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London Blitz: Danita's Story
Stepney, London--April, 1941
Blackout curtains hid London's devastation from the little girl. Most of the time, she lived indoors, her mother afraid for her safety. Stark empty shells of the semi-detached homes lined the streets on either side of them. Somehow, miraculously, only a few dozens houses on their street in Stepney had escaped most of the shelling. Now, in the lengthening days, seven months after the Blitz began, the green grass was growing up around the empty shells of the emtpy homes, contrasting with the blackened bricks.
"Mummy? Why do we have to live indoors?" the little girl asked, brushing her long black hair out of her eyes.
"We're being bombed, Danita," her mother Carmiela told her, and not for the first time.
"By whom, Mummy? Who is bombing us?" a querrelous Danita wanted to know. Carmiela knew very well that Danita knew who was doing the bombing, but she knew her daughter needed to keep talking about the bombings. She was just six when the Blitz began, and celebrated her seventh birthday on 1 November in an air raid shelter, crouching in fear, as the bombs dropped on London.
"By the Germans," Carmiela told her, but she knew instantly that her remark would be pounced upon by her little daughter, who would demand to know if all the people in Germany were bombing the country. Carmiela opened her mouth to tell her daughter this, but her daughter beat her to it.
"Are all the people in Germany bombing us, Mummy?" Danita asked.
"No, Danita. Not everyone in Germany wants to bomb us. We have relatives in Germany. Do you think they want to bomb us?"
"No," Danita responded.
"Our relatives have friends, and those friends don't want to bomb us."
"And those friends have friends who have friends who don't want to bomb us. Right, Mummy?"
"That's right, Danita. There's some bad people in Germany who want to take over England."
"What's take over?"
"The bad people want to create a new goverment in England and we would live like the Germans do," Carmiela said, unsure of how to explain to a seven year old girl why the Germans were bombing England, and invading most of Europe. She recalled that stark day in the previous September when the sky was filled with German bombers and fighter planes--the planes formed a squadron twenty miles wide and filled eight hundred square miles of sky. That day--the 7th of September, marked the beginning of the Blitz.
"So part of Germany wants to make England a territory," Danita told her mother.
Her mother was surprised. She'd known Danita was an inquisitive little girl, a demanding child, who wanted to know everything. Somehow Carmiela wasn't surprised that Danita had discovered for herself the concept of countries having territories. She'd have to watch herself carefully, lest Danita discover things best kept from little girls.
Carmiela decided that her daughter's idea of what Germany wanted to do to the English people would suffice for now. She herself had a difficult time thinking about the concentration camps she knew Hitler had created. That information wasn't well known to the general populace, for only a few smuggled papers had landed in British hands, and those papers were from Warsaw. Carmiela had read the accounts that were couriered by the underground network, and she found them horrifying.
It had been months since she'd heard from her relatives in Hamburg, just across the English Channel. She hoped her first cousin, Sarah, was safe--or at the very least that Sarah was in hiding, preferably in Switzerland.
"Mummy?" Danita's voice interrupted her thoughts. Her mind went back to Danita's last statement.
"Yes, that's what Germany wants to do to us. The Germans..."
"Some of the German people," her daughter interrupted.
"Some of the German people want to govern England as their territory. So they bomb us, hoping we'll surrender."
"We will not surrender. We will beat those bad people," Danita said.
"I hope so," her mother told her.
"I know we will. I always get what I want," Danita said, smiling and showing her teeth. Danita always tried to find time to smile for smiles hid the hurt she felt when all her friends had been sent away.
"Can I go out into the garden and jump rope?" the little girl now queried her mother. Their garden was ten metres by ten metres and surrounded by a high brick wall. The few vegetables they ate came from their own garden. They also grew herbs and sold them to earn a little extra money. The aristocratic class craved fresh herbs and were willing to pay a premium. This extra money gave the Weissman's a small, but desperately needed financial cushion.
