When the rains came, she walked in the streets of the old town, looking for a taxi driver who would take her back in time.
Now she was anxious, in spite of herself. The children were still too young to hear her story, the world was indifferent and unwilling, and she was not ready.
The taxi driver, who knew she was running late after taking the wrong train from Paris, would not go all the way up into the village, no matter how important the woman's mission. Late in the afternoon of a misty Savoyard autumn, he refused to take the long route around the lake in the torrential rain and climb up the narrow, steep country road into the village. But he could, since she was so persistent, be tempted to try the new highway, still closed officially to traffic where a long underpass had been cut into the side of the mountain.
He had never gone through the unfinished tunnel before; and if he did she would have to walk on alone in the mud, rain and mist, and scramble up the steep slope of the hill. For her, the journey could not wait for the weather to improve, and for him her story and the urgency of the hour were only as relevant as the fare he would collect when it was all over.
Setting out from
Approaching the gaping black mouth of the tunnel, his daring and defiance aroused now by the challenge more than the fare, he picked up speed as his headlights picked out the exposed water pipes and the damp, forbidding walls. Conscious of their folly but knowing there was no way back now, Betty gripped her seat, and stared apprehensively at the driver and the rough sides of the tunnel, which would open to the public only when all those dangers they were defying had been removed.
In the dark, as the car drove on, she remembered how she and Jacques had arrived in the village 30 years before, escaping the German death machine that had deported her mother and Michel to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Now, on her return, she was again taking risks.
The muffled roar of the car engine reverberating off the damp walls, the light bream reflecting in the dirty puddles on the rough ground, a diffuse sense of fear and expectation. And, then, as they edged forward - a sudden inundation of water, like a great aqueous avalanche, flooding the tunnel on both sides.
With her father and brother she had run away from the Germans by water, on a canal. And now she was going back to her hiding place through a vast tunnel of water. In her mind's eye she saw the newspaper story about an Israeli tourist drowned in a French flood for no good reason. She worried for her husband and children, and wondered why she had not paid the taxi driver more money and talked him into taking the longer, but safer route to the village.
The flash flood forced the car off course, the driver swerved, cursed and with his foot pressed hard on the accelerator swept hesitatingly into the water obstacle. And then, when the water had arched up to splash the windows of the car, blinding them temporarily, it was all over. They were through the dark, watery underpass. And in the overcast twilight, as the car pulled up at the side of the road, she recognized the outline of the village in the mist.
And she remembered how she herself had arrived here, for the first time, in September, 1942, at the modest home of Victor and Josephine Guicherd, a farming couple with a rare sense of courage, compassion and humility.
Clambering up the slope, she spotted familiar sights in the distance, the old church and a farmer's house, where she stopped to ask for help. The woman at the door pointing the way had a face she remembered from her distant childhood. At the junction of two paths, at a signpost in the form of a great stone cross, she knew she would soon be home.
And there it was. The old house. The big wooden barn was still there. The chicken coop was still intact. The fields were still green. The cows were grazing in the pasture.