Read Echoes Online

Authors: Danielle Steel

Echoes (7 page)

“Then why have you kept this a secret? What are you hiding from me, Beata?” His voice was bellowing, and Monika could hear him from upstairs.

“He is Catholic, and French,” Beata said in a whisper, as her father let out a sound like a wounded lion. It was so awful that she took several steps backward as he advanced on her without thinking. He stopped only when he had reached her and grabbed her small frame in both his hands. He shook her so hard by the shoulders that her teeth rattled as he shouted into her face.

“How dare you! How
you do this to us! You will not marry a Christian, Beata. Never! I will see you dead first. If you do this, you will be dead to us. I will write your name in our family's book of the dead. You will never see this man again. Do you understand me? And you will marry Rolf Hoffman on the day I tell you. I will tell him the deal is done. And you will tell your Catholic Frenchman that you will never see or speak to him again. Is that clear?”

“You can't do that to me, Papa,” she said, sobbing, choking for lack of air. She could not give up Antoine, nor marry the man her father had chosen, no matter what her father did to her.

“I can and I will. You will marry Hoffman in one month.”

“Papa, no!” She fell to her knees, sobbing, as he stormed out of the library and went upstairs. She knelt there for a long time, crying, until her mother finally came to her in tears. She knelt beside her daughter, heartbroken over what she had just heard.

“Beata, how could you do this? You must forget him…I know he's a good man, but you cannot marry a Frenchman, not after this terrible war between us, and you cannot marry a Catholic. Your father will write your name in the book of the dead.” Monika was beside herself with anguish, as she saw the look on her daughter's face.

“I will die anyway, Mama, if I don't. I love him. I can't marry that awful man.” He wasn't awful, she knew, but he was old in her eyes, and he was not Antoine.

“I'll tell Papa to tell him. But you can never marry Antoine.”

“We have promised to marry each other after the war.”

“You must tell him you can't. You can't deny all that you are.”

“He loves me as I am.”

“You are both foolish children. His family will disown him, too. How would you live?”

“I can sew…I could be a seamstress, a schoolteacher, whatever I have to be. Papa has no right to do this.” But they both knew he did. He could do whatever he wanted, and he had told her that if she married a Christian, she would be dead to them. Monika believed him, and she couldn't bear the thought of never seeing Beata again. It was far too high a price for her to pay for a man she loved.

“I beg you,” she implored her daughter, “don't do this. You must do as Papa says.”

“I won't,” she said, sobbing in her mother's arms.

Jacob was not entirely foolish. He told Rolf Hoffman that afternoon that Beata was young and foolish and appeared to be afraid of the…physical obligations… of marriage, and he was not sure that his daughter was ready to marry anyone. He didn't want to mislead the man, nor tell him the whole truth. He told him that perhaps after a long courtship, and if they got to know each other, she would feel more comfortable with all that marriage entailed. Hoffman was disappointed, but said he would wait as long as he had to. He was in no hurry, and he understood that she was an innocent young girl. He had been well aware of her shyness the night they met. And even an obedient daughter deserved the opportunity to become acquainted with the man who was going to wed her and take her to his bed. At the end of the conversation, Jacob was grateful to him for his patience, and assured him that Beata would come around in time.

She did not come to dinner that night, and Jacob didn't see her for several days. According to her mother, she had not left her bed. She had written Antoine a letter, telling him what had happened. She said her father would never agree to their marriage, but she was prepared to marry him anyway, either after the war or before that, whatever he thought best. But she no longer felt at ease in her home in Cologne. She knew that her father would continue to try to force her to marry Rolf. She also knew it would be weeks before she had a response from Antoine, but she was prepared to wait.

She did not hear from him for two months. It was May when she finally got a letter from him, and for the entire time she had been terrified that he had been hurt or killed, or that hearing of her father's rage, he had decided to back out and never write to her again. Her first guess had been correct. He had been wounded a month before, and was in a hospital in Yvetot, on the Normandy coast. He had very nearly lost an arm, but said that he would soon be all right. He said that by the time she got his letter, he would be at home in Dordogne, and would speak to his own family about their marriage. He would not be going back to the front, or even to the war. The way he said it made her fear that his injury had been worse than he said. But he repeated several times that he was doing well, and loved her very, very much.

