Read Whisper on the Wind Online

Authors: Maureen Lang

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance, #Historical, #General

Whisper on the Wind (10 page)

BOOK: Whisper on the Wind
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“That very well may be true of my parents, Clara, but
not going anywhere. Not after all I went through to get back. And now I want to take a bath and then get dressed in some of my own clothes. Will you help me?”

“Yes, and Henri will make sure the water is hot in the pipes.”

Isa put a hand on the maid’s forearm. “Henri is still here?”

“Of course,
, where else would he go? He’s too old to become a soldier, even if he could speak. I’ll fetch him.”

Isa was eager to see the one servant who, without a word spoken, had always been able to make her feel welcome. “Just one more thing, Clara,” she called. “Are Mother’s things still in her room?”

Clara’s smile froze and she broke eye contact. “The rooms your parents shared have been occupied this whole time. Did they not tell you before you came today?”

“They said a wounded Major has been living here.”

“Yes, he is the latest one to live here. He lost part of one leg in the war. A short time after he came here to stay, he ordered all of the personal items removed from the rooms he chose. At one time there were many officers here, but never in your room. Most of the rooms are intact, but your parents’ clothes are in the attic.”

“Perhaps you could show Genny where they are. I’m sure she can use my mother’s clothing.”

“No, Isa,” Genny protested, “I couldn’t possibly.”

“Why ever not? We hardly need to feed the attic moths, do we? Besides, I’m sure the gowns are too out-of-date for my mother anyway. And see if there’s anything of my father’s or brother’s that Edward could use. I doubt we’ll have any luck for Jonah, though. He’ll have to keep wearing the charity.”

“I’m afraid Edward won’t accept. He’s uncomfortable enough going to the soup kitchens.”

Isa looked at her. “You don’t think he would see this as charity? Not from

Genny nodded, her eyes sympathetic.

“I’ll ask him about it later. When he learns we’ve been able to come here to live, he may want to wear something new.” She turned back to her wardrobe. “Who could resist such clothes?”

* * *

“You must tell me the worst of it, then, Clara.”

Genny and the housemaid were in one of the guest rooms that, aside from a bare spot on the wall where a painting had once hung and an emptied dressing table, was still warm and inviting. The Hotel Cerise had catered to wealthy patrons exactly like Isa’s parents, and so Genny was accustomed to the finely crafted furniture, the expensive floor coverings, the best linens Belgium had to offer. Things Genny often wished she didn’t enjoy quite as much as she did.

“You must tell me what has gone on here since they came. And if there is anything I need to tell Isa.”

“The silver is gone. An officer boxed it and sent it to Germany.” Clara sighed. “And do you remember the vase
had in the foyer? Monsieur Lassone always told us to be mindful of it because it cost a fortune. Well, I no longer have any such worry because a clumsy German broke it to a thousand pieces. With his bayonet!” She tried covering her laugh with one of her hands. “I later heard the soldier who broke it was sent to the front. Imagine that! All but a death sentence over a silly vase.”

Clara had brought the clothing belonging to Isa’s mother, boxes and cases and piles simply wrapped in linens as protection from dust. There were more dresses than Genny had seen in one room since she was a child at her grandmother’s elegant London home. Many were evening dresses with lace or a multitude of decorative buttons, close fitting and with the V-neck that had been denounced in the pulpit and by doctors as unhealthy. Well before the war, when they spoke of such mundane things as fashion.

Genny chose a modest dress of dark blue damask with a tapered skirt and a loose tunic worn atop it. The high collar and simple cut made it the most sedate item she could find.

Clara brushed Genny’s hair into a loose knot at the back of her head. It had been such a long time since anyone had helped her dress that she’d forgotten how nice it was to have someone fuss over her.

“There doesn’t seem to be much missing from the bedrooms. Perfumes perhaps, a few paintings.”

“The Major told the other officers to treat it well. Truthfully, having the silver sent to Germany seemed to surprise him. He accused the other officer of theft. Yet the other one insisted he sent it to the army headquarters, to be used ‘for da goot off de Vaterland!’” She laughed at her own impersonation.

