The Nightingale
Author:Hannah, Kristin

It was all anyone could talk about these days, and Vianne didn’t want to hear it. Especially not on this lovely summer day.

 

She tented a hand across her eyes and stared at her daughter. Beyond the river, the green Loire Valley lay cultivated with care and precision. There were no fences, no boundaries, just miles of rolling green fields and patches of trees and the occasional stone house or barn. Tiny white blossoms floated like bits of cotton in the air.

 

She got to her feet and clapped her hands. “Come, Sophie. It’s time to go home.”

 

“You can’t ignore this, Vianne.”

 

“Should I look for trouble? Why? You are here to protect us.”

 

Smiling (too brightly, perhaps), she packed up the picnic and gathered her family and led them back to the dirt road.

 

In less than thirty minutes, they were at the sturdy wooden gate of Le Jardin, the stone country house that had been in her family for three hundred years. Aged to a dozen shades of gray, it was a two-story house with blue-shuttered windows that overlooked the orchard. Ivy climbed up the two chimneys and covered the bricks beneath. Only seven acres of the original parcel were left. The other two hundred had been sold off over the course of two centuries as her family’s fortune dwindled. Seven acres was plenty for Vianne. She couldn’t imagine needing more.

 

Vianne closed the door behind them. In the kitchen, copper and cast-iron pots and pans hung from an iron rack above the stove. Lavender and rosemary and thyme hung in drying bunches from the exposed timber beams of the ceiling. A copper sink, green with age, was big enough to bathe a small dog in.

 

The plaster on the interior walls was peeling here and there to reveal paint from years gone by. The living room was an eclectic mix of furniture and fabrics—tapestried settee, Aubusson rugs, antique Chinese porcelain, chintz and toile. Some of the paintings on the wall were excellent—perhaps important—and some were amateurish. It had the jumbled, cobbled-together look of lost money and bygone taste—a little shabby, but comfortable.

 

She paused in the salon, glancing through the glass-paned doors that led to the backyard, where Antoine was pushing Sophie on the swing he’d made for her.

 

Vianne hung her hat gently on the hook by the door and retrieved her apron, tying it in place. While Sophie and Antoine played outside, Vianne cooked supper. She wrapped a pink pork tenderloin in thick-cut bacon, tied it in twine, and browned it in hot oil. While the pork roasted in the oven, she made the rest of the meal. At eight o’clock—right on time—she called everyone to supper and couldn’t help smiling at the thundering of feet and the chatter of conversation and the squealing of chair legs scraping across the floor as they sat down.

 

Sophie sat at the head of the table, wearing the crown of daisies Antoine had made for her at the riverbank.

 

Vianne set down the platter. A delicious fragrance wafted upward—roasted pork and crispy bacon and apples glazed in a rich wine sauce, resting on a bed of browned potatoes. Beside it was a bowl of fresh peas, swimming in butter seasoned with tarragon from the garden. And of course there was the baguette Vianne had made yesterday morning.

 

As always, Sophie talked all through supper. She was like her Tante Isabelle in that way—a girl who couldn’t hold her tongue.

 

When at last they came to dessert—ile flottante, islands of toasted meringue floating in a rich crème anglaise—there was a satisfied silence around the table.

 

“Well,” Vianne said at last, pushing her half-empty dessert plate away, “it’s time to do the dishes.”

 

“Ahh, Maman,” Sophie whined.

 

“No whining,” Antoine said. “Not at your age.”

 

Vianne and Sophie went into the kitchen, as they did each night, to their stations—Vianne at the deep copper sink, Sophie at the stone counter—and began washing and drying the dishes. Vianne could smell the sweet, sharp scent of Antoine’s after-supper cigarette wafting through the house.

 

“Papa didn’t laugh at a single one of my stories today,” Sophie said as Vianne placed the dishes back in the rough wooden rack that hung on the wall. “Something is wrong with him.”

 

“No laughter? Well, certainly that is cause for alarm.”

 

“He’s worried about the war.”

 

The war. Again.

 

Vianne shooed her daughter out of the kitchen. Upstairs, in Sophie’s bedroom, Vianne sat on the double bed, listening to her daughter chatter as she put on her pajamas and brushed her teeth and got into bed.

 

Vianne leaned down to kiss her good night.

 

“I’m scared,” Sophie said. “Is war coming?”

 

“Don’t be afraid,” Vianne said. “Papa will protect us.” But even as she said it, she remembered another time, when her maman had said to her, Don’t be afraid.

 

It was when her own father had gone off to war.

 

Sophie looked unconvinced. “But—”

 

“But nothing. There is nothing to worry about. Now go to sleep.”