Two `Sedate' English Ladies

`WHY, there's Franz,'' said Janna as she looked out of the bay window of her parlor where we were having tea. Trix pulled back the curtain. ``So it is.''

Trix and Janna were the English teachers in the lyceum, the high school, in the small town in northern Holland where I was the Fulbright teacher. To the townsfolk they were ``the English ladies,'' and not just because they taught English.

Both were in their 50s when I knew them. Trix, short for Beatrix, habitually wore a brown tweed suit. Janna, short for Johanna, wore navy blue. They had identical little round felt hats, brown for Trix and navy for Janna. Their coats were English Burburry.

Their house, which they had designed themselves, had an English-style fireplace, rather than the usual parlor stove, and the bathroom was not under the stairway in the front hall, as in most of the homes in town, but was upstairs. ``Like the English,'' people said.

Their pronunciation and vocabulary of English was British rather than American. ``That's the real thing,'' said Janna. Their colleagues who spoke English fluently with me would never speak it in the presence of the ``ladies'' for fear of a mistake. Even to Sara, the Fulbright English teacher in a nearby town, and to me, the two ladies just seemed English, quiet, sedate, and proper.

Sara and I looked out the window too. A boy of 12 or 13 in brown corduroy knickerbockers was pedaling along on his bike. Janna tapped on the window and waved at him. He grinned and waved back.

``He's grown so,'' said Trix. ``In a year or so he'll be coming into town to attend the lyceum. Remember how small he was when Mr. Kuypers put him in his tool kit?''

``In his tool kit? How was that?'' I asked.

``That was when the Nazis came to town,'' said Janna.

Sara was Jewish. She leaned forward. ``What happened?'' she said tensely.

``We were living in an apartment then, over a store downtown,'' Janna told us. ``A Jewish couple with a two-month-old baby lived about eight buildings farther up the street. The Nazis were searching house to house for Jews. Each building had a garden behind it, with a high wooden fence around each one. The couple saw the Nazis coming. They tried to get out the back way but couldn't climb the fence. They handed the baby over to the neighbor. That neighbor passed it across the fence to the next one, all down the street just ahead of the Nazis until it got to us. We were the end house. There was no house next door to pass the baby to.

``We brought the baby into the apartment, but how could we explain its presence to the Nazis? Fortunately, Mr. Kuypers was there. He's a tinsmith, and was repairing our stove. He put his tools out on the floor and put the baby in the tool kit. He could barely get the lid shut over it. Then he got on his bicycle and rode as fast as he could out to the country, where he lives. He wasn't even out of sight, though, when the Nazis came pounding on our door.''

``Did they question you?'' I asked.

``Oh yes.'' Trix took up the story. ``They came right up our stairway. Janna told him she didn't know anything about a baby, and that we were just waiting for the stove-repair man to come back. She stalled them to make time for Mr. Kuypers, telling them how he'd had to go home for other tools, and fussing about the mess he'd left. I was standing just around the corner behind Janna, and you see that big vase over there?'' She pointed to a large long-necked metal jug with bulbous base on the windowsill by the stairway. ``I had my hand around the neck of it, and if that soldier had injured Janna I'd have whacked him.''

``You could have killed him!'' Sara and I both cried.

``I was prepared for that,'' Trix answered matter of factly.

``What about the baby? He might have suffocated!'' I said.

``Mr. Kuypers was afraid of that,'' said Janna. ``He was afraid, too, that it might cry, but it didn't. He said he hated to open his tool kit when he got home, but the baby was all right. The baby is their son Franz Kuypers now.''

``What happened to the parents?'' asked Sara.

``We don't know,'' said Trix.

``Did you rescue anyone else besides Franz?'' I asked.

A pause, then, ``Well, there were some Canadians,'' said Trix.

The Canadian Air Force, Sara and I knew, had been the liberators in that part of Holland. If an airman was shot down the ``English ladies'' could communicate with him better than many of the people in the area.

When word came to them from watchers in the countryside that a plane was down, one of the ladies would get on her bicycle and lead another bicycle beside her. In her basket was a bundle of men's work clothes. When she found the airman he would change into the clothing she brought with her and, if he was able, ride with her on the other bicycle to a farmhouse she knew where he could hide. If the soldier was too injured for the bicycle, she would go someplace where she could telephone for help. The other ``English lady'' would stay back at the school to take messages.

But they became suspect with the Germans. For safety, they had to leave their apartment. For a time they lived in the broom closet of an elementary school. ``If the Germans came, we were the cleaning women,'' said Trix.

After a time that place became too dangerous. They had to give up their rescue work and disappear themselves. For two months before the fighting was over they lived in a cupboard bed in a farmhouse, coming out of it for only short periods at night. This bed was in an inside room, and, unlike many, did not have a door to the outside of the house.

Once the soldiers searched the farmhouse. The ladies heard them talking beside their cupboard bed. They rolled over next to the far wall, placed bolsters in front of them, and pulled up the blankets. ``That was really the narrowest escape we had,'' said Janna.

I gazed around the pleasant room we were sitting in. A fire was burning in the hearth. Two walls were lined with books, more than half of them in English. Double glass doors gave a view of a garden. It seemed a perfect setting for the two ``quiet, sedate English ladies.''

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