Hare walked confidently along the ridge overlooking the sea, the turf spongy beneath his feet. The cuffs of his trousers were wet from the late morning rain and green from the new spring grass, delicate to the touch. He had spent the night on the mountain under the stars unafraid of the predators roaming the night. It was high up here on the Tambone, too cold for those who might wish him harm. The sea breezes brought a hundred sensations to his acute nose while his ears, of which he was ever so proud, were attuned to every out of place sound.
He was a timid creature who eschewed the company of others but was confident in his ability to run, run faster than any of his kind, faster than any who might wish him harm. Sitting here now, looking over the bay far below he thought little of running though. He had no need. The world was a wide and beautiful place, the blue of the water and the verdant hills provided all the company that he might ever want.
The booming in the distance was the only distraction to the peaceful tableau before him. It was the men in the town, the men on their boats. Big guns booming, smoke billowing and objects splashing into the water. Men always made noise, always made smells that were hard on his sensibilities. He wished they would go away. Leave him and his kin to the peace the island deserved.
He could see now the big boat, little in the distance, firing out to the sea, beyond the encircling arms of the bay where men lived and worked and died. It had been there for several seasons, occasionally steaming out from the bay, more often than not sitting, moored to its dock at the end of the town. It was black and ugly with a strange red cross on its side. Hare did not like it; the look of it, the smell of it nor the sound of it. Man-made things were always ugly but this thing smelled acrid like Farmer Vincenzo’s gun. He stayed away from both.
As he watched the ugly thing he thought again of Farmer Vincenzo or more to the point, Farmer Vincenzo’s wife. He didn’t know her name; Mrs. Vincenzo, he supposed but she was nice and jolly and fat like Farmer Vincenzo who was not so nice or jolly. She gave Hare carrots sometimes but often an apple or two which he dearly loved. They were from Farmer Vincenzo’s orchard and though Hare could tell that the farmer did not approve of feeding Hare he did not prevent his wife from doing so.
Thinking of this Hare decided it might be a good time to visit Mrs. Vincenzo. His stomach was grumbling in that lazy way it had, not urgently but in a way that was a gentle reminder that food might be a nice idea right about now. Stomachs were generally not things to ignore. They might not talk in so many words but they made their meaning clear often as not.
Hare wondered if it might be a good idea to run but thought perhaps not. Grumbling stomachs tended to grumble more when agitated with such things as running. He was quite happy to walk and enjoy the late morning sunshine as he ambled down the hill to the farm. He thought about apples and carrots and Mrs. Vincenzo’s jolly face, all the while letting thoughts of the boat and its guns disappear into the background. Hare was good at that. Good at forgetting. “Now” was the best time to think about.
It did not take him long to reach the fence that separated the mountain slopes from the farmland belonging to Farmer Vincenzo. He leaped the divide with grace, without really even thinking about it. There was not much that could keep Hare out of where he wanted to go. Not that the fence was meant to keep out hares, or rabbits for that matter which were numerous in the grasslands. The fences were for sheep and cows, too fat to jump, too stupid to go under. Hare was not sure why Farmer Vincenzo fed them. He couldn’t imagine they would be very good company for he and his wife and he had never seen them do a lick of work. Only Horse seemed to be prepared to help around the farm, pulling the farmer’s wagon or till. Hare thought Horse must wish he were a sheep or a cow.
As he continued on his course, Hare felt the hair on the back of his neck stiffen. It was the sound of the wagons which did not have a horse to pull them that made him wary. He did not like them. The men dressed in green and black drove them, the wagons spouting black smoke like the boats on the bay. He thought it might be a good idea to find something for his grumbling stomach elsewhere but could not help being curious. He had not seen the men in green and black at Farmer Vincenzo’s farm before and wondered what they might want, apples possibly but they were strange creatures and it was hard to guess.
Crouching low Hare made his way closer to the farmyard, taking advantage of the long grass which the farmer had yet to cut. Rounding the buildings, he found himself a good view of the yard and the source of the noise he had heard from some distance away. It was a large, ugly green wagon, belching smoke and rumbling unpleasantly as if its stomach had not felt food in many days. Hare knew that wagons did not have stomachs but they made him think of some nasty predator grumbling as they waited for the chance to kill something. Beside it stood the men in green the same colour as their wagon. It was the colour of lichen on rocks high in the fields near the mount. It was tasteless stuff and only worth eating when there were no apples or carrots to be had. It was the colour of deprivation.
