Unfortunately Blogger doesn't enable me to set out my chapter in the correct format, but here is what happens immediately after Kommandant Steiner takes a step backwards while attempting to assault Arlette and falls down the stone staircase of her house.
Arlette couldn’t move Kommandant Steiner by herself but she knew that he would eventually be missed at German headquarters. She strode back and forth in despair, waiting until Grandma Blaise returned from Saint Pierre’s. She shouldn't be long now. It was nearly curfew.
A few minutes later, she lit the lamp on hearing the trap and stepped outside into the yard. Her fear of attracting the attention of a passing German patrol had prevented her from doing so until now.
‘Woah, girl,’ said Grandma Blaise.
Their horse, Mimi, shook her thick neck and whinnied as she came to a standstill.
‘Thank you for coming out with the lamp, my dear. It’s getting dark, isn’t it? I’m sure I can smell snow in the air. It’s definitely cold enough for it.’
Arlette held up the lamp so her grandmother could climb down safely.
‘What’s the matter? Have you been crying?’
‘Something terrible has happened.’
‘You’re shaking. Is Estelle alright?’
Arlette began to cry. ‘He came and tried to…he tried to…’
‘Come inside.’ Grandma Blaise held Arlette’s elbow and guided her granddaughter across the yard. They stepped inside the kitchen. Shutting the door, the old lady took the lamp from Arlette’s trembling hands. ‘What’s happened? Who’s been here?’
‘Oh grandma, he’s dead. I don’t know what to do. They’re going to hang me in the square.’
Grandma Blaise set the lamp to one side and grasped Arlette firmly by her upper arms. She urged her to calm down. ‘Now explain slowly what has happened.’
Despite hyperventilating, Arlette managed to tell her what had happened. ‘But he fell, grandma. I swear I didn’t push him.’
‘By the sound of things I shouldn’t think anyone would blame you if you had. Stay here for a moment. I’ll take the lamp and check if he’s just unconscious.’ After a few minutes the old lady returned. ‘He’s dead. We don’t have long. By the morning there’ll be a search party looking for him.’
‘He’s too heavy. What shall we do?’
‘I want you to take the lamp and carefully dig up the winter kale.’
‘Do as I say. Protect the roots and don’t damage the leaves because we’re going to replant them.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Just do as I say and do it quickly.’
Outside, the strengthening wind bit her skin. She grasped the winter kale by its stalks and pulled both the leaves and root balls from the vegetable plot. The absurdity of the present moment struck Arlette as she stacked bunches of kale in the darkness. The weak glow of the lamp seemed to transform their curly green leaves into hideous black blossoms.
Arlette continued to dig. Nausea overwhelmed her, making her throat sting with stomach acid. She heaved into the soil, spitting bitter bile into a hole where she’d dug up the vegetables. They would kill her. They wouldn’t believe her story. What would happen to Estelle? She wiped hot tears from her cold cheeks with the back of her hand. The earth smelt sweet and acrid, like a forgotten jar of perfume. Grey flakes floated around the lamp. It had started to snow.
Klara wagged her tail and sniffed around the fresh holes before squatting to leave her scent. Arlette shooed her away and when she’d dug up the kale, stood up and went to find her grandmother. Inside the kitchen, she found her unravelling a large skein of string.
‘I’ve done it. What are you doing?’ asked Arlette.
‘By using this thick twine and Mimi’s strength, we’ll be able to move the body.’
Arlette recognised the ball of string as the one that had brought the breech calf into the world when she’d first met Saul. Now, instead of helping bring life into the world it was helping to drag a dead body. She followed her grandmother through the sitting room and into the hall where Kommandant Steiner lay in a fetid state, dark blood coagulating around a head wound. A shadow of liquid circled his underwear where his bladder had emptied after he’d fallen. His trousers still lay crumpled around his knees revealing his pale twisted thighs.
‘We must be quick. His body hasn’t stiffened yet but it won’t be long. Here, your fingers are younger than mine. Tie this around his ankles.’
Arlette looked horrified and didn’t move.
‘Come along. He can’t hurt you now. Think of Estelle.’
Arlette took the twine and edged closer to the Kommandant’s body. Her fingers shook. She tied it around his ankles and secured it with a knot.
‘Tie it tightly,’ said Grandma Blaise.
Arlette stood up. ‘I’ve done it.’
‘Right, now listen. I’m going to fetch Mimi and bring her round to the front door so she can drag the body to the vegetable garden. I want you to take a shovel from the front of the barn and dig a hole where the kale was growing. A big hole. Do you understand?’
‘Take the lamp with you because I need to move the body in darkness. Be as quick and quiet as you can.’
