Echoes (42 page)

Seeing Amadea with the children, and the odd family they had formed, sometimes made him miss having a wife. But this was in some ways the next best thing. They had had a wonderful summer with each other. And before the children went back to school, they went on a family excursion to Brighton. He pushed Amadea along the boardwalk in her wheelchair, while the children went wild, playing games, and going on the rides. She looked longingly at the beach. He couldn't push her on the sand.

“I wish I could walk sometimes,” she said wistfully, although she managed very well in the wheelchair, could get around at full speed, and had no trouble keeping up with the children. It tugged at his heart the way she said it.

“Maybe we should go back and see the doctor one of these days.” She hadn't seen him in three months. When she left the hospital, he had said there was nothing more he could do. The feeling would return in her legs, or not. And so far it hadn't. There had been no change or improvement, although she rarely if ever talked about it. And this was the first time he had heard her complain.

“I don't think there's anything he can do. I don't think about it most of the time. The children don't give me time to.” She turned to look at him then with a tender look in her eyes that always made him wish things were different when he saw it. “Thank you for bringing me here, Rupert, to take care of your
kinders.
” She had never been as happy in her life, except in her early years in the convent. There was an irrepressible joy to every day. She loved being Mamadea, almost as much as she had loved being Sister Teresa. But she knew this would come to an end too. Many of them would go home, which was better for them in the end. They needed their parents. She and Rupert were only surrogates, although good ones. She thought Rupert was wonderful with them, and it always reminded her of how much he must miss his sons. There were photographs of them all over the house. Ian and James. And his wife Gwyneth. She had been Scottish.

“I don't know what we'd do without you,” Rupert said honestly as he sat down on a bench on the boardwalk, where they could see the children, and she rolled the wheelchair close to him. She looked relaxed and happy as her long blond hair flew in the breeze. She often wore it down like one of the children, and loved brushing the girls' hair, the way her mother had done for her and Daphne when they were little. It was odd how history repeated itself constantly, generation after generation. “I can't even remember what it was like before you came,” Rupert said, and looked distracted. And then he took the wind out of her with what he said next. “I'm leaving on a mission next Thursday.” He wasn't supposed to tell her, but he trusted her completely.

“You're not,” she said, as though denying it could make it not happen. But she knew from the look in his eyes that it would anyway.

“I am.” He didn't look enthused about it either. He loved being at home with her and the children on the weekends. But there was still a war to win.

“To Germany?” she asked in a whisper, as terror struck her heart. They both knew all too well how dangerous that was. And she couldn't imagine life without him now either.

“Something like that,” he said in answer to her question. She knew he couldn't tell her where he was going. It was top secret, and classified information. He had the highest security clearance. She wondered if he was going to Germany, or back into France, or somewhere worse, like farther east. She realized now that during her time in France, she had led a charmed life. So many had been killed and she hadn't, although she had come close several times.

“I wish I could go with you,” she said, forgetting the wheelchair. But there was no question of that now. She could no longer do missions. She would be a handicap and not an asset.

“I don't wish that,” Rupert said bluntly. He no longer wanted her risking her life. She had done enough. And been lucky. Even if she was in a wheelchair, she was lucky to be alive.

“I'm going to worry about you,” Amadea said, looking deeply concerned. “How long will you be gone?”

“Awhile” was all he said. He couldn't tell her that either, but she got the feeling he would be gone a long time, and she couldn't ask. She fell silent for a long moment and then looked at him. There was so much to say, and no way to say it. For either of them. And they knew it.

The children noticed that she was quiet on the way home that night, and Berta asked her if she felt sick.

“No, just tired, sweetheart. It was all that good sea air.” But she and Rupert both knew what it was. It was his mission.

She lay in bed for a long time that night, thinking about it and about him. He was doing the same in his bedroom. Their bedrooms were at opposite ends of the same hallway. She had been overwhelmed by the luxuriousness of the house at first. She had the best guest bedroom. She had told him to put her in one of the maids' rooms, but he wouldn't hear of it. He told her she deserved the handsome room she was in, which she insisted she didn't. It was difficult to adhere to her vow of poverty here. The others she could manage, or had until then.

