When German contemporary art gallery owner Anne Briest gets betrayed by her fiancé, she travels to the British Channel Islands to forget. Yet she finds anything but peace of mind. How are an art fraud, a fake cholera grave, a Russian passport, and a German poem with a weird dedication interconnected? Who is L’Ange Douce? And why is everybody acting in such a reserved way? Anne discovers a story of sacrifice and human passion that leads back to a part of WWII history known by few to this day.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.86(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Islands on Storm
By Susanne Bacon
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Susanne Bacon
All rights reserved.
Traveling educates, they say. It wasn't for this reason I ended up in the Channel Islands one exciting spring back when. Basically I ran away from Life. I had left my small gallery in a small town in Germany to an artist of small repute for the duration of my absence, and my fiancé to my former best girl-friend. Okay, it had happened in the reverse order. Thomas' sudden decision to prefer Gisela's motherly, adoring, home-making company over my rather exciting Bohemian way of life had roused me relentlessly from my Sleeping Beauty's dreams. To be truthful, at age thirty-five, with an hour-glass figure running towards plumpish, I was not exactly princess material. But Thomas, a well-engaged lawyer, was certainly not a prince either. While I ran full risk with opening nights and exhibitions, he counted off which consequences were lying in wait for me if I bungled my bets. While I was sleeping till noon on Sundays, he paced my studio, restless as a tiger. Because the ceiling above my bedroom was creaky (I've rented a really old house), there was no more thought of sleeping.
In short, Thomas was solid as a block, and what I had found to be so distinguished in the beginning, now turned out to be simply boring and unimaginative. No wonder he liked Gisela. When I found out he was meeting her behind my back and, therefore, had taken a rain-check on my latest opening night, I was terribly mad. After imbibing half a bottle of wine, I had started howling my head off. The next morning I woke with a hangover, deposited the now empty bottle into the wine cellar, and came to the decision that something had to change.
I had slipped my engagement ring into Gisela's and Thomas' mail box, packed my trunks and had driven to St. Malo, France. From there, I had taken the ferry to the Channel Island of Guernsey and booked myself into a small hotel in St. Peter Port. Via telephone, I took care of my gallery. I had to chuckle at the thought of Thomas' dumbfounded face, when the next day he probably entered the exhibition rooms with a bunch of roses and didn't find me, but an eccentric looking artist, my replacement for maybe a couple of months.
Of course, Thomas soon found out my address and wrote me a letter that was quite passionate for him. He would wait for my return longingly, and since our parting he knew what I meant to him. When I read the letter, I cried out with rage, crumpled the sheet, and asked the hotel reception to further me no more of his letters. Of course, now I had to think what to do with all the time I had on my hands. The gallery would have to wait for a while yet, and Thomas for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, I walked the island of Guernsey, and tried to imagine the island in different eras. Some austere monks near Ste. Apolline's during the Middle Ages, while so-called witches met at the island's dolmen tombs. Later on, noisy horse grooms in lackeys' uniforms abusing the chapel as a riding stable. The serious, powder-blackened faces of soldiers at the Martello towers defending Guernsey against the French. Nearby, on an 18th century estate, the diligent farmer's wife and her family with dazzled and scared faces watching the first steam threshing machine. The ship owner in Bordeaux, who on weekdays cursed the cliffs and the winds that seemed to conspire on ruining his sailing ships, but who on Sundays went to church in St. Sampson in his carriage to observe the holiday. Later, the hard sound of jackboots had been ever present on the cobbled stones of St. Peter Port, in the dugouts of Pleinmont, Les Landes and Torteval. So had the singing of German Wehrmacht soldiers in the narrow lanes of the island's capital.
During one rather aimless stroll, I discovered an ad for vacations on the small neighboring island of Herks. Why not just go off the beaten path and recover there from my unsuccessful love life?! I rented a cottage of the name "Les Silences," which sounded just perfect. My landlord would be the island doctor, Brian Slater, MD. He announced on the phone I would be picked up by Weighbridge Tower for my boat ride over. So, I packed my things and stood ready to be met in the harbor area of St. Peter Port on a late afternoon at the end of April.
* * *
"'xcuse me, Ma'am, you the passenger for Herks?" I was startled from my thoughts and turned around to face a young lad, hardly twenty, in sturdy oil gear with a chubby face and mussed-up dark hair.
"Yes," I replied.
"Jeremy Oats, Ma'am. The Captain sends me to pick you up," the boy introduced himself and shook my hand. Then he looked searchingly to my side. "No luggage?"
"Oh yes," I laughed. "I deposited it in one of those pubs over there. I thought it looked like rain."
"At La Mere de la Laine, I suppose?" Jeremy asked cautiously.
I shook my head. "At the Black Boar. I didn't want to drag the suitcases that far."
"A lady like you at the Black Boar, Ma'am?" he marveled. "Okay, I'll go just over and get your suitcases. You best stay here and wait." At that, he sauntered off towards the pub. I quickly lost sight of his mop in the bustle of the Northern Esplanade.
