A Fine Woman by David George Richards by David George Richards - Read Online

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Summary

Countess Helga Burbeck was German, rich, spoilt and as arrogant and bossy as hell. To her, the war was nothing more than an inconvenience on her shopping trips to Berlin. But when she is walking her dogs, Tirpitz and Bismarck, on the far side of her estate, she discovers something that changes her life forever.

Obersturmführer Meyer is an SS officer who works in the camp close to the Burbeck estate. He despises those in his charge and considers them to be no more than animals for the slaughter. But the arrogant Countess with a father who is a General in the Wehrmacht in Berlin was rapidly becoming a bigger nuisance than the smell from the burial pits.

Helga’s discovery of Jewish children hiding on her estate leads her to investigate the nearby camp. What she finds there shocks her to the soul. She decides to take the children to France and somehow to safety. It begins as a self-destructive whim borne on the bitterness and anger of her discovery, but slowly and surely Helga is drawn inexorably down the path to smuggling and eventually, spying. She engages Jacob, one of the children, to help in her plans. And soon she is embroiled with the French Resistance. But her continued trips across occupied Europe to the South of France with “children from her estate” soon attract even more attention from Obersturmführer Meyer. It isn’t long before both know exactly what the other is doing; it becomes a game, but a game that will lead to final bloodshed in a French forest.

Captain Taylor of the US Army has met Helga only once. But that meeting and everything he learns about her afterwards plants a seed of love that won’t stop growing. But Helga isn't easy to find once lost. And when Captain Taylor visits a Convent in the Southern French resort of Antibes in 1948 he soon finds out that the end of the war isn’t the end of the story. But what connects a German Countess in the war with a Catholic Nun in Cyprus in 1946? And will Captain Taylor finally track her down?

Published: David George Richards on

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A Fine Woman - David George Richards

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reserved.

Foreword

A Fine Woman is purely a work of fiction and nothing more. But the historical events that form the background to the story are true. The failed assassination attempt on Hitler is well documented, while the invasion of Southern France is often overlooked by movie moguls. Equally important as Operation Overload in Normandy only two months earlier, it was codenamed Operation Dragoon, and was an equally fraught sea-borne landing undertaken by the US Seventh Army. The British internment camps in Cyprus for Jews intercepted while attempting to reach Palestine are also little remembered today. And finally, although concentration camps did exist in Germany during the war, the camp near Helga’s estate is also fictitious, and no connection to any particular camp is intended or implied.

Chapter One

Antibes 1948

I’m looking for a woman.

Sister Marie-Thérèse looked at the young man in uniform sitting before her with a certain amount of confusion and mirth in her eyes.

I believe you may have come to the wrong establishment, Captain, she said with a strong French accent. This is after all a Convent, the home of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

Captain Taylor smiled. He spoke with an American accent. "And I believe it to be the perfect place to find this particular woman."

Sister Marie-Thérèse sat back and joined her hands together in her lap. And what kind of woman would this be?

"One with a past. One who would wish to hide away from prying eyes. A woman filled with guilt, maybe. Not so much for the things she did, but possibly for the things she didn’t do."

And what would these things be that would gain the attention of a Captain in the American Army?

Captain Taylor toyed with his hat for a moment before tossing it down onto the large wooden desk between them. Look, I’m not the enemy of this woman. I met her. Once. And I know what she did, what she was involved in. I lost her soon after. Now I think I know where she is and I won’t give up until I’m proved wrong.

You sound very determined. Why?

Taylor leaned forward and hesitated. It was a direct question and there was no point in avoiding it. I love her.

Ahh! Sister Marie-Thérèse smiled knowingly. "Love is a powerful lure, a powerful emotion. All of us within this house feel love for Our Lord as we do for our fellow man and woman. But The Lord comes first. If you are right and this woman you seek is here, is she not already lost to you?"

Captain Taylor nodded. Yes, but in a way she was never mine in the first place. You see, I know her, but she doesn’t know me.

The expression on Sister Marie-Thérèse’s face told Captain Taylor exactly what she was thinking and he quickly rushed on.

I know! I know! I am a foolish man who should know better! But this is no ordinary woman! And I met her under unusual circumstances! He calmed himself and went on more slowly. Sister, I have to find her, even if it is to leave her again. I just need to know that she is alive and well. If she is here, I must see her. I must speak with her.

Sister Marie-Thérèse stared at him for a moment. Here was an unusual man, an officer in the American Army, a man far from home searching for a woman in a Convent while most of his countrymen had already returned to that distant home.

The war, she began, has caused much suffering and damage. But it is over now. And France is slowly turning from anger and vengeance back to love, wine and food. For the French it is always those three and in that order. I am French and I understand these things. Do you have a family, Captain?

Yes. Parents and a sister.

Do you have a wife? Children?

No.

