"Are you Mademoiselle Blumenthal?" The fat German lady stood in the middle of the cabin, beaming and looking at her.
Ilse said that she was.
"Miriam Ginsberg, very pleased to meet you."
She stared too hard. Ilse wondered if she had a smut on her nose. She rubbed it, unobtrusively, checked that her hands were clean.
"My dear. You wont fall down, will you?"
Ilse said that she was fine. She opened the case, took out Winnetou and hid behind it.
"What are you reading?"
She held up the book politely.
"Isnt that a book for boys?"
She shook her head, concentrated and read on. A tall, thin woman came in and the fat lady whispered something and then introduced her as her sister, Fräulein Tischler. The sister, who had a sweet smile, held out her hand. Ilse climbed down, did her curtsy, offered her hand and climbed back up again. The thin one whispered through one cupped hand to the fat one, something that Ilse had been taught was extremely rude and quite unnecessary when a person was not even looking in their direction. She turned on one side and read on, facing the wall. If she remained that way round and kept her head down, she could avoid seeing them.
Old Shatterhand, feigning timidity, said he could not swim and asked how deep the water was. The Indians despised this. When kicked into it by Intshu-tshuna, he threw up his hands and dropped into the water with a show of terror. Once in the element he knew so well, everything changed. Like an otter he swam under the cold water, holding his breath, surfacing at the overhang on the opposite bank where there was just room for a man to lift up his face and breathe, and the chance that he would not be seen. It was a daring and a courageous plan.
"Would you like to come and sit with us? Its much more comfortable down here."
"No, thank you."
The Indians had believed his show of fear, despising him, and now they stood, amazed, scanning the waters and wondering where he had gone. With lungs full, Old Shatterhand slid down into the water again and swam with powerful strokes on to the distant bank. The water eddied and flowed, and the Indians stared. By now, surely, he was dead.
Excerpted from The Children's War by Monique Charlesworth, pages 3-9. Copyright© 2004 by Monique Charlesworth. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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