Page 13 of Hornet Flight

Harald's life was in ruins. All his plans were canceled and he had no future. Yet, instead of agonizing over his fate, he was looking forward to renewing his acquaintance with Karen Duchwitz. He recalled her white skin and vivid red hair, and the way she walked across the room as if she were dancing, and nothing seemed as important as seeing her again.

Denmark was a small, pretty country, but at twenty miles per hour it seemed like the endless desert. Harald's peat-burning motorcycle took a day and a half to get from his home on Sande across the width of the country to Kirstenslot.

The bike's progress over the monotonous undulating landscape was further slowed by breakdowns. He suffered a puncture before he was thirty miles from home. Next, on the long bridge that linked the Jutland peninsula with the central island of Fyn, his chain broke. The Nimbus motorcycle originally had a shaft drive, but that was difficult to connect to a steam engine, so Harald had taken a chain and sprockets from an old lawn mower. Now he had to push the bike miles to a garage and have a new link inserted. By the time he had crossed Fyn, he had missed the last ferry to the main island of Zealand. He parked the bike, ate the food his mother had given him - three thick slices of ham and a slab of cake - and spent a chill night waiting on the dockside. When he relit the boiler the next morning, the safety valve had developed a leak, but he managed to plug it with chewing gum and sticking plaster.

He arrived at Kirstenslot late on Saturday afternoon. Although he was impatient to see Karen, he did not go immediately to the castle. He drove past the ruined monastery and the entrance to the castle grounds, passed through the village with its church and tavern and railway station, and found the farm he had visited with Tik. He was confident he could get a job here. It was the right time of year, and he was young and strong.

There was a large farmhouse in a neat yard. As he parked the bike, he was watched by two little girls - granddaughters, he imagined, of Farmer Nielsen, the white-haired man he had seen driving away from the church.

He found the farmer at the rear of the house, dressed in muddy corduroys and a collarless shirt, leaning on a fence and smoking a pipe. "Good evening, Mr. Nielsen," he said.

"Hello, young man," Nielsen said guardedly. "What can I do for you?"

"My name is Harald Olufsen. I need a job, and Josef Duchwitz told me you hire summer laborers."

"Not this year, son."

Harald was dismayed. He had not even considered the possibility of refusal. "I'm a hard worker - "

"I don't doubt it, and you look strong enough, but I'm not hiring."

"Why not?"

Nielsen raised an eyebrow. "I might say it's none of your business, my lad, but I was a brash young man myself, once, so I'll tell you that times are hard, the Germans buy most of what I produce at a price decided by them, and there's no cash to pay casual laborers."

"I'll work for food," Harald said desperately. He could not return to Sande.

Nielsen gave him a penetrating look. "You sound as if you're in some kind of trouble. But I can't hire you on those terms. I'd have trouble with the union."

It seemed hopeless. Harald cast about for an alternative. He might find work in Copenhagen, but then where would he live? He could not even go to his brother, who lived on a military base where overnight guests were not permitted.

Nielsen saw his distress and said, "Sorry, son." He knocked his pipe out against the top rail of the fence. "Come on, I'll see you off the premises."

The farmer probably thought he was desperate enough to steal, Harald thought. The two of them walked around the house to the front yard.

"What the hell's that?" said Nielsen when he saw the bike, with its boiler gently puffing steam.

"It's just an ordinary motorcycle, but I've rigged it to run on peat."

"How far have you come on it?"

"From Morlunde."

"Good God! It looks ready to blow up any minute."

Harald felt offended. "It's perfectly safe," he said indignantly. "I know about engines. In fact, I mended one of your tractors, a few weeks ago." For a moment, Harald wondered whether Nielsen might hire him out of gratitude, but then he told himself not to be foolish. Gratitude would not pay wages. "You had a leak in the fuel supply."

Nielsen frowned. "What do you mean?"

Harald threw another slab of peat into the firebox. "I was staying at Kirstenslot for the weekend. Josef and I came across one of your men, Frederik, trying to start a tractor."

"I remember. So you're that lad?"

"Yes." He climbed on the bike.

"Wait a minute. Maybe I can hire you."

Harald looked at him, hardly daring to hope.

"I can't afford laborers, but a mechanic is a different matter. Do you know about all kinds of machinery?"

