The German army had a million horses. Most divisions included a veterinary company, dedicated to healing sick and wounded beasts, finding fodder, and catching runaways. One such company had now been billeted on Kirstenslot.

It was the worst possible stroke of luck for Harald. The officers were living in the castle, and about a hundred men were bedded down in the ruined monastery. The old cloisters, adjacent to the church where Harald had his hideout, had been turned into a horse hospital.

Advertisement

The army had been persuaded not to use the church itself. Karen had pleaded with her father to negotiate this, saying she did not want the soldiers to damage the childhood treasures that were stored there. Mr. Duchwitz had pointed out to the commanding officer, Captain Kleiss, that the junk in the church left little usable room anyway. After a glance through a window - Harald being absent, warned away by Karen - Kleiss had agreed to its remaining locked up. As a quid pro quo, he had requested three rooms in the castle for offices, and the deal had been struck.

The Germans were polite, friendly - and curious. On top of all the difficulties Harald faced repairing the Hornet Moth, he now had to do everything under the noses of the soldiers.

He was undoing the nuts that held the buckled wishbone axle. His plan was to detach the damaged section, then sneak past the soldiers and go to Farmer Nielsen's workshop. If Nielsen would let him, he would repair it there. Meanwhile, the intact third leg, with the shock absorber, would hold the weight of the aircraft while stationary.

The wheel brake was probably damaged, but Harald was not going to worry about brakes. They were used mainly when taxiing, and Karen had told him she could manage without them.

-- Advertisement --

As he worked, Harald kept glancing up at the windows, expecting at any moment to see the face of Captain Kleiss looking in. Kleiss had a big nose and a thrusting chin, which gave him a belligerent look. But no one came, and after a few minutes Harald had the V-shaped strut in his hand.

He stood on a box to look through a window. The eastern end of the church was partly obscured by a chestnut tree that was now in full leaf. There seemed to be no one in the immediate vicinity. Harald pushed the strut through the window and dropped it on the ground outside, then jumped after it.

Beyond the tree, he could see the wide lawn in front of the castle. The soldiers had pitched four large tents and parked their vehicles there, jeeps and horse boxes and a fuel tanker. A few men were visible, passing from one tent to another, but it was afternoon, and most of the company were away on missions, taking horses to and from the railway station, negotiating with farmers for hay, or treating sick horses in Copenhagen and other towns.

He picked up the strut and walked quickly into the wood.

As he turned the corner of the church, he saw Captain Kleiss.

The captain was a big man with an aggressive air, and he was standing with his arms crossed and his legs apart, talking to a sergeant. They both turned and looked straight at Harald.

Harald suffered the sudden nausea of fear. Was he to be caught so early? He stopped, wanting to turn back, then realized that to run away would be incriminating. He hesitated then walked forward, conscious that his behavior looked guilty, and that he was carrying part of the undercarriage of an airplane. He had been caught red-handed, and all he could do was try to bluff it out. He tried to hold the strut in a casual way, as he might carry a tennis racket or a book.

Kleiss addressed him in German. "Who are you?"

He swallowed, trying to remain calm. "Harald Olufsen."

"And what's that you've got?"

"This?" Harald could hear his own heartbeat. He tried desperately to think of a plausible lie. "It's, um . . ." He felt himself blush, then was saved by inspiration. "Part of the mower assembly from a reaping machine." It occurred to him that an uneducated Danish farm boy would not speak such good German, and he wondered anxiously whether Kleiss was subtle enough to spot the anomaly.

Kleiss said, "What's wrong with the machine?"

"Er, it ran over a boulder and buckled the frame."

Kleiss took the strut from him. Harald hoped he did not know what he was looking at. Horses were the man's business, and there was no reason why he should be able to recognize part of the undercarriage of an aircraft. Harald stopped breathing, waiting for Kleiss's verdict. At last the man gave him back the strut. "All right, on your way."

Harald walked into the woods.

When he was out of sight, he stopped and leaned against a tree. That had been an awful moment. He thought he might vomit, but managed to suppress the reaction.

He pulled himself together. There might be more such moments. He would have to get used to it.

He walked on. The weather was warm but cloudy, a summer combination dismally familiar in Denmark, where no place was far from the sea. As he approached the farm, he wondered how angry old Nielsen was that he had left without warning after working only one day.

He found Nielsen in the farmyard staring truculently at a tractor with steam pouring from its engine.

Nielsen gave him a hostile glare. "What do you want, runaway?"

That was a bad start. "I'm sorry I left without explanation," Harald said. "I was called home to my parents' place quite suddenly, and I didn't have time to speak to you before I left."

Nielsen did not ask what the emergency had been. "I can't afford to pay unreliable workers."

That made Harald hopeful. If money was what the mean old farmer was concerned about, he could keep it. "I'm not asking you to pay me."

Nielsen only grunted at that, but he looked a shade less malign. "What do you want, then?"

Harald hesitated. This was the difficult bit. He did not want to tell Nielsen too much. "A favor," he said.

"What sort?"

Harald showed him the strut. "I'd like to use your workshop to repair a part from my motorcycle."

