I do not own any of the characters from the series Hogan's Heroes. However, I claim ownership of any original characters appearing in this story.
It had seemed as if winter would never end, but spring had sprung at last, and the inmates of Stalag 13 were making the most of the sunshine, punctuated as it was by sudden cloudbursts.
The English prisoners, and their fellow citizens of the empire on which (according to rumour) the sun never set, had even tried to get a cricket match going, filling in gaps in the teams with whoever they could draft in, no matter what nationality. But some of the players had trouble grasping the rules, and it took so long to convince Zilinsky that "leg before wicket" meant he was out, that they only completed three overs - whatever that meant - before rain stopped play.
The showers had cleared by late afternoon, and a watery golden sunset glow welcomed the return of Kommandant Klink from a meeting in Hammelburg.
Colonel Hogan, leaning against the wall of Barracks 2 with a couple of his men, watched as the staff car pulled up at the steps of the Kommandant's office. Sergeant Schultz, being nearest to hand, hurried to open the car door for the Kommandant, and to his surprise was presented with a bunch of flowers.
A suppressed sniggering could be heard coming from the vicinity of Corporals Newkirk and LeBeau.
Schultz remained still, gazing at the bouquet as if he thought it was about to grow teeth and bite him, while the Kommandant alighted, and handed Schultz his briefcase. "Take them to my quarters," he commanded. Then, as the sergeant continued to stand as if mesmerised: "Now, Schultz."
"Nice flowers, Kommandant," observed Hogan, strolling up to them. "Are they a present from General Burkhalter? I didn't know he cared that much."
"Thank you, Hogan," replied Klink. He was trying for irony, but missed the mark. In spite of his best efforts, he could not help looking pleased with himself. "Schultz, go."
"Not from the General? Oh, sir - you've been seeing someone behind his back. I'm shocked."
"It's nothing like that at all, Hogan. And it's none of your business."
"Oh, go on, sir. Spill the beans," said Hogan. "You know you want to."
Klink glanced around, and lowered his voice confidentially. "They came from a young lady, in Hammelburg," he whispered, half embarrassed and half bursting with pride.
Hogan's eyes widened. "You have a young lady friend in Hammelburg?"
"No, Hogan. I've never seen her before. She just gave them to me in the street," Klink replied, beaming.
"Well, you old charmer," drawled Hogan. "It must be the military bearing. I'm sure I'd find it irresistible, if I were a girl."
Klink appeared unsure whether to take the remark as a compliment or not. He decided to accept it on face value. "Thank you, Hogan," he said. Then he turned, and sauntered into his office.
Hogan went back to the barracks, and leaned against the wall. LeBeau and Newkirk were still loitering, like a pair of schoolboys.
"Where'd you get the flowers?" asked Hogan, after a while.
The pair looked at each other.
"It's spring," said LeBeau at last. "The woods are full of them."
"And the girl?"
"Brigitta," replied Newkirk. "Friend of mine."
"She will do anything for him," added LeBeau.
"Yeah, I know," sighed Hogan. "They all will." He made a mental note to have a few words with Newkirk, some time soon; this constant attention to the local females was going to get him into trouble one of these days. "And whose idea was it?"
Each of them waited for the other to speak. Finally, Newkirk murmured, "Well, it was just a bit of fun, sir. It's been a long winter, you know."
So it was Newkirk's idea. Of course it was.
"Okay, it was funny," said Hogan, at last. "But don't do it again."
The Kommandant frequently found his evenings dull. He ate dinner, alone; took a glass of cognac and a cigar, alone; read any correspondence or newspapers, alone. Sometimes he was tempted to ask Colonel Hogan to join him, but there were issues of protocol, not to speak of discipline.
One could always read, of course, but Klink was not a great reader, and the German classics, which every good German officer was expected to have read, always seemed so - well, so German. And as for Mein Kampf, one didn't admit it, not ever, not even to oneself, but Klink had never actually got past page seven.