Genny didn’t laugh. Finished dressing, she eyed herself in the mirror. The dark gown fit surprisingly well, flowing in softly shimmering folds to the tips of her shoes—shoes that were just a trifle large but soft as slippers.

“Tell me about this Major, Clara,” Genny said. “How will it be for Isa, having to share her home with a German?”

“I would spit upon the floor if I didn’t have to wash it.”

“He’s bad, then?”

“He is German, is he not?”

Just then they heard a commotion—a crash and a male voice raised in anger. Genny flew to the hallway, waiting for another sound to direct her to its source.

“It is the Major,” Clara said, but she appeared to be in no hurry.

Then Genny heard a boy’s voice and she sprinted so quickly she ran out of one of her shoes, not bothering to retrieve it.

Du Esel!
You are like the baby just learning to walk. Balance!
Nein, nein.


Genny stood in the doorway, shocked to see her youngest son with a knapsack draped on his back, full to the brim with weighty books. He appeared to be trying to walk along the footboard of the bed, a narrow walkway at best, all the while balancing yet another book on his head.

When Jonah turned to his mother, the book tumbled to the floor, joining another that must have already fallen. Yet her son had an unmistakable smile on his face.

“Oh, hello, Mother.” He jumped to the floor and picked up the books, turning to the man who stood on crutches on the far side of the room. “Don’t think for a moment I don’t know what
du Esel
means. I’m no dunce, and I’ll prove it to you.”

He attempted his balancing act once again, with one book on his head, one on each open palm, and the knapsack still in place. It would take more strength than Genny imagined he possessed to keep everything in place and balance on such a precarious path. But he did the deed, then took the books in one hand and purposefully tipped the other from his head to land in one palm.

He hopped back to the floor. “I told you I could do it.” Then he slipped the burden from his back.

The Major looked mildly pleased. “Try that on the planks of a muddy wooden trench and see how long you can keep your footing.”

“Jonah, come with me now.”

The soldier looked Genny’s way for the first time since she’d entered the room. Even slightly hunched as he was because of the crutches, the man still stood taller than Genny. He had that Aryan look about him—light hair, blue eyes, stalwart even with his obvious disability, solidly built.

“Permit me to introduce myself,” he said in perfect French. “I am Major Johann Maximilian Gottfried von Bürkel. Your son found his way into my room quite by accident, and we struck up a conversation about conditions at the front. I was merely trying to enlighten him.”

“I assure you, Major, an eleven-year-old boy has no need to know of things at the front.”

“Mother! I’m nearly twelve.”

“A boy, nonetheless,
, who may one day see for himself.”

“I pray not,” Genny said with barely moving lips. She turned to Jonah. “Come, Jonah. I believe you’ve disturbed the Major long enough.” Then, with a hand on his shoulder, she directed him to the door.

“You will not be able to hide him behind your skirts forever,
,” the Major said, but he spoke to her back, since she was already halfway out the door.

Genny ignored the horrid words but took one last glance as she left the room. To her mortification she saw his gaze scrutinize her, resting at her feet, one clad in nothing but a silk stocking. She tried to keep her footing even as she slipped from the room, hoping she was out of his line of vision before that gaze could return to her heated face.

“Jonah, you are to stay away from that man.”

“Suits me,” he said. “He was full of himself, trying to prove he was so much better, even with only one leg.”

“What did he do?”

“He had the books on his back and kept other books on his head, as if it were nothing even with those crutches.”

She might have dwelt on the image of someone so disabled doing such a thing, but Genny heard her name called by a frustrated Isa.

“Go downstairs, Jonah,” Genny said to her son. “Clara is going to show you where the school is, and I’ll be taking you there tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow already? Can’t it wait until next week?”

“No. Go along now. Wait for Clara downstairs, and she’ll tell you about it; she’s been tending children from this neighborhood for years now.”

Genny and Clara found their way to Isa, who stood in the center of her room. Her damp hair was pinned atop her head, and the fragrant scent of honeysuckle and lavender wafted from the adjoining bathroom. She stood with her arms outstretched at each side, looking down at herself with nothing short of disgust. Her feet were shod in soft leather slippers that were clearly too small, and the dress she wore—a disaster.

