To avoid just staring at Christian and Gabrielle while they flirted with each other, Ernst started looking at the things in the shop. It was a typical little French luxury shop, full of the kind of things you couldn’t buy in the Reich. Ernst had been in a lot of them by now, but he still found himself attracted by all the pretty, useless things they sold. It was precisely because everything they had was so frivolous and unnecessary that he liked them. At home everything was – well – practical.
The prices were quite fancy too, Ernst noted, but without particular indignation. There was nothing here that he could send home to anyone he knew. His mother would be outraged by such “flighty” things, and his sisters wouldn’t know what to do with them. He sighed as his eyes caressed the silk scarves neatly laid out in squares, over-lapping so just a couple inches of the leading edge of each was visible. So many bright colours and different patterns: blue fleur-de-lis on white, or golden anchors on blue, silver gryphons on red, even brown horses on green.
Klaudia had said last night that she loved horses. She’d had a pony of her own when she was little, but her father had taken it away from her as punishment for some childish misdemeanour. Christian had said he knew a place where they could rent horses, but Klaudia had at once declined, saying she couldn’t really ride. She said she loved horses, though….
Suddenly Ernst was certain she would love this scarf. It was a rich, shiny green and it had what looked like lots of horses in different poses on it. Of course, he couldn’t see very much of it, because it was folded up and covered by the other scarves in the row. Ernst looked over at Gabrielle, but she was chattering away with Christian, waving the smoking cigarette he had given her in expressive, Gallic gestures.
Ernst redirected his attention to the scarves, trying to read the price. Were they all 180 F? His mother would have a fit if she learned he’d spent that kind of money on a silly scarf! But what was his money for? He was getting fed more than well enough, as his ungainly figure testified. His bed was free. He’d bought new uniforms and boots just before coming out to France. True, his Mess bills were not exactly modest, but it wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford the scarf. Besides, what was the value of a gift that was cheap? This scarf was so pretty it was obviously expensive.
Gabrielle called something over to him, and guiltily Ernst stepped backwards, clasping his hands behind his back.
“She just asked if you wanted to look at something from the counter,” Christian explained.
“Well, yes, but there’s no rush, really. I mean…”
Christian and Gabrielle sauntered over. “Which scarf did you want to see, Ernst?”
Ernst explained and Christian translated. Gabrielle pinched it by one corner and deftly opened it before him with a single, elegant flick of her wrist. It was exactly what Ernst wanted. A mare lovingly nuzzled her bright-eyed foal in the centre and various other horses frolicked around the edge. He purchased it at once and asked for it to be gift-wrapped. Gabrielle did this, with obviously flirtatious remarks to Christian in French that had him laughing. Ernst supposed they were laughing at his expense, but he didn’t care. Holding his treasure proudly but carefully (as if it could break), he went back out to the open staff car to await Christian. They had to be back at the base in another hour, and there was no point in inhibiting Christian any longer.
But no sooner had Ernst settled down to wait for Christian, then he started thinking about how to deliver his present to Klaudia. He couldn’t just stroll up to her in the CC and hand it to her. Everyone would see – and if she turned it down, everyone would laugh. If she didn’t want his attentions, she would certainly turn it down. And, of course, she didn’t want his attentions. Ernst knew he wasn’t good enough for her. Never. He was just a plumber’s son, and a fat one at that. A pretty, aristocratic girl like Klaudia didn’t want him courting her!
He stared at the package in his hands with the pretty wrapping paper and a bright ribbon around the beautiful scarf, and he felt rising despair. He so wanted to give it to Klaudia. To see her delight when she discovered the mare and foal – but he couldn’t. He couldn’t possibly give it to her in any public place without risking the rebuff he deserved, and if he tried to give it to her in secret – No, it was impossible. Suddenly the scarf seemed to weigh a ton as he held it in his lap.
They were already turning into the base, past the saluting sentry, when Ernst finally found the courage to ask. “Christian? Would you give this scarf to Fräulein von Richthofen?”
“Why should I?” Christian asked back, adding firmly, “Give it to her yourself.”
“But she doesn’t want me courting her, Christian,” Ernst explained miserably.
“I certainly don’t want to court her!” Christian countered.
“I know, but you could say it was from someone else, from a friend, an admirer?”
Christian turned into the motor pool, stopped the car, switched off the engine and pulled on the hand brake. Then he turned in the seat and looked straight at Ernst. “She’s not stupid, Ernst. She’d know exactly who it was from – and she’d think less of you for being too cowardly to give it to her yourself.” This said, Christian flung open the door and climbed out of the staff car.
Ernst followed him towards the mess, trying to find some argument that would bring him around. He found none. As they started up the steps, Ernst caught Christian’s arm. Christian turned back expectantly.
“Please.” Ernst looked up at him, begging him silently with his eyes.
Christian frowned. “No!” He turned his back on Ernst definitively, and bounded up the steps to disappear into the mess. He left Ernst standing in the dark with his precious – useless – gift.
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