This was no time for modesty, Harald decided. "I can usually fix anything with an engine."

"I've got half a dozen machines lying idle for lack of spares. Do you think you could make them work?"

"Yes."

Nielsen looked at the motorcycle. "If you can do this, maybe you can repair my seed drill."

"I don't see why not."

"All right," the farmer said decisively. "I'll give you a trial."

"Thank you, Mr. Nielsen!"

"Tomorrow's Sunday, so come here on Monday morning at six o'clock. We farmers start early."

"I'll be here."

"Don't be late."

Harald opened the regulator to let steam into the cylinder and drove off before Nielsen could change his mind.

As soon as he was out of earshot, he let out a triumphant yell. He had a job - one much more interesting than serving customers in a haberdashery - and he had done it himself. He felt full of confidence. He was on his own, but he was young and strong and smart. He was going to be all right.

Daylight was fading as he drove back through the village. He almost failed to see a man in police uniform who stepped into the road and waved him down. He braked hard at the last minute, and the boiler sighed a cloud of steam through the safety valve. He recognized the policeman as Per Hansen, the local Nazi.

"What the hell is this?" Hansen said, pointing to the bike.

"It's a Nimbus motorcycle, converted to steam power," Harald told him.

"It looks dangerous to me."

Harald had little patience with this kind of officious busybody, but he forced himself to answer politely. "I assure you, Officer, it's perfectly safe. Are you making official inquiries, or just indulging your curiosity?"

"Never mind the cheek, lad. I've seen you before, haven't I?"

Harald told himself not to get on the wrong side of the law. He had already spent one night in jail this week. "My name is Harald Olufsen."

"You're a friend of the Jews at the castle."

Harald lost his temper. "It's none of your damn business who my friends are."

"Oho! Is it not?" Hansen looked satisfied, as if he had the result he wanted. "I've got the measure of you, young man," he said maliciously. "I shall keep a close eye on you. Off you go, now."

Harald pulled away. He cursed his short temper. He had now made an enemy of the local policeman, just because of a throwaway remark about Jews. When would he learn to keep out of trouble?

A quarter of a mile from the gates of Kirstenslot, he turned off the road onto the cart track that led through the wood to the back of the monastery. He could not be seen from the house, and he was betting no one would be working in the garden on a Saturday evening.

He stopped the bike at the west front of the disused church, then walked through the cloisters and entered the church by a side door. At first he could see only ghostly shapes in the dim evening light coming through the high windows. As his eyesight adjusted, he made out the long Rolls-Royce car under its tarpaulin, the boxes of old toys, and the Hornet Moth biplane with its folded wings. He had the feeling that no one had entered the church since last time he was here.

He opened the large main door, drove his bike inside, and closed the door.

He permitted himself a moment of satisfaction as he shut down the steam engine. He had crossed the country on his improvised motorcycle, got himself a job, and found a place to stay. Unless he was unlucky, his father could not find out where he was; but if there should be any important family news, his brother knew how to get in touch with him. Best of all, there was a good chance he would see Karen Duchwitz. He recalled that she liked to smoke a cigarette on the terrace after dinner. He decided to go and look out for her. It was risky - he might be seen by Mr. Duchwitz - but he felt lucky today.

In a corner of the church, next to the workbench and tool rack, was a sink with a cold water tap. Harald had not washed for two days. He stripped off his shirt and got cleaned up as best he could without soap. He rinsed out the shirt, hung it on a nail to dry, and put on the spare one from his bag.

An arrow-straight drive half a mile long led from the main gates to the castle, but it was too exposed, and Harald took a roundabout route to approach the place through the wood. He passed the stables, crossed the kitchen garden, and studied the back of the house from the shelter of a cedar tree. He was able to identify the drawing room by its French windows, which were open to the terrace. Next to it was the dining room, he recalled. The blackout curtains were not yet drawn, for the electric lights had not yet been switched on, although he saw the flicker of a candle.

He guessed the family was having dinner. Tik would be at school - Jansborg boys were allowed home once a fortnight, and this was a school weekend - so the dinner party would consist of Karen and her parents, unless there were guests. He decided to risk a closer look.

