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The Colonel’s Wife

This is another of my early fiction pieces, penned in the early ’90’s, shortly after I left the service. At a time when I thought I wanted to write for a living. Robin & I were living in an apartment on South Massey Street in Watertown, when we were first married.

I think the military influence on my early writing is clear. As is my effort to find my identity as a writer at the time. I have re-posted “We’re All Heroes Now” and “The Ice Palace” directly beneath “The Colonel’s Wife” on my blog. All three were written at about the same time.

A “Retrospective Trio” of my early fiction pieces. I hope you find them interesting and enjoyable.


“The Colonel’s Wife”

     “Surely you jest, my dear,” The Colonel’s Wife remarked as she sat across the parlor from her husband, leafing through one of the latest fashion magazines as he related his intention to give one of his lieutenants command of a company in the regiment.

     The silver haired gentleman paused to relight his pipe.  He often sat thus in the evening, resting in his favorite easy chair, the newspaper spread across his lap, smoking his pipe and chatting casually with his wife.

     “She is a good woman,” he thought, glancing over the top of his bifocals at the lady with whom he’d spent so many years.  “A bit robust, perhaps, but still pleasant to look at and really quite charming,” he mused quietly to himself.

     He returned his attention to the newspaper, scanning the headlines as his mind wandered back over the years of their marriage.  He remembered the day their first child was born.  He, a young lieutenant of infantry, a dashing figure in his pressed khaki uniform, strutting like a peacock when the nurse handed him the infant all wrapped up in a soft blue blanket he’d purchased especially for the occasion.

     “By Jove, what a fine little man!” He’d exclaimed, parading the child with all the pomp and circumstance a young officer could muster.

     He’d named the boy after himself, as fathers often do.  The next few weeks had been the happiest of his life.  He’d had such plans for teaching his son all the things a boy should know.  He’d entertained the infant every day after dinner, later dreaming away the hours as the child slept peacefully in his mother’s arms.

     The Colonel sighed.  Only a few weeks later the war had broken out, and he’d been called away.  He had reluctantly left his wife and child, vowing to return as quickly as possible.  He’d carried photos of his wife and the boy  in his breast pocket as he rode into battle each day.

     “This is my son,” he would say with pride as he showed the photo to his sergeant during a lull in the fight.

     “And this is his mother,” he would add, displaying a photo of a young woman with wavy blonde hair.

 “When this war is over we’ll have loads of adventures.  I’ll teach him to hunt, fish, and shoot a rifle like nobody’s business.  Ah, what a time it will be then, if only this confounded atrocity would end!”

     The Sergeant would nod his head in agreement, for he too had children at home, three young lads who missed their father.

     The Colonel returned to the present, responding to his wife’s reaction to his plan.

     “Well my dear, I simply don’t understand why you are so surprised.  This lad has such fine credentials.  He is really quite a levelheaded fellow, and all of the men respect him a great deal.  That is the most important thing, you know.”

     His wife lifted her head.  “That may be so, my love, but – well, it’s really none of my business anyway.”  She returned her attention to the latest fall jackets for a moment, to collect her thoughts.

     “It’s just that he’s such a strange sort, living all alone in that flat above the pub.  I just wonder what sort of life he must lead, what scandalous adventures he must have, what with the people who frequent that place.  They really are a wild lot, mind you.  Why just last week I read of a young girl who claims that a group of young hoodlums took all sorts of liberties with her, right there on the billiards table!  Really quite unacceptable, don’t you think?”

     The Colonel pondered a moment, rubbing his hand across his chin.  “I really must purchase a new razor,” he thought, running one finger along the cut he’d given himself that morning.

     His mind returned to the war, to a simple village near the front.  The fighting had continued for several months.  His unit had forged a bridgehead across a small river that had helped the enemy check their advance to that point.  The fighting had been heavy, with large numbers of casualties on both sides.  He’d watched several of his own men die, cut down by fragments from the ceaseless artillery.  Several of his fellow officers had also died bravely in the fight.  He’d been lucky to survive.

     They’d arrived in the village, rank with the smell of war.  The villagers had been evacuated to safer ground, all save a few, who were kept on to feed and care for the soldiers occupying the town.  When the river was finally breached, the enemy had withdrawn quickly.  The village itself had little strategic value, and once the river was crossed, its position on the low ground made it quite indefensible.

     There had been a tavern in the town, the colonel recalled, and he’d been temporarily in command in that sector.  Once all the shops and houses had been searched and declared empty, he had emplaced his defenses to his liking, and declared the tavern as his headquarters while he awaited reinforcements from across the river.

     They’d kept on the tavern keeper to help feed he and his men.  He was an old man, and spoke no English.  His large frame was stooped with age.  He eyed the soldiers with resigned suspicion as he laid out such simple victuals as remained on the premises.

     The Colonel remembered, after having eaten only field rations for nearly two weeks, how ravenously he and his men attacked the food that was offered.  Rotating through the tavern in small groups so as not to be surprised by the enemy, the soldiers had each left the table with the warm glow that only a full stomach and a tall glass of stout ale could bring.

     The Colonel turned the page of his newspaper, glancing over its top at his wife in the process.  She put down her magazine and went into the kitchen to make some tea.  His mind drifted back once again to the tavern.  He’d taken up position at a corner table, dutifully giving orders, ensuring that his subordinates did not overburden themselves with drink.

