Jacob cleared his throat, and started again.
“I watched him for several days after that, and he was always around. Then a week later, the same thing, only during the afternoon was when he disappeared. I noticed one of the guards had spoken to him quietly some hours earlier, so it seemed an arranged thing”.
Sally glared at him. “My Ben would never do anything underhanded” she said annoyed at such a slur on his name.
Jacob said, “Please hear me out, then judge for yourself.”
Ben’s trips out of the well-guarded camp went on more or less weekly all the while we were there. He never discussed them, and I think I was the only one who noticed his absences. Except for the day of the attempted escape. He was nowhere to be seen.
Two men escaped from a work-party at a nearby farm. Both were shot dead. I was nearby and received the leg wound that is still healing. When they rounded everyone up and counted, Ben was missing, but the guards just shrugged. Later that night when I was returned to the hut having been treated for the injury, he was back in his bed, asleep as though nothing had happened.
I had seen him talking to one of them earlier that day, so maybe he knew about the escape and went off to rat on them.”
Sally by now was shaking so hard from anger and shock she could hardly contain herself. Teddy had jumped to his feet and was standing over Jacob shouting,” You lie, Ben is not a tell-tale or a traitor.”
Mariah just sat still, almost unable to comprehend what he was saying. This did not seem at all like the young man she had welcomed into their home, first as a friend and then as the man her daughter would marry. Sally was a smart girl, one of the few bright enough to win a bursary for science at university, and to fight for the chance to get a better education, and the only girl to graduate. She had common sense as well, and would not have chosen her life-mate unwisely.
Jacob stared at him, “Sit down young man, you are obviously unaware of his true nature.”
Teddy sat down, his fists clenched.
“The day we were released from the camp, everything was rather disorganised. Some soldiers with trucks arrived; our own boys. First the medics checked out people who seemed ill or still injured. I was one of them. Ben just disappeared. No-one with any of the check-lists had his name on them. I asked several times.
So now I believe he may still be alive. But why he has remained in the enemy country I do not know, other than to receive his rewards for being a traitor.”
Sally looked at him steadily, but when she spoke her voice had a tremor. “Sir, why did you come here to tell us this?”
Jacob reached out and patted her hand. “We had exchanged information so that if either of us didn’t make it home, we could at least tell the families about our experiences. Tomorrow I go to see his parents to tell them, as that is on my way back to my home town.
What I didn’t tell you is that I had an official position in our intelligence services, and we recognise that Ben is a traitor. You have all been investigated. Ma’am your husband’s heroic death, your steadfast raising of your children, your achievements”, nodding to Sally, “your expressed desire to leave school and join the army to fight for your country”, nodding to Teddy, “all convinced my superiors that we could trust you with this dreadful secret.
What your country needs from you is your assurance that you will contact me should you hear anything at all from him.”
Jacob handed them a hand-written paper, with his name and a phone number. “Any time day or night, just contact me at this number should he contact you.”
Jacob rose to go. At the door he said, “and of course I don’t have to tell you this is an official secret, do not discuss it with anyone at all.”
The goodbyes were brief.
The family returned to the sitting room, Sally sat stony faced, Maria wondered briefly about the kettle and some tea, Teddy stood at the window, watching the man get back in the car, wondering how he could have been so wrong about Ben.