Authors: Danielle Steel
“Not everyone perhaps. Not everyone is suited to marriage and having babies,” Beata said fairly.
“Well, I'm glad you are,” Antoine said, leaning over to kiss her at the dinner table, which made Maria smile. He had been working hard on the farm with Walther, and Beata noticed when she dressed his wound at night that his arm was better. The wound was healing, although the arm was still stiff and not as useful as he hoped it would be again in the future. But he was managing extremely well, even with only one good arm. And to Beata, he was as beautiful as ever. She smiled shyly at him when he kissed her. It embarrassed her a little when he talked about having babies, and reminded her of the new discoveries that were coming.
The morning of Beata's baptism, on the way to church, Maria, Antoine, and Beata stopped at the
. A somber-looking clerk performed the brief civil ceremony that was the legal prelude to their church wedding the following day. For Beata, it was an awesome feeling knowing, as they drove to church afterward, that in the eyes of the law she was already Antoine's wife, just as she would become in the eyes of God the following day. Maria and Antoine were at the church with Beata for her baptism. Walther was unable to come as he had too much work to do at the farm. The ceremony was brief and simple, as she professed her beliefs and loyalty to the Catholic Church. Antoine and Maria acted as her godparents, and promised to renounce the devil on her behalf, and help her to adhere to her faith, and live it in future. After her baptism, she received communion for the first time, and cried as Father André gave it to her. It all meant far more to her than she had expected, and anything that she had experienced in Judaism until then. She had always found the time they spent in synagogue intensely boring. They sat there for hours, and it had always annoyed her that the men were segregated from the women. It bothered her too that there were no female rabbis, which she thought extremely unfair. Her father had gotten angry at her whenever she said it, and said sternly that that was the way it was. She was disappointed to learn that there were no female priests either. But at least there were nuns.
Brigitte too had thought being Orthodox too restrictive, and had said before her wedding that when she moved to Berlin with Heinrich, she was no longer going to follow Orthodox dietary laws, since her husband and his family didn't. But she had never dared to say that to her parents. She thought the strict rules of Orthodoxy were silly. Beata had never viewed it in quite that way, but there were things about Judaism she had always disagreed with. And much to her own surprise, she suddenly liked the idea of being Catholic. It was another way of being closer to and more in harmony with Antoine. She even found it remarkably easy to believe in the concept of miracles, like the one of the virgin birth and the subsequent birth of Jesus. She felt different and lighter, and renewed in a sense as she walked out of church as a Catholic. She looked radiant and was beaming at Antoine. Between the civil marriage ceremony and the baptism, it had been an extraordinary day.
“I'm still sorry you don't want to be a nun,” Father André teased her gently. “I think with a little more study and some time to discover your vocation, you'd have made a good one.” Antoine looked panicked at the prospect.
“I'm glad you only had two weeks then,” Antoine said, and meant it. The idea of losing his bride to the convent, after he had fought so hard to win her, filled him with horror. But he knew the priest meant well.
As they left the church, they promised to return the next day, for their wedding. Their paperwork was in order. The civil marriage gave them the ability to be married in church as well. After a celebratory dinner that night, to acknowledge her becoming a Catholic, Beata retired to her room early. It was the last night she would spend alone in the bed she would share with him after their wedding. And she still had work to do that night, on a secret project. She had brought nothing with her from Germany that she could wear for her wedding. Everything she had brought with her was practical and suited for farm work. But Maria had given her two beautiful lace tablecloths that had been given to her by her grandmother, and had become worn in places over the years. Beata said that didn't matter. When she hadn't been studying for her baptism, milking cows, or helping Maria prepare meals, she had been in her room, frantically sewing. The wedding dress she had made from the two tablecloths was nearly finished. She had managed to cut and drape and place the lace over her chest and shoulders and down her arms, and had just enough left over to shape into a little cap with a veil. And as she was so small, the dress even had a small train. She had sewn tiny pleats over the bust and tacked them down. The dress fit perfectly at her narrow waist, and the skirt was a gentle bell, appliquéd with what was left of the once-damaged lace. She had cut out all the old worn spots and small tears. The dress was a work of art, and even Maria hadn't seen it completed, but could hardly wait. She expected it to be simple, and somewhat awkward in design. There was only so much you could do with two old tablecloths, or so she thought. She had no idea of the extent of Beata's talent, and delicate needlework.