Farmer Vincenzo could be seen looking dour and unfriendly. Hare admitted to himself that this was Farmer Vincenzo’s normal mien but this time it seemed to be directed at the men in green and not himself. He wondered if they wanted apples after all.
“If you take my cows how do you expect me to supply you with milk for your café, colonel?” Farmer Vincenzo asked in an angry tone.
The man before him, wearing a soft cap rather than the green pots the rest of the green men wore on their heads, smiled at the older man warmly. He held his arms out to his sides and replied, “Firstly, my dear farmer, I am not a colonel, simply a captain but I suspect you already knew that. Secondly, we do not want all your cows, only one, perhaps one that no longer serves you well or a gelding that you do not need.”
Farmer Vincenzo snorted in derision. “Horses are gelded, not cows and as to not needing any of my animals I would not be feeding them if I did not need them. I would sell them.” Mrs. Vincenzo, Hare noted, had glided up next to her husband and placed a hand on her husband’s shoulder. He looked at her sharply but the look on her face reminded him of the need for restraint with these men. They might smile and use polite words but even Hare could tell they were dangerous. They reminded him, with their dull colours and quiet, smooth demeanour, of snakes; deadly when aroused.
The captain simply watched the silent exchange between husband and wife knowing he had won and that provoking the old man would simply cause unpleasantness he did not care for. At a nod from the farmer he waved to his men and they lowered a ramp from the back of the wagon before taking the cow brought forward by Vincenzo and guiding it up into the back.
Hare noted the smile on Vincenzo’s face as the green men struggled to move the large beast up the ramp, sweating and cursing as they became covered in muck. Finally, though, the cow was loaded and the wagon closed, causing the farmer’s sour expression to return. The captain thanked the farmer as if a favour had been given and joined his comrades at the front of the wagon before it roared and left the farmyard in a cloud of smoke.
Hare was bemused by this, wondering why the green men would want such a stupid creature as the cow. He thought the farmer should be happy to be rid of it but the opposite seemed to be true as the old man kicked a stone hard across the yard. Hare flinched at this and in doing so he caught the eye of the farmer’s wife, Mrs. Vincenzo. She tapped her husband’s shoulder and pointed at Hare, a smile spreading across her face. Vincenzo seemed unimpressed. “Bah! More freeloaders!” he exclaimed before storming off to some now remembered chore.
The jolly woman waved Hare forward as she turned towards the farmhouse. It was her customary gesture when she wished to offer him food. Hare, though he could still smell the horrible smoke from the green men’s wagon, stepped forward to accompany the woman. His stomach was growling again and as he had previously observed, stomachs were best listened to in times such as these, especially when thoughts of lichen were uppermost.
“It’s been a while since we’ve seen you here Lepre. You must be busy. No time for your old friends” she admonished good naturedly. “Still like apples?” she wondered in an offhanded tone. Hare nodded encouragingly and she laughed in a rough, gravelly voice that made Hare think of water bumping over loose stones in a mountain stream. It was easy to relax around the old lady. It made him almost let his guard down, which was quite something given his constant readiness to run in the case of danger. This was a place that was almost as safe as the hills and better yet, there were apples.
“My apologies, Lepre but these are last season’s apples. New ones in a few months I think but they still taste good even if they are on the small side,” she smiled as she passed him a half dozen round, red fruit wrapped in cloth.
Hare took them with a nod of thanks. He sat himself at the foot of the porch and unwrapped the gift cautiously always keeping the elderly woman in his sights. He was not afraid of her nor distrustful of her intentions but it was his nature to be wary of all things that might even remotely pose a danger to him. The fruit looked and smelled delicious however and he set to the first of his treasure with enthusiasm, his nose wrinkling in pleasure. His hind foot thumped in the dirt signalling both his thanks and delight at the sweet taste of the food.
Mrs. Vincenzo raised a bemused eyebrow at the strange creature’s mannerisms but maintained her patient smile as her guest enjoyed his repast. He was an odd beast she thought to herself; long and rangy with dusty blue overalls and nothing else though she knew full well he ranged across the hill tops even in winter where the temperature was not much above freezing. His ears were quite large she thought but the shaggy hair down his back tended to distract from this. He was otherwise clean and tidy she thought and smelled of earth and grass as if he were one with his surroundings.
She could see, peeking out from the pocket of his overalls, the edge of a slightly worn book. He had shown it to her once, perhaps in a moment of uncharacteristic trust several years before. It was a children’s picture book. The story of Peter Rabbit and he seemed quite pleased at the fact that it featured animals wearing clothes, pointing to the protagonist, Peter putting on his little blue jacket.
