The other day I was reading a post titled, “The Magnolias Still Bloom – Chapter VIII” by Sumit of huesofinsanity fame. This also happened to be the last chapter of this haunting love story. Let me quote a few lines…
I look at the silver ring on my little finger – the piggy that went “wee wee wee” – and stroke the warm metal, something that’s become a habit. It was her ring, the one that she gave me before she died.
“I want you to wear this to remember me by… ” she had said, gently placing the strip of silver onto my little finger (the only one that the ring would fit on).
The last paragraph went like this: And then, all I can do is walk to the cemetery where she lies buried, along with a piece of my heart. A piece that was buried along with the love of my life, on that fateful day, twelve years ago. A piece that lies beneath the marble tombstone, carved in the shape of a magnolia.
The tombstone is inscribed with the a little verse that she wrote:
Shirley (1972 – 1997)
I might not be with you,
lying deep in nature’s womb,
but think of me and smile,
whenever the magnolias bloom.
This story transported me back in time… and my thoughts took me back to my childhood, and to another story I had read a long time ago… as a schoolgirl. It is a story that has a mysterious and haunting quality about it and even as the years passed, the story never left me. I am referring to: “Remember the Roses”. This was the last among the 16 odd stories in a book of short stories aptly titled, “A Treasury of Short Stories” – a book that we read as a part of our curriculum in English literature for our ICSE exams. I still possessed this special book until a few months ago… it has been misplaced somehow… and even though I have searched everywhere, I have not found it… yet. Unfortunately… Sigh!
This story was originally published in Europe in 1967. It was also the only story in the book for which the author information page said, “Information not available”. The author’s name though was listed as “Avery Taylor”… but in those days there was no Professor Google…!
For sometime now, I have wanted to read this story again but could not… since the precious book was lost. I have searched the internet a number of times to see if I could locate a soft copy… but in vain, until a couple of days ago, that is. That day my search led me to the following site: http://www.remembertheroses.com/ and I now look forward to watching the movie version of this timeless romance… eagerly.
Here are a few memorable lines from “Remember the Roses”:
“Jehane. Thank God. I thought they’d caught you.”
She shook her head smiling. “I’ve been through fire before. It wasn’t so bad.” She caught his arm and moved to the wall embankment. “There is a boat moored below. They’ll not look for you on the river. It’s not far from the river’s edge to the field where your plane will land. I think you can carry Renard that far.”
- “I’ll make it. And you?”
- “I Stay.”
- “You could come with me.”
She shook her head. “No, my heart is here. I think in your heart you know I must stay.”
He did know it. He wasn’t sure how he knew.
- “Then promise me you will take care.”
She smiled slowly. “Another Robert said that to me a long time ago.” A touch of sadness in her voice told him that this Robert had meant a lot to her.
And here’s some more:
She took something from her trouser pocket and held it out. A small silver crucifix on a chain. “He gave me this. I should like you to have it. A keepsake, so you will not forget me.”
He took it and held it for a moment. “I have nothing to give you in return.”
- “One day you will come back to Rouen. When France is free. Then you bring me some flowers perhaps. English Roses.”
- “I will bring the biggest bunch you ever saw. I promise. Where shall I find you?”
- “In the market place. You’ll find me there.”
- “Au revoir, Jehane.” He bent and kissed her cheek then lifted Renard onto his shoulder and started down the steps to the boat.
As he cast off her voice floated down to him.
- “Adieu, Robert. Remember the roses.”
Note: “Au revoir” (a French parting phrase: Till we meet again)
Adieu (is French for farewell or goodbye)
… In the end:
The Frenchman pointed to Robert’s leg, stiffened by the bullet wound gained at the Rhine,
- “Un soldat brave, eh (Brave Soldier)?”
Robert laughed and shook his head. “Non. Un soldat trop lent.”
- “Too slow.” The man roared with laughter. “Oh, c’est bein. C’est tres bein.”
Robert pushed on through the crowd of victory celebrators. The corner of the market place was oddly deserted. A small corner of quiet in the noisy square. He laid the huge bunch of red roses at the stone feet and looked up the silent figure of the Maid.
- “See Jehane.., I remembered the roses.”
The storyline: It is a story set in the World War era of the Nazis and the Allied forces, where Captain Robert Phillips, an Allied WWII Special Operations Agent is entrusted with the mission of rescuing Paul Renard, the head of Resistance in Normandy (France) – who had been taken by the Gestapo, the German Police. He was one of the very few men who were aware of the Allied forces plans in France. It was well known that the strongest men can break under the Gestapo and the Allied forces could not risk having Paul breaking down and revealing their D-Day plans to the Nazis. Held in an ancient castle converted into a Gestapo stronghold, it’s only a matter of time before the defiant Frenchman breaks under the brutality of the Gestapo. As the outcome of WWII hangs in the balance, Captain Robert Phillips is once more called upon by the Allied Forces High Command to infiltrate the Gestapo stronghold and rescue Paul or… “silence” him… before he talked and revealed their D-Day plans. All in the name of serving the larger and greater cause, the bigger picture… of saving humanity…
While on his “mission” Robert meets a (French) Resistance soldier… a mysterious woman called Jehan Lebrun. Jehane guides Robert through Nazi-infested Rouen by using underground sewers, abandoned churches, and crypts. She leads him to Paul Renard and then helps him in his daring escape… while carrying the unconscious Paul on his back… from right under the noses of the German prison guards.
