The Major's Daughter: A Novel

The Major's Daughter: A Novel

by J. P. Francis


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452298699
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/29/2014
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 749,969
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

J. P. Francis is an English professor who lives and writes in New Hampshire.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 by J.P. Francis

In April 1944 one hundred and fifty captured soldiers from the German Afrika Korps arrived by train to a detention camp in Stark, New Hampshire. For two years they worked as loggers, bringing out pulp for the Brown Paper Company. In a world consumed by war, the German captives discovered an innocent haven, largely removed from the hostilities that raged across Europe and the Pacific. Working beside the New Hampshire loggers in the great northern forests, the German soldiers found commonality with their prison guards and lived through what one author on the subject called “examples of moral courage and decency holding out against crushing odds of baseness and depravity.” Every act of kindness redeems the world anew, and in a tiny hamlet in the White Mountains of New Hampshire two enemies put down their arms and picked up saws and axes instead.

That was long ago. Camp Stark is a meadow now. The only reminder of the prison camp is a stone fireplace, tired and fragile, that keeps final vigil. Near the road, before one enters the meadow, the state of New Hampshire has placed a small plaque that outlines the history of these several acres. In all of its detail, the plaque does not mention Collie, a young girl whose war began as the Germans arrived. Nor does it mention August, her one love, who arrived in the White Mountains of New Hampshire on a train going north.


Part One

Chapter One


Collie Brennan woke to the sound of reveille as she had done nearly every morning of her young life. It was a joyful sound, she had always thought, and during her two years at Smith College she had missed it and often felt like a lay-a-bed in her morning languor. She could not confess such a thing to her father, but it was true nevertheless, and as she listened to reveille’s final notes she opened her eyes and peered out the window that had begun to gather the light of a fine April morning. New Hampshire, she reminded herself. Camp Stark. Today, she knew, the German prisoners would arrive, and she imagined her father had been awake for hours, nervous and keyed up at the lack of materiel, the somewhat slapdash quality of the prison camp. Really, she should rise and get about the day, but the morning air, the bright mountains—what had they called the formation above the village? The Devil’s Slide—rose like a granite frown on the western ridges and she let her eyes rest on it, contemplating its features. Beneath it was the lovely town, with a bright white church at its center, and a charming covered bridge that carried traffic into the small village proper—all of it cinched and held together by the Ammonoosuc River, a black band of water that arrived pure and sweet from the mountains. A postcard village, truly, and she had already sent a note to her dearest friend, Estelle, describing the features of the little hamlet. She had called it just that, a post- card village, and Estelle had written back with a tinge of envy that she remained trapped in Ashtabula, Ohio, a backwater town of no special beauty. She was in exile, she lamented, for the duration.

All of these thoughts spilled in with the fresh air, and Collie took them in a moment longer before pushing back the deep down coverlet. It felt cold outside the bed, even on such a glorious April morning, and she dashed lightly to the water closet down the hall- way. She smelled breakfast cooking downstairs; Mrs. Hammond, she was certain, had breakfast well in hand, and Collie washed quickly, wondering if her father would return soon, and if he would bring anyone with him. Her father proved a magnet for men, which was another point, Collie remembered, that Estelle had made concerning their two different lives. With the men drafted and gone to war, Estelle lived among women; Collie, on the other hand, remained surrounded by men. It was an amusing observation.

Back in her room, Collie dressed quickly. She wore a narrow skirt with a jacket over a white blouse. The jacket had only two buttons, the maximum allowed during the war effort. She wore no nylons, naturally, because the war had taken them, so she made due with a pair of socks at the bottom of her bare legs. Afterward she spent a few minutes at the small vanity Mrs. Hammond had brought from somewhere in the house to her room. Mrs. Hammond said she was accustomed to male boarders, loggers and workingmen who populated the rooms above her, but she had found the vanity as if by magic. The mirror was clouded and insufficient, but if Collie bent close enough and carefully kept her shadow out of the glass, she could catch an impression of herself. Her soft, blond hair hung in loose curls down to her shoulders. Her mother had maintained she was an Irish colleen stepping through a backlit doorway, a description Collie always found accurate. The skin beneath the blond hair was darker than her hair would suggest, except where a moon- shaped scar ran along the right side of her chin. The scar was the legacy of a bicycle accident many years before, and she did not mind seeing it, though the sun brought out its lines and made it more visible in contrast to her tanned skin.

