Authors: Maureen Lang
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance, #Historical, #General
Without a word Jonah left the room, going up the stairs and returning moments later. In his hand was a folded piece of paper. “You won’t forget your promise?”
“I won’t forget.”
Silently, he handed her the paper. Newsprint, lightweight but durable, plain black and white but clear, good-quality print, just a single page. At the top, in tall, bold letters she read,
La Libre Belgique.
This was no normal newssheet despite its bold headline. The words stole her breath.
“Allies Attack from Sea to Verdun, Smash German Forces”
Surely this was no German newspaper. The price listed at the top was
Elastic—from zero to infinity
. It called itself a “bulletin of patriot propaganda to be distributed with regular irregularity and submitting to no censorship.” At the bottom, advertisers were told to hold their money for better times.
“Where did you get this?”
it to you?”
Jonah shook his head. “No, he doesn’t know I have it. I swiped it out of his pocket once when he had a pile of them.”
The issue was dated nearly a year ago, the office listed simply as an “automobile cellar” with the unlikely contact address of none other than the German Kommandantur right here in Brussels. “This is pretty old. Do you know if Edward is still involved with this?”
“Sure he is. He doesn’t bring them home anymore; otherwise I’d have a more recent copy. I follow him sometimes, but I always lose him.”
She folded the paper and handed it back to him. “I’m afraid you should burn this. It’s dangerous for you to have.”
“I keep it hidden.”
“But if it’s found, you could be arrested, you and your mother and Viole and Albert. Edward, too.”
He took the paper without looking at her.
“Does Albert know you have this?”
“No! And he won’t find out, either. You promised.”
She shook her head. “No, I won’t tell him, and I won’t tell anyone else. But what are you going to do? Keep it and worry you might get everyone into trouble, or get rid of it and sleep easy at night?”
“But I’ve already had it this long. It’s never been found so far.”
“I’d say you’ve been keeping the angels around you busy then, and maybe it’s time to give them a rest. Please, Jonah? You must have it memorized by now if you’ve had it so long. Why keep it?”
He started to speak, held back. His face splotched with red. “Because I want to be part of it, like Edward. Everybody says the ones who print this paper are the saints of Belgium. Heroes.”
She was sure of that.
“I have an idea. Why don’t you and I take a walk to the edge of the park? I saw they’re growing potatoes there now, right here in the city. If we can get close enough to a bush or tree, where people would never think to grow something, we can dig without attracting too much attention. Then, when the Germans are gone for good, you can go and retrieve it as the keepsake you want it to be. But if it’s found, it won’t cause trouble for anyone in particular.”
“I guess I could, if I had something to keep it in, to keep the squirrels from getting at it, and the rain. I’ll go find something and we can do it right away, before Mother or Edward get home.”
Isa waited in the parlor while Jonah went in search for something to protect his treasure. Myriad thoughts coursed through her mind. If Edward was still involved in an illegal newspaper—something that had been circulating for at least a year—he was in greater danger than she thought.
“I’m ready!” Jonah held the folded paper in one hand, a small metal tin in the other. “My father gave this to me when I was little. It’s a bank, but it’s been empty a long time now. I’ve wanted to bury this ever since the Germans came through once looking for tin and metal. I’ve stuffed cloth in the slot. See? To protect my paper.”
“Well done,” she said as they walked out the door. “One day all the coins you used to help your family will be replaced—and doubled. God has a way of doing that sort of thing when we use what we have to help others.”
“Oh, Jonah,” she said, catching his eye, “I know so.”
We must, therefore, be silent as seeds, fiercely united and longing for that day when from our homeland soil grows our own true voice once again.
La Libre Belgique
“I tell you, I was followed.”
“Lower your voice.” Edward scanned the park. His unease was mirrored in the trembling young courier at his side, only Edward was better at hiding it. “Sit on the bench. Breathe easy. Look ahead.”
Beyond stretched one of the few parklands not entirely overtaken by German army officers, one given to the people to grow potatoes in the hope of keeping their hunger at bay. A few civilians did what people used to do before the war—“taking the air” after their midday meal—but Edward doubted many were Belgian. Civilian clothes didn’t mean they were Belgian.
