Authors: Maureen Lang
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance, #Historical, #General
“This is all quite sentimental, Your Honors, and I for one have heard more than enough. This woman is obviously an Allied sympathizer, and as for being an American,” he nearly huffed, “well, that means nothing anymore. Americans have had blatant disregard for our army for some time, while our people starve behind British blockades and the Americans do nothing to help. Everyone knows they sympathize with the British. That is why I ask this woman be taken to the prison at Vilvorde and held not less than six months, and since she comes from a family of wealth, be required to pay a fine of no less than ten thousand Marks.”
Isa heard the request and her head spun. Imprisonment . . . six months. She vaguely heard the monetary fine, wondering if a buyer could be found with enough cash for the jewels she had left.
The three judges at the head table conferred. There was no jury, and Isa was not asked to speak. She could only wait for the pronouncement of her sentence.
At last the center judge told Isa to stand.
Innocent or not, Isa felt her knees wobble.
“We find the accused guilty as charged.”
Isa’s heart sped and something fiery spread through her veins: disbelief and fear unfurled.
Oh, God, oh, God, teach me what You have to teach me. . . . Help me to trust You!
God’s hand alone held her on her shaking knees.
“Further, we find the penalty requested fair.” He took a long look at Isa. “However, the court has decided upon leniency. Two months or five hundred Marks.”
Relief and disappointment came at once, along with sure knowledge of what must be done. To willingly pay the fine meant supporting their army, their war. And while she could barely tolerate the thought of one more night behind bars with filth and mice and inedible food, it was all too clear what she must say.
“I will serve the time.” Her voice was a child’s, not her own.
“No one asked you to choose,” the judge at the left snapped. “It is entirely up to us when you will be freed.” He motioned to one of the soldiers who had been stationed at the back of the room. “Take her downstairs.”
It is obvious from the writings of the Prussian cavalry general Bernhardi that the Germans must assume the guilt for starting this war. They used their Press to convince the people that a “war of liberation” was necessary.
May I say we at
La Libre Belgique
agree with the general on only one point: the power of the Press to stir the hearts, minds, and will of the people.
La Libre Belgique
“I’m telling you, the sentence was lenient, and if you allow me to deliver the money quickly, they may very well let her go immediately. It will show her family’s wealth—and that equals power.”
Edward heard the words and might have been disgusted once again by the German
. But only one phrase coursed through his mind:
“They might let her go.”
He sat in the barrister’s office, nearly a dozen streets away from the Town Hall, where he’d waited all morning for the lawyer to return after his court session defending Isa.
He reached for the money inside his satchel. He had enough, thanks to one of the jewels pawned from Isa’s cache. Edward counted the money needed, handed it to the barrister, and kept what was left.
“Your parishioner was quite brave in the courtroom,” Monsieur Painlevé said as he accepted the cash. “No hysterics, which they despise; no crying or pleading, which makes them less likely to be lenient. She even had the pluck to say she would serve the time rather than pay the fee.” He shrugged. “That was perhaps not wise, but it is the way of patriots these days. Fortunately for your friend, they did not withdraw their leniency. You are lucky to know such a woman, Father Antoine.”
The barrister hurried off, and Edward was again left with nothing to do but wait.
Eventually he paced the office floor, back and forth, back and forth, glancing at his wristwatch again and again. He looked out the window but could see nothing more than the lush green leaves on the poplar in front.
Edward judged it would take the barrister twenty minutes to walk to the Kommandantur from his office if he kept a brisk pace and wasn’t stopped by some zealous sentry. How long to pay the fine? Would he have to stand in the endless lines? How long to determine whether Isa would be released immediately or made to stay longer? The barrister had offered hope she might be released when the fine was paid, but no promises. Never any promises.
And so Edward paced. But he did not pray.
* * *
“You should have smiled,” Pierrette said. “I don’t care how old some of these judges are, they won’t resist the smile of a pretty young woman.”
