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Authors: Monique Raphel High

The Keeper of the Walls

The Keeper of the Walls
Monique Raphel High

T
he Keeper
of the Walls

Monique Raphel High

T
his edition published
by

Penner Publishing

Post Office Box 57914

Los Angeles, California 91413

www.pennerpublishing.com

C
opyright © 1985
, 2106 by Monique Raphel High

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

ISBN: 978-1-944179-18-2

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In memory of both my grandmothers, Sonia and Mary. Both of you were forces to be reckoned with,
extraordinary
in your courage and selflessness, and in your ability to create joy
everywhere
you went. I treasure every lesson you taught me.

A grandam's name is little less in love,

Than is the doting title of a mother.

Shakespeare,
Richard III
,
IV, iv

New Foreword To The Current Edition

W
hen my grandmother
, Sonia de Gunzburg, left me her many journals and diaries, I hoped to learn all sorts of family secrets. But they weren't so easily discovered. My grandmother was the consummate lady. My father, her son, was brought up never to hang dirty linen out to dry; the family pretended the linen was lily-white and scented with rose water, and maintained this with dignity even among themselves. Also, being human, Sonia lived in denial of what she considered the unspeakable. This way, she could continue survive with her head up.

Being a sleuth by nature, I uncovered secrets that I revealed in
The Four Winds of Heaven
, and some I used in
Encore
. But I had always been fascinated by the myths revolving around my grandfather, who had mysteriously “left the country (France)” just before World War II. My father never spoke of him, although my grandmother made him sound like her knight in shining armor. I learned that other members of the family had considered him an adventurer and a ne'er-do-well, opinions Sonia vehemently opposed, going so far as to break relations with a cousin she'd loved.

When I learned Russian, I was finally able to understand some notations in the diaries which indicated that perhaps the cousin had been right. My mother certainly believed him over Sonia. She found her mother-in-law hopelessly naïve when Sonia would say that it was generosity alone that had driven her husband to buy his first wife an apartment in the same building as theirs. But I think it wasn't naïveté so much as Sonia's simple need to save face. Thinking of her husband as a saint was far more soothing than to see him as a liar, a cheat, and perhaps even an embezzler.

Much later, I was finally brave enough to ask my father questions about that time, when his father had “left.” Dad spoke of his father at a great remove, and as a parent who not only had been remote, but as a husband who had never really made Sonia happy. I had previously been thrilled to note that Dad's birth occurred nine months to the day after my grandparents were married, and had assumed great passion between them. Dad shattered that illusion by telling me confidences that my grandmother, breaking every one of her own rules, had shared with her son in a moment of total honesty. I then realized that I had to write about my grandparents, but that I'd need to do it through a novel, embroidering the actual happenings with my own interpretation. This is the novel.

Please keep in mind that my grandfather, though much like Misha Brasilov, was a Jew, and a proud one. Lily's story is hers and not, as you might think, a continuation of Sonia's that takes off where
The Four Winds of Heaven
ends. Lily's roots are different, and her adventures not the same. But, naturally, some of them can't help but converge. I wanted to create a very young, impressionable protagonist, one who has to be deeply shaken in order to mature and grow strong. My grandmother, on the other hand, was already a formed, mature woman when she married. That story has already been written.

Both my grandmothers were true heroines during the Great War. My mother's mother, Mary, who was a Christian, saved her Jewish family. Sonia spent her days during the Nazi Occupation of Paris refusing to wear the Star of David and hiding a number of imperiled Jewish families, some of them right under the noses of Nazi collaborators. And Nicolas's story, in many ways, parallels my father's. All of these wonderful people deserved to be recreated into characters that you could feel and hear through my own words. Though Dad is still very much alive, my grandmothers are not. This is their “I love you.”

To write this book, I interviewed a number of Holocaust survivors. To them, too, goes an “I love you.” Most of them have died, but their memory will always remain fresh.

Charles Spicer, the best editor in the world, helped me through the initial publication of this novel at Delacorte Press. Renée C. Fountain and Italia Gandolfo, my literary managers, found this story sufficiently compelling to bring it to the attention of Jessica Gadsden and her team at Penner so that Lily, Misha, and their cohorts could come back to life. You are, all of you, my guardian angels.

Monique Raphel High

Los Angeles, California

February 2016

“I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”

—The Song of Solomon,
2: 1, 2.

“The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.

I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love.”

Ibid., 5: 7, 8.

Prologue

N
othing ever happened
in Chaumontel
. The hours slipped through one's fingers like so many potato peels, Lily thought, wiping her hands on her apron. In the sink, the new potatoes shone a nice clear yellow, perfect for soup.

One thought about one's daily chores, and chatted about the weather. It was as if one had been caught in a time warp, and isolated from the turmoil outside that was rending Europe apart. No, she thought, I will not think about it, I will not think of those who aren't here, of those who might have died, without my knowing. It's better just to pretend that things will never change, that tomorrow, a new batch of potatoes will have to be washed and cleaned, and that Paris, and all that was mine, was only one of my delusions.

