Page 27 of Hornet Flight

The Hornet Moth was ready to fly.

Harald had installed the new cables from Vodal. His final task had been the punctured tire. He had used the car jack from the Rolls-Royce to lift the aircraft, then he had taken the wheel to the nearest garage and paid a mechanic to repair the tire. He had devised a method of refueling in flight, knocking out a cabin window and passing a hose through it and into the petrol filler pipe. Finally he had unfolded the wings, fixing them in flying position with the simple steel pins provided. Now the aircraft filled the width of the church.


He looked outside. It was a calm day, with a light wind, and patchy low cloud that would serve to hide the Hornet Moth from the Luftwaffe. They would go tonight.

His stomach clenched with anxiety when he thought of it. Simply circling the Vodal training school in a Tiger Moth had seemed like a hair-raising adventure. Now he was planning to fly hundreds of miles over the open sea.

An aircraft such as this should hug the coast, so that it could glide to land in case of trouble. Flying to England from here, it was theoretically possible to follow the coastlines of Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and France. But Harald and Karen would be many miles out to sea, well away from German-occupied land. If anything went wrong, they would have nowhere to go.

Harald was still worrying when Karen slipped through the window, carrying a basket like Little Red Riding Hood. His heart leaped with pleasure at the sight of her. All day, as he worked on the aircraft, he had thought about the way they had kissed early this morning, after stealing the petrol. He kept touching his lips with his fingertips to bring back the memory.

Now she looked at the Hornet Moth and said, "Wow."

He was pleased to have impressed her. "Pretty, isn't it?"

"But you can't get it through the door like that."

"I know. I'll have to fold the wings again, then unfold them outside."

"So why have you rigged them now?"

"For practice. I'll be able to do it faster the second time."

"How fast?"

"I'm not sure."

"What about the soldiers? If they see us . . ."

"They'll be asleep."

She looked solemn. "We're ready, aren't we?"

"We're ready."

"When shall we go?"

"Tonight, of course."

"Oh, my God."

"Waiting just increases the chance that we'll be found out before we get away."

"I know, but . . ."

"What?"

"I suppose I just didn't think it would come so quickly." She took a package out of her basket and handed it to him absentmindedly. "I brought you some cold beef." She fed him every night.

"Thanks." He studied her carefully. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?"

She shook her head decisively. "No. I'm just remembering that it's three years since I sat in a pilot's seat."

He went over to the workbench and selected a small hatchet and a ball of stout cord. He stowed them in the locker under the dashboard of the aircraft.

Karen said, "What are they for?"

"If we come down in the sea, I figure the aircraft will sink, because of the weight of the engine. But the wings on their own would float. So if we could chop the wings off, we could lash them together for a makeshift raft."

"In the North Sea? I think we'd die of cold before long."

"It's better than drowning."

She shivered. "If you say so."

"We ought to take some biscuits and a couple of bottles of water."

"I'll get some from the kitchen. Speaking of water . . . we're going to be in the air for more than six hours."

"So?"

"How do we pee?"

"Open the door and hope for the best."

"That's all right for you."

He grinned. "Sorry."

She looked around and picked up a handful of old newspapers. "Put these inside."

"What for?"

"In case I have to pee."

He frowned. "I don't see how . . ."

"Pray that you never have to find out."

He put the newspapers on the seat.

"Do we have any maps?" she asked.

"No. I assumed we would just fly west until we see land, and that will be England."

She shook her head. "It's quite difficult to know where you are in the air. I used to get lost just flying around here. Suppose we get blown off course? We could come down in France by mistake."

"My God, I didn't think of that."

"The only way to check your position is to compare the terrain features below you with a map. I'll see what we've got in the house."

"Okay."

"I'd better go and get all the stuff we need." She slipped out through the window again, carrying the empty basket.

Harald was too tense to eat the beef she had brought him. He began to refold the wings. The process was quick, by design: the intention was that the gentleman owner would do this every night, and garage the aircraft alongside the family car.

To prevent the upper wing fouling the cabin roof when the wings were folded, the inner section of the trailing edge was hinged to swing up out of the way. So Harald's first step was to unlock the hinged sections and push them up.