"Yes, but only for a little while, Danita. If you hear a loud buzz, you are to come immediately indoors," Carmiela said sternly, taking Danita's chin in her hand and tipping the little girl's face upwards.
"Yes, Mummy. I will, Mummy," Danita told her. Carmiela kissed her daughter on the head. As the little girl skipped off, Carmiela reflected how much Danita had grown in the past year. She's going to be tall, like her father, thought Carmiela.
"Check on the herbs, Danita!" Carmiela called after Danita.
"I will!" her daughter's high clear voice responded.
The extra money from raising herbs went to purchase necessities. War rationing was in full effect, and although children were allowed more coupons for clothes and shoes, there never seemed to be enough coupons to keep up with Danita. Danita was going through a growth spurt and she'd already outgrown two wool coats.
Carmiela had traded the coats to one of Lord Malcolm's sculley maids for soap, extra sugar and extra tea. She'd cursed the aristocratic class for being able to afford such luxuries--with their money, and their family in America who could send them such luxuries, the aristocratic class were weathering the rationing well. The women who worked as maids for the wealthy and powerful in London had regular access to soap, sugar and tea for their personal consumption. Wool coats were another thing for the maids, however. Wool was in short supply and wool coats--particularly children's wools coats--cost their new owner two full size bars of soap, five pounds of sugar and a pound of tea--per coat.
It was just as well that Danita wanted to go out and jump rope. Carmiela had work to do. She went to the large wall secretary. She opened the main doors, then pulled out a drawer set in the middle of the secretary. There, snuggled behind the doors, was a hidden compartment. From this compartment Carmiela pulled out the large envelope that was there.
From outside, she heard Danita's voice as she sang a jump rope song to herself. Such a shame that there are no other children for her to play with...most of the neighborhood children had been sent out of the city. Some of those kids had been sent to America. Carmiela didn't know why she had kept Danita in Southwark with her. She'd fervently hoped the Blitz wouldn't strike their neighborhood, and she suspected that soon she'd have to take her daughter and flee.
But she especially hoped she'd be able to keep her daughter ignorant of her work.
For the work Carmiela was doing could get her killed by a German agent. And Danita would be put in harm's way as well.
Carmiela sat down and opened the envelope. She tilted the envelope towards the desktop in the secretary. Small pieces of paper fluttered out.
Carmiela had been trying to re-arrange the pieces of paper. They were from Warsaw, smuggled first to Copenhagen then by ferry to England and finally to London. The courier had been a young boy, scared and scarred. He'd escaped from the ghetto area of Warsaw and the horrid truths which came with Moshe in his mind were forever burned into Carmiela's memory.
He'd seen his neighbors, his friends, his family rounded up as if they were cattle. The people were marched in the streets and German officers took turns randomly shooting--and killing--Moshe's friends and family.
How he'd managed to escape was nothing short of astonishing. Moshe had sneaked up behind a German officer and struck him on the head with a brick. Moshe had then stripped the German officer naked, and put on the uniform. He took the unconscious man and tied him spread-eagled between two cars.
From Warsaw, and in a German uniform, Moshe had been able to escape to Copenhagen where he'd been directed to London.
Reflecting upon this, Carmiela sometimes wondered if Moshe should have gone on to America, or at least to Ireland for the duration of the war.
As she tried to arrange the little pieces of paper--a frustrating puzzle for her--she became lost in concentration. Everything dwindled down to putting this paper puzzle together, for these small pieces of paper were the documentation that the M5 needed to begin infiltrating the German spy network. Moshe had risked his life to bring the information about the Germans over to England. These papers contained names, ranks, home addresses and present military postings of a German regiment.
Carmiela was so lost in conversation that she didn't hear Danita come up behind her. Danita had been observing very quietly so as not to disturb her mother. She knew her mother was a linguist, and she knew her mother spied for the British.
Why was her mother so secretive about her work? Standing behind her mother, Danita now remembered the day she'd discovered her mother was a spy.
