"I saw what I saw, Hummel! I saw what I saw."
Captain Franz 'Fritz' Gruber was sitting on his bed, still shivering, even though wrapped in several blankets, his nightgown and cap on. He looked around, almost bewildered; as Klink's adjunct, his rank had merited a semi-private room, complete with double bunk beds, desk, chair, wardrobe and little else, (in fact, much like Oberst Hogan's room in the prisoners' barracks) and right now, it was filled to bursting with every man who could squeeze in.
Just to hear the tale. Again. One more time, from Gruber's mouth.
"So Colonel, would you mind letting us in on what went on back there?" asked Kinch. The loyal Chief of Operations raised his trademark eyebrow, smirking all the while: "I mean, you do have a plan, right?"
"O, ye of little faith, of course I have a plan...it may be a little off the wall, but it's a plan."
A gentle groan from one Corporal Newkirk, resident pessimist: "oh, no, not again." Turning to his French and American brothers-in-arms: " 'E's gone crackers, he has. It's finally 'appened. There'll be a bloody riot when e's done, I guarantee it."
"No no no! Not walk. He sauntered," said Hummel.
"Bah! It was a strut. Like a peacock," averred Mueller.
"Absolutely not!" said Dingle with heat, "Herr Colonel strolls when he is at ease. Not arrogantly, but with pride and confidence."
"IF you are all finished? May I go on with the story?!" Gruber growled in exasperation.
Mutters of "sorry", "excuse me", by all means", circled the room, and with a huff, Gruber went on with the tale.
Now all eyes were on Gruber; he could not refuse.
Thus, Gruber slowly moved out, slip-sliding at every step, cursing both Mueller and Hogan under his breath.
Gruber was becoming confused; it was so quiet. Peaceful. He floated more than he sank, but he was sinking all the same. His Captain's cap was hovering half on half off, his glasses bobbing along the bridge of his nose, but this did not trouble him. Perhaps it was the water and the ice and the moon, all acting in concert to improve his vision.
The coat's arms tangled his; he was uncertain if he could have grasped the material all on his own otherwise. The coat sleeves tightened and pulled him upwards.
"And I will tell you more! I was clinging to Herr Colonel's coat, he doing his best to wrap me in it. 'Gruber' he said, 'you gotta help me out a little here. Can you get your feet steady, stand up maybe?' And I tried, I swear, I tried, but I could not! Do you know why? Do you?" Gruber glared at his audience.
"I could not stand, because my feet were still in the great hole I created! Herr Colonel and I were still in the water! But where my feet would find no purchase, his were as if on firm sand! I did not have to see to feel that there was nothing beneath me! Nothing I tell you!"
"I believe him!" called a small voice from the opened window (cold or not, there were too many crowded into the room and too many who wished to hear, so the windows were both opened and the smallest guards sat in the openings while the rest stood outside and listened). The voice belonged to Pvt. Walther Koneig, the youngest soldier at Stalag 13.
"Herr Colonel is a great man, the greatest in Germany; even the Gestapo fear him! Hochstetter says it every time he comes here. He has cheated the devils of their victims many times. Why should not the good God hear Herr Colonel's prayers? He prays all the time. For our safety. For all of us to survive this war," the 15 year old stated with absolute conviction.
"How in the world do you know this!?" Mueller's shock spoke for all. That this small teenager knew something so profoundly personal about the secretive Colonel Hogan beggared belief.
"Because we pray together, every evening, if it can be managed. Often, he will be busy and will not have much time, but whenever I am his escort for the night, or after evening roll call, we will take a walk and pray. He says God will not mind if we are standing or sitting, and not kneeling. It is what we are saying, what is in our hearts, after all, that is important, he says."
"Raus RAUS ev-er-RE-body raus! It it bedtime! Back in the Barracks! Evvverrrry-body! Back back back back BACK!"
And Schultz began to swing his arms and shoo the lot of them away from the windows and towards the doors. And his German guards reacted exactly the same as his Allied prisoners (who acted exactly the same as his children):
"AWWWW!" "It is too early." "Come, Schultz, another few minutes."
"Nein nein nein! Raus mit you. Schnell and no more whining! You do not wish for Gruber to get sick after all that Colonel Hogan has done, now do you? In BED! All of you!"