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Resistance

Chapter Text

Palburg is buzzing with hushed talk about the attack on the armaments train.  When Miranda walks past the police station, there is a large cluster of German officers gathered outside it with others hurrying in and out.  Two important-looking men in civilian clothes are deep in conversation by the front door, next to two large black cars.  Junior soldiers stand patiently beside them, waiting for their orders.  Miranda guesses that they have come from the Gestapo unit based in the Schloss on the hill. 

There is a higher than usual police and army presence in the streets of the town.  Every forty feet or so, Miranda walks past a soldier or a police officer standing on watch, holding a gun.  The shoppers who usually pause in the streets to chat and greet their neighbours are scurrying past with their heads down this morning, averting their eyes.  Inside the buildings, shopkeepers and customers are exchanging low-voiced but avid gossip about what has occurred.  There is an uneasy feeling of tension in the air.  Everyone knows that there will be some sort of retribution for last night’s events, but not where or when this will happen.  Someone mutters that they have heard reinforcements of troops are to be sent to the area.

Miranda hurries on until she reaches the town square, a wide cobbled space with a fountain in the middle surrounded by stone benches.  Fewer people than usual are sitting chatting on the benches or drinking morning coffee at the outdoor tables of the nearby restaurant, although there is still a patient queue beside the farmer who is selling vegetables from the back of his small truck.    Several more soldiers are spaced out around the perimeter of the square, guns held across their chests, surveying the scene in front of them with wooden expressions. 

Heinrich’s bookshop, as Max had told her it would be, is behind the fountain on the far side of the square – a small, rather dingy building with a blue sign above the door and blue shutters at the windows of the apartment above the shop.  Miranda does not walk directly towards it, but strolls around the square in a leisurely manner, pausing to look in some other shop windows.  She examines some of the greens in the farmer’s truck, buys a newspaper, studies a display of ladies’ shoes and eventually arrives outside the bookshop.  Some books about natural history are laid out on view in the shop window.  Miranda stops to look at these with apparent interest, before laying her hand on the latch of the door and entering.

A bell tinkles as the door opens.  Miranda sniffs appreciatively at the smell of paper and books.  The shop is narrow and not well-lit.  Rows of shelves go up to the ceiling on both sides, with small hand-written cards pinned to each shelf, labelling each genre.  The shelves turn several corners, a maze of books which Miranda navigates until she reaches the back of the shop, where there is a small desk in the corner on the left and a flight of wooden stairs going up on the right. 

Maria is sitting at the desk, unpacking brown-paper parcels of new books, but she rises when Miranda enters and comes towards her.  Although Miranda can see that there are no other customers in the shop, they both play it safe and pretend to be meeting for the first time, since it is certainly Miranda’s first visit to the bookshop since her arrival in town.   

“Good morning.  How can I help you?” Maria asks.  Her smile is as wide as usual, although she looks tired.

“I’m looking for a cookery book.  Perhaps you can help me?” 

“Of course Fräulein, let me show you where the cookery section is.”  The cookery section turns out to be very close to the desk, so they only have to move a few feet to reach it.  Maria pulls out a volume and hands it to Miranda, before she says in an undertone, “We can talk safely.  The bell will ring if someone comes in.”

“Max asked me to come and find out how Heinrich was doing,” Miranda murmurs, in the same low tone.  “How is his arm?”

“He’s upstairs.  He’s all right but the pain is bad.  There was a lot of bleeding, but it did not hit the bone.  I patched him up and got him some penicillin from the chemist this morning.  I think it will heal well, as long as it does not get infected.” 

There is the sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs, and Heinrich comes slowly down to join them.  He nods at Miranda.  “Anna.” 

Heinrich’s thin face is very pale and there are lines of pain on his forehead and dark shadows under his eyes.  He holds his arm protectively against his chest.  Miranda can just detect the bulk of the bandage hidden under the sleeve of the loden jacket he is wearing, but she doubts that it would be noticeable to anyone who was not looking for it.  “Max wanted to know how you were,” she says. 

“Tell him I will be fine,” he says.  “I just need to rest.”

“He ought to have seen a doctor,” Maria begins anxiously, “but –“

“But that’s impossible,” Heinrich finishes.  “It will be better in a few days.”

Miranda looks from one of them to the other.  All she knows about them is that they are both in the Resistance, that they are friends and that Maria works in Heinrich’s shop, but she does not know if there is anything more between them.  The unguarded look of concern on Maria’s face suggests that at least on her side there is. 

Out of sight, at the front of the shop, the bell jingles as someone enters.  Heinrich mutters something and goes hastily back up the stairs to his flat.  Maria pulls another cookery book from the shelf and says brightly, “This one is a good choice if you are hoping to preserve fruits or make jams, Fräulein.”

The customer who has entered is an elderly woman.  By the time she reaches the desk in the back of the shop, Maria is advising Miranda on the best book to buy if she wishes to find recipes for economical meals with limited ingredients.  “It’s so difficult with the food shortages,” the elderly woman sympathises, and there is a rather prolonged discussion before Miranda can make her escape, hoping that she has not given away her complete lack of talent in the kitchen.   