Danita had lain behind the sofa one day, playing hide and seek with her imaginary friend Rebecca and she'd fallen asleep. She'd woken up to hear her mother talking in very hushed tones with a man Danita didn't know.
"You know what could happen if you're discovered, Carmiela," the deep tenor voice said. Danita had known his voice was a tenor because her father had the same tambre of voice. Danita had also known this man's accent was North London. Danita knew all the London accents--well, at least she'd known all the accents before the war.
"I know. I'm willing to risk it," replied her mother.
"Are you willing to risk your daughter's life?" was the next question.
"I would never willingly risk Danita's life. I would send her away to live with a farmer in Ireland, or even to America if I thought something would happen to her. I've got the extra money from the herb garden. I could afford to send the money for her upkeep."
"You might want to make arrangements to do that, Carmiela. This is undercover work. If you're caught, and there are German agents in London--we just don't know who--you might be sent to one of the camps and gassed. They'd also take your daughter," the man had said and Danita heard the clink of a tea cup set down on its small saucer.
Danita had had to bite her lip to keep from gasping. She didn't know what a camp was, but she thought she understood what gassing meant. Her mother had often told her to make sure she kept well away from the gas stove ("You could get gassed, and then there would be no more Danita," her mother had told her sternly and more than once) and Danita bit her lip harder. Her mother was doing something under the covers, no, the man said undercover. Danita didn't know what undercover meant but she aimed to find out.
Danita always got what she wanted. Danita felt lucky to have Mummy upkeep an herb garden, for they had all the tea they could drink. Some of her friends didn't have tea and oftentimes Danita slipped her older pals a cup full of dry, loose tea leaves. It paid to have friends, for she planned to ask her older friends what undercover meant and books were in short supply. For that matter, her supply of friends was dwindling as well and soon Danita thought the only friend she'd have was her imaginary friend, Rebecca.
"It's your choice to do this," the man had said and Danita had heard him stand up.
"I'll do it," her mother responded and Danita had heard her mother walking the man to the front door.
"We'll be in touch," and the door had shut. Her mother's heels had clicked on the floor and into the kitchen. Danita had waited until her mother ran the faucet and she slipped out from behind the couch.
Remembering that day and now watching her mother try to arrange the small pieces of paper, Danita decided to let her mother in that she knew Mummy was a spy.
"Turn that piece over," Danita now said.
"Danita!" her mother was startled. "How long have you been standing there?"
"A little while," Danita responded.
"How much did you see?" Carmiela asked and then bit her lip.
"I know you're a spy for the British, Mummy. I overheard you and that man talking about it," Danita said, deciding to be straight with her mother.
"You know nothing," Carmiela said.
"I know, Mummy. And you can't change what I know. I haven't told anyone," Danita said. Her mother sighed heavily. Was there no secret she could keep from Danita?
"Did you even mention the subject?"
Danita looked away and Carmiela grew pale. "Danita?" she said in a warning tone to her daughter.
"Well, I did ask Michael Turneby what undercover meant," Danita admitted. If she was going to get punished, she might as well get it over with.
"And what did Michael say?" inquired her mother, her brown eyes flashing.
"He said it meant a spy. He wanted to know where I heard the term," Danita explained.
"And what did you say?" Carmiela asked.
"I told him I'd read it in Agatha Christie's 'Appointment with Death,'" Danita told her.
"You told him you read it in a book? And he believed you?"
"Yes, Mummy. I even lent him the book, but he had to go away to Ireland and didn't get a chance to finish it before he left."
Carmiela had to smile, but her smile was tight. Danita looked nervous. She looked like she'd done something wrong and was about to be punished.
Carmiela knew her daughter liked mystery novels, especially Agatha Christie novels. Prior to the War, the girl had been an avid reader, precocious even and Carmiela couldn't keep enough books in the house to satisfy her demands. Even Danita's father, now separated from them and in France, had sent second hand books printed in English from his posting in the Normandy region. Those books she'd had to trade to the maids for the upper classes in exchange for meat and on occasion, sweets.
