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The Nightingale / (by Hannah Kristin, 2015) -

The Nightingale /  (by Hannah Kristin, 2015) -

The Nightingale / (by Hannah Kristin, 2015) -

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The Nightingale / (by Hannah Kristin, 2015) -
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2015
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Hannah Kristin
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Polly Stone
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upper_intermediate
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17:20:01
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Nightingale / :

.doc (Word) hannah_kristin_-_the_nightingale.doc [1.86 Mb] (c: 3) .
.pdf hannah_kristin_-_the_nightingale.pdf [2.14 Mb] (c: 6) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: The Nightingale

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ONE April 9, 1995 The Oregon Coast If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. Todays young people want to know everything about everyone. They think talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention. Lately, though, I find myself thinking about the war and my past, about the people I lost. Lost. It makes it sound as if I misplaced my loved ones; perhaps I left them where they dont belong and then turned away, too confused to retrace my steps. They are not lost. Nor are they in a better place. They are gone. As I approach the end of my years, I know that grief, like regret, settles into our DNA and remains forever a part of us. I have aged in the months since my husbands death and my diagnosis. My skin has the crinkled appearance of wax paper that someone has tried to flatten and reuse. My eyes fail me oftenin the darkness, when headlights flash, when rain falls. It is unnerving, this new unreliability in my vision. Perhaps thats why I find myself looking backward. The past has a clarity I can no longer see in the present. I want to imagine there will be peace when I am gone, that I will see all of the people I have loved and lost. At least that I will be forgiven. I know better, though, dont I? * * * My house, named The Peaks by the lumber baron who built it more than a hundred years ago, is for sale, and I am preparing to move because my son thinks I should. He is trying to take care of me, to show how much he loves me in this most difficult of times, and so I put up with his controlling ways. What do I care where I die? That is the point, really. It no longer matters where I live. I am boxing up the Oregon beachside life I settled into nearly fifty years ago. There is not much I want to take with me. But there is one thing. I reach for the hanging handle that controls the attic steps. The stairs unfold from the ceiling like a gentleman extending his hand. The flimsy stairs wobble beneath my feet as I climb into the attic, which smells of must and mold. A single, hanging lightbulb swings overhead. I pull the cord. It is like being in the hold of an old steamship. Wide wooden planks panel the walls; cobwebs turn the creases silver and hang in skeins from the indentations between the planks. The ceiling is so steeply pitched that I can stand upright only in the center of the room. I see the rocking chair I used when my grandchildren were young, then an old crib and a ratty-looking rocking horse set on rusty springs, and the chair my daughter was refinishing when she got sick. Boxes are tucked along the wall, marked Xmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween, Serveware, Sports. In those boxes are the things I dont use much anymore but cant bear to part with. For me, admitting that I wont decorate a tree for Christmas is giving up, and Ive never been good at letting go. Tucked in the corner is what I am looking for: an ancient steamer trunk covered in travel stickers. With effort, I drag the heavy trunk to the center of the attic, directly beneath the hanging light. I kneel beside it, but the pain in my knees is piercing, so I slide onto my backside. For the first time in thirty years, I lift the trunks lid. The top tray is full of baby memorabilia. Tiny shoes, ceramic hand molds, crayon drawings populated by stick figures and smiling suns, report cards, dance recital pictures. I lift the tray from the trunk and set it aside. The mementos in the bottom of the trunk are in a messy pile: several faded leather-bound journals; a packet of aged postcards tied together with a blue satin ribbon; a cardboard box bent in one corner; a set of slim books of poetry by Julien Rossignol; and a shoebox that holds hundreds of black-and-white photographs. On top is a yellowed, faded piece of paper. My hands are shaking as I pick it up. It is a carte didentit?, an identity card, from the war. I see the small, passport-sized photo of a young woman. Juliette Gervaise. Mom? I hear my son on the creaking wooden steps, footsteps that match my heartbeats. Has he called out to me before? Mom? You shouldnt be up here. Shit. The steps are unsteady. He comes to stand beside me. One fall and I touch his pant leg, shake my head softly. I cant look up. Dont is all I can say. He kneels, then sits. I can smell his aftershave, something subtle and spicy, and also a hint of smoke. He has sneaked a cigarette outside, a habit he gave up decades ago and took up again at my recent diagnosis. There is no reason to voice my disapproval: He is a doctor. He knows better. My instinct is to toss the card into the trunk and slam the lid down, hiding it again. Its what I have done all my life. Now I am dying. Not quickly, perhaps, but not slowly, either, and I feel compelled to look back on my life. Mom, youre crying. Am I? I want to tell him the truth, but I cant. It embarrasses and shames me, this failure. At my age, I should not be afraid of anythingcertainly not my own past. I say only, I want to take this trunk. Its too big. Ill repack the things you want into a smaller box. I smile at his attempt to control me. I love you and I am sick again. For these reasons, I have let you push me around, but I am not dead yet. I want this trunk with me. What can you possibly need in it? Its just our artwork and other junk. If I had told him the truth long ago, or had danced and drunk and sung more, maybe he would have seen me instead of a dependable, ordinary mother. He loves a version of me that is incomplete. I always thought it was what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps Id like to be known. Think of this as my last request. I can see that he wants to tell me not to talk that way, but hes afraid his voice will catch. He clears his throat. Youve beaten it twice before. Youll beat it again. We both know this isnt true. I am unsteady and weak. I can neither sleep nor eat without the help of medical science. Of course I will. I just want to keep you safe. I smile. Americans can be so na?ve. Once I shared his optimism. I thought the world was safe. But that was a long time ago. Who is Juliette Gervaise? Julien says and it shocks me a little to hear that name from him. I close my eyes and in the darkness that smells of mildew and bygone lives, my mind casts back, a line thrown across years and continents. Against my willor maybe in tandem with it, who knows anymore?I remember. TWO The lights are going out all over Europe; We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime. SIR EDWARD GREY, ON WORLD WAR I August 1939 France Vianne Mauriac left the cool, stucco-walled kitchen and stepped out into her front yard. On this beautiful summer morning in the Loire Valley, everything was in bloom. White sheets flapped in the breeze and roses tumbled like laughter along the ancient stone wall that hid her property from the road. A pair of industrious bees buzzed among the blooms; from far away, she heard the chugging purr of a train and then the sweet sound of a little girls laughter. Sophie. Vianne smiled. Her eight-year-old daughter was probably running through the house, making her father dance attendance on her as they readied for their Saturday picnic. Your daughter is a tyrant, Antoine said, appearing in the doorway. He walked toward her, his pomaded hair glinting black in the sunlight. Hed been working on his furniture this morningsanding a chair that was already as soft as satinand a fine layer of wood dust peppered his face and shoulders. He was a big man, tall and broad shouldered, with a rough face and a dark stubble that took constant effort to keep from becoming a beard. He slipped an arm around her and pulled her close. I love you, V. I love you, too. It was the truest fact of her world. She loved everything about this man, his smile, the way he mumbled in his sleep and laughed after a sneeze and sang opera in the shower. Shed fallen in love with him fifteen years ago, on the school play yard, before shed even known what love was. He was her first everythingfirst kiss, first love, first lover. Before him, shed been a skinny, awkward, anxious girl given to stuttering when she got scared, which was often. A motherless girl. You will be the adult now, her father had said to Vianne as they walked up to this very house for the first time. Shed been fourteen years old, her eyes swollen from crying, her grief unbearable. In an instant, this house had gone from being the familys summer house to a prison of sorts. Maman had been dead less than two weeks when Papa gave up on being a father. Upon their arrival here, hed not held her hand or rested a hand on her shoulder or even offered her a handkerchief to dry her tears. B-but Im just a girl, shed said. Not anymore. Shed looked down at her younger sister, Isabelle, who still sucked her thumb at four and had no idea what was going on. Isabelle kept asking when Maman was coming home. When the door opened, a tall, thin woman with a nose like a water spigot and eyes as small and dark as raisins appeared. These are the girls? the woman had said. Papa nodded. They will be no trouble. It had happened so fast. Vianne hadnt really understood. Papa dropped off his daughters like soiled laundry and left them with a stranger. The girls were so far apart in age it was as if they were from different families. Vianne had wanted to comfort Isabellemeant tobut Vianne had been in so much pain it was impossible to think of anyone else, especially a child as willful and impatient and loud as Isabelle. Vianne still remembered those first days here: Isabelle shrieking and Madame spanking her. Vianne had pleaded with her sister, saying, again and again, Mon Dieu, Isabelle, quit screeching. Just do as she bids, but even at four, Isabelle had been unmanageable. Vianne had been undone by all of itthe grief for her dead mother, the pain of her fathers abandonment, the sudden change in their circumstances, and Isabelles cloying, needy loneliness. It was Antoine whod saved Vianne. That first summer after Mamans death, the two of them had become inseparable. With him, Vianne had found an escape. By the time she was sixteen, she was pregnant; at seventeen, she was married and the mistress of Le Jardin. Two months later, she had a miscarriage and she lost herself for a while. There was no other way to put it. Shed crawled into her grief and cocooned it around her, unable to care about anyone or anythingcertainly not a needy, wailing four-year-old sister. But that was old news. Not the sort of memory she wanted on a beautiful day like today. She leaned against her husband as their daughter ran up to them, announcing, Im ready. Lets go. Well, Antoine said, grinning. The princess is ready and so we must move. Vianne smiled as she went back into the house and retrieved her hat from the hook by the door. A strawberry blonde, with porcelain-thin skin and sea-blue eyes, she always protected herself from the sun. By the time shed settled the wide-brimmed straw hat in place and collected her lacy gloves and picnic basket, Sophie and Antoine were already outside the gate. Vianne joined them on the dirt road in front of their home. It was barely wide enough for an automobile. Beyond it stretched acres of hayfields, the green here and there studded with red poppies and blue cornflowers. Forests grew in patches. In this corner of the Loire Valley, fields were more likely to be growing hay than grapes. Although less than two hours from Paris by train, it felt like a different world altogether. Few tourists visited, even in the summer. Now and then an automobile rumbled past, or a bicyclist, or an ox-driven cart, but for the most part, they were alone on the road. They lived nearly a mile from Carriveau, a town of less than a thousand souls that was known mostly as a stopping point on the pilgrimage of Ste. Jeanne dArc. There was no industry in town and few jobsexcept for those at the airfield that was the pride of Carriveau. The only one of its kind for miles. In town, narrow cobblestoned streets wound through ancient limestone buildings that leaned clumsily against one another. Mortar crumbled from stone walls, ivy hid the decay that lay beneath, unseen but always felt. The village had been cobbled together piecemealcrooked streets, uneven steps, blind alleysover hundreds of years. Colors enlivened the stone buildings: red awnings ribbed in black metal, ironwork balconies decorated with geraniums in terra-cotta planters. Everywhere there was something to tempt the eye: a display case of pastel macarons, rough willow baskets filled with cheese and ham and saucisson, crates of colorful tomatoes and aubergines and cucumbers. The caf?s were full on this sunny day. Men sat around metal tables, drinking coffee and smoking hand-rolled brown cigarettes and arguing loudly. A typical day in Carriveau. Monsieur LaChoa was sweeping the street in front of his saladerie, and Madame Clonet was washing the window of her hat shop, and a pack of adolescent boys was strolling through town, shoulder to shoulder, kicking bits of trash and passing a cigarette back and forth. At the end of town, they turned toward the river. At a flat, grassy spot along the shore, Vianne set down her basket and spread out a blanket in the shade of a chestnut tree. From the picnic basket, she withdrew a crusty baguette, a wedge of rich, double-cream cheese, two apples, some slices of paper-thin Bayonne ham, and a bottle of Bollinger 36. She poured her husband a glass of champagne and sat down beside him as Sophie ran toward the riverbank. The day passed in a haze of sunshine-warmed contentment. They talked and laughed and shared their picnic. It wasnt until late in the day, when Sophie was off with her fishing pole and Antoine was making their daughter a crown of daisies, that he said, Hitler will suck us all into his war soon. War. It was all anyone could talk about these days, and Vianne didnt want to hear it. Especially not on this lovely summer day. She tented a hand across her eyes and stared at her daughter. Beyond the river, the green Loire Valley lay cultivated with care and precision. There were no fences, no boundaries, just miles of rolling green fields and patches of trees and the occasional stone house or barn. Tiny white blossoms floated like bits of cotton in the air. She got to her feet and clapped her hands. Come, Sophie. Its time to go home. You cant ignore this, Vianne. Should I look for trouble? Why? You are here to protect us. Smiling (too brightly, perhaps), she packed up the picnic and gathered her family and led them back to the dirt road. In less than thirty minutes, they were at the sturdy wooden gate of Le Jardin, the stone country house that had been in her family for three hundred years. Aged to a dozen shades of gray, it was a two-story house with blue-shuttered windows that overlooked the orchard. Ivy climbed up the two chimneys and covered the bricks beneath. Only seven acres of the original parcel were left. The other two hundred had been sold off over the course of two centuries as her familys fortune dwindled. Seven acres was plenty for Vianne. She couldnt imagine needing more. Vianne closed the door behind them. In the kitchen, copper and cast-iron pots and pans hung from an iron rack above the stove. Lavender and rosemary and thyme hung in drying bunches from the exposed timber beams of the ceiling. A copper sink, green with age, was big enough to bathe a small dog in. The plaster on the interior walls was peeling here and there to reveal paint from years gone by. The living room was an eclectic mix of furniture and fabricstapestried settee, Aubusson rugs, antique Chinese porcelain, chintz and toile. Some of the paintings on the wall were excellentperhaps importantand some were amateurish. It had the jumbled, cobbled-together look of lost money and bygone tastea little shabby, but comfortable. She paused in the salon, glancing through the glass-paned doors that led to the backyard, where Antoine was pushing Sophie on the swing hed made for her. Vianne hung her hat gently on the hook by the door and retrieved her apron, tying it in place. While Sophie and Antoine played outside, Vianne cooked supper. She wrapped a pink pork tenderloin in thick-cut bacon, tied it in twine, and browned it in hot oil. While the pork roasted in the oven, she made the rest of the meal. At eight oclockright on timeshe called everyone to supper and couldnt help smiling at the thundering of feet and the chatter of conversation and the squealing of chair legs scraping across the floor as they sat down. Sophie sat at the head of the table, wearing the crown of daisies Antoine had made for her at the riverbank. Vianne set down the platter. A delicious fragrance wafted upwardroasted pork and crispy bacon and apples glazed in a rich wine sauce, resting on a bed of browned potatoes. Beside it was a bowl of fresh peas, swimming in butter seasoned with tarragon from the garden. And of course there was the baguette Vianne had made yesterday morning. As always, Sophie talked all through supper. She was like her Tante Isabelle in that waya girl who couldnt hold her tongue. When at last they came to dessertile flottante, islands of toasted meringue floating in a rich cr?me anglaisethere was a satisfied silence around the table. Well, Vianne said at last, pushing her half-empty dessert plate away, its time to do the dishes. Ahh, Maman, Sophie whined. No whining, Antoine said. Not at your age. Vianne and Sophie went into the kitchen, as they did each night, to their stationsVianne at the deep copper sink, Sophie at the stone counterand began washing and drying the dishes. Vianne could smell the sweet, sharp scent of Antoines after-supper cigarette wafting through the house. Papa didnt laugh at a single one of my stories today, Sophie said as Vianne placed the dishes back in the rough wooden rack that hung on the wall. Something is wrong with him. No laughter? Well, certainly that is cause for alarm. Hes worried about the war. The war. Again. Vianne shooed her daughter out of the kitchen. Upstairs, in Sophies bedroom, Vianne sat on the double bed, listening to her daughter chatter as she put on her pajamas and brushed her teeth and got into bed. Vianne leaned down to kiss her good night. Im scared, Sophie said. Is war coming? Dont be afraid, Vianne said. Papa will protect us. But even as she said it, she remembered another time, when her maman had said to her, Dont be afraid. It was when her own father had gone off to war. Sophie looked unconvinced. But But nothing. There is nothing to worry about. Now go to sleep. She kissed her daughter again, letting her lips linger on the little girls cheek. Vianne went down the stairs and headed for the backyard. Outside, the night was sultry; the air smelled of jasmine. She found Antoine sitting in one of the iron caf? chairs out on the grass, his legs stretched out, his body slumped uncomfortably to one side. She came up beside him, put a hand on his shoulder. He exhaled smoke and took another long drag on the cigarette. Then he looked up at her. In the moonlight, his face appeared pale and shadowed. Almost unfamiliar. He reached into the pocket of his vest and pulled out a piece of paper. I have been mobilized, Vianne. Along with most men between eighteen and thirty-five. Mobilized? But we are not at war. I dont I am to report for duty on Tuesday. But but youre a postman. He held her gaze and suddenly she couldnt breathe. I am a soldier now, it seems. THREE Vianne knew something of war. Not its clash and clatter and smoke and blood, perhaps, but the aftermath. Though she had been born in peacetime, her earliest memories were of the war. She remembered watching her maman cry as she said good-bye to Papa. She remembered being hungry and always being cold. But most of all, she remembered how different her father was when he came home, how he limped and sighed and was silent. That was when he began drinking and keeping to himself and ignoring his family. After that, she remembered doors slamming shut, arguments erupting and disappearing into clumsy silences, and her parents sleeping in different rooms. The father who went off to war was not the one who came home. She had tried to be loved by him; more important, she had tried to keep loving him, but in the end, one was as impossible as the other. In the years since hed shipped her off to Carriveau, Vianne had made her own life. She sent her father Christmas and birthday cards, but shed never received one in return, and they rarely spoke. What was there left to say? Unlike Isabelle, who seemed incapable of letting go, Vianne understoodand acceptedthat when Maman had died, their family had been irreparably broken. He was a man who simply refused to be a father to his children. I know how war scares you, Antoine said. The Maginot Line will hold, she said, trying to sound convincing. Youll be home by Christmas. The Maginot Line was miles and miles of concrete walls and obstacles and weapons that had been constructed along the German border after the Great War to protect France. The Germans couldnt breach it. Antoine took her in his arms. The scent of jasmine was intoxicating, and she knew suddenly, certainly, that from now on, whenever she smelled jasmine, she would remember this good-bye. I love you, Antoine Mauriac, and I expect you to come home to me. Later, she couldnt remember them moving into the house, climbing the stairs, lying down in bed, undressing each other. She remembered only being naked in his arms, lying beneath him as he made love to her in a way he never had before, with frantic, searching kisses and hands that seemed to want to tear her apart even as they held her together. Youre stronger than you think you are, V, he said afterward, when they lay quietly in each others arms. Im not, she whispered too quietly for him to hear. * * * The next morning, Vianne wanted to keep Antoine in bed all day, maybe even convince him that they should pack their bags and run like thieves in the night. But where would they go? War hung over all of Europe. By the time she finished making breakfast and doing the dishes, a headache throbbed at the base of her skull. You seem sad, Maman, Sophie said. How can I be sad on a gorgeous summers day when we are going to visit our best friends? Vianne smiled a bit too brightly. It wasnt until she was out the front door and standing beneath one of the apple trees in the front yard that she realized she was barefoot. Maman, Sophie said impatiently. Im coming, she said, as she followed Sophie through the front yard, past the old dovecote (now a gardening shed) and the empty barn. Sophie opened the back gate and ran into the well-tended neighboring yard, toward a small stone cottage with blue shutters. Sophie knocked once, got no answer, and went inside. Sophie! Vianne said sharply, but her admonishment fell on deaf ears. Manners were unnecessary at ones best friends house, and Rachel de Champlain had been Viannes best friend for fifteen years. Theyd met only a month after Papa had so ignominiously dropped his children off at Le Jardin. Theyd been a pair back then: Vianne, slight and pale and nervous, and Rachel, as tall as the boys, with eyebrows that grew faster than a lie and a voice like a foghorn. Outsiders, both