The Wedding Dress by Joseph Cordaro

Captain Eddy Campbell nearly spit out the last bite of the bread and jam Madalene had brought up to him for breakfast. He froze with fear at the sound of a German Army truck stopping in front of the old farmhouse in the little French village of La Dame Du Loc. He immediately forgot the pain in his broken right leg and his mouth went completely dry. Sitting upright, Eddy grabbed the sides of the mattress, and tried to raise himself off the bed. “Help me up, I’ve got to get out of here,” he said to Madalene in a shaking voice. He wanted to get up, go out the window, and crawl as far away from the house as possible.

 

The young girl put her arm around him and tried to help him out of bed. Eddy gritted his teeth and attempted to lift himself. The pain confined to his leg mercilessly knifed through his entire body. He sank back into the bed, and Madalene let go of him.

 

“It’s no use, I can’t do it,” he said, looking up into her fear filled eyes.

 

Eddy shifted his gaze and stared up at the ceiling. His fear was not as much for himself as it was for Monsieur and Madam Des Biennes and their beautiful daughter Madalene. They’d hidden him since he was shot down and forced to parachute out of the burning airplane. Madame Des Biennes found him near her strawberry field three weeks ago, his right leg broken from the bailout. She set it as best she could, the family shared their food, and all did what they could to make him as comfortable as possible.

 

Eddy’ s hands shook; he knew the terrible fate about to befall the courageous family who had saved him. Harboring an enemy soldier was a serious offense; they would be shipped off to a concentration camp, or possibly shot on the spot.

 

At the front door Madame Luci argued with the German officer in an attempt to stall as much as she could. Maddi, as she was called, took Eddy’s hand and squeezed it gently. Her eyes darted about the room looking for away out. At seventeen years of age, Maddi was beautiful, bright, and resourceful, but there was no way out of this. The Germans would have them, have them all. Madame Des Biennes’ argument was loud and forceful, but not even this powerful, strong- minded and stubborn woman could put off the inevitable search of her home. The sounds of the sparring voices went silent. The arguing had given way to the sound of heavy footsteps. The house was being searched, and the tramping jackboots, ascending the steps was like the thunder of an approaching violent storm. The footsteps reached the landing at the top of the stairs and approached the bedroom. In a few moments the door would rudely swing open, and the storm

would burst upon them.

 

The footsteps were now almost to the door.

 

As if struck by lightning, Maddi stood bolt upright, and tore off her clothes. To Eddy’s fear and despair there was now added shock and amazement. She leaped on top of him, and straddled his mid- section. He tried to brace himself, but it happened too fast. Maddi’s weight landing on top of him hurt his leg like hell. He managed to stifle a loud scream, which came out as a groan instead. At that very instant the door swung open and a young soldier stepped in.

 

Maddi quickly cupped her breasts with her hands, and screamed at him, “For God’ s sake, does the German Army respect nothing, not even the privacy of a couple on their honeymoon?”

 

The soldier, no more than nineteen years-old, flushed red, but did not trouble to avert his eyes.

 

“Oh pardon Madame, pardon sil vous plais, ” he said with a slight stammer as he backed out of the room, and could be heard descending the steps.

 

Eddy looked at Maddi in wide-eyed amazement. She was not only beautiful, but her coolheadedness had brought off the whole little charade.

As soon as the door latch clicked Maddi got up, softly crying she grasped at her clothing and dressed quickly, all the while trying to hide as much of herself as she could. Eddy hid his eyes, and could only imagine how a seventeen-year-old beauty must feel at just having been naked in the same room with two men. When her shaking hands were finished fumbling with the buttons on her dress, she retrieved the tray she brought Eddy’s breakfast up on.

 

“I must go now,” she said in a sweet low voice, her head bowed low.

 

“Maddi, thank you for what you did, please don’t embarrassed,” Eddy called out softly to her. She dabbed at her tears, forced a smile, and left the room.

 

The house had been searched on the last day of winter, and now it was late spring. Eddy peered out of his bedroom window, taking in the beauty of Monsieur Des Biennes’ green fields. He felt homesick for the days he spent helping his father on his own family’s farm, were it not for his leg he’d be out there helping Pierre. He wanted to do something, anything, to occupy his mind and make the days go faster. This spring brought much more than warm days, much more than her usual promises, much more than budding plants and flowers and serenading songs of birds.  This year she brought to Eddy and the village the glory of freedom. The Allies had landed on the beaches of Normandy and were pushing the Germans relentlessly eastward. Paris would soon be liberated and then all of France.

 

Eddy spent impatient hours in dreams of going home. He grew to love the family who saved him, but now his days were filled with excited anticipation. It would be only a matter of a few more weeks before Monsieur Des Biennes would be able to make contact with an American army unit. Eddy would then be repatriated home to his wife, and the baby boy he had yet to meet. He despaired only in the realization that he could not repay the Des Biennes family, especially Maddi, for all they’d done for him.

 

In a forlorn mood, Eddy placed his elbows on the sill of the open window and rested his head in his hands, “How in God’ s name can I leave here with nothing to offer in return, but a ‘ thank you?’ With my bum leg, I can’t even help out around here, can’t do a damned thing!”

 

Each morning Eddy hobbled down to breakfast, but today he could tell Madame Des Biennes was not quite herself. She wasn’t smiling, and did not contribute much to the usual banter at the morning meal.

 

“What’s wrong Maman?” Maddi asked.