War rationing was hell, Carmiela reflected, looking at Danita's nervous smile. She sighed again.
"If you already know, there's nothing I can do to hide it. You've already taken the risk, so you shall have to bear the consequences. Do you understand that?"
"Yes, Mummy. I overhead the last part of the conversation that day," Danita told her mother.
"About what would happen if I was caught?"
"That man said you'd be sent to a camp and gassed. And that I would sent, too."
"So you know most of it. You might as well know it all. Sit down, Danita and I'll explain."
Danita pulled the guest chair over to her mother's side and sat down. Her mother looked at her again.
"I'm a linguist," she started.
"I know you speak English, French, Polish and Hungarian, Mummy," Danita said.
Her mother laughed. "Well, that makes me a linguist in the eyes of the M5."
"Why are you putting those pieces of paper together?"
"It's from Warsaw, and it contains the names and current postings of an entire regiment of German officers," her mother explained. What Danita said next would surprise her.
"So you're putting the pieces of paper together again and then you're going to give them to that man so he can tell our troops to go get those bad Germans," Danita said.
"Is there anything you can't figure out, Danita?"
"No, Mummy. I'm pretty smart," her daughter responded.
Carmiela smiled at Danita. There were times when Danita regressed in age--both in behaviour and in language--but Carmiela knew that was the result of the Blitz, the result of being socially isolated from other children her age, the result of war rationing.
But her daughter's intelligence astounded her. "Well, let's see how fast you can put these pieces together, Danita. Think of it as a puzzle," Carmiela said and moved her chair over so the little girl could take her turn.
Danita worked quietly. She had a quick mind, and she was glad to have something to do that didn't entail jumping rope, or imagining her friend Rebecca. It could get pretty lonely without friends to talk with, and toys to play with, and books to read and sometimes Danita was bored out of her mind. She bored easily and now, as she put the pieces of paper back together, she remembered fondly how she used to finish not one, but two Agatha Christie novels in one day. Usually that day was a rainy day, Danita now reflected.
"Almost done, Mummy. See?" Danita said to her mother. Her mother had been watching as quietly as Danita had been working.
"I see that. Do you miss puzzles, Danita?"
"Oh yes! This puzzle was fun. Can we do some more?"
"Probably," Carmiela said, a finger of dread working her way around her heart.
But," she now told Danita in a warning voice, "if you ever mention any of this to anyone, for any reason, someone very nasty could hear about it..and there will be no more Danita. Do you understand?"
"I understand. The German agents will take us to a camp and gas us. I don't want that," Danita responded, looking her mother in the eye to let her mother know she meant what she said.
"Swear you'll not tell a soul--not even the counter boy at the chemist's. I know you talk to him when you go get our supplies," Carmiela said. To alleviate her daughter's boredom, Carmiela allowed Danita to go down the street to the chemist's for their meagre ration of household supplies.
"I swear. I won't tell a soul. This information could get us both killed, and I love you too much to let slip information that would get us killed," Danita said earnestly.
There were times, Carmiela now reflected, that her daughter could be one moment a young child and use phrases like 'catch the bad guys'; then, in the next moment Danita's mouth would open and out would come a phrase like the one she had just used.
Such were the stresses of war on children, Carmiela thought. War messed up mental health, and Carmiela hoped Danita's mind was strong enough to withstand the psychological stress of war--and her father's continuing absence. Danita's almost seamless verbal weaving back and forth from having the vocabulary of a young child to having the vocabulary of an adult was frightening to Carmiela, and she worried constantly about Danita's mental health.
"I'm going to trust you with your statement," she now told her daughter. "You know one day, you're going to grow up and have a child who thinks just like you do."
"My child is always going to get what he wants," Danita now said.
"How do you know your child's going to be a 'he'?" Carmiela asked, curious.
