Home > Sea of Memories(14)

Sea of Memories(14)
Author: Fiona Valpy

Christophe nudged her. ‘Ella, you are lost in thought. Come back to us!’

She smiled at the touch of his hand against the flesh of her arm and replied, ‘I think it must be the cocktail, or perhaps it’s simply being in Paris; it’s going to my head.’

Over dinner, the conversation turned, inevitably, to the latest rumours from Germany. ‘Paris is still being flooded with refugees,’ Marianne explained to Ella. ‘People are so worried that Germany will not respect her new boundaries, even with the latest expansion, and there are rumours of persecution of the Jews in the eastern countries. My cousin, Agnès, has brought her family to Paris, but she’s still terrified what might happen if the Nazi dogma spreads. Unlike me, you see, she married a Jew, whereas I dared to marry outside of both my religions.’ She smiled at her husband across the table. ‘Love has a lot to answer for, n’est-ce pas, chéri?’

Ella considered this fact carefully, as she dissected the turbot à la crème on the plate before her. She hadn’t realised that Marianne had Jewish roots. Didn’t the religion pass along the maternal line? Were Christophe and Caroline Jewish too? She felt so foolish for not having known this before, although there had been no churchgoing of any kind on the island last summer, which had only added to the liberty she had felt there.

As if reading her mind, Caroline said, ‘As you will have noticed, Ella, we are not a very religious family. Maman’s father was a Jew, but Grand-mère was a Catholic. Both Maman and Papa’s families lapsed from adhering to any particular religion a generation or two ago. Given what we see happening in some parts of the world today, perhaps we are all better off without it. Does that shock you?’

Ella thought for a moment. ‘No, not really. It seems to me that you all have a deep faith in one another, and in truth and beauty; and perhaps that’s the only faith that really matters. My parents have always insisted that we go to church every Sunday, but I have to say that I’ve never felt it to be a particularly spiritually uplifting experience. In fact, now I come to think of it, I felt closer to whatever God there may be when we were out sailing on Bijou last summer than I’ve ever felt anywhere else.’

Christophe beamed his approval. ‘You see, she understands perfectly. God is present in beauty and freedom. That’s what counts.’

Monsieur Martet tut-tutted faintly, although when Ella glanced at him down the table, his expression was anything but disapproving. He was smiling at his wife in the candlelight and the look in his eyes told Marianne again, as eloquently as any words could have done, that he loved her, body and soul.

She decided that Paris was a little like one of the centime coins that jingled in her purse – far lighter than the heavy threepenny bits and penny pieces back at home. And, like those same coins, the city had two sides. The first was the one she’d anticipated: elegant, cultured, glamorous, a Paris familiar from the photographs and articles she’d pored over in the Picture Post and National Geographic magazines. She visited shops and galleries with Caroline and Marianne, drinking in the latest Parisian fashions along with the tiny cups of strong black coffee that she learned to order whenever they paused at a café to restore their energies. She also visited Caroline at the Louvre, learning far more about art from a few hours with her friend in the museum’s labyrinthine galleries than she’d ever learned in art lessons at school. They met Christophe after work and the three would stroll beside the Seine, watching the boats that ploughed up and down the river, or pausing to admire the work of the artists who’d set up their easels opposite Notre Dame to paint the cathedral’s soaring stone traceries and their shifting reflections in the water below. She savoured every moment, but especially those early-evening walks, holding Christophe’s hand and laughing as he described the latest scrapes he’d got himself into at the bank. Occasionally, Caroline would make an excuse to leave the two of them alone and then they would find a secluded stretch of the riverbank and kiss beneath the dusty leaves of the plane trees that lined the road above them, to the evident appreciation and encouragement of passing boatmen.

But then there was another side to the city too. In the midst of the gaiety and opulence, groups of bewildered-looking refugees limped along the streets of Paris, their faces blank and grey with the shock of finding themselves in a strange place, washed up like flotsam and jetsam on the Parisian streets, dispossessed of their houses and their belongings. They brought with them, along with their shabby suitcases and bulging carpet-bags, a reminder of the threat that continued to gather strength just beyond France’s eastern borders.