He was an odd creature but had no name that she knew of for he had never spoken, at least not to her, so she simply called him “Lepre”, the hare. She could not remember why, something she had seen years ago. He was fast though, she knew; she had seen him run. So, Mrs. Vincenzo was always cautious when he was around; careful so as not to upset him for he could take flight at the smallest provocation. Just as she thought this though he rose up suddenly, wary, still clutching the third apple. The farmer’s wife thought it must be her husband returning for she knew her visitor’s hearing was very acute.
The old wooden gate, hinges rusty from disuse, that opened onto the laneway providing entry through the overgrown cypress hedge creaked loudly and unexpectedly. Mrs. Vincenzo was surprised as the entry had not been used in years and a little flustered as her odd guest went from statue-like attentiveness to a blur of speed disappearing round the side of the house and past the barns. He must have heard the steps in the lane, she thought and was prepared to be angry, thinking that the soldiers had returned. As if taking their livestock were not enough; no doubt they were returning to help themselves to the day’s baking.
Unexpectedly however a young woman appeared through the boughs, noisily returning the gate to its former position. She turned and smiled at the old woman as she continued forward to the porch obviously intent on introducing herself. She was small and neatly dressed in a modest skirt and sensible shoes. A blue blouse matching the scarf over her head peeked out from beneath a woollen jacket which seemed adequate to fend off the day’s cool breeze. She pulled her scarf off in seeming deference to the farmer’s wife revealing dark tresses held back with a red ribbon.
“Good morning, Signora,” the young woman said in a friendly tone, her smile dazzling and her voice musical. It took the edge off Mrs. Vincenzo’s initial anger and made her momentarily forget the departure of her guest. “Have I caught you at a bad time?” the girl continued.
Sightly flustered the old woman replied, “No, I was just caught a bit off guard as people seldom use the front gate. Usually they drive through the farm gate as it is a long walk from anywhere, you see.” She said this thinking that it explained her demeanour without letting on that she had a previous visitor. Lepre was a hard one to explain.
“My apologies,” the girl responded, “I didn’t mean to startle you. I was just hoping that you might know if there is anyone around here that might be prepared to give me lodgings. I am new to the area but it seems that all of the rooms in town are being used at the moment.” The farmer’s wife huffed in exasperation at this bit of information.
“The German’s,” she sneered, “They take anything they want as if were theirs to take. Mussolini was a fool to throw his lot in with them and look where it got him.” The girl nodded soberly at the older woman’s outburst but did not comment. Mrs. Vincenzo wondered if she had misspoken as there were many Italians who still favoured the Fascists, even the German ones. The resulting silence was quickly filled however by the girl noting her host’s discomfort.
“I am no friend of the Germans,” said the girl. “My name is Elena. Elena Bianco. I am from Calabria and have been offered work in one of the cafés in the Marina. My cousin Francesco, he is the owner, sent me a telegram saying there was work here,” she explained.
Mrs. Vincenzo nodded in understanding, trying to hide her relief. It did not do to upset the island’s unwanted guests. You were their allies until you were not, then you disappeared. “We have a cottage at the back,” she offered. “It is for workers when they come but these days they do not. My husband and I must do everything ourselves. A little money for rent would not go astray,” she said offhandedly not wanting to be too direct. The truth was that she and her husband were having difficulty making ends meet with the war raging and the Germans taking what they wanted with no recompense.
The girl smiled happily. “That would be wonderful!” she said. “It is so beautiful here. You must love being able to see the ocean from your front yard.” Mrs. Vincenzo nodded in agreement but thought it an odd comment all the same. It was quickly forgotten though as the girl posed an amount towards rent which seemed high and most welcome. As they continued their talk, Mrs. Vincenzo guided Elena Bianco around the house towards the cottage, which had seen little use in the last several years.
Hare had not gone far after the girl had entered the yard. He had taken shelter behind the barn, the spot where he had spied upon the farmer and his wife earlier. He had thought initially that Farmer Vincenzo had returned from whatever chores he had been attending but from his hiding spot he was surprised to see the young woman, dressed in brown, chatting to Mrs. Vincenzo. He mourned the loss of his last apple but still clutched half eaten one before him. He nibbled quietly as the women conversed but was careful to keep as silent as possible. The newcomer did not seem a threat and Mrs. Vincenzo seemed happy as she guided the younger woman about the yard. It was odd thought Hare. He knew most of the faces of the people on the island. He had been most everywhere about the island watching the comings and goings of its residents even the new ones, the men in green. This one though he had not seen before, she was newer still.