"I always get what I want and when I grow up, I want to have a boy and have him grow up to be like Daddy," Danita now said. "I miss Daddy," she said with a sad note in her voice.
Carmiela laughed. Sometimes, Danita's thinking surprised her. She was seven years old, after all. Danita had always wanted a little sister, like her friend Mary who used to live in the semi-detached house across the street. But Mary and her younger sister Hazel had been sent to Ireland--to the same farmer to whom Michael Turneby had been sent. Carmiela had heard the three children, along with several others who had been sent there, were doing quite well. The farm was big, and the farmer was grateful for the extra farm hands.
"Daddy will be home shortly."
"Don't lie to me. Daddy will be home when the war ends," Danita said.
Carmiela bit off her reply but Danita supplied it anyways.
"Daddy won't get killed. I told him he's not going to die in the war. Do you want to know what he said?"
"What did he say?"
"He told me I always get what I want!" Danita said, laughing.
"Is that where you got that phrase from? Your father told you that?" Carmiela asked. Her husband was open and direct, and he doted on Danita.
"Yes. Right before he left, Daddy asked me what I wanted most for my birthday. I told him I wanted him home alive," the little girl said, smiling wanly at the memory. "Daddy told me I always get what I want. I thought about that, and it's true. Well, most of the time," Danita said, a little wanly. She glanced at her mother. "I didn't get the little sister I wanted," she told her mother.
"I thought you wanted a boy," her mother said dryly
"I want a son. And I want him to have an aunt," Danita said in all seriousness. "Are you going to copy that paper?" she asked as she studied the faded writing.
"Yes," Carmiela responded as she took a sheet of clean paper out of the blotter and picked up a fountain pen. Dipping the pen into the inkwell, she began to copy the names she read on the list.
"Mummy, what are these dark spots?"
Carmiela blanched a little. She didn't want to reply. Over the months, she'd grown used to some of the papers having dark spots in places--these were the places where the handwriting was faded. The dark spots were blood which had seeped through the envelopes the ripped up papers were carried in.
She felt Danita's liquid brown eyes on her and she looked at her daughter. Better tell her the truth, a voice in Carmiela's head sounded.
"The spots are blood," she said quietly.
"Did someone die to get these to you?" was the next question out of Danita's mouth.
"Not this time, no. Not that I know of," Carmiela said, more quietly than her last statement.
Danita decided not to ask any more questions of her mother. At least for now. Her mother was upset that Danita had found out her secret, and her mother was upset to talk about the blood stains on the paper. From her mother's statement, Danita could understand that sometimes the people who brought her mother these papers died in their work. At the chemist's, she heard the old people whispering about all the death, and about how brave soldiers risked their lives to bring information to their commanding officers.
Danita put two and two together. She looked at her mother's strained expression as she worked copying the list of German officers and their current postings.
"May I make some tea, Mummy?" she asked, hoping that would relieve her mother.
The fountain pen stopped writing. "Yes, that would be nice," her mother said.
Danita pushed back her chair and got up. She went to the kitchen and put water in the tea pot. Making sure she stood well away from the gas stove, she lit the burner and set the tea pot on top of the stove. She got the tea out of its canister and readied it in the strainer.
She was thinking maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to let her mother know about Danita's knowing she was a spy. There were a lot of things which upset her mother, and these things upset Danita. Most times, she didn't understand what her mother was upset about, but her anguish filtered down to Danita.
Danita wanted her mother to be happy again. She wanted her father home so they could be all one big happy family. She wanted her friends back home again, and her neighborhood back to the way it was before the bombs started dropping. How she hated those bombs!
Most of the bombs were dropped in the middle of the night, and Danita had to wake up, scramble out of her warm bed and go to the bomb shelter at a fast run. It was crowded in the shelter, and some people were bleeding. Her mother had tried to tend to the people, but a few of them died, and her mother had come back from tending them and had held Danita, her hot salty tears flowing into Danita's hair.