“All right,” Edward said, once they were seated. “Can you talk slowly now? Don’t look at me. We’re just enjoying a bit of sun, remember?”
Peripherally Edward saw the young man turn stiffly to face the potato beds. He breathed deeply, twice. There couldn’t be more than a few years’ difference between them, but nearly two years of working against the Germans had a way of growing Edward into the age of his disguise.
“Is he still following you?”
The man—Tomsk—shook his head. Edward knew his name, but such knowledge didn’t go the other way around. “I lost him in the Quartier des Marolles.”
“There! But how would you know you were followed with so many soldiers at the Palais de Justice? Are you certain?”
“Then you’d best leave what you have with me. Don’t go home for a few days. What section of your route have you left undelivered?”
“The north end of Quartier Léopold.”
“Here.” Edward slipped a key from his pocket and placed it on the middle rung of the bench. “This is the key to an empty flat on Rue Avalon, number 219, advertised to let. Create no noise nor smell of food. Don’t use the lights while you are there. Do not even let the floor squeak beneath your soles. Leave the key inside when you go. Return here in two days. I will contact your family, see if your home is being watched. If so, you must go over the border. If on the other hand you are safe, I will tell you simply to go home. Do you understand?”
“Yes. Yes, sir. I’ll do as you say.” Tomsk reached out to pick up the key, but his hand shook so much that Edward doubted he could do such a simple thing.
“Breathe easily, man.” His tone made Tomsk withdraw his hand, the key still sitting there. “Do you have the issues yet to be distributed?”
Tomsk leaned forward, his jacket falling open. Inside he wore a harness something like the one Edward often wore, designed to hold a few hundred sheets of thin paper, divided into packets of fifty to be given to various distributors in the city. Edward saw those Tomsk had were each neatly folded into their envelopes. One was identical to any other—and therefore likely to cause suspicion if seen.
“Wait for those two men to pass,” Edward whispered, eyeing two men walking by not far off. “Then take off your jacket and harness together with the issues inside. Leave it here on the bench between us. Pick up the key at the same time. Then wait a moment, take a breath, and go.”
Edward waited until Tomsk had reached the edge of the park before glancing at the abandoned jacket. When he stood some moments later, he tucked it over his arm. He would deliver those left, because as Tomsk’s supplier, Edward knew each and every “subscriber” on his list.
He often performed various tasks vital to the paper, delivering finished prints or finding blank paper to be used on whatever press they could employ. He’d even written an article or two under the pseudonym Bespawl, a name he’d chosen from a poem he once read because it meant “to spit.” And each word he wrote was meant to do exactly that, directly into the German eye. But even now he had no idea of the editor; he simply passed on his articles to the man who supplied him with the copies he distributed, and somehow they found their way to the innermost secret circle.
Edward delivered the last of the papers; broad daylight was sometimes the best cover of all. Leaving the luxurious appointments of Quartier Léopold was easy for him, even now, when all of Belgium was united. Fleming and Walloon. Rich, poor, and in-between. Despite the temporary equality among most Belgians, Edward remembered his place, and Upper Town wasn’t it—such a place was Isa’s.
Still, he couldn’t stop himself from passing her old home. As expected, it was still occupied.
Descending the streets to Lower Town, he returned to the park he’d left behind some time ago. He wasn’t sure what caught his eye first—the shadow of a slight, crouched boy or the woman in peasant garb so obviously trying to hide him. Curiosity made him slow his pace, but anger quickened it when he recognized the two faces.
“Have you both entirely lost your minds? Jonah, what are you doing?”
Jonah popped to his feet, his hands covered with dirt, fingernails black. On his face was a look that flashed between surprise, fear, and then relief when he recognized Edward. “N-nothing.”
“Well, Edward,” Isa greeted him. “What are you doing coming from that direction? I didn’t think you liked my old neighborhood.”
He ignored her, noting the obvious guilt on his brother’s face. “What have you been doing? You can’t plant a potato under a bush.”