“Smile! How could I have done such a thing? I was petrified.”
“Well, at least tell me you didn’t act like some simpering girl.”
Isa shook her head, at the same time untying the ribbon from her hair and handing it to Pierrette.
“I’ll say well done, then.”
Isa cocked her head. “Why do you know so much about the German courts?”
“Did I not tell you? My brother is an advocate.”
Isa didn’t mention that knowledgeable advice might have lent her a bit of courage earlier. “Will your brother help you when your case is called?”
“Ah, no! He’s in Germany.”
Pierrette’s gaze dropped to the floor. “He was deported.”
Isa had only to remember the little she knew of Edward’s experience to feel a wave of sympathy.
Pierrette shot her gaze briefly toward the guard at the base of the stairwell. “The next guard that passes this way may very well come for you, Mademoiselle Isa. To take you to freedom.”
“Vilvorde!” Pierrette exclaimed. “Who said anything about that place?”
“One of the prosecutors. It’s where he wanted to send me.”
Pierrette shook her head. “He was a mean one, then.”
“Why? Vilvorde isn’t so far away. Like St. Gilles.”
Pierrette laughed. “Do you know what they are saying,
? That occupied Brussels is paradise, the
—the military zone—is purgatory, and
—northern France—is hell?”
Isa shook her head. She’d been so sheltered since returning she had not heard that one.
place is paradise, St. Gilles is purgatory, and Vilvorde . . . that,
, is hell.”
* * *
Edward looked at his wristwatch again. Two hours since Painlevé had left. Edward had tried to prepare himself that it would take longer than expected, perhaps an hour—but not double that. Desperation brought a prayer to his lips. Maybe Isa
been brought back to Belgium to help Edward renew his faith. If so, he assured God He needn’t let it to go any further.
No sooner had the prayer left his heart than Edward heard noise in the hall. He rushed to the door to find an unkempt Isa, looking slight in the oversize raincoat obviously belonging to the barrister.
At once he took her into his arms. Forget any hesitation; two days of worry shot away everything but relief that she was all right. The wet coat around her shoulders fell unnoticed to the floor, and Edward’s heart beat hard and fast, his hands trembling like a boy’s. He held her close and steadied those hands by placing one on each side of her face. For a moment she stared at him, tilting her face upward as if she fully expected him to kiss her.
And so he did. Square on the tip of her nose.
“Oh,” she said, trying to pull away, “don’t look at me! I’m a mess. My hair . . .”
He didn’t let go, keeping his hands gently yet firmly on each side of her face. “You are,” he whispered, “the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.”
He might have kissed her again, this time far differently, but he caught sight of the barrister looking on, arms crossed, staring without shame at the spectacle.
The barrister was the least of the reasons Edward needed to restrain himself, but he let go of Isa nevertheless.
“Well, Father Antoine,” he said, ushering them into his office, out of the hallway. “I’ve guessed already by your concern these past two days that this parishioner is quite important to you. But perhaps you might think about how your actions could confuse a young woman such as Mademoiselle Lassone.”
Edward faced the barrister. “Yes, yes, of course you’re correct. I shall return her to my aunt, who is like a mother to her. You see, we’re very nearly family.”
The barrister picked up his fallen coat. Edward had the feeling they weren’t fooling him at all. But Painlevé said nothing, only hung his coat on a hook behind the door, then went to his desk and deposited his leather case on top.
He eyed Isa. “This young man has been quite beside himself since you were taken. Why don’t you stay out of trouble so we may avoid going through this again?”
Isa laughed. “I’d be happy to.”
* * *
Isa barely felt the pavement beneath her feet. Edward had said she was beautiful! She was free! He’d very nearly kissed her!
She slipped her hand into his as she’d done a thousand times, but he removed it and looped her arm through his instead. It was almost as intimate, although she supposed it was more proper for a priest to guide her through the streets this way than the other.