War scared Danita. Her mother's work didn't scare her, until today. Until today, she hadn't seen the blood stains on the paper, and she now thought back to the bloodstains on the floor of the bomb shelter. Those stains had made her cry into her pillow when the bomb scare was over for that day--her seventh birthday.
She'd been woken up just after midnight on her seventh birthday by her mother, who held a small candle over a small birthday cake. She and her mother had just finished eating the midnight birthday cake when the air raid horn had shrilled. Danita had screamed in terror as her mother dragged her out the door and down to the air raid shelter.
They, along with hundreds of other people, spent Danita's seventh birthday in the air raid shelter, and Danita didn't get to return home until dark. But a few hours they'd returned home, they had to leave for the shelter again.
She still didn't understand the full effects of her mother's work, but she did understand that by putting the pieces of paper together faster, what was on the paper could get to the British faster. And that would help the British win the war faster.
And winning the war faster was what Danita truly wanted. Her one overwhelming want in the entire world was to have this war over with--and fast. Every Passover, every Hanukkah, every Purim, every Sukkoth that passed found Danita wishing the War would end quickly. Thus far, the war hadn't ended and she was getting frustrated.
She always got what she wanted. Her Daddy had told her so.
So deep in thought was Danita, that she didn't hear her mother come up behind her. She felt her mother's arms around her and she turned and hugged her mother.
"Now I know how you can sneak up on me so well, little one. I sneaked up on you and you didn't hear me!" Carmiela told her daughter. Her daughter looked up at her.
"Like mother, like daughter. That's what Missus Minekan always says."
Carmiela took a good look at her daughter: tall, and growing taller each month. Long silky black hair and dark brown eyes framed with long black lashes. She looked remarkably like Carmiela did at that age.
"Yes, like mother, like daughter," Carmiela agreed as her words were cut off by the whislting of the tea pot.
"Let's have some tea. Then, I need to get this list down to our people," Carmiela told her daughter as she unwrapped her arms from her mother.
"So we can win the war faster," Danita said, taking two empty tea cups over to the kitchen table and setting them down.
"Yes, so we can win the war faster," Carmiela said. She's got a great way of thinking about things, Carmiela thought. "So we can win the war faster." That's what my daughter said. I'm doing this work to help us win the war faster, Carmiela said to herself, as she brought the teapot over to the kitchen table. She dropped the strainer full of tea and the two of them sat, waiting for the tea to brew.
Cheyne Walk, Number 96, Chelsea (James McNeil Whistler's former home)
"You what?" David Doyle said, a note of shock in his tenor voice. He pushed his sandy blond bangs ouf of his eyes.
"I affirmed to my daughter that I was spying," Carmiela said.
"Do you know what this could do?" David's voice cracked.
"She already knew. She was asleep behind the sofa the day you came over. She woke up and quite naturally heard us talking."
"How much did she know prior to your, how shall I put it? Spilling the beans, shall we say?"
"She knew I was undercover and she knew I was a linguist. She's very intelligent," Carmiela replied.
"She must be, if she put the pieces of information together like that. Wherever does she get it from?" David now asked, his blue eyes looking at Carmiela.
"Obviously, she gets it from her father."
"I think not. I rather think she gets it from you."
"The damage is done. Danita won't tell, and she can't read foreign languages so she won't be able to tell anyone much of anything," Carmiela said. "Besides, she put the pieces of paper together in about ten minutes. Much faster than I could," she finished.
"I'll say. Remarkable turnaround. This kind of information about the German regiment officers will be invaluable to Commander Johnstone," David told her, picking up his tea cup and taking a sip.
"Danita says it will help us win the war faster," Carmiela told him, prior to her taking her own sip of tea.
"Help us win the war faster. Out of the mouths of babes," he marvelled, sitting back.