Antoine had agreed to walk down to the church an hour before the wedding, so he wouldn't see Beata when she emerged. She wanted to surprise him when she walked down the aisle of the ancient stone church and met him at the altar. He had no idea what she had been doing when she retired early to her room at night, and thought she was simply exhausted by the rigors of her activities on the farm. Even Maria didn't know that she had stayed up more than one night till dawn, and had performed all her duties the next day without the benefit of sleep the night before so she could complete the dress in time for her wedding day. Her wedding gown was the most beautiful dress she had ever sewn, worthy of a Paris collection, and if it had been made in silk or satin instead of the fine linen and handmade lace she had had to work with, it would have been a truly spectacular gown worthy of any important wedding, which to her this one was. Even made of the delicate white linen, it was an exquisite dress, and in some ways better suited to the simple church in the mountains than a more elaborate gown would have been. Maria gasped when she saw her.
“Oh my God, child… where did you get that dress? Did Antoine take you into Lausanne?”
“Of course not.” Beata laughed with excitement at the effect it had on her godmother. The older woman stared at her and burst into tears. “I made it from the tablecloths you gave me. I've been working on it every night for two weeks.”
“You couldn't have. I couldn't have done anything like it in two years!” She had never seen anything to compare with the gown Beata had made. She looked like a fairy princess. Maria had never seen a more beautiful bride. “How did you ever learn to sew like that?”
“It's fun. I used to make things for my mother and sister, and I always preferred making my own dresses to buying them.” That way she always got what she wanted, instead of someone else's design.
“But not a dress like that.” She spun Beata around by one hand, admiring the veil and train. It was the most beautiful dress Maria had seen in her entire life. “Wait until Antoine sees you … he'll faint dead away at the church.”
“I hope not,” Beata said, but she was thrilled with the effect. And even Walther was amazed when he saw her, and helped Maria carefully arrange the dress and train in the backseat of the car. He and Maria rode up front, as Beata felt slightly guilty for having made Antoine walk to the church. But she hadn't wanted him to see the dress before they arrived. She had hidden in her room until he left, so he wouldn't see her that morning, for good luck. It was still hard for her to believe this was her wedding day. She had cried while she dressed, she missed her mother so much. It had never occurred to her that one day she'd be marrying without her mother there to see her, or her father to give her away.
Walther and Maria had provided their rings as well. They were simple and well worn. Walther had given Antoine his father's wedding ring, which he had put away in a box, and it fit perfectly on Antoine's injured left hand. Walther had it in his pocket, along with Maria's great-grandmother's ring, which was a narrow gold band with tiny diamonds on it. It was so small that no woman in the family had ever been able to wear it. It fit Beata as though it had been made for her, and inside the ring were engraved the words
Mon coeur à toi
, my heart for you. The ring looked loved and well-worn with time.
And in a gesture of great generosity, Walther and Maria were staying nearby with friends that night, so the young newlyweds would have the house to themselves. Walther was cooling a bottle of champagne he had saved for years, from his own son's wedding. Maria had left a small wedding feast for them, of delicacies they had prepared. It was all she could do for them and she had done it with tenderness and love. She wanted everything to be as lovely as possible for them, since this wasn't the wedding either of them would have had if they had remained with their families in their own worlds. For all they had lost, they both knew they had nonetheless gained much, and had each other. To both Antoine and Beata, it was enough, although it was hard not to think of those they had left behind, especially on this day.