Beata answered his letter quickly, and sent it, as always, via his cousin in Switzerland. All she could do after that was wait. What he had said in his letter was that he hoped that his family would welcome her to their bosom, and they could be married and live on his property in Dordogne. Although, no question, bringing a German woman into France at this point, or even after the war, would be no small thing. Not to mention the religious issues between them, which would be as upsetting to his family as to hers. A count marrying a Jewess in France would be as horrifying to them as her marrying a French Catholic in her world in Cologne. There was no easy road, for either of them. And once she had written to him, Beata spent her days quietly helping her mother around the house, and staying out of her father's way. He had made repeated attempts to get her to spend time with Rolf, and each time she had refused. She said she would never marry him, or even see him again. She had grown so pale she looked like a ghost, and seeing her that way broke her mother's heart. She begged her continuously to do as her father said. There would be no peace for any of them until she did. With the weight of the trauma she had brought into the house, their home felt like a morgue.

Both her brothers had spoken to her, to no avail, when they came home on leave. And Brigitte was so furious she was no longer speaking to her. She had become increasingly full of herself with the excitement of her impending marriage.

“How could you be stupid enough, Beata, to tell Papa?”

“I didn't want to lie to him about it,” she said simply. But he had been furious with all of them ever since. He held everyone responsible for Beata's foolishness and betrayal. More than anything, he felt that Beata had betrayed him, as though she had chosen to fall in love with a French Catholic just to spite him. In his eyes, she could have done nothing worse. It was going to take him years to get over it, even if she agreed to give Antoine up, which so far she had not.

“You don't really love him,” Brigitte said with all the self-assuredness of an eighteen-year-old about to marry her handsome prince. She had the world by the tail, and felt sorry for her stupid sister. It seemed ridiculous to her. What had seemed romantic to her for a few days in Geneva no longer made any sense. You didn't put your whole life on the line, and risk your family, for someone from another world. She was utterly enchanted with the match her father had made for her, and it suited her to a tee. “You don't even know him,” Brigitte chided her.

“I didn't then, but I do now.” They had bared their souls in six months of letters, and even in Geneva, after three weeks, they had both been sure. “It may not make sense to you, but I know that this is right for me.”

“Even if Papa writes you in the book of the dead, and never allows you to see any of us again?” The thought of it, and she had thought of nothing else for the past two months, made Beata feel ill.

“I hope he won't do that to me,” Beata said in a choked voice. The thought of never seeing her mother again, her brothers, Papa, and even Brigitte was unthinkable. But so was giving up the man she loved. She couldn't do that either. And even if her father banished her at first, she hoped that he would relent one day. If she lost Antoine, he would be gone forever. She didn't believe you could lose your family.

“And if Papa does do that, and forbids us to see you?” Brigitte persisted, forcing Beata to face yet again the risk she was taking. “What would you do then?”

“I'd wait till he changes his mind,” Beata said sadly.

“He won't. Not if you marry a Christian. He'll forgive you for not marrying Rolf eventually. But not if you marry your Frenchman. He's not worth that, Beata. No one is.” Brigitte was happy to have her parents' approval, she would never have had the courage and audacity to do what Beata was doing, or threatening to do. “Just don't do something stupid that upsets everyone before my wedding.” It was all she could think of, and Beata nodded agreement.

“I won't,” she promised.

