Monday, January 14, 2013

Featured Chapter--Where Treasure Hides by Johnnie Alexander Donley



Chapter One
August 1939

The stringed notes of “Rule, Britannia!” grew louder as the crowd quieted, eyes and ears straining in their search for the violin soloist. The patriotic anthem echoed through Waterloo Station’s concourse, and as the second chorus began, sporadic voices sang the lyrics. Travel-weary Brits stood a little straighter, chins lifted, as the violinist completed the impromptu performance, the last note sounding long after the strings were silenced.

Alison Schuyler gripped her leather bag and threaded her way through the crowd toward the source of the music. As the final note faded inside the hushed terminal, she squeezed between a sailor and his girl, murmuring an apology at forcing them to part, and stepped onto a bench to see over the crowd. A dark-haired boy, no more than seven or eight, held the violin close to his anemic frame. His jacket, made of a finely woven cloth, hung loosely on his thin shoulders. The matching trousers would have slipped down his hips if not for his hand-tooled leather belt.

Either the boy had lost weight or his parents had purposely provided him clothes to grow into. Alison hoped for the latter, though from the rumors she’d heard, her first assumption was all too likely. She stared at the cardboard square, secured by a thick length of twine, that the boy wore as a cheap necklace. The penciled writing on the square numbered the boy as 127.

Other children crowded near the young musician, each one dressed in their fine traveling clothes, each one labeled with cardboard and twine. Germany’s castaways, transported to England for their own safety while their desperate parents paced the floors at home and vainly wished for an end to these troublesome days.

“Now will you allow him to keep his violin?” A man’s voice, pleasant but firm, broke the spell cast over the station. The children fidgeted and a low murmur rumbled through the crowd. The speaker, dressed in the khaki uniform of a British Army officer, ignored them, his gaze intent on the railroad official overseeing the children.

“He better,” said a woman standing near Alison. “Never heard anything so lovely. And the lad not even one of the king’s subjects. I’d take him home myself — yes, I would — if I’d a bed to spare.”

Alison mentally sketched the tableau before her, pinning the details into her memory. The officer’s hand resting on the boy’s shoulder; the official, a whistle around his neck, restlessly tapping his clipboard with his pencil; the dread and hope in the boy’s eyes as he clutched his prized instrument. The jagged square that tagged his identity.

The travelers at the edge of the children’s irregular circle collectively held their breaths, waiting for the official’s reply. He shifted his glance from the nervous boy to the expectant passengers, reminding Alison of a gopher she had once seen trapped between two growling mongrels. The memory caused her to shudder.

“He might as well. Don’t know what to do with it if he left it behind.” The official waved a plump hand in a dismissive gesture. He certainly hadn’t missed many meals. He blew his whistle, longer than necessary, and Alison flinched at its shriek.

“Get organized now. Numbers one through fifty right here. Fifty-one through a hundred there. The rest of you . . .”

The show over and the hero having won, the onlookers dispersed, their chatter drowning out the official’s instructions to his refugees.

Alison remained standing on the bench, studying the man and the boy. They knelt next to each other, and the boy carefully laid the violin into the dark blue velvet interior of its case. His slender fingers caressed the polished wood before he shut the lid. The man said something too softly for her to hear, and the boy laughed.

The spark flickered inside her, tingling her fingers, and she knew. This glimpse of a paused moment would haunt her dreams. It rarely occurred so strongly, her overwhelming desire to capture time, to freeze others within movement. She quickly pulled a sketch pad and pencil from her bag. Her fingers flowed lightly over the paper, moving to a rhythm that even she didn’t understand. Tilting her head, she imagined the notes of the violin soaring near the high ceiling, swooping among the arches.

Her pencil danced as she added determination to the man’s jawline and copied the two diamond-shaped stars on his collar. She highlighted the trace of anxiety in the boy’s eyes, so at odds with his endearing smile. What had he left behind? Where he was going? She drew the cardboard square and printed the last detail: 127.

The man clicked shut the brass hinges on the violin case and, taking the boy’s hand, approached the station official. Alison hopped down from the bench and followed behind them, awkwardly balancing the pad, pencil, and her bag.

The brown hair beneath the officer’s military cap had been recently trimmed. A pale sliver, like a chalk line, bordered the inch or so of recently sunburned neck above his crisp collar. Alison guessed he was in his mid-twenties, a little older than she. Identifying him, from his bearing and speech, as gentry, she positioned herself near enough to discreetly eavesdrop.

“Where is young Josef here going?” asked the soldier. “Has he been assigned a home?”