The locals were just leaving the church after mass, when Beata and the Zubers arrived. Antoine was waiting in the rectory, as Beata had asked him to. And as people came out of the church they stared and exclaimed over the breathtaking dress and lovely bride. She looked like a fairy tale princess, with her dark hair beneath the lace cap, her milky white skin, and huge blue eyes. They had never seen a bride like her in all their years in the parish. Even Father André was stunned, and had to admit she made a prettier bride than nun. He said she was the most beautiful bride he had ever seen. His eyes were dancing a few minutes later when he led Antoine into the church, and told him he had an astonishing treat in store. Antoine couldn't imagine what it was, until the organist was playing the music Beata and he had selected, and he saw her walk slowly through the door on Walther's arm. She moved with the grace of a young queen, and her feet barely touched the floor. She was wearing the only pair of evening shoes she had brought with her, which were suitably a pair of creamy satin slippers with rhinestone buckles. But nothing had prepared Antoine for her dress. He had wondered what she would wear, and now as he saw her, he wondered if she had brought the wedding gown with her from Cologne. It looked as though it had been made in Paris before the war. But as soon as he took in the dress, all he could focus on was Beata. He looked deep into her eyes, as tears rolled down both their cheeks. The lace had been fine enough for her to wear it as a veil covering her face, and as Maria lifted it for her, she could see that Beata's face was awash with tears of tenderness and joy. She had never seen a more beautiful young woman in her life, nor had any of them in the church.
Beata cried again as they exchanged their vows, and her hands were shaking violently as Antoine slipped on her ring, and she put Antoine's ring on his finger carefully so as not to hurt him. She had never been happier in her life as he held her close to him and kissed her when the priest declared them man and wife. Antoine could hardly bring himself to let go of her so they could walk out of the church into the summer sunshine. Some of the people from neighboring farms had stayed after mass to wait for them outside the church, so they could see the beautiful bride again. No one who had seen her that day would ever forget how she looked, least of all Antoine.
The Zubers and the priest joined them for lunch afterward, and that afternoon, they drove the priest back to his church, on their way to stay with friends. Beata and Antoine stood in the doorway of the Zuber home, as the others drove away, and then they turned to look at each other, finally alone. It did not happen often, living so closely with Walther and Maria, but now at least they would be able to share the same room at night. And just for today, they had the whole house to themselves, which was a remarkable gift the older couple had bestowed on them. Their night alone in the small farmhouse in the Alps was the only honeymoon they'd have, but it was all they wanted. All they needed in life was to be together. And they both knew they would never forget the magic of this day. Antoine stood looking at her rapturously in the late afternoon sun. She was still wearing her wedding dress, and he wished she could wear it forever. She had put a huge amount of work into it in order to show it off for only a few hours, as was the case with any wedding. But few brides would have been able to create a dress like that themselves. And still admiring the way it fit her graceful figure perfectly, Antoine followed her into the house.
They sat and talked quietly for a while in the living room, and then Antoine went to pour them each a glass of champagne. It had been so long since Beata had any, except for the little she had consumed at her sister's wedding weeks before, that she felt giddy, as they each took a sip and toasted each other. It was hard to believe how much their lives had changed in only a matter of weeks. A month before she would never have believed that she would be living on a farm in Switzerland, and married to Antoine at that moment. It was a dream come true for both of them, even though she had had to pass through a nightmare to get there. But the agonies she had gone through already seemed to be fading. And all that remained and would remain was the life they would share.
She offered to serve the dinner Maria had left for them, as the sun began to go down. They had sat talking all afternoon and holding hands. Neither of them was in any hurry to consummate their marriage, and Antoine didn't want to frighten her. He knew it was a big step she would be taking, and he wanted it to be as easy as possible for her. There was no hurry. But neither of them was hungry for dinner. At sunset, they were sitting in the living room, kissing, as the champagne began to have an effect on them, and both Antoine and Beata were suddenly overcome with passion, and could not hold back any longer. They had waited eleven months for this moment. It was the first of July and they had met the previous August. It seemed a lifetime ago since they had met at the lake, and he had bumped into her. And now they were married. It was everything they had both dreamed of and wanted since that first moment.