It seemed to Ella, as she began to grow accustomed to the nuances of life in Paris, that the city was preoccupied; its citizens were going about their daily lives as they’d always done, but with an air of vague distraction, keeping one ear open for the latest news of German manoeuvring. Normality and an impending sense of turbulence sat alongside each other in Paris that summer: two sides of the same coin.

In the Martets’ home, Ella spent a day helping Marianne alter and launder a trunkful of Christophe and Caroline’s cast-off clothing. ‘Cousin Agnès wasn’t able to bring much out with her when they left Austria, so these may come in handy for the children.’

‘How old are they?’ asked Ella as she took up the hem of an old skirt of Caroline’s.

‘Albert is twelve and Béatrice is ten. They’re darling children. He is rather studious and serious, always with his nose buried in a book. His sister is far more outgoing, a truly sunny little girl, with the same curly hair as Caroline. I think you will like them. You’ll meet them one day soon, we’ll have them over for lunch one Sunday once you youngsters get back from the island.’ She sighed. ‘I wish I could come with you, but I won’t get to the Île de Ré this summer. There has been too much to do here in Paris. However, I shall take great delight in thinking of the three of you there, even if only for the week.’ Pausing, Marianne put down the pair of scissors she was using to snip a thread and placed her hand over Ella’s. ‘You are like family to us you know, my dear. We are very pleased to have you here with us. You make my son, in particular, very happy indeed and that fills my heart with joy.’

Ella blushed, her gaze fixed on her sewing, then raised her eyes to Marianne’s. ‘He makes me very happy too.’ And she saw that Marianne understood all that there was to understand, and that her hopes were the same as Ella’s and Christophe’s: that their future would, somehow, some day, be shared.

Marianne nodded, smiling. Then, reaching for a shirt of Christophe’s, she said, ‘And now, let’s see if this collar can be turned to make it as good as new . . .’

Suddenly the front door rattled, the sound of it being flung open with some force which made both of them jump. Marianne put the shirt back into the mending basket and rose hurriedly.

Caroline could be heard calling as she ran upstairs, ‘Maman! Ella! Where are you?’ She burst through the drawing-room door, curls escaping from the clasps which held her hair up. ‘I have important news! I’ve been working on a special project – top-secret, I’m afraid, so I can’t tell you the specific details. But we are sending some of the artworks from the museum to other locations in France, places where they’ll be safe in case the Germans take it into their stupid heads to drop bombs on us or try to invade, or any other crazy plan.’

‘Goodness, Caroline, really! I’m sure it’s not going to come to that!’ exclaimed her mother, although Ella noticed that she raised a hand, involuntarily, to the buttons of her white blouse as if to calm the panicked thump of her heart beneath them. ‘You know that Adolf Hitler has changed his tune now; it’s all over the newspapers.’

‘Sorry, Maman, this is just in case Monsieur Hitler’s words turn out not to be worth the paper they are written on. I know it’s a bit extreme, but Monsieur le Directeur says it’s better to be safe than sorry. He says it’s like Noah building the ark – it had to be done before it started to rain, even when nobody believed it would be needed. And, hopefully, in this case it really won’t.’ She turned to Ella. ‘But I’m going to need help from you and Christophe. We have to disguise what we’re doing, so that only a very few people know where the artworks are concealed. We can’t make it obvious that we’re moving works of art around the country. I’ve been helping to pack up some of the items. And then I had a stroke of genius! One of the items is to be delivered to the Château de Chambord, which is on our way to La Pallice to catch the ferry to the island. So we’re going to take it with us and drop it off there on Monday, just as if we were stopping off to do a little sightseeing on our way to the coast. A security guard from the museum will be coming with us, of course. They wouldn’t just let us set off with a work of art in the trunk of our car on our own. It will look quite natural, as if we are two couples going off on holiday, stopping with the rest of the tourists to visit the château. We’ll drop the guard at a station just after Chambord so he can catch a train back to Paris, and then carry on to La Pallice as planned. It’s the perfect cover.’

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
Most Popular
» Sea of Memories
» Gypsy Moon (All The Pretty Monsters #4)
» Gypsy Origins (All The Pretty Monsters #3)
» Gypsy Freak (All The Pretty Monsters #2)
» Gypsy's Blood (All The Pretty Monsters #1)
» Natural Dual-Mage (Magical Mayhem #3)
» Natural Mage (Magical Mayhem #2)
» Natural Witch (Magical Mayhem #1)