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Authors: Maureen Lang

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

Whisper on the Wind (9 page)

BOOK: Whisper on the Wind
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“I thought you’ve known her since she was a child. Like a sister?”

Explaining why Isa Lassone had never, ever, stirred brotherly affection in him would take far more time than he presently had.

“Good night, Rosalie. Curfew, you know. I must go.” He pulled the door shut before she could protest.

It was raining and he tugged the cap tighter to his head, then walked down the narrow artery too fast for the caution he usually took after curfew. He slowed, blaming Isa for the lapse. He shouldn’t be thinking of her at all. She was here and there was nothing he could do about it. And while he was relieved neither one of them had been caught with the letters and newspapers she’d brought in, he was done worrying about her anymore. If she starved along with the rest of Belgium, so be it.

Suddenly he stopped. His thoughts had kept him from concentrating on his surroundings. He thought he heard something. Edward slunk into the shadows, waiting.

A cat shot by and he wondered if that was all it had been. He waited longer. In a moment he heard something else, the sound of German voices.

He understood what little he could hear, something about the cat and then a laugh and a joke about how everyone hadn’t minded eating the stray dogs and old horses the army hadn’t taken, but nobody wanted to try the cats. Another responded that they were too scrawny nowadays anyway, so why bother. When the sounds faded, Edward moved out of his hiding place. The church steeple was within sight. It was too late to speak to his contact tonight, but being at the church would put him in exactly the right spot to do business at first light.

Safely inside, Edward let the quiet of the sanctuary calm his nerves. He hadn’t visited church so often his entire life, not even in the days when he wanted to go.

He walked deeper into the sanctuary to lie on the hard wooden bench. It wouldn’t be the first time it had served as a bed, and no doubt it wouldn’t be the last.

* * *

Isa lay in the dark. Beside her, Genny slept. Isa dared not disturb her rest, though that’s exactly what she wanted to do. All evening Isa had shared Genny with Viole, Albert, or Jonah. While it was wonderful under any circumstance to be with this woman who for so long had been Isa’s mentor and friend, she’d wished for time alone and hoped tomorrow might be different.

She wasn’t sure at first, it was so quiet, but soon she realized Genny’s breathing no longer had the steady rhythm of sleep.

“Genny?” she whispered.

For a long moment Isa heard nothing, not even breathing. Then Genny turned and gave Isa a smile. She could see little in the dim light from the single, high window in the room but could tell Genny had been crying, in spite of the smile.

“I thought you were asleep,” Genny said.

“I thought the same of you.”

“I’m sorry if I interfered with your rest.”

“What’s the matter?”

Isa saw a tear, suspended just below Genny’s eye, slip down a slanted line to disappear into her honey blonde hair. Genny might be old enough to be Isa’s mother but was still a beautiful woman. Her eyes were more green than the greenish gray she’d given Edward, and larger. Though her face had a hint of maturity with the barest shadow of a line here and there, she had the high cheekbones, full mouth, arched brows, and symmetry of natural beauty. But Isa saw a sadness she’d never seen before. At least not in Genny, who’d taught Isa to take joy in God’s creation.

“Now and then I miss Jonathan unbearably. Do you know, the last time you were in my care, Jonathan mentioned how lovely you’d grown to be, and how . . .” Her voice quivered and she paused, pressing her lips closed. “How he wished you were our daughter. And he credited me with some of your loveliness.”

“If I do have any loveliness, it was you who modeled it. He was right.”

“He would be glad you’ve returned. In spite of everything, he would be glad, because he knew you’ve always brought me joy.”

“I miss him too. How can you do it, Genny? How can you live here among the Germans who took his life?”

She raised a finger to shush her and shook her head, wide-eyed. “No, no, Isa. You mustn’t give in to that. Hatred will only hurt
, not them. Believe me, I’ve learned the truth about that.”

“Because you’ve hated them, too?” Somehow facing her own sin of hatred would be easier if Genny struggled with the same thing.

Genny leaned back and rested her arm along her forehead. “I don’t like myself when my thoughts are so full of hate, and I doubt you would either.”