Sheer boredom drove him this evening to pick up Das Schwäbische Mädchen. When the story palled, which didn't take very long, he fell to gazing at the flowers. Schultz had put them into a large crystal jug, and set them in the middle of the dining table. The result was quite decorative; apparently Schultz had unexpected skills in flower arranging. But, being wildflowers, they didn't take kindly to being stuffed into a jug. The sturdiest ones were putting up with it, but some of the more delicate blooms were wilting.
Most of them were quite common, and familiar even to a man whose acquaintance with flora was fairly restricted. One of them caught his eye, a small bell-shaped flower, pale yellow in colour, on a narrow, drooping stem. He picked it up to look more closely; he had no idea what it was called, but he thought he had seen it before, long ago...
"Oh, Willi, don't be such a girl," said Marie.
He had not thought of Marie for years.
After lunch on their first day at the little mountain resort town, Mamma sent Willi off to play with the other children who were staying at the Hotel Excelsior, while she rested after the long train journey.
The other children took advantage of the opportunity, and pushed Willi into the shallow end of the duck pond in the park.
On account of that, Frau Klink decided the other children were not suitable playmates, and told Willi not to have anything more to do with them.
Willi had been ill recently; very ill indeed. Perhaps not as seriously as he liked to imagine - Willi could turn a sniffle into a case of bubonic plague - but certainly unwell enough to make the usual family holiday to the Baltic coast inadvisable.
"It's perhaps a little too bracing for a convalescent, so early in the season," the doctor had said.
Mamma was a trifle put out. She'd already bought her new bathing outfit, and thought Willi might have had a bit more consideration. Not that he had caught diphtheria on purpose, of course; it was just Willi's usual bad luck.
"But he needs a change of air," she had replied plaintively. Meaning, of course, that she needed one herself, never mind about Willi.
"Then take him to the mountains," was the doctor's reply.
So here they were, Frau Klink and her son, at the pretty little village of Rosenthal, while Father (nobody ever dared call him Pappa) and Wolfgang had gone to the coast, as planned.
And it was simply awful, or so Willi thought. There was nothing for him to do, except to skulk about, avoiding the juvenile gangsters in case they decided in favour of the deep end of the pond next time.
All that changed on the third day.
The new arrival was a very elegant lady indeed, with a very elegant daughter in tow. She gave her name as "Madame Taufert", as if everyone would know who she was; and if anyone didn't, they were not going to admit it.
Willi was sitting at the bottom of the stairs, a good tactical position for a quick escape in case the boy with the striped jersey came into view. He stared at the lady, and then at the daughter, a fair-haired, delicately pretty child, a little younger than him. She was looking about with interest, and when she caught his eye, she gave him a slow, mischievous smile. And a wink. He was almost sure she winked.
Madame turned to follow the porter to her room, and her eye fell on Frau Klink, who had just returned from a brisk morning walk.
"Oh, my dear!" exclaimed Madame, her eyes lighting up. "Of all the delightful surprises! I had no idea I would find you here."
Frau Klink, brought up short, blinked in astonishment as she found herself enfolded in a fragrant embrace. "I beg pardon, meine Dame..." she began.
"Don't you remember? It's me - Adélie. Surely you can't have forgotten."
Desperately attempting to recover, Frau Klink managed a weak smile. "Of course I remember. We met at..."
Madame's face fell. "You don't remember. My dear, I am devastated. How can you have forgotten such an old friend?" She took Frau Klink's arm, and began to walk her towards the elevator. This contraption was only newly installed, and Frau Klink had so far refused to set foot in it, but under the compulsion of Madame's arm, she went along, frantically searching her memory.
The daughter followed dutifully, but she gave Willi another smile as she passed the stairs. And another wink; no doubt about it this time.