She gave herself one last look, pulled together her bed and tidied the room for a moment, then quickly descended the stairs to the large dining room. A crisp fire burned in the large hearth at the end of the room. Men had already collected there, some of them dressed for logging, others wore the uniforms of the U.S. Army. Collie said good morning, and the men answered, three of them beginning to rise at her appearance, but she made a quick motion of her hand to keep them in place. She crossed the room and pushed through the swinging doors that led to the kitchen, nearly bumping into the serving girl, Agnes, as she did so. Agnes held a large tray of cups on a wicker tray, and she looked uncomfortable with it, like a man jamming the butt of a violin under his chin. Collie held the door wide for her.

“Good morning, Agnes,” Collie said. “A beautiful day, although I suppose it may cloud over.”

“The Germans are coming,” Agnes replied.

“Yes, I know. They have a pretty morning for it at least.”

“Not that they deserve it,” Agnes said as she slid past with the tray. “Well, the sun falls on everyone.”

Collie let the door swing shut behind Agnes, then passed farther into the kitchen, where she found Mrs. Hammond standing in front of the large cookstove, rashers of bacon and ham bubbling on a cast-iron skillet. Mrs. Hammond was a stout woman, with gray-black hair that flew away in wisps as the day progressed. She wore a starched white apron over her dress, and her hands went to it often to brush them clean of each cooking task. She had the back door propped open, but the cool morning air could not mitigate the swelter of the kitchen. When the heat became too much, she daubed her forehead with the hem of the apron, then returned to cooking with even greater energy. She reminded Collie of a steam engine when she stood in front of the stove, and Collie had learned in the three months they had been stationed here not to get in her way while food was in the equation.

“I’ll just get the coffee,” she said to Mrs. Hammond loud enough so the woman could hear her over the pops and sizzle of the cooking meat.

“Germans today,” Mrs. Hammond said without properly turning to see her.

“Yes, it should be quite a day.”

“Your father came by earlier in a vehicle. He said he’d return for breakfast.”

“He’s a busy man today.” “Almost ready here.”

Collie wrapped a towel around her hand and carried the coffee out to the table. It was not her job to help, specifically, but she found it better to be busy. Besides, Mrs. Hammond was shorthanded; she had not bargained for the POW camp to descend on her small boardinghouse in the tiny village. No one in the town had bargained for such a thing, but it was happening all the same and Collie determined to do her part. She held the top of the pot as she went around the table, pouring coffee in a clockwise turn. Agnes finished unloading the cups at the other end of the table and hurried back to Mrs. Hammond for more instructions.

Collie had nearly emptied the pot when she heard a vehicle arrive outside, and a moment later her father entered the room. The collected men stood. It was prideful to relish the respect her father received, but she could not help it. He stood in the doorway for a moment, a white handkerchief pressed to his lips. The handkerchief signaled many things to Collie. It meant, mostly likely, that he had experienced a difficult morning. During the Great War he had suffered chlorine poisoning; his lungs had been glazed by the green, noxious gas, and now he carried the weight of the gas inside him, choking on it still, his health permanently undermined, his voice somewhat cracked and permanently pinched. He had turned fifty-two a week before, and though he was tall and slim and filled out his uniform admirably, quite handsomely, in fact, a sense of fragility clung to him in equal measure. The handkerchiefs he brought to his mouth occasionally muffled his speech; he had told her once that the Allied troops had been instructed to use cloths dampened by urine to protect themselves from the chlorine gas, and she could never see the handkerchiefs without thinking of that horror. She wondered how he could remain so equitable facing the prospect of German troops coming under his jurisdiction.

“Morning,” her father said to the gathered men, dropping his hand holding the handkerchief to his side. “Will breakfast be long?”

“Shortly,” Collie called to him, and he turned and smiled.

“Major . . . ,” one of the men started, and Collie knew as she carried the coffeepot back to the kitchen that the man had buttonholed her father on the German subject. It was all anyone talked about, perhaps understandably, but she knew the topic occasionally wore her father out. He had traveled to Boston many times for briefings and was on the phone constantly with various political entities inside and outside of the military, but the truth remained that no one knew precisely how to operate a prisoner-of-war camp in what was a modified conservation camp. The facts were simple: pulp was necessary for the war effort, but most of the loggers had been drained away to the war or to the munitions factories farther south. Many of them went for better pay and safer work, and who could blame them? So the War Department had looked around at various conservation camps built during the Depression with government monies, and a few had been selected to become prisoner-of-war camps for the overburdened British. No one thought it was an ideal solution—and an avalanche of criticism followed the announcement that Camp Stark would be converted to prisoner-of-war footing—but now the theoretical was about to become the practical, and her father, for better or worse, was the lightning rod for every theory or opinion about the project.