“I know little of what’s happened here, to you and to Edward and Jonah. Can you tell me?”

“It’s difficult . . . to speak of it, even after two years. But you have a right to know.” Genny’s eyes squeezed shut, and when they opened again, two new tears rolled to the side. “I should start before the Germans ever came, if you’re to fully understand. After that day your parents came to our hotel for you, to bring you out of Belgium, Edward and his father had a terrible argument. Edward wanted to return to England and enlist in the British army. He was so sure war was inevitable and feared Belgium needed to be protected. My Jonathan believed Germany would respect the treaty and not violate the border. We knew Edward didn’t want to join the army because he believed in a cause. What cause was there to believe in back then? Until Belgium was invaded there was no reason to think anyone should take up arms. By the time Edward tried to join the Belgian army, after we’d heard about the attack on Liege, it was already too late. No arms left, too much chaos. We should have left, gone back to England.”

She pressed her fingertips into her eyes. “That night, the night they came to Louvain, we all stayed inside in hopes they would just pass through. But . . . oh, I don’t know. There was so much confusion, and those soldiers were so young. Some people say there were two regiments of Germans, and they came upon each other thinking they were Belgian soldiers and that started the fighting. But the Germans claim armed civilians—snipers—fired at them. That’s what they said when they forced us to leave the hotel, that someone had fired from an upper window. It wasn’t true; how could it be? We had so few guests by then, and none of us had any guns. The mayor had requested all private arms to be turned over, to prove to the approaching Germans that we wouldn’t resist.”

She took a steadying breath. “We were marched out to the street while they took what they wanted, then set fire to the inn. Do you recall Martin, one of our most frequent visitors?”

Isa nodded. No one could forget Martin, the son of wealthy university patrons who was all grown up but in his mind still a child. Talkative, sweetly annoying in his lack of social manners.

“The noise outside frightened him and he went back inside. Jonathan—he ran after him. There was so much confusion, because the Germans didn’t know Martin’s ways. They thought he was going to get a gun, to defend the inn. Martin and Jonathan were both shot.”

Isa wiped away the wetness on her face. “How awful for them. For all of you.”

“There was nothing any of us could have done to stop them. And so while the fire raged and the Germans looked on, the rest of us went to the church to hide. The next day Edward left, to go and see what was happening. I begged him to stay, to keep hidden, but he went out anyway. I didn’t see him again for almost five months.”

She quieted, as if words were too heavy to utter until she regained her strength.

“Jonah told me Edward was taken away. To a work camp?”

“Yes, so many young men were rounded up that day. But a miracle happened, one Edward refuses to see.”

“What kind of miracle?”

“They were brought back on a farm cart. It stank of animals. Seventeen men in all. Half of each man’s head was shaved, the other half a tangled mass from top to beard. They looked awful, degraded. Edward was wounded on his shoulder, I think from a bayonet, although he never told me. It smelled so foul, and he was so feverish and weak. We had no medicine, no quinine, nothing. I could do nothing but watch him die. And pray.”

Isa wiped away yet another tear and watched Genny do the same.

“But God heard those prayers and blessed us both that day. He healed my son and gave him back to me for a little longer.” She turned to Isa then, and a smile glistened through her moist eyes. “It was a miracle, Isa. Of the seventeen who returned that day, Edward was the only one to live.” She sighed. “The Germans think he died, and I never went to the Kommandantur to tell them differently. They expect all the men between seventeen and fifty to report regularly. But I think they’ve done enough to him. That’s why Edward wears that disguise. His identity did die. Gourard even produced a death certificate for him, and I took it to the Germans.” She put a fist to her lips, pressing against the quiver Isa saw nonetheless.

“Oh, Genny,” Isa said and hugged the older woman. “Thank God, oh, thank God his identity was all that died.”

“I do thank Him, Isa, every day of my life. Every morning I wake up and thank the Lord for sparing my son. Only . . .”


“The Lord healed his body, but something inside of him is still infected. His spirit has shriveled up with hatred of the Germans. Sometimes it seems he even hates God for taking away his father. At least for taking him when He did, when their last words were so harsh. He won’t speak of God anymore, and his Bible is here with me.”