On the underside of each upper wing was stowed a brace, called a jury strut, which Harald detached then fixed between the inner ends of the upper and lower wings, to prevent their collapsing together.

The wings were held in the flying position by L-shaped sliding pins in the front spars of all four wings. On the upper wings, the pin was locked in place by the jury strut, which Harald had now removed, so all he had to do was turn the pin through ninety degrees and pull it forward about four inches.

The pins on the lower wings were locked in place by leather straps. Harald undid the strap on the left wing, then turned the pin and pulled it.

As soon as it came free, the wing started to move.

Harald realized he should have expected this. In its parked position, with its tail on the ground, the aircraft was tilted, with its nose in the air; and now the heavy double wing was swinging backward by force of gravity. He grabbed at it, terrified that it would crash against the fuselage and cause damage. He tried to seize the leading edge of the lower wing, but it was too thick for him to get a grasp. "Shit!" he cried. He stepped forward, chasing the wing, and grabbed at the steel rigging wires between upper and lower wings. He got a purchase, and slowed the swing, then the wire bit into the skin of his hand. He cried out and automatically let go. The wing swiveled back and came to rest with a painful thud against the fuselage.

Cursing his carelessness, Harald went to the tail, took hold of the lower wingtip in both hands, and swung it out so that he could check for damage. To his intense relief there seemed to be none. The trailing edges of the upper and lower wings were intact, and the fuselage was unmarked. Nothing was broken but the skin of Harald's right hand.

Licking the blood from his palm, he went to the right side. This time he braced the lower wing with a tea chest full of old magazines, so that it could not move. He pulled the pins, then walked around the wing, shoved the chest out of the way, and held the wing, allowing it to swing slowly back into the folded position.

Karen came back.

"Did you get everything?" Harald said anxiously.

She dropped her basket on the floor. "We can't go tonight."

"What?" He felt cheated. He had got scared for nothing. "Why not?" he said angrily.

"I'm dancing tomorrow."

"Dancing?" He was outraged. "How can you put that before our mission?"

"It's really special. I told you I've been understudying the lead role. Half the company has gone down with some kind of gastric illness. There are two casts, but the leads in both are sick, so I've been called in. It's a great piece of luck!"

"Damn bad luck, it seems to me."

"I'll be on the main stage at the Royal Theatre, and guess what? The King will be there!"

He ran his fingers through his hair distractedly. "I can't believe you're saying this."

"I reserved a ticket for you. You can pick it up at the box office."

"I'm not going."

"Don't be so grumpy! We can fly tomorrow night, after I dance. The ballet isn't on again for another week after that, and one of the other two is sure to be better by then."

"I don't care about the damn ballet - what about the war? Heis reckoned the RAF must be planning a massive air raid. They need our photographs before then! Think of the lives at stake!"

She sighed, and her voice softened. "I knew you would feel this way, and I thought about forgoing the opportunity, but I just can't. Anyway, if we fly tomorrow, we'll be in England three days before the full moon."

"But we'll be in deadly danger here for an extra twenty-four hours!"

"Look, no one knows about this plane - why would they find out tomorrow?"

"It's possible."

"Oh, don't be so childish, anything's possible."

"Childish? The police are looking for me, you know that. I'm a fugitive and I want to get out of this country as soon as I can."

Now she was getting angry. "You really ought to understand how I feel about this performance."

"Well, I don't."

"Look, I might die in this damn plane."

"So might I."

"While I'm drowning in the North Sea, or freezing to death on your makeshift raft, I'd like to be able to think that before I died I achieved my life's ambition, and danced wonderfully on the stage of the Royal Danish Theatre in front of the King. Can't you understand that?"

"No, I can't!"

"Then you can go to hell," she said, and she went out through the window.

Harald stared after her. He was thunderstruck. A minute passed before he moved. Then he looked inside the basket she had brought. There were two bottles of mineral water, a packet of crackers, a flashlight, a spare battery, and two spare bulbs. There were no maps, but she had put in an old school atlas. He picked up the book and opened it. On the endpaper was written, in a girlish hand, "Karen Duchwitz, Class 3."

"Oh, hell," he said.

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