“Edward, thank you for all you did for me these last two days. You saved me from such an awful place.” She would tell him later just how awful it had been, how the injustice of it all deepened her resolve to do the right thing with
La Libre Belgique
. But for now there was something else on her mind. “Did you mean it just now when you said I was the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen?”
He stared straight ahead so she couldn’t read his face. “Freedom is a beautiful thing.” The words tumbled from his mouth.
“Oh. So it’s justice, not me, that’s beautiful?” She ran her free hand through her hair. “I suppose you’re right, the way I look now.”
“You’re beautiful, Isa, and you know it. There. I’ve said it again, so you can stop trying to get me to repeat it.”
She smiled. “Others might think I’m pretty, Edward. I just never knew you thought so.”
“Let’s hurry, shall we? My mother’s been pacing for two days now.”
* * *
Genny left her chair for the hundredth time that day, walking to the front door and opening it to look up, then down, the street. Once again she saw nothing.
She returned to the parlor, where there was no view at all. The front windows were tightly shuttered as if the house were closed for the off-season.
“The swiftest carriage of justice comes with paperwork.” The Major was seated nearby, cane discarded on the floor beside him. It was the second time he’d reminded Genny of the time it would take to free Isa, even if all went well. The second time that it did no good.
Earlier that day a sentry had knocked at their door with a message from Herr Lutz. He’d been able to arrange a swifter trial and had put in a positive word to one of the judge-advocates who would sit the case. But that, he’d said, was the extent of his power.
Then, more than two hours ago, that same sentry had returned with a second note. The Major read it quickly, telling Genny the happy news that the trial was over and there was a good chance they would accept Isa’s fine without having her serve any time.
Genny wasn’t sure if she detested or welcomed the Major’s company. This was, after all, another debacle of justice from his army of cohorts. But a part of her, one increasingly difficult to ignore, was comforted by his silent sympathy. She told herself she simply didn’t want to wait alone, but if that were true, she could have gone into the kitchen with Clara and Henri.
“Do I have your permission to speak openly?” the Major asked.
Genny looked at him, surprised by the question. She took her seat again. “Of course.”
He leaned forward, clasping his hands and resting his elbows on his knees. Because she sat on the edge of her seat and his chair was separated from hers by only a small side table, their knees were not more than a foot apart. Having the Major suddenly so close made her want to move again, but she didn’t.
“There was a Bible left in the room I occupy upstairs, and last night I happened to be reading the Psalms. One line stood out among others. It said, ‘The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.’ You are, I assume, familiar with that passage?”
She nodded, somewhat distractedly. His words forced her to her feet again, to resume the endless pacing. How could he speak to her of the Bible when just the other night his friend—his mentor—had spoken as if God didn’t exist?
She watched him from the corner of her eye. He unclasped his hands, rubbed his knees, and reached for his cane.
As he stood, she stopped pacing to face him. She was struck by his height, similar to Jonathan’s, and yet he was so very different. Jonathan had been dark haired and full of youth, even to the day of his death at just forty-five. The Major was no doubt of similar age, yet his temples showed gray and his face was lined at the forehead and around his eyes. His eyes were blue, unlike Jonathan’s brown, and though the Major’s were still very clear, the creases at the corners gave them a look of experience and intelligence with his quiet reserve.
“I know that you have great faith, Frau Kirkland. You already know God is sovereign in all things and that He loves Fräulein Lassone. Be still and know that He is God; trust Him.” Then he gave her a quick, almost-shy smile. “You may think it easy for me to say because I haven’t someone I care for so deeply being held unjustly. But when that’s all there is to do, just to trust Him because we’ve done all we can, shouldn’t there be some peace at least?”
Genny didn’t know when her breathing became erratic. “You are right, of course. Thank you.” She started to turn away but changed her mind. “My husband was a man of greater faith than I, Major. If he were here, he would have said something like that.”
It was the first time since Jonathan died that she’d spoken of him and felt only joy in his memory, not the sharp pain of loss that tore through her being.