in the Faith of our Fathers series.
Jews, she read. Death to all Huguenots!
Rachel Levin felt her ire bubbling up from deep inside. Merely glancing at
the sign nailed to the side of a building up ahead disturbed her. Actually
reading the words printed on it in black letters made her want to shout in
protest. But Papa would be angry if she did.
wind suddenly picked up, causing her long blue dress to gather in a tangle of
wool material around her ankles. Briefly, she lifted her skirt and let it
drop. Most of the wrinkles disappeared. She shifted the gray sack
filled with the items she’d bought at the store from her right arm to her
odor of fresh bread and cheeses mingled with the delicate scent of grapes coming
from the wine fields on the hills nearby. She continued down the street as
if nothing unusual had happened. Contrary to her internal thoughts, her
controlled response to distress was something she’d learned almost before she
could walk. It had been handed down from father to child for generations.
Jewish ancestors had left country after country, searching for a place to live
where they would be safe. They had been taunted and persecuted. She
battled her secret fear of the unknown almost daily, but like those who had gone
before her, she had no intentions of letting others know the way she really felt
or giving up.
Death. Was there somewhere in the world where Rachel and her parents could
live in peace? If such a place existed and she ever found it, she would
stay there forever.
turned the corner and saw a boy about her age. He’d taunted her several
times, and now he stood in her path just ahead. She sucked in her breath.
beasts are the same,” her father had said. “Whether animal or the
human kind, never run from a beast. Never show fear or look them in the
eyes. Stand your ground, always, and continue on.”
on his hips, the boy wore a tan cap, dark trousers and a dark shirt.
Rachel could turn around and avoid a confrontation.
will not walk away.
the boy, she could see the little white house she shared with her parents with
its green shutters and window boxes crammed with flowers under every window.
If she could grow wings and fly there, she would.
kind are not wanted here,” the boy shouted in French.
new languages had always been easy for Rachel. Besides her native tongue,
German, she’d learned a little French from her father, enough to play with her
friend, Marie. And enough to understand the boy’s words as well as his harsh
tone of voice. But she couldn’t make a proper reply in French if she’d
hard lodged in her throat. Rachel swallowed. If only she could know
what would happen when she reached the boy. But Papa and Mama would expect
her to continue on.
looked slightly above his head and kept moving forward.
breath caught. She’d almost reached him—so close she saw that dark
brown strands of hair had slipped out from under his cap. His eyes
reminded her of black cinders found among the ashes that remained after a
wood-burning fire in the hearth had died. If she didn’t turn now, she
would run right into him.
took in a deep breath of air. One more step and they would bump heads.
stepped to one side at the last instant. Then he spat on her cheek as she
a bath in that, you dirty little Jewess. It is more than your kind
disgusting liquid rolled down her cheek—all the way to her heart. She
felt the wet remains when it landed on the shoulder of her new blue dress.
jaw firmed again, and a wave of revulsion swept over her. She wanted to
turn around and spit back, yet she kept walking down the path as if nothing
important had occurred.
reached the stone steps leading to the front porch in the same even gait she had
started out with when she left the store. As soon as she went inside the
house, she put down the sack and turned to the bowl and pitcher by the front
door. She felt like crying as she washed her face, but no tears came.
Her well of sorrows dried up long ago. Only bad dreams remained.
up stairs, Rachel,” Mama said in German, “I want to talk to you.”
am coming, Mama.” She washed her face again.
must never tell Mama what happened on the path today. It would make her
cry, and her mother had cried too much of late.
made his living making and selling barrels—as well as being a scholar, a
teacher, and a historian. Besides French, he’d taught her a little
English and Hebrew. In return, he expected her to be strong, work hard,
and help Mama in any way she could.
took the cloth from the hook by the door and patted her face dry. Still,
she felt dirty, as if a layer of filth stuck to her skin. She put the
cloth back on the hook and turned toward the stairs. If only she could
change out of the contaminated blue dress before going in to speak to Mama.
No time for that now.
many times had she heard Mama compliment her in front of Papa?
is a sweet and gentle child, Amos,” Mama would say, “and she cheers me up
when I am low. Sometimes, she makes me laugh out loud.”