“Lily,” her companion said, her voice low and taut: “Something's wrong. Look what's coming.”

Something's wrong.
Lily felt the sudden sharp stab of fear. She didn't want to look, because she didn't have to. She realized, in that split second, that she'd been waiting all this time for those words, and for what they meant:
Something's wrong.

What's wrong in this quiet little village is
me,
and my daughter, she thought. We're the odd ones, the ones people pretend blend in, but don't. And yet, you can't ever run away. Like a time bomb waiting to explode, you carry your destiny inside you.

She breathed in, very slowly, and raised her eyes to the windowpane. And she saw him. Trim, in his martial
feldgrau
uniform, he stood beside the two young French policemen from the county seat of Luzarches, who always smiled and nodded to her on the road, like friendly acquaintances. He was like a martinet, and the swastikas embroidered on his sleeves kept her eyes riveted to him, fascinating her in their horror.

For the Gestapo never came to Chaumontel.
As far as the Nazis were concerned, the hamlet didn't exist.

“You just have time to hide in the basement,” the older woman whispered.

“No. They've seen me.”

“Then, run out the back. Go down the street, into any house. They'll hide you.”

“And endanger the whole village? Maybe it's just routine. Maybe they're not even looking for
me.
” Lily tried a smile, couldn't glue it on, and abandoned the effort.

The older woman seized her hands, and squeezed them. “There's our powerful friend in Paris, the actress,” she whispered. “She'll help you, won't she?”

Lily shrugged, lamely, too numb to think. She kept seeing images of the Nazis seizing a man in the middle of the Champs-Élysées, right before her eyes, months ago. She'd understood then that within the week, this man would have begun his descent into Hell . . . God knows where. They took people like him . . . people like her and her daughter . . . far away, and no one ever heard from them again after that.

Incredible images were parading through her mind, of her mother, of her wedding, of her children, of the man she loved. She'd lived a rich, full life, even if recently it had become a nightmare. She'd be forty next year. But her young daughter wasn't yet twenty, and had only just begun her time as a woman. She, too, deserved a normal life, with marriage and children and maybe a profession. Her daughter loved children, and wanted to teach nursery school. That's where she was now: in Paris, at her teachers college, finishing her class.

“Oh, my God,” Lily cried, turning to fully face Madame Portier. “If we don't warn her, she'll come back, and they'll take her, too.”

“I'll go wait for her at the station.”

“And he'll have someone watching you. If they know about me, they know about her.”

She knew the Nazis. It had, after all, only been eighteen months or so since she'd stood in her silken evening gown at the German Embassy, her long, delicate fingers lightly kissed by Otto Abetz, the ambassador. All around her the French collaborators had been toasting the success of the Third Reich, which, like a poisonous oil spill, had been spreading its conquering edges past the borders of enemy nations that stood in its way.

The Nazis left no stone unturned. They left no family unscathed.

Madame Portier was moving to the door in answer to the sudden intrusive knocking. And then the Gestapo officer had wedged himself in, his lips curved in a smile, his eyes hard and flintlike and unreadable.

“Madame Portier? We don't aim to disturb you. I understand that all your papers are in perfect order.”

The older woman's chin jutted forward, arrogantly. “This is a proud French home,” she declared. “What do you want?”

Again the mellifluous voice of the German, his accent flawless, inserted itself into the cool, calm atmosphere of the small house.

“We just want a word with your boarder. The lovely Parisian lady you've been hiding.”

Lily, in the kitchen, felt a moment of disembodied panic, and couldn't

move. She stopped hearing what Madame Portier was replying. She kept thinking about her daughter. There had to be some way to stop her from coming home. There had to be a way to let her live. They'd already come this far, and Germany, everyone said, was on the verge of losing the war now. Only a few more months…

The figure of the Gestapo officer had materialized before her, right in front of her. He was still smiling. Suddenly his fingers slid around her arm, and she felt them tighten, like a vise, cutting off her circulation. “So you're afraid,' he remarked softly. “The incomparable, the illustrious Liliane Bruisson is actually afraid. We've never met, but I've seen your photograph, fair lady, in all the tabloids of France. And my ambassador was right: you
are
a beauty, even in these rags.”

She tried to control her breathing, and stammered: “Thank you.”

“But it's time the princess stopped pretending she's Cinderella,” he continued, his face so close to hers that she could smell his faint odor of cologne. “It's time she stopped hiding in her pumpkin coach.”

So they knew who she was. All exits were cut off to her now. There was nothing left to do, at least not for herself. It was too late to panic; she was, to all intents and purposes, already dead.

Two thoughts tormented her, however: How to get word to her daughter in time.

And: who had betrayed her? It had to have been someone she knew . . . someone close to her or her family. But:
who?

I'm not going to die, you bastard, she thought, her eyes all at once blazing in her pallid face. But she said, softly: “Just let me get my things.”

And it wasn't until she'd turned around to go back to her room, that the floor tilted up to meet her, and her knees buckled.

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