Meanwhile, Agnes began carrying large serving trays of scrambled eggs and pancakes out to the table. Collie held out a second tray and received another pot of coffee, sausage and ham and scrapple, and a few pots of jam. Staples were often an issue, but today, at least, there was ample, and when Collie pushed back into the room she saw the men had already taken up their places, leaving the head of the table for her father.

“. . . the Geneva Conventions says . . . ,” spoke one man, a short, fiery little man named Johns who Collie did not particularly like. He was a saw sharpener, or something of the kind, and she found him too opinionated for the little he knew.

“Coddling them,” another man cut off Johns, this time a soldier with a blank face and large, hairy wrists extending from his ill-fitting jacket. “These men have caused the world more trouble and pain by their actions, and when I think of them arriving in this town . . .”

“Hardly a town,” someone joked, but Collie didn’t see who spoke. “Major Brennan,” Johns asked, his hand taking a spoonful of eggs while he tried to make his voice heard over the murmur, “how do we know these men won’t escape and kill us where we sleep?” Gradually the table grew quiet. Collie watched her father gather himself. He appeared tired; she was certain he hadn’t slept well these last weeks.

“A prisoner,” her father said, his voice tightened as it sometimes did when emotion mixed with the effects of the chlorine gas, and Collie noticed the men tried to be quieter with their serving spoons and coffee stirs, “is entitled to fair treatment regardless of the forces that brought him to our door. They can be asked to work, and we must pay them in scrip if they agree. The officers may refuse and we may not put any of the men to work at labor deemed too dangerous. There’s been some debate, as you know, to determine whether logging is too dangerous for captured belligerents, but Congress has given us authority to make them work. So now you know as much as I do about the proceedings, gentlemen, and I hope you’ll let me sit with my daughter for a moment before the day becomes too hectic.” And that was all it took. The conversation turned to logging, the other great topic of the day. Collie finished with her tray, then quickly sat on a small chair pulled up at the corner of the table. She felt a moment’s unease at sitting at a table full of men, and she would not have done so if her father hadn’t been squarely in command. But he had held out her chair and kissed her cheek when she sat beside him, and she felt happy being near him.

“You’re in for a full day, too,” he said softly, buttering a corner of his pancake. “It’s all hands on deck, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll be up right after breakfast.”

“I hope we’re ready. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.” “Everything will work out, Papa.”

He raised his eyebrows in appraisal, his fork stalled halfway to his mouth. What choice did they have, anyway? she wondered. At times she felt they had all been swept out to sea. The editorials back and forth in the Boston Post, or the Littleton Courier, seemed like so much tedious bloviating. The war had entered every facet of their lives, and despite the editorialists’ most cherished hopes, it would not rest until it found its own equilibrium.

Three short pops from the fireplace suddenly silenced the table. Faces looked quickly around, startled. A man nearest the fireplace stood and stepped on a few errant sparks, his handkerchief still in his shirt collar.

“Thought the Germans had arrived!” one man quipped.

And that brought laughter, though Collie thought, as she laughed with them, that the laughter had an underside of nervous fear. The enemy at last was to be made visible, and fear and curiosity divided most people’s expectations, and not one of them, she felt, knew clearly what hopes they had in their hearts.


On the walk to Camp Stark from the village the sky clouded over and a few heavy drops of rain began to fall. It always astonished Collie how fast the weather could change in New Hampshire. Outside of Fort Dix, New Jersey, the place that Collie called home, the weather changed slowly and more predictably. In New Hampshire the winds coming across the Canadian plains made every weather system fiercer and more dramatic. It made it difficult to know how to dress in the morning; she found she relied on several layers of outerwear, peeling them or adding them as the day gained focus.

Collie might have hitched a ride from the many trucks going back and forth from the village to the camp proper, but she liked the walk and promised it to herself each morning. She had found a path, an angler’s path, she supposed, that took her along the banks of the Ammonoosuc River. She had discovered a large oak about halfway to the camp, and beneath the oak a square slab of granite formed a perfect bench. It appeared almost as if someone had placed it there intentionally, but such a notion was not in keeping with the rough quality of life in a logging village. In any event, she had found it a place of contemplation, and she often stopped with whatever book she might be reading to spend a few minutes away from the noisy boarding- house or the clamor of camp construction. Whatever else the war might be, it was a loud affair, Collie thought. Life among men brought sounds she had forgotten in her time at Smith. Boots stamping, keys rattling against doors, the yawn of chairs as the men plopped into them, the greedy knock of their knives and forks against whatever plate passed near them—she had written to Estelle about these sounds, marveling that the men seemed not to notice their own cacophony. The only remedy for it, she declared, was the slab of granite next to the lovely river and a page or two of poetry to keep her level.