It was a lovely gown of silk, damask, and
mousseline de soie
, in a dark shade of forest green, perhaps the darkest gown she, too, could find. But her feet were in plain view, her arms barely covered by sleeves that reached a rather odd length somewhere between her wrist and elbow. The bodice was askew, and when she turned around to display the full extent of the miserable fit, it became clear that those buttons would never close while Isa’s body was inside.

“Every one I’ve tried is worse than this,” she exclaimed. “How can that be? It’s been just two years! I feel like Alice through the looking glass. Or Gulliver in Lilliput.”

Genny cocked her head with a rueful smile. “Two years of significant growth, evidently.” She stepped closer, lifting the material to see if there was any give in the bodice area. “Clara,” she said over her shoulder, “would you get that purple day dress, the one I was going to try next?”

“Not my mother’s—and purple! I don’t think I should wear any color with Belgium overrun.”

“It will be better than this.” Genny nodded encouragingly to Clara, who quickly disappeared to follow orders. “And it’s a dark purple, almost black.”

Isa flopped to the divan near her wardrobe and reached out to stroke one of the gowns still hanging within. “I was so happy to see them all.” She expelled a long breath. “Oh, well, I couldn’t have worn the majority anyway, they’re so festive.” Then she suddenly laughed.

“All right, let me in on the secret.”

“Only that I shouldn’t have been surprised Edward always thought of me as a child. I guess while I was gone, my body caught up with the rest of me.” She looked at Genny with raised brows. “I wonder what it will take to make him see that.”

Genny reached down and removed a strand of light golden hair that had strayed to Isa’s face. “So, you still hold him in a special light?”

“Of course! Why shouldn’t I?”

“I thought perhaps you might have outgrown your infatuation with him.”

“If it were an infatuation, maybe I would have. Do you ever outgrow love?”

“Not if it’s nourished.”

“And I can’t help but nourish it.”

“I meant from both sides, my darling. From your heart—and his.”

Isa looked away. “He still sees me as too young.” She held up the edge of her dress and smiled. “But now even my clothes say I’m grown up, and I intend to make him notice.”

Genny couldn’t recall the first time she’d seen the way Isa felt about Edward. Her feelings seemed to have erupted the moment she’d met him. With him several years older, Genny’s automatic response had always been caution.

Now, though . . .

Genny had once wondered if Edward would wait to marry until Isa caught up, and if he did, she always knew she would welcome Isa as a daughter-in-law as easily as she’d welcomed her as a surrogate member of the family.

Maybe Isa’s dreams would come true after all. Genny knew one thing: if that ever happened, Edward would have little choice but to work out his faith; Isa would have nothing less.

Still, Genny wasn’t the kind to interfere, even if she might be rooting for Isa in a way she never seriously had before.

Clara returned with the purple gown, a style reminiscent of the Gibson girl with a lacy bustline and swirling skirt. Isa’s once-spindly body now filled the lines of her mother’s gown.

Surely Edward would notice that without either Genny or Isa herself saying a word.



. . . As for annihilating
La Libre Belgique
, don’t hope for it; it is impossible. It will ever be beyond your grasp because it is nowhere. It is a will-o’-the-wisp, rising from the graves of those whom your compatriots massacred at Louvain, at Tamines, at Dinant; and it haunts you. It is a will-o’-the-wisp, rising from the graves of the German soldiers who fell at Liege, at Waelhem, and on the Yser, who now see the base designs of domination for which they were sacrificed under the pretext of defending their country.

From a letter written by
La Libre Belgique
to His Excellency Baron von Bissing, German Military General-Governor of Brussels

Edward rubbed his eyes and for a moment the burning increased, followed by a yawn and an instant eye watering. He’d been here for the two hours leading up to dawn. And no one, absolutely no one, had been up or down this street on which the Tomsk family lived.

He should leave, go back to the church, and find a pew to sleep on rather than greeting the dawn out here. Raids he’d known of in the past had come in the predawn hours, and with the sun would most likely come another day of relative peace. Father Clemenceau could find him fresh clothes. He could take a bath. He’d have to see Rosalie again to touch up his makeup anyway—

BOOK: Whisper on the Wind
9.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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