Away Down the Hill, Chapter Eight

It was curious to see how differently the men began to heal. Franz gained strength every day and was so invigorated and full of ambition. Some of the others had no reason to get well. Their families were gone, and they were disillusioned with the war. They laid in their beds, wasting away and growing stronger in body, but weaker in their minds. Frederick was somewhere in between. He wasn’t as young as Franz, and didn’t have that energy for revenge. Yet he didn’t lie there hopeless, just waiting for death. He got better just a little bit at a time. His face filled out and wasn’t shrunken anymore. His eyes brightened and I rarely saw that empty sort of stare anymore.
It was about six weeks after the men had been at the nunnery that Franz told me he had something to say. I sat down to listen. At first I had not liked him, but he was so bursting with plans and ideas that I could not help but enjoy sitting with him. We had many conversations together, and he was always talking about what we would do together after the war. Although he had never asked me outright, I came to believe, little by little, that I would indeed leave the nunnery and live with Franz after the war.
“Cathie, dear,” he said to me, that was his own nickname for me. I didn’t like it as well as Adele, but never told Franz that. “Cathie, I can’t stand it here anymore. I feel like I am living in a tomb. There are battles to be fought, and I must help. You didn’t take the life vows; I asked one of the nuns once. So you are still free to come with me after this is all over. Here,” he drew something out of his pocket, “this will make it a more solemn promise.” He took my hand and put a small gold band on one of my fingers. “It was my mother’s. Now I can go away, and be sure that you will be here waiting for me.”
He sunk back on his pillow and sighed in pleasure. I loved this young man, and I imagined myself spending the rest of my life with him.
“Yes, Franz.”
“Oh, another thing,” he sat up again. “We must write to each other while I am gone. It will help us know one another better, and so neither of us will forget the other. You will write, won’t you?”
“Of course I will. But I’ve never written a letter before, so mine shall be quite terrible at first. I’ll learn though.”
This dreary tomb didn’t seem so dark anymore. Here was Franz, and he was going to write me letters, and I would have this lovely ring, as a token of our love, and we would write letters. I would wake up every day and wonder if I would get a letter from Franz that day. It was going to be a beautiful life, now that I loved someone, and they loved me.  After a few minutes it looked like Franz fell asleep, and so I crept away. Frederick was awake, and I felt I had to stop to talk to him, although I didn’t feel like it.
“So, Adele, what have you been doing today?”
“Oh, all sorts of things.”
I didn’t want to tell him, of all people, that I was engaged. I didn’t think he would appreciate or understand it very well. I hid the ring under my other hand, and hoped he wouldn’t think it was an odd way to stand.
“Adele, do you know what I am going to do after this war?”
I said I hadn’t the least idea, and prayed that he would want to do the same as Franz just asked me.
“I am going to Switzerland, and buy a little cottage up in the mountains. And I’ll have a little garden, and maybe a goat or chicken. And I’ll just stay up there. When the weather is nice, I’ll sit outside and watch the mountains. When it is cold I’ll be inside next to the fire. And that way I’ll never have to fight again. I won’t have anyone I will want to fight with, and I can just love the world, from on top of my mountain.”
I said it sounded like a lovely idea.
“You don’t feel like talking today, do you?” He said quietly, after a moment.
“No, I suppose I don’t. Some days are just meant for thinking, not speaking.”
I wandered off then, leaving him to sleep, or dream about his cottage in the mountains. Frederick was a strange man. I don’t think any other soldier in our nunnery would want to do something like that. And yet, it was a good idea. Life had been so chaotic, it would be nice for Frederick to just relax and live calmly.
Two days later Franz left. We didn’t make a big fuss over it, but he promised me a letter very soon. Neither of us said much, as he departed. There wasn’t the need to. We both knew what we would do after the war was over, and this was just an interruption.
I was sitting with Frederick one day, and forgot to hide my ring. I saw him look at it, and then up at my face.
“You don’t mind explaining this, do you?” He was so gentle and sad, I was not angry at him for prying into my life.
“I am engaged to Franz. When he comes back, we are going to get married.”
I didn’t ask for congratulations, which was fortunate because Frederick gave none. He simply closed his eyes. I imagined that there were pools of tears around his eyes, but I was just imagining things.
“We’re going to write letters to each other, and then we will get married and have our own house out in the country, and have chickens, and cows, and a big garden, and an orchard, and there we will raise our children.”
I felt silly for blurting that out because Frederick didn’t seem interested, and I had never once told Franz that was what I wanted to do. It suddenly just came into my head.
“That is what you both have planned out to do?” Frederick opened his eyes and asked.
“Well, no, I mean, we haven’t discussed the details yet. It is not real settled yet.”
“I knew Franz, when we were in the army.” He said in a subdued voice. “And I don’t think he would live on a farm out in the country. Franz has a heart full of anger and revenge. He doesn’t have room for peaceably settling down.” He paused for a moment. “But perhaps love has changed him.”
I felt a dull ache in my stomach, and said I was going to go lay down. By the time I laid down, the aching had grown greater, and it was in my heart. I was sick of thinking about Franz and life after the war. I thought about seeing Franz again…and dreaded it. I cried until my pillow was thoroughly damp. I cried with fear at what Franz would say, I cried because I was angry with myself for thinking I loved Franz, and I was enraged at Frederick for drawing the tears out of my heart.
Thus was the first day of sorrow after I became engaged to Franz.

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