The official gave an exaggerated sigh at the interruption. He lifted the cardboard square with his pencil. “Let me see . . . number 127.” He flipped the pages on his clipboard.

“His name is Josef Talbert.”

“Yes, of course, they all have names. I have a name, you have a name, she has a name.” He pointed the eraser end of his pencil, in turn, to himself, to the soldier, and to Alison.

The soldier looked at her, puzzled, and she flushed as their eyes met. Flecks of gold beckoned her into a calm presence, sending a strange shiver along her spine. She turned to leave, but her stylish black pumps seemed to stick to the pavement. She willed her feet to move, to no avail.

When the soldier turned back to the official, Alison thought the spell would break. She needed to go, to forget she had ever felt the pull of his calm determination, to erase those mesmerizing eyes from her memory. But it was too late. The Van Schuyler fate had descended upon her, and she was lost in its clutches. Her heart turned to mush when the soldier spoke.

“My name is Ian Devlin of Kenniston Hall, Somerset. This lad’s name, as I said, is Josef Talbert, recently come from Dresden. That’s in Germany.” He stressed each syllable of the country. “And your name, sir, is . . . ?”

The official scowled and pointed to his badge. “Mr. Randall Hargrove. Just like it says right here.”

Ian nodded in a curt bow and Josef, copying him, did the same. Alison giggled, once more drawing Ian’s attention.

“Miss?”

She flushed again and almost choked as she suppressed the nervous laughter that bubbled within her. “So sorry. My name is Alison Schuyler.”

“You’re an American,” said Ian, more as a statement than a question.

“Born in Chicago.” She bobbed a quick curtsey. “But now living in Rotterdam, as I descend from a long and distinguished line of Dutch Van Schuylers.” Her fake haughtiness elicited an amused smile from Ian.

Mr. Hargrove was not impressed. “Now that we’re all acquainted, I need to get back to sorting out these children.”

Ian’s smile faded. “Mr. Hargrove, please be so kind as to tell me: where are you sending Josef?”

“Says here he’s going to York.” Mr. Hargrove pointed at a line on his sheaf of papers. “He’s got an uncle there who has agreed to take him in.”

Ian knelt beside Josef. “Is that right? You’re going to family?”

Ja,” Josef said, then switched to English, though he struggled to pronounce the words. “My father’s brother.”

“All right, then.” Ian patted the boy’s shoulder. “Keep tight hold of that violin, okay?”

Josef nodded and threw his arms around Ian’s neck, almost knocking him off balance. “Danke. Tausend dank.”

“You’re welcome,” Ian whispered back.

Alison signed and dated her sketch, then held it out to Josef. “This is for you. If you’d like to have it.”

Josef studied the drawing. “Is this really me?”

Ja,” Alison said, smiling.

Josef offered the sketch to Ian. “Please. Write your name?”

Ian glanced at Alison, then put his hand on Josef’s shoulder. “I don’t think I should—”

“I don’t mind,” she said.

“You’re sure?”

“For him.” She whispered the words and tilted her head toward Josef.

Borrowing Alison’s pencil, Ian printed his name beside his likeness. He returned the sketch to Josef and tousled the boy’s dark hair. Ian opened his mouth to say something else just as another long blast from the official’s whistle assaulted their ears. They turned toward the sound and the official motioned to Josef.

“Time to board,” he shouted. “Numbers 119 to 133, follow me.” He blew the whistle again as several children separated from the larger group and joined him.

“Go now, Josef,” Ian urged. “May God keep you.”

Josef quickly opened his violin case and laid the sketch on top. He hugged Ian again, hesitated, then hugged Alison. They both watched as he lugged the violin case toward the platform and got in the queue to board the train. He turned around once and waved, then disappeared, one small refugee among too many.

Where Treasure Hides
Artist Alison Schuyler spends her time working in her family’s renowned art gallery, determined to avoid the curse that has followed the Schuyler clan from the Netherlands to America and back again. She’s certain that true love will only lead to tragedy—that is, until a chance meeting at Waterloo station brings Ian Devlin into her life. Drawn to the bold and compassionate British Army captain, Alison begins to question her fear of love as World War II breaks out, separating the two and drawing each into their own battles. While Ian fights for freedom on the battlefield, Alison works with the Dutch Underground to find a safe haven for Jewish children and priceless pieces of art alike. But safety is a luxury war does not allow. As time, war, and human will struggle to keep them apart, will Alison and Ian have the faith to fight for their love, or is it their fate to be separated forever.


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1 comment:

Johnnie Alexander Donley said...

Thanks for featuring Where Treasure Hides on your blog, Patty. I very much appreciate it!