I glanced at the clock of Weighbridge Tower. Almost four. The crossing from St. Peter Port to Herks would take roughly one and a half hours. That meant, in about two hours I'd sit in the cottage I had rented for a month, all comfy with a cup of tea. And then, I'd have enough peace of mind to work on my future plans. No phone calls tearing me away from whatever I would be doing. No deflections such as opening nights, dinner invitations and dating for the movies. Simply silence. Herks. The name sounded like hiccups. The thought made me chuckle.
"Here you are, Ma'am!" Jeremy was back again and brought my luggage. I smiled my thanks at him. Whereas he dragged along my heavy trunks I merely carried a small nylon rucksack. In it, I had my notebook, my camera and my journal.
"The boat is over at the Queen Elizabeth Marina," Jeremy explained, a bit short of breath while leading me across the parking lot at St. Julian's pier. "The planks might still be slippery from the rain we had at noon. Will your shoes have enough grip?" Jeremy looked at my low-heels with doubt.
"They'll do fine," I reassured him at once. "They've still got a good profile. I even walked the coastal path in them." Jeremy looked even more incredulous. "Okay," I admitted, "it wasn't the whole of the coastal path. Just that part back at Pleinmont."
Jeremy raised his brows, then grinned. Apart from very few climbs, the coastal path in Pleinmont, the most western part of the island of Guernsey, is quite level. Somewhat of a promenade for the elderly. Low shoes had been up to it easily. But I'd also make it down the gangway to the marina in them without going headfirst into the water. For sure.
In the end, I rather slithered than walked the steep planks down to the boats. Poor Jeremy with my two suitcases heard my yelps of surprise behind him when I slipped, and my arms flailed wildly to regain my balance. But finally, we were safely down by the boat.
It was one of those typical multi-purpose boats to be seen so often in the Channel Islands: a comparatively plump cabin on a comparatively plump hull. No boat for showoff weekend cruises. But the boat to go out fishing in. The boat to carry freight. The boat to transport the sick to the neighbor island's hospital. The boat which has been in the family for one or two generations and which is carefully groomed. It was such a kind of boat we looked at. To be honest, I was disappointed. You could only make little of an impression being taken on board such a nutshell. Yet, her name was fascinating: "Gilliatt". I darkly remembered a mysterious protagonist in one of Victor Hugo's novels, a man of seemingly magical strength.
"Captain!" Jeremy hollered next to me. "We're here!" I watched the boat which seemed to be empty. Yet, it started swaying a bit, and from the depth of the hull a head appeared. Icy gray curls around a weather-beaten face and some grim brows with a few unruly, upstanding bristles.
"Then come aboard, lad!" he returned gruffly. "The tide won't wait for us." The man didn't seem to take any notice of me, because his face vanished again, at once. Jeremy nodded encouragingly at me: "He's a bit gruff, sometimes. But he doesn't mean it."
I smiled doubtfully and stayed silent. Jeremy dexterously climbed aboard taking part of my luggage along. Somewhat helpless, I remained on the planks and watched. The lad jumped to and fro, stowing away one suitcase after the other while I felt like a bump on the log. In the end, yet, Jeremy relented and urged me to get aboard.
"You manage alone, Ma'am?" he asked. "You might want to throw the rucksack over first." But I managed quite well, even though the "Gilliatt" seemed to drift off the planks all of a sudden, and I hung between the planks and the boat in silly splits. A strong hand gripped me then, and pulled me aboard.
"Town mice," the Captain grumbled. But it didn't sound all unfriendly. Jeremy winked at me.
"Anne Briest," I introduced myself to the Captain and offered him my hand. He took it somewhat embarrassed and scratched his head.
"Keith Morrison, Ma'am," he replied.
"Most people just call him Captain Keith," Jeremy threw in pertly and avoided a well-meaning poke by the elderly man by jumping back onto the float quickly and releasing the hawsers.
Captain Keith disappeared into the steering cabin. A short time later, the boat was shaken with vibration, and the motor began to put-put quite loudly. Jeremy sprang aboard, and then, we passed by all the gorgeous yachts in the marina.
"Half an hour later, and we'd be stuck," Jeremy remarked. "Then, the harbor mouth lies well above the water surface." I had seen that already to my own surprise. Of course, with tides changing by up to 38 feet a yacht falls dry easily.
I turned around and looked at the enchanting harbor idyll of St. Peter Port. The late afternoon sun dyed the hill with its red golden light and turned the towers into black silhouettes with glaring coronas. I sighed and propped my elbows onto the railing.
"Don't you feel well," Captain Keith asked me distrustfully. "If you're seasick already, something much more intense is waiting for you out there. We've got a stretch to go. And there's open water between Herm and Herks."
"No, no," I hastened to reply. "I'm absolutely seaworthy. About as much as a herring!" Captain Keith turned around once more and shrugged his shoulders. He didn't seem to believe me. But he would see.
