It was after three o’clock, and Hélène was playing in the park. The January afternoon was cold and windy and the narrow streets were nearly deserted. It was very quiet. Overhead, the sky was clear blue and the sun was shining. Completely surrounded by buildings, the little park was in deep shadow.
Across the street was her house. It was almost identical to the other grim, crooked houses that sagged against one another for support. But her house stood out proudly from the others. The windows on the ground floor were covered over with thick iron bars twisted into fanciful curlicues, and the front door was painted bright yellow. Canary yellow, Maman called it. And above the snow-covered rooftop she could glimpse the white dome and cupolas of Sacré Coeur gleaming in the sunshine.
She thought she heard something. She stopped playing with Antoinette, her porcelain doll, and listened carefully. It was a rumbling noise, still far away. But it was coming closer. A truck is headed this way, she thought with surprise.
She waited in anticipation. Motorized traffic in this working-class section of Paris was rare. There were no taxis or private automobiles. Parisians rode bicycles everywhere. Only the Boches and their collaborators experienced the luxury of traveling in cars and trucks. The streets of Montmartre were old and crooked, many of them too narrow to accommodate even the smallest automobiles.
The noise of the truck engine grew louder, and she put her lips close to Antoinette’s ear. “Watch, Antoinette,” she instructed the doll in a soft whisper. “Watch and you’ll soon see your first truck!” She straightened the yellowed lace of Antoinette’s gown. After all, Antoinette was a lady, and ladies must look their best when they are seen in public.
Two minutes later, a gray truck came roaring around the corner from the rue Durantin.
As she watched, it switched into low gear and rattled uphill, coming closer. The snow chains clattered and the gray tarpaulin stretched over the back flapped in the wind. Plainly she could see the swastika stenciled on the sides of the cab. Even as a child she already knew what it meant.
In a moment, the truck had passed by. She wrinkled her nose at the offensive stench of gasoline fumes. Curiously she stared after it. She wondered what it was doing in Montmartre. Then there was the sound of grinding gears as it turned a corner and disappeared. The noise of the motor slowly died away. A minute later there was silence. But a cloud of gray exhaust still hung heavy in the air.
She looked around to see if she was being watched. She wasn’t. Then she did what she had seen other people do many times. She spat in the street. She was only seven years old, but she had already picked up the habits of older Parisians. One could not spit directly at the Boches. That was too dangerous. But one could spit after him when his back was turned.
It was almost half an hour after the truck had gone by that she had the feeling something was wrong. She had been building miniature snowmen on the slats of the park bench for Antoinette. Suddenly, somehow, she just knew.
She felt a sudden prickling of her spine.
Something was wrong.
She glanced across the street at her house. Everything appeared normal and peaceful. Nothing seemed amiss. Nothing...except the front door was open a crack and a woman was standing outside it. Hélène couldn’t see her face underneath the black wool scarf, but she thought she recognized Madame Courbet, the wife of a switchboard operator at the Prefecture of Police. Still, she couldn’t be certain. Whoever it was gestured frantically to someone inside, all the while throwing furtive glances over her shoulder. Then the woman hurried off. Hélène still wasn’t able to see her face. The scarf was pulled too far forward, and the woman’s face was in shadow.
Hélène would never know what gave her that feeling, but the moment she felt the prickling along her spine, she knew Maman needed her. She didn’t waste any time. She picked up Antoinette and ran across the street and up the three steps to the canary-yellow door.
It opened before she even reached it.
“Quickly!” Michelle, Maman’s huge, plump servant, hissed at her. Michelle didn’t even wait for Hélène to stomp the snow off her shoes. Roughly the thick fingers of her hands grabbed hold of the girl and pulled her inside. She slammed the door shut behind her and bolted it. The foyer was dark. The curtains were drawn, and between them, a chink of light showed.
Hélène looked up into Michelle’s tense red moon face. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
Michelle shrugged and brusquely turned away. Perhaps she was moody because it was so cold in the house, the week’s coal rations already depleted. Despite her size, Michelle didn’t take well to the cold.
Michelle had big peasant bones and enormous breasts. She was the maid, housekeeper, and nanny all rolled into one. Like a member of the family, she was devoted beyond endearment. Hélène knew that Maman couldn’t afford to pay Michelle wages anymore, not with Papa gone all the time. Yet Michelle stayed on.
