Then in panic, because I was making so much noise, they sat on me again. But as soon as they let me go I was back on top of him. ‘I FREED YOU! You would still be IN CHAINS and packed in a stinking freight wagon LIKE A COW by now if it wasn’t for me! You wouldn’t have helped another prisoner EAT AND DRINK?’
‘Käthe, Käthe!’ Mitraillette, weeping, tried to take my face between her hands to comfort me and shut me up. ‘Käthe, arrête – stop, stop! Tu dois – you must! Wait – Attends –’
She held a tin cup of cold coffee laced with cognac up to my mouth – helped me. Helped me drink.
That was the first time she KO’d me. It takes 30 minutes for the drug to work. Suppose I’m lucky they didn’t hit me over the head with a bicycle to speed it up.
When I woke up they made me go with the chauffeur up to the villa. I felt like hell warmed over, stupid and faintly sick and absolutely famished, and I think I probably wouldn’t have cared if the old woman who lived there had turned me over to the police. ISN’T THAT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU KILL YOUR BEST FRIEND?
But no, the chauffeur took me into a dark and elegant oak-panelled hall and the woman came to meet me – she is one of those beautiful, porcelain-perfect people of the last century, with snow-white hair done up in exactly Julie’s chignon – I noticed that. She took my hand without saying a thing and led me upstairs into a bathroom the size of a ballroom, where there was a dead boiling bath drawn up and waiting, and she sort of pushed me into the room and left me there to get on with it.
I thought about putting Etienne’s pocket knife to use by slitting my wrists, but it seemed rather unfair on the frail, heroic woman whose house it was, and also – ALSO I WANT REVENGE, BLAST IT
So I had a bath. Which, I confess, was heavenly. Dried off in a huge fluffy towel obviously left for me, feeling sinful. And a bit unreal.
The old woman – I should say elderly, not old, she is a refined sort of person – she met me at the door when I came out. I was clean underneath, but my hillwalking trousers were caked with mud and my wet hair was standing on end and I felt shabby as a street urchin. Didn’t seem to matter – once more she took me by the hand, and this time led me to a small parlour where she had a fire going, and a kettle on the hob. She made me sit down on the frayed silk of her eighteenth-century settee while she made me a little supper, with bread and honey and coffee, and tiny yellow apples, and a boiled egg.
The tray went on a small, marble-topped side table and she knocked the top of the egg off for me with a pretty silver spoon as though I were a baby and needed feeding. Then she dipped the spoon into the egg and the yolk came up golden like the sun popping out of a cloud bank. It made me think instantly of eating supper with the Craig Castle Irregulars the first time I went there. Then I realised that Julie and I had never been there at the same time and now we never would, and I bent over and began to cry.
The old woman, who didn’t know who I was and whose life was in danger just because she had me in her house, sat down beside me on the old settee and stroked my hair with thin, wrinkled hands, and I sobbed hopelessly in her arms for nearly an hour.
After a while she got up and said, ‘I will make another egg for you, three minutes only – how the English like it. This one is cold now.’
She did another and she made me eat it while she ate the cold one herself.
When I left to go back to the stables she kissed me on both cheeks and said, ‘We share a terrible burden, chérie. We are alike.’
I am not sure what she meant.
I kissed her cheeks too and said, ‘Merci, Madame. Merci mille fois.’
A thousand thanks is not really enough. But I haven’t anything else to give her.
Her gardens are full of roses – sprawling, old, tangled bushes, quite a few of them autumn-flowering Damasks with their last flowers still nodding and drooping in the rain. The old woman is the one the circuit is named for. Mitraillette says that before the war the woman was quite a noted horticulturalist and that the chauffeur/ groundskeeper is in fact a skilled gardener, and she has bred and named a few of the roses herself. I hadn’t noticed the roses when we arrived last night, or even walking up to the villa in daylight in a stupor, but I noticed them on my way back to the stables after my bath. The flowers are sodden and dying in the December rain, but the sturdy bushes are still alive, and will be beautiful some day in the spring, if the German army doesn’t mow them down like the ones in the Ormaie town square. For no good reason they made me think of Paris and ever since then I have had that song stuck in my head yet again.
None of the rest of us was given a bath or a hot soft-boiled egg, though cold hard-boiled ones were passed around. I think I was sent up to the house as a diversion while they were getting rid of the lad I’d tried to murder that morning and the other chained man. Anyway I never saw them again. I don’t know how they got their leg irons off, or where they went, or if they are safe. I hope so. I really do.
Everybody else left in stages over the next two days. Mitraillette says it is actually safer to travel by day than at night if you are a fugitive, since daytime is when people are out and about and there isn’t any curfew – don’t think I’d realised that, since I am always trying to get on a plane that arrives after midnight at some distant airfield.