She felt guilty this morning, however, at the idea of stopping because of the arriving Germans. Her father needed her. Besides, the rain hurried her along. She heard the sounds of hammers before she saw the camp. The hammer blows echoed across the river and bounced off the Percy Mountains, the sharp break of the hammering rhythm cut and squeezed by the rush of water over rock. The camp had been built across from an old orchard, and Collie spotted the four guard towers slapped together quickly once the final decision had been made in Washington. Inside the fence, nine barracks stood in rows; they would be used to house the Germans. One hundred and fifty men, she knew, would make this their home. The refectory and latrines took up either side of the compound. It was not a perfect arrangement by any means, but, as her father said, the Germans were prisoners, not guests, and they would receive fair treatment, not a holiday.

This morning, however, the camp looked particularly dismal in the dull rain. The hammer blows came from a detail of men working to build a three-sided pole barn for the twitch horses. The horses would be required for logging, Collie knew, and she had helped process the procurement forms herself. Even now two large animals stood close to where the men worked, their heads down from the rain, their massive hindquarters slick with water.

Collie said good morning to the two guards at the central gate, then entered the small administration building on the right side. A potbelly stove gave off a solid wave of heat as she shucked out of her coat; she was grateful for the warmth because the walk had given her a chill.

Lieutenant Peters came out of her father’s office carrying a stenographer’s pad and a stack of invoices. Collie shared the outside office with him. He was a tall man, birdlike, with a diffident manner. He reminded Collie of a hen working sideways at a new spot of grass, his attention ready to dart elsewhere at a moment’s notice. But he was devoted to her father, she knew, and he had been deluged with paperwork concerning the German POWs. He had done his best, but the army wanted everything in triplicate, so much so that it occasionally threatened to tie the office in knots. Lieutenant Peters managed it all with good humor, and Collie appreciated his forbearance. “Morning, Collie,” he said as he put his paperwork on his desk.

“Today’s the day.”

“Are they on time?”

“From all reports. They’ve left Fort Devens. Hope you’re ready with your German.”

“Hardly,” Collie said, blushing slightly at the thought that she, with her smattering of knowledge inspired primarily by her mother’s love of German opera and lieder singing, would be counted on to communicate with the Germans. Surely, she thought not for the first time, the army could provide better interpreters, but she knew, also, that many had been commandeered for overseas work. It made her nervous to contemplate the potential embarrassment her rudimentary German might bring. Still, in a world of blind men, the one-eyed man is king, as her father said. She promised to do her best.

She settled into the morning’s work. There was plenty to occupy her. She helped Lieutenant Peters with requisitions forms, answered the endlessly ringing telephone—the press, in particular, could not be satisfied and wanted more and more details about even the smallest details of the arrangements—and did her best to buffer her father from relentless questions. A barrage of men showed up to ask for clarifications: what planking to use for the boardwalks between the bar- racks and the latrines; what should be paid for hay; what food should be served the first night. The questions betrayed nervousness. Despite everything that had been said, the camp reminded Collie of a theater on opening night. The months of preparation suddenly ended; in a single moment the camp would go from being a proposal debated in a thousand forums to a tiny town populated by one hundred and fifty Germans. Everyone, Collie realized, felt keyed up and jumpy.

At noon her father came out of his office. It was time to go to the train station.

“Are you ready?” he asked her. “Lieutenant Peters, please keep an eye on things.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Off we go,” her father said.

“Yes,” she said simply, and gathered her coat.

The rain had lightened, but the sun still struggled to free itself from the clouds.

“I’ve been thinking of your mother this morning,” her father said when they had climbed into the jeep that would whisk them to the village. “She would have enjoyed this day. She always liked a fuss. She loved parades and circuses, and she knew very well that I didn’t. But she made me go just the same. She claimed it was good for me. It made my heart lighter, she said.”

“I’ve been thinking of her, too. I’m worried that her German was much better than mine.”

“Oh, I don’t know if that’s true. She never took a class. She learned it by ear, through music mostly. You received instruction at Smith, so I don’t imagine you need to take a backseat to her ability. It’s true she had a knack for languages, but you got that from her.”

“You’re about to see how little she passed along to me.” “You’ll do fine. I have every confidence in you.”