Hélène glanced around the little foyer. Maman was standing at one of the foyer windows, with her back turned. She was anxiously peering out through a crack in the drawn curtains, nervously wringing her slim hands. Hélène noticed that her belly looked larger than ever, and she knew why. Recently Maman had explained to her that a little brother or sister was on the way.
Maman was tall and bone-thin. Hélène remembered when her face had been unlined, her blond hair untouched by gray, and her eyes clear and lively. Suddenly, almost overnight, they looked tired. Still, she was a thoroughly elegant woman. Even the lean Occupation years could not put a dent in her poise.
And a working mother. She had held her job as a seamstress for Madeleine de Rauch ever since 1939. That was when Chanel, for whom she used to work, closed her doors.
Oh, and could Maman sew! Like an angel she spun out one creation after another at her archaic pedal-operated machine, or even by hand. And after her long hours at Madeleine de Rauch’s salon, sewing for the fat German women she despised, Maman would bring work home. Sometimes she even did small jobs for neighbors as well - neighbors who could pay with precious rations instead of money.
Now Maman stopped peering out the window. If she noticed Hélène, she didn’t let on. Instead she nervously paced back and forth in the foyer. “Mon dieu!” she said breathlessly. “Catherine is still not coming. Those acting lessons should be over by now.”
“Then we must leave without her,” Michelle said flatly. “If she wants to become the new Sarah Bernhardt so badly that she spends all her time at that theater -
“Leave without Catherine?” Maman looked at Michelle in horror. “We must wait for her.”
Michelle made clucking noises and threw her fat red hands up in despair. “There is no time! You heard what Madame Courbet said. She risked her life coming here to warn us. We haven’t a moment to lose. We cannot wait!”
“We must wait,” Mama said through clenched teeth. “You’ll see. She’ll be here any minute.”
“Minute!” Michelle shouted. Her voice was shrill. “We don’t have minutes. Seconds count!”
Maman wrung her hands. “Michelle. We have to wait. Can’t you understand that? Catherine is my daughter!”
“And she is like mine also!” Michelle retorted.
“See, then you understand,” Maman said without logic.
Michelle let out a frustrated growl. “There is no getting through to you,” she snapped. “I might as well get whatever is in the pantry. If anything. We’ll need food. It’s a long journey.”
Maman nodded absently and moved toward Hélène.
“Edmond!” Michelle called out. She hurried to the kitchen faster than Hélène had ever seen her move before.
Maman looked down at Hélène through tired eyes. Then she stooped over and wrapped her thin arms around the child. She held her very tight, too tight, and it hurt. Hélène felt frightened. More than ever, she knew something was terribly wrong.
“Edmond!” Michelle’s voice came from the kitchen at a dangerously high pitch. “Give me a hand, you lazy good-for-nothing!”
“I’m coming. I’m coming!” Hélène’s eleven-year-old brother came down the stairs wearing his warmest winter clothes.
“Maman?” Hélène said, looking up at her.
“Yes, ma petite?”
“Is Papa coming home soon?”
Maman didn’t answer. Her eyes looked moist and she wiped them with the back of her hand. From the nursery upstairs, little Marie began crying. She was hungry or lonely or wet.
Gently Maman pushed Hélène away. “Go upstairs,” she said, her voice soft. “Go and put some warm clothes on Marie. The blue wool suit and the warm coat. Then bring her right down. And hurry!”
“Are we going somewhere, Maman?”
She nodded. “We’re going on a journey.”
Hélène’s eyes sparkled. A journey? That sounded like fun. She loved journeys. “Can we take the train, Maman?” she pleaded. “Oh, please, let’s do take the train. I love the train.”
“Yes, ma petite,” Maman whispered. “We’ll take the train. But you must hurry. Otherwise we might miss it.”
Hélène wrapped her arms around Maman and hugged her tightly. “I’ll hurry!” she promised.
Maman smiled a strained little smile and tousled Hélène’s hair affectionately. Hélène ran upstairs. From the top of the landing she looked down. Maman was at the window again, anxiously peering out through the crack in the curtains. Her lips weren’t smiling anymore. Maman looked very frightened.
