Sunday, August 23, 2009

Excerpt - LOOK TO THE EAST by Maureen Lang

Here's a message from Maureen:

Greetings! I'm eager to share the news about my newest book release. Have you ever wondered how many love stories have one war or another for a backdrop? Rather than counting, I decided to plunge ahead and add a few more titles. Look to the East is the first in a three book series, each one linked by a European, First World War setting—but little else, since each one is an independent story.

So come along for a glimpse back, circa early 1900's, rural France . . .

Look To The East

by

Maureen Lang


A village under siege. A love under fire.
France 1914

At the dawn of the First World War, the French village of Briecourt is isolated from the battles, but the century-old feud between the Toussaints and the de Colvilles still rages in the streets. When the German army sweeps in to occupy the town, families on both sides of the feud are forced to work together to protect stragglers caught behind enemy lines.

Julitte Toussaint may have been adopted from a faraway island, but she feels the scorn of the de Colvilles as much as anyone born a Toussaint. So when she falls in love with one of the stragglers—a wealthy and handsome Belgian entrepreneur—she knows she's playing with fire. Charles Lassone hides in the cellar of the Briecourt church, safe from the Germans for the moment. But if he's discovered, it will bring danger to the entire village and could cost Charles his life.

A note from Maureen:

This book was one of those stories that just needed to be told. Inspired by actual events in a small town in France, it was a dream come true for me to travel there for research and to absorb the atmosphere. Although my book takes place nearly one hundred years ago, the same area today is similar in many ways: picturesque little villages surrounded by a lovely rural landscape. Thankfully, there were no rumbles of battle in the distance when I was there . . .

My prayer is that the events of the past won't be forgotten, so we'll never again make the same mistakes.

About Maureen Lang:
Maureen lives with her family (her husband, three kids and their lovable lab) in Illinois. She spends her days dreaming up people in faraway places, characters who live far more exciting lives than she does within the safety of her happy home. Look to the East is Maureen's ninth novel.

Visit Maureen's website:

www.maureenlang.com

or her blog:

http://maureenlang.blogspot.com/

Look to the East can be purchased at Amazon, Christianbook.com, Signed By the Author, or wherever books are sold.

Happy Reading!

Maureen

Excerpt of chapter one:

Once, in a little village forgotten by time,
there lived two feuding families: the Toussaints
and the de Colvilles. Other families inhabited
Briecourt in Northern France, but their
tranquil lives escape memory.

As with most enduring feuds, no one
knows exactly why it began. Some say it was
over une aventure—an indiscreet love between
one man and a woman not his wife. Others
insist money was the cause— a squabble
between the miller and the baker over the
price of flour. Still others recall it beginning
with a simple difference of opinion on the
faults and merits of Napoleon between two
old men sharing a cup of chocolat. . . .

It is not, however, the origin but rather the
result that matters. One hundred years later,
even the purest flour made into the flakiest
pastry would leave a bitter taste if made by
one clan and sampled by the other.

Except for one brief moment in history,
the feud rages to this day. . . .

Chapter one

Briecourt, Northern France

Julitte Toussaint sucked in her breath and shut her eyes, as if by
closing off her own vision she, too, might become invisible. Stuck
high above the ground where someone so grown—just turned
twenty and two—should never be caught, she shot a fervent
prayer heavenward. Please let neither one look up! She clutched the
book-size tin to her chest and went death-still in hopes of going
unnoticed.

“. . . those days may be behind us, Anton. At least for a while.”
She heard his voice for the first time, the man who had come to visit
the only château within walking distance of her village. The man
whose blond hair had reflected the sun and nearly blinded her to
the rest of his beauty. The perfect nose, the proportionate lips, the
blue eyes that, with one glance, had taken her breath away.

Now he was near again, and her lungs froze. She feared the
slightest motion might betray her.

She knew the other man was Anton Mantoux without look-
ing. He was the closest thing to aristocracy the town of Briecourt
knew. Though Julitte had never spoken to him, she had heard him
speak many times. Whenever the mayor called a village meeting,
M. Mantoux always held the floor longest.

“You’ll go back, Charles? join this insanity when you could fol-
low me the other way?”

Charles . . . so that was his name.

“Who would have thought I had a single noble bone in my
body?”

M. Mantoux snorted. “You’ll follow your foolhardy king, will
you?”

“Much can be said about a man—a king, no less—who takes for
himself the same risks he asks others to bear. I should never have left
Belgium. I know my sister never will. How can I do less?”

“Ah, yes, your beautiful and brave little sister, Isabelle. . . . What
is it you call her? Isa?”