of them, until they met. Theyd become inseparable in school and stayed friends in all the years since. Theyd gone to university together and both had become schoolteachers. Theyd even been pregnant at the same time. Now they taught in side-by-side classrooms at the local school. Rachel appeared in the open doorway, holding her newborn son, Ariel. A look passed between the women. In it was everything they felt and feared. Vianne followed her friend into a small, brightly lit interior that was as neat as a pin. A vase full of wildflowers graced the rough wooden trestle table flanked by mismatched chairs. In the corner of the dining room was a leather valise, and sitting on top of it was the brown felt fedora that Rachels husband, Marc, favored. Rachel went into the kitchen for a small crockery plate full of canel?s. Then the women headed outside. In the small backyard, roses grew along a privet hedge. A table and four chairs sat unevenly on a stone patio. Antique lanterns hung from the branches of a chestnut tree. Vianne picked up a canel? and took a bite, savoring the vanilla-rich cream center and crispy, slightly burned-tasting exterior. She sat down. Rachel sat down across from her, with the baby asleep in her arms. Silence seemed to expand between them and fill with their fears and misgivings. I wonder if hell know his father, Rachel said as she looked down at her baby. Theyll be changed, Vianne said, remembering. Her father had been in the Battle of the Somme, in which more than three-quarters of a million men had lost their lives. Rumors of German atrocities had come home with the few who survived. Rachel moved the infant to her shoulder, patted his back soothingly. Marc is no good at changing diapers. And Ari loves to sleep in our bed. I guess thatll be all right now. Vianne felt a smile start. It was a little thing, this joke, but it helped. Antoines snoring is a pain in the backside. I should get some good sleep. And we can have poached eggs for supper. Only half the laundry, she said, but then her voice broke. Im not strong enough for this, Rachel. Of course you are. Well get through it together. Before I met Antoine Rachel waved a hand dismissively. I know. I know. You were as skinny as a branch, you stuttered when you got nervous, and you were allergic to everything. I know. I was there. But thats all over now. Youll be strong. You know why? Why? Rachels smile faded. I know Im bigstatuesque, as they like to say when theyre selling me brassieres and stockingsbut I feel undone by this, V. I am going to need to lean on you sometimes, too. Not with all my weight, of course. So we cant both fall apart at the same time. Voil?, Rachel said. Our plan. Should we open a bottle of cognac now, or gin? Its ten oclock in the morning. Youre right. Of course. A French 75. * * * On Tuesday morning when Vianne awoke, sunlight poured through the window, glazing the exposed timbers. Antoine sat in the chair by the window, a walnut rocker hed made during Viannes second pregnancy. For years that empty rocker had mocked them. The miscarriage years, as she thought of them now. Desolation in a land of plenty. Three lost lives in four years; tiny thready heartbeats, blue hands. And then, miraculously: a baby who survived. Sophie. There were sad little ghosts caught in the wood grain of that chair, but there were good memories, too. Maybe you should take Sophie to Paris, he said as she sat up. Julien would look out for you. My father has made his opinion on living with his daughters quite clear. I cannot expect a welcome from him. Vianne pushed the matelasse coverlet aside and rose, putting her bare feet on the worn rug. Will you be all right? Sophie and I will be fine. Youll be home in no time anyway. The Maginot Line will hold. And Lord knows the Germans are no match for us. Too bad their weapons are. I took all of our money out of the bank. There are sixty-five thousand francs in the mattress. Use it wisely, Vianne. Along with your teaching salary, it should last you a good long time. She felt a flutter of panic. She knew too little about their finances. Antoine handled them. He stood up slowly and took her in his arms. She wanted to bottle how safe she felt in this moment, so she could drink of it later when loneliness and fear left her parched. Remember this, she thought. The way the light caught in his unruly hair, the love in his brown eyes, the chapped lips that had kissed her only an hour ago, in the darkness. Through the open window behind them, she heard the slow, even clop-clop-clop of a horse moving up the road and the clattering of the wagon being pulled along behind. That would be Monsieur Quillian on his way to market with his flowers. If she were in the yard, he would stop and give her one and say it couldnt match her beauty, and she would smile and say merci and offer him something to drink. Vianne pulled away reluctantly. She went over to the wooden dresser and poured tepid water from the blue crockery pitcher into the bowl and washed her face. In the alcove that served as their wardrobe, behind a pair of gold and white toile curtains, she put on her brassiere and stepped into her lace-trimmed drawers and garter. She smoothed the silk stockings up her legs, fastened them to her garters, and then slipped into a belted cotton frock with a squared yoke collar. When she closed the curtains and turned around, Antoine was gone. She retrieved her handbag and went down the hallway to Sophies room. Like theirs, it was small, with a steeply pitched, timbered ceiling, wide plank wooden floors, and a window that overlooked the orchard. An ironwork bed, a nightstand with a hand-me-down lamp, and a blue-painted armoire filled the space. Sophies drawings decorated the walls. Vianne opened the shutters and let light flood the room. As usual in the hot summer months, Sophie had kicked the coverlet to the floor sometime in the night. Her pink stuffed teddy bear, B?b?, slept against her cheek. Vianne picked up the bear, staring down at its matted, much petted face. Last year, B?b? had been forgotten on a shelf by the window as Sophie moved on to newer toys. Now B?b? was back. Vianne leaned down to kiss her daughters cheek. Sophie rolled over and blinked awake. I dont want Papa to go, Maman, she whispered. She reached out for B?b?, practically snatched the bear from Viannes hands. I know. Vianne sighed. I know. Vianne went to the armoire, where she picked out the sailor dress that was Sophies favorite. Can I wear the daisy crown Papa made me? The daisy crown lay crumpled on the nightstand, the little flowers wilted. Vianne picked it up gently and placed it on Sophies head. Vianne thought she was doing all right until she stepped into the living room and saw Antoine. Papa? Sophie touched the wilted daisy crown uncertainly. Dont go. Antoine knelt down and drew Sophie into his embrace. I have to be a soldier to keep you and Maman safe. But Ill be back before you know it. Vianne heard the crack in his voice. Sophie drew back. The daisy crown was sagging down the side of her head. You promise youll come home? Antoine looked past his daughters earnest face to Viannes worried gaze. Oui, he said at last. Sophie nodded. The three of them were silent as they left the house. They walked hand in hand up the hillside to the gray wooden barn. Knee-high golden grass covered the knoll, and lilac bushes as big as hay wagons grew along the perimeter of the property. Three small white crosses were all that remained in this world to mark the babies Vianne had lost. Today, she didnt let her gaze linger there at all. Her emotions were heavy enough right now; she couldnt add the weight of those memories, too. Inside the barn sat their old, green Renault. When they were all in the automobile, Antoine started up the engine, backed out of the barn, and drove on browning ribbons of dead grass to the road. Vianne stared out the small, dusty window, watching the green valley pass in a blur of familiar imagesred tile roofs, stone cottages, fields of hay and grapes, spindly-treed forests. All too quickly they arrived at the train station near Tours. The platform was filled with young men carrying suitcases and women kissing them good-bye and children crying. A generation of men were going off to war. Again. Dont think about it, Vianne told herself. Dont remember what it was like last time when the men limped home, faces burned, missing arms and legs Vianne clung to her husbands hand as Antoine bought their tickets and led them onto the train. In the third-class carriagestiflingly hot, people packed in like marsh reedsshe sat stiffly upright, still holding her husbands hand, with her handbag on her lap. At their destination, a dozen or so men disembarked. Vianne and Sophie and Antoine followed the others down a cobblestoned street and into a charming village that looked like most small communes in Touraine. How was it possible that war was coming and that this quaint town with its tumbling flowers and crumbling walls was amassing soldiers to fight? Antoine tugged at her hand, got her moving again. When had she stopped? Up ahead a set of tall, recently erected iron gates had been bolted into stone walls. Behind them were rows of temporary housing. The gates swung open. A soldier on horseback rode out to greet the new arrivals, his leather saddle creaking at the horses steps, his face dusty and flushed from heat. He pulled on the reins and the horse halted, throwing its head and snorting. An aeroplane droned overhead. You, men, the soldier said. Bring your papers to the lieutenant over there by the gate. Now. Move. Antoine kissed Vianne with a gentleness that made her want to cry. I love you, he said against her lips. I love you, too, she said but the words that always seemed so big felt small now. What was love when put up against war? Me, too, Papa. Me, too! Sophie cried, flinging herself into his arms. They embraced as a family, one last time, until Antoine pulled back. Good-bye, he said. Vianne couldnt say it in return. She watched him walk away, watched him merge into the crowd of laughing, talking young men, becoming indistinguishable. The big iron gates slammed shut, the clang of metal reverberating in the hot, dusty air, and Vianne and Sophie stood alone in the middle of the street. FOUR June 1940 France The medieval villa dominated a deeply green, forested hillside. It looked like something in a confectioners shopwindow; a castle sculpted of caramel, with spun-sugar windows and shutters the color of candied apples. Far below, a deep blue lake absorbed the reflection of the clouds. Manicured gardens allowed the villas occupantsand, more important, their gueststo stroll about the grounds, where only acceptable topics were to be discussed. In the formal dining room, Isabelle Rossignol sat stiffly erect at the white-clothed table that easily accommodated twenty-four diners. Everything in this room was pale. Walls and floor and ceiling were all crafted of oyster-hued stone. The ceiling arched into a peak nearly twenty feet overhead. Sound was amplified in this cold room, as trapped as the occupants. Madame Dufour stood at the head of the table, dressed in a severe black dress that revealed the soup spoonsized hollow at the base of her long neck. A single diamond brooch was her only adornment (one good piece, ladies, and choose it well; everything makes a statement, nothing speaks quite so loudly as cheapness). Her narrow face ended in a blunt chin and was framed by curls so obviously peroxided the desired impression of youth was quite undone. The trick, she was saying in a cultivated voice, clipped and cut, is to be completely quiet and unremarkable in your task. Each of the girls at the table wore the fitted blue woolen jacket and skirt that was the school uniform. It wasnt so bad in the winter, but on this hot June afternoon, the ensemble was unbearable. Isabelle could feel herself beginning to sweat, and no amount of lavender in her soap could mask the sharp scent of her perspiration. She stared down at the unpeeled orange placed in the center of her Limoges china plate. Flatware lay in precise formation on either side of the plate. Salad fork, dinner fork, knife, spoon, butter knife, fish fork. It went on and on. Now, Madame Dufour said. Pick up the correct utensilsquietly, sil vous pla?t, quietly, and peel your orange. Isabelle picked up her fork and tried to ease the sharp prongs into the heavy peel, but the orange rolled away from her and bumped over the gilt edge of the plate, clattering the china. Merde, she muttered, grabbing the orange before it fell to the floor. Merde? Madame Dufour was beside her. Isabelle jumped in her seat. Mon Dieu, the woman moved like a viper in the reeds. Pardon, Madame, Isabelle said, returning the orange to its place. Mademoiselle Rossignol, Madame said. How is it that you have graced our halls for two years and learned so little? Isabelle again stabbed the orange with her fork. A gracelessbut effectivemove. Then she smiled up at Madame. Generally, Madame, the failing of a student to learn is the failing of the teacher to teach. Breaths were indrawn all down the table. Ah, Madame said. So we are the reason you still cannot manage to eat an orange properly. Isabelle tried to slice through the peeltoo hard, too fast. The silver blade slipped off the puckered peel and clanged on the china plate. Madame Dufours hand snaked out; her fingers coiled around Isabelles wrist. All up and down the table, the girls watched. Polite conversation, girls, Madame said, smiling thinly. No one wants a statue for a dinner partner. On cue, the girls began speaking quietly to one another about things that did not interest Isabelle. Gardening, weather, fashion. Acceptable topics for women. Isabelle heard the girl next to her say quietly, I am so very fond of Alen?on lace, arent you? and really, it was all she could do to keep from screaming. Mademoiselle Rossignol, Madame said. You will go see Madame Allard and tell her that our experiment has come to an end. What does that mean? She will know. Go. Isabelle scooted back from the table quickly, lest Madame change her mind. Madames face scrunched in displeasure at the loud screech the chair legs made on the stone floor. Isabelle smiled. I really do not like oranges, you know. Really? Madame said sarcastically. Isabelle wanted to run from this stifling room, but she was already in enough trouble, so she forced herself to walk slowly, her shoulders back, her chin up. At the stairs (which she could navigate with three books on her head if required), she glanced sideways, saw that she was alone, and rushed down. In the hallway below, she slowed and straightened. By the time she reached the headmistresss office, she wasnt even breathing hard. She knocked. At Madames flat Come in, Isabelle opened the door. Madame Allard sat behind a gilt-trimmed mahogany writing desk. Medieval tapestries hung from the stone walls of the room and an arched, leaded-glass window overlooked gardens so sculpted they were more art than nature. Even birds rarely landed here; no doubt they sensed the stifling atmosphere and flew on. Isabelle sat downremembering an instant too late that she hadnt been offered a seat. She popped back up. Pardon, Madame. Sit down, Isabelle. She did, carefully crossing her ankles as a lady should, clasping her hands together. Madame Dufour asked me to tell you that the experiment is over. Madame reached for one of the Murano fountain pens on her desk and picked it up, tapping it on the desk. Why are you here, Isabelle? I hate oranges. Pardon? And if I were to eat an orangewhich, honestly, Madame, why would I when I dont like themI would use my hands like the Americans do. Like everyone does, really. A fork and knife to eat an orange? I mean, why are you at the school? Oh. That. Well, the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Avignon expelled me. For nothing, I might add. And the Sisters of St. Francis? Ah. They had reason to expel me. And the school before that? Isabelle didnt know what to say. Madame put down her fountain pen. You are almost nineteen. Oui, Madame. I think its time for you to leave. Isabelle got to her feet. Shall I return to the orange lesson? You misunderstand. I mean you should leave the school, Isabelle. It is clear that you are not interested in learning what we have to teach you. How to eat an orange and when you can spread cheese and who is more importantthe second son of a duke or a daughter who wont inherit or an ambassador to an unimportant country? Madame, do you not know what is going on in the world? Isabelle might have been secreted deep in the countryside, but still she knew. Even here, barricaded behind hedges and bludgeoned by politeness, she knew what was happening in France. At night in her monastic cell, while her classmates were in bed, she sat up, long into the night, listening to the BBC on her contraband radio. France had joined Britain in declaring war on Germany, and Hitler was on the move. All across France people had stockpiled food and put up blackout shades and learned to live like moles in the dark. They had prepared and worried and then nothing. Month after month, nothing happened. At first all anyone could talk about was the Great War and the losses that had touched so many families, but as the months went on, and there was only talk of war, Isabelle heard her teachers calling it the dr?le de guerre, the phony war. The real horror was happening elsewhere in Europe; in Belgium and Holland and Poland. Will manners not matter in war, Isabelle? They dont matter now, Isabelle said impulsively, wishing a moment later that shed said nothing. Madame stood. We were never the right place for you, but My father would put me anywhere to be rid of me, she said. Isabelle would rather blurt out the truth than hear another lie. She had learned many lessons in the parade of schools and convents that had housed her for more than a decademost of all, shed learned that she had to rely on herself. Certainly her father and her sister couldnt be counted on. Madame looked at Isabelle. Her nose flared ever so slightly, an indication of polite but pained disapproval. It is hard for a man to lose his wife. It is hard for a girl to lose her mother. She smiled defiantly. I lost both parents though, didnt I? One died, and the other turned his back on me. I cant say which hurt more. Mon Dieu, Isabelle, must you always speak whatever is on your mind? Isabelle had heard this criticism all her life, but why should she hold her tongue? No one listened to her either way. So you will leave today. I will telegram your father. T?mas will take you to the train. Tonight? Isabelle blinked. But Papa wont want me. Ah. Consequences, Madame said. Perhaps now you will see that they should be considered. * * * Isabelle was alone on a train again, heading toward an unknown reception. She stared out the dirty, mottled window at the flashing green landscape: fields of hay, red roofs, stone cottages, gray bridges, horses. Everything looked exactly as it always had and that surprised her. War was coming, and shed imagined it would leave a mark on the countryside somehow, changing the grass color or killing the trees or scaring away the birds, but now, as she sat on this train chugging into Paris, she saw that everything looked completely ordinary. At the sprawling Gare de Lyon, the train came to a wheezing, belching stop. Isabelle reached down for the small valise at her feet and pulled it onto her lap. As she watched the passengers shuffle past her, exiting the train carriage, the question shed avoided came back to her. Papa. She wanted to believe he would welcome her home, that finally, he would hold out his hands and say her name in a loving way, the way he had Before, when Maman had been the glue that held them together. She stared down at her scuffed suitcase. So small. Most of the girls in the schools shed attended had arrived with a collection of trunks bound in leather straps and studded with brass tacks. They had pictures on their desks and mementos on their nightstands and photograph albums in their drawers. Isabelle had a single framed photograph of a woman she wanted to remember and couldnt. When she tried, all that came to her were blurry images of people crying and the physician shaking his head and her mother saying something about holding tightly to her sisters hand. As if that would help. Vianne had been as quick to abandon Isabelle as Papa had been. She realized that she was the only one left in the carriage. Clasping her suitcase in her gloved hand, she sidled out of the seat and exited the carriage. The platforms were full of people. Trains stood in shuddering rows; smoke filled the air, puffed up toward the high, arched ceiling. Somewhere a whistle blared. Great iron wheels began to churn. The platform trembled beneath her feet. Her father stood out, even in the crowd. When he spotted her, she saw the irritation that transformed his features, reshaped his expression into one of grim determination. He was a tall man, at least six foot two, but he had been bent by the Great War. Or at least that was what Isabelle remembered hearing once. His broad shoulders sloped downward, as if posture were too much to think about with all that was on his mind. His thinning hair was gray and unkempt. He had a broad, flattened nose, like a spatula, and lips as thin as an afterthought. On this hot summer day, he wore a wrinkled white shirt, with sleeves rolled up; a tie hung loosely tied around his fraying collar, and his corduroy pants were in need of laundering. She tried to look mature. Perhaps that was what he wanted of her. Isabelle. She clutched her suitcase handle in both hands. Papa. Kicked out of another one. She nodded, swallowing hard. How will we find another school in these times? That was her opening. I want to live with you, Papa. With me? He seemed irritated and surprised. But wasnt it normal for a girl to want to live with her father? She took a step toward him. I could work in the bookstore. I wont get in your way. She drew in a sharp breath, waiting. Sound amplified suddenly. She heard people walking, the platforms groaning beneath them, pigeons flapping their wings overhead, a baby crying. Of course, Isabelle. Come home. Her father sighed in disgust and walked away. Well, he said, looking back. Are you coming? * * * Isabelle lay on a blanket in the sweet-smelling grass, a book open in front of her. Somewhere nearby a bee buzzed at a blossom; it sounded like a tiny motorcycle amid all this quiet. It was a blisteringly hot day, a week after shed come home to Paris. Well, not home. She knew her father was still plotting to be rid of her, but she didnt want to think about that on such a gorgeous day, in the air that smelled of cherries and sweet, green grass. You read too much, Christophe said, chewing on a stalk of hay. What is that, a romantic novel? She rolled toward him, snapping the book shut. It was about Edith Cavell, a nurse in the Great War. A hero. I could be a war hero, Christophe. He laughed. A girl? A hero? Absurd. Isabelle got to her feet quickly, yanking up her hat and white kid gloves. Dont be mad, he said, grinning up at her. Im just tired of the war talk. And its a fact that women are useless in war. Your job is to wait for our return. He propped his cheek in one hand and peered up at her through the mop of blond hair that fell across his eyes. In his yachting-style blazer and wide-legged white pants, he looked exactly like what he wasa privileged university student who was unused to work of any kind. Many students his age had volunteered to leave university and join the army. Not Christophe. Isabelle hiked up the hill and through the orchard, out to the grassy knoll where his open-topped Panhard was parked. She was already behind the wheel, with the engine running, when Christophe appeared, a sheen of sweat on his conventionally handsome face, the empty picnic basket hanging from his arm. Just throw that stuff in the back, she said with a bright smile. Youre not driving. It appears that I am. Now get in. Its my automobile, Isabelle. Well, to be preciseand I know how