Hélène ran down the hall and entered the nursery. Marie stopped crying as soon as she saw her, and her tiny pink face broke into laughter. Her eyes were wide, luminous, and blue, like Maman’s.
Hélène sat Antoinette down on top of the dresser and took Marie’s blue wool suit and tiny winter coat out of a drawer. Then, carefully but quickly, she dressed her. Marie giggled and squirmed playfully as she put her into the clothes and buttoned them. Usually Marie’s laughter would bring Hélène’s laughter. Not today. Today something was terribly wrong. Hélène didn’t know what, but that only made her all the more uneasy.
Carefully Hélène took Marie into her arms and carried her downstairs. Maman was still pacing the foyer. She had put on her thick brown winter coat. Michelle and Edmond stood silently to one side. Each carried a string bag filled with rutabagas. Inwardly Hélène groaned. She hated rutabagas. It seemed that fried rutabagas were all there ever was to eat anymore, and there were never enough of those.
Once again Maman parted the curtains a crack and peered out. This time she let out a sharp little cry. “She’s coming!” she exclaimed. “Catherine is coming!”
“Well, then, tell her to hurry!” Michelle snapped.
Maman ignored her, unbolted the door and let Catherine in, then threw the bolt back into place.
Hélène’s sister Catherine was thirteen years old but looked older. Already she’d lost most of her baby fat. She had large brown eyes, shoulder-length brown hair which she wore pinned up, and she was growing into a stunning-looking young woman. Hélène knew this was true because of the special looks men gave Catherine on the street. Hélène had no doubt but that Catherine would become an actress when she grew up.
At the moment, Catherine stared at everyone in silence. A puzzled look came over her face. “Are you going someplace?” she asked.
“We are! We all are!” Michelle cried hysterically. Her big busom rose and fell excitedly. “Now, run and put your warmest clothes on. We haven’t a moment to lose!”
“What’s the matter?” Catherine asked. “What has happened?”
Michelle’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Never mind what’s happened!” she snapped. “Just do as I say. Get dressed warmly! Now!” There was no mistaking the authority in her voice.
Catherine shot a questioning look at Maman, who nodded gravely. Without another sound, Catherine turned and went upstairs to change. Gently Maman took Marie out of Hélène’s arms and held her close. Her hands were shaking.
Two minutes later, they were all set to leave.
“Hurry!” Michelle, who was clearly in charge, urged. “We’re going out the back way - through the garden!”
At the kitchen door, Hélène suddenly remembered that she had forgotten something. She stopped and turned to Edmond. “Antoinette,” she said. “I forgot Antoinette.”
“Forget it,” Edmond said roughly. “She’s only a doll.”
“She is not!” Hélène retorted angrily. “She’s my friend.”
Maman touched Hélène gently on the shoulder. “There is no time, ma petite,” she said. “We’ll have to come back and get her later.”
Hélène stood where she was, resolutely refusing to budge. “I want to get Antoinette. I want her now! I won’t leave until I have her!”
Michelle rolled her eyes and let out a murderous sound. If looks could have killed, hers would have mowed Hélène down right on the spot. Then Michelle glanced at Maman.
Maman’s mouth tightened. She sighed. “Oh, very well,” she said. “But hurry!”
Hélène smiled as she ran upstairs to the nursery. No, she wouldn’t leave Antoinette behind. Not for anything in the world. Maman had given her the doll for her birthday. She was the first doll that was really hers. All the others had belonged to Catherine.
Antoinette was sitting on top of the dresser where Hélène had left her. She picked her up and hugged her tightly. As she was going out the door, she heard an ear-shattering roar outside on the street. She rushed to the window, pushed the lace curtains aside, and looked down.
Led by a motorcycle escort, a long, shiny black Daimler and several gray trucks pulled to a halt outside the door. Pennants were affixed to both front fenders of the car. Hélène recognized those flags. Who wouldn’t have? They flew all over Paris, a constant, hated reminder of subjugation and defeat.
Her heart skipped a beat and she shivered. The Boches.
A sudden dread came over her. They want me! she thought. Because I spit in the street after their truck had gone by.
As she watched, the tailboards of the trucks dropped with a crash and soldiers spilled out and scrambled to line up alongside the curb. Their heavy, cleated boots clattered loudly on the cobblestones. Within seconds they snapped to attention in a precise straight line. Their chests were thrust out like pigeons’ and their rifles were affixed with bayonets. Some of them were dressed in gray, others in black. It was the ones in gray who wore the coal-scuttle helmets and who were lined up. They had hopped down from the backs of the trucks. Hélène started to count them but stopped. There were at least twenty. The ones in black silver-rimmed uniforms, riding breeches, peaked caps, and highly polished boots stood casually to one side of the stiff formation. There were three of them. By a sudden barked order, the ones in gray broke out of line and half of them rushed the door. With a noisy clatter, the other half double-timed it down the street and turned the corner, disappearing out of sight.
“Hélène!” Maman was calling. “Quickly! Quickly!” Her voice quivered with fear.
Hélène left the window and started for the stairs. She looked down at Maman. Her face had gone white and she was pacing the foyer, Marie in her arms.
Michelle stood at the foot of the stairs. “Get down here!” she screamed hysterically. “Now, you little ingrate!” There was panic in her voice. Apparently Hélène still wasn’t moving fast enough for her, because she took a deep breath and began to charge up the stairs. Her face glared at Hélène and her huge breasts rose and fell with the effort of the climb. As soon as she reached the girl, Michelle grabbed her arm roughly with one hand and pulled her along, all the while muttering under her breath.
A moment later there were thuds at the front door. Maman let out a gasp and froze. The door shook but held fast. They hadn’t bothered to knock. Instead, they were hurling all their weight against the door.
“Come on,” Michelle wailed at Maman. “Quickly! We haven’t a second to lose! Or did you forget about the little ones?”
Maman came out of her terror and found her feet. Hélène shot a last frightened look back as they rushed into the kitchen. Behind them, the front door was quivering. Wood creaked each time there was a thud. Suddenly Hélène wished she hadn’t gone back for Antoinette.
Maman solemnly handed Marie over to Catherine. Then she slowly opened the kitchen door a crack and peered out. It let out to a courtyard where the neighboring buildings shared vegetable gardens.
Maman let out a gasp, slammed the door shut, and shot the bolt in place. There were soldiers out back too.
A hunted look crossed Maman’s face. She closed her eyes and shrank back against the kitchen wall. “The Boches!” she whispered.
Michelle looked at her in horror and let go of the string bag. It hit the floor with a dull thump and precious rutabagas spilled out, rolling in all directions across the linoleum. Nobody took any notice of them.
“The children!” Maman whispered. “Where are we going to hide the children?”
“I don’t know,” Michelle replied. “Where in all France can one hide anything from the Boches?”
Suddenly there was a terrible crash at the kitchen door, accompanied by a heavy cracking noise that sounded like thunder. Michelle let out a shriek and crossed herself. Marie began to wail. They all backed away from the door.
“Sssssh, little one,” Catherine said softly as she rocked Marie back and forth in her arms. “Sssssh.”
Maman looked around in desperation. “There must be someplace...” Her voice trailed off.
They backed into the dining room. Hélène lost her grip on Antoinette and dropped her. She knew better than to try and retrieve her. Not now.
“Why, of course!” Michelle suddenly cried out. “The dumbwaiter!” Her plump red hands lost no time in shoving the children toward it. Then she pulled at the old oak doors that were set in the wall and slid them apart. They rattled like a warped window that had not been opened for ages.
So we’re going to play games, Hélène thought. She, Edmond, and Catherine had used the dumbwaiter many times playing hide-and-seek.
She remembered when Michelle had once caught them at it. She had boxed their ears mercilessly.
“You imbeciles!” she had ranted. “Are you trying to kill yourselves? That thing is as old as the revolution! The wood’s rotted, most likely. Or God forbid the cable should break! You want you should fall and die at the bottom of the shaft?”
And now she was trying to shove them into the very dumbwaiter she had fought so hard to keep them out of in the past. Hélène’s mind was in a whirl. Had Michelle gone completely crazy? Had the world?
“Get in there!” Michelle ordered. “All of you!”
From her voice they knew they’d better do exactly as she said. She held the double doors open. Catherine handed Marie to Maman and then climbed in. Edmond and Hélène followed. The floor of the dumbwaiter shook as Maman handed Marie back to Catherine.
“And not a sound!” Michelle warned. Her dark eyes looked oddly hostile as she waved her fist threateningly. “If I hear so much as a single peep, I’ll come and wallop all four of you, but good!”
Maman leaned forward into the dumbwaiter and her hand shook slightly as she touched each of them gently on the forehead, her thumb sketching the sign of the cross upon them. Maman was not a religious woman, but somehow a great strength had come to her at this moment. Her face was no longer haunted by terror. Instead, her pale blue eyes were composed and brave and her lips were set in a sad but gentle smile.
“Edmond,” Maman said softly, “you are forced to become a man much sooner than nature intended. My son, be strong like your father, whose place you must now take. And you, Catherine. You are the oldest. You will take my place. Together the two of you must take care of Hélène and little Marie. Do so with your lives! Then, if you have the chance, forget everything, and when it’s safe...run. Your Tante Janine is a good Christian woman. She lives in Saint-Nazaire - that’s at the mouth of the Loire, on the Bay of Biscay. I don’t know how you’ll do it, but get to Tante Janine’s. God will forgive you for what you may have to do in order to get there! It won’t be easy, but take heart. Soon the British and the Americans will land there. Then you will be safe forever. They are not pigs like the Boches. You’ll see, another year and they’ll drive the pig Boche out of France and back to his pigsty across the Rhine!”
Ca-rack! The doorjamb at the front door gave way and crashed into the foyer with a piercing sound. Hélène jumped with fright. Maman shot a glance behind her.
“It is now time to say good-bye, my children. Never forget, my darlings, that your Maman loves you more dearly than you’ll ever be able to know.”
“Yes, Maman,” Catherine whispered gravely in a very grown-up voice. She reached for Maman’s hand and kissed it. “We love you, too.”
Maman suddenly snatched her hand back and fumbled with her fingers. The children watched her silently. She was pulling off her gold wedding ring. Awkwardly, sh pressed it into Edmond’s hands. “Take this, my son,” she whispered. “It is all I can give you. Use it to bargain with.”
His hands closed over it.
“Go with God, my children,” Maman whispered. “May He love and protect you.” She wasn’t crying, but her pale eyes were moist and sorrowful.
Edmond had to turn his face away. He was ashamed of the tears in his eyes.
“Remember what I told you!” Michelle warned in a thick quavering voice. “Not a sound!” She sniffed and wiped her red nose with the back of her hand. Her eyes were glassy, too, just like Maman’s. Gently she pulled Maman away and slammed the dumbwaiter doors shut. They banged together like the jaws of a toothless whale and the children were enveloped in darkness. The thuds and crashes were now muted.
From their games in the dumbwaiter, Hélène had learned where to peek out without being detected. There was a hole in the wood on her side. It had once been a knothole that had since been punched out. Soon her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and the hole in the wood stood out clearly. It let a thin stream of light through, in which danced a million tiny dust motes.
The cracking and banging noises at the door continued, this time followed by a horrible splintering noise. Something else had given. Hélène reached for Catherine’s hand and held it tight as the thuds grew louder and louder. Catherine’s hands were clammy and trembling.
Suddenly there was an ear-splitting crash. It sounded like the whole roof had caved in. The dumbwaiter shook and Hélène let out a cry. Marie began wailing, and Catherine rocked her back and forth, sticking a thumb in her mouth. Hungrily Marie began sucking on it.
“The roof,” Hélène whispered to Catherine. “The roof has fallen in.”
“No,” she whispered back. “It’s the door.”
“But Maman -”
“Keep quiet!” Edmond hissed.
Boots thudded inside the house now, and sharp orders were barked in German. Hélène placed her ear against the knothole to listen, but she couldn’t understand a word. She knew only a few random words in German. Then she peered out.
Her view was restricted to a small portion of the room and all she could see were headless figures. The knothole was located too far down to see anything taller than a child. She did see starched uniforms and shiny black boots. Then she recognized Maman’s gray-woolen-stockinged legs and old worn shoes. They were a sad contrast to her dress and coat. “Thank goodness I can sew,” she used to joke. “Unfortunately, even I can’t sew shoes or weave silk stockings.”
Hélène didn’t need to see her head to recognize Michelle. Her unmistakable tublike shape was backed against the wall beside the kitchen door. Hélène was puzzled by something, and then it came to her. Uncharacteristically, Michelle’s hands were folded behind her back. Michelle always had her hands at her hips, never behind her back.
Hélène shifted her gaze to the right. She caught sight of Antoinette lying on the floor. As she watched, a shiny boot stepped on her. She winced as the porcelain face so dear to her shattered with a crunch. Then the boot kicked at the pieces, scattering them.
Suddenly Hélène heard a stilted Boche voice speaking awkward French, so she moved again to peer out in Maman’s direction. She was speaking to one of the Germans dressed in black, but her voice was too low to carry. Suddenly there was a resounding slap. Maman’s torso jerked as she screamed out in pain.
Edmond recognized Maman’s scream. With a strangled cry of rage he started to reach for the dumbwaiter doors to jump out and protect her.
Catherine sucked in her breath and dug her fingernails deep into his arm. “Didn’t you hear what Maman and Michelle said?” she hissed at him. “We’re to take care of the little ones! Or do you want to have all of us killed?”
He settled back stiffly and let out an angry sigh. Catherine was right. Maman and Michelle had given explicit orders.
The Nazi asked something else, again in French. His accent was so bad Hélène had to strain her ears to understand.
“Jacqueline Junot,” she heard Maman reply.
“What?” the sharp voice snapped. “I can’t hear you. Louder!”
“Jacqueline Junot!” Maman yelled back at him. “Jacqueline Junot!”
“Don’t you dare raise your voice at an officer of the Reich!” the Boche barked. There was a crack as another slap rang out. Maman’s cry for help was lost in her scream.
“What did you say?” the Boche asked.
“N-nothing,” Maman said in a trembling voice.
“So...” The Nazi voice took on a tone of satisfaction. “Now are you ready to talk?”
“Yes,” Maman said in a hoarse whisper. “Yes.”
“Then where is the transmitter?”
“Transmitter?” Maman asked. “I don’t know what you mean. What on earth -”
Smack! Yet another resounding slap rang out, this time much harder and louder. Maman moaned and tumbled to the floor, not more than four feet in front of the dumbwaiter. Hélène knew she was in great pain. Her face was flushed. She coughed and vomited, her nose and mouth pouring blood. In shame she turned her face away from the dumbwaiter. Hélène’s stomach wrenched in sorrow for her. Above all, Maman would never have wanted her children to witness her humiliation.
The Boche moved toward Maman where she cowered. From Hélène’s vantage point all she could see were boots and black breeches standing over her. He made a production of clearing his throat. “About this transmitter...”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Maman cried, her voice gurgling from the blood in her mouth. “I swear I don’t know!”
“Liar!” One of the boots flashed as it kicked out at her, catching her in the belly. An agonized, bile-filled scream reverberated around the room and into the confines of the dumbwaiter. Edmond covered his ears with his hands. He was sobbing quietly.
Hélène closed her eyes. She couldn’t bear looking at Maman any more. Maman had drawn herself up as tightly as she could, her arms wrapped protectively around her swollen belly, around the baby boy or baby girl who was shortly to arrive.
“Maman,” Hélène whispered painfully without making a sound. “What are they doing to you, Maman?”
A Boche issued a command. Curious, Hélène opened her eyes. Instantly the soldiers in gray split into four groups. The thuds of their boots echoed clearly as they stomped up the stairs and down into the cellar. Hélène heard doors banging and then there was a crash as glass shattered. Their voices were muffled as they smashed furniture and tore the house apart. A tremendous crash from above shook the whole house.
“We’re going to die,” Hélène whimpered.
“Keep quiet!” Catherine whispered.
It seemed to go on forever. Then someone yelled from the top of the stairs. The Nazi who stood over Maman squatted, grabbed her by the hair, and pulled her head up a foot.
“You fool!” he laughed at her. “They’ve already found it. Was it worth it to hold out on the Gestapo? Was it?”
