The Tzar

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July 29 1918

The sun shone over the rooftops at the safe house in Lille, as Eloise and I sat at a table in the courtyard. Her sunken eyes rounded when I placed a loaf of fresh brown bread on the table. I'd also managed to scrounge up a bit of butter and a very small jar of strawberry jam, a small miracle in these days of strict food restrictions imposed by the Bosche. 

"Go ahead," I said, smiling as I poured the tea, black as there was no milk or sugar.

"Thank you," Eloise murmured softly.I was once again shocked at how frail she looked. Just a wisp of a girl really, carrying much on her shoulders.

"I've been thinking about you since we last met in March," I said. "How are things going at the restaurant?"

Eloise's pretty but sunken eyes darted around the courtyard as she chewed ravenously on her piece of bread. "Still the same."

"Is Monsieur Deschamps treating you well?" 

"Yes, as long as I know." Eloise shrugged. 

I forced back bile that crept up the back of my throat. Eloise was giving everything for the cause, even her virtue.

"I keep myself on guard at all times," Eloise added between bites. "And my eyes and ears open."

Ginger smiled at her kindly. "And from all reports you are doing a good job."

Eloise smiled back. "Thank you." Even though we were at a safe house, Eloise automatically glanced about the garden before leaning in. "I heard something at lunch today from one of the Bosche officers who comes in regularly. Generalleutnant Heinrichs is very well connected to the German high command in Luxemburg. Usually he starts talking loudly after a few drinks, but today I heard him talking to another officer even before he had his first beer. He admitted that the German High Command is concerned about the declining morale and exhaustion of their troops. They fear a large offensive coming soon from the allies."

This was good intel to report back to Captain Smithwick. 

"Of course, Heinrichs was defiant and bragged that the Germans would rally with their own offensive, but I sensed some hollowness in his bravado."

"One can only hope."

"There's more." Eloise paused to take a long drink of tea. "News has come from out of Russia. It is believed that Tzar Nicholas II has been executed."

"What?" Ginger couldn't hold in her surprise or her dismay. "By whom?"

"Heinrichs said that he received word that it was carried out somewhere in a town in the Ural Mountains by the local council who formed a Bolshevik firing squad. Apparently there was a fear that the new Provisional Government in Russia had reasons to fear the tzar's influence if he were to escape or was freed. According to Heinrich, the whole thing was endorsed by Lenin."

"Oh mercy. What about his family?"

"Details are not clear, but Heinrich said that his wife and five daughters were transported to Siberia."

Ginger leaned back as she took in the news and pondered its ramifications. Russia had more or less pulled out of the war months ago when Lenin signed a treaty with Germany. Still, any unrest in Europe could affect the outcome of the war.

"I'd heard that Tzar Nicholas had written to King George V, for help but was refused," I said. "No one knows why for certain, since as first cousins, one would think a man would go the extra mile for his family." 

"That certainly signals the end of the Russian monarchy."  Eloise said. I was surprised that this young girl had so much knowledge of the larger events surrounding the war.

 We spent the rest of our time together finishing off the entire loaf of bread and talking more about her work at the restaurant. I regret that I could not get my hands on any fresh vegetables , but she assured me that Monsieur Deschamps did see that she got at least a modicum of vegetables once a week.

When Eloise left it was nearly dark, and she was due back at the restaurant. I asked her if she was to be with Monsieur Deschamps that evening, but she told me that he was sick with a flu.

"I confess I've failed to pray for his recovery," she said dryly. She thanked me for the bread and tea, before slipping out the door of the courtyard and into the night.

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