VIVE LA FRANCE

By James Gahagan

                  Pierre, Pierre,” silently the whisper came. “Where are you?”  The answer came, “Quiet, Jon! Over here, to your left.”  Jon crawled on his belly to where he thought Pierre was.  He was standing in the shadows.  It was a moonless night, a perfect night for the underground.  Jon glanced about him.   He was under a large bridge.     Running over the bridge there were four sets of track, a junction at one end.  It was their job to destroy it; delay the Germans; slow them up; that’s it.  Slow them up.  There was a roar; He saw Pierre drop to the ground; he dropped also.  Everything seemed to be floating about.  He heard a shout from Pierre; he started to run; Jon followed him.

Jon was seventeen.  His brother, Pierre, was about twenty- six.  He was married and expecting a son.  Their father was a Free French patriot and peasant, as they themselves were.  Their mother, well, she was killed by the Nazis, the slime; they killed her because she tried to hide an English pilot.  He had been shot down in a dogfight.  She was killed instantly, resisting arrest, so they say.  Jon was breathless as he caught up with Pierre.  They were running through some dying cornstalks now. Pierre stopped.  So did Jon.  John followed every move of his.  They were nearing a barn now.  Jon knew where he was.  It was the house of the Durands; they were his neighbors.  It was a cool night, Jon thought, beautiful in its dark, black, mysterious way. “Jon, Jon, what are you doing, dreaming? Come on, hurry.”  Jon suddenly snapped out of it. “What am I doing?” he whispered. “I must hurry. Pierre is calling me.”  They climbed out of the hay wagon a half hour later.  They went inside their barn, down through a trap door, up into their cellar, the Duval’s cellar.  “They were home, home,” Jon chuckled .  “If you could call it “home.”  It was getting light out now. He must get to bed, get some sleep.  But he thought, “How can I get some sleep? Always running, running, hiding.  When will it be over?  When will it all end or when will they catch up to us?

When!  When!  “Damn Nazi lice,” he muttered.  The moon was shining bright now.  It will be morning soon.  “Why don’t they bomb our city, Melun?  I wished they would,” whispered Jon.

When he awoke, he washed in his basin and rushed downstairs; It was quiet, he noticed.  Even Pierre was eating already.  He sat down to a bowl of hot soup and black bread.  Porridge was too hard to get.  “What’s wrong with Pierre? Why so quiet, Papa?”  Pierre answered, “They killed five hostages last night”

“Who?  Where they?”

“The Durands, the whole family,” he spat and cursed.  Jon knew why they were   killed. Because their sabotage was good, too good.  But it must not stop the French patriots.  They must go on.  They killed hostages all the time.  He must have been thinking out loud, for Papa answered, “Jon, before he died, I mean Monsieur Durand, he said we must keep doing the good work until we kill all the German swine.”  Papa didn’t have to say more.  It meant that he, Jon Duval and Pierre and all the French patriots must avenge his death, until they themselves would pay with their lives.  Death is the penalty for patriotism!

The meal was finished in silence.  Papa got up and left rather hurriedly.  Jon’s thoughts ran to how his mother was killed and then ran across how the Durands were shot.  Papa came running back.  Now he was pale but outwardly rather calm.  He shut the door quickly and said, “They’ve come for us, Jon. They’ve come.  Where’s Pierre?“  Jon suddenly realized that Pierre wasn’t opposite him.  He must have left while he was—well, sort of dreaming.  He called, “Pierre, Pierre.”  He realized he had uttered the same words last night.  What could it mean?  Pierre came down the steps slowly.  He had no expression on his face. He looked as if he had expected this to happen. He said, “I saw them.”

There came a pounding on the door; a guttural voice yelled, “Open up!”  Pierre loosened the latch; the door was flung open. Four Nazi soldiers marched in and stationed themselves in a straight line. Then in walked a rather large but well-shaven man, a captain.  He had fiery black eyes and dark hair. He merely said, “We’ve come for the hostages.”  Pierre and Jon knew their time had come. They stepped forward in front of Papa.  They listened and waved.  Pierre yelled, “Viva La France,” then quietly turned and followed Jon who waved and, with a smile that said a lot of things to his father, turned   and walked swiftly on.  He was thinking, thinking of the Durands.  He was still smiling. He was happy.  Now he had done his work well.  But he was paying as others had paid.  When he had blown up the bridge and derailed the train, a trainload of soldiers going to Paris, he had done his work well.  So had Pierre.  He looked at Pierre.  He was smiling, too.  But his brows were turned down.  He was thinking also.  He was looking at the sky, but he was smiling.  Jon remembered that smile from when he blew up the bridge.  He was glad to die for France.  Free France.  He remembered how his mother was killed.  He remembered the look on his father’s face when he said, “Ma Ma’s dead,”  and when Monsieur Durand had said, “Keep up the good work; keep it up until we kill all the Nazi swine.”

They were lined up against the wall now, waiting for the rest of the so-called hostages.  He ripped off the blindfold offered by the German captain.  He stared at the receding sun.  He was thinking: first the Durands, then the Duvals. Who will be next?  We must and will fight til death or til the death of fascism.  The French Patriots will live on and on.  He whispered, “Vive La France.”  The sun sank beneath the horizon.  There was a crash of guns and out of their echo came the faint cry, “Vive La France.”

Posted in: 1943 Stories

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