Nielsen looked at him. "By Christ, you've got a nerve, lad."

I know that, Harald thought. "It's really important," he pleaded. "Perhaps you could do that instead of paying me for the day I worked."

"Perhaps I could." Nielsen hesitated, obviously reluctant to do anything helpful, but his parsimony got the better of him. "All right, then."

Harald concealed his elation.

Nielsen added, "If you fix this damn tractor first."

Harald cursed under his breath. He did not want to waste an hour on Nielsen's tractor when he had such a short time to repair the Hornet Moth. But it was only a boiling radiator. "All right," he said.

Nielsen stomped off to find something else to grumble about.

The tractor soon ran out of steam, and Harald was able to look at the engine. He immediately saw that a hose had perished where it was clamped to a pipe, allowing water to leak out of the cooling system. There was no chance of getting a replacement hose, of course, but fortunately the existing one had some slack in it, so he was able to cut off the rotten end and reattach the hose. He got a bucket of hot water from the farmhouse kitchen and refilled the radiator - it was damaging to run cold water through an overheated engine. Finally he started the tractor to make sure the clamp held. It did.

At last he went into the workshop.

He needed some thin sheet steel to reinforce the fractured part of the axle strut. He already knew where to get it. There were four metal shelves on the wall. He took everything off the top shelf and rearranged the items on the three lower shelves. Then he lifted the top shelf down. Using Nielsen's metal shears, he trimmed off the flanged edges of the shelf, then cut four strips.

He would use these as splints.

He put one strip in a vise and hammered it into a rough curve to fit over the oval tube of the strut. He did the same with the other three strips. Then he welded them in place over the dents in the strut.

He stood back to look at his work. "Unsightly, but effective," he said aloud.

Tramping back through the woods to the castle, he could hear the sounds of the army camp: men calling to one another, engines revving, horses whinnying. It was early evening, and the soldiers would have returned from their day's duties. He wondered whether he would have trouble getting back into the church unnoticed.

He approached the monastery from the back. At the north side of the church, a young private was leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette. Harald nodded to him, and the soldier said in Danish: "Good day, I am Leo."

Harald tried to smile. "I'm Harald, nice to meet you."

"Would you like a cigarette?"

"Thank you, another time, I'm in a hurry."

Harald walked around to the side of the church. He had found a log and rolled it under one of the windows. Now he stood on it and looked into the church. He passed the wishbone strut through the glassless window and dropped it onto the box that stood below the window on the inside. It bounced off the box and fell to the floor. Then he wriggled through.

A voice said, "Hello!"

His heart stopped, then he saw Karen. She was at the tail, partly concealed by the aircraft, working on the wing with the damaged tip. Harald picked up the axle strut and went to show it to her.

Then a voice said in German, "I thought this place was empty!"

Harald spun around. The young private, Leo, was looking in through the window. Harald stared at him aghast, cursing his luck. "It's a storeroom," he said.

Leo wriggled through the window and dropped to the floor. Harald shot a glance back to the tail of the aircraft. Karen had vanished. Leo looked around, seeming curious rather than suspicious.

The Hornet Moth was covered from propeller to cabin, and the wings were folded back, but the fuselage was visible, and the tail fin could be made out at the far side of the church. How observant was Leo?

Luckily, the soldier seemed more interested in the Rolls-Royce. "Nice car," he said. "Is it yours?"

"Unfortunately not," said Harald. "The motorcycle is mine." He held up the axle strut from the Hornet Moth. "This is for my sidecar. I'm trying to fix it up."

"Ah!" Leo showed no sign of skepticism. "I'd like to help you, but I don't know anything about machinery. Horseflesh is my specialty."

"Of course." They were about the same age, and Harald felt sympathy for the lonely young man far from home. But he wished all the same that Leo would go before he saw too much.

A shrill whistle sounded. "Suppertime," Leo said.

Thank God, Harald thought.

"It was a pleasure talking to you, Harald. I look forward to seeing you again."

"Me, too."

Leo stood on the box and pulled himself out through the window.

"Jesus," Harald said aloud.

Karen emerged from behind the tail of the Hornet Moth, looking shaken. "That was a nasty moment."

"He wasn't suspicious, he just wanted to talk."

"God preserve us from friendly Germans," she said with a smile.

"Amen." He loved it when she smiled. It was like the sun coming up. He looked at her face as long as he dared.

Then he turned to the wing she had been working on. She was repairing the rips, he saw. He went closer and stood next to her. She was dressed in old corduroy trousers that looked as if they had been worn for gardening, and a man's shirt with the sleeves rolled. "I'm gluing patches of linen over the damaged areas," she explained. "When the glue is dry, I'll paint over the patches to make them airtight."

"Where did you get the material, and the glue, and the paint?"

"From the theater. I fluttered my eyelashes at a set builder."

"Good for you." It was obviously easy for her to get men to do anything she wanted. He was jealous of the set builder. "What do you do at the theater all day, anyway?" he said.

"I'm understudying the lead in Les Sylphides."

