In the presbytery the telephone rang ten times, perhaps more, before Favert found his glasses in the dark, got his bathrobe on, and got out of the bedroom to answer it. By then, except for the smallest child, the entire household was awake.
"They're coming," said the voice in Favert's ear. It was someone who worked in the mairie, Favert believed--he did not know who--or perhaps someone in the police. The same voice had called in the night in the past, each time warning of a raid.
The pastor started to ask questions but was too late. The other man had already hung up.
"What is it?" The phone was in Favert's office. His wife in her long woolen nightdress, barefoot, stood in the doorway.
His wife's name was Norma. Behind her crowded all the children, including Rachel in a similar nightdress, and for the first time, perhaps because of the stress of the moment, Favert saw that the girl had somehow grown into a young woman. When did that happen, he asked himself? What had become of the child he had taken in, who was so scared, so desperately anxious to please, so in need of love? Somehow she had become as much a part of his family--he was sure Norma felt the same--as their real children.
The pastor didn't know how many Jews were hidden in and around Le Lignon. Over a thousand, certainly. A plan existed for emergencies such as tonight's, and Favert picked up the phone again to put it into operation.
But the line, he found, had gone dead.
This meant that the raid must be imminent, and was the worst news of all. The Jews, who were scattered as far as the most outlying farms, would have to be warned almost individually. The police would come from Le Puy, which was to the west. Jews who lived in that direction would have to be warned first, and he would have to do it himself because whoever rode out that way risked running into the police and being arrested. Would it be the French police again or, this time, the Gestapo? How much time did he have? He would be traveling by bicycle, for he had no car.
"I have to go out," said Favert to his wife, and he looked at Rachel. She could not stay here, he decided. Unlike most of the refugees, she spoke French and might get by, but he was unwilling to take the chance with her life. "Get dressed, Rachel," he said. "Dress warmly. I want you to do something for me."
In his own room he threw on his clothes. "Put the kids back to bed," he said to his wife. "If anyone asks about me, I'm visiting parishioners who are in need."
Rachel was waiting in the big room. He took her out into the night and gave her instructions. She was to pedal east, alerting his section heads who lived in that direction, and then stopping at farms as far as the border of the commune. She was young and strong and would be all right, he believed. She should ride as far as St. Agave and wake up l'Abbé Monnier, the priest there. Ask him to open the church. Tell him that other refugees would be riding in behind her. Monnier was not part of the conspiracy to hide Jews, but he had agreed to help on a temporary basis in emergencies such as this.
Favert got bikes out of the shed, and he put Rachel on Norma's, which was in better shape than her own. The night was dark and cold, and he hoped she would be warm enough. She wore several layers of sweaters, for she owned no coat or jacket, and one of Norma's old skirts cut down to fit, and woolen stockings. She had a kerchief on her head, and a long scarf wound several times around her neck and tied in a loose knot, the ends hanging almost to her waist. There was hardly enough light to see her face, but she was rosy-cheeked as always, young and blooming, smiling up at him, and he saw that she was unafraid, saw no risk, and was anxious to be off. To her, this was an adventure. He also saw that she had no gloves, so he made her take his own, and then gave her a push start down the road.
He himself pedaled first to the schoolmaster's house, and together they woke up several of the students who boarded there, and sent them out on other bikes to knock on the doors of section heads, after that stopping at the various pensions, hotels, and private houses inside the village where Jews lived, telling them to be dressed and out on the street as fast as possible. The schoolmaster had a truck and would pick up as many as he could and drive them to the church in St. Agave. They were to take food and a blanket and nothing else. If the schoolmaster did not come for them in time--he would be collecting children first--they were to run into the woods and hide. The truck could carry thirty or forty refugees at a time standing up, and the schoolmaster had enough carefully hoarded black market gasoline to make four trips, possibly five, if there should be time before the roadblocks went up that would isolate the village.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Innocents Within by Robert Daley. Copyright © 1999 by Robert Daley. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.