 

“Nothing, nothing. Have you collected the eggs from the hen house yet?”

 

“I will right after breakfast?”

 

“Alright, but I want to speak to you before you deliver them. Come back in the house when you’re

finished gathering.”

 

“Yes, Maman,” she replied in a low voice, and a puzzled tilt of her head.

 

Her  mother had never interrupted Maddi’ s morning routine.

 

Eddy decided a serious family matter was afoot, which did not concern him. Madame Des Biennes could joke and laugh with the best of them, but no one who knew her could ever mistake when she was dead serious about something.

 

Eddy excused himself from the table, and returned to his bed upstairs.

 

Twenty minutes later, Maddi and Madame Luci were conversing in the kitchen. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but the voices made their way up to him. While he could not make out the words, the sound of Maddi crying was unmistakable. She came up to her room, closed the door, and Eddy could clearly hear her sobbing.

 

“Maddi, come, that’s enough now. You must get the eggs to the village … come now,” Madame

Des Biennes voice was gentle, but lacked none of its firmness.

 

Maddi left and as she past under Eddy’s window he could still hear her crying. He loved the young girl like a kid-sister and wanted to ask what was wrong. Whatever it was he dearly wanted to help.

 

At noon, Pierre returned from the fields for lunch. Eddy rolled o f his bed, and limped to the doorway to hear better. He felt guilty about listening in on a private conversation, but he had to know what had so upset Maddi.

 

“Did you tell her?” Pierre asked in a low sad tone.

 

“Yes,” Luci answered.

 

“How did she take it?”

 

“As one might expect.”

 

“But all the money you saved for this day, is there nothing left?”

 

“Not one Franc.”

 

“My God,” Pierre replied in despair.

 

“I could not help it. Don’t forget we had an extra mouth to feed all this time. I had no choice, but to use the money. Eddy fought for our liberation and was badly hurt. Could we put him out, could we turn him over to the Germans?”

 

“No, of course not, Mon Cher. Maddi will just have to understand. I’ ll speak to her after supper.”

 

“You mustn’t, this is for a mother to handle, and you mustn’t mention it to Eddy either. He’s been

through enough.”

 

Eddy jerked his head up in shock.

 

So, this did concern him. All their kindness, courage, and protection had cost Madame Des Biennes her savings, and somehow this was especially hurting Maddi.

 

He had to know, had to help no matter what it took. When Pierre returned to his work in the fields,

 

Eddy came down to the kitchen and found Luci sitting at the table, her head resting in her hands. “Madame Des Biennes,” he called softly.

 

Luci looked up, “Eddy, your leg, you shouldn’t …"

 

. “I heard Maddi crying.”

 

“It’ s alright, she’ s just a girl, she’ ll get over it.”

 

“But, maybe I can help.”

 

“No, no. It’s alright, merci.”

 

Eddy sat down across from Luci and looked into her eyes.

 

Madame Des Biennes, I can never repay what you all have done for me. I feel I’ve become part of your family, and will always consider you a part of mine. I overheard you speaking with Monsieur Des Biennes … I … I know this concerns me, and I want to do something, anything. Please tell me what is hurting Maddi.”

 

Luci stared down at the table for a moment, and then back into Eddy’ s eyes.

 

“You know Maddi will marry Andre in two weeks. A young girl dreams of her wedding day, and especially to wear a beautiful white wedding gown. I managed to put a few Francs away each month to buy the silk to make her a gown. Then you came and … and …”

 

“Yes. Then I came, and you had to use the money to keep me … isn’t that right?”

 

She nodded and said, “But, I regret nothing. So many young Americans have fought and died in France, it’s the least we could have done.”

 

Eddy leaned back in the chair, blew out a breath and lowered his head. He wanted to speak, but his voice would not come. All he could do was reach across the table and gently take the hands of this brave woman. When he found his voice again, he asked,

 

“What will Maddi wear then?”

 

“All I have for her are old dresses I’ve sewn over and over again. None of them, not even one is white. Nothing like the gown I wanted to make for her.”

 

“You mean you’d be able to make the wedding dress yourself ?”

 

“Of course. But even if I had the money, it wouldn’t be safe to travel to Paris to purchase the material yet.”

 

Eddy thought for a moment, smiled at Luci, then using the table as a brace he stood. “Madame Des Biennes, please come with me, I’ll need your help.”

 

 

Eddy sat next to Luci in the church that was filled to capacity. There was not room for everyone and

many others were forced to wait outside.

 

“So many people?” Eddy whispered to Madame Des Biennes.

 

“Yes, the entire village turns out to witness the sacrament of marriage,” she whispered back.At that moment, the church doors opened, the organ played, and standing in the doorway wasMaddi wearing an exquisite, silken white wedding gown. Her pretty young lips wore a sweet smile ofsupreme happiness which was a perfect complement to the lovely gown. On her proud father’ s arm she walked down the aisle as the flowing train trailed fifteen feet behind her. The congregation had never seen anything like it, not even before the war. The villagers stood and craned their necks to see the beautiful bride.

 

Eddy put his arm around Luci, who could not hold back the tears. Sniffling came from every part

of the church as most of the other women, and some of the men, were also crying.

 

It was only a small repayment for what they’ d done for him, but Eddy was thrilled at how happy and radiant Maddi looked in her gown. It was made from the material that Madame Des Biennes helped him dig out of the ground where he buried it. The silken bridal gown that was once the parachute that saved his life.

 

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