important the facts are to you, Christopheits your mothers automobile. And I believe a woman should drive a womans automobile. Isabelle tried not to smile when he rolled his eyes and muttered fine and leaned over to place the basket behind Isabelles seat. Then, moving slowly enough to make his point, he walked around the front of the automobile and took his place in the seat beside her. He had no sooner clicked the door shut than she put the automobile in gear and stomped on the gas. The automobile hesitated for a second, then lurched forward, spewing dust and smoke as it gathered speed. Mon Dieu, Isabelle. Slow down! She held on to her flapping straw hat with one hand and clutched the steering wheel with the other. She barely slowed as she passed other motorists. Mon Dieu, slow down, he said again. Certainly he must know that she had no intention of complying. A woman can go to war these days, Isabelle said when the Paris traffic finally forced her to slow down. I could be an ambulance driver, maybe. Or I could work on breaking secret codes. Or charming the enemy into telling me a secret location or plan. Remember that game War is not a game, Isabelle. I believe I know that, Christophe. But if it does come, I can help. Thats all Im saying. On the rue de lAmiral de Coligny, she had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a lorry. A convoy from the Com?die Fran?aise was pulling out of the Louvre museum. In fact, there were lorries everywhere and uniformed gendarmes directing traffic. Sandbags were piled up around several buildings and monuments to protect from attackof which there had been none since France joined the war. Why were there so many French policemen out here? Odd, Isabelle mumbled, frowning. Christophe craned his neck to see what was going on. Theyre moving treasures out of the Louvre, he said. Isabelle saw a break in traffic and sped up. In no time, she had pulled up in front of her fathers bookshop and parked. She waved good-bye to Christophe and ducked into the shop. It was long and narrow, lined from floor to ceiling with books. Over the years, her father had tried to increase his inventory by building freestanding bookcases. The result of his improvements was the creation of a labyrinth. The stacks led one this way and that, deeper and deeper within. At the very back were the books for tourists. Some stacks were well lit, some in shadows. There werent enough outlets to illuminate every nook and cranny. But her father knew every title on every shelf. Youre late, he said, looking up from his desk in the back. He was doing something with the printing press, probably making one of his books of poetry, which no one ever purchased. His blunt-tipped fingers were stained blue. I suppose boys are more important to you than employment. She slid onto the stool behind the cash register. In the week shed lived with her father shed made it a point not to argue back, although acquiescing gnawed at her. She tapped her foot impatiently. Words, phrasesexcusesclamored to be spoken aloud. It was hard not to tell him how she felt, but she knew how badly he wanted her gone, so she held her tongue. Do you hear that? he said sometime later. Had she fallen asleep? Isabelle sat up. She hadnt heard her father approach, but he was beside her now, frowning. There was a strange sound in the bookshop, to be sure. Dust fell from the ceiling; the bookcases clattered slightly, making a sound like chattering teeth. Shadows passed in front of the leaded-glass display windows at the entrance. Hundreds of them. People? So many of them? Papa went to the door. Isabelle slid off her stool and followed him. As he opened the door, she saw a crowd running down the street, filling the sidewalks. What in the world? Papa muttered. Isabelle pushed past Papa, elbowed her way into the crowd. A man bumped into her so hard she stumbled, and he didnt even apologize. More people rushed past them. What is it? Whats happened? she asked a florid, wheezing man who was trying to break free of the crowd. The Germans are coming into Paris, he said. We must leave. I was in the Great War. I know Isabelle scoffed. Germans in Paris? Impossible. He ran away, bobbing from side to side, weaving, his hands fisting and unfisting at his sides. We must get home, Papa said, locking the bookshop door. It cant be true, she said. The worst can always be true, Papa said grimly. Stay close to me, he added, moving into the crowd. Isabelle had never seen such panic. All up and down the street, lights were coming on, automobiles were starting, doors were slamming shut. People screamed to one another and reached out, trying to stay connected in the melee. Isabelle stayed close to her father. The pandemonium in the streets slowed them down. The M?tro tunnels were too crowded to navigate, so they had to walk all the way. It was nearing nightfall when they finally made it home. At their apartment building, it took her father two tries to open the main door, his hands were shaking so badly. Once in, they ignored the rickety cage elevator and hurried up five flights of stairs to their apartment. Dont turn on the lights, her father said harshly as he opened the door. Isabelle followed him into the living room and went past him to the window, where she lifted the blackout shade, peering out. From far away came a droning sound. As it grew louder, the window rattled, sounding like ice in a glass. She heard a high whistling sound only seconds before she saw the black flotilla in the sky, like birds flying in formation. Aeroplanes. Boches, her father whispered. Germans. German aeroplanes, flying over Paris. The whistling sound increased, became like a womans scream, and then somewheremaybe in the second arrondissement, she thoughta bomb exploded in a flash of eerie bright light, and something caught fire. The air raid siren sounded. Her father wrenched the curtains shut and led her out of the apartment and down the stairs. Their neighbors were all doing the same thing, carrying coats and babies and pets down the stairs to the lobby and then down the narrow, twisting stone stairs that led to the cellar. In the dark, they sat together, crowded in close. The air stank of mildew and body odor and fearthat was the sharpest scent of all. The bombing went on and on and on, screeching and droning, the cellar walls vibrating around them; dust fell from the ceiling. A baby started crying and couldnt be soothed. Shut that child up, please, someone snapped. I am trying, Msieur. He is scared. So are we all. After what felt like an eternity, silence fell. It was almost worse than the noise. What of Paris was left? By the time the all clear sounded, Isabelle felt numb. Isabelle? She wanted her father to reach out for her, to take her hand and comfort her, even if it was just for a moment, but he turned away from her and headed up the dark, twisting basement stairs. In their apartment, Isabelle went immediately to the window, peering past the shade to look for the Eiffel Tower. It was still there, rising above a wall of thick black smoke. Dont stand by the windows, he said. She turned slowly. The only light in the room was from his torch, a sickly yellow thread in the dark. Paris wont fall, she said. He said nothing. Frowned. She wondered if he was thinking of the Great War and what hed seen in the trenches. Perhaps his injury was hurting again, aching in sympathy with the sound of falling bombs and hissing flames. Go to bed, Isabelle. How can I possibly sleep at a time like this? He sighed. You will learn that a lot of things are possible. FIVE They had been lied to by their government. Theyd been assured, time and time again, that the Maginot Line would keep the Germans out of France. Lies. Neither concrete and steel nor French soldiers could stop Hitlers march, and the government had run from Paris like thieves in the night. It was said they were in Tours, strategizing, but what good did strategy do when Paris was to be overrun by the enemy? Are you ready? I am not going, Papa. I have told you this. She had dressed for travelas hed askedin a red polka-dot summer dress and low heels. We will not have this conversation again, Isabelle. The Humberts will be here soon to pick you up. They will take you as far as Tours. From there, I leave it to your ingenuity to get to your sisters house. Lord knows you have always been adept at running away. So you throw me out. Again. Enough of this, Isabelle. Your sisters husband is at the front. She is alone with her daughter. You will do as I say. You will leave Paris. Did he know how this hurt her? Did he care? Youve never cared about Vianne or me. And she doesnt want me any more than you do. Youre going, he said. I want to stay and fight, Papa. To be like Edith Cavell. He rolled his eyes. You remember how she died? Executed by the Germans. Papa, please. Enough. I have seen what they can do, Isabelle. You have not. If its that bad, you should come with me. And leave the apartment and bookshop to them? He grabbed her by the hand and dragged her out of the apartment and down the stairs, her straw hat and valise banging into the wall, her breath coming in gasps. At last he opened the door and pulled her out onto the Avenue de La Bourdonnais. Chaos. Dust. Crowds. The street was a living, breathing dragon of humanity, inching forward, wheezing dirt, honking horns; people yelling for help, babies crying, and the smell of sweat heavy in the air. Automobiles clogged the area, each burdened beneath boxes and bags. People had taken whatever they could findcarts and bicycles and even childrens wagons. Those who couldnt find or afford the petrol or an automobile or a bicycle walked. Hundredsthousandsof women and children held hands, shuffled forward, carrying as much as they could hold. Suitcases, picnic baskets, pets. Already the very old and very young were falling behind. Isabelle didnt want to join this hopeless, helpless crowd of women and children and old people. While the young men were awaydying for them at the fronttheir families were leaving, heading south or west, although, really, what made any of them think it would be safer there? Hitlers troops had already invaded Poland and Belgium and Czechoslovakia. The crowd engulfed them. A woman ran into Isabelle, mumbled pardon, and kept walking. Isabelle followed her father. I can be useful. Please. Ill be a nurse or drive an ambulance. I can roll bandages or even stitch up a wound. Beside them, a horn aah-ooh-gahed. Her father looked past her, and she saw the relief that lifted his countenance. Isabelle recognized that look: it meant he was getting rid of her. Again. They are here, he said. Dont send me away, she said. Please. He maneuvered her through the crowd to where a dusty black automobile was parked. It had a saggy, stained mattress strapped to its roof, along with a set of fishing poles and a rabbit cage with the rabbit still inside. The boot was open but also strapped down; inside she saw a jumble of baskets and suitcases and lamps. Inside the automobile, Monsieur Humberts pale, plump fingers clutched the steering wheel as if the automobile were a horse that might bolt at any second. He was a pudgy man who spent his days in the butcher shop near Papas bookstore. His wife, Patricia, was a sturdy woman who had the heavy-jowled-peasant look one saw so often in the country. She was smoking a cigarette and staring out the window as if she couldnt believe what she was seeing. Monsieur Humbert rolled down his window and poked his face into the opening. Hello, Julien. She is ready? Papa nodded. She is ready. Merci, Edouard. Patricia leaned over to talk to Papa through the open window. We are only going as far as Orl?ans. And she has to pay her share of petrol. Of course. Isabelle couldnt leave. It was cowardly. Wrong. Papa Au revoir, he said firmly enough to remind her that she had no choice. He nodded toward the car and she moved numbly toward it. She opened the back door and saw three small, dirty girls lying together, eating crackers and drinking from bottles and playing with dolls. The last thing she wanted was to join them, but she pushed her way in, made a space for herself among these strangers that smelled vaguely of cheese and sausage, and closed the door. Twisting around in her seat, she stared at her father through the back window. His face held her gaze; she saw his mouth bend ever so slightly downward; it was the only hint that he saw her. The crowd surged around him like water around a rock, until all she could see was the wall of bedraggled strangers coming up behind the car. Isabelle faced forward in her seat again. Out her window, a young woman stared back at her, wild eyes, hair a birds nest, an infant suckling on her breast. The car moved slowly, sometimes inching forward, sometimes stopped for long periods of time. Isabelle watched her countrymencountrywomenshuffle past her, looking dazed and terrified and confused. Every now and then one of them would pound on the car bonnet or boot, begging for something. They kept the windows rolled up even though the heat in the car was stifling. At first, she was sad to be leaving, and then her anger bloomed, growing hotter even than the air in the back of this stinking car. She was so tired of being considered disposable. First, her papa had abandoned her, and then Vianne had pushed her aside. She closed her eyes to hide tears she couldnt suppress. In the darkness that smelled of sausage and sweat and smoke, with the children arguing beside her, she remembered the first time shed been sent away. The long train ride Isabelle stuffed in beside Vianne, who did nothing but sniff and cry and pretend to sleep. And then Madame looking down her copper pipe of a nose saying, They will be no trouble. Although shed been youngonly fourIsabelle thought shed learned what alone meant, but shed been wrong. In the three years shed lived at Le Jardin, shed at least had a sister, even if Vianne was never around. Isabelle remembered peering down from the upstairs window, watching Vianne and her friends from a distance, praying to be remembered, to be invited, and then when Vianne had married Antoine and fired Madame Doom (not her real name, of course, but certainly the truth), Isabelle had believed she was a part of the family. But not for long. When Vianne had her miscarriage, it was instantly good-bye, Isabelle. Three weeks laterat sevenshed been in her first boarding school. That was when she really learned about alone. You. Isabelle. Did you bring food? Patricia asked. She was turned around in her seat, peering at Isabelle. No. Wine? I brought money and clothes and books. Books, Patricia said dismissively, and turned back around. That should help. Isabelle looked out the window again. What other mistakes had she already made? * * * Hours passed. The automobile made its slow, agonizing way south. Isabelle was grateful for the dust. It coated the window and obscured the terrible, depressing scene. People. Everywhere. In front of them, behind them, beside them; so thick was the crowd that the automobile could only inch forward in fits and starts. It was like driving through a swarm of bees that pulled apart for a second and then swarmed again. The sun was punishingly hot. It turned the smelly automobile interior into an oven and beat down on the women outside who were shuffling toward what? No one knew what exactly was happening behind them or where safety lay ahead. The car lurched forward and stopped hard. Isabelle hit the seat in front of her. The children immediately started to cry for their mother. Merde, Monsieur Humbert muttered. Msieur Humbert, Patricia said primly. The children. An old woman pounded on the cars bonnet as she shuffled past. Thats it, then, Madame Humbert, he said. We are out of petrol. Patricia looked like a landed fish. What? I stopped at every chance along the way. You know I did. We have no more petrol and theres none to be had. But well what are we to do? Well find a place to stay. Perhaps I can convince my brother to come fetch us. Humbert opened his automobile door, being careful not to hit anyone ambling past, and stepped out onto the dusty, dirt road. See. There. ?tampes is not far ahead. Well get a room and a meal and it will all look better in the morning. Isabelle sat upright. Surely she had fallen asleep and missed something. Were they going to simply abandon the automobile? You think we can walk to Tours? Patricia turned around in her seat. She looked as drained and hot as Isabelle felt. Perhaps one of your books can help you. Certainly they were a smarter choice than bread or water. Come, girls. Out of the automobile. Isabelle reached down for the valise at her feet. It was wedged in tightly and required some effort to extricate. With a growl of determination, she finally yanked it free and opened the car door and stepped out. She was immediately surrounded by people, pushed and shoved and cursed at. Someone tried to yank her suitcase out of her grasp. She fought for it, hung on. As she clutched it to her body, a woman walked past her, pushing a bicycle laden with possessions. The woman stared at Isabelle hopelessly, her dark eyes revealing exhaustion. Someone else bumped into Isabelle; she stumbled forward and almost fell. Only the thicket of bodies in front of her saved her from going to her knees in the dust and dirt. She heard the person beside her apologize, and Isabelle was about to respond when she remembered the Humberts. She shoved her way around to the other side of the car, crying out, Msieur Humbert! There was no answer, just the ceaseless pounding of feet on the road. She called out Patricias name, but her cry was lost in the thud of so many feet, so many tires crunching on the dirt. People bumped her, pushed past her. If she fell to her knees, shed be trampled and die here, alone in the throng of her countrymen. Clutching the smooth leather handle of her valise, she joined the march toward ?tampes. She was still walking hours later when night fell. Her feet ached; a blister burned with every step. Hunger walked beside her, poking her insistently with its sharp little elbow, but what could she do about it? Shed packed for a visit with her sister, not an endless exodus. She had her favorite copy of Madame Bovary and the book everyone was readingAutant en emporte le ventand some clothes; no food or water. Shed expected that this whole journey would last a few hours. Certainly not that she would be walking to Carriveau. At the top of a small rise, she came to a stop. Moonlight revealed thousands of people walking beside her, in front of her, behind her; jostling her, bumping into her, shoving her forward until she had no choice but to stumble along with them. Hundreds more had chosen this hillside as a resting place. Women and children were camped along the side of the road, in fields and gutters and gullies. The dirt road was littered with broken-down automobiles and belongings; forgotten, discarded, stepped on, too heavy to carry. Women and children lay entangled in the grass or beneath trees or alongside ditches, asleep, their arms coiled around each other. Isabelle came to an exhausted halt on the outskirts of ?tampes. The crowd spilled out in front of her, stumbling onto the road to town. And she knew. There would be nowhere to stay in ?tampes and nothing to eat. The refugees who had arrived before her would have moved through the town like locusts, buying every foodstuff on the shelves. There wouldnt be a room available. Her money would do her no good. So what should she do? Head southwest, toward Tours and Carriveau. What else? As a girl, shed studied maps of this region in her quest to return to Paris. She knew this landscape, if only she could think. She peeled away from the crowd headed toward the collection of moonlit gray stone buildings in the distance and picked her way carefully through the valley. All around her people were seated in the grass or sleeping beneath blankets. She could hear them moving, whispering. Hundreds of them. Thousands. On the far side of the field, she found a trail that ran south along a low stone wall. Turning onto it, she found herself alone. She paused, letting the feel of that settle through her, calm her. Then she began walking again. After a mile or so the trail led her into a copse of spindly trees. She was deep in the woodstrying not to focus on the pain in her toe, the ache in her stomach, the dryness in her throatwhen she smelled smoke. And roasting meat. Hunger stripped her resolve and made her careless. She saw the orange glow of the fire and moved toward it. At the last minute, she realized her danger and stopped. A twig snapped beneath her foot. You may as well come over, said a male voice. You move like an elephant through the woods. Isabelle froze. She knew shed been stupid. There could be danger here for a girl alone. If I wanted you dead, youd be dead. That was certainly true. He could have come upon her in the dark and slit her throat. Shed been paying attention to nothing except the gnawing in her empty stomach and the aroma of roasting meat. You can trust me. She stared into the darkness, trying to make him out. Couldnt. You would say that if the opposite were true, too. A laugh. Oui. And now, come here. I have a rabbit on the fire. She followed the glow of firelight over a rocky gully and uphill. The tree trunks around her looked silver in the moonlight. She moved lightly, ready to run in an instant. At the last tree between her and the fire she stopped. A young man sat by the fire, leaning back against a rough trunk, one leg thrust forward, one bent at the knee. He was probably only a few years older than Isabelle. It was hard to see him well in the orange glow. He had longish, stringy black hair that looked unfamiliar with a comb or soap and clothes so tattered and patched she was reminded of the war refugees whod so recently shuffled through Paris, hoarding cigarettes and bits of paper and empty bottles, begging for change or help. He had the pale, unwholesome look of someone who never knew where his next meal was coming from. And yet he was offering her food. I hope you are a gentleman, she said from her place in the darkness. He laughed. Im sure you do. She stepped into the light cast by the fire. Sit, he said. She sat across from him in the grass. He leaned around the fire and handed her the bottle of wine. She took a long drink, so long he laughed as she handed him back the bottle and wiped wine from her chin. What a pretty drunkard you are. She had no idea how to answer that. He smiled. Ga?tan Dubois. My friends call me Ga?t. Isabelle Rossignol. Ah, a nightingale. She shrugged. It was hardly a new observation. Her surname meant nightingale. Maman had called Vianne and Isabelle her nightingales as she kissed them good night. It was one of Isabelles few memories of her. Why are you leaving Paris? A man like you should stay and fight. They opened the prison. Apparently it is better to have us fight for France than sit behind bars when the Germans storm through. You were in prison? Does that scare you? No. Its just unexpected. You should be scared, he said, pushing the stringy hair out of his eyes. Anyway, you are safe enough with me. I have other things on my mind. I am going to check on my maman and sister and then find a regiment to join. Ill kill as many of those bastards as I can. Youre lucky, she said with a sigh. Why was it so easy for men in the world to do as they wanted and so difficult for women? Come with me. Isabelle knew better than to believe him. You only ask because Im pretty and you think Ill end up in your bed if I stay, she said. He stared across the fire at her. It cracked and hissed as fat dripped onto the flames. He took a long drink of wine and handed the bottle back to her. Near the flames, their hands touched, the barest brushing of skin on skin. I could have you in my bed right now if thats what I wanted. Not willingly, she said, swallowing hard, unable to look away. Willingly, he said in a way that made her skin prickle and made breathing difficult. But thats not what I meant. Or what I said. I asked you to come with me to fight. Isabelle