Arlette hurried back outside. Snowflakes melted on her face. She retrieved a shovel and returned to the vegetable garden. She began to dig, thankful that the well-tended soil wasn’t too hard to cut into with the blade of the spade. Klara began to dig too, nose down and paws scraping soil behind her. The irony of the situation didn’t escape her. She remembered that the Kommandant had sanctioned the return of their horse at her own request. Due to that decision, they now had a way of disposing of his body.
After ten minutes of digging and with sweat sticking her undergarments to her clammy back, Arlette heard a noise. She stopped shovelling and listened. There was a hushing sound. Something was scraping. She strained her ears in the darkness to hear above the gusting wind. Klara growled deep inside her throat. The noise grew louder. Then Mimi’s outline lumbered around the corner of the house. Her hooves were clomping on the gravel as she dragged the Kommadant’s body behind her.
She heard her grandmother order the horse to stop. Grandma Blaise appeared beside her and they both continued to dig. After twenty minutes, they stopped.
‘We’re going to have to drag him ourselves now. You can do this, Arlette. Think of Saul and Estelle. We need to do this to survive. Are you listening to me?’
‘Good girl. Come and help me then.’
They walked around Mimi’s huge frame and looked down at the Kommandant’s body lying outstretched on the ground. His legs were raised because the twine tied to his ankles had been attached to a strap across the mare’s flanks. His arms had splayed out behind his body, raised above his head as if in surrender.
‘I’ll cut the string,’ said Grandma Blaise, ‘and you lead Mimi out the way.’
The body was released and the mare was led inside the barn. They began to drag the German’s dead weight towards the vegetable plot. Arlette grasped at his shirt. It ripped under the pressure.
‘His arm. Grab his arm,’ said the old lady. ‘I’ll grab the other one.’
Arlette shuddered and reached for the Kommandant’s wrist. It felt like cold wax but she grasped it and pulled. He didn’t move until her grandmother told her to pull at the same time as she did.
‘One, two, pull. One, two, pull.’
Slowly the body inched closer to the hole but Klara began to yap loudly. She growled and barked, snapping at the body’s clothing. She snarled, pulling at the material with her teeth.
‘She’ll disturb everyone in the manor. Put her in the kitchen,’ said Grandma Blaise.
With Klara inside the farmhouse and her barking muffled by the thick walls, they continued to drag the corpse until they reached the vegetable garden. They leant the Kommandant against the low wall. The wind abated for a few seconds and a low groan emanated from his body.
Arlette let out a shriek and took several steps back. ‘He’s alive. My God. He’s alive.’
Grandma Blaise put her finger to her lips. ‘Shhhh! He’s not. Calm down. He’s not. We’ve just dislodged some air in his body. It’s normal for dead bodies to make sounds when they’re disturbed.’
‘Are you sure? Are you sure? I don’t like it.’
‘Arlette! Calm down.’ Grandma Blaise was beside her now. ‘Stop making a noise. Do you want an entire manor of Germans to come and find out what all the noise is about? He’s dead. He can’t hurt you any more, but those men over there certainly can, so come along.’
Breathing through her open mouth, Arlette helped her grandmother drag the body over the low wall of the vegetable garden and lay it beside the hole.
‘We haven’t made it long enough,’ said Arlette.
‘It’ll do. It’s deep,’ answered her grandmother. ‘We’ll have to fold the body into it.’
Together they pushed his upper body into the void head first, leaving his legs lying flat on the soil. By pulling and pushing in turn, they folded his legs into the hole and stood up gasping for breath. Snowflakes danced and swirled on top of his crumpled uniform.
‘We can’t stop yet,’ said Grandma Blaise. ‘We’ve got to fill it in now.’
‘He took off his gun and belt off upstairs.’
‘Fetch them. Be quick.’
Arlette ran inside and through the kitchen. She skirted the congealed pool of blood and hurried upstairs. Once she’d picked up his belongings she sidled downstairs, carefully cradling the cold heavy gun in her palms. She feared that a sudden movement might make it fire. Back outside, she threw them in to the hole and the women began to dig the soil back over the body. When half the soil had been evenly spread over his body they replanted the kale on top of the makeshift grave.
‘What shall we do with the soil that’s left over?’ asked Arlette. ‘We need to move it.’
‘It needs distributing. Spread it everywhere. Like this.’
Grandma Blaise dug a spade into the remaining earth and walked to the back of the vegetable plot. She scattered it evenly. Arlette joined her until the pile eventually disappeared. Standing back, she held the lamp at shoulder height to view where they’d been. Small drifts of snow were already banking against one side of the kale stems, slowly hiding any evidence of disturbed earth.
‘We have some cleaning to do now and we need to get our story straight,' said Grandma Blaise. 'Neither of us have seen the Kommandant in several days, do you understand?’