"Will you get to dance it on stage?"

"No. There are two casts, so both the other dancers would have to fall ill."

"Shame. I'd love to see you."

"If the impossible happens, I'll get you a ticket." She returned her attention to the wing. "We have to make sure there are no internal fractures."

"That means we have to examine the wooden spars under the fabric."

"Yes."

"Well, now that we've got the material to repair rips, I suppose we could cut an inspection panel in the fabric and just look inside."

She looked dubious. "Okay . . ."

He did not think a knife would easily cut the treated linen, but he found a sharp chisel on the tool shelf. "Where should we cut?"

"Near the struts."

He pressed the chisel into the surface. Once the initial breach had been made, the chisel cut the fabric relatively easily. Harald made an L-shaped incision and folded back a flap, making a sizable opening.

Karen pointed a flashlight into the hole, then put her face down and peered inside. She took her time looking around, then withdrew her head and put her arm in. She grasped something and shook vigorously. "I think we're in luck," she said. "Nothing shifts."

She stepped back and Harald took her place. He reached inside, grasped a strut, and pushed and pulled it. The entire wing moved, but he felt no weakness.

Karen was pleased. "We're making progress," she said. "If I can finish the work on the fabric tomorrow, and you can bolt the axle strut back on, the airframe will be complete, except for the missing cables. And we've still got eight days to go."

"Not really," Harald said. "We probably need to reach England at least twenty-four hours before the raid, for our information to have any effect. That brings it down to seven. To arrive on the seventh day, we need to leave the previous evening and fly overnight. So we really have six days at the most."

"Then I'll have to finish the fabric tonight." She looked at her watch. "I'd better show up at the house for dinner, but I'll come back as soon as I can."

She put away the glue and washed her hands at the sink, using soap she had brought from the house for Harald. He watched her. He was always sorry when she left. He thought he would like to be with her all day, every day. He guessed that was the feeling that made people want to get married. Did he want to marry Karen? It seemed like a foolish question. Of course he did. He had no doubt. He sometimes tried to imagine the two of them after ten years, fed up with one another and bored, but it was impossible. Karen would never be boring.

She dried her hands on a scrap of towel. "What are you so thoughtful about?"

He felt himself blush. "Wondering what the future holds."

She gave him a startlingly direct look, and for a moment he felt she could read his mind; then she looked away. "A long flight across the North Sea," she said. "Six hundred miles without landfall. So we'd better be sure this old kite can make it."

She went to the window and stood on the box. "Don't look - this is an undignified maneuver for a lady."

"I won't, I swear," he said with a laugh.

She pulled herself up. Breaking his promise cheerfully, he watched her rear as she wriggled through. Then she dropped out of sight.

He turned his attention back to the Hornet Moth. It should not take long to reattach the braced axle strut. He found the nuts and bolts where he had left them, on the workbench. He knelt by the wheel, fitted the strut in place, and began to attach the bolts that held it to the fuselage and the wheel mounting.

Just as he was finishing, Karen came back in, much sooner than expected.

He smiled, pleased at her early return, then saw that she looked distraught. "What's happened?" he said.

"Your mother telephoned."

Harald was angry. "Damn! I shouldn't have told her where I was going. Who did she speak to?"

"My father. But he told her you definitely weren't here, and she seems to have believed him."

"Thank God." He was glad he had decided not to tell Mother he was living in the disused church. "What did she want, anyway?"

"There's bad news."

"What?"

"It's about Arne."

Harald realized, with a guilty start, that in the last few days he had hardly given a thought to his brother, languishing in jail. "What's happened?"

"Arne is . . . He's dead."

At first Harald could not take it in. "Dead?" he said as if he did not understand the meaning of the word. "How could that be?"

"The police say he took his own life."

"Suicide?" Harald had the feeling the world was crumbling around him, the walls of the church collapsing and the trees in the park falling over and the castle of Kirstenslot blowing away in a strong wind. "Why would he do that?"

"To avoid interrogation by the Gestapo, Arne's commanding officer told her."

"To avoid . . ." Harald saw immediately what that meant. "He was afraid he wouldn't be able to withstand the torture."

Karen nodded. "That was the implication."

"If he had talked, he would have betrayed me."

She was silent, neither agreeing with him nor contradicting him.

"He killed himself to protect me." Harald suddenly needed Karen to confirm his inference. He took her by the shoulders. "I'm right, am I not?" he shouted. "That must be it! He did it for me! Say something, for God's sake."

At last she spoke. "I think you're right," she whispered.

In an instant Harald's anger was transformed into grief. It swamped him, and he lost control. Tears flooded his eyes, and his body shook with sobs. "Oh, God," he said, and he covered his wet face with his hands. "Oh, God, this is awful."

He felt Karen's arms enfold him. Gently, she drew his head down to her shoulder. His tears soaked into her hair and ran down her throat. She stroked his neck and kissed his wet face.

"Poor Arne," Harald said, his voice choked by sorrow. "Poor Arne."

"I'm sorry," Karen murmured. "My darling Harald, I'm so sorry."

-- Advertisement --