“Careful with your thoughts, Anton,” said the man—Charles—
whose voice was every bit as lovely as his face. “She’s little more than
a child.”

“A child, but not much longer. And then you may have me in
the family!”

Feeling a cramp in her leg, Julitte wanted nothing more than to
climb down the tree and scurry away. Let them move on! she silently
pleaded to God. Send a wind to blow them on their way before—

As if in instant answer to her prayer, a gust tore through the
thick leaf cover of the beech tree in which she hid. In horror she
watched the tin, dampened by her perspiring hands, slip from her
grasp and take the path designed by gravity. She heard a dull thud
as it bounced off the perfect forehead of the taller of the two men
below, grazing the blond hair that so intrigued her.

A moment later both men looked up, and she might have
thought their surprised faces funny had she planned the episode
and still been young enough to get away with such a prank.

“I thank You for the answered prayer of the wind, Lord,” she
whispered in annoyed submission, “but not for the result, as You
well know.”

“You there.” M. Mantoux’s voice was as commanding as ever,
and it set her heart to fear-filled pounding. “Come down at once.”

Giving up any hope of dignity, Julitte shook away the cramp
in one leg, then shinnied along the thick branch until reaching the
trunk that was somewhat wider than the span of her arms and legs.
Her foot found the knot she knew so well, and in a moment she
stood on the ground, pulling at her skirt to cover pantaloons and
the single petticoat she owned, a hand-me-down from her adoptive
mother. From the corner of her eye she saw the towering blond
man bending to retrieve her tin, a look of curiosity on his hand-
some face.

M. Mantoux stepped in front of Julitte. “What were you doing
up there, girl? Who—”

Enlightenment reached his eyes before his voice faded away. Of
course he knew who she was; everyone in and around her village
knew she was the étrangère, the outsider. Not only because at least
half of the village wouldn’t have welcomed an adopted child of
Narcisse Toussaint, but because she had been born far away on the
Island of Lepers, off the coast of Greece. Though Julitte had lived
among the French villagers for nearly seventeen years, some still
whispered of her heritage to this day, to passersby or children too
young to already know.

“Come here, Julitte Toussaint.” He pointed to a spot a few feet
away. “Stand there, not too close.”

M. Mantoux had an angry look about him, but she knew he
always seemed that way from the curve of his nostrils to the arch
in his brow. Even when he laughed—and she had seen him do that
once—his face held the edge of ire whether with intent or not.

Intent was there now.

She obeyed his order and stopped where he’d told her, at the
same time reaching for her property. The man holding the tin
started to extend the item but took a moment to study it before
completing the motion. His thumb traced the amateurishly tooled
design, fashioned by her adoptive brother. Then he shook it and
the items inside rattled. But he did not open it, for which she was
silently grateful.

Both had to bend forward to pass the tin between them. He
placed it, about the size of one of his hands, into both of hers.

“What were you doing on my property, and what have you
there?” M. Mantoux’s intimidating manner was the same he’d used
when her cousin had lost one of his pigs and found it burrowing
holes in the château garden. But behind his intimidation today was
a tone familiarly aimed her way—distaste mixed with a hint of the
fear common to those who knew only her background and not her.
“And why did you accost my guest?”

Julitte wanted to raise her gaze to M. Mantoux, to stare him
down as she stared down her brother when he teased her the way
brothers could. But M. Mantoux was not her brother. And standing
in the handsome stranger’s shadow had stolen her courage.

Lowering her gaze, she mustered a respectful tone. “I was in the
tree to retrieve the tin and decided to stay there until you passed
by, as to escape notice. The breeze whipped the box from my hold.”
A quick glance at the blond cavalier revealed that his eyes stayed
on her. Perhaps he was not so gallant, after all. What sort of man
stared so boldly? Despite such thoughts, she knew what she must
do. Keeping her eyes downcast, she turned to the handsome man
she’d unwittingly troubled. “I offer you all my excuses, monsieur.”

“Accepted.”

The single word was issued softly and with a smile. Julitte let her
gaze linger, welcoming his ready forgiveness. Her rapidly beating
heart took a new direction.

“My friend is more magnanimous than he need be,” M. Mantoux
said. “You are aware, Julitte, that this tree is on my property? If you
fell and hurt yourself, what should I have done?”

“I expect it would have been entirely my own fault, monsieur,
and I would blame neither you nor the tree.”

“In any case, you’re far too old to be climbing like a waif. Narcisse
shall hear of this.”