     Later that same evening, the Regimental Commander had arrived at the tavern.  The newly promoted colonel had recently taken command, and was pleased with the success his lieutenant had afforded him.  The Regimental Commander had surveyed the surroundings, and judging that there was nothing to be gained by pushing further that night, had decided to establish his regimental command there at the tavern.

     The Colonel leaned his head back in his chair, as his wife returned from the kitchen with her tea and returned to her magazine.  He remembered how he’d relaxed just a bit that night at the tavern, once his commander was there and he was no longer in charge.  He could still taste the sharp bitter sweet wetness of a tall glass of ale, and how,  as the liquid’s effects pulsed in his head, he’d soon felt drowsy enough for his first sleep in days.

     There had been several sleeping chambers on the second floor of the tavern.  These had been used by enemy officers, and were very well kept.  As there were several beds and plenty of room for the Regimental Commander and his staff, the young officer thought there would be no harm in claiming one of the beds for himself.

     The Colonel shifted uncomfortably in his chair as his wife sipped her tea.  He remembered the stifled scream he’d heard through a door on his left as he’d climbed the stairs to the second floor.  He could still see the chipped, peeling paint, and large brass knob, as he’d instinctively turned and opened the door to see what was amiss.

     He’d stepped into the room.  Several  of the Regimental Commander’s staff were crowded around a bed in the corner.  One of the officers had looked up and seen him.  As the officer, a Major, stepped menacingly towards him, without hesitation, he’d pulled his well oiled revolver from a holster under his left arm and pointed it at the Major’s forehead.

     “Take one more step and I’ll kill you,” he’d said, calmly, flatly, without thinking.  The other officers had turned, and upon seeing the young officer with a pistol in his hand, had quickly fled the scene.

The Colonel felt a small bead of sweat trickle down his temple, and a small lump rose in his throat.  “Why am I going back there?” He thought.  “It was so long ago, so far away, leave it where it rests, as a casualty of war.”  Hard as he tried, he couldn’t stop the flow of memories.

     The Major had slowly edged towards the door as he’d stared down the barrel of a revolver that day.  “Let it go, Lieutenant, we weren’t doing any harm.  It’s not like she hadn’t been doing the same thing with the enemy all this time.  Besides, how are you going to explain to the Regimental Commander that you’ve just shot a gaping hole through his Executive Officer’s head, eh?”

     The Colonel laid his newspaper on his lap, peering at his wife to somehow reassure himself that she did not have a window into his thoughts.  She was engrossed in her magazine, a small sliver of steam rising from the teacup she held in her hand.

     He remembered hearing a soft whimper, and turning his attention to a young girl, no more than fifteen, sitting on the edge of the bed, sobbing quietly.  Distracted, he’d stepped towards her as the Major had taken the opportunity to bolt from the room.

     The girl’s dress had been in tatters.  He remembered how she had held it’s remains modestly against her body with one arm, while she tried to wipe the tears from her eyes with the other.  Her light hair and soft blue eyes and reminded him of his wife, at home, alone with his son.  Overcome by some powerful emotion, he had moved towards the bed to comfort the girl.

     He remembered how she had pulled back at first, how she had shuddered as he gently dabbed at her tears with his sweat soiled kerchief.  She had spoken no English, but had slowly relaxed as the young officer had continued to comfort her.

     The Colonel shifted again, put his newspaper aside, and got up and began pacing.  His wife looked up at him.

      “What’s the matter dear,? Would you like some tea?”  She asked.

      “No, thank you dear, I’m just stretching these old legs.”  He smiled a forced smile at his wife as he tried to push the memories from his mind.

     Despite the girl’s efforts, her skirts no longer sufficed to cover her slender, creamy thighs.  Her shoulders were bare.  Her hair, disheveled as it was, fell delicately against her skin.

      The Colonel swallowed hard, remembering how he’d felt overcome with all of the emotions of war, his loneliness, and his compassion for this helpless young woman caught up so completely in it all.  He remembered her scent as he embraced her, holding her supple young body close against his sweat stained uniform.  He remembered how the blood had surged through his body – unintentionally but uncontrollably aroused.

     The Colonel gave a short cough as he returned to his chair, recalling the resigned look on the girl’s face as she’d recognized his intent, and, seeing no recourse, had yielded to his demands, allowing herself to once again become the booty of war.

     His wife’s voice shattered the image in his mind.  “You’ve been daydreaming again, my dear.  You haven’t heard a word I’ve said.”

     “Hmm?  – Oh, yes, quite right, I’m sorry dear, what were you saying?”  The Colonel said as he re-lit his pipe.

     His wife put her magazine aside and continued, “About that lieutenant, I mean.  No telling what scandals an unmarried young officer might engage in.  A commander has responsibilities, and marriage does mature one so.”

     “Well said, my love.  I must certainly take the matter under further consideration.  As always, you give me wise counsel from the perspective of a Commanding Officer’s wife.”

     “ Well dear,” his wife said, as she finished her tea, “It’s not for nothing that we’ve been together these past twenty seven years.  I take my role as the Colonel’s Wife seriously.  I wouldn’t want just any young hooligan taking charge of one of our companies.  If only all of these young officers today could be more like you.”

     “Yes, My Dear,” he said, sitting back in his recliner and puffing small rings of smoke from his pipe.

     “If only they could.”  


Until Our Trails Cross Again: