Echoes of Honor Pt. 19 “Like a Bird”
Embarrassment. That’s all Karl felt as he stared at Marie, Philippe’s sister. He could feel a dark blush creeping up over his face, and he looked away. “Why didn’t you say something when I grabbed you?”
“Like what?” Marie asked, slipping her back over her shoulder again. “Excuse me ruffian, but could you please unhand me? I’m a gentle lady in need of assistance.” Marie gave Karl a shove. “You are incredibly dense.”
Karl glared at her. “I am not.”
“Why do you think I’m wearing these clothes and have my hair tucked up?” Marie put her hands on her hips.
Wilhelm stepped forward. “As much as I love watching debates, have you both forgotten we aren’t in a very safe area?”
“That’s right. Where are all the soldiers you wrote about it your letter?” Karl was beginning not to like this girl very much.
Marie rubbed her face and sighed. For the first time, Karl noticed she had a swollen looking gash under one eye. “The soldiers left this morning. They thought the house was clear, so they ransacked it.”
“How’d you escape?” Wilhelm asked.
“Hid under the floorboards in the attic.” Marie giggled. “One of the soldiers was so startled by a litter of mice that he never even bothered to check the attic. It was satisfying to hear him scream and yell that there was an army of vermin after him.”
Karl couldn’t help the smile that came to his lips. “We should go. It still isn’t safe.”
The trio moved back into the alley, something they were starting to do a lot Karl noted.
Karl looked over at the young woman that didn’t even reach his shoulders in height. “Where are your parents?”
Karl stopped in his tracks. Marie had to be kidding. All of them had dead parents now? All murdered by Hitler?
Wilhelm gently set his hand on her small shoulder. “How long have you been alone?”
“If you aren’t counting the soldiers, I’ve been alone for two weeks. They took my parents away one evening. Père heard them coming and hid me in the attic with as much food as we had in the house. Mère kissed me and told me to find Philippe, that he would keep me safe.” Marie focused her eyes on the ground. “I know they’re dead. I heard the gunshots.”
Karl wanted to reach out and hug her like a sister, but he didn’t dare. He didn’t relish the thought of being pummeled for trying to help.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Marie said bravely, lifting her shoulders and forcing a smile to her lips. “Philippe and I will be a family.”
Karl didn’t know what to do. How on earth was he supposed to break the horrible news? He looked at Wilhelm for help.
“The car is right over there,” Wilhelm said.
Marie hurried towards it. “I haven’t seen a car in days!” She said excitedly.
“You have to do it, man.” Wilhelm squeezed Karl’s shoulder. “You can lead her on like this. She deserves to know her brother is dead.”
Karl clenched his fists. “I keep imagining that she laid in the attic for days, creating plans for Philippe and herself. She’s so excited about seeing him again.”
“You can’t lie to her. What are you going to say when we get back to the hideout, and Philippe isn’t there?”
“Wilhelm,” Karl’s voice broke. “I can’t.”
Gripping his shoulder tighter, Wilhelm gave his friend a shake. “You can. You’re the bravest man I know.”
Karl pulled the car door open. Marie was already seated, running her hands across the leather seats in awe.
“Marie, I need to talk to you for a second.”
She cocked her head. “Why?”
“I just do. Can I sit beside you?”
Marie nodded, scooting over to the other side of the large seat. Her large dark eyes looked up at Karl in curiosity. “What is it?”
Karl shut the door behind him, glancing out to see Wilhelm standing guard. He hung his head a moment before speaking. “Marie, I need you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say.”
“Oui, what is it?”
From his pocket, Karl slipped out the delicate gold chain and locket. He placed it in her hand.
Her forehead wrinkled as she looked at it. “This belonged to my Mère, and she gave it to Philippe before—” Marie looked up, her eyes filling with tears. “Non.” She whispered.
“I’m sorry, Marie,” Karl swallowed hard. There was no way to sugar coat what he was about to say. “Philippe’s dead.”
“Non!” She cried, shoving herself back against the seat. “He’s alive! I’m going to see him soon!”
“No,” Karl felt tears on his cheeks. “Philippe died in my arms.”
“Non, vous mentez!” Marie cried, burying her face in her hands. “Non, s’il te plaît, Dieu non!”
Karl was relieved he knew French. “I’m not lying, Marie. I tried everything I could to save your brother, but I failed.”
“You tried to save him?” Marie asked breathlessly, looking up at Karl.
“Yes. He was shot, and I tried—” Karl’s voice broke. “I can’t do this.” He said, turning to open the door. “I can’t.”
Marie caught his sleeve. “You were very brave to try to save my brother. I thank you.”
Karl shook his head. “I didn’t save him. It’s my fault he’s dead.”
Marie pulled herself into a ball as the car sped down the road. With a few simple words, every dream she had made for herself and Philippe came crashing down. Her whole family was gone. She had no one except two young men she only knew from Philippe’s letters.