Is this what you seek here, from this missing woman?

No, not really. I don’t think so anyway.

Then what do you seek?

Peace. Peace of mind.

She paused to stare at him again. Peace. She sighed. Tell me about this woman, and I will tell you if she is here.

Germany 1943

The stench was worse today. Even the dogs had noticed it. They barked incessantly and ran towards the valley on the far side of the hill where it was strongest.

The Countess Helga Burbeck tossed back her long blonde hair and gave chase, calling to her dogs in irritation.

Tirpitz! Bismarck! Heel! Come back here!

She should have known better than to let them off their leads this close to the valley. But she had forgotten that damned camp for just an instant. She pulled her coat about her and ran through the trees at the top of the hill and down the other side into the valley, the dogs barking away in the distance before her. The wind blew her hair back in her face as she ran, and she didn’t see the man until it was too late. She ran into him, the dog-leads knocked from her hand.

The smell of leather broke through the stench as Helga found herself embraced in strong arms. The man was wearing a long and black leather coat, leather boots and a peaked cap. He was quite tall. The man released her, bowed and kissed her hand, clicking his heels at the same time.

Obersturmführer Meyer, at your service. I am sorry to startle you, Countess, but you know this area is off-limits. I must ask you to return to your estate at once.

I was searching for my dogs! Helga countered. She bent to pick up the dropped dog-leads and held them out to him. The smell attracts them! And now they’ve both ran off towards that camp of yours!

My men will retrieve your dogs, Countess, do not worry.

Even as he spoke, Helga saw men with long coats and helmets walking back up the hill towards them. They all carried machine-guns slung over their shoulders. And they all wore the same SS uniforms as Meyer. Two of them were leading Tirpitz and Bismarck by their collars.

Meyer took off his gloves and stuffed them in his pocket. He stood before Helga with his hands clasped before him as they waited for the soldiers to reach them with the two dogs. As they stood close together Meyer noticed a more pleasant scent in the air and realised it must have been the Countess’s perfume. It was the scent of a flower, yes, that was it, camellias.

How is General Burbeck? Meyer asked in conversational tones.

My father is well, Helga replied with slightly more forced politeness in her voice.

Do you get to see him often?

Not as often as I would like. Life in the Wehrmacht is harsh, Obersturmführer, as I am sure you know.

It was a dig at his position in the SS, and he responded with a smile.

My duties do have some advantages, Countess. He looked around. Being at home, yes, it is good. But I also yearn for the glories of victory at the front. Hopefully your father will be home soon.

Helga went back on the offensive. And when he does I hope that infernal smell will be gone. I have complained to Standartenführer Von Osler on numerous occasions but it only gets worse. It’s intolerable!

The people in the camp need the heating. It is winter, Countess, would you wish them to freeze?

Helga looked down at the wooden buildings surrounded by fences and barbed wire. On the railway track she could see another train had arrived. Trains seemed to come almost everyday. Soldiers still fussed around the ramshackle railway trucks, but all the people had already gone. She wondered how they fitted them all inside. There were few real buildings in the camp, and those that there were looked harsh and foreboding. They were made of grey concrete, like bunkers.

No, she said after a pause.

Of course not, that would be unforgivable.

The soldiers had returned with the two dogs and Meyer bent to pat and stroke Bismarck as he spoke.

Now I suggest that you exercise these fine dogs of yours on the other side of your estate from now on.

Helga put both dogs on their leads. My dogs like this side of the estate. They are used to it.

None-the-less, it would be wiser to go elsewhere. And the smell would be better.

Helga stood at her full height, which was considerably less than his, and spoke with nobility. I will consider it. Thank you for your help, Obersturmführer Meyer.

She held out her hand to him and he bowed to kiss it as before, his heels clicking. She bowed in return and then turned and walked away. Meyer watched her walk back through the trees with her two dogs in tow. All his men watched her too. One of them came to stand next to him.

A fine woman, Obersturmführer, he said as she finally disappeared through the trees.

Yes, Schneider, a fine woman indeed. Meyer turned away and retrieved his gloves from his pocket, quickly slipping them back on. His expression instantly grew harsh. It was as if the donning of the gloves shrouded his conscience and drove away his gentility. He drew the Luger pistol from his belt and spoke with anger. Now, Scharführer, organise your men! I want those animals found! They have already caused us enough trouble!

Scharführer Schneider clicked his heels. Immediately, Sir! He turned and shouted at the men who instantly jumped into action.

Meyer watched them resume their search. It had been fortunate that they had intercepted the Countess before she had gone too far. She had already complained many times about the smell, and if she found out what really went on in the camp her complaints would have reached Berlin. Her father was a powerful figure. Some would say too powerful. They would have to use more lime.

Helga pulled on the leads. She was walking along the side of the hill back towards her house. It was at the centre of