Now, the motor worked harder, and the put-put of the beginning became a loud roaring. The "Gilliatt" started swaying in the swell, and I sat down on the tool box facing ahead. All of a sudden I felt very much like a pioneer and audacious, being the only passenger in a nutshell to cross over to a hardly settled island on which I was going to live like Robinson Crusoe for a month. Okay, that's not entirely true – there would be some kind of civilization still. At first, the boat turned towards the island of Herm whose village was bathed in sunlight. The white beaches in the north of the island gleamed over; and I asked myself whether Herks would be a piece of earth similarly beckoning.
Jeremy obviously had read my mind. He stood by Captain Keith at the wheel, but over the noise of the motor he cried: "You know Herm, Ma'am?" I nodded. "Now, Herks won't be much of a surprise to you then. It's quite similar there."
The "Gilliatt" veered off and took a northerly course. Portside, the huge chimneys of the town of St. Sampson were smoking. Starboard jagged cliffs rose from the sea. Ahead of us lay the glittering surface of the sea. The wind freshened up, and I snuggled deeper into my jacket. Yet I began to shiver. Probably my teeth would be chattering by our arrival at Herks.
"What do you want at Herks, by the way?" Captain Keith had left the wheel to Jeremy for the time being and leaned against the cabin's door. "Want to buy land?"
"Buy land?" I almost burst with laughter. So that was it. Captain Keith was worrying a stranger could lodge herself in with all her money and destroy the island's idyll. "Buy land? No, Mr. Morrison. Much as I'd like to! I want to take a month's vacation in a cottage, and will go home right after that, again."
Captain Keith grinned suddenly. "That's a word now, Ma'am. I had feared you'd draw a high-snobiety clique after you."
"Do I look like high-snobiety, Mr. Morrison?"
"Call me Captain Keith, Ma'am."
"Okay." He turned, then thought otherwise for a moment, turned his head over the shoulder and studied my face. "It's none of my business, Ms. Anne. But what do you want to do for a whole month on an island like Herks, all by yourself?"
"Maybe write a book," I answered flippantly. It seemed to be answer enough to him, for now he disappeared into the steering cabin again.
* * *
The crossing was quite calm. Some hour later a darker shade of blue appeared at the horizon, and Jeremy pointed out to me what was the island of Herks.
Having read various books in the library, I had some information already. Herks is about midway between Herm and Alderney, stretching from east to west, just like Guernsey. People sometimes call it "The Bone," because it looks like a doggie bone broken off at one end. Kind of a "Y".
Whereas the north is extremely steep, the south of the island has gently sloping beaches and a harbor. There are further bathing beaches in the bend of the "Y," at the Bay Détournée, and at the Bay du Soleil at the northern shore. All through its history, Herks had been spared from most of the conquerors, the last time during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The cliffs in the southwest, where French ships had shattered, were therefore named "The Queen's Arms". Today's main economical sources of the island are fishing and the dairy industry as well as tourism. Soft tourism. The Belview Hotel, built in the 50s and almost an architectural sin, is the only hotel on the island. At the pub, "The Crown & Anchor," there are just a few rooms of the very simplest standard. And then some of the 50 island inhabitants offer Bed and Breakfast or cottages. I had chosen the latter. "Les Silences". The most interesting sights of Herks were La Trétête, a dolmen grave, a landmark called The Pillar, Belview Bay and, at the eastern end, Devil's Corner. The settlement of Herks was a traditional village in which you would find all bare necessities. But nothing superfluous. That made it soft tourism.
The dark blue separated itself from the seemingly endless horizon of water and skies, and became an island. Left and right, there loomed a precipitously steep cliffs. In the center, a beach was gleaming, and the loosely strewn houses of a village became visible.
"Herks," Jeremy whooped with joy as if he'd come home from a long journey, finally. I nodded and smiled.
"And where on this island will I find Les Silences?" I inquired.
"Above the Bay Détournée, that is the right bar of the "Y," you could say. Near that dolmen tomb Herks is famous for," said Jeremy.
"Really famous?" I asked.
Jeremy nodded. "There is a ceiling fresco as in the tomb called Déhus on Guernsey, but different. A female figure with an arrow in her breast and a cross in her hand. Nobody knows what it means. But it's 3,000 years old. We islanders also call it L'Ange Douce."
And then, we landed at the stone pier grandly named "Herks Harbor". Jeremy heaved my luggage to the wharf after he'd moored the "Gilliatt". Captain Keith saw me off with an awkward smile.
"Bye, Ms. Anne." I nodded friendly and stepped on land. Herks. My adventure had started.
At first though I looked for someone to welcome me and hand me the keys of Les Silences, of course. But besides Jeremy, my suitcases and myself, the wharf was empty. Above the surf against the jetty I heard the distant sound of a tractor. Then a vehicle rounded the corner between the houses of Herks and approached the harbor. A young man, hardly older than Jeremy, ears covered with mufflers, sat behind the wheel. When he reached us, he curbed the motor, jumped from the standing vehicle, took off the noise protection and walked towards us.
"Hi," he said. "You must be the tenant of Les Silences!"
"Hallo," I replied giving him my hand. He really was awfully young, yet. "Dr. Slater, I presume?"
Excerpted from Islands on Storm by Susanne Bacon. Copyright © 2015 Susanne Bacon. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.