Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Twenty-One
29th August 1974
Watching Monique weeding her grandmother’s kitchen garden from the back steps of Helene’s house, she was happily humming to herself as she went about the mundane task. Sjostedt knew that the prior weeks must have been quite an education for the girl. She had learned that there were worse things than pulling weeds. This also meant that he finally had a chance to talk to Helene without the fourteen-year-old listening in.
Of all the things that might have happened to Sjostedt, running into Helene had not been expected. Especially considering that he had not seen her since the Heer had retreated back to Courtemont-Varennes after the Battle of Ussy-sur-Marne in August and the 4th Division had been ordered to dig in along a ridge that was only a few kilometers east of Fossoy. She had vanished during that retreat and Sjostedt had been forced to put her out of his mind as he had watched over the following months as American and French forces had massed across the lines. Sjostedt had been certain that when the attack came his number would truly be up. Unknown to him, or anyone else at the time, was that what had happened at Ussy had convinced the Americans that while they could defeat the Heer in the field, it would come at too great a cost.
The relief that Sjostedt had felt when the ceasefire had been announced had been profound. Still though, his orders had been to hold in place and then to join his Regiment as they had walked back to the 1914 Frontier. They had been under no illusions about what happened to local women who took up with German soldiers and he had been given little choice but to accept her loss.
“I thought that you were gone forever” Sjostedt said as if that changed things. “If I had known that…”
“You would have what?” Helene asked, “Come back searching for me? And gotten yourself butchered because a lone Boche was good as dead in those days? A lot of good that would have done me or you.”
“Still though, it wasn’t right for me to have left you” Sjostedt said, “Or even what happened before that.”
“What are you on about?” Helene asked.
“You were given few choices, you weren’t much older than Monique” Sjostedt said, “I took advantage of you without knowing better.”
Helene gave him a look and shook her head. “Still the same arrogance after all these years” She said, “Who’s to say that I didn’t take advantage of you?”
“The tough as nails Danish soldier with that big bruiser you were always with” Helene said, “What was his name?”
“That was Walter Horst” Sjostedt replied.
Helene was a bit surprised by that answer, apparently Horst’s legend had grown to the point where they had even heard of him here.
“Regardless” Helene said, “No one with any sense messed with you, or your woman.”
“I had not considered that” Sjostedt said, “What about her?”
He gestured towards Monique.
“What about Monique?” Helene asked in reply, “She is the daughter of my son Pierre, the same son who was probably killed by her mother’s family because of who his father was or how they didn’t like his involvement with their girl.”
“You are avoiding answering the obvious question” Sjostedt replied, as if the answer weren’t patently obvious just by that name. “Just how certain are you that Pierre is dead?”
“He hasn’t shown up one step ahead of those he was indebted to in almost fifteen years, and he is unlikely to have turned over a new leaf” Helene replied, “I can feel it in my bones that he is never coming back.”
“That is disappointing” Sjostedt said.
“Yes” Helene said, “Disappointment is something you get used to. They dropped Monique in my lap once she was old enough for them convince themselves that they had done their Catholic duty. It must have been awful for her mother, and I haven’t seen her since. They really are the worst sort of hypocrites, the whole lot of them.”
“I see” Sjostedt replied. He was aware that wasn’t a unique problem to this corner of France, the sort of deep hatred that became part of a people’s identity if allowed to fester long enough. It was such pure poison that they had made their own granddaughter one of “Them” and apparently thought nothing of it.
“She also cannot stay here because of that” Helene said, “After her running off and with her hair like that, they are going to try to destroy her reputation and there isn’t a whole lot I can do.”
“And you think there is something I can do about that?” Sjostedt asked. It was odd to consider that Monique having cut her hair off would mark her out here while in Berlin or Paris it might be considered fashionable.
“A Lutheran Bishop who addressed the League of Nations on matters of war and peace should be able to do something for his granddaughter” Helene said.
“That was a long time ago” Sjostedt said as he felt another stab of guilt. Apparently, Helene had been aware of what he had been doing this whole time. “I am now retired and seventy-six years old in case you haven’t noticed.”
Helene snorted as if Sjostedt said something funny.
“The Aunts also have to be considered” Sjostedt said, “Monique would be considered Diné among them and they can make things difficult if they find her wanting. Even so, there will probably be trouble if I don’t call my sisters and get their opinion on this matter.”
“Who are the Diné?” Helene asked.
Sjostedt didn’t have the first clue as to where to begin.