She and I and the Rosalie owner were delivered home by the rose lady’s chauffeur in her own car – we thought we ought to leave the old Rosalie there for a bit longer in case the Nazis come back to check on the garage again. The bridge still hasn’t been fixed and except for the German soldiers we killed, every one of the bodies is still lying there in the rain, with guards posted over them to keep anyone from trying to bury them. Fifteen people lying there. I haven’t seen it, we couldn’t drive that way anyway as the bridge was out. They’ll have to clear the road when they get the bridge fixed, but I have a sick and certain feeling they will just pile everybody alongside the road to remind us not to try again. Julie, Oh lovely Julie,
I am going to drink this stuff now and try to sleep again, but I should put down that I have a project to work on when I wake up – while Mitraillette and I were gone, a friend of Maman Thibaut’s who runs a laundry service dropped off a bag containing clean, German-made chemises, labelled ‘Käthe Habicht’, and hidden underneath them was a huge pile of paper that I have to go through. I don’t know what it is – haven’t had the heart to look – but it must be from Engel again. Amélie peeked and discovered that the pages are numbered so she’s put them all in order for me, but it’s in English and she couldn’t read it. It’s still hidden in the laundry bag beneath my ‘anonymously’ donated new collection of underclothes. I jolly well don’t feel like reading anything Engel has sent me any more tonight, but tomorrow is Sunday and there will be croissants with the coffee and I expect it will still be raining.
It is not Engel’s writing
It is Julie’s
I’ve not finished reading yet. I’ve scarcely started. It is hundreds of pages long, half of it on little bits of card. Maman Thibaut just keeps making me more coffee and the girls are keeping a good watch on the road and the back lane. I can’t stop. I don’t know if there’s any urgency or not – Engel may need the papers back, as there is an official-looking number printed at the end in red ink, and a horrible execution order on Gestapo stationery attached by the evil Nikolaus Ferber. Not an order, I mean, only a recommendation – according to Engel’s translation. But I think it was in the process of being carried out when we stopped the bus.
I can tell when Julie’s been crying. Not just because she says so, but because the writing goes all smeary and the paper crinkles. Her tears, dried on these pages, are mixed up with mine making them wet again. I have cried so hard over this that I am beginning to feel stupid. They did show her those blasted pictures. And she did give them code – eleven sets of encoding poems, passwords and frequencies. Eleven code sets – eleven dummy code sets, ONE FOR EACH OF OUR DUMMY WIRELESSES, one for each of the ‘onze radios’ we planted in the wrecked Lysander. Those pictures were a gift. She could have told them so much, she knew SO MUCH, and all she gave them was fake code.
She never even told them my code name – though they must have wondered. She never told them Käthe Habicht’s name, which might have given me away. She never told them ANYTHING
Names names names. How does she do it? Cattercup – Stratfield – SWINLEY??? Newbery College? How does she do it? She makes it sound like she is so cut up to be giving them this information, and it’s all just bumph out of her head. She never told them ANYTHING. I don’t think she’s given them the right name of any airfield in the whole of Britain, except Maidsend and Buscot, which of course were where she was stationed. They could have easily checked. It’s all so close to truth, and so glib – her aircraft identification is rather good, considering what a fuss she makes about it. It makes me think of the first day I met her, giving those directions in German. So cool and crisp, such authority – suddenly she really was a radio operator, a German radio operator, she was so good at faking it. Or when I told her to be Jamie, how she just suddenly turned into Jamie.
This confession of hers is rotten with error – I did my Civil Air Guard training at Barton, not ‘Oakway’, and the fog line at so-called Oakway is electric, not gas. It wasn’t a Spitfire the first time I flew to Craig Castle of course, it was a BEAUFORT, and she jolly well knew that! Though I have ferried Spitfires to ‘Deeside’. I suppose she truly didn’t want to draw attention to any real names. She calls the RAF Maidsend Squadron Leader ‘Creighton’ and she knows perfectly well his proper name is Leland North. Creighton is the name of the Colonel in Kim. I know because Julie made me read it – partly, I am dead sure, as a warning about how both of us were being fine-tuned for the war machine by that Bloody Machiavellian Intelligence Officer whose real name she also knows perfectly well.
I don’t at all remember the story about her grandmother’s sister shooting her husband. Of course Julie would have had to fudge a lot of our conversations to keep the flow going, none of them run exactly as I remember. Mostly it’s all there and I recognise it, only I don’t think she ever told me that story. I have no memory of it at all.
It’s eerie and unbearable. It’s as though she’s trying to tell me what she wanted me to do. But she couldn’t have known what was going to happen, or even that I’d read this. She thought I was dead. So it must not have been aimed at me, but then – why tell it?
What’s strange about the whole thing is that although it’s riddled with nonsense, altogether it’s true – Julie’s told our story, mine and hers, our friendship, so truthfully. It is us. We even had the same dream at the same time. How could we have had the same dream at the same time? How can something so wonderful and mysterious be true? But it is.