I counted the following weeks in groups of three. I knew that every three days there would be a letter from Franz. It was a lovely feeling to look forward to something like that. Sometimes I was happy with the letters I received, and sometimes I cried because they were so dull and war-like. I never asked myself why I did not like those letters, I never examined my heart, and so the next few months passed. Most of the men were gone, and only a few lingered. Frederick stayed on for the longest. Some days when I went to see him, he was so lively I wondered why he didn’t leave. And then the next morning his face would be listless, and his eyes bleak. We had worked things out very well. On the days I did not get a letter from Franz I spent the afternoons with Frederick, and when I received a letter he willingly let me go read it and reply.
“Adele,” he said to me one day. “This shall be the last day we sit together. I am going to leave tomorrow.”
I looked up in surprise. He had almost become part of the nunnery.
“I have no excuse now to stay in the comfort. I must leave. They will want me to fight, I am able-bodied now. It is my duty. It was foolish for me to think I could stay here through the whole war. To the battlefield I must go again.”
“No, no,” I grabbed his hands, “no, you can’t go. I mean, you are still so pale, and weak.” I was also surprised at myself for getting so upset and worried. “Just a few more weeks, then you will gain strength and be ready to go.”
“But Adele,” he smiled sadly, “I have told myself that for the past month. I have said, ‘just one more day,’ ‘just another week.’ And have I left yet? No, here I am whittling my life away in idle hopes. It is today, and only today that I have forced myself to tell you this. Did you know that for such a long time I have nearly said to you that I was getting ready to go? But I never got up enough courage. Until this afternoon. I resolved to do it, and I know that you will not let me stay, now that I have told you I am leaving. I keep my promises. You will never know how much I have enjoyed these months here. We came in here, one blustery night, and little did I guess that you would greet me, and that you would be my companion and confident for so long. But one stage of life cannot last forever.”
“Frederick,” I had grown used to his name now, “what will I do? I shall sit around on these dreary afternoons and think of you and Franz. I shall drive myself insane. You can’t leave, not quite yet.”
Tears welled in my eyes. Franz was bad enough…it was hard to be apart from him, but now Frederick gone too…I would be desolate.
“I am sorry, Adele, but it must be.”
We were sitting silently, both of us weeping in our hearts, I am sure, when Sister Mary came in with a letter for me.
“It isn’t the day yet, is it?” Frederick said.
“No, but maybe there is special occasion.” I wanted to go read it, but didn’t want to leave Frederick alone, on this last day, and there was so much to say to him too.
“Go, read your letter, you won’t sit here any longer.”
I rushed away, and tearing it open, I read that Franz had a few days leave, and was coming back. By the postmark dates I concluded that he would be here the next day. The day Frederick was going. But Franz would someday be my husband, I could not spend time in sorrow over another friend. In the letter he wrote that he would come to the nunnery in the early morning, and we would go out into the countryside and have a picnic together. Just the two of us, and catch up on all the things we wanted to say. Not to mention just seeing each other again. I was elated, and in my foolish joy I went to tell Frederick.
“Franz is coming tomorrow, and we are going to spend the day out in the countryside, on a picnic together. Doesn’t that sound nice? I can’t wait, I don’t think I shall sleep a bit tonight.”
Frederick looked at me, and smiled sadly. I put my hand in his, he seemed to need comforting. My joy washed away, and I was left with a throbbing heart.
“I am happy for you,” he said, “I am happy for my Adele.” And he pushed my hand away, and put his hands under the blanket.
Without another word I left him, sitting there, soundless, and went to my room. Life was so challenging, so painful. Why did Franz have to come on the day Frederick was leaving?
The next morning I woke up very early, to see Frederick before he left. But when I went to his room, he was not there. I ran down to the kitchen.
“Where is Frederick? He hasn’t left, has he?”
“He left already,” Sister Clotilde told me. “He left late last night. Said he couldn’t sleep, and might as well start walking.”
I heard the door open, and ran to see who it was. Franz came in and kissed my cheek, all of a sudden.
“Hello, my Cathie, I didn’t know you would be up so early.”
I was impatient with him for interrupting my search for Frederick…Franz kissed me when I wanted to be left alone to think.
“Oh, dear, I am so glad to see you, it has been ages!” I tried to make my voice as sincere as possible. I was afraid he would notice I wasn’t putting my heart into it. “Mary made up a basket for us to take. When do you want to leave?”
“Now is fine, we can get out of the city sooner.”
And so I picked up the basket, and hand in hand we walked out of nunnery. It was strange, the second time I walked away from it. The first time I was alone, afraid and yet eager. This time I was with Franz, and my heart was heavy with unshed tears. But I tried to laugh, to make myself lighter and happier.
We walked for quite a ways, until we were on the dusty isolated roads. It was about noon, and we decided to walk to the top of the hill. I left the basket half way up, it was so heavy. We got to the top, and then I asked Franz how it was, being back in the army.
“Cathie, it is, in some ways, more horrible than I imagine hell is. But yet I can’t help enjoying it too.”
There was a strong wind, and I shivered in the cold.
“I can’t help feeling satisfied and happy for the revenge we are giving to the Allies. They had their turn, and now we are doing all we can to show them what it is like to lose. In the long run I don’t think we will succeed, but we are doing are best right now. You can’t imagine the pleasure of handling a machine gun, and watching it mow down the lines and lines of those nasty Brits and Americans. It is indescribable. They ruined our lives, and now we are making them taste the dust and the blood.”
As he spoke I looked around and saw the early spring flowers budding, and the birds singing. The grass was bright green, and the sky was a vivid blue.
“And it is more satisfactory when we are in close combat, to see them face to face. They beg and plead for me to save their lives.”
“Why should I? Wars aren’t won by giving mercy to everyone who begs. I have to kill them, it is my duty to myself, and to Germany. Of course we will lose if we don’t kill the enemy.”
I felt sick, as I looked at Franz’s face. He hadn’t smiled like the first time I met him. His eyes had a certain hardness to them now. And his voice was stony and firm. Something had changed in him, and I was afraid.
“I am going to go get the picnic basket. You sit and rest,” I told him, in a slightly shaky voice. I walked down the hill. I stopped, knelt down, and took the ring off my finger, and put it in the basket. Franz would find it later, and understand. I kept walking, away down the hill. I walked to the next town. It was near dark, and I asked someone for a room to sleep in. The next morning I woke up and asked my host where Switzerland was. He pointed me in the right direction, and before the sun was barely up, I was walking, very slowly, very steadily towards Switzerland—and Frederick. I saw now that I did not love Franz. I could not love him, he had no room for love in his heart. I was frightened of him, just as much as I was of the men I met in the streets, on my way to auntie’s house. I realized that Frederick loved me, far more than Franz ever did. But he was a noble man, and did not try to steal my heart.
And so, I waited in Switzerland, until the war was over, and kept looking for Frederick. Until one day I saw a little cottage up on the mountainside. The villagers said a newcomer lived there, a crazy foreigner who wanted to live alone. So I started my way up the mountain, and when Frederick saw me coming, he waved, calling my name, Adele, and ran to greet me, with the goats and the chickens following after him.