felt something so new she couldnt quite grasp it. She knew she was beautiful. It was simply a fact to her. People said it whenever they met her. She saw how men gazed at her with unabashed desire, remarking on her hair or green eyes or plump lips; how they looked at her breasts. She saw her beauty reflected in womens eyes, too, girls at school who didnt want her to stand too near the boys they liked and judged her to be arrogant before shed even spoken a word. Beauty was just another way to discount her, to not see her. She had grown used to getting attention in other ways. And she wasnt a complete innocent when it came to passion, either. Hadnt the good Sisters of St. Francis expelled her for kissing a boy during mass? But this felt different. He saw her beauty, even in the half-light, she could tell, but he looked past it. Either that, or he was smart enough to see that she wanted to offer more to the world than a pretty face. I could do something that matters, she said quietly. Of course you could. I could teach you to use a gun and a knife. I need to go to Carriveau and make sure my sister is well. Her husband is at the front. He gazed at her across the fire, his expression intent. We will see your sister in Carriveau and my mother in Poitiers, and then we will be off to join the war. He made it sound like such an adventure, no different from running off to join the circus, as if they would see men who swallowed swords and fat women with beards along the way. It was what shed been looking for all of her life. A plan, then, she said, unable to hide her smile. SIX The next morning Isabelle blinked awake to see sunlight gilding the leaves rustling overhead. She sat up, resmoothing the skirt that had hiked up in her sleep, revealing lacy white garters and ruined silk stockings. Dont do that on my account. Isabelle glanced to her left and saw Ga?tan coming toward her. For the first time, she saw him clearly. He was lanky, wiry as an apostrophe mark, and dressed in clothes that appeared to have come from a beggars bin. Beneath a fraying cap, his face was scruffy and sharp, unshaven. He had a wide brow and a pronounced chin and deep-set gray eyes that were heavily lashed. The look in those eyes was as sharp as the point of his chin, and revealed a kind of clarified hunger. Last night shed thought it was how hed looked at her. Now she saw that it was how he looked at the world. He didnt scare her, not at all. Isabelle was not like her sister, Vianne, who was given to fear and anxiety. But neither was Isabelle a fool. If she was going to travel with this man, she had better get a few things straight. So, she said. Prison. He stared at her, raised a black eyebrow, as if to say, Scared yet? A girl like you wouldnt know anything about it. I could tell you it was a Jean Valjean sort of stay and you would think it was romantic. It was the kind of thing she heard all the time. It circled back to her looks, as most snide comments did. Surely a pretty blond girl had to be shallow and dim-witted. Were you stealing food to feed your family? He grinned crookedly. It gave him a lopsided look, with one side of his smile hiking up farther than the other. No. Are you dangerous? It depends. What do you think of communists? Ah. So you were a political prisoner. Something like that. But like I said, a nice girl like you wouldnt know anything about survival. Youd be surprised the things I know, Ga?tan. There is more than one kind of prison. Is there, pretty girl? What do you know about it? What was your crime? I took things that didnt belong to me. Is that enough of an answer? Thief. And you got caught. Obviously. That isnt exactly comforting, Ga?tan. Were you careless? Ga?t, he said, moving toward her. I havent decided if were friends yet. He touched her hair, let a few strands coil around his dirty finger. Were friends. Bank on it. Now lets go. When he reached for her hand, it occurred to her to refuse him, but she didnt. They walked out of the forest and back onto the road, merging once again into the crowd, which opened just enough to let them in and then closed around them. Isabelle hung on to Ga?tan with one hand and held her suitcase in the other. They walked for miles. Automobiles died around them. Cartwheels broke. Horses stopped and couldnt be made to move again. Isabelle felt herself becoming listless and dull, exhausted by heat and dust and thirst. A woman limped along beside her, crying, her tears black with dirt and grit, and then that woman was replaced by an older woman in a fur coat who was sweating profusely and seemed to be wearing every piece of jewelry she owned. The sun grew stronger, became stiflingly, staggeringly hot. Children whined, women whimpered. The acrid, stuffy scent of body odor and sweat filled the air, but Isabelle had grown so used to it that she barely noticed other peoples smell or her own. It was almost three oclock, the hottest part of the day, when they saw a regiment of French soldiers walking alongside them, dragging their rifles. The soldiers moved in a disorganized way, not in formation, not smartly. A tank rumbled beside them, crunching over belongings left in the road; on it several whey-faced French soldiers sat slumped, their heads hung low. Isabelle pulled free of Ga?tan and stumbled through the crowd, elbowing her way to the regiment. Youre going the wrong way! she screamed, surprised to hear how hoarse her voice was. Ga?tan pounced on a soldier, shoved him back so hard he stumbled and crashed into a slow-moving tank. Who is fighting for France? The bleary-eyed soldier shook his head. No one. In a glint of silver, Isabelle saw the knife Ga?tan held to the mans throat. The soldiers gaze narrowed. Go ahead. Do it. Kill me. Isabelle pulled Ga?tan away. In his eyes, she saw a rage so deep it scared her. He could do it; he could kill this man by slitting his throat. And she thought: They opened the prisons. Was he worse than a thief? Ga?t? she said. Her voice got through to him. He shook his head as if to clear it and lowered his knife. Who is fighting for us? he said bitterly, coughing at the dust. We will be, she said. Soon. Behind her, an automobile honked its horn. Aah-ooh-gah. Isabelle ignored it. Automobiles were no better than walking anymorethe few that were still running were moving only at the whim of the people around them; like flotsam in the reeds of a muddy river. Come on. She pulled him away from the demoralized regiment. They walked on, still holding hands, but as the hours passed, Isabelle noticed a change in Ga?tan. He rarely spoke and didnt smile. At each town, the crowd thinned. People stumbled into Artenay, Saran, and Orl?ans, their eyes alight with desperation as they reached into handbags and pockets and wallets for money they hoped to be able to spend. Still, Isabelle and Ga?tan kept going. They walked all day and fell into exhausted sleep in the dark and woke again to walk the next day. By their third day, Isabelle was numb with exhaustion. Oozing red blisters had formed between most of her toes and on the balls of her feet and every step was painful. Dehydration gave her a terrible, pounding headache and hunger gnawed at her empty stomach. Dust clogged her throat and eyes and made her cough constantly. She stumbled past a freshly dug grave on the side of the road, marked by a crudely hammered-together wooden cross. Her shoe caught on somethinga dead catand she staggered forward, almost falling to her knees. Ga?tan steadied her. She clung to his hand, remained stubbornly upright. How much later was it that she heard something? An hour? A day? Bees. They buzzed around her head; she batted them away. She licked her dried lips and thought of pleasant days in the garden, with bees buzzing about. No. Not bees. She knew that sound. She stopped, frowning. Her thoughts were addled. What had she been trying to remember? The droning grew louder, filling the air, and then the aeroplanes appeared, six or seven of them, looking like small crucifixes against the blue and cloudless sky. Isabelle tented a hand over her eyes, watching the aeroplanes fly closer, lower Someone yelled, Its the Boches! In the distance, a stone bridge exploded in a spray of fire and stone and smoke. The aeroplanes dropped lower over the crowd. Ga?tan threw Isabelle to the ground and covered her body with his. The world became pure sound: the roar of the aeroplane engines, the rat-ta-ta-tat of machine-gun fire, the beat of her heart, people screaming. Bullets ate up the grass in rows, people screamed and cried out. Isabelle saw a woman fly into the air like a rag doll and hit the ground in a heap. Trees snapped in half and fell over, people yelled. Flames burst into existence. Smoke filled the air. And then quiet. Ga?tan rolled off her. Are you all right? he asked. She pushed the hair from her eyes and sat up. There were mangled bodies everywhere, and fires, and billowing black smoke. People were screaming, crying, dying. An old man moaned, Help me. Isabelle crawled to him on her hands and knees, realizing as she got close that the ground was marshy with his blood. A stomach wound gaped through his ripped shirt; entrails bulged out of the torn flesh. Maybe theres a doctor was all she could think of to say. And then she heard it again. The droning. Theyre coming back. Ga?tan pulled her to her feet. She almost slipped in the blood-soaked grass. Not far away a bomb hit, exploding into fire. Isabelle saw a toddler in soiled nappies standing by a dead woman, crying. She stumbled toward the toddler. Ga?tan yanked her sideways. I have to help Your dying wont help that kid, he growled, pulling her so hard it hurt. She stumbled along beside him in a daze. They dodged discarded automobiles and bodies, most of which were ripped beyond repair, bleeding, bones sticking out through clothes. At the edge of town, Ga?tan pulled Isabelle into a small stone church. Others were already there, crouching in corners, hiding amid the pews, hugging their loved ones close. Aeroplanes roared overhead, accompanied by the stuttering shriek of machine guns. The stained-glass window shattered; bits of colored glass clattered to the floor, slicing through skin on the way down. Timbers cracked, dust and stones fell. Bullets ran across the church, nailing arms and legs to the floor. The altar exploded. Ga?tan said something to her, and she answered, or she thought she did, but she wasnt sure, and before she could figure it out, another bomb whistled, fell, and the roof over her head exploded. SEVEN The ?cole ?lementaire was not a big school by city standards, but it was spacious and well laid out, plenty large enough for the children of the commune of Carriveau. Before its life as a school, the building had been stables for a rich landowner, and thus its U-shape design; the central courtyard had been a gathering place for carriages and tradesmen. It boasted gray stone walls, bright blue shutters, and wooden floors. The manor house, to which it had once been aligned, had been bombed in the Great War and never rebuilt. Like so many schools in the small towns in France, it stood on the far edge of town. Vianne was in her classroom, behind her desk, staring out at the shining childrens faces in front of her, dabbing her upper lip with her wrinkled handkerchief. On the floor by each childs desk was the obligatory gas mask. Children now carried them everywhere. The open windows and thick stone walls helped to keep the sun at bay, but still the heat was stifling. Lord knew, it was hard enough to concentrate without the added burden of the heat. The news from Paris was terrible, terrifying. All anyone could talk about was the gloomy future and the shocking present: Germans in Paris. The Maginot Line broken. French soldiers dead in trenches and running from the front. For the last three nightssince the telephone call from her fathershe hadnt slept. Isabelle was God-knew-where between Paris and Carriveau, and there had been no word from Antoine. Who wants to conjugate the verb courir for me? she asked tiredly. Shouldnt we be learning German? Vianne realized what shed just been asked. The students were interested now, sitting upright, their eyes bright. Pardon? she said, clearing her throat, buying time. We should be learning German, not French. It was young Gilles Fournier, the butchers son. His father and all three of his older brothers had gone off to the war, leaving only him and his mother to run the familys butcher shop. And shooting, Fran?ois agreed, nodding his head. My maman says we will need to know how to shoot Germans, too. My grandm?re says we should all just leave, said Claire. She remembers the last war and she says we are fools for staying. The Germans wont cross the Loire, will they, Madame Mauriac? In the front row, center, Sophie sat forward in her seat, her hands clasped atop the wooden desk, her eyes wide. She had been as upset by the rumors as Vianne. The child had cried herself to sleep two nights in a row, worrying over her father. Now B?b? came to school with her. Sarah sat in the desk beside her best friend, looking equally fearful. It is all right to be afraid, Vianne said, moving toward them. It was what shed said to Sophie last night and to herself, but the words rang hollow. Im not afraid, Gilles said. I got a knife. Ill kill any dirty Boches who show up in Carriveau. Sarahs eyes widened. Theyre coming here? No, Vianne said. The denial didnt come easily; her own fear caught at the word, stretched it out. The French soldiersyour fathers and uncles and brothersare the bravest men in the world. Im sure they are fighting for Paris and Tours and Orl?ans even as we speak. But Paris is overrun, Gilles said. What happened to the French soldiers at the front? In wars, there are battles and skirmishes. Losses along the way. But our men will never let the Germans win. We will never give up. She moved closer to her students. But we have a part to play, too; those of us left behind. We have to be brave and strong, too, and not believe the worst. We have to keep on with our lives so our fathers and brothers and husbands have lives to come home to, oui? But what about Tante Isabelle? Sophie asked. Grandp?re said she should have been here by now. My cousin ran from Paris, too, Fran?ois said. He is not arrived here, either. My uncle says it is bad on the roads. The bell rang and students popped from their seats like springs. In an instant the war, the aeroplanes, the fear were forgotten. They were eight- and nine-year-olds freed at the end of a summer school day, and they acted like it. Yelling, laughing, talking all at once, pushing one another aside, running for the door. Vianne was thankful for the bell. She was a teacher, for Gods sake. What did she know to say about dangers such as these? How could she assuage a childs fear when her own was straining at the leash? She busied herself with ordinary tasksgathering up the detritus that sixteen children left behind, banging chalk from the soft erasers, putting books away. When everything was as it should be, she put her papers and pencils into her own leather satchel and took her handbag out of the desks bottom drawer. Then she put on her straw hat, pinned it in place, and left her classroom. She walked down the quiet hallways, waving to colleagues who were still in their classrooms. Several of the rooms were closed up now that the male teachers had been mobilized. At Rachels classroom, she paused, watching as Rachel put her son in his pram and wheeled it toward the door. Rachel had been planning to take this term off from teaching to stay home with Ari, but the war had changed all of that. Now, she had no choice but to bring her baby to work with her. You look like I feel, Vianne said as her friend neared. Rachels dark hair had responded to the humidity and doubled in size. That cant be a compliment but Im desperate, so I am taking it as one. You have chalk on your cheek, by the way. Vianne wiped her cheek absently and leaned over the pram. The baby was sleeping soundly. Hows he doing? For a ten-month-old who is supposed to be at home with his maman and is instead gallivanting around town beneath enemy aeroplanes and listening to ten-year-old students shriek all day? Fine. She smiled and pushed a damp ringlet from her face as they headed down the corridor. Do I sound bitter? No more than the rest of us. Ha! Bitterness would do you good. All that smiling and pretending of yours would give me hives. Rachel bumped the pram down the three stone steps and onto the walkway that led to the grassy play area that had once been an exercise arena for horses and a delivery area for tradesmen. A four-hundred-year-old stone fountain gurgled and dripped water in the center of the yard. Come on, girls! Rachel called out to Sophie and Sarah, who were sitting together on a park bench. The girls responded immediately and fell into step ahead of the women, chattering constantly, their heads cocked together, their hands clasped. A second generation of best friends. They turned into an alleyway and came out on rue Victor Hugo, right in front of a bistro where old men sat on ironwork chairs, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and talking politics. Ahead of them, Vianne saw a haggard trio of women limping along, their clothes tattered, their faces yellow with dust. Poor women, Rachel said with a sigh. H?l?ne Ruelle told me this morning that at least a dozen refugees came to town late last night. The stories they bring are not good. But no one embellishes a story like H?l?ne. Ordinarily Vianne would make a comment about what a gossip H?l?ne was, but she couldnt be glib. According to Papa, Isabelle had left Paris days ago. She still hadnt arrived at Le Jardin. Im worried about Isabelle, she said. Rachel linked her arm through Viannes. Do you remember the first time your sister ran away from that boarding school in Lyon? She was seven years old. She made it all the way to Amboise. Alone. With no money. She spent two nights in the woods and talked her way onto the train. Vianne barely remembered anything of that time except for her own grief. When shed lost the first baby, shed fallen into despair. The lost year, Antoine called it. That was how she thought of it, too. When Antoine told her he was taking Isabelle to Paris, and to Papa, Vianne had beenGod help herrelieved. Was it any surprise that Isabelle had run away from the boarding school to which shed been sent? To this day, Vianne felt an abiding shame at how she had treated her baby sister. She was nine the first time she made it to Paris, Vianne said, trying to find comfort in the familiar story. Isabelle was tough and driven and determined; she always had been. If Im not mistaken, she was expelled two years later for running away from school to see a traveling circus. Or was that when she climbed out of the second-floor dormitory window using a bedsheet? Rachel smiled. The point is, Isabelle will make it here if thats what she wants. God help anyone who tries to stop her. She will arrive any day. I promise. Unless she has met an exiled prince and fallen desperately in love. That is the kind of thing that could happen to her. You see? Rachel teased. You feel better already. Now come to my house for lemonade. Its just the thing on a day this hot. * * * After supper, Vianne got Sophie settled into bed and went downstairs. She was too worried to relax. The silence in her house kept reminding her that no one had come to her door. She could not remain still. Regardless of her conversation with Rachel, she couldnt dispel her worryand a terrible sense of forebodingabout Isabelle. Vianne stood up, sat down, then stood again and walked to the front door, opening it. Outside, the fields lay beneath a purple and pink evening sky. Her yard was a series of familiar shapeswell-tended apple trees stood protectively between the front door and the rose-and-vine-covered stone wall, beyond which lay the road to town and acres and acres of fields, studded here and there with thickets of narrow-trunked trees. Off to the right was the deeper woods where she and Antoine had often sneaked off to be alone when they were younger. Antoine. Isabelle. Where were they? Was he at the front? Was she walking from Paris? Dont think about it. She needed to do something. Gardening. Keep her mind on something else. After retrieving her worn gardening gloves and stepping into the boots by the door, she made her way to the garden positioned on a flat patch of land between the shed and the barn. Potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli, peas, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and radishes grew in its carefully tended beds. On the hillside between the garden and the barn were the berriesraspberries and blackberries in carefully contained rows. She knelt down in the rich, black dirt and began pulling weeds. Early summer was usually a time of promise. Certainly, things could go wrong in this most ardent season, but if one remained steady and calm and didnt shirk the all-important duties of weeding and thinning, the plants could be guided and tamed. Vianne always made sure that the beds were precisely organized and tended with a firm yet gentle hand. Even more important than what she gave her garden was what it gave her. In it, she found a sense of calm. She became aware of something wrong slowly, in pieces. First, there was a sound that didnt belong, a vibration, a thudding, and then a murmur. The odors came next: something wholly at odds with her sweet garden smell, something acrid and sharp that made her think of decay. Vianne wiped her forehead, aware that she was smearing black dirt across her skin, and stood up. Tucking her dirty gloves in the gaping hip pockets of her pants, she rose to her feet and moved toward her gate. Before she reached it, a trio of women appeared, as if sculpted out of the shadows. They stood clumped together in the road just behind her gate. An old woman, dressed in rags, held the others close to hera young woman with a babe-in-arms and a teenaged girl who held an empty birdcage in one hand and a shovel in the other. Each looked glassy-eyed and feverish; the young mother was clearly trembling. Their faces were dripping with sweat, their eyes were filled with defeat. The old woman held out dirty, empty hands. Can you spare some water? she asked, but even as she asked her the question, she looked unconvinced. Beaten. Vianne opened the gate. Of course. Would you like to come in? Sit down, perhaps? The old woman shook her head. We are ahead of them. Theres nothing for those in the back. Vianne didnt know what the woman meant, but it didnt matter. She could see that the women were suffering from exhaustion and hunger. Just a moment. She went into the house and packed them some bread and raw carrots and a small bit of cheese. All that she had to spare. She filled a wine bottle with water and returned, offering them the provisions. Its not much, she said. It is more than weve had since Tours, the young woman said in a toneless voice. You were in Tours? Vianne asked. Drink, Sabine, the old woman said, holding the water to the girls lips. Vianne was about to ask about Isabelle when the old woman said sharply, Theyre here. The young mother made a moaning sound and tightened her hold on the baby, who was so quietand his tiny fist so bluethat Vianne gasped. The baby was dead. Vianne knew about the kind of talon grief that wouldnt let go; she had fallen into the fathomless gray that warped a mind and made a mother keep holding on long after hope was gone. Go inside, the old woman said to Vianne. Lock your doors. But The ragged trio backed awaylurched, reallyas if Viannes breath had become noxious. And then she saw the mass of black shapes moving across the field and coming up the road. The smell preceded them. Human sweat and filth and body odor. As they neared, the miasma of black separated, peeled into forms. She saw people on the road and in the fields; walking, limping, coming toward her. Some were pushing bicycles or prams or dragging wagons. Dogs barked, babies cried. There was coughing, throat clearing, whining. They came forward, through