The one called Wilhelm seemed more gentle, more understanding. In his eyes, she saw that he had begun to accept what had happened in his life, and was trying to live again.
In Karl’s eyes, she saw a deep pain. She knew why now. How terrible it must have been for him to try to save his friend, then lose him. Marie didn’t even know how Philippe had died, other than that he had been shot. Had he been rescuing others when it happened? That sounded like Philippe, laying down his life for others.
God. Where was He in this? How could He have let Philippe die? Marie fingered the gold locket, pressing it to her heart. There was a purpose for everything, that much Mère had told her before the soldiers broke into their home.” ‘No matter what happens my dear girl, there’s a purpose for everything that happens. Trust God, trust those that Philippe will send for you. I love you; my precious daughter.’
But what was life without her dear brother? Without her parents? Other than the fact that these men were with the resistance and had known Philippe, she didn’t know where they were taking her or what the future held.
She wished there was another girl she could depend on, to cry with. Hadn’t Philippe said something about a girl named Sophie in his private messages. She had gotten the feeling that Philippe was sweet on this girl, although Marie had never asked him about it. She wished she had.
“Karl,” Marie said, clearing her throat. “Do you know a girl named, Sophie?”
She doused the candle when she heard the car. Waking only moments before, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Was it friend of foe out there in the dark? Part of her didn’t even care anymore. Everything was mixed up. Was there a purpose to anything?
The pounding on the door made her jump. She willed her heart to still and let out a breath. It was Karl, she knew that knock.
A blast of chilly air swept past her when she opened the door and she yanked her shawl tighter.
A somber group entered the hideout. Karl, Wilhelm, and a girl who could’ve been Philippe’s twin in-between them. Her eyes were swollen from crying and her face pale.
“Sophie,” Karl said. “This is Marie.”
Something inside Sophie broke at those words. Tears rushed to her eyes the grief inside seemed to be pouring out. With a cry, Sophie flung her arms around the Marie, who did exactly the same. They leaned on each other, sobbing, until their wobbly legs almost gave out.
It was the sound of birds that woke her. Their soft chirps coming through the cracks in the wall.
Sophie turned over in bed, her heart light for the first time in so long. After crying for hours, Marie and herself had fallen into a deep, much-needed sleep.
Now she looked over at Marie still sleeping. The girl had one hand tucked under her cheek and the other clasped the locket around her neck.
There had been such suffering in the last several days, but this morning, hearing the birds and soft wind blowing around the hideout, Sophie felt an unexpected peace.
Crawling from bed, she smoothed her wrinkled dress. She was going to visit Philippe’s grave.
“What are you doing?” Marie asked groggily, sitting up in bed.
“I’m going out. Would you like to come?” Sophie twisted her hair into a coil and wrapped it around her head. “I think it will do us both some good.”
Marie nodded, climbing out of bed. “Where are we going?”
Out into the soft morning light, the girls went. For the first time in so long, Sophie didn’t even care if there were soldiers about, she was not going to be deterred from her mission.
Sophie led the way into a small clearing, parting the sharp branches for Marie.
“We’re going to my brother’s grave, aren’t we?” Marie asked softly. “I’m glad.”
“Yes. Karl and Wilhelm buried him in this beautiful spot where the sun shines down through the trees, and some beautiful flowers are starting to grow.”
Marie nodded. “Sounds pretty.”
Sophie took Marie’s arm and guided her into the clearing. One single cross stood in the center of the clearing.
“Philippe, 1929-1945.” Marie read, fingering the carved words. “How precious he was to me.”
“And to me,” Sophie whispered.
Both girls turned at the voice and saw Wilhelm standing there. “What are you doing here?” Sophie asked.
“Karl and I saw you leave. I knew you’d come here, so I followed.” Wilhelm knelt next to them. “I’m glad you both came here. I think it will help you.”
Sophie glanced back the way Wilhelm had come. “What about Karl?”
Wilhelm shook his head. “He wouldn’t come.”
Marie laid a hand on Sophie’s arm. “He’s hurting. Give him time.”
Several birds landed in the branches overhead and started to chirp. Sophie smiled. “I feel like that bird, finally free.”
“We have a purpose still.” Marie said. “We will all still hurt for days, I know that. But we have a purpose.”
From his pocket, Wilhelm pulled out the Bible. “Now, more than ever, we need this book.”
Sophie nodded, eyes brimming with tears. “We do indeed.”
The cough kept coming. David leaned over, letting it take its toll on his weak body. He tasted blood.
They’d keep him in this cell until he gave up the location of the resistance hideouts and the names of the leaders.
He had betrayed his friends once…One of them was dead, but he didn’t know who.
Exhausted, David laid down, clutching his chest. Every day they beat him, trying to force the information out. David would die before he betrayed his friends again.
Outside the door, David heard footsteps. His body tensed. They were coming for him again…he deserved it.