Papa would say to Mama, “I am proud of our daughter, too. Rachel is a
good and brave girl and always does what is expected of her.”
she was neither sweet and gentle nor good and brave. She was Rachel, a
girl trying to find a safe place where she could just be.
now, she wouldn’t think about the boy or what he said or did to her. She must
be strong—for Papa. Mama was ill. She must think only of Mama when she went up
to see her, and she must smile. That way, Mama would never guess what happened
on the road today.
do as you wish, Louis,” Pierre Dupre said to his brother. “But after
the long walk from Paris, I want to stop and rest before going home. Mama
and Henri will want to hear all about our journey, and I would like to get some
sleep before I start telling our little brother tales of our adventures.”
it be that my big brother is tired?” Louis asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Yes.” Pierre yawned. “I admit it.” He stretched
his tired muscles and yawned again.
threw back his head and laughed. “Sleep if you want. I intend to
pay Rachel’s parents a visit before going home. I plan to ask their
permission to marry her.”
it not a bit late to be making such a request? We sail in two weeks and
you said you would marry Rachel aboard ship, yet you barely know her parents.
They might resent the fact that you failed to step forward with your proposal
will ask their forgiveness for the delay, of course. And I will also
encourage them to sail to England with us. I fear Rachel will refuse to go
at the last minute if we leave her mother and father behind.”
is strong-willed and unpredictable,” Pierre said. “And she is always
jumping to conclusions. However, she is also a good and faithful daughter.
Were I wearing your shoes, Louis, I would have fears as well.”
stood in front of the small stone cottage where Rachel and her parents lived.
They hadn’t slept much since heading home. On the previous night, they
seldom stopped to rest. Pierre doubted that Rachel’s parents would
welcome his brother into their home after they discovered why he came, and he
had no desire to hear her mother and father scold Louis for his tardiness.
noticed a large tree surrounded by bushes a short distance away. “I will
wait for you under that tree. It will be cool and shady there.”
you wish.” Louis smiled. “And sleep well, brother. I will
not be long.”
watched Louis walk up to the front door of the cottage and knock. He found
a grassy spot under the tree. With his brown jacket as a pillow, he
stretched out and went to sleep.
awoke to the rumble of horses’ hooves and men shouting. He crawled on
his belly to a bushy area near the edge of the tall grass. A young captain
in the king’s army kicked down the door of Rachel’s house. Soldiers
defended his younger brother for as long as he could remember and often fought
his battles for him. But he saw at least thirty armed men and he with no
weapons. Pierre wanted to hang his head in shame because he couldn’t do
anything to help.
we are innocent!” he heard Louis shout out from inside the house.
Pierre covered his mouth with his hands to keep from calling out in anger and
he heard Rachel’s mother say. “Have mercy! Please!”
filled the corners of his eyes as Pierre heard more shouting, screams, and then
the trunk outside!” the captain shouted to his men.
they dragged a trunk out the front door of the house, the captain stood on the
lawn outside. Sunlight glinted on the metal buckle of his jacket.
The shiny object mesmerized a shocked Pierre as the other soldiers brought out
furniture, clothes, and other items.
thin soldier came out wearing a blue dress that must have belonged to Rachel’s
mother. He paraded around in it, swinging his hips and making distasteful
gestures. Laughter echoed all around the soldier in the dress.
captain opened the trunk, spilling its contents on the ground. Letters and
papers blew here and there. The captain picked up a candlestick. The
metal caught the afternoon sun, sparkling brighter than the buckle. From a
distance, Pierre couldn’t tell for sure but thought it might have been made of
expensive-looking object would hold half a dozen candles or more. He’d never
seen a design quite like it.
captain waved the candlestick in the air for all to see.
is a Menorah and can only belong to a Jew. It proves the people who lived
in that house were Jews!”
rest of the men gathered around the captain, looking at the candlestick.
When they tried to touch it, the captain jerked it out of their reach.
Huguenots from this village conspired against the government of France. We
only found one. We must find the other man and the rest of the Jews and
captain raised the Menorah in the air as though it were a kind of battle flag.
“I shall not rest until the deed is done! Now, gather up all the papers
and anything else you think I might want later.”
the soldiers began doing as they were told, the captain leaned over and picked
up something from the ground. Pierre thought it looked about the size and
shape of a small wooden frame. The captain pulled a white cloth from his
pocket, wiped off the object, gazed at it for a long moment and tucked it inside
this house to the ground,” the captain demanded, “as a warning to all Jews