The Polish Connection 4
Beth and I had a quick lunch of soup and bread, and again she ate with such gusto as to make me feel that she had been hungry for a very long time. She still had not spoken any real words to me, only her cries for her Papa and her few words in Polish when she had awakened in the morning. But she seemed content to be with me, and I was hoping it wouldn’t be long before her father came again, and we could make some sort of plans for his future as well as hers. I made a list of three possible employers for him.
It was just gone 2 when the door knocker went again, and I hurried to answer it and ushered Peter in, and poor Beth was overwhelmed to see her daddy again. She hugged him hard and long, and seemed as if she would never want to let him go. But we both knew that couldn’t happen.
“Did you sleep at the church again?”
“Yes, and I so much appreciated the sandwiches and other food you gave me. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was until I started eating and it was very good. You must have given me the meat you intended for several meals and I don’t know how to thank you.”
“No need to thank me at all. But we have so little time to make plans, as I don’t want you to be visiting here for too long. Here are some clothes that belong to my husband. I know they won’t fit you, but if you change into them, I can then wash and mend what you are wearing and then you will be more comfortable again.
“I don’t think you can have a bath today as it would take too long to heat the water again,” I said. “I am sorry for that, but perhaps next time I can have the bath all ready and waiting for you when you come.”
So Peter went upstairs to the bathroom, and seeing that I had put a razor out for him, he washed and shaved as well as getting into the new clothes.
“You are so kind. I don’t know how to express my gratitude.”
“My idea is this. Here is a list for you of the men who are in control of some of the businesses in Mellor and Marple Bridge. I think you should tell them that you are a Belgian refugee. There are many of them in the area already, and so that should not be too difficult for them to believe. Do you know anything about Belgium?”
“I have been there, and think I could describe some of it without much hesitation.”
“I am hoping that Rebecca and I can find some books about it so that we can all find out more to make our stories more convincing. But we haven’t had time for that yet. I must tell you my idea. We have a cellar to this house which opens from the outside. You could come here at night when it is dark, and you could sleep there. I can put some food down there for you, and when it is late and there is no danger, you could come into the house for a short time for us to confer and make more plans. What do you think of that?”
“I don’t wish to involve you in any more risk that you are already taking. You know that I am a wanted man by the Germans, and an undesirable alien by the English. You know I could be arrested at any time?”
“Yes, I thought that would be the case. But have you a better plan? This way you could see Beth at least occasionally.”
“Beth – you call Lizbet Beth, now?”
“I hope you don’t mind. We were hoping to make her seem as English as possible and her name, as lovely as it is, does set her apart as a foreigner.”
“How do you like this name, my little Lizbeth?” he asked his daughter. She smiled and hugged him even closer, so he took that as assent from her.
“Now, have we agreed that you will come back here tonight, after it is dark and sleep in the cellar?”
“Yes, let us try that and see how it works. The floor could not be harder than the choir loft.”
“I will provide you with blankets and a pillow and perhaps I can find a camp bed up in the attic. And I will leave some food for your supper. But now, I think it would be as well if you went, as Rebecca will be home from school soon, and most likely will have some friends with her. We have made a point of telling the neighbours that Beth is staying with us, but we don’t want them to know that you will be here too. Can you understand my concern?”
“Yes of course, and I am so very grateful for all that you have done.”
“Now, my poppet Beth, you must go to cousin Barbara again, and Daddy must leave you, but I will be back later and come to kiss you goodnight in your bed.”
She clung to him and started to cry, but he firmly placed her in my arms and went to the door. “I will see if I can make a start from your list for finding a job now, and will see you again later. Again, all my thanks to you.”
It didn’t take long after he left for Beth to settle down, and as she seemed tired, I put her in her bed for a nap. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon sorting out things that would be useful for Peter in the cellar.
He needed blankets and a pillow, but also would need something waterproof to keep them from getting damp when he wasn’t using them, and was hiding them in the space beneath the house. I found a camp bed, an old tent flysheet and a ground sheet and included them both in his pack. I put together some snack foods, and a candle and matches, and a towel and soap, as there was water where he could do basic washing.
I put them all down in the cellar, and then wrote a note saying that when the blind on the kitchen window was down, it meant that it was safe for him to come up into the main part of the house, and that I would leave the back door unlocked.