He crossed the lawn and crept up to the house. He heard the sound of a BBC announcer saying that Vichy French forces had abandoned Damascus to an army of British, Commonwealth, and Free French. It made a pleasant change to hear of a British victory, but he found it hard to see how good news from Syria was going to help his cousin Monika in Hamburg. Peeping in through the dining room window, he saw that dinner was over, and a maid was clearing the table.

A moment later, a voice behind him said, "What do you thinking you're doing?"

He spun around.

Karen was walking along the terrace toward him. Her pale skin was luminous in the evening light. She wore a long silk dress in a watery shade of blue-green. Her dancer's carriage made it seem as if she were gliding. She looked like a ghost.

"Hush!" he said.

She did not recognize him in the fading light. "Hush?" she said indignantly. There was nothing ghostly about her challenging tone. "I find an intruder peering through a window into my house and he tells me to hush?" There was a bark from inside.

Harald could not decide whether Karen was genuinely outraged or just amused. "I don't want your father to know I'm here!" he said in a low, urgent voice.

"You should worry about the police, not my father."

The old red setter, Thor, came bounding out, ready to savage a burglar, but he recognized Harald and licked his hand.

"I'm Harald Olufsen, I was here two weeks ago."

"Oh - the boogie-woogie boy! What are you doing skulking on the terrace? Have you come back to rob the place?"

To Harald's dismay, Mr. Duchwitz came to the French window and looked out. "Karen?" he said. "Is someone there?"

Harald held his breath. If Karen betrayed him now, she could spoil everything.

After a moment, she said, "It's all right, Daddy - just a friend."

Mr. Duchwitz peered at Harald in the gloom, but did not seem to recognize him, and after a moment he grunted and went back inside.

"Thanks," Harald breathed.

Karen sat on a low wall and lit a cigarette. "You're welcome, but you have to tell me what this is all about." The dress matched her green eyes, which shone out of her face as if lit from within.

He sat on the wall facing her. "I quarreled with my father and left home."

"Why did you come here?"

Karen herself was half the reason, but he decided not to say so. "I've got a job with Farmer Nielsen, repairing his tractors and machines."

"You are enterprising. Where are you living?"

"Um . . . in the old monastery."

"Presumptuous, too."

"I know."

"I assume you brought blankets and things."

"Actually, no."

"It may be chilly at night."

"I'll survive."

"Hmm." She smoked in silence for a while, watching darkness fall like a mist over the garden. Harald studied her, mesmerized by the twilight on the shapes of her face, the wide mouth and the slightly crooked nose and the mass of wiry hair that somehow combined to be bewitchingly lovely. He watched her full lips as she blew out smoke. Eventually she threw her cigarette into a flower bed, stood up, and said, "Well, good luck." Then she went back into the house and closed the French window behind her.

That was abrupt, Harald thought. He felt deflated. He stayed where he was for a minute. He would have been happy to talk to her all night, but she had got bored with him in five minutes. He remembered, now, that she had made him feel alternately welcomed and rejected during his weekend visit. Perhaps it was a game she played. Or maybe it reflected her own vacillating feelings. He liked the thought that she might have feelings about him, even if they were unstable.

He walked back to the monastery. The night air was already cooling. Karen was right, it would be chilly. The church had a tiled floor that looked cold. He wished he had thought to bring a blanket from home.

He looked around for a bed. The starlight that came through the windows faintly illuminated the interior of the church. The east end had a curved wall that had once enclosed the altar. To one side, a broad ledge was incorporated into the wall. A tiled canopy stood over it, and Harald guessed it had once framed some object of veneration - a holy relic, a jeweled chalice, a painting of the Virgin. Now, however, it looked more like a bed than anything else he could see, and he lay down on the ledge.

Through a glassless window he could see the tops of trees and a scatter of stars against a midnight blue sky. He thought about Karen. He imagined her touching his hair with a fond gesture, brushing his lips with hers, putting her arms around him and hugging him. These images were different from the scenes he had imagined with Birgit Claussen, the Morlunde girl he had dated at Easter. When Birgit starred in his fantasies, she was always taking off her brassiere, or rolling on a bed, or ripping his shirt in her haste to get at him. Karen played a subtler part, more loving than lustful, although there was always the promise of sex deep in her eyes.