“I’m afraid he sent me on my mission before he left once again
for the sea, Monsieur Mantoux.” She held up the tin. “This is my
brother’s, you see, and I was told to fetch it and tell him to find
another favorite spot to whittle. Closer to home.” She didn’t men-
tion she had been the one to introduce her brother to this particu-
larly dense and knotty tree.

The stranger—Charles—patted M. Mantoux’s shoulder. “There,
you see, Anton, it’s all perfectly understandable. Why berate the
girl?”

Girl. But then, what else should he have called someone dallying
about in a tree? Suddenly a vision of having met him under other
circumstances filled her head, of her offering a brief and graceful
curtsy and extending her hand for him to kiss. They would be for-
mally introduced and have an intelligent conversation about books
and history and faraway places. Oh . . .

Instead M. Mantoux dismissed her as the peasant she was,
unworthy to be presented to any guest of his noble household. And
the two were already walking away.

#

Charles Lassone glanced back at the girl from the tree, unable to
resist one last look. He could tell from her dress—clean despite her
foray up to the branches—that she was a peasant from the village.
For a moment, he wished circumstances were different. She was
lovely, peasant or not. Her hair had shades of red and gold softened
by strands of bronze . . . like a sunset. And her eyes were as dark as
a black ocean reflecting the night sky. He’d caught himself staring
but somehow couldn’t right his manners, even when she’d noted
the lapse.

Charles shook the reflection away, tagging such pointless
thoughts as a premature product of war. He hadn’t even signed up!
Yet. Now was most definitely not the time to become entangled with
a woman, peasant or otherwise.

He was leaving France, returning to Belgium and to the side of
King Albert. Rumor had it the king was leading his troops to battle.
Charles just hoped he wasn’t too late.

#

Julitte walked the half mile to the village, growing thirsty in the
heat. Soon the cobbled square in the center of town came into view.
Beneath the shadow of the church’s tall brick bell tower sat one of
the two pubs in town. It ceased to be a stark contrast to the place of
worship after the proprietor had at the behest of his wife stopped
partaking in spirits—and consequently stopped serving them. He’d
even rolled the piano out of his door and into the church, since
so many of the songs sung in the pub no longer seemed the same
without the local brew or some other liquor in hand.

Those in the de Colville family had protested the loudest, since
it was one less place their spirits were served, the one area to which
they did not have to smuggle their goods.

Julitte was surprised to see a cluster of women and children
gathered in the square. There were limited huddles Julitte could
join, even among women. She was restricted to those of the same
Toussaint name or to those linked in some way. Even among
Toussaints, she had to be careful.

Toussaint or de Colville . . . to be born in Briecourt was to be
born into loyalty to one or the other. It was a simple fact no one
questioned.

Ignoring her parched throat, Julitte circled the square until she
found Oriane Bouget—Ori as she was called—who was with her
grandmother Didi.

“What’s happened?”

“There . . . see for yourself.” Ori pointed with her chin to yet
another bunch off to the side. There were the men of the village,
near the town hall. The grand two-story brick structure would have
fit any fine town, but here it sat in Briecourt, as out of place as a gem
among pebbles. It housed the mayor’s office and the quarters of the
garde civique, the jail and the postal services all in one. A table had
been brought outside, and a man sat behind it taking down names,
then sending the men one by one into the building.

“What is it?”

“They say we are at war,” Grandmother Didi said in her loud way,
“and all the men must go and fight.” The tone of her voice accom-
modated her own lack of hearing, but just now it had quivered.

“War! With whom? Not the English again?” Julitte’s father
had told her about the many wars between the French and the
English.

“No, the Germans, so they say.”

“Again?” It wasn’t all that long ago that France had feuded with
their neighbors to the east, too. Julitte stared at the line of men, all
of whom she knew. Including her adoptive brother.

“Pierre!” She left Ori’s side to rush to his.

“Have you heard the news?” A wide smile brightened his youth-
ful, handsome face. Brown eyes as sweet and guileless as anyone so
naive might have, and here he was lining up . . . for war?

“What are you doing? Papa left only two days ago. Without his
permission, I don’t think—”

Whether it was her words or alarmed tone, Julitte caught the
attention of men on both sides of Pierre. She had sat in schoolrooms
with many of those in this line and knew the majority were best fit
for harvesting—the sum of most dreams, the same as their fathers
before them.

“Leave him be, woman!” Though his words were firm, the face
of her long-ago classmate was lit with exhilaration, as if it were a
holiday when anyone could be forgiven anything. “We’re off to be
heroes the likes of which our town has never seen. Soon this very
square will be filled with statues to our bravery.”

She lifted one brow. “Statues or bodies?”