Even as he asked the question, he saw Isa move back, casually stamping on whatever Jonah had been burying.
“Looking for dropped coins,” Jonah said.
Isa looped her arms with both of them. “Come, Edward, let’s all start walking. We’ve been in one spot long enough. We’ll be perfectly honest, shall we, Jonah?”
His brother looked horrified, but Isa’s smile was so easy Edward nearly couldn’t resist smiling along. People smiled so rarely anymore, it was as if they’d forgotten. Probably she would forget too, after she’d been back for a while.
“We were burying a treasure. One we’ll dig up after Belgium is ours again. And it will be someday. We’re finished now, anyway. So shall we go back to Viole’s and have lunch?”
“What treasure?” he queried. “Not the flute?” Some of Jonah’s horror landed in Edward’s gut.
“No, no, that’s back in my satchel behind the cupboard at Viole’s. Although,” she added, “I think perhaps we should find a better place for such a valuable instrument. I have just the spot for it, once I’m living in my home again.”
He nearly harrumphed over that silly notion but thought the better of it and stopped midstride. “What
you burying, then?”
“Not to fret. Jonah’s old tin bank, for safekeeping. He thinks the Germans might go house-to-house looking for tin and metal and didn’t want the bank your father gave him to be requisitioned.”
“So you buried it in broad daylight?” He shook his head at Jonah. “You both could have gotten into trouble if you’d been caught.”
“But we can’t go out after dark, Edward.”
“And we weren’t caught.” Isa’s voice was as untroubled as always. Here, in the middle of occupied Brussels, she sounded as if she hadn’t a care in the world. It irked him. “So, what were you doing in Quartier Léopold?”
“I went past your old house. Still occupied by German troops, so you might want to rethink where you’ll be living.”
Her smile hadn’t the sense to dissipate even the smallest bit. “I went to see Brand Whitlock today, and he’s promised to help.”
“Ambassador Whitlock will see you in your house again?”
“He didn’t promise, but he’ll try.”
Edward smirked. “Of course he didn’t promise. What do you think he is, Isa, a miracle worker? He’s a good, decent man who probably had a hard time saying no to his old friend’s daughter. You had no right to put him in such a spot.”
“I have a right to my own house, haven’t I? He’s just doing his job, protecting American interests. Believe me, if Mr. Whitlock didn’t want to help me, I’m sure he wouldn’t.”
“I think we’d better come up with another place for you to live just in case he can’t achieve the impossible.”
Isa raised one brow. “Such as . . . wherever you’re living?”
“No. I was thinking you might be more comfortable with an old neighbor or another friend of your parents. Anyone come to mind?”
She cocked her head with a teasing smile. “Most of them went with King Albert when the royal court left the country.”
“Why don’t we just take you to see Mr. Whitlock and he can arrange for you to follow that path, right out of Belgium.”
Instead of being offended, she patted his arm. “I wouldn’t dream of deserting you now, Edward.”
He sighed, soft and brief, then set a brisker pace.
Edward stopped and saw that the others did too, in the same step. His heartbeat quickened, and he looked around hoping to see a soldier calling attention to someone other than them.
There was no one.
Slowly, Edward pulled his arm from Isa’s and slipped his hand around hers. He took Jonah’s hand as well and the three of them leaned together on the
as one. For a moment he was tempted to thank God he’d just rid himself of his contraband, but the thought ended there.
“You will show your papers, please.”
Edward saw Isa scramble to get her papers first and stuff them under the nose of the stern German soldier. He was broad shouldered and strong, despite his thick glasses that no doubt guaranteed his position in occupied territory rather than at the front.
“And you?” He eyed Edward.
The soldier looked at his
, perhaps less closely than Isa’s, and when he handed them back, he didn’t even address Jonah, who still stood nearby but, Edward noticed for the first time, had not produced his identification.
“Very well. You may go.”
Edward was the first to turn away. He thought he’d gotten used to these searches. Blast Isa; why did she have to be here to see things like this, anyway?
After they turned the corner, Jonah laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Edward asked.
“I didn’t have my papers!”