He smiled and patted her knee. He leaned to one side and drew his handkerchief from his hip pocket and pressed it to his lips. She heard his lungs rasp; he sat very still when that happened, as if to move might encourage his lungs to fail in their efforts to take in oxygen.

They arrived at the train station a moment later. A crowd of fifty or so waited in the rain, all of them peering east toward Berlin. It was a great irony, Collie knew, that the nearest town to Camp Stark was named Berlin. Everyone laughed at the odd coincidence. Mean- while, two boys knelt near the rails, their ears pressed to the metal, their faces expressing equal measures of hope and excitement. Now and then they raised up to shake their heads at the crowd, then bent back down, listening to the rails for vibrations that passed through the earth.


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for The Major'S Daughter:

“A tremendous novel, rich and complex, about war and peace, love and almost, almost unbearable longing. It took my breath away”. —Luanne Rice, New York Times bestselling author

“Francis’ poignant and reflective novel is based on historical fact.” —Booklist

“Beautifully written, this title will attract readers who like a love story mixed with their historical fiction.” –Library Journal

“Historical fiction fans will want to give this a read, the romance aspect, time period and all the characters contribute to its appeal. The ending tied the story together in such a complimentary manner. Wonderful debut from Francis.” -Unshelfish

“There is something about a romance novel that gets you.  Every so often we are gifted with a fresh take on this age old genre. . . . J.P. Francis delivered a book to get lost in with The Major’s Daughter.” –Black Dog Speaks

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The Major's Daughter: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Collie Brennan and her father, Major John Brennan, are now living in Camp Stark in New Hampshire.  They’re getting ready to house German prisoners of war, a new role neither has experienced previously.  Major Brennan is not in the best of health as he suffers left-over illness from being gassed in WWI.  Now it’s WWII they are dealing with and this is the story of life in the prison camp.  At first the anticipation is worse than the reality.  Then Collie, who helps her father by translating German into English, very slowly grows fond and fonder of a German POW, Private August Wahrlich.   Her best friend, Estelle, at the same time has fallen in love with an Indian gardener in Ashtabula, Ohio.  She must decide whether to yield to that growing feeling between them or marry someone safe and stable! This is a novel about the way war heightens prejudice, the feeling that the enemy induces in those who are already apt to believe every outlandish rumor floating in small communities and in those who have radically suffered from service on the battlefields of Europe.  Today it’s called post-traumatic stress syndrome.  It may be further fueled by alcohol or by jealousy, but it pervades every town across America. The hatred that is often couched in patriotic beliefs and words is also present in the German POW camp.  There are die-hard Nazis who punish those who aren’t of like mind and those who are weaker.  It’s a parallel universe, a microcosm of the larger world’s classification and persecution of Germans and anyone sympathetic or averse to them. In the midst of so much ugliness is the beauty of poetry and the enthralling specter of beautifully grown plants and flowers, spiked by the pine forests and immense mountains surrounding the Brennan’s military camp. No spoilers here, just a beautiful story that is just as often filled with ugliness and beauty beyond what nature and humans can produce. For those who are open to a different way of thinking, it will leave questions that demand squarely facing all the issues inherent in WWII mentality.  The readers’ points of view will affect whether one loves or hates this complex memorable work of historical and/or romantic fiction. Collie knows who she is and what she must sacrifice by making a choice to play it safe with another love-sick wooer or risk it all for the love of her life.  The Major’s Daughter has crafted a powerful, memorable work of historical fiction, one that parallels the world in which our young men and women are being held prisoner and returning from unspeakable horrors that our contemporary global conflicts generate.  J. P. Francis has told a simple yet endearing story that will linger in the memory for a long time after the end of reading this particularly moving story!
classy2 More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book! I love history and because it is based on something that happened in the USA....that made it more interesting. I just finished it today....its very, very, very well written and I bet you wont be able to put it down once you start reading it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the historical information. Very informative about little known information concerning German prisoners of war in America during WWII. Loved the female characters. Story has romance, heart break, friendships, hard decisions, and unique settings. Highly recommended. Another excellent novel on the NOOK is the Indie Award winning novel, The Partisan, by Willian Jarvis. This novel has great character development like The Major's Daughter. Also, it is based on facts. Both books deserve A+++++++++
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I love WW2 Romance novels. I love the twist's. I didn't like the fact the the author kept changing views to the 2 main characters and 2 other. I don't want to give any thing away but I feel like Collie's love in this book was given enough time I didn't get to know him. After I read the Bronze horseman by Paulina Simon all other WW2 Romance novels have fallen short and that's why I gave 3*. But I would definitely recommend reading eat I did enjoy read it in 1 day!!!!