the field and up the road, relentlessly moving closer, pushing one another aside, their voices rising. Vianne couldnt help so many. She rushed into her house and locked the door behind her. Inside, she went from room to room, locking doors and closing shutters. When she was finished, she stood in the living room, uncertain, her heart pounding. The house began to shake, just a little. The windows rattled, the shutters thumped against the stone exterior. Dust rained down from the exposed timbers of the ceiling. Someone pounded on the front door. It went on and on and on, fists landing on the front door in hammer blows that made Vianne flinch. Sophie came running down the stairs, clutching B?b? to her chest. Maman! Vianne opened her arms and Sophie ran into her embrace. Vianne held her daughter close as the onslaught increased. Someone pounded on the side door. The copper pots and pans hanging in the kitchen clanged together, made a sound like church bells. She heard the high squealing of the outdoor pump. They were getting water. Vianne said to Sophie, Wait here one moment. Sit on the divan. Dont leave me! Vianne peeled her daughter away and forced her to sit down. Taking an iron poker from the side of the fireplace, she crept cautiously up the stairs. From the safety of her bedroom, she peered out the window, careful to remain hidden. There were dozens of people in her yard; mostly women and children, moving like a pack of hungry wolves. Their voices melded into a single desperate growl. Vianne backed away. What if the doors didnt hold? So many people could break down doors and windows, even walls. Terrified, she went back downstairs, not breathing until she saw Sophie still safe on the divan. Vianne sat down beside her daughter and took her in her arms, letting Sophie curl up as if she were a much littler girl. She stroked her daughters curly hair. A better mother, a stronger mother, would have had a story to tell right now, but Vianne was so afraid that her voice had gone completely. All she could think was an endless, beginningless prayer. Please. She pulled Sophie closer and said, Go to sleep, Sophie. Im here. Maman, Sophie said, her voice almost lost in the pounding on the door. What if Tante Isabelle is out there? Vianne stared down at Sophies small, earnest face, covered now in a sheen of sweat and dust. God help her was all she could think of to say. * * * At the sight of the gray stone house, Isabelle felt awash in exhaustion. Her shoulders sagged. The blisters on her feet became unbearable. In front of her, Ga?tan opened the gate. She heard it clatter brokenly and tilt sideways. Leaning into him, she stumbled up to the front door. She knocked twice, wincing each time her bloodied knuckles hit the wood. No one answered. She pounded with both of her fists, trying to call out her sisters name, but her voice was too hoarse to find any volume. She staggered back, almost sinking to her knees in defeat. Where can you sleep? Ga?tan said, holding her upright with his hand on her waist. In the back. The pergola. He led her around the house to the backyard. In the lush, jasmine-perfumed shadows of the arbor, she collapsed to her knees. She hardly noticed that he was gone, and then he was back with some tepid water, which she gulped from his cupped hands. It wasnt enough. Her stomach gnarled with hunger, sent an ache deep, deep inside of her. Still, when he started to leave again, she reached out for him, mumbled something, a plea not to be left alone, and he sank down beside her, putting out his arm for her to rest her head upon. They lay side by side in the warm dirt, staring up through the black thicket of vines that looped around the timbers and cascaded to the ground. The heady aromas of jasmine and blooming roses and rich earth created a beautiful bower. And yet, even here, in this quiet, it was impossible to forget what theyd just been through and the changes that were close on their heels. She had seen a change in Ga?tan, watched anger and impotent rage erase the compassion in his eyes and the smile from his lips. He had hardly spoken since the bombing, and when he did his voice was clipped and curt. They both knew more about war now, about what was coming. You could be safe here, with your sister, he said. I dont want to be safe. And my sister will not want me. She twisted around to look at him. Moonlight came through in lacy patterns, illuminating his eyes, his mouth, leaving his nose and chin in darkness. He looked different again, older already, in just these few days; careworn, angry. He smelled of sweat and blood and mud and death, but she knew she smelled the same. Have you heard of Edith Cavell? she asked. Do I strike you as an educated man? She thought about that for a moment and then said, Yes. He was quiet long enough that she knew shed surprised him. I know who she is. She saved the lives of hundreds of Allied airmen in the Great War. She is famous for saying that patriotism is not enough. And this is your hero, a woman executed by the enemy. A woman who made a difference, Isabelle said, studying him. I am relying on youa criminal and a communistto help me make a difference. Perhaps I am as mad and impetuous as they say. Who are they? Everyone. She paused, felt her expectation gather close. She had made a point of never trusting anyone, and yet she believed Ga?tan. He looked at her as if she mattered. You will take me. As you promised. You know how such bargains are sealed? How? With a kiss. Quit teasing. This is serious. Whats more serious than a kiss on the brink of war? He was smiling, but not quite. That banked anger was in his eyes again, and it frightened her, reminded her that she really didnt know him at all. I would kiss a man who was brave enough to take me into battle with him. I think you know nothing of kissing, he said with a sigh. Shows what you know. She rolled away from him and immediately missed his touch. Trying to be nonchalant, she rolled back to face him and felt his breath on her eyelashes. You may kiss me then. To seal our deal. He reached out slowly, put a hand around the back of her neck, and pulled her toward him. Are you sure? he asked, his lips almost touching hers. She didnt know if he was asking about going off to war or granting permission for a kiss, but right now, in this moment, it didnt matter. Isabelle had traded kisses with boys as if they were pennies to be left on park benches and lost in chair cushionsmeaningless. Never before, not once, had she really yearned for a kiss. Oui, she whispered, leaning toward him. At his kiss, something opened up inside the scraped, empty interior of her heart, unfurled. For the first time, her romantic novels made sense; she realized that the landscape of a womans soul could change as quickly as a world at war. I love you, she whispered. She hadnt said these words since she was four years old; then, it had been to her mother. At her declaration, Ga?tans expression changed, hardened. The smile he gave her was so tight and false she couldnt make sense of it. What? Did I do something wrong? No. Of course not, he said. We are lucky to have found each other, she said. We are not lucky, Isabelle. Trust me on this. As he said it, he drew her in for another kiss. She gave herself over to the sensations of the kiss, let it become the whole of her universe, and knew finally how it felt to be enough for someone. * * * When Vianne awoke, she noticed the quiet first. Somewhere a bird sang. She lay perfectly still in bed, listening. Beside her Sophie snored and grumbled in her sleep. Vianne went to the window, lifting the blackout shade. In her yard, apple branches hung like broken arms from the trees; the gate hung sideways, two of its three hinges ripped out. Across the road, the hayfield was flattened, the flowers crushed. The refugees whod come through had left belongings and refuse in their wakesuitcases, buggies, coats too heavy to carry and too hot to wear, pillowcases, and wagons. Vianne went downstairs and cautiously opened the front door. Listening for noisehearing noneshe unlatched the lock and turned the knob. They had destroyed her garden, ripping up anything that looked edible, leaving broken stalks and mounds of dirt. Everything was ruined, gone. Feeling defeated, she walked around the house to the backyard, which had also been ravaged. She was about to go back inside when she heard a sound. A mewling. Maybe a baby crying. There it was again. Had someone left an infant behind? She moved cautiously across the yard to the wooden pergola draped in roses and jasmine. Isabelle lay curled up on the ground, her dress ripped to shreds, her face cut up and bruised, her left eye swollen nearly shut, a piece of paper pinned to her bodice. Isabelle! Her sisters chin tilted upward slightly; she opened one bloodshot eye. V, she said in a cracked, hoarse voice. Thanks for locking me out. Vianne went to her sister and knelt beside her. Isabelle, you are covered in blood and bruised. Were you Isabelle seemed not to understand for a moment. Oh. It is not my blood. Most of it isnt, anyway. She looked around. Wheres Ga?t? What? Isabelle staggered to her feet, almost toppling over. Did he leave me? He did. She started to cry. He left me. Come on, Vianne said gently. She guided her sister into the cool interior of the house, where Isabelle kicked off her blood-splattered shoes, let them crack into the wall and clatter to the floor. Bloody footprints followed them to the bathroom tucked beneath the stairs. While Vianne heated water and filled the bath, Isabelle sat on the floor, her legs splayed out, her feet discolored by blood, muttering to herself and wiping tears from her eyes, which turned to mud on her cheeks. When the bath was ready, Vianne returned to Isabelle, gently undressing her. Isabelle was like a child, pliable, whimpering in pain. Vianne unbuttoned the back of Isabelles once-red dress and peeled it away, afraid that the slightest breath might topple her sister over. Isabelles lacy undergarments were stained in places with blood. Vianne unlaced the corseted midsection of the foundation and eased it off. Isabelle gritted her teeth and stepped into the tub. Lean back. Isabelle did as she was told, and Vianne poured hot water over her sisters head, keeping the water from her sisters eyes. All the while, as she washed Isabelles dirty hair and bruised body, she kept up a steady, soothing croon of meaningless words, meant to comfort. She helped Isabelle out of the tub and dried her body with a soft, white towel. Isabelle stared at her, slack-jawed, blank-eyed. How about some sleep? Vianne said. Sleep, Isabelle mumbled, her head lolling to one side. Vianne brought Isabelle a nightdress that smelled of lavender and rose water and helped her into it. Isabelle could hardly keep her eyes open as Vianne guided her to the upstairs bedroom and settled her beneath a light blanket. Isabelle was asleep before her head hit the pillow. * * * Isabelle woke to darkness. She remembered daylight. Where was she? She sat up so quickly her head spun. She took a few shallow breaths and then looked around. The upstairs bedroom at Le Jardin. Her old room. It did not give her a warm feeling. How often had Madame Doom locked her in the bedroom for her own good? Dont think about that, she said aloud. An even worse memory followed: Ga?tan. He had abandoned her after all; it filled her with the kind of bone-deep disappointment she knew so well. Had she learned nothing in life? People left. She knew that. They especially left her. She dressed in the shapeless blue housedress Vianne had left draped across the foot of the bed. Then she went down the narrow, shallow-stepped stairs, holding on to the iron banister. Every pain-filled step felt like a triumph. Downstairs, the house was quiet except for the crackling, staticky sound of a radio on at a low volume. She was pretty sure Maurice Chevalier was singing a love song. Perfect. Vianne was in the kitchen, wearing a gingham apron over a pale yellow housedress. A floral scarf covered her hair. She was peeling potatoes with a paring knife. Behind her, a cast-iron pot made a cheery little bubbling sound. The aromas made Isabelles mouth water. Vianne rushed forward to pull out a chair at the small table in the kitchens corner. Here, sit. Isabelle fell onto the seat. Vianne brought her a plate that was already prepared. A hunk of still-warm bread, a triangle of cheese, a smear of quince paste, and a few slices of ham. Isabelle took the bread in her red, scraped-up hands, lifting it to her face, breathing in the yeasty smell. Her hands were shaking as she picked up a knife and slathered the bread with fruit and cheese. When she set down the knife it clattered. She picked up the bread and bit into it; the single best bite of food of her life. The hard crust of the bread, its pillow-soft interior, the buttery cheese, and the fruit all combined to make her practically swoon. She ate the rest of it like a madwoman, barely noticing the cup of caf? noir her sister had set down beside her. Wheres Sophie? Isabelle asked, her cheeks bulging with food. It was difficult to stop eating, even to be polite. She reached for a peach, felt its fuzzy ripeness in her hand, and bit into it. Juice dribbled down her chin. Shes next door, playing with Sarah. You remember my friend, Rachel? I remember her, Isabelle said. Vianne poured herself a tiny cup of espresso and brought it to the table, where she sat down. Isabelle burped and covered her mouth. Pardon. I think a lapse in manners can be overlooked, Vianne said with a smile. You havent met Madame Dufour. No doubt she would hit me with a brick for that transgression. Isabelle sighed. Her stomach hurt now; she felt like she might vomit. She wiped her moist chin with her sleeve. What is the news from Paris? The swastika flag flies from the Eiffel Tower. And Papa? Fine, he says. Worried about me, Ill bet, Isabelle said bitterly. He shouldnt have sent me away. But when has he ever done anything else? A look passed between them. It was one of the few memories they shared, that abandonment, but clearly Vianne didnt want to remember it. We hear there were more than ten million of you on the roads. The crowds werent the worst of it, Isabelle said. We were mostly women and children, V, and old men and boys. And they just obliterated us. Its over now, thank God, Vianne said. Its best to focus on the good. Who is Ga?tan? You spoke of him in your delirium. Isabelle picked at one of the scrapes on the back of her hand, realizing an instant too late that she should have let it alone. The scab ripped away and blood bubbled up. Maybe he has to do with this, Vianne said when the silence elongated. She pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of her apron pocket. It was the note that had been pinned to Isabelles bodice. Dirty, bloody fingerprints ran across the paper. On it was written: You are not ready. Isabelle felt the world drop out from under her. It was a ridiculous, girlish reaction, overblown, and she knew it, but still it hit her hard, wounded deep. He had wanted to take her with him until the kiss. Somehow hed tasted the lack in her. Hes no one, she said grimly, taking the note, crumpling it. Just a boy with black hair and a sharp face who tells lies. Hes nothing. Then she looked at Vianne. Im going off to the war. I dont care what anyone thinks. Ill drive an ambulance or roll bandages. Anything. Oh, for heavens sake, Isabelle. Paris is overrun. The Nazis control the city. What is an eighteen-year-old girl to do about all of that? I am not hiding out in the country while the Nazis destroy France. And lets face it, you have never exactly felt sisterly toward me. Her aching face tightened. Ill be leaving as soon as I can walk. You will be safe here, Isabelle. Thats what matters. You must stay. Safe? Isabelle spat. You think that is what matters now, Vianne? Let me tell you what I saw out there. French troops running from the enemy. Nazis murdering innocents. Maybe you can ignore that, but I wont. You will stay here and be safe. We will speak of it no more. When have I ever been safe with you, Vianne? Isabelle said, seeing hurt blossom in her sisters eyes. I was young, Isabelle. I tried to be a mother to you. Oh, please. Lets not start with a lie. After I lost the baby Isabelle turned her back on her sister and limped away before she said something unforgiveable. She clasped her hands to still their trembling. This was why she hadnt wanted to return to this house and see her sister, why shed stayed away for years. There was too much pain between them. She turned up the radio to drown out her thoughts. A voice crackled over the airwaves. Mar?chal P?tain speaking to you Isabelle frowned. P?tain was a hero of the Great War, a beloved leader of France. She turned up the volume further. Vianne appeared beside her. I assumed the direction of the government of France Static overtook his deep voice, crackled through it. Isabelle thumped the radio impatiently. our admirable army, which is fighting with a heroism worthy of its long military traditions against an enemy superior in numbers and arms Static. Isabelle hit the radio again, whispering, Zut. in these painful hours I think of the unhappy refugees who, in extreme misery, clog our roads. I express to them my compassion and my solicitude. It is with a broken heart that I tell you today it is necessary to stop fighting. Weve won? Vianne said. Shhh, Isabelle said sharply. addressed myself last night to the adversary to ask him if he is ready to speak with me, as soldier to soldier, after the actual fighting is over, and with honor, the means of putting an end to hostilities. The old mans words droned on, saying things like trying days and control their anguish and, worst of all, destiny of the fatherland. Then he said the word Isabelle never thought shed hear in France. Surrender. Isabelle hobbled out of the room on her bloody feet and went into the backyard, needing air suddenly, unable to draw a decent breath. Surrender. France. To Hitler. It must be for the best, her sister said calmly. When had Vianne come out here? Youve heard about Mar?chal P?tain. He is a hero unparalleled. If he says we must quit fighting, we must. Im sure hell reason with Hitler. Vianne reached out. Isabelle yanked away. The thought of Viannes comforting touch made her feel sick. She limped around to face her sister. You dont reason with men like Hitler. So you know more than our heroes now? I know we shouldnt give up. Vianne made a tsking sound, a little scuff of disappointment. If Mar?chal P?tain thinks surrender is best for France, it is. Period. At least the war will be over and our men will come home. You are a fool. Vianne said, Fine, and went back into the house. Isabelle tented a hand over her eyes and stared up into the bright and cloudless sky. How long would it be before all this blue was filled with German aeroplanes? She didnt know how long she stood there, imagining the worstremembering how the Nazis had opened fire on innocent women and children in Tours, obliterating them, turning the grass red with their blood. Tante Isabelle? Isabelle heard the small, tentative voice as if from far away. She turned slowly. A beautiful girl stood at Le Jardins back door. She had skin like her mothers, as pale as fine porcelain, and expressive eyes that appeared coal black from this distance, as dark as her fathers. She could have stepped from the pages of a fairy taleSnow White or Sleeping Beauty. You cant be Sophie, Isabelle said. The last time I saw you you were sucking your thumb. I still do sometimes, Sophie said with a conspiratorial smile. You wont tell? Me? I am the best of secret keepers. Isabelle moved toward her, thinking, my niece. Family. Shall I tell you a secret about me, just so that we are fair? Sophie nodded earnestly, her eyes widening. I can make myself invisible. No, you cant. Isabelle saw Vianne appear at the back door. Ask your maman. I have sneaked onto trains and climbed out of windows and run away from convent dungeons. All of this because I can disappear. Isabelle, Vianne said sternly. Sophie stared up at Isabelle, enraptured. Really? Isabelle glanced at Vianne. It is easy to disappear when no one is looking at you. I am looking at you, Sophie said. Will you make yourself invisible now? Isabelle laughed. Of course not. Magic, to be its best, must be unexpected. Dont you agree? And now, shall we play a game of checkers? EIGHT The surrender was a bitter pill to swallow, but Mar?chal P?tain was an honorable man. A hero of the last war with Germany. Yes, he was old, but Vianne shared the belief that this only gave him a better perspective from which to judge their circumstances. He had fashioned a way for their men to come home, so it wouldnt be like the Great War. Vianne understood what Isabelle could not: P?tain had surrendered on behalf of France to save lives and preserve their nation and their way of life. It was true that the terms of this surrender were difficult: France had been divided into two zones. The Occupied Zonethe northern half of the country and the coastal regions (including Carriveau)was to be taken over and governed by the Nazis. The great middle of the country, the land that lay below Paris and above the sea, would be the Free Zone, governed by a new French government in Vichy, led by Mar?chal P?tain himself, in collaboration with the Nazis. Immediately upon Frances surrender, food became scarce. Laundry soap: unobtainable. Ration cards could not be counted upon. Phone service became unreliable, as did the mail. The Nazis effectively cut off communication between cities and towns. The only mail allowed was on official German postcards. But for Vianne, these were not the worst of the changes. Isabelle became impossible to live with. Several times since the surrender, while Vianne toiled to reconstruct and replant her garden and repair her damaged fruit trees, she had paused in her work and seen Isabelle standing at the gate staring up at the sky as if some dark and horrible thing were headed this way. All Isabelle could talk about was the monstrosity of the Nazis and their determination to kill the French. She had no abilityof courseto hold her tongue, and since Vianne refused to listen, Sophie became Isabelles audience, her acolyte. She filled poor Sophies head with terrible images of what would happen, so much so that the child had nightmares. Vianne dared not leave the two of them alone, and so today, like each of the previous days, she made them both come to town with her to see what their ration cards would get them. They had been standing in a food queue at the butchers shop for two hours already. Isabelle had been complaining nearly that whole time. Apparently it made no sense to her that she should have to shop for food. Vianne, look, Isabelle said. More dramatics. Vianne. Look. She turnedjust to silence her sisterand saw them. Germans. Up and down the street, windows and doors slammed shut. People disappeared so quickly Vianne found herself suddenly standing alone on the sidewalk with her sister and daughter. She grabbed Sophie and pulled her against the butcher shops closed door. Isabelle stepped defiantly into the street. Isabelle, Vianne hissed, but Isabelle stood her ground, her green eyes bright with hatred, her pale, fine-boned beautiful face marred by scratches and bruises. The green lorry in the lead came to a halt in front of Isabelle. In the back, soldiers sat on benches, facing one another, rifles laid casually across their laps. They looked young and clean shaven and eager in brand-new helmets, with medals glinting on their gray-green uniforms. Young most of all. Not monsters; just boys, really. They craned their necks to see what had stopped traffic. At the sight of Isabelle standing there, the soldiers started to smile and wave. Vianne grabbed Isabelles hand and yanked her out of the way. The military entourage rumbled past them, a string of vehicles and motorcycles and lorries covered in camouflaged netting. Armored tanks rolled thunderously on the cobblestoned street. And then came the soldiers. Two long lines of