Read Whisper on the Wind Online

Authors: Maureen Lang

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

Whisper on the Wind (5 page)

BOOK: Whisper on the Wind
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“What’s so important in the satchel?”

“I’ll show you . . . later.”

Then she yawned again.

And so did he.

“Who’s there?”

Edward shook himself awake. “It’s me, Mother.”

Light was just starting to emerge from the window behind his mother at the foot of the stairs. Somehow he’d become entwined with Isa in his arms, and he shook her gently. “And . . . Isa.”

“Oh! Edward, I’m always so happy to see . . . What did you say?”

“Edward?” Isa pulled herself away, and for a moment he nearly didn’t want to let her go; she was so warm and the night had been chilly.

“Say hello to my mother.”

Grogginess abandoned by them both, he watched Isa spring from the settee and pitch herself at his mother, the woman he knew Isa had spent more time with than her own mother. Edward stood, watching the reunion with reluctant satisfaction.

“Isa! Isa, my own little Isa. Oh, I sing praises to the Lord, seeing your face again.”

They both laughed and cried, and Edward wanted to turn away, shake his head, or laugh and cry along with them. There were too few joys these days . . . although this shouldn’t be one of them. She shouldn’t have come.

“Am I dreaming?” Edward’s mother held Isa tight, stroking her long, travel-ruffled golden hair. Then she held Isa at arm’s length and looked at her. “Is it really you?”

“Oh, Genny!” Isa’s voice tumbled like the tears falling from her face. “Now I know I’ve done the right thing.”

“But what are you doing here? I thought your parents took you out of Belgium.”

“They did.”

“They’ve come

Isa shook her head, and Edward spoke for her. “Only Isa.”

“But how? And why?

“Oh, not you too, Genny? I came because I had to know you were safe. And in spite of what Edward thinks, I can help.”

Genny pushed Isa’s hair away from her face. “Seeing you has gladdened my heart, but Brussels is hardly a place for anyone to live these days.”

“What’s all the commotion?” The words were timid and roughed by bravado all at once, and Edward knew instantly the voice belonged to Albert. He made a better bellhop than house guard. “Who is in there?”

Hinges squeaked from the door to the first-floor bedroom, and a man peeked out. A moment later his wife stuck her head around the jamb too, her hair covered with a nightcap that resembled part of the maid’s bonnet she’d worn in better days.

Edward’s mother pulled Isa forward, holding up Isa’s imprisoned hand like the winner of a prizefight. “Oh, Viole, it’s my own Isa, come home!”

Viole opened the door fully then, and Albert stepped out as well. Their faces were hardly welcoming.

“Who is this daughter, Genny?” Albert asked.

Viole poked him with her elbow. “She is no daughter; she’s that
fille hautaine
from Upper Town in Genny’s care so long. Oh, beg pardon,
. I meant to say—”

“That’s all right,” Isa said. That probably wasn’t the first time she’d been called haughty, but it usually came from Edward himself. “I’m afraid I’m not welcomed by anyone.”

His mother patted Isa’s shoulder. “No one said you weren’t welcome.”

“Edward did.”

Still a tattletale. He didn’t reply. He wasn’t going to take back a word, even if his mother might remind him about manners.

“He’s only worried about you, dear,” his mother said. “And so am I.”

“I talked at great length with Gourard, and he told me what happened before he left.”

“Gourard!” His mother repeated the name with surprise. “He escaped over the frontier to Holland more than a year ago. You spoke with him?”

“He helped me to get back into Belgium.” She glanced at Edward. “He must have been the one to make sure it was you who guided me.”

Edward didn’t doubt it.

Albert cleared his throat. “I’ll hear no more,
. Whatever you are involved in isn’t likely to be approved by the Germans, and I’ll have no part of it.”

“I’m not a spy, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

Edward didn’t mention that she’d smuggled in illegal newspapers and letters, making her every bit a spy according to the Germans.

“I want no trouble, do you understand? You’re not blood to us—to Genny or to any of us—that we should all risk our lives protecting you.”

Before the war no one would have spoken to Isa or any one of the hotel guests in such a tone. One by-product of the times that Edward didn’t mind at all.

“But, Albert, she’s nearly a daughter to me,” Edward’s mother said.