Rupert left to go back to London the next morning, as he always did. And the children knew nothing about his impending trip, or worse yet, the possibility that he might never come back. Amadea was fully aware of it. He had requested permission to come down to Sussex for the day and night on Wednesday, before he left the following night. And until he returned, Amadea was nervous and anxious and out of sorts. And most unlike her, she snapped at one of the boys when he broke a window with a cricket ball, and then apologized to him for her bad temper. He said it was fine, his real mother had been much worse, and shouted a lot louder, which made her laugh.

But she was still immensely relieved to see Rupert return on Wednesday, and was quick to give him a kiss on the cheek and a warm hug. She knew there was nothing she could ask him. All she could do was pray for him while he was gone and trust that he'd come back. And all he could do was reassure her that he'd be fine. They tried not to talk about it, and had a lovely dinner with the children in the main dining hall, which they normally only did on special occasions. The children sensed easily that something was going on.

“Papa Rupert is going on a trip,” Amadea said cheerfully, but the older children searched her eyes and knew that something was wrong, or at best scary. Amadea looked worried.

“To kill Germans?” Hermann asked, looking delighted.

“Of course not,” Amadea answered.

“When will you be back?” Berta asked, looking worried.

“I don't know. You'll have to take good care of each other and Mamadea. I'll be home soon,” he promised. They all hugged and kissed him before they went to bed. He said he'd be gone in the morning before they got up.

He and Amadea sat and talked late into the night, about many things and nothing in particular. It was just comforting being together. It was nearly dawn when he finally carried her upstairs and set her back in her wheelchair on the landing of their respective bedrooms. When he wasn't there, the older boys always helped her. It was a communal effort.

“I'll be gone when you get up,” he said, trying not to sound somber, but he felt it. He truly hated to leave her.

“No, you won't.” She smiled at him. “I'll get up to say good-bye.”

“You don't have to do that.”

“I know I don't. I want to.”

He knew her better than to argue with her. He kissed her on the cheek, and she rolled off to her bedroom, without looking back. And for the next two hours, he lay in bed, wishing he had the courage or audacity to walk into her bedroom and take her in his arms. But he didn't. He was too afraid that if he did, she'd be gone when he got back. There were boundaries between them that he knew he had no choice but to respect.

True to her word, she was waiting for him in the hall when he came out of his bedroom just after dawn. She was sitting in the wheelchair in her nightgown, with a robe around her. With her long hair and pink dressing gown, she looked like one of the children. He looked serious and official in his uniform, and she saluted him, which made him smile.

“Will you get me downstairs?” she asked him easily, and he hesitated.

“You won't be able to get back up. None of the children are awake to help you.”

“I have things to do anyway.” She wanted to be with him for as long as she could. He gently carried her downstairs, set her in a chair, and then brought the wheelchair down, and she got in it.

She made him tea and heated up a scone for him, and then finally there was nothing left to say. They both knew he had to leave. She followed him out the door and onto the front steps in the September air. It was chilly and the air was fresh, as he kissed her on both cheeks.

“Take care of yourself, Mamadea.”

“I'll pray for you.” Her eyes looked deep into his.

“Thank you.” He was going to need it. They were parachuting him into Germany on a mission they thought could take as long as three weeks.

They shared a long look, and he walked down the steps with a resolute step, without looking back. He was just about to get in his car when she called out to him. He turned then, and she was looking anguished as she stretched a hand out to him as though to stop him. “Rupert!…I love you.” She could no longer stop the words, or the feelings she had for him. He looked as though she had splashed cold water at him, as he stopped in his tracks, and then retraced his steps and stood next to her. “Are you serious?”

