Friends, this is it. After twenty chapters and 264,000 words, we reach the end of Volume One and the end of 1914.
Thank you for reading this as I write it. I'd very much appreciate any thoughts or feedback. In a day or two I'll post a google form with a few specific question on things I'd like to know as I prepare to revise this volume to submit it for publication. I'll also post a bit of teaser information about Volume 2.
But for now, thank you. I hope that you've enjoyed it.
Chateau Ducloux, France. December 30st, 1914. Christmas had passed in Chateau Ducloux, and that was as much good as could be said of that holiday spent under occupation. Food had been short. Fuel had been short. The occupying troops had staged a massive celebration, the more galling because the barrels of wine they tapped had come from the cellars of the town’s citizens and the geese they roasted had come from their farmyards. There were five more days until the feast of the three kings, and in search of a way to lift spirits, Grandpere had sent enquiries as far as Sedan and Charleville to see if in return for the various streams of black market produce now making their way from the farms around Chateau Ducloux into the cities, he could acquire enough candy for town’s children to celebrate Epiphany as they had in the past. Sugar, however, was very dear. The local candy factories had shut down, and imports were not arriving because of the British blockade.
There was one obvious solution to this, a dangerous one. For several days he had hesitated. Then he had asked the contacts that he normally avoided. The network which Grandpere and Andre Guyot ran, using Andre’s position as postmaster to pick up food which the farmers had hidden from German inventories and requisitions, storing the goods in the back room of the Mertens shop, and selling the goods to townspeople as well as middlemen who carted the foods into the nearby cities where fresh produce was even more dear, was the most common sort of black market activity, and in one sense the least dangerous. It was nearly impossible for the civilians to get by without occasionally buying food that had been hidden from German requisition, and even for the occupying soldiers it was useful to know where to buy butter or eggs or bacon that wasn’t under the control of the supply sergeants. But there was another black market, one which touched the common one at points but which dealt in stolen goods, petrol, weapons, military information, and people. Some its sellers became very rich. Others were shot.
Grandpere’s contact had given him the name of a German supply sergeant in a nearby village who was willing to sell provisions.
“Candy?” The sergeant had laughed in his face. “My friend, it’s a week after Christmas. I’ve already sold all the candy I could get my hands on.” He sniffed at the cigar that Grandpere had given him as an introductory offering, then lit it. “I tell you what I could do, though. White flour. And white sugar. How long since you’ve seen that in your village shop? It’s not candy, but get some good woman to make it up for you and the children can all have cookies for Epiphany. How’s that?”
White flour. For the last two months there had been nothing but brown flour to be had in the village, and even that was often stretched with feed grains, sometimes even with dried potatoes. As for sugar, the best that could be had was a dark syrup made by boiling down sugar beets hidden from the German harvest collection.
The supply sergeant stepped away and returned with a ten kilogram bag of flour, the fabric printed in German and stamped “Army Use Only”. Next to it he set down two paper wrapped blocks labeled “Pure Cane Sugar, 1kg”.
“How much?” Grandpere asked.
The sum was high, and the sergeant would accept gold coin only. It was an amount Grandpere had, however, and since the money came from the profits of his black market sales, it was in some sense town money. They were honest, modest profits, payment for the time and danger incurred. Yet if he gained from the war while so many lost, surely it was right to use some of these to buy the town’s children something they would not otherwise get.
He laid the coins out on the table.
“Now remember, if you’re caught, I’ll tell anyone who comes asking me about these supplies that you stole them,” the sergeant said as he pocketed the money.