Robert had actually intended to kill the unconscious Paul (after all his efforts to revive him went in vain) – by administering poisonous injection… so that Paul has an easy or painless death rather than suffer at the hands of the Nazis. This way, he reasons to himself that the allied forces D-Day plans can be saved from falling into the hands of the enemy (the Nazis). Jehane prevents this. Here is what transpired between them:
He took what looked like a tobacco pouch from his pocket and removed the screening layer of tobacco. Beneath was the ready-filled hypodermic. He squirted a thin jet of the colourless fluid into the air and pulled back the ripped sleeve of Renard’s shirt.
Jehane’s hands caught his wrist in a grip of steel.
- “That’s murder.”
Her voice was cold, as icy cold as her eyes, and he felt his fingers going numb.
- “Let go before I drop it.”
- “No, I won’t let you kill him.”
He could have fought her but he didn’t want to risk the noise of a struggle and she was too strong to be an easy opponent. “Listen to me,” he whispered harshly. “He can’t walk and I can’t get him down that well. If I leave him he might talk. He’ll certainly suffer a hell of a sight more before he dies. Do you think I enjoy doing it?”
- “No, it sickens you.”
- “Yes, but it is necessary.”
- “Ah, yes, the old story. Always the same. Better sacrifice one life than many. That’s what they tell you, isn’t it?”
- “And it’s true.”
- “It’s never true.” There was a pitiless anger in her eyes and her voice was harsh with bitterness. “Every life is precious. War demands that we kill but in our defence, to save what god has given us. But this is murder. No. More than that. It is betrayal and you know it’s wrong. In your heart you know.”
- “All right. So it’s wrong, but I’m the one who has to live with it.”
- “As you’ve lived with the other memory? For six months? Hating yourself? Oh, I know,” she answered the startled question in his eyes.
- “I know all about it. Then there was no one to help you, to show you what was right and what was wrong. You had your orders and though you knew it was murder you could not bring yourself to ignore those orders. But this time it’s different. This time I’m here and I’ll tell you now, destroy this man and you destroy yourself, your very soul. You know I speak the truth. You know how it was with you the last time. This time it will be worse, much worse.”
He gave up the flight, gave up lying to himself. She was right.
He couldn’t live with another dead on his conscience. And he was tired, tired of pretending to be cold-blooded about killing, tired of the whole dirty game Intelligence forced him to play.
He closed his eyes and felt her grip on his wrist relax. “How did you know? Who told you?”
- “It’s not important. I know and there’s an end to it. Now you must decide. Will you destroy yourself or will you say ‘no’? Just this once. If you kill this man you are no better than them.” She jerked her head upwards. “They have no regard for life.”
He drew a breath, letting the syringe fall from his fingers.
No one believes his story and report of escape and when he digs up the evidences he can only come to the conclusion that it was the “Maid of Orléans”… Joan of Arc herself who saved him and Paul. But what is more touching is the way the story plays out, tying in a romantic love story in a most unique way… as if this Captain Robert Phillips of the second World War era is the same 15th century Knight… Sir Robert whom Joan of Arc is supposed to have loved. It is as if Joan of Arc transcended time and space… death, the afterlife, and hundreds of centuries in order to save Robert’s life, his conscience and his faith… in a way to suggest that love never dies and romance is eternal. It truly tugs at our heartstrings. It is a very touching story with just the right amount of mystery, love, history and romance to it… and lingers on and on in the mind of the reader even after the last word has been read. Especially the haunting last line: “See Jehane.., I remembered the roses.” This story also conveys the powerful message that every life is precious, and that sometimes only the past can save the future.
Link: For all those who love this story, here is the link to download “Remember the Roses” – the pdf version: http://www.mediafire.com/?xeidjmn2yzs
For all those who have not read this story… read it, and then read it again! You won’t like to stop in between and wouldn’t want it to end. This story with its gripping action and adventure remains a magnificent love story throughout.
P.S. “Remember the Roses”… soft copy drafted by: Vinitt Jaiswal.
Details of the Book: A Treasury of Short Stories, Frank bros. & Co. (P) Ltd., Daryaganj Delhi-2, Revised Edition: 1989, Reprinted: 1990.
Photograph: A bunch of dark red roses – to suit the title of this story.