them, marching into town. Isabelle walked boldly alongside them, up rue Victor Hugo. The Germans waved to her, looking more like tourists than conquerors. Maman, you cant let her go off by herself, Sophie said. Merde. Vianne clutched Sophies hand and ran after Isabelle. They caught up with her in the next block. The town square, usually full of people, had practically emptied. Only a few townspeople dared to remain as the German vehicles pulled up in front of the town hall and parked. An officer appearedor Vianne assumed he was an officer because of the way he began barking orders. Soldiers marched around the large cobblestoned square, claiming it with their overwhelming presence. They ripped down the flag of France and replaced it with their Nazi flag: a huge black swastika against a red and black background. When it was in place, the troops stopped as one, extended their right arms, and yelled, Heil Hitler. If I had a gun, Isabelle said, Id show them not all of us wanted to surrender. Shhh, Vianne said. Youll get us all killed with that mouth of yours. Lets go. No. I want Vianne spun to face Isabelle. Enough. You will not draw attention to us. Is that understood? Isabelle gave one last hate-filled glance at the marching soldiers and then let Vianne lead her away. They slipped from the main street and entered a dark cleft in the walls that led to a back alley behind the milliners shop. They could hear the soldiers singing. Then a shot rang out. And another. Someone screamed. Isabelle stopped. Dont you dare, Vianne said. Move. They kept to the dark alleys, ducking into doorways when they heard voices coming their way. It took longer than usual to get through town, but eventually they made it to the dirt road. They walked silently past the cemetery and all the way home. Once inside, Vianne slammed the door behind her and locked it. You see? Isabelle said instantly. She had obviously been waiting to throw out the question. Go to your room, Vianne said to Sophie. Whatever Isabelle was going to say, she didnt want Sophie to hear. Vianne eased the hat from her head and set down her empty basket. Her hands were shaking. Theyre here because of the airfield, Isabelle said. She began pacing. I didnt think it would happen so fast, even with the surrender. I didnt believe I thought our soldiers would fight anyway. I thought Quit biting at your nails. Youll make them bleed, you know. Isabelle looked a madwoman, with her waist-length blond hair falling loose from its braid and her bruised face twisted with fury. The Nazis are here, Vianne. In Carriveau. Their flag flies from the h?tel de ville as it flies from the Arc du Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. They werent in town five minutes and a shot was fired. The war is over, Isabelle. Mar?chal P?tain said so. The war is over? The war is over? Did you see them back there, with their guns and their flags and their arrogance? We need to get out of here, V. Well take Sophie and leave Carriveau. And go where? Anywhere. Lyon, maybe. Provence. What was that town in the Dordogne where Maman was born? Brant?me. We could find her friend, that Basque woman, what was her name? She might help us. You are giving me a headache. A headache is the least of your problems, Isabelle said, pacing again. Vianne approached her. You are not going to do anything crazy or stupid. Am I understood? Isabelle growled in frustration and marched upstairs, slamming the door behind her. * * * Surrender. The word stuck in Isabelles thoughts. That night, as she lay in the downstairs guest bedroom, staring up at the ceiling, she felt frustration lodge in her so deeply she could hardly think straight. Was she supposed to spend the war in this house like some helpless girl, doing laundry and standing in food lines and sweeping the floor? Was she to stand by and watch the enemy take everything from France? She had always felt lonely and frustratedor at least she had felt it for as long as she could rememberbut never as sharply as now. She was stuck here in the country with no friends and nothing to do. No. There must be something she could do. Even here, even now. Hide the valuables. It was all that came to her. The Germans would loot the houses in town; of that she had no doubt, and when they did they would take everything of value. Her own governmentcowards that they werehad known that. It was why they had emptied much of the Louvre and put fake paintings on the museum walls. Not much of a plan, she muttered. But it was better than nothing. The next day, as soon as Vianne and Sophie left for school, Isabelle began. She ignored Viannes request that she go to town for food. She couldnt stand to see the Nazis, and one day without meat would hardly matter. Instead, she searched the house, opening closets and rummaging through drawers and looking under the beds. She took every item of value and set it on the trestle table in the dining room. There were lots of valuable heirlooms. Lacework tatted by her great-grandmother, a set of sterling silver salt and pepper shakers, a gilt-edged Limoges platter that had been their aunts, several small impressionist paintings, a tablecloth made of fine ivory Alen?on lace, several photograph albums, a silver-framed photograph of Vianne and Antoine and baby Sophie, her mothers pearls, Viannes wedding dress and more. Isabelle boxed up everything that would fit in a wooden-trimmed leather trunk, which she dragged through the trampled grass, wincing every time it scraped on a stone or thudded into something. By the time she reached the barn, she was breathing hard and sweating. The barn was smaller than she remembered. The hayloftonce the only place in the world where she was happywas really just a small tier on the second floor, a bit of floor perched at the top of a rickety ladder and beneath the roof, through which slats of sky could be seen. How many hours had she spent up there alone with her picture books, pretending that someone cared enough to come looking for her? Waiting for her sister, who was always out with Rachel or Antoine. She pushed that memory aside. The center of the barn was no more than thirty feet wide. It had been built by her great-grandfather to hold buggiesback when the family had money. Now there was only an old Renault parked in the center. The stalls were filled with tractor parts and web-draped wooden ladders and rusted farm implements. She closed the barn door and went to the automobile. The drivers side door opened with a squeaking, clattering reluctance. She climbed in, started the engine, drove forward about eight feet, and then parked. The trapdoor was revealed now. About five feet long and four feet wide and made of planks connected by leather straps, the cellar door was nearly impossible to see, especially as it was now, covered in dust and old hay. She pulled the trapdoor open, letting it rest against the automobiles dinged-up bumper, and peered down into the musty darkness. Holding the trunk by its strap, she turned on her torchlight and clamped it under her other armpit and climbed down the ladder slowly, clanking the trunk down, rung by rung, until she was at the bottom. The trunk clattered onto the dirt floor beside her. Like the loft, this hidey-hole had seemed bigger to her as a child. It was about eight feet wide and ten feet long, with shelving along one side and an old mattress on the floor. The shelves used to hold barrels for winemaking, but a lantern was the only thing left on the shelves. She tucked the trunk into the back corner and then went back to the house, where she gathered up some preserved food, blankets, some medical supplies, her fathers hunting shotgun, and a bottle of wine, all of which she put out on the shelves. When she climbed back up the ladder, she found Vianne in the barn. What in the world are you doing out here? Isabelle wiped her dusty hands on the worn cotton of her skirt. Hiding your valuables and putting supplies down herein case we need to hide from the Nazis. Come down and look. I did a good job, I think. She backed down the ladder and Vianne followed her into the darkness. Lighting a lantern, Isabelle proudly showed off Papas shotgun and the foodstuffs and medical supplies. Vianne went straight to their mothers jewelry box, opening it. Inside lay brooches and earrings and necklaces, mostly costume pieces. But at the bottom, lying on blue velvet, were the pearls that Grandm?re had worn on her wedding day and given to Maman to wear on her wedding day. You may need to sell them someday, Isabelle said. Vianne clamped the box shut. They are heirlooms, Isabelle. For Sophies wedding dayand yours. I would never sell them. She sighed impatiently and turned to Isabelle. What food were you able to get in town? I did this instead. Of course you did. Its more important to hide Mamans pearls than to feed your niece supper. Honestly, Isabelle. Vianne climbed up the ladder, her displeasure revealed in tiny, disgusted huffs. Isabelle left the cellar and drove the Renault back into place over the door. Then she hid the keys behind a broken board in one of the stalls. At the last moment, she disabled the automobile by removing the distributor cap. She hid it with the keys. When she finally returned to the house, Vianne was in the kitchen, frying potatoes in a cast-iron skillet. I hope you arent hungry. Im not. She moved past Vianne, barely making eye contact. Oh, and I hid the keys and distributor cap in the first stall, behind a broken board. In the living room, she turned on the radio and scooted close, hoping for news from the BBC. There was a staticky crackle and then an unfamiliar voice said, This is the BBC. G?n?ral de Gaulle is speaking to you. Vianne! Isabelle yelled toward the kitchen. Who is G?n?ral de Gaulle? Vianne came into the living room, drying her hands on her apron. What is Shush, Isabelle snapped. the leaders who have been at the head of the French army for many years have formed a government. On the pretext that our army has been defeated, this government has approached the enemy with a view to ceasing hostilities. Isabelle stared at the small wooden radio, transfixed. This man theyd never heard of spoke directly to the people of France, not at them as P?tain had done, but to them in an impassioned voice. Pretext of defeat. I knew it! we certainly have been, and still are, submerged by the mechanical strength of the enemy, both on land and in the air. The tanks, the aeroplanes, the tactics of the Germans astounded our generals to such an extent that they have been brought to the pain which they are in today. But has the last word been said? Has all hope disappeared? Is the defeat final? Mon Dieu, Isabelle said. This was what shed been waiting to hear. There was something to be done, a fight to engage in. The surrender wasnt final. Whatever happens, de Gaulles voice went on, the flame of French resistance must not and shall not die. Isabelle hardly noticed that she was crying. The French hadnt given up. Now all Isabelle had to do was figure out how to answer this call. * * * Two days after the Nazis occupied Carriveau, they called a meeting for the late afternoon. Everyone was to attend. No exceptions. Even so, Vianne had had to fight with Isabelle to get her to come. As usual, Isabelle did not think ordinary rules pertained to her and she wanted to use defiance to show her displeasure. As if the Nazis cared what one impetuous eighteen-year-old girl thought of their occupation of her country. Wait here, Vianne said impatiently when shed finally gotten Isabelle and Sophie out of the house. She gently closed the broken gate behind them. It gave a little click of closure. Moments later, Rachel appeared in the road, coming toward them, with the baby in her arms and Sarah at her side. Thats my best friend, Sarah, Sophie said, gazing up at Isabelle. Isabelle, Rachel said with a smile. It is good to see you again. Is it? Isabelle said. Rachel moved closer to Isabelle. That was a long time ago, Rachel said gently. We were young and stupid and selfish. Im sorry we treated you badly. Ignored you. That must have been very painful. Isabelles mouth opened, closed. For once, she had nothing to say. Lets go, Vianne said, irritated that Rachel had said to Isabelle what Vianne had not been able to. We shouldnt be late. Even this late in the day, the weather was unseasonably warm, and in no time, Vianne felt herself beginning to sweat. In town, they joined the grumbling crowd that filled the narrow cobblestoned street from storefront to storefront. The shops were closed and the windows were shuttered, even though the heat would be unbearable when they got home. Most of the display cases were empty, which was hardly surprising. The Germans ate so much; even worse, they left food on their plates in the caf?s. Careless and cruel, it was, with so many mothers beginning to count the jars in their cellars so that they could dole out every precious bite to their children. Nazi propaganda was everywhere, on windows and shop walls; posters that showed smiling German soldiers surrounded by French children with captions designed to encourage the French to accept their conquerors and become good citizens of the Reich. As the crowd approached the town hall, the grumbling stopped. Up close, it felt even worse, this following of instructions, walking blindly into a place with guarded doors and locked windows. We shouldnt go in, Isabelle said. Rachel, who stood between the sisters, towering over both of them, made a tsking sound. She resettled the baby in her arms, patting his back in a comforting rhythm. We have been summoned. All the more reason to hide, Isabelle said. Sophie and I are going in, Vianne said, although she had to admit that she felt a prickly sense of foreboding. I have a bad feeling about it, Isabelle muttered. Like a thousand-legged centipede, the crowd moved forward into the great hall. Tapestries had once hung from these walls, leftover treasure from the time of kings, when the Loire Valley had been the royal hunting ground, but all that was gone now. Instead there were swastikas and propagandist posters on the wallsTrust in the Reich!and a huge painting of Hitler. Beneath the painting stood a man wearing a black field tunic decorated with medals and iron crosses, knee breeches, and spit-shined boots. A red swastika armband circled his right bicep. When the hall was full, the soldiers closed the oak doors, which creaked in protest. The officer at the front of the hall faced them, shot his right arm out, and said, Heil Hitler. The crowd murmured softly among themselves. What should they do? Heil Hitler, a few said grudgingly. The room began to smell of sweat and leather polish and cigarette smoke. I am Sturmbannf?hrer Weldt of the Geheime Staatspolizei. The Gestapo, the man in the black uniform said in heavily accented French. I am here to carry out the terms of the armistice on behalf of the fatherland and the F?hrer. It will be of little hardship on those of you who obey the rules. He cleared his throat. The rules: All radios are to be turned in to us at the town hall, immediately, as are all guns, explosives, and ammunition. All operational vehicles will be impounded. All windows will be equipped with material for blackout, and you shall use it. A nine P.M. curfew is instantly in effect. No lights shall be on after dusk. We will control all food, whether grown or imported. He paused, looked out over the mass of people standing in front of him. Not so bad, see? We will live together in harmony, yes? But know this. Any act of sabotage or espionage or resistance will be dealt with swiftly and without mercy. The punishment for such behavior is death by execution. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket and extracted a single cigarette. Lighting it, he stared out at the people so intently it seemed he was memorizing each face. Also, although many of your ragged, cowardly soldiers are returning, we must inform you that the men taken prisoner by us shall remain in Germany. Vianne felt confusion ripple through the audience. She looked at Rachel, whose square face was blotchy in placesa sign of anxiety. Marc and Antoine will come home, Rachel said stubbornly. The Sturmbannf?hrer went on. You may leave now, as I am sure we understand each other. I will have officers here until eight forty-five tonight. They will receive your contraband. Do not be late. And He smiled good-naturedly. Do not risk your lives to keep a radio. Whatever you keepor hidewe will find, and if we find it death. He said it so casually, and wearing such a fine smile, that for a moment, it didnt sink in. The crowd stood there a moment longer, uncertain whether it was safe to move. No one wanted to be seen as taking the first step, and then suddenly they were moving, pack-like, toward the open doors that led them outside. Bastards, Isabelle said as they moved into an alley. And I was so sure theyd let us keep our guns, Rachel said, lighting up a cigarette, inhaling deeply and exhaling in a rush. Im keeping our gun, I can tell you, Isabelle said in a loud voice. And our radio. Shhh, Vianne said. G?n?ral de Gaulle thinks I dont want to hear that foolishness. We have to keep our heads down until our men come home, Vianne said. Mon Dieu, Isabelle said sharply. You think your husband can fix this? No, Vianne said. I believe you will fix it, you and your G?n?ral de Gaulle, of whom no one has ever heard. Now, come. While you are hatching a plan to save France, I need to tend to my garden. Come on, Rachel, let us dullards be away. Vianne held tightly to Sophies hand and walked briskly ahead. She did not bother to glance back to see if Isabelle was following. She knew her sister was back there, hobbling forward on her damaged feet. Ordinarily Vianne would keep pace with her sister, out of politeness, but just now she was too mad to care. Your sister may not be so wrong, Rachel said as they passed the Norman church on the edge of town. If you take her side in this, I may be forced to hurt you, Rachel. That being said, your sister may not be entirely wrong. Vianne sighed. Dont tell her that. Shes unbearable already. She will have to learn propriety. You teach her. She has proven singularly resistant to improving herself or listening to reason. Shes been to two finishing schools and still cant hold her tongue or make polite conversation. Two days ago, instead of going to town for meat, she hid the valuables and created a hiding place for us. Just in case. I should probably hide mine, too. Not that we have much. Vianne pursed her lips. There was no point in talking further about this. Soon, Antoine would be home and he would help keep Isabelle in line. At the gate to Le Jardin, Vianne said good-bye to Rachel and her children, who kept walking. Why do we have to give them our radio, Maman? Sophie asked. It belongs to Papa. We dont, Isabelle said, coming up beside them. We will hide it. We will not hide it, Vianne said sharply. We will do as we are told and keep quiet and soon Antoine will be home and he will know what to do. Welcome to the Middle Ages, Sophie, Isabelle said. Vianne yanked her gate open, forgetting a second too late that the refugees had broken it. The poor thing clattered on its single hinge. It took all of Viannes fortitude to act as if it hadnt happened. She marched up to the house, opened the door, and immediately turned on the kitchen light. Sophie, she said, unpinning her hat. Would you please set the table? Vianne ignored her daughters grumblingit was to be expected. In only a few days, Isabelle had taught her niece to challenge authority. Vianne lit the stove and started cooking. When a creamy potato and lardon soup was simmering, she began to clean up. Of course Isabelle was nowhere around to help. Sighing, she filled the sink with water to wash dishes. She was so intent on her task that it took her a moment to notice that someone was knocking on the front door. Patting her hair, she walked into the living room, where she found Isabelle rising from the divan, a book in her hands. Reading while Vianne cooked and cleaned. Naturally. Are you expecting anyone? Isabelle asked. Vianne shook her head. Maybe we shouldnt answer, Isabelle said. Pretend were not here. Its most likely Rachel. There was another knock at the door. Slowly, the doorknob turned, and the door creaked open. Yes. Of course it was Rachel. Who else would A German soldier stepped into her home. Oh, my pardons, the man said in terrible French. He removed his military hat, tucked it in his armpit, and smiled. He was a good-looking mantall and broad-shouldered and narrow-hipped, with pale skin and light gray eyes. Vianne guessed he was roughly her age. His field uniform was precisely pressed and looked brand new. An iron cross decorated his stand-up collar. Binoculars hung from a strap around his neck and a chunky leather utility belt cinched his waist. Behind him, through the branches of the orchard, she saw his motorcycle parked on the side of the road. A sidecar was attached to it, mounted with machine guns. Mademoiselle, he said to Vianne, giving her a swift nod as he clicked his boots together. Madame, she corrected him, wishing she sounded haughty and in control, but even to her own ears she sounded scared. Madame Mauriac. I am HauptmannCaptainWolfgang Beck. He handed her a piece of paper. My French is not so good. You will excuse my ineptitude, please. When he smiled, deep dimples formed in his cheeks. She took the paper and frowned down at it. I dont read German. What do you want? Isabelle demanded, coming to stand by Vianne. Your home is most beautiful and very close to the airfield. I noticed it upon our arrival. How many bedrooms have you? Why? Isabelle said at the same time Vianne said, Three. I will billet here, the captain said in his bad French. Billet? Vianne said. You mean to stay? Oui, Madame. Billet? You? A man? A Nazi? No. No. Isabelle shook her head. No. The captains smile neither faded nor fell. You were to town, he said, looking at Isabelle. I saw you when we arrived. You noticed me? He smiled. I am sure every red-blooded man in my regiment noticed you. Funny you would mention blood, Isabelle said. Vianne elbowed her sister. I am sorry, Captain. My young sister is obstinate on occasion. But I am married, you see, and my husband is at the front, and there is my sister and my daughter here, so you must see how inappropriate it would be to have you here. Ah, so you would rather leave the house to me. How difficult that must be for you. Leave? Vianne said. I believe you arent understanding the captain, Isabelle said, not taking her gaze from him. Hes moving into your home, taking it over, really, and that piece of paper is a requisition order that makes it possible. And P?tains armistice, of course. We can either make room for him or abandon a home that has been in our family for generations. He looked uncomfortable. This, Im afraid, is the situation. Many of your fellow villagers are facing the same dilemma, I fear. If we leave, will we get our home back? Isabelle asked. I would not think so, Madame. Vianne dared to take a step toward him. Perhaps she could reason with him. My husband will be home any day now, I imagine. Perhaps you could wait until he is here? I am not the general, alas. I am simply a captain in the Wehrmacht. I follow orders, Madame, I do not give them. And I am ordered to billet here. But I assure you that I am a gentleman. We will leave, Isabelle said. Leave? Vianne said to her sister in disbelief. This is my home. To the captain she said, I can count on you to be a gentleman? Of course. Vianne looked at Isabelle, who shook her head slowly. Vianne knew there was no real choice. She had to keep Sophie safe until Antoine came home, and then he would handle this unpleasantness. Surely he would be home soon, now that the armistice had been signed. There is a small bedroom downstairs. Youll be comfortable there. The captain nodded. Merci, Madame. I will get my things. * * * As soon as the door closed behind the captain, Isabelle said, Are you mad? We cant live with a Nazi. He said hes in the Wehrmacht. Is that the same thing? Im hardly