“Nearly isn’t blood. I pray you’ve no plans to stay here. We’ve little enough to eat as it is and too little money to buy more.”

Edward watched confusion reign on Isa’s face, but it lasted no more than a moment. She pulled a perfect shield of composure over her flawless face. Her hair was askew and she was dressed in peasant’s rags, but at that moment she was all Lassone: a wealthy heiress with her father’s distant ties to Belgian royalty.

“I have no intention of inconveniencing you,” she said. “At full light, I’ll go home.” She turned to Edward’s mother. “I hope you know you are welcome to come with me.”

Edward sighed at her proud announcement and spoke before his mother could reply. “How generous to offer your home. But do you know if
welcome there?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that half the big houses in Quartier Léopold have been billeted with German soldiers for two years now or converted to hospitals. Yours is probably one of them.”

“Oh . . . I hadn’t thought of that.” She looked his way again and her eyes flashed not with embarrassment but anger. He was used to her confidence—it came with money—but there was something new about that confidence, something . . . older. “I’m sure you believe I haven’t thought of a great many things. But I have. I shall see Brand Whitlock tomorrow—or today. He’ll set my papers in order, vouch for my residency, and have any Germans using my home removed for the length of my stay.”

Edward said nothing, only exchanged a glance with his mother. Have a few Germans removed?

And what did she mean, for the length of her stay? Did she think that border was some sort of open highway, back and forth between Belgium and freedom?

Little fool. He just hoped whatever fracas she started wouldn’t send too much attention their way.


Let us not forget the last proclamation of our beloved leader Burgomaster Max upon the arrival of our oppressors, to temporarily accept the sacrifices imposed upon us and patiently await the hour of reparation.

La Libre Belgique

Isa sat with a cup of steaming water in front of her. There was no tea, nor chocolate, nor coffee. She was told there was sometimes wild chicory to be had, but Genny said the taste was so awful they hardly pursued getting it. Pretending it was very weak tea, Isa sipped the hot water. The warmth felt good.

Viole and Albert had returned to their room, the door tightly shut. Isa knew they hoped she’d be gone once they emerged again, and she planned to do all she could to oblige.

She eyed her satchel on the table. Now was as good a time as any to show Edward and Genny what she’d brought. She reached inside for her flute and handed it to Edward.

“This is what you wanted to show me?”

“Oh, Isa, you brought your flute,” Genny said. “There is so little happiness around these days, I’m sure we’d all love to hear you play.”

“Not yet,” Edward said, balancing the center in his palm. “There’s something inside, isn’t there? That’s why you pretended you weren’t the owner when that German asked you to play?”

Isa took the flute and stuck her finger in the end but couldn’t reach what she sought.

“I think she needs a hairpin, Mother,” Edward said. “Or two.”

Genny went up the stairs, returning a moment later with a small silver box. Isa took out two pins, straightening and twisting them together. With caution and patience, she pulled out the hidden, tightly wound black material.

“What is it?” Genny asked.

The black velvet had been invisible through the holes of her flute, held securely between G# and C.

Genny gasped as Isa unfolded the velvet.

“There are eight diamonds, four emeralds, from rings my father gave me as birthday gifts. The diamonds aren’t the same size, but even the smallest is the best quality our Congo supplies. I thought they would bring more value when trading for services.”

“What services?” Edward asked suspiciously.

“It’s why I came,” she said. “I asked Gourard how I might bring all of you out of Belgium, across the frontier. He told me whom to contact and said these will be enough. I also have gold from the settings, melted down to little nuggets. They’re sewn into my . . .” She paused with a shy glance toward Edward, looking quickly away as she finished. “Underthings. With as much cash as I could carry between the lining of my skirt and the cotton on the outside.”

Edward leaned back in his chair, emitting a breath. “I don’t know if I should be grateful or angry.”

“Why should you be angry?”

He leaned forward again, folding his hands on the table. “Is there anything
you smuggled in without telling me? a codebook, maybe? plans to blow up the Kommandantur?”

Isa laughed. “You’re too funny! Why should I have told you about the money and the gems? What would you have done differently to get them here?”

“You could have warned me about the flute,” he said. “I almost threw the blasted thing in the river, along with that silly book of yours.”

“My diary! Don’t remind me.”

“Oh, Edward, you didn’t throw away Isa’s diary?”