Generally, Hare did not like new things. They required time to get used to; time to assess how dangerous they were. This young woman seemed different however. Hare did not sense danger but he sensed there was something about her that was not right. He thought of a flower spider, beautiful and charming but lethal to those who came too near. He discarded the thought quickly however. He could not imagine Mrs. Vincenzo being fooled by a spider.
The women disappeared into the little old building behind the main house as he mulled over these thoughts and he wondered if it were a good time to depart. There were other places he might find food and he was still hungry. He thought it not a good idea to return to the fallen apple with Mrs. Vincenzo nowhere in sight and the farmer possibly close at hand. As he considered this however he found it hard to pull himself away. The young woman intrigued him and he was curious as to why she had come. He knew she was not known to Mrs. Vincenzo but all the same the jolly old woman had seemed happy to see her. Also, she was…pretty.
It seemed odd to him that he should think this. He was a hare after all and she was a human. In his book, his most cherished possession, Peter had never expressed any interest in humans, only their vegetable patch. Of course, he thought, Peter was only a rabbit and everyone knew that rabbits were…well.. poorly educated. They might wear jackets and dresses but they did not read. Hares read however, or at least he did and he was a hare. You did not have to be smart to wear clothes but to read was another thing altogether. Hare wondered if the pretty girl could read.
As he wondered these unaccustomed thoughts Hare found himself moving carefully and quietly towards the little house. He could the women inside conversing but could not quite make out what they were talking about. He liked the sound of the pretty girl’s voice. It was not harsh like the green men and did not sound angry like Farmer Vincenzo. In fact, it was even nicer than Mrs. Vincenzo’s gravelly laugh.
He sat crouched beneath the cottage window wondering if he should dare to peek inside when the double windows above him opened on their creaky hinges sending a cloud of dust down on top of him. Hare froze, every muscle tensed to run as fast as he could but all that happened was that he could hear Mrs. Vincenzo above him prattling on to her guest about the view and the fresh air. From where Hare sat the air was not terribly fresh and the dust that had settled over him had begun to make his nose twitch in irritation. He snuffed and snorted but held back the sneeze that threatened to come.
Mrs. Vincenzo, despite her prattle, must have heard him as she leaned out the window to investigate the source of the noise. Hare looked up at her in trepidation but she simply smiled and nodded at him before returning to her guest.
“Is there something wrong?” the pretty girl asked, noting the change in the older woman’s demeanour.
“Oh no,” Mrs. Vincenzo replied with an amused smile. “I must be hearing things. Old age you know?” The young woman seemed unconvinced but did not pry further nor give in to the urge to look out the window to see for herself what the source of the “huffing” was. Suspicion bred suspicion and she could have none of that so early in the game. Instead she retuned her attention to her host and asked all the correct questions and offered all the correct observations; all designed to put the older woman at ease.
Hare felt slightly embarrassed at being found out. He should have run as soon as the pretty girl arrived, he should now be visiting Mr. McGregor’s farm and eating his beans. There really was no Mr. McGregor but Don Antonio, the doctor who lived near the edge of town, looked a bit like Mr. McGregor in his book, with his white beard and round glasses perched atop his nose. He had a little vegetable patch in the back of his cottage and never seemed to mind when Hare visited and helped himself to the beans that were planted there. Hare sometimes wondered, since he had never seen Don Antonio picking the beans himself, why he kept them. Humans were odd folk he thought but he did not mind as the purple and white beans were quite delicious.
As he heard footsteps in the front hall Hare thought the time had come to leave so without another thought he raced past the barn once again and over the fence, away from the road and into the field. The day had become glorious with sunshine and the dampness had lifted from the grass as his calloused feet carried him onward towards Marina di Campo and the beans planted just for him.
So, it was quickly settled and the young woman calling herself Elena Bianco handed Mrs. Vincenzo the money for the first month’s and the last month’s rent. Mrs. Vincenzo though this an odd thing but the girl insisted, claiming that this was the way they did things in the city. It was claimed that she did not want her hosts feeling that she was taking advantage of their good nature and trust. Mrs. Vincenzo thought to protest but considered how much they needed the money and also, to be quite honest, did not want to appear to be a “manzo”. She knew that people from the city often thought country people stupid and boorish and though she had never been to the mainland she refused to be considered uncultured.