“I think I am…no…I know I am …” She looked at him as though the world had just come to an end. She knew what this meant for her, and so did he, as a slow smile spread over his face and lit his eyes.

“Well, don't look so unhappy about it. I love you, too. We'll discuss it when I get back …just don't change your mind.” He kissed her on the mouth and looked at her for a long moment, and he had to go. He could hardly believe what had just happened, nor could she. It had been coming for a long, long time. And he was immensely pleased.

He waved as he drove off, and he was smiling. So was she as she waved, and blew him a last kiss. And then he turned and drove out the gate, as she sat in her wheelchair in the morning sun, praying he would come back. The decision had made itself.

27

T
HE TIME THAT
R
UPERT WAS GONE SEEMED INTERMINABLE
to Amadea. At first she had been anxious and worried. Then she had told herself he would be fine. And after two weeks… three…four… she began to panic. She had no idea how long the mission was meant to be for. By the end of October, she knew something was wrong. Unable to contain herself any longer, she called the office of the Secret Service. They took her information down and said they'd get back to her. An officer called her back a week later. By then it was November. They said very little to her, and didn't tell her where he was, but they did say they hadn't heard from him “in quite some time.” Without actually saying it, they conveyed to her that he was out of contact, and was missing in action. She nearly fainted when they told her, but she put a good face on it for the children. She had to. They had already lost one set of parents, she didn't want them to think they had lost Rupert, too. Not until they knew. Amadea had never prayed so hard in her life. She was doubly glad now that she had told him she loved him. At least he had known. And she knew that he loved her. What they did about it, if they would even have the opportunity to, remained to be seen. The Secret Service had told her they would call her back if they heard anything. They didn't.

To keep from losing her mind entirely, she came up with an idea to entertain the children. She told them she thought Papa Rupert would be delighted if they surprised him by forming their own orchestra. She got them all instruments, and she played the piano with them so they could all sing for him. They were a long way from professional, but they had a wonderful time with it. And she enjoyed it too. It gave them a project to work on. And after a month of practice, they sounded pretty good.

They were playing a song one night, as Rebekka sat on her lap in the wheelchair. She was tired and sucking her thumb. She had a cold and didn't want to sing. And as they listened, she turned to Amadea with a grumpy look. “Stop tapping your foot, Mama. You're bumping me.” Amadea stared at her, and one by one they stopped playing. The ones in the front row had heard her, and the others wanted to know what had happened, and why Mamadea looked that way.

“Do it again, Mama,” Berta said gently as they all stared at her feet while she tried. Ever so gently she could tap her feet, and even move her legs a little. She had been so busy with them, and so worried about Rupert, she hadn't noticed the improvement.

“Can you stand up?” one of the twins asked her.

“I don't know,” she said, looking scared as they stood all around her, and Josef held his hands out to her.

“Try. If you can blow up a train, you can walk.” He had a point. She stood up very slowly, by pushing herself up on the arms of the wheelchair, and took a single step toward him, and nearly fell. Johann caught her. But she had taken a step. Her eyes were wide, and they were all watching her with excited expressions. She took another step, and another. In all she took four, and then said she had to sit down. She was shaking all over, and felt weak and faint. But she had walked. There were tears running down her cheeks as they all laughed and smiled and clapped their hands with excitement.

“Mama can walk!” Marta shouted with sheer glee. And after that, every day, they made her practice. They played music. And she walked.

By the beginning of December she could walk slowly across the room with one of the bigger boys to hold on to. She was still unsteady on her feet at times, but she was making consistent progress. The bad news was that there was still no news from Rupert. None. They hadn't pronounced him dead. But they seemed to know nothing. And as Amadea wasn't his wife, she had no right to know. He had been gone for nearly two months, and she knew instinctively that the mission had never been intended to last that long. She wondered every night if he was wounded as she had been, and no one knew where he was. Or in a camp somewhere. If he had been found in a German uniform and discovered as an enemy agent, he would have been shot. A million terrible things could have happened, and she had thought of them all.

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