As it turned out, she heard from Antoine the week before the wedding. His family had had the same reaction as hers. They had told him that if he married a German Jew, he had no choice but to leave. His father had all but banished him, and told him he would take nothing with him. By French law, he could not bar his inheritance, nor his right to the title when his father died, but his father had assured him that if he married Beata, none of them would see him again. Antoine had been so outraged by their reaction that he was already in Switzerland, waiting for her, when he wrote to her. All he could suggest to her was that they sit out the war in Switzerland—if she was still willing to marry him, knowing the isolation from their families that it would mean to both of them. His cousin had said that they could live with him and his wife, and work on their farm. Antoine made no bones about the fact that it would not be easy, and neither of them would have any money, once estranged from their families. His cousins had very little as it was, and he and Beata would have to live on their charity and work for their keep. Antoine was willing, if she was, but it was up to her. He said that he would understand and not hold it against her if she decided that leaving her family for him was too difficult. He said he would love her no matter what her ultimate decision was. He knew that she would be sacrificing everything she loved and cared about and that was familiar to her, if she decided to marry him. He couldn't even imagine asking her to do that for him. The final decision was hers.

What touched Beata was that he had already made the same sacrifice for her. He had already left his family in Dordogne, and been told never to return. He was wounded and alone, at his cousins' farm in Switzerland. And he had done that for her. Their countries were still at war with each other, even if for him the war was over. She wanted to come back to Germany one day, and to her family certainly, if her father would allow it. But until the war ended, there seemed to be no other choice than to wait in Switzerland, and figure out the rest later. Perhaps by then his family would have relented, too. Although in his letter, Antoine said there was no hope of repairing the damage with his family. His departure and the raging battle that had caused it had been too decisive and too bitter. Even his brother Nicolas hadn't spoken to him when he left, and they had always been close. It was a great loss to him.

Beata spent the week before her sister's wedding, looking dazed and feeling tortured. She knew she had to make a decision. She went through the motions at Brigitte's wedding, feeling as though she were in a dream. And the irony of it was that Brigitte and her husband were going to Switzerland for their honeymoon. Jacob had advised them that it was the only safe place in Europe. They were going to spend three weeks in the Alps, above Geneva, not far from where Antoine was waiting for her, if she decided to go. She wanted to, but she had promised Brigitte not to do anything dramatic before her wedding. And she didn't.

The final explosion came two days later, when her father demanded that she assure him Antoine was out of her life forever. Both her brothers had gone back to their companies by then. Brigitte was on her honeymoon. And their father went after Beata with a vengeance. The battle was short and brutal. She refused to promise her father she would never see Antoine again, knowing that he was waiting for her in Switzerland. Her mother was hysterical as she tried to get them both to calm down, but they wouldn't. In the end, her father told her that if she would not give up her Catholic, she should go to him and be gone, but to know that when she left his house, she could never come back again. He told her that he and her mother would sit shiva for her, the vigil they held for the dead. As far as he was concerned, when she left the house, she would be dead to them. He told her she was never to contact any of them again. He was so awful about it and so enraged with her that Beata made her decision.

After hours of fighting with him and begging him to be reasonable and at least be willing to meet Antoine, she finally went to her room, defeated. She packed two small suitcases with all the things she thought she could use on the farm in Switzerland, and put framed photographs of all of them in her suitcase. She was sobbing when she closed her valises, and set them down in the hall, and her mother stood sobbing as she watched her.

“Beata, don't do this…he will never let you come home again.” She had never seen her husband so enraged, nor would she again. She didn't want to lose her daughter, and there seemed to be nothing she could do to stop this tragedy from happening. “You'll always regret it.”

“I know I will,” Beata said tragically, “but I will never love any man but him. I don't want to lose him.” She didn't want to lose them, either. “Will you write to me, Mama?” she asked, feeling like a child as her mother held her close to her, their tears mingling in a single torrent as their cheeks met. For an eternity, there was no answer from her mother, as Beata realized what this meant. When her father banished her and said she was dead to all of them, her mother felt she had no choice but to obey him. She would not cross the boundaries he was setting for all of them, not even for her. His word was law to her, and to all of them. And he had every intention of declaring her dead. “I'll write to you,” Beata said softly, clinging to her mother like the child she still was in many ways. She had just turned twenty-one that spring.

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