The farmer’s wife had given the young woman a tour of the farm and introduced her to Mr. Vincenzo who did his best to seem unsurprised at his wife’s good fortune in such times of trouble. He bid the ladies good day and continued on with his work, the couple silently agreeing to refrain from any mention of their earlier visitor. The girl might think them mad after all.
The young woman was an adept observer however and though she had missed the departure of Hare due to Mrs. Vincenzo’s distracting prattle, she had noted the significant looks exchanged by the couple. There was a mystery here and she was confident that it would out itself at some point in the future. She was not concerned however as she doubted such a pair could be up to anything nefarious. The location was ideal and the view perfect for her needs. The fact that the German troops occasionally visited to raid the farm’s larder was an occupational hazard. The girl doubted there were many farms that avoided such insult and those would all be abandoned.
No, it was best to be out in the open rather than hiding in a derelict barn somewhere hoping to avoid detection. Her story was not uncommon; a girl displaced by the privations of war moves to the country to take up residence near some long-lost cousin and finds a job to make ends meet with the hopes of sending money home to mama and papa. The soldiers in this out of the way part of the world no doubt were far too bored to investigate such claims and more interested in stealing food from the locals. She would be fine and her mission would proceed as expected.
His stomach had begun to grumble again and Hare sat down next to an old rose bush to contemplate his options. Don Antonio’s cottage was nearby now but too close to town for his liking. Hare had been throughout the town and knew every road, every laneway, the commons and the hedgerows, all the best places to hide. He had explored every inch over the years but always at night when the townsfolk had gone off to bed. He knew some nights were different. Some nights people wandered the streets, laughing and singing, sometimes dancing and falling down. Often these same happy people could be seen to disgorge the contents of their stomachs but oddly enough they left it where it lay, not doing the obvious thing and eating it again. Humans were strange creatures as he had observed many times before.
It did not seem right, in the middle of the day, to be so close to the town. Often, he would visit Don Antonio’s garden in the evening after the sun had set. Sometimes he would find the old man sitting in his big chair, feet up on an overturned crate, sipping strong smelling liquid from a glass. Hare would nod politely at the man that looked so much like Mr. McGregor from his book and the old man would often raise his glass in salute gesturing towards the garden as if to say, “Take what you need.”
As with Mrs. Vincenzo, Hare trusted Don Antonio and sometimes sat eating beans, and occasionally lettuce when it was in season. While he did so the old man talked of things which Hare had difficulty comprehending. He spoke of Mrs. Antonio and how she had gone someplace high up; perhaps the mountains, Hare thought as the old man gestured with one finger towards the sky. Hare thought it odd that he had never seen Mrs. Antonio in the mountains but perhaps she was very good at hiding. Don Antonio often spoke of his work which seemed to involve fixing people. It seemed strange to Hare that people should do this. Other creatures fixed themselves or, more often than not, simply died. That seemed to make more sense. There was only so much room and if everyone got fixed then there would be no more room left.
Sometimes he would ask Hare questions like “What have you been up to today?” or “Where is your family?” These seemed silly questions to Hare as the answers were obvious. Every day was spent finding food and a place to sleep and as for family, he had none; he was a hare. Hare thought that a man like Don Antonio, a man who obviously read if he were to know how to fix people, must know that hares had no family. They lived on their own and were abandoned by their mothers when they very young. So young in fact that Hare could not remember his own mother. Not that it mattered; he was fine on his own.
So, Hare kept silent and Don Antonio did not seem to mind. He was a kind man and never raised his voice while Hare was around, seeming quite happy to share his garden and his company with the strange creature that visited on occasion. Often while he ate however he would notice the old man watching him sadly. He thought it must be because Mrs. Antonio had gone up into the mountains and left him on his own. He was not a hare after all and would find this difficult.
Today however Hare was considering visiting the garden while the sun still shone high overhead. It would make sense to wait until sunset but the thoughts of the pretty girl confused Hare and made him want to visit Don Antonio as much as he wanted to savour the vegetables that were to be found in his backyard. He wondered at this and rubbed the worn edge of his prized possession, the book that resided in his pocket. Peter would have not thought twice about doing something so foolish. He would have lost his jacket and been chased by the humans that did not like his kind.
The book Hare carried was a reminder to him of what not to do. The things that rabbits did; foolish animals that were constantly getting themselves into trouble. It had more than once kept him from making a poor choice but today it simply reminded him that he was alone, unlike Peter who had a mother and three sisters. He was proud to be a hare but sometimes, just sometimes he wished he might have what Peter had. Today was one of those sometimes.