David was at a loss. A child knew about her mother's being a spy! And further, a child was now putting together the ripped up pieces of paper which were slowly but surely being smuggled out of Poland. But as Carmiela said, there was nothing that could be done about it now. The information was leaked. Better to keep a handle on it. But therein lay his dilemma: he had to ensure that Danita's involvement in her mother's work didn't wend its way around the M5.
He would, however, have to tell his superior. This was a delicate situation that Carmiela and Danita had unwittingly put him in: for the information which Carmiela translated from the torn pieces of paper was valuable information. Already Carmiela's translations had assisted the British in capturing several key German officers. And of course, it was Carmiela's translation which had provided the information about the concentration camps the Germans had created.
"I'll have to inform my superior. I'll let you know what the decision is," he now told Carmiela.
Carmiela sighed inwardly. She'd expected this kind of reaction, and she knew she had to inform David Doyle. Who knew what would happen? Oftentimes it took several days for Carmiela to put together the ripped up pieces of paper, sometimes they came in several envelopes. But in ten minutes, Danita had put together the contents of the envelope. Surely they could use that kind of help in the M5!
She finished her tea and set down her cup. David looked at her, and nodded. "You're dismissed," he told her. "As I said, we'll be in touch. Be prepared," he said as Carmiela stood up, her dark blue coat swinging around her calves.
"Thank you," she said and left the room.
After her exit, a hidden panel in the wall slid open, and a tall lanky man with Celtic looks stepped out.
"Did you hear?" David asked him, understanding that his superior had ensconsed himself in the hidden niche behind the wall panel well before David took his meeting with Carmiela.
"Astounding. In ten minutes? Did I hear that right?" Alan asked, running a hand through his dark brown hair.
"Ten minutes. The child is quite intelligent. Usual psychological effects of war though. Her mother says that sometimes Danita acts like a five year old, replete with a five year old's vocabulary."
"And other times, Danita acts older than her age. Yes, yes. Quite common now, I'm afraid. But her overall intelligence would be a huge asset to us," Alan said, going to the table and taking an empty cup. Pouring himself a cup of tea from the still steaming pot, he added a small amount of milk--quite the luxury in wartime London, even for the upper class segment of British society.
"I concur. I think the child would best be contained helping her mother. If she gets bored easily, she might start making up stories, and those stories could leak," David said, getting up, and, following Alan's lead, poured himself another cup of tea.
"I'll tell her mother," David now said, taking his seat again.
"Care for a game of chess?" Alan asked, pulling the small chess table. As the London rain beat against the windowpane, the two men began a game of chess.
Weissman home, a few days later
"Danita, tell me what will happen if you ever tell anyone that you're doing puzzles," David asked Danita.
The little girl looked at him quite sternly and replied, "German agents will take me and Mummy to a camp and then gas us."
"That's right. That very well could happen," David said, as Carmiela offered a plate of sweets. David took one of the cookies Carmiela was offering.
"But I like putting the pieces of paper together. Mummy said it's a puzzle," the child now said to David. Then she continued, "it will help us win the war faster, won't it Mister Doyle?" she asked.
David looked at Danita. Her liquid brown eyes told him she already knew the answer.
"Yes it will help us win the war faster," he told her.
"It's like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again," Danita now told him. David laughed. "I like puzzles," she added.
"I like puzzles as well, Danita. But now that you understand you and Mummy could get killed if you let loose this information, you'll have to be a top-secret undercover girl," he told Danita.
"Oh, sir! I'll do that. I'll be the best top secret undercover girl you ever had!" Danita said. Then she pursed her lips. "When can I get some more puzzles? I don't have any books to read and there is no one to play with," she finished, a petulant tone in her voice.
David had picked up his tea cup and he paused before bringing the cup to his lips. This was an example of the stresses of war getting to a child. One minute she could be very much an adult, and the next minute she regressed in behaviour. He took a sip of his tea, and put his cup down on the small table beside him. He looked at Danita. Her lower lip was slightly out; by George! The child was pouting!