“It would be a privilege to die for our country!” Pierre joined
with his friend to recite the words, making Julitte believe they
repeated whatever pronouncement they might have heard to form
this line to begin with.

“Julitte,” Pierre whispered, pulling her aside, “I must go, don’t
you see? Every man between the age seventeen and thirty is being
called to service. I have no choice. And I want to go.”

“Seventeen? But you’re not seventeen until—”

“Tomorrow is close enough, so he said I must go.”

Julitte found no words to counter such incredible information.
How had this happened? Briecourt minded its own business; why
couldn’t the rest of the world do the same?

“I will go, Julitte.” His words, soft but firm, left no room for
doubt or argument.

She shook her head, wishing words to convince him otherwise
would fall into place. None did. Instead of speaking, she handed
him the tin she’d retrieved, full of his favorite wood carvings that
were little more than toys. How could it be that he should be sign-
ing up for war when that box proved he was still a child? Such things
were not the stuff of soldiers.

Turning away, she headed to her cottage, ignoring Ori’s call. No
one was home, with Narcisse at sea and her adoptive mother long
since gone to heaven. But Julitte could go nowhere else just now.
Her prayer corner was there. Her spirit, weighted with fear for her
brother and all those in line, longed for the reassurance of knowing
none were outside the boundaries of God’s loving concern.

She needed to pray.

#

“Arretez! Arretez votre véhicule ici.”

The French poilu pounded the butt of his rifle on the pristine
hood of Charles Lassone’s Peugeot. He had enough sense to hide
his annoyance with the soldiers who’d set up this roadblock—that
seemed the wisest choice when facing the barrel of a rifle. The blue
and red–clad officer spoke rapid French, motioning at the same
time for Charles to exit the vehicle.

He did so, skyscraping above the agitated soldier, who couldn’t
have been more than five feet tall. Another soldier, this one taller
but still not equal to Charles’s six-foot-one, came to stand before
him, both of them waving their rifles in Charles’s direction.

“What is this about?” Charles inquired in perfect French.
Though his mother was American, his father was Belgian, and a
Walloon at that, so Charles had grown up speaking at least as much
French as English.

“We regret to inform you, monsieur, that you may go no farther
in your motorcar. You may take your personal belongings and then
take yourself elsewhere.”

Rifles or not, Charles lost his hold on hiding annoyance. “What
do you mean, take myself elsewhere? With my motor, of course?”

“No, monsieur. Without your motor.”

“Listen here, I have dual citizenship between Belgium and
America. France has no claim to me or to my possessions.”

“Necessity outweighs all laws of any country, monsieur. Now
please empty the vehicle of your belongings and then be off.”

“I will not.” Grabbing the handle of his motorcar door, Charles
moved no farther until the tip of the soldier’s rifle grazed his
temple.

“All motors are being requisitioned for service, monsieur. If not
here, then several miles down the road by your own Belgian govern-
ment. We are now united against a common enemy, and whether
you donate the motor here or there makes no difference. You see?”

Charles did not see at all. If his motor had to be requisitioned,
he far preferred to surrender it to a Belgian soldier. But as one could
not be found, there was no point in arguing.

He retrieved his bag and jacket from the rear seat, then watched
with a heart nearly as heavy as the motor itself while yet another
French poilu resumed Charles’s seat behind the wheel and drove off,
the crunch of crushed stones sounding beneath the little-worn tires.
No doubt the 1913 blue Peugeot would be in the hands of a French
officer before nightfall.

“Can you direct me to the nearest train station?” he asked of the
remaining soldiers. They had regrouped into the same circle they
had been in when Charles spotted them alongside the pile of logs
they’d set up as a barrier on the old Roman gravel road leading to
the Belgian border.

A snicker here and there gave him little hope of the easy answer
he sought. One, the man who had first pounded on the hood of the
motor, faced Charles.

“A station will do you no good, monsieur. All trains between our
two countries have been requisitioned. They are now used exclusively
for troops.” He lifted one of his feet and tapped a dusty boot. “A hike
is in store for you.” Then he laughed along with the others.

Without a word, Charles started walking. At first his steps were
slow, but after a moment he picked up his pace. Maybe he should
be grateful only his motorcar had been impressed into duty.

(c) 2009 Maureen Lang

1 comment :

  1. Patricia BarracloughSun Aug 23, 07:28:00 PM 2009

    Sounds like a very timely book. Unfortunately, there are always wars, only the time, place and people involved change. The sacrifice and heroism of the ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances always comes through.
    I'll be looking for this book.

    ReplyDelete

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