“I did. I know of at least two priests who’ve been killed for keeping a journal, and I wasn’t about to join their ranks because of some silly sentimental rubbish.”

“Don’t call my diary rubbish!”

“Perhaps not—rubbish wouldn’t send anyone to the firing squad. Did you happen to mention Gourard’s name in that diary?”

She didn’t answer.

“I can see you did. A connection to someone who’s escaped over the frontier is automatic guilt in any German court.”

Isa was about to protest when she caught the little shake of Genny’s head. Clearly Genny thought this was one argument Isa could not win.

“How soon can we contact Gourard’s network to help us leave? I have the name of a priest who will arrange for papers for the rest of you, passes to travel outside of Brussels.” She glanced at Edward. “We don’t need more than that, do we? You can guide all of us out the way you guided me in, can’t you?”

“What about your loyalty to Belgium?” Edward asked. “That’s all you’ve touted since I picked you up, how this is your home and you belong here.”

“I meant every word, but I’ve always planned to use this treasure in the best way to benefit all of us. So when Belgium is its own again, there will still be Belgians to populate it.”

“Well, at least you’re talking sense.” Edward eyed her. “Your plan might work.”

“Good! How soon shall we leave?”

“I can talk to Father Clemenceau today.”

“You—you already know Father Clemenceau?” Isa caught back more questions. “Of course, since Gourard arranged for you to be my guide, you must already know all of the connections between here and Holland.”

“I know some,” he said slowly.

Genny shook her head. “Those people are so dangerous. Albert has a healthy fear of it all. I wish you knew less than you do.” She patted her son’s forearm and then looked at Isa. “Now both of you know too much.”

“I only know a few names,” she said.

“Well, forget them,” Genny advised. “As for escaping over the frontier, I don’t—”

Taking up one of the diamonds, Edward interrupted his mother. “This much money will make the trip far less dangerous than you imagine, Mother. We can bribe every checkpoint guard between here and the border and walk right out.”

“How can you be so sure? Greed is one thing, loyalty another.”

Isa put an arm about Genny’s shoulders. “Edward will make sure we’re safe.”

“I wouldn’t agree to seeing you out if I didn’t think you could safely escape, Mother,” Edward said. “I wouldn’t put your life—or Jonah’s—in worse jeopardy than staying here.”

“Not to mention your own life,” Isa added.
Or mine
, but she didn’t dwell on that omission just now.

Edward didn’t look at her.

There was something heart-stopping in that simple act of avoidance.

“I will have Father Clemenceau talk to you,” Edward said. “As soon as he sees the medium of exchange Isa’s brought, he’ll tell you how safe the journey could be. Will you talk to him?”

His mother nodded.

“Good.” Edward twisted the velvet back around the gemstones, pushing them toward Isa. He stood. “Put these back where you had them, and by all means keep them safe. I’ll tend to the arrangements.”

Isa stood too, leaving the jewels on the table. “Wait.”

He slowed but did not stop until he was at the door.

“You’ll make arrangements for all of us, won’t you, Edward? All of us?”

He placed a hand on the dark knob. But he didn’t open the door, nor did he turn back to them. He stood still for a long, silent moment. “I’ll make arrangements for you and my mother and Jonah.”

“Then you might as well sit down,” Isa said quietly. “What would be the use of spending all this on bribes just to turn around at the border?”

Edward faced her, his brows sinking. “I will arrange for you to leave as soon as possible, and you
go. But I’ll stay behind.”

“Now who’s the fool for choosing Belgium over freedom?”

“Call me what you like. I cannot go.”

“Then none of us will go,” Genny broke in.

“That’s fine with me,” Isa said.

“Not with me.” Edward retraced his last two steps, approaching his mother. “This is almost as foolish as Isa coming back in the first place. Although,” he added with a glance her way, “seeing what she’s returned with, I may have to recant some of what I’ve said. That only makes your refusal to go more foolish, Mother. She’s done something extraordinary, something unbelievable. She’s brought with her the means to get you out of this hell. Imagine eating a meal not provided by a soup kitchen. Imagine taking a walk anytime you please, in a garden—or wherever you like—without running into a German soldier. Imagine not fearing a night raid or Germans ransacking your home. Imagine never again hearing the sound of executions at Tir National. You
go, Mother!”

BOOK: Whisper on the Wind
3.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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