Chapter 3: A Serendipitous Encounter

By Sarah O’Brien

The stench of death hung heavy in the air around the camp. Soldiers, barely old enough to be called men, lay wounded on makeshift canvas beds. A general air of malaise petered through the army hospital as delirious soldiers cried out in their sleep, writhing in pain, their finger nails digging into the blood and excrement-caked sheets. As every day passed, more and more men were brought to the little encampment. Makeshift gurneys lined the tents, their maimed occupiers waiting for the sweet mercy of death to relieve them of their physical torment. Elizabeth, a trainee nurse just shy of 19, watched as every day soldiers came in to the camp on stretchers and went out in body bags. The men lucky enough to return home, did so less an eye or limb. There was no mercy in war, of that she was certain…

Her orders were clear; she must not speak to anybody but the field doctor. Medical package in hand, Elizabeth cycled her rusty old bicycle across the German countryside, taking in the wealth of poppies sprouting in the rich green fields. How odd she thought, that so much beauty could exist amongst so much tragedy. Somewhere off in the distance, the young English girl could hear the phantom echoes of bombs and thought once again of her dear brother. How lonely and scared he must be. She steeled herself against the monstrous imagery accompanying her thoughts. “You must not think like that!” Elizabeth admonished herself. “Like what?”. A pair of kindly eyes peered out at her through horn rimmed spectacles and a mop of curly brown hair. She jumped realizing she’d reached the encampment and lowered her eyes mortified at being caught talking out loud to herself. “I do apologise, I was looking for Dr Saltzman”, she muttered. He looked at her, a twinkle of mirth dancing in his eyes. “Well you’re in luck, you’ve found me.

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Elizabeth smoothed down the front of her starched white pinafore, pausing for a moment over her swollen belly. Thinking of Matron Thomas and the instructions she had laid out several months prior, caused her to grimace slightly. “No man, dying or not, is to be trusted Elizabeth”, the matron warned, her direct gaze causing the young girl’s cheeks to flush scarlet. Matron Thomas was a small plump woman with soft blonde hair and large cornflower blue eyes. Originally from Manchester, her fondness for bridge and gin was legendary, though the latter of which she kept under lock and key in the old wooden desk in her office. Every evening after dinner, Matron would play the piano forte in the drawing room, hoping the music would be enough to rouse the men’s’ spirits and remind them of the lives they’d left behind. The soldiers well enough to stand dressed in uniform while those a little less fortunate sat bandaged in their wheelchairs.  Elizabeth had lived for those evenings, where she could forget the horror of the injuries she’d tended and instead sway in time to the serendipitous music.

It was on one of those splendid occasions that she had first met Albrecht. He was a strange man, he didn’t much look like the other British soldiers, to whom she had grown accustomed. His dark features seemed out of place amongst the vast expanse of fair hair and blue-green eyes. Elizabeth became conscious of his gaze upon her as she flitted across the hall to the Matron’s office that evening. “Now where would you be going?” he casually asked peering into the room behind her. The blood drained from Elizabeth’s face. “I… erm… nowhere”, she trailed off. Shamefacedly she glanced at him, noticing the golden flecks in his deep brown eyes. Eyebrow cocked, Albrecht leaned in aware that his physical presence was making her uncomfortable. “I won’t tell on you”, he murmured softly. Elizabeth trembled. She knew if Matron caught her in her office, there was a good chance she’d be sent packing back to England. Elizabeth cast her gaze out to where the Matron sat, her chubby fingers coaxing life from the old ivory piano keys. Albrecht followed her stare, taking in the sea of white bandages and khaki uniforms. “She’ll send me home if she thinks I’ve been snooping” she ground out. “But isn’t that exactly where you should be?” he looked at her intently holding her gaze far longer than was appropriate. Elizabeth felt her face flush, the heat rising from the back of her neck. She so desperately wanted to look away but didn’t seem able to break his gaze.”What’s your name?”, he pressed. “Elizabeth”. His dark eyes widened slightly and a small smile curved across his generous lips. “Elizabeth”, he rolled her name carelessly off his tongue, “I like it”.

Read Chapter 2: Meeting the Digbys

 

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