Rebecca came home from school, and had not brought any of her friends with her. She said she was anxious to get to know Beth better, and as Beth had awakened from her nap, they happily played together until our six o’clock tea time. All the while we were eating, I was listening out for sounds. I knew that when it grew dark, which would be about eight, Peter would be sneaking down into our cellar, and I was so worried that he might be caught. I did the dishes, and encouraged the girls to have a bath and then go to bed early. Beth looked alarmed at having to go to bed without saying goodnight to Papa, as he had promised, and I told her when he arrived, he would come up to her room and wake her up for her goodnight kiss.
I wondered how Peter had gotten on with looking for a job. Perhaps he would get one that would include a place to live, which would be ideal. I had given him the names and addresses of Mr. Jowett who runs the local shovel factory in Marple Bridge, but who also runs the factory just down from our house which makes wadding. Then I also mentioned the Sisters at the Convent, who have men who work in their garden.
I sat by the fire, staring into space, trying to read by book by gas light, but not being able to concentrate. Finally about nine, when it was truly dark, I closed the blind on the back door, and unlocked it and then waited. I hadn’t heard Peter come in, so I didn’t even know if he had made it to the cellar, or if he had either been caught or decided to spend the night back at the church or elsewhere. But not long, perhaps fifteen minutes later, I heard the back door slowly and quietly open, and I rushed to the kitchen, and there he was, with a big grin on his face.
“This is so wonderful of you. I am so pleased that you have allowed me to live here in your cellar. You have thought of everything.”
“I think you must go up and see Beth now, as I promised her you would when you arrived.”
I indicated that her room was the small one on the right at the top of the stairs.
“Thank you, so much,” he said solemnly.
I assume that he woke Beth because I could hear a low conversation going on punctuated with squeals and giggles from her. But luckily I couldn’t make out his male voice, which I was very much aware of. I didn’t want our neighbours in the other half of the semi-detatched house to realise that there was a man in my house. Sounds were not clearly carried from one house to the other, but you could hear pounding noises, if they were doing any repairs to their walls, and if their children cried or screamed, we could hear that. They would expect some noises from us, so I didn’t think they would be thinking that the new noise was other than our new cousin settling into the house.
After twenty minutes or so, Peter came back downstairs.
“How did you get on after you left here today? Did you go to any of the addresses I showed you?”
“Yes, I decided to go to the convent. I told them I was a Belgian refugee and gave my name as Peter Boutch. This is a name which is common in our part of the world, but also I think also in German speaking Belgium. The Lady Superior, Madame Mary Daly said that they had no work at the moment but that if I came back in a week or so, there might be some gardening or other small jobs for me to do. I didn’t get to anywhere else because I had to wait so long at the Convent of the Faithful Companions of Jesus at Mt. St. Joseph's (such a mouthful) and then it was after work time. I walked the streets until it was dark enough to make my way to your back yard.”
“How did you come?”
“I found that if I went down to the stream near the road which leads up the hill, and followed it along, I came out in the field behind your house. Then I easily made my way up to your back yard and then when it was dark and clear, I went straight for your cellar, and luckily found all as you had indicated it would be. By the way, I would like to take some bags with me tomorrow and I can collect firewood and coal along the stream. And there are berries and leaves and roots that I can gather which I can show you how to cook. My mother was a herbalist.”
“Yes of course. That would be lovely. And tomorrow I myself will wash and dry your clothes, but of course I must not hang them outside to dry so they will take longer being just over racks in the bedrooms. And I will see if Beth and I can go to the library to find books about Belgium so that we can acquaint ourselves with the lies we will be telling about your past.”
“I am so sorry that you will have to be telling lies for us.”
“I didn’t mean to make it sound like I was worried by it. I do think we must have an agreed plan as to what we say about where you and Beth are from – and of course, we must have the same stories, all four of us.”
“Have you written to tell your husband?”
“Not yet. I will try to get a letter off to him tomorrow, but I will not mention you just yet. Not until we know how we are going to proceed with all of this.”
“Again, I cannot thank you enough, but now I think I must make my way back to my home in the cellar, and you must lock the door behind me. I will come to see you again late tomorrow night, and report on how my day has gone.” He kissed my hand and went out the back door. I heard a slight click as he closed the cellar door behind him, and then all was quiet.
I took myself off to bed, having locked up and turned off the gas lights, but it was a very long time before I finally fell asleep. What an adventure we had gotten ourselves into.