Elena Bianco rode her bicycle back to the town with the intention of collecting her bags from the hotel at which she had been briefly staying. There was not much in the way of belongings but travelling light had been a necessity as of late. She was pleased with her success today. Finding a place to stay, close to town and away from the German troops made her life just a bit easier. Her shift at the café did not start until noon giving her the morning to explore the town and its surroundings, meeting the people and getting the general lay of the land.
She did not have much time she knew. The last week of May would arrive soon and everything would change. She simply needed to do her job and keep her boss happy then she could be headed back to where she belonged. The island was beautiful; there was no argument from her but she could not fathom the love people here had for quietness and sameness. She longed for the bustle of the city, the people coming and going about their business. The country life was simply not for her.
As she rode, she waved to the people she passed, sometimes receiving a smile and wave in return, other times a frown and a look of suspicion. She was not bothered. The old woman sweeping her front step gave her a wide toothless grin and a nod, the gentleman with the cane doffed his capped head in admiration of her legs, the little girls broke from their skipping and ran alongside her laughing merrily and the shoeless boy watched her in all seriousness from behind a weeping elm. They were an eclectic group but they had one thing in common; they had yet to know the full brutality of the war.
Elba was a self-sufficient world, for the most part left alone as it supplied some little iron for the war effort. Being too far away from most other places it was up to now an unimportant piece of geography to either the Axis or Allied forces. The Front was moving however and as Italy became lost to the Fascists, attention was moving towards the island as a possible base for interdicting Naval traffic. The Germans had bolstered its forces here but with so many beaches and so few good men to spare from either the Western or Eastern Front it was vulnerable.
These people did not see that however. The Germans had suspended all radio communication other than what they themselves used to keep in contact with their commanders. The citizens had little idea of what occurred on the mainland, of the Allied drive across Italy to push out Hitler’s troops less than six months before. They lived in a sea of relative calm as the world around them devolved into chaos. She, on the other hand, had seen it and lived through it and thus had difficulty reconciling the attitudes of her new neighbours. Ignorance was truly bliss.
“Elena!” a voice called from a shop front as she was passing. The girl stopped to see Francesco hailing her from in front of the apothecary. He was carrying several packages but managed to waggle his fingers in greeting. The young man was tall and dark with a hook nose and heavy brows. “Did you find a place?” he asked circumspectly, looking to either side to ensure no one was listening.
She nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, the Vincenzo’s, the farm a kilometre out of town, they have a cottage which is perfect!”
The young man shook his head in trepidation. “The Germans visit there all the time. They take those people’s milk and only today they stole a cow!”
Elena shrugged knowing this already and acting as it made no difference. “You worry too much, Francesco. They won’t even see me and Mrs. Vincenzo will keep them from finding out I am staying there. She doesn’t like them any more than you do.”
“Elena, this is dangerous,” he hissed, careful that no one might overhear him. “If anyone finds out you are here…” the dark young man began plaintively.
“Everyone know I am here, Francesco. I have made a point of that. I have introduced myself to everyone I possibly can and made sure they all know that I am your cousin,” she assured him breezily.
“But no one is going to believe that!” the nervous café owner pleaded.
The young woman leaned forward with an eyebrow raised, one hand still on the handlebars of her pretty blue bicycle. “Everyone believes it,” she admonished him sternly. “I am your cousin from Calabria, come here to escape the war. You are the hero who has given me safe haven from the Allies or the Germans depending on your audience. After all, I plan to stay and help you; to make a home here. That is the end of the story and the one you will tell anyone who asks because it is what people need to know.” She smiled then as if the sun had broken from behind the storm clouds of her eyes. “You asked me here, remember. It is far, far too late to have a change of heart. The danger is to both of us now so smile as if nothing can go wrong because it won’t.”
She could tell he was about to reply so she held a hand up to forestall him. The couple had company. “Are those mine?” a voice asked from behind Francesco causing the young man to turn in fright. Elena smoothed over the other man’s consternation by answering on his behalf.
“Don Antonio! So nice to see you again! My cousin was just telling me how he had just been to the Post Office,” the girl enthused with a disarming smile.
“Yes, I had asked Francesco to pick something up for me. An ointment for one of my patients. Did it arrive, my boy?” the doctor asked seeming not to notice the other man’s look of relief.
“Si, Doctor. I was bringing it to you. It thought you were working all day,” the relieved younger man replied.