Maman drew back and winced. Then he spat in her face. Hélène saw her grimace and blink as the spittle hit her and ran down her cheek. He let go of her hair and her head dropped back onto the carpet. But not before Hélène caught a glimpse of his face under the visor of his peaked cap.
She stared at him incredulously. His face was as lean and narrow as a skull, with lips that were thin and cruel and bloodless. A tiny crescent-shaped scar stood out on his cleft chin. But it was his coloring that left her in shock. His skin was as pale as a corpse’s, while his eyes were hideously pink. If he’d had horns, he would have looked like the devil himself.
He got to his feet, straightened his tunic, and went upstairs. Hélène felt a wave of relief when he had gone. Somehow she was more terrified of his ugliness than of his cruelty. Two soldiers in gray came and stood guard over Maman. Each time she moved as much as a finger they swiftly delivered her a vicious kick.
Hélène shifted position and peered toward Michelle. She hadn’t moved from the kitchen door. There was a grim expression on her moon face, and her arms were still behind her back.
She heard the thuds of many boots coming down the stairs. They were all returning to the dining room. Apparently they had found what they’d been looking for. One of the soldiers carried it downstairs. It was a bulky, complicated-looking metal box covered with little dials and switches. Hélène had never seen it before.
The sinister, white-faced Boche gestured to the men standing guard over Maman. “Show her how we punish liars and traitors,” he said in an authoritative voice. “And when you’re through, take her to headquarters!” Then he left the room, the back of one gloved hand tucked into the small of his erect back.
The guards clicked their heels. “Zu befehl!” they chorused. Then they glanced down at Maman. She was silent, but her eyes were wary. Two of the soldiers bent over and pulled her to her feet. She stood swaying unsteadily. As Hélène watched, one of the Boches in black approached her and made a fist. Suddenly he slammed it into her belly.
“Traitor!” he shouted.
Maman let out a wrenching scream and collapsed. “My baby!” she screamed. “I’m losing my baby!” Tears were pouring down her cheeks.
Again the fist punched into her belly. Again she screamed. Hélène was filled with a murderous hatred.
Suddenly she noticed movement by the kitchen door. With the stealth of a huge cat, Michelle crept forward toward the soldiers. One of her fat red hands moved slowly from behind her back, and Hélène’s eyes caught something flashing - a kitchen knife. It was the longest and sharpest one in the house.
With a cry Michelle dived forward upon the nearest Boche and plunged the knife into his back. He let out a howl and sank to his knees. Blood spewed from his gaping mouth and his eyes widened as if in surprise. He pitched forward, and Hélène saw that the knife was buried in his spine. The dark brown haft still quivered.
The others faced Michelle with a mixture of shock and surprise. One of them pointed his rifle at her. Instinctively she raised her hands out in front of her. There was an orange flash and the room seemed to explode. Michelle was jerked backward against the kitchen wall. Then, like a limp puppet, she slid downward into a ludicrous sitting position. In her lap, a large red spot was forming. Her glazed eyes seemed to stare straight through the knothole at Hélène.
Angry Nazi hands clawed at Maman and dragged her outside to the trucks. She was hunched over, her face smeared with blood. Suddenly Hélène noticed that her gray-stockinged legs were stained with blood too. Twice she tripped and fell to her knees, and each time she was pulled along and kicked.
“Vive la France!” Maman shouted with a last surge of strength. “Vive la République!” The brave words echoed gloriously into the street like a forbidden song. Even in the confines of the dumbwaiter, the cowering children heard it clearly. Then there was a moment’s silence before the motors of the car and trucks roared to life and drove off.
Two soldiers, however, still remained in the room to guard the house and wait for a detail to clear away the bodies. They had taken off their helmets and leaned their rifles against the kitchen doorframe beside Michelle.
One of them struck a match and lit a cigarette. The other was talking in moody tones. Cursing, he kicked at a chair and it overturned.
It was then that Marie started crying.
The soldier who had kicked the chair turned and listened. Then he walked over to the dumbwaiter. Hélène’s view from the knothole went dark. Suddenly the doors flew open with a clatter and blinding light streamed in.
Dear friends and readers: Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this Sneak Preview. Sorry for being such a tease, but from this point on, you’ll have to read the book...