He was cold. He got up. Maybe he could sleep in the airplane. Fumbling in the dark, he found the door handle. But when he opened it he heard scuttling sounds, and recalled that mice had nested in the upholstery. He was not afraid of scuttling creatures, but he could not quite bring himself to bed down with them.

He considered the Rolls-Royce. He could curl up on the backseat. It would be roomier than the Hornet Moth. Taking the canvas cover off, in the dark, might take a while, but perhaps it would be worth it. He wondered if the car doors were locked.

He was fumbling with the cover, looking for some kind of fastening that he could undo, when he heard light footsteps. He froze. A moment later, the beam of an electric torch swept past the window. Did the Duchwitzes have a security patrol at night?

He looked through the door that led to the cloisters. The torch was approaching. He stood with his back to the wall, trying not to breathe. Then he heard a voice. "Harald?"

His heart leaped with pleasure. "Karen."

"Where are you?"

"In the church."

Her beam found him, then she pointed it upward to shed a general light. He saw that she was carrying a bundle. "I brought you some blankets."

He smiled. He would be grateful for the warmth, but he was even more happy that she cared. "I was just thinking of sleeping in the car."

"You're too tall."

When he unfolded the blankets he found something inside.

"I thought you might be hungry," she explained.

In the light of her torch he saw half a loaf of bread, a small basket of strawberries, and a length of sausage. There was also a flask. He unscrewed the lid and smelled fresh coffee.

He realized he was ravenous. He fell on the food, trying not to eat like a starved jackal. He heard a mew, and a cat came into the circle of light. It was the skinny black-and-white tom he had seen the first time he entered the church. He dropped a piece of sausage on the ground. The cat sniffed it, turned it over with a paw, then began to eat it daintily. "What's the cat called?" Harald asked Karen.

"I don't think it has a name. It's a stray."

At the back of its head it had a tuft of hair like a pyramid. "I think I'll call him Pinetop," Harald said. "After my favorite pianist."

"Good name."

He ate everything. "Boy, that was great. Thank you."

"I should have brought more. When was the last time you ate?"

"Yesterday."

"How did you get here?"

"Motorcycle." He pointed across the church to where he had parked the bike. "But it's slow, because it runs on peat, so I took two days to get here from Sande."

"You're a determined character, Harald Olufsen."

"Am I?" He was not sure whether this was a compliment.

"Yes. In fact, I've never met anyone quite like you."

On balance, he thought this was good. "Well, to tell the truth, I feel the same about you."

"Oh, come on. The world is full of spoiled rich girls who want to be ballet dancers, but how many people have crossed Denmark on a peat-burning motorcycle?"

He laughed, pleased. They were quiet for a minute. "I was very sorry about Poul," Harald said eventually. "It must have been a terrible shock for you."

"It was completely devastating. I cried all day."

"Were you very close?"

"We only had three dates, and I wasn't in love with him, but all the same it was dreadful." Tears came to her eyes, and she sniffed and swallowed.

Harald was shamefully pleased to learn that she had not been in love with Poul. "It's very sad," he said, and felt hypocritical.

"I was heartbroken when my grandma died, but somehow this was worse. Gran was old and sick, but Poul was so full of energy and fun, so good-looking and fit."

"Do you know how it happened?" Harald said tentatively.

"No - the army has been ridiculously secretive about it," she said, her voice becoming angry. "They just say he crashed his plane, and the details are classified."

"Perhaps they're covering something up."

"Such as what?" she said sharply.

Harald realized he could not tell her what he thought without revealing his own connection to the Resistance. "Their own incompetence?" he improvised. "Perhaps the aircraft wasn't properly serviced."

"They couldn't use the excuse of military secrecy to hide something like that."

"Of course they could. Who would know?"

"I don't believe our officers would be so dishonorable," she said stiffly.

Harald realized he had offended her, as he had when he first met her - and in the same way, by being scornful about her credulity. "I expect you're right," he said hastily. That was insincere: he felt sure she was wrong. But he did not want to quarrel with her.

Karen stood up. "I must get back before they lock up." Her voice was cold.

"Thanks for the food and blankets - you're an angel of mercy."

"Not my usual role," she said, softening a little.

"Perhaps I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Maybe. Good night."

"Good night."

Then she was gone.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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