interested in their chain of command. You havent seen what theyre willing to do to us, Vianne. I have. Well leave. Go next door, to Rachels. We could live with her. Rachels house is too small for all of us, and I am not going to abandon my home to the Germans. To that, Isabelle had no answer. Vianne felt anxiety turn to an itch along her throat. An old nervous habit returned. You go if you must, but I am waiting for Antoine. We have surrendered, so hell be home soon. Vianne, please The front door rattled hard. Another knock. Vianne walked dully forward. With a shaking hand, she reached for the knob and opened the door. Captain Beck stood there, holding his military hat in one hand and a small leather valise in the other. He said, Hello again, Madame, as if hed been gone for some time. Vianne scratched at her neck, feeling acutely vulnerable beneath this mans gaze. She backed away quickly, saying, This way, Herr Captain. As she turned, she saw the living room that had been decorated by three generations of her familys women. Golden stucco walls, the color of freshly baked brioche, gray stone floors covered by ancient Aubusson rugs, heavily carved wooden furniture upholstered in mohair and tapestry fabric, lamps made of porcelain, curtains of gold and red toile, antiques and treasures left over from the years when the Rossignols had been wealthy tradesmen. Until recently there had been artwork on the walls. Now only the unimportant pieces remained. Isabelle had hidden the good ones. Vianne walked past all of it to the small guest bedroom tucked beneath the stairs. At the closed door, to the left of the bathroom that had been added in the early twenties, she paused. She could hear him breathing behind her. She opened the door to reveal a narrow room with a large window, bracketed by blue-gray curtains that pooled on the wooden floor. A painted chest of drawers supported a blue pitcher and ewer. In the corner was an aged oak armoire with mirrored doors. By the double bed sat a nightstand; on it, an antique ormolu clock. Isabelles clothes lay everywhere, as if she were packing for an extended holiday. Vianne picked them up quickly, and the valise, too. When she finished, she turned. His suitcase plunked to the floor. She looked at him, compelled by simple politeness to offer a tense smile. You neednt worry, Madame, he said. We have been admonished to act as gentlemen. My mother would demand the same, and, in truth, she scares me more than my general. It was such an ordinary remark that Vianne was taken aback. She had no idea how to respond to this stranger who dressed like the enemy and looked like a young man she might have met at church. And what was the price for saying the wrong thing? He remained where he was, a respectful distance from her. I apologize for any inconvenience, Madame. My husband will be home soon. We all hope to be home soon. Another unnerving comment. Vianne nodded politely and left him alone in the room, closing the door behind her. Tell me hes not staying, Isabelle said, rushing at her. He says he is, Vianne said tiredly, pushing back the hair from her eyes. She realized just now that she was trembling. I know how you feel about these Nazis. Just make sure he doesnt know it. I wont let you put Sophie at risk with your childish rebellion. Childish rebellion! Are you The guest room door opened, silencing Isabelle. Captain Beck strode confidently toward them, smiling broadly. Then he saw the radio in the room and he paused. Do not worry, ladies. I am most pleased to deliver your radio to the Kommandant. Really? Isabelle said. You consider this a kindness? Vianne felt a tightening in her chest. There was a storm brewing in Isabelle. Her sisters cheeks had gone pale, her lips were drawn in a thin, colorless line, her eyes were narrowed. She was glaring at the German as if she could kill him with a look. Of course. He smiled, looking a little confused. The sudden silence seemed to unnerve him. Suddenly he said, You have beautiful hair, Mmselle. At Isabelles frown, he said, This is an appropriate compliment, yes? Do you think so? Isabelle said, her voice low. Quite lovely. Beck smiled. Isabelle walked into the kitchen and came back with a pair of boning shears. His smile faded. Am I misunderstood? Vianne said, Isabelle, dont, just as Isabelle gathered up her thick blond hair and fisted it. Staring grimly at Captain Becks handsome face, she hacked off her hair and handed the long blond tail to him. It must be verboten for us to have anything beautiful, is it not, Captain Beck? Vianne gasped. Please, sir. Ignore her. Isabelle is a silly, prideful girl. No, Beck said. She is angry. And angry people make mistakes in war and die. So do conquering soldiers, Isabelle snapped. Beck laughed at her. Isabelle made a sound that was practically a snarl and pivoted on her heel. She marched up the stairs and slammed the door shut so hard the house shook. * * * You will want to speak to her now, I warrant, Beck said. He looked at Vianne in a way that made it seem as if they understood each other. Such theatrics in the wrong place could be most dangerous. Vianne left him standing in her living room and went upstairs. She found Isabelle sitting on Sophies bed, so angry she was shaking. Scratches marred her cheeks and throat; a reminder of what shed seen and survived. And now her hair was hacked off, the ends uneven. Vianne tossed Isabelles belongings onto the unmade bed and closed the door behind her. What in the name of all thats holy were you thinking? I could kill him in his sleep, just slit his throat. And do you think they would not come looking for a captain who had orders to billet here? Mon Dieu, Isabelle. She took a deep breath to calm her racing nerves. I know there are problems between us, Isabelle. I know I treated you badly as a childI was too young and scared to help youand Papa treated you worse. But this is not about us now, and you cant be the girl who acts impetuously anymore. It is about my daughter now. Your niece. We must protect her. But France has surrendered, Isabelle. Certainly this fact has not escaped you. Didnt you hear G?n?ral de Gaulle? He said And who is this G?n?ral de Gaulle? Why should we listen to him? Mar?chal P?tain is a war hero and our leader. We have to trust our government. Are you joking, Vianne? The government in Vichy is collaborating with Hitler. How can you not understand this danger? P?tain is wrong. Does one follow a leader blindly? Vianne moved toward Isabelle slowly, half afraid of her now. You dont remember the last war, she said, clasping her hands to still them. I do. I remember the fathers and brothers and uncles who didnt come home. I remember hearing children in my class cry quietly when bad news came by telegram. I remember the men who came home on crutches, their pant legs empty and flapping, or an arm gone, or a face ruined. I remember how Papa was before the warand how different he was when he came home, how he drank and slammed doors and screamed at us, and then when he stopped. I remember the stories about Verdun and Somme and a million Frenchmen dying in trenches that ran red with blood. And the German atrocities, dont forget that part of it. They were cruel, Isabelle. Thats my point exactly. We must They were cruel because we were at war with them, Isabelle. P?tain has saved us from going through that again. He has kept us safe. He has stopped the war. Now Antoine and all our men will come home. To a Heil Hitler world? Isabelle said with a sneer. The flame of French resistance must not and shall not die. Thats what de Gaulle said. We have to fight however we can. For France, V. So it stays France. Enough, Vianne said. She moved close enough that she could have whispered to Isabelle, or kissed her, but Vianne did neither. In a steady, even voice, she said, You will take Sophies room upstairs and she will move in with me. And remember this, Isabelle, he could shoot us. Shoot us, and no one would care. You will not provoke this soldier in my home. She saw the words hit home. Isabelle stiffened. I will try to hold my tongue. Do more than try. NINE Vianne closed the bedroom door and leaned against it, trying to calm her nerves. She could hear Isabelle pacing in the room behind her, moving with an anger that made the floorboards tremble. How long did Vianne stand there alone, trembling, trying to get her nerves under control? It felt like hours passed while she struggled with her fear. In ordinary times, she would have found the strength to talk rationally with her sister, to say some of the things that had long been unspoken. Vianne would have told Isabelle how sorry she was for the way shed treated her as a little girl. Maybe she could have made Isabelle understand. Vianne had been so helpless after Mamans death. When Papa had sent them away, to live in this small town, beneath the cold, stern eyes of a woman who had shown the girls no love, Vianne had wilted. In another time, she might have shared with Isabelle what they had in common, how undone shed been by Mamans death, how Papas rejection had broken her heart. Or how he treated her at sixteen when shed come to him, pregnant and in love and been slapped across the face and called a disgrace. How Antoine had pushed Papa back, hard, and said, Im going to marry her. And Papas answer: Fine, shes all yours. You can have the house. But youll take her squalling sister, too. Vianne closed her eyes. She hated to think about all of that; for years, shed practically forgotten it. Now, how could she push it aside? She had done to Isabelle exactly what their father had done to them. It was the greatest regret of Viannes life. But this was not the time to repair that damage. Now she had to do everything in her power to keep Sophie safe until Antoine came home. Isabelle would simply have to be made to understand that. With a sigh, she went downstairs to check on supper. In the kitchen, she found her potato soup simmering a bit too briskly, so she uncovered it and lowered the heat. Madame? Are you sanguine? She flinched at the sound of his voice. When had he come in here? She took a deep breath and patted her hair. It was not the word he meant. Really, his French was terrible. That smells delicious, he said, coming up behind her. She set the wooden spoon down on the rest beside the stove. May I see what you are making? Of course, she said, both of them pretending her wishes mattered. Its just potato soup. My wife, alas, is not much of a cook. He was right beside her now, taking Antoines place, a hungry man peering down at a cooking dinner. You are married, she said, reassured by it, although she couldnt say why. And a baby soon to be born. We are planning to call him Wilhelm, although I will not be there when he is born, and of course, such decisions must inevitably be his mothers. It was such a human thing to say. She found herself turning slightly to look at him. He was her height, almost exactly, and it unnerved her; looking directly into his eyes made her feel vulnerable. God willing, we will all be home soon, he said. He wants this over, too, she thought with relief. Its suppertime, Herr Captain. Will you be joining us? It would be an honor, Madame. Although you will be pleased to hear that most evenings I will be working late and enjoying my supper with the officers. I shall also often be out on campaigns. You shall sometimes hardly notice my presence. Vianne left him in the kitchen and carried silverware into the dining room, where she almost ran into Isabelle. You shouldnt be alone with him, Isabelle hissed. The captain came into the room. You cannot think I would accept your hospitality and then do harm? Consider this night. I have brought you wine. A lovely Sancerre. You brought us wine, Isabelle said. As any good guest would, he answered. Vianne thought, oh, no, but there was nothing she could do to stop Isabelle from speaking. You know about Tours, Herr Captain? Isabelle asked. How your Stukas fired on innocent women and children who were fleeing for their lives and dropped bombs on us? Us? he said, his expression turning thoughtful. I was there. You see the marks on my face. Ah, he said. That must have been most unpleasant. Isabelle went very still. The green of her eyes seemed to blaze against the red marks and bruises on her pale skin. Unpleasant. Think about Sophie, Vianne reminded her evenly. Isabelle gritted her teeth and then turned it into a fake smile. Here, Captain Beck, let me show you to your seat. Vianne took her first decent breath in at least an hour. Then, slowly, she headed into the kitchen to dish up supper. * * * Vianne served supper in silence. The atmosphere at the table was as heavy as coal soot, settling on all of them. It frayed Viannes nerves to the breaking point. Outside, the sun began to set; pink light filled the windows. Would you care for wine, Mademoiselle? Beck said to Isabelle, pouring himself a large glass of the Sancerre he had brought to the table. If ordinary French families cant afford to drink it, Herr Captain, how can I enjoy it? A sip perhaps would not be Isabelle finished her soup and got to her feet. Excuse me. I am feeling sick to my stomach. Me, too, Sophie said. She got to her feet and followed her aunt out of the room like a puppy follows the lead dog, with her head down. Vianne sat perfectly still, her soup spoon held above her bowl. They were leaving her alone with him. Her breathing was a flutter in her chest. She carefully set down her spoon and dabbed at her mouth with her serviette. Forgive my sister, Herr Captain. She is impetuous and willful. My oldest daughter is such a girl. We expect nothing but trouble when she gets a little older. That surprised Vianne so much that she turned. You have a daughter? Gisela, he said, his mouth curving into a smile. She is six and already her mother is unable to get her to reliably do the simplest of taskslike brush her teeth. Our Gisela would rather build a fort than read a book. He sighed, smiling. It flustered her, knowing this about him. She tried to think of a response, but her nerves were too overwrought. She picked up her spoon and began eating again. The meal seemed to go on forever, in a silence that was her undoing. The moment he finished, saying, A lovely meal. My thanks, she got to her feet and began clearing the table. Thankfully, he didnt follow her into the kitchen. He remained in the dining room, at the table by himself, drinking the wine hed brought, which she knew would have tasted of autumnpears and apples. By the time shed washed and dried the dishes, and put them away, night had fallen. She left the house, stepping into the starlit front yard for a moments peace. On the stone garden wall, a shadow moved; it was a cat perhaps. Behind her, she heard a footfall, then a match strike and the smell of sulfur. She took a quiet step backward, wanting to melt into the shadows. If she could move quietly enough, perhaps she could return by the side door without alerting him to her presence. She stepped on a twig, heard it snap beneath her heel, and she froze. He stepped out from the orchard. Madame, he said. So you love the starlight also. I am sorry to intrude upon you. She was afraid to move. He closed the distance between them, taking up a place beside her as if he belonged there, looking out across her orchard. You would never know there is a war on out here, he said. Vianne thought he sounded sad and it reminded her that they were alike in a way, both of them far away from the people they loved. Your superior he said that all prisoners of war will remain in Germany. What does this mean? What of our soldiers? Surely you did not capture all of them. I do not know, Madame. Some will return. Many will not. Well. Isnt this a lovely little moment between new friends, Isabelle said. Vianne flinched, horrified that she had been caught standing out here with a German, the enemy, a man. Isabelle stood in the moonlight, wearing a caramel-colored suit; she held her valise in one hand and Viannes best Deauville in the other. You have my hat, Vianne said. I may have to wait for a train. My face is still tender from the Nazi attack. She was smiling at Beck as she said this. It wasnt really a smile. Beck inclined his head in a curt nod. You have sisterly things to discuss, obviously. I will take my leave. With a brisk, polite nod, he returned to the house, closing the door behind him. I cant stay here, Isabelle said. Of course you can. I have no interest in making friends with the enemy, V. Damn it, Isabelle. Dont you dare Isabelle stepped closer. Ill put you and Sophie at risk. Sooner or later. You know I will. You told me I needed to protect Sophie. This is the only way I can do it. I feel like Ill explode if I stay, V. Viannes anger dissolved; without it, she felt inexpressibly tired. This essential difference had always been between them. Vianne the rule follower and Isabelle the rebel. Even in girlhood, in grief, they had expressed their emotions differently. Vianne had gone silent after Mamans death, tried to pretend that Papas abandonment didnt wound her, while Isabelle had thrown tantrums and run away and demanded attention. Maman had sworn that one day they would be the best of friends. Never had this prediction seemed less likely. In this, right now, Isabelle was right. Vianne would be constantly afraid of what her sister would say or do around the captain, and truthfully, Vianne hadnt the strength for it. How will you go? And where? Train. To Paris. Ill telegram you when I arrive safely. Be careful. Dont do anything foolish. Me? You know better than that. Vianne pulled Isabelle into a fierce embrace and then let her go. * * * The road to town was so dark Isabelle couldnt see her own feet. It was preternaturally quiet, as suspenseful as a held breath, until she came to the airfield. There, she heard boots marching on hard-packed dirt, motorcycles and trucks rolling alongside the skein of barbed wire that now protected the ammunitions dump. A lorry appeared out of nowhere, its headlamps off, thundering up the road; she lurched out of its way, stumbling into the ditch. In town, it was no easier to navigate with the shops closed and the streetlamps off and the windows blacked out. The silence was eerie and unnerving. Her footsteps seemed too loud. With every step, she was aware that a curfew was in effect and she was violating it. She ducked into one of the alleys, feeling her way along the rough sidewalk, her fingertips trailing along the storefronts for guidance. Whenever she heard voices, she froze, shrinking into the shadows until silence returned. It seemed to take forever to reach her destination: the train station on the edge of town. Halt! Isabelle heard the word at the same time a floodlight sprayed white light over her. She was a shadow hunched beneath it. A German sentry approached her, his rifle held in his arms. You are just a girl, he said, drawing close. You know about the curfew, ja? he demanded. She rose slowly, facing him with a courage she didnt feel. I know we arent allowed to be out this late. It is an emergency, though. I must go to Paris. My father is ill. Where is your Ausweis? I dont have one. He eased the rifle off his shoulder and into his hands. No travel without an Ausweis. But Go home, girl, before you get hurt. But Now, before I decide not to ignore you. Inside, Isabelle was screaming in frustration. It took considerable effort to walk away from the sentry without saying anything. On the way home, she didnt even keep to the shadows. She flaunted her disregard of the curfew, daring them to stop her again. A part of her wanted to get caught so she could let loose the string of invectives screaming inside her head. This could not be her life. Trapped in a house with a Nazi in a town that had given up without a whimper of protest. Vianne was not alone in her desire to pretend that France had neither surrendered nor been conquered. In town, the shopkeepers and bistro owners smiled at the Germans and poured them champagne and sold them the best cuts of meat. The villagers, peasants mostly, shrugged and went on with life; oh, they muttered disapprovingly and shook their heads and gave out wrong directions when asked, but beyond those small rebellions, there was nothing. No wonder the German soldiers were swollen with arrogance. They had taken over this town without a fight. Hell, they had done the same thing to all of France. But Isabelle could never forget what shed seen in the field near Tours. At home, when she was upstairs again, in the bedroom that had been hers as a child, she slammed the door shut behind her. A few moments later, she smelled cigarette smoke and it made her so angry she wanted to scream. He was down there, smoking a cigarette. Captain Beck, with his cut-stone face and fake smile, could toss them all out of this house at will. For any reason or no reason at all. Her frustration curdled into an anger that was like nothing shed ever known. She felt as if her insides were a bomb that needed to go off. One wrong moveor wordand she might explode. She marched over to Viannes bedroom and opened the door. You need a pass to leave town, she said, her anger expanding. The bastards wont let us take a train to see family. From the darkness, Vianne said, So thats that. Isabelle didnt know if it was relief or disappointment she heard in her sisters voice. Tomorrow morning you will go to town for me. You will stand in the queues while I am at school and get what you can. But No buts, Isabelle. You are here now and staying. Its time you pulled your weight. I need to be able to count on you. * * * For the next week, Isabelle tried to be on her best behavior, but it was impossible with that man living under the same roof. Night after night she didnt sleep. She lay in her bed, alone in the dark, imagining the worst. This morning, well before dawn, she gave up the pretense and got out of bed. She washed her face and dressed in a plain cotton day dress, wrapping a scarf around her butchered hair as she went downstairs. Vianne sat on the divan, knitting, an oil lamp lit beside her. In the ring of lamplight that separated her from the darkness, Vianne looked pale and sickly; she obviously hadnt slept much this week, either. She looked up at Isabelle in surprise. Youre up early. I have a long day of standing in lines ahead of me. Might as well get started, Isabelle said. The first in line get the best food. Vianne put her knitting aside and stood. Smoothing her dress (another reminder that he was in the house: neither of them came downstairs in nightdresses), she went into the kitchen and then returned with ration cards. Its meat today. Isabelle grabbed the ration cards from Vianne and left the house, plunging into the darkness of a blacked-out world. Dawn rose as she walked, illuminating a world within a worldone that looked like Carriveau but felt entirely foreign. As she passed the airfield, a small green car with the letters POL on the rear roared past her. Gestapo. The airfield was already a hive of activity. She saw four guards out fronttwo at the newly constructed gated entrance and two at the buildings double doors. Nazi flags snapped in the early-morning breeze. Several aeroplanes stood ready for takeoffto drop bombs on England and across Europe. Guards marched in front of red signs that read: VERBOTEN. KEEP OUT UNDER PENALTY OF DEATH. She kept walking. There were already four women queued up in front of the butchers shop when she arrived. She took her place at the back of the line. That was when she saw a piece of chalk lying in the road, tucked in against the curb. She knew instantly how she could use it. She glanced around, but no one was looking at her. Why would they be when there were German soldiers everywhere? Men in uniforms strode through town like peacocks, buying whatever caught their eye. Rambunctious and loud and quick to laugh. They were unfailingly polite, opening doors for women and tipping their hats, but Isabelle wasnt fooled. She bent down and palmed the bit of chalk, hiding it in her pocket. It felt dangerous and wonderful just having it. She tapped her foot impatiently after that, waiting for her turn. Good morning, she said, offering her ration card to the butchers wife, a tired-looking woman with thinning hair and even thinner lips. Ham hocks, two pounds. Thats what is left. Bones? The Germans take all the good meat, Mmselle. Youre lucky, in fact. Pork is verboten for the French, dont you know, but they dont want the hocks. Do you want them or non? Ill take them, someone said behind her. So will I! yelled another woman. Ill take them, Isabelle said. She took the small packet, wrapped up in wrinkled paper and tied with twine. Across the street, she heard the sound of jackboots marching on cobblestone, the rattling of sabers in scabbards, the sound of male laughter and the purring voices of the French women who warmed their beds. A trio of German soldiers sat at a bistro table not far away. Mademoiselle? one of them said, waving to her. Come have coffee with us. She clutched her willow basket with its paper-wrapped treasures, small and insufficient as they were, and ignored the soldiers. She slipped around the corner and into an alley that was narrow and crooked, like all such passageways in town. Entrances were slim, and from the street, they appeared to be dead ends. Locals knew how to navigate them as easily as a boatman knows a boggy river. She walked forward, unobserved. The shops in the alley had all been shut down. A poster in the abandoned milliners shopwindow showed a crooked old man with a huge, hooked nose, looking greedy and evil, holding a bag of money and trailing blood and bodies behind him. She saw the wordJuifJewand stopped. She knew she should keep walking. It was just propaganda, after all, the enemys heavy-handed attempt to blame the Jewish people for the ills of the world, and this war. And yet. She glanced to her left. Not fifty feet away was rue La Grande, a main street through town; to her right was an elbow bend in the alleyway. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her piece of chalk. When she was sure the coast was clear, she drew a huge V for victory on the poster, obliterating as much of the image as she could. Someone grabbed her wrist so hard she gasped. Her piece of chalk fell, clattered to the cobblestones, and rolled into one of the cracks. Mademoiselle, a man said, shoving her against the poster shed just defaced, pressing her cheek into the paper so that she couldnt see him, do you know it is verboten to do that? And punishable by death? TEN Vianne closed her eyes and thought, Hurry home, Antoine. It was all she allowed herself, just that one small plea. How could she handle all of thiswar, and Captain Beck, and Isabellealone? She wanted to daydream, pretend that her world was upright instead of fallen on its side; that the closed guest room door meant nothing, that Sophie had slept with Vianne last night because theyd fallen asleep reading, that Antoine was outside on this dewy dawn morning, chopping wood for a winter that was still months away. Soon he would come in and say, Well, I am off to a day of delivering mail. Perhaps he would tell her of his latest postmarka letter in from Africa or Americaand he would spin her a romantically imagined tale to go along with it. Instead, she returned her knitting to the basket by the divan, put on her boots, and went outside to chop wood. It would be autumn again in no time, and then winter, and the devastation of her garden by the refugees had reminded her how perilously balanced her survival was. She lifted the axe and brought it down, hard. Grasp. Raise. Steady. Chop. Every chop reverberated up her arms and lodged painfully in the muscles of her shoulders. Sweat squeezed from her pores, dampened her hair. Allow me please to do this for you. She froze, the axe in midair. Beck stood nearby, dressed in his breeches and boots, with only a thin white T-shirt covering his chest. His pale cheeks were reddened from a morning shave and his blond hair was wet. Droplets fell onto his T-shirt, making a pattern of small gray sunbursts. She felt acutely uncomfortable in her robe and work boots, with her hair pinned in curls. She lowered the axe. There are some things a man does around the house. You are much too fragile to chop wood. I can do it. Of course you can, but why should you? Go, Madame. See to your daughter. I can do this small thing for you. Otherwise my mother will beat me with a switch. She meant to move, but somehow she didnt, and then he was there, pulling the axe gently out of her hand. She held on instinctively for a moment. Their gazes met, held. She released her hold and stepped back so quickly she stumbled. He caught her by the wrist, steadied her. Mumbling a thank-you, she turned and walked away from him, keeping her spine as straight as she could. It took all of her limited courage not to speed up. Even so, by the time she reached her door, she felt as if shed run from Paris. She kicked free of the oversized gardening boots, saw them hit the house with a thunk and fall in a heap. The last thing she wanted was kindness from this man who had invaded her home. She slammed the door shut behind her and went to the kitchen, where she lit the stove and put a pot of water on to boil. Then she went to the bottom of the stairs and called her daughter down to breakfast. She had to call two more timesand then threatenbefore Sophie came trudging down the stairs, her hair a mess, the look in her eyes sullen. She was wearing her sailor dressagain. In the ten months Antoine had been gone, shed outgrown it, but she refused to stop wearing it. Im up, she said, shuffling to the table, taking her seat. Vianne placed a bowl of cornmeal mush in front of her daughter. She had splurged this morning and added a tablespoon of preserved peaches on top. Maman? Cant you hear that? Theres someone knocking at the door. Vianne shook her head (all shed heard was the thunk-thunk-thunk of the axe) and went to the door, opening it. Rachel stood there, with the baby in her arms and Sarah tucked in close to her side. You are teaching today with your hair pinned? Oh! Vianne felt like a fool. What was wrong with her? Today was the last day of school before the summer break. Lets go, Sophie. We are late. She rushed back inside and cleared the table. Sophie had licked her plate clean, so Vianne laid it in the copper sink to wash later. She covered the leftover pot of mush and put the preserved peaches away. Then she ran upstairs to get ready. In no time, she had removed her hairpins and combed her hair into smooth waves. She grabbed her hat, gloves, and handbag and left the house to find Rachel and the children waiting in the orchard. Captain Beck was there, too, standing by the shed. His white T-shirt was soaked in places and clung to his chest, revealing the whorls of hair beneath. He had the axe slung casually against one shoulder. Ah, greetings, he said. Vianne could feel Rachels scrutiny. Beck lowered the axe. This is a friend of yours, Madame? Rachel, Vianne said tightly. My neighbor. This is Herr Captain Beck. He is the one billeting with us. Greetings, Beck said again, nodding politely. Vianne put a hand on Sophies back and gave her daughter a little shove, and they were off, trudging through the tall grass of the orchard and out onto the dusty road. Hes handsome, Rachel said as they came to the airfield, which was abuzz with activity behind the coils of barbed wire. You didnt tell me that. Is he? Im pretty sure you know he is, so your question is interesting. Whats he like? German. The soldiers billeted with Claire Moreau look like sausages with legs. I hear they drink enough wine to kill a judge and snore like rooting hogs. Youre lucky, I guess. Youre the lucky one, Rachel. No one has moved into your house. Poverty has its reward at last. She linked her arm through Viannes. Dont look so stricken, Vianne. I hear they have orders to be correct. Vianne looked at her best friend. Last week, Isabelle chopped off her hair in front of the captain and said beauty must be verboten. Rachel couldnt stifle her smile completely. Oh. Its hardly funny. She could get us killed with her temper. Rachels smile faded. Can you talk to her? Oh, I can talk. When has she ever listened to anyone? * * * You are hurting me, Isabelle said. The man yanked her away from the wall and dragged her down the street, moving so fast she had to run along beside him; she bumped into the stone alley wall with every step. When she tripped on a cobblestone and almost fell, he tightened his hold and held her upright. Think, Isabelle. He wasnt in uniform, so he must be Gestapo. That was bad. And hed seen her defacing the poster. Did it count as an act of sabotage or espionage or resistance to the German occupation? It wasnt like blowing up a bridge or selling secrets to Britain. I was making art it was going to be a vase full of flowers Not a V for victory, a vase. No resistance, just a silly girl drawing on the only paper she could find. I have never even heard of G?n?ral de Gaulle. And what if they didnt believe her? The man stopped in front of an oak door with a black lions head knocker at its center. He rapped four times on the door. W-where are you taking me? Was this a back door to the Gestapo headquarters? There were rumors about these Gestapo interrogators. Supposedly they were ruthless and sadistic, but no one knew for sure. The door opened slowly, revealing an old man in a beret. A hand-rolled cigarette hung from his fleshy, liver-spotted lips. He saw Isabelle and frowned. Open up, the man beside Isabelle growled and the old man stepped aside. Isabelle was pulled into a room full of smoke. Her eyes stung as she looked around. It was an abandoned novelty store that had once sold bonnets and notions and sewing supplies. In the smoky light, she saw empty display cases that had been shoved up against the walls, empty metal hat racks were piled in the corner. The window out front had been bricked up and the back door that faced rue La Grande was padlocked from the inside. There were four men in the room: a tall, graying man, dressed in rags, standing in the corner; a boy seated beside the old man who had opened the door, and a handsome young man in a tattered sweater and worn pants with scuffed boots who sat at a caf? table. Who is this, Didier? asked the old man who had opened the door. Isabelle got the first good look at her captorhe was big and brawny, with the puffed-up look of a circus strong man and a heavily jowled, oversized face. She stood as tall as possible, with her shoulders pressed back and her chin lifted. She knew she looked ridiculously young in her plaid skirt and fitted blouse, but she refused to give them the satisfaction of knowing she was afraid. I found her chalking Vs on the German posters, said the swarthy man whod caught her. Didier. Isabelle fisted her right hand, trying to rub the orange chalk away without them noticing. Have you nothing to say? said the old man standing in the corner. He was the boss, obviously. I have no chalk. I saw her doing it. Isabelle took a chance. Youre not German, she said to the strong man. Youre French. Id bet money on it. And you, she said to the old man who was seated by the boy, youre the pork butcher. The boy she dismissed altogether, but to the handsome young man in the tattered clothes, she said, You look hungry, and I think youre wearing your brothers clothes, or something you found hanging on a line somewhere. Communist. He grinned at her, and it changed his whole demeanor. But it was the man standing in the corner she cared about. The one in charge. She took a step toward him. You could be Aryan. Maybe youre forcing the others to be here. Ive known him all my life, Mmselle, the pork butcher said. I fought beside his fatherand yoursat Somme. Youre Isabelle Rossignol, oui? She didnt answer. Was it a trap? No answer, said the Bolshevik. He rose from his seat, came toward her. Good for you. Why were you chalking a V on the poster? Again, Isabelle remained silent. I am Henri Navarre, he said, close enough now to touch her. We are not Germans, nor do we work with them, Mmselle. He gave her a meaningful look. Not all of us are passive. Now why were you marking up their posters? It was all I could think of, she said. Meaning? She exhaled evenly. I heard de Gaulles speech on the radio. Henri turned to the back of the room, sent a glance to the old man. She watched the two men have an entire conversation without speaking a word. At the end of it, she knew who the boss was: the handsome communist. Henri. At last, Henri said, turning to her again, If you could do something more, would you? What do you mean? she asked. There is a man in Paris A group, actually, from the Mus?e de lHomme the burly man corrected him. Henri held up a hand. We dont say more than we must, Didier. Anyway, there is a man, a printer, risking his life to make tracts that we can distribute. Maybe if we can get the French to wake up to what is happening, we have a chance. Henri reached into a leather bag that hung on his chair and pulled out a sheaf of papers. A headline jumped out at her: Vive le G?n?ral de Gaulle. The text was an open letter to Mar?chal P?tain that expressed criticism of the surrender. At the end it read, Nous sommes pour le g?n?ral de Gaulle. We support G?n?ral de Gaulle. Well? Henri said quietly, and in that single word, Isabelle heard the call to arms shed been waiting for. Will you distribute them? Me? We are communists and radicals, Henri said. They are already watching us. You are a girl. And a pretty one at that. No one would suspect you. Isabelle didnt hesitate. Ill do it. The men started to thank her; Henri silenced them. The printer is risking his life by writing these tracts, and someone is risking his or her life by typing them. We are risking our lives by bringing them here. But you, Isabelle, you are the one who will be caught distributing themif you are caught. Make no mistake. This is not chalking a V on a poster. This is punishable by death. I wont get caught, she said. Henri smiled at that. How old are you? Almost nineteen. Ah, he said. And how can one so young hide this from her family? My familys not the problem, Isabelle said. They pay no attention to me. But theres a German soldier billeted at my house. And I would have to break curfew. It will not be easy. I understand if you are afraid. Henri began to turn away. Isabelle snatched the papers back from him. I said Id do it. * * * Isabelle was elated. For the first time since the armistice, she wasnt completely alone in her need to do something for France. The men told her about dozens of groups like theirs throughout the country, mounting a resistance to follow de Gaulle. The more they talked, the more excited she became at the prospect of joining them. Oh, she knew she should be afraid. (They told her often enough.) But it was ridiculousthe Germans threatening death for handing out a few pieces of paper. She could talk her way out of it if she were caught; she was sure of it. Not that she would get caught. How many times had she sneaked out of a locked school or boarded a train without a ticket or talked her way out of trouble? Her beauty had always made it easy for her to break rules without reprisal. When we have more, how will we contact you? Henri asked as he opened the door to let her leave. She glanced down the street. The apartment above Madame La Foys hat shop. Is it still vacant? Henri nodded. Open the curtains when you have papers. Ill come by as soon as I can. Knock four times. If we dont answer, walk away, he said. After a pause, he added, Be careful, Isabelle. He shut the door between them. Alone again, she looked down at her basket. Settled under a red-and-white-checked linen cloth were the tracts. On top lay the butcher-paper-wrapped ham hocks. It wasnt much of a camouflage. She would need to figure out something better. She walked down the alley and turned onto a busy street. The sky was darkening. Shed been with the men all day. The shops were closing up; the only people milling about were German soldiers and the few women whod chosen to keep them company. The caf? tables out on the street were full of uniformed men eating the best food, drinking the best wines. It took every ounce of nerve she had to walk slowly. The minute she was out of town, she started to run. As she neared the airfield, she was sweating and out of breath, but she didnt slow. She ran all the way into her yard. With the gate clattering shut behind her, she bent forward, gasping hard, holding the stitch in her side, trying to catch her breath. Mmselle Rossignol, are you unwell? Isabelle snapped upright. Captain Beck appeared beside her. Had he been there before her? Captain, she said, working hard to still the racing of her heart. A convoy went past I uh, rushed to get out of their way. A convoy? I didnt see that. It was a while back. And I am silly sometimes. I lost track of time, talking to a friend, and, well She gave him her prettiest smile and patted her butchered hair as if it mattered to her that she looked nice for him. How were the queues today? Interminable. Please, allow me to carry your basket inside. She looked down at her basket, saw the tiniest white paper corner visible under the linen cloth. No, I Ah, I insist. We are gentlemen, you know. His long, well-manicured fingers closed around the willow handle. As he turned toward the house, she remained at his side. I saw a large group gathering at the town hall this afternoon. What are the Vichy police doing here? Ah. Nothing to concern you. He waited at the front door for her to open it. She fumbled nervously with the center-mounted knob, turned it, and opened the door. Although he had every right to go in at will, he waited to be invited in, as if he were a guest. Isabelle, is that you? Where have you been? Vianne rose from the divan. The queues were awful today. Sophie popped up from the floor by the fireplace, where shed been playing with B?b?. What did you get today? Ham hocks, Isabelle said, glancing worriedly at the basket in Becks hand. Thats all? Vianne said. What about the cooking oil? Sophie sank back to the rug on the floor, clearly disappointed. I will put the hocks in the pantry, Isabelle said, reaching for the basket. Please, allow me, Beck said. He was staring at Isabelle, watching her closely. Or maybe it only felt like that. Vianne lit a candle and handed it to Isabelle. Dont waste it. Hurry. Beck was very gallant as he walked through the shadowy kitchen and opened the door to the cellar. Isabelle went down first, lighting the way. The wooden steps creaked beneath her feet until she stepped down onto the hard-packed dirt floor and into the subterranean chill. The wooden shelves seemed to close in around them as Beck came up beside her. The candle flame sent light gamboling in front of them. She tried to still the trembling in her hand as she reached for the paper-wrapped ham hocks. She placed them on the shelf beside their dwindling supplies. Bring up three potatoes and a turnip, Vianne called down. Isabelle jumped a little at the sound. You seem nervous, Beck said. Is that the right word, Mmselle? The candle sputtered between them. There were a lot of dogs in town today. The Gestapo. They love their shepherds. There is no reason for this to concern you. I am afraid of big dogs. I was bitten once. As a child. Beck gave her a smile that was stretched out of shape by the light. Dont look at the basket. But it was too late. She saw a little more of the hidden papers sticking out. She forced a smile. You know us girls. Scared of everything. That is not how I would describe you, Mmselle. She reached carefully for the basket and tugged it from his grasp. Without breaking eye contact, she set the basket on the shelf, beyond the candles light. When it was there, in the dark, she finally released her breath. They stared at each other in uncomfortable silence. Beck nodded. And now I must away. I have only come here to pick up some papers for a meeting tonight. He turned back for the steps and began climbing them. Isabelle followed the captain up the narrow stairs. When she emerged into the kitchen, Vianne was standing there with her arms crossed, frowning. Where are the potatoes and a turnip? Vianne asked. I forgot. Vianne sighed. Go, she said. Get them. Isabelle turned and went back into the cellar. After shed gathered up the potatoes and turnip, she went to the basket, lifted the candle to expose the basket to light. There it was: the tiny white triangle of paper, peeking out. She quickly withdrew the papers from the basket and shoved them into her panty girdle. Feeling the papers against her skin, she went upstairs, smiling. * * * At supper, Isabelle sat with her sister and niece, eating watery soup and day-old bread, trying to think of something to say, but nothing came to her. Sophie, who seemed not to notice, rambled on, telling one story after another. Isabelle tapped her foot nervously, listening for the sound of a motorcycle approaching the house, for the clatter of German jackboots on the walkway out front, for a sharp, impersonal knock on the door. Her gaze kept cutting to the kitchen and the cellar door. You are acting strangely tonight, Vianne said. Isabelle ignored her sisters observation. When the meal was finally over, Isabelle popped out of her seat and said, Ill do the dishes, V. Why dont you and Sophie finish your game of checkers? Youll do dishes? Vianne said, giving Isabelle a suspicious look. Come on, Ive offered before, Isabelle said. Not in my memory. Isabelle gathered the empty soup bowls and utensils. She had offered only to keep busy, to do something with her hands. Afterward, Isabelle could find nothing to do. The night dragged on. Vianne and Sophie and Isabelle played Belote, but Isabelle couldnt concentrate, she was so nervous and excited. She made some lame excuse and quit the game early, pretending to be tired. In her upstairs bedroom, she lay atop the blankets, fully dressed. Waiting. It was past midnight when she heard Beck return. She heard him enter the yard; then she smelled the smoke from his cigarette drift up. Later, he came into the houseclomping around in his bootsbut by one oclock everything was quiet again. Still she waited. At four A.M., she got out of bed and dressed in a heavy worsted knit black sweater and plaid tweed skirt. She ripped a seam open in her summer-weight coat and slid the papers inside, then she put the coat on, tying the belt at her waist. She slipped the ration cards in her front pocket. On the way downstairs, she winced at every creak of sound. It seemed to take forever to get to the front door, more than forever, but finally she was there, opening it quietly, closing it behind her. The early morning was cold and black. Somewhere a bird called out, his slumber probably disturbed by the opening of the door. She breathed in the scent of roses and was overcome by how ordinary it seemed in this moment. From here there would be no turning back. She walked to the still-broken gate, glancing back often at the blacked-out house, expecting Beck to be there, arms crossed, booted feet in a warriors stance, watching her. But she was alone. Her first stop was Rachels house. There were almost no mail deliveries these days, but women like Rachel, whose men were gone, checked their letter boxes each day, hoping against hope that the mail would bring them news. Isabelle reached inside her coat, felt for the slit in the silk lining, and pulled out a single piece of paper. In one movement, she opened the letterbox and slid the paper inside and quietly shut the lid. Out on the road again, she looked around and saw no one. She had done it! Her second stop was old man Rivets farm. He was a communist through and through, a man of the revolution, and hed lost a son at the front. By the time she gave away her last tract, she felt invincible. It was just past dawn; pale sunlight gilded the limestone buildings in town. She was the first woman to queue up outside the shop this morning, and because of that, she got her full ration of butter. One hundred fifty grams for the month. Two-thirds of a cup. A treasure.

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