Chapter 1 – Dear Friends Gather

March 1954

"Has one found a good wife? One has found a good thing,..." Proverbs 18:22

Jo sighed contentedly as she leaned back against Peter's shoulder. He wrapped his right arm around her as they cuddled together at one end of a large, comfortable sofa. A large, comfortable sofa which was perfectly positioned before a blazing hearth which did much to dispel the cold and damp of a March evening in Paris.

Jo glanced over at their host with a grateful smile. "Louis, that was a wonderful meal!"

Peter nodded in agreement as he took a sip of the strong, hot coffee his French friend had served them after dinner. "Ta little mate. You've outdone yerself again!"

"That is high praise indeed coming from you Pierre!" laughed Louis LeBeau. As he was sitting at the opposite end of the sofa, he had to lean over to whisper in Jo's ear, "He never complimented my cooking whilst we were in the stalag!"

Peter heard him. "'ey now Louis, you didn't 'ave to tell 'er that!"

Louis leaned back and shrugged. "C'est vrai Pierre! It is the truth!"

"Yeah well," groused Peter, rolling his eyes in his characteristic manner. "You didn't 'ave the caliber of ingredients back then like you do now." He caught sight of Louis' wife Danielle as she quietly entered the room and gestured to her. "Danielle, please come 'ere and tell yer 'usband to stop spreadin' slander about me."

Danielle smiled shyly as she shook her head in answer. "Oh no Pierre, I will not enter that trap."

Jo laughed, "You married a very wise woman Louis."

"And I thank God every day for that Josephine! I could say the same for you Pierre!"

"Don't I know it!" Peter planted an affectionate kiss on Jo's cheek. "I 'ave to say it's been eight years o'bliss Louis, in spite of all our troubles."

"If I have not said it yet, I would like to wish you both a very happy anniversary," said Louis.

Danielle took his hand and nodded her agreement with his words as she sat down beside her husband. She spoke softly, "We pray that life continues to improve for you both."

"Thank you Louis, Danielle," answered Jo. "We both appreciate your love and generosity."

Peter nodded. "I was beginnin' to wonder if we would ever be able to make this trip, given all that's 'appened since I was sick." He well remembered Louis making him promise to bring his family to visit as soon as he was released from hospital over a year ago.

"Well, let us not dwell on our misfortunes mes amis. Let us celebrate the fact that you have had eight years together, with many more for the future!"

"You're right Louis! And Danielle, thank you for looking after the boys. Did they give you any trouble?" asked Jo.

"No, they were very well behaved little gentlemen. They were so tired they dropped right off to sleep!"

Peter sighed in relief. "Thank goodness for that! They can be a 'andful sometimes. Not that I'm complainin' mind you, not at all." His thoughts suddenly went back to his little daughter, who they had lost at her premature birth five months earlier. He deliberately shook himself out of that frame of mind and spoke to Louis. "But you and Danielle got married before we did. You've been married for eight years as well, 'aven't ya Louis?"

"Yes, nearly eight and one half years," nodded Louis. "We celebrated our anniversary this past November."

"That's right! I remember now, you and Danielle 'ad been married for five months when Jo and I got married. Well, 'appy belated anniversary to you as well!" Peter raised his coffee cup in salute. "Who could've known a couple of clods like us would find such women, eh Louie?"

"Oui, Pierre. I marvel at that myself. We are two very fortunate men to be sure."

Peter nodded thoughtfully as he took another swallow of coffee, emptying his cup. Louis noticed and picked up the coffee pot.

"More coffee, Pierre?"

"Ta Louis." Peter held his cup out; Louis refilled it with coffee and then topped it off with a generous splash of brandy. Peter took an appreciative mouthful. "This really knocks the chill out don't it?"

"Mais oui!" agreed Louis.

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, simply enjoying each other's company as they sipped coffee and savored the comforting warmth of the fire. Peter shifted a bit to put his coffee cup down on the table beside the sofa. He then glanced over at his French friend, an impish grin on his face.

"Y'know Louis, I don't think you ever told us the whole story of 'ow you and Danielle met," said Peter. "It's a good night for a tale. Would ya mind tellin' us?"

Louis smiled shyly and looked down before he reached to take his wife's hands in both of his. He brought them to his lips and kissed them before he answered his English friend. "No Pierre, I would not mind. Why would I mind telling you how I found my greatest treasure?"

Danielle blushed and gazed affectionately at Louis. Peter smiled at her reaction and snuggled Jo even closer to his side. He leaned down to whisper, "I love you darlin'," before he gently kissed her. She wrapped her arms around him and laid her head against his chest.

"I love you too darling."

Louis chuckled to himself as he quietly observed the two of them. It made him very happy to see his English friends acting like newlyweds. Peter and Jo were still recovering from the grievous loss of their infant daughter Abby but it was evident that they had made a significant amount of headway in the last five months. Louis idly wondered what it would have been like to have children of his own, but then sighed and dismissed those thoughts as he began to reminiscence on his courtship with Danielle.

"Mes amis, I will never forget the day I first met my Danielle. I had been back in Paris for less than a month…."