"We'll be getting some more puzzles soon. And in the meantime, I have a private library. When my youngest child went off to university, I kept his childhood books. Would you like to read some?" David asked.
Greed shone in Danita's eyes as she took in his statement. "Oh yes please! Thank you very much!" she exclaimed.
"I'll have a few books sent over. You know I can't come around to your house often," David told her.
"That's so you won't get caught by the German agents," Danita told him. "Agatha Christie wrote about that in her books."
"So you're an Agatha fan!" David said.
"I've read all her books," Danita now said, proud of herself. That statement was mostly true. Danita could read an Agatha Christie novel by herself (it took her all day unless she'd read the book before) but her daddy, Gavriel, had been rather fond of Agatha as well, and he'd often sat her down on his knee, sat back in their plump leather chair and had joyfully read aloud another Agatha Christie novel to his young daughter.
"Danita, how about going outside and picking a few pints of dill? We need to send some down to the chemist's this afternoon," Carmiela said.
"All right. Thank you again, Mister Doyle. And I promise, I won't tell anyone about my Humpty Dumpty puzzles. I want to win this war," she told David. "I always get what I want," she added and gave him a stern look which brought a smile to David's lips.
"You're welcome, Danita," David said and Danita turned and left the room.
David looked at Carmiela. "You were right. She is intelligent. The war's getting to her, and the social isolation. Bold child, isn't she?"
Carmiela chuckled. "Her father told her that she always gets what she wants. She's been hanging onto that statement. With the war getting fiercer, his despatches from Normandy have been less and less," Carmiela explained.
"She's hanging onto anything she can that she has from her father. It's a common reaction in children during war," David said.
"I was three when the Great War started, and eight when it ended. It seems like war is all I know. I so hoped Danita wouldn't have to spend her childhood surrounded by war, and that's what she's got," Carmiela said.
"She''ll pull through, like you did. She's just like you."
"She's like her father," Carmiela tried to deflect, but she blushed slightly. Danita was like her, in many ways. But then again, Carmiela and her husband were quite similar in personaltiy, so Danita took after both of them.
"Civilian isn't he? Also a linguist?" David asked.
"Yes," Carmiela acknowledged, momentarily surprised that David would ask but then realizing that he would have done his research on her family before asking her to join the war effort.
"I’d better leave," David said, as he picked up a stethoscope and put it around his neck. He stood up and putting on a white doctor's jacket, and then donned a wool jacket. He picked up a doctor's bag and started for the front door.
Carmiela opened the door and held if for him. David exited the sidewalk and took a few steps. He turned, then called, "Make sure she gets plenty of fluids, Mrs Wiseman." David used the English pronunciation of Weissman. It had been Carmiela's idea--just in case anyone was listening. You couldn't be too careful these days, for anyone--even a child--could be a spy.
It was better to use an assumed name than to risk having a foreign agent watching you. And with nearly half of Stepney destroyed during the nightly bombings between September and November, the neighborhood was filled with looters scrounging in the debris--oftentimes holding up blackened silverware or other baubles, and the visitors babbled in many tongues.
"I'll keep her in bed until morning, Doctor Goodman," Carmiela called back before shutting the door on the rainy London day. She kept the door open a crack for just a moment, looking at the greening of her Stepney neighborhood. For once, the buzz of the German planes over London were silent. She could hear birds singing.
Carmiela sighed as she closed the door firmly and latched it. "The war will be won faster this way," she told herself and then went to clear the tea things.
Private Chelsea Residence, later that afternoon
Alan laughed. "Humpty Dumpty puzzles. What a fascinatng name!"
"And quite suitable," added David, pouring himself a cup of tea, and adding a dollop of milk.
"Operation Humpty Dumpty. Amazing that a young child is now naming our operations," Alan said. "Another game of chess? All's quiet on the courier front today."
"Quite amenable," David said, as the two men sat down and began another game of chess.