment the Founder stepped off the elevator from the subterranean garage carved from the limestone strata underlying the great capital, he found himself in the midst of a maelstrom of activity. Earnest young men and women, many of them bearing that distinctive mark of Bennet Eyes, hurried along corridors before swiftly vanishing behind frosted glass doors to the sound of ringing bells and raised voices.
A curious Bennet handed his case and hat to his assigned factotum, a young fellow by the name of Annesley, and continued past his office to the Managing Director’s suite, two doors down the portrait-lined hallway. Earl Thomas’ personal private secretary, Mr. Hastings, was so busy that he barely looked up from his telephone and notepad. He simply waved Bennet on through in response to his elder’s raised eyebrow and nod toward the great double doors.
Stepping through, Bennet came upon a scene of controlled chaos. At the center of the cloud of bobbing and weaving men stood Earl Michael Fitzwilliam. He was poring over a map of Western Europe unrolled across the expanse of his mahogany worktable. From time to time an assistant slid a document in front of Fitzwilliam who quickly read it and either initialed it or muttered a quick instruction which immediately caused a back to vanish to any of a number of telephones (Thomas had learned the purpose of that miraculous device early on.) arrayed on shelves and tables around the margins of the spacious chamber.
Coming up to the desk opposite the aristocrat, Bennet simply extended his right hand until his own signet ring moved into his doppelganger’s field of vision. Fitzwilliam froze and quickly looked up into his grandfather’s eyes. His own refocused on London rather than a spot near between the Jura and Alps where his finger rested.
Loath to give away too much about either the present or the past in front of a rapidly mutating audience, the Managing Director elliptically addressed Bennet, “You will have to forgive me, Mr. Bennet, I realize that we had an appointment this morning. However, we encountered a situation in the early morning hours—a state of affairs which has necessarily demanded ‘all hands on deck.’ I regret that I will have to ask if we might defer our meeting until next week.”
The Earl paused, considering his next words carefully then continued with a knowing look at the hazel eyes of his ancestor.
“Perhaps, if you are able to find a way to sooth Mrs. Bennet’s concerns, we could all enjoy the privacy of our Beach House. The Five Families traditionally spend August in Deauville en famille…both present and past. The last time we had a visitor from your branch of the family was exactly 40 years ago.
“Your wife would find sea bathing a pleasant new experience. And she could meet all of her relations.
“Perhaps you might finish up that which you were working upon this morning and make an early day of it? Send a wire to Hastings or Annesley with your decision. They will be able to coordinate travel arrangements.”
With that last statement, the Earl bowed back over his work, effectively dismissing Bennet from his ken.
[i] SS honor dagger
[ii] Justin Hayward, lyric, Nights in White Satin, Sony/ATV Music L.L.C., TRO, Inc. 1967.
[iii] Please see Epilogue Two, The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque.
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