By lunchtime, Madame Taufert and Frau Klink were inseparable, and Marie had been approved as an acceptable playfellow. And Willi, for whom the highest level of adventure was taking off his scarf as soon as Mamma's back was turned, didn't know what had hit him. This dainty, sweet-faced little girl knew no fear whatsoever. Within two hours, she had walked, with her eyes closed, along the top of the high brick wall at the back of the hotel courtyard. Then she dared the boy in the striped jersey to do the same.
"Willi can do it," she informed him, in a cool, scornful voice. And she made Willi do it, to prove he could. After that, the boy in the jersey had to try, or lose face with the crowd. He fell off, hurt his knee and blubbered like a baby. From then on, Willi was one step up from the bottom of the pack. It was a new experience for him, and he'd never been happier.
They didn't spend all their time with the others, though. Early one morning, Willi was awakened from a deep sleep, to find Marie standing beside the bed, shaking him. "Time to get up," she said. "I want to go exploring."
"It's not even light yet," complained Willi, peering out of the window.
"That's the best time of day. Come on, Willi, I can't go on my own. It's not ladylike."
"Mamma won't let me," he protested feebly.
"She won't know. We can go out of the window. That's how I got in." She gave a wicked chuckle.
She would accept no refusal, and soon, after an undignified scramble down a rickety trellis, she and Willi were racing across the park, past the duck pond and into the fields beyond. First light was breaking from behind the cold white peaks, and a chill of morning dew lay over the ground.
Willi was not happy. "I'm not supposed to let my feet get wet," he grumbled petulantly.
"Oh, Willi, don't be such a girl," said Marie, with a giggle. "Come on, let's go to the woods and see what's there."
For an hour, in the clean bright light of morning, they roamed the edges of the forest, climbing over fences, scaring up birds from the undergrowth, throwing twigs into the stream to see how fast the water was running. There were early spring flowers in the border between the forest and the fields, frail little yellow blossoms which faded within minutes after they were picked. By unspoken agreement they left them alone.
Willi remembered every detail of that morning, long after he and Mamma had returned home, because it was the same day when everything came crashing down. He wasn't an observant child, but he could not fail to notice, when he came down to join Mamma in the Speisesaal for lunch, that she seemed upset. No, not just upset; Mamma was absolutely livid. She had received a letter from her husband, and she clutched it so tightly that the ink was coming off the page and leaving dark streaks on her fingers.
Whenever Mamma was in a temper, it was best not to say anything, so Willi didn't.
He brightened as Marie and her mother came in, anticipating that Madame would sit to lunch with Frau Klink, as she had most days. At least he would have Marie to talk to. But before Madame could approach, Mamma rose abruptly and went forward to meet her.
Willi couldn't hear the conversation, but he could see Mamma no longer considered Madame in the light of a bosom friend. In fact, she looked as if she hated her. She said a few short words, with a twist of the lips, and handed Madame the letter from her husband. Madame's face went scarlet as she read it. She looked up at Frau Klink, answered her briefly, then beckoned to Marie to follow, and left the dining room.
"You are not to speak to that girl again, Wilhelm," said Mamma coldly, as she returned to the table.
Madame and her daughter left Rosenthal by the evening train, and Mamma never mentioned them again. Willi never did find out what information had been disclosed in Father's letter; the holiday ended, he returned with Mamma to Leipzig, and Marie became nothing more than a memory, bright and vivid for some time, but gradually fading from sight, disappearing into the dim mental cabinet of things forgotten.
Until the sight of those little yellow flowers brought her back out into the light.
The Kommandant sighed, and laid his book aside. He was in no mood for literature tonight. For a moment, he hesitated; then he got up suddenly, and put on his coat and hat, but not his scarf, and went outside.
It was many years since his morning excursion with Marie. Now he felt like exploring again. He strode to the front gate, past the guards, and went into the fringes of the woods, to see what was there.
Note: Das Schwäbische Mädchen, by Lorenz Riemenschneider - this book does not exist. Neither does the author. This is probably just as well.