Marlies Hohmann has died, and the house has been dismantled. Lilli, the maid, looks out for the boys enough to send them off the property with blankets and food, but before long Kalonymous has been forced to pick fruit from trees so the boys will have food to eat.
Kalonymous had no idea how much time had gone by. The sun rose and the sun set, and he could no longer keep track. He was afraid to move further into the forest, preferring to stay near the house. He had been making regular forays to the fruit trees near the house, shimmying up the trunk and throwing down apples and pears for Hershel and Dovid’l to collect. Before long, though, he had stripped the trees and real hunger set in.
The windows of the house were boarded up, the dogs had been taken away, and the sparkling lawn ruined by careless workmen. Then quiet set in. Kalonymous kept the house in his sights. He was sure there was a way in, that the workman had missed at least one window when they had nailed the planks of wood and banged them across the window sill with brittle thuds. And he was sure there was food inside.
Kalonymous searched the perimeter of the house thoroughly, until he located a high window on the side of the house that the workers had missed. The window opened easily and he eased himself through the small space.
When he entered the kitchen, his heart sank. Members of the work crews who had been stomping in and out of the house had made quick work of the pantry. Food was already getting scarce and, although the Hohmanns had never been without, he wasn’t sure that was the case when it came to workhands. They’d hauled off entire sacks of flour, sugar and beans that Kalonymous knew had been there, as well as the jam preserves, pickled beets, smoked fish and all of the dried goods Lilli kept on hand.
The men had been clumsy. There was food spilled all over the floor — cakes and cookies, oil, milk, cheese. They must have gorged themselves where they stood before dragging the large bags out of the house and into their waiting trucks.
Bitter disappointment was a waste of time. Hershel and Dovid’l were hungry, and that was what he thought about as he groped for a solution. That was when he remembered the “cold room,” the small compartment built into the side of the house that remained cool and dry no matter what the weather was outside. The door was so heavy it had always taken all three of them to pull it open. Now Kalonymous mustered all of his rapidly waning strength. He put his foot on the side of the house and pulled with all his might. The first two times he tried he ended up flat on his back, but the third time must have loosened the door from the jam and he was able to pull it open.
Inside was a cornucopia of food, much of it prepared and ready to eat. There were large sacks of carrots, turnips, and radish. The shelves were lined with jars of pickled food, and large jugs of water were stored underneath.
Gathering what he could hold in his arms, he ran back to his brothers and spread out the food in front of them.
They dug in, trying to stuff as much food in their mouths at one time as possible. Kalonymous had to slow them down. He felt the weight of their care fall on his shoulders once again, the aching responsibility of keeping them safe when he, too, was still only a child. He saw the way they looked to him, their eyes trusting and vulnerable, and he knew he could never give up.
The days passed so slowly Kalonymous was afraid they would die of boredom. While they still had the strength, they would play games, tossing sticks back and forth, playing hide and seek among the trees, gathering big piles of leaves and jumping into them. Kalonymous told them every story he knew and taught them every song he ever heard, but slowly he ran out of what to say and what to do and silence set in among the three boys. There was nothing left to say.
Kalonymous continued his raids on the “cold room,” bringing back to the clearing enough food to last them for a day or two. It was hard to eat the carrots and pickles each and every day, but Kalonymous forced them, and himself, to eat three or four times a day to keep their strength up. He was not surprised no one had found them yet — the estate was so thoroughly abandoned that he’d seen no one come or go for a long time.
When the deep cold set in, Kalonymous did not know what to do. He was afraid to move them from the clearing in the forest for fear of getting “found” again as with Yannick, hurt or lost, but they couldn’t remain out in the cold or they’d freeze to death eventually. They’d have to go back into the house. That was more dangerous than hiding in the woods, but there was no choice.
They gathered their things and trudged over to the window Kalonymous had found. He tossed their stuff in first, then hoisted Hershel and Dovid’l through the window. They knew their way around and, as one, headed up to the Bird Room. The bed was gone, the soft blankets, the rays of light that had danced in their eyes in the morning, but there was a dim memory of safety there, and that would have to be enough.
To be continued . . .