“God hasn’t let go of him.”

Genny pulled Isa to her. “I know.”

Isa clung to Genny, with hope and desperation in equal measure.


Contrary to what the FOREIGNERS would have us believe, for every German victory there is an Allied victory. We must pray for the balance to tip in our favor.

La Libre Belgique

Major Johann Maximilian Gottfried von Bürkel let the breeze carry the sheer curtain aside, affording him a clear view of the street below. What had he expected? That they would arrive in royal style? in a vehicle or a carriage?

Perhaps not, but neither had he expected the owner of this impressive city villa to be dressed in rags. Who could tell which one he was supposed to watch? But why bother, anyway? The little group arrived as one insignificant mass, huddled close as they approached the entry porch.

He turned away as they left his line of vision. With only one crutch he was still nimble, easily making it to the nearest chair. He sat and placed the crutch with its mate, near his one remaining foot, heaving a sigh between resignation and disgust.

The war had taken its toll on everyone, including those who had once lived in such a grand home. His eyes took in the burgundy and gold room he’d called his own for three months now, with its brocade draperies, silk wallpaper, and carpet spun right here in Brussels. Only the very best.

He hadn’t expected more than one of them but hardly cared which was the owner. Whoever she was, the Germans intended to keep an eye on her. He wished he could care about the things the army wanted; at least that might seem familiar. Instead, the thoughts that consumed him these days were far from armies and killing and German objectives. The future often filled his mind, but an eternal one rather than a German one.

A moment later brought the expected tap at his door, and he called his permission to enter. He used French, the language that came with the few servants left in this home.

“Pardon, Herr Major, but our Mademoiselle Lassone has returned.”

He caught the pleased look in the middle-aged woman’s eye and dismissed it as sentimental. “Very well. I intend to remain in my room. If she wishes to see me, she may announce herself. Otherwise, I shall give as little attention to her as I hope she will give to me.”

Max watched the servant close the door. He settled back in the comfortable leather chair. He listened. At first he heard nothing, but then it came. The sound of feet on the stairs and then voices. He hoped they would pass his door without pause, and when they did, he was surprised at his own disappointment.

He should have gone back to Germany after he left hospital. But for what? For whom? His sons were gone, both of them killed within months of each other, before this vile war knew its first anniversary. And their mother . . . she might as well be gone, too. He knew she was safe where she was, cared for by the nuns in the convent where she’d lived as a child. There was some measure of comfort in that, whatever comfort he could find amid the fact that she no longer knew him. Grief was a powerful force, more powerful than her memory of him.

“Well,” he said to himself, “I never did like fighting those hall stairs, so now I shall stay to myself.” He looked around the well-appointed sitting room, seeing the bedroom through the open arch nearby. “It’s not such a bad prison, really.”

* * *

“Oh, Clara!” Isa said to the housemaid who opened the door to her old room. Walls covered in shades of green silk spun with a multitude of leaves, flowers of yellow upon the draperies, a combination of both in the coverlets and multiple pillows gracing her bed. “I used to think this old room was a prison, but now it’s one of the most wonderful sights I’ve ever seen.” She went to the wardrobe and flung open the doors. “And look! All my things are intact. Not even touched. Genny, isn’t it a miracle?”

Genny, who’d followed, nodded with a smile. “Yes, Isa, that it is. After what I’ve seen in the last two years, I’d say it’s nothing short of a miracle.”

“But they never came inside the house in those first awful days,” Clara said. “They came right down the street, like a line of gray ants, all marching in step.” She made the motion of spitting, but nothing came out except her sentiments toward the occupying soldiers. “They only ransacked a few of the houses in this quarter, the ones owned by English and French. I do not know how,
, but they knew which houses were owned by whom. They marked certain ones with chalk:
‘Nicht plündern

The German houses and most of the neutrals. So your home has been safe all along. We were very much relieved; we didn’t know where we would go if it was burned, like Louvain and the other towns. But I am so happy to have our
back home. We did not think we would ever see your family again.”

BOOK: Whisper on the Wind
6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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