***

The bustle of activity around the police station is continuing when Miranda reaches it on her way back to the farm.  German officers are still going in and out, but this time there are a dozen Austrian police officers formed up in two neat lines outside the station, standing at attention.  Like the others, Max is staring straight ahead with an impassive expression.  As Miranda draws level with the police station she is forced to jump aside, with other pedestrians, as another shining black car sweeps straight towards them and brakes. 

A soldier jumps out of the vehicle, opens the rear door and salutes as another man steps out.  From the deference with which he is greeted he is clearly very important, although he wears civilian clothes and not uniform.  Physically he is slightly-built, but there is an aura about him which radiates power.  As he steps away from the car and turns to survey the lines of police officers who are waiting for him, he is quite close to Miranda.  For a brief moment she finds herself looking straight into the coldest grey eyes she has ever seen, and she cannot suppress a shiver as his icy gaze passes over her without interest. 

She puts her head down and keeps walking steadily past.

***

The stone-floored cellar beneath the farmhouse smells musty and there are cobwebs in the corners, but at least it is not damp.  A tiny window at one side looks out at the level of the cobbles outside, and wooden steps go up to the passageway outside the kitchen. 

There are a variety of things stored down here, but Miranda heads towards the corner where two sacks of potatoes lean against the wall, with a pile of empty hessian sacks next to them.  Doro has despatched her to fetch supplies for their evening meal.  It does not take long to collect sufficient potatoes from one of the sacks, and shortly afterwards Miranda finds herself seated on the steps at the front of the house, helping Doro to peel potatoes under the warm late afternoon sun. 

The front of the house is as ivy-covered as the rear, but the small garden beyond the steps has been better maintained than the farmyard.  Doro talks to Miranda about her love of gardening.  Miranda admires the rose bushes which bloom on either side of the steps, covered in buds and fragrant flowers – red and yellow and white.  “They are my pride and joy,” Doro says.  “I tie sacks around them to protect them from the snow in winter, and every summer they seem to have more flowers.” 

“They’re beautiful.”

It is very peaceful, sitting there peeling potatoes and placing them in the bowl of water by Doro’s feet.  The sunshine is warm, the bees are buzzing around the roses, and it seems to Miranda that the fragrance in the air is the smell of summer.  If she closes her eyes she can almost imagine herself back in the garden of her father’s house in Wales, helping his housekeeper with the potatoes, although she misses the tangy, salty whiff of the sea which is always strong in her memories of Aberystwyth. 

***

Max is very late home from work - so late that Doro has put his meal in the bottom of the stove to keep warm and Miranda is starting to wonder if his Resistance activities have been discovered.  He is tired and very hungry.  He throws his uniform jacket, cap and gun belt aside and sits straight down at the kitchen table to begin shovelling food into his mouth as Doro and Miranda watch him eat. 

“Anna says the Germans are all over town today,” Doro says, when Max has satisfied his first hunger and begun to eat more slowly.  She pours him another glass of beer. 

Max nods.  “They’ve been stirred up like a nest of bees.  Berlin and Wien are furious.  The Gestapo unit at the Schloss have been told to make more effort to infiltrate the local area and find informers so they can identify members of the Resistance.”  He pauses to take another gulp of his beer.  “They wanted to send in train loads of troops, but the railway line is unusable after last night, so they’re sending in men and equipment by road and working round the clock to clear the wreckage and make repairs.”

Doro looks troubled.  “Perhaps you should stop your operations for a while – just for a while – if it’s too dangerous.  Until they start to look elsewhere.”

Max’s face softens and he stretches out a hand across the table to pat hers reassuringly.  “Don’t worry, Mama.  I’ll be all right.  You know we’ve stirred them up before, but they haven’t caught us yet.  We will be careful.”

She sighs.

“I saw a man arriving this morning who looked important,” Miranda says.  “You were lined up outside when he drove up.  Who was he?”

Max’s face hardens again.  “Cornelius Schneider.  Very senior Gestapo.  They flew him in from Berlin.  I hadn’t heard of him but Huber says he is known as one of the most ruthless men outside of the Party leadership.   There’s something about him – I don’t know how to describe it – but he gives me the creeps.”

“I felt that when I saw him, although I only saw him for a moment,” Miranda says.  “Most of the Germans are just following orders but there was something – well, evil – about him.”

Max nods.  “Yes, exactly.  He’s one of those who enjoys inflicting pain.  A man to be avoided.”  After another pause and another sip of beer, he adds, “He was complaining that we haven’t been fulfilling our regional quotas for arrests and deportationsHe intends to dig into the backgrounds of as many local families as possible, looking for Jewish blood, undesirable political views or any excuse to arrest them.  I know of a few families who have managed to escape notice so far but who will need to be very careful.  I will have to try to warn them.  Perhaps you can help with that, Anna.” 

Miranda nods.  “Of course.”  Inwardly she resolves to mention Schneider to Palmer at their next meeting, although Palmer probably knows about his arrival already.  Palmer strikes her as one of those people who seems to know everything.

***

Later, Miranda sits next to Max on the steps in the garden, the fragrance of the rose bushes seeming very strong in the darkness of the summer night.  A faint lamp light glimmers between the curtains of the nearest window of the house, making Miranda think of the London blackout and how showing a light there would have brought the air raid warden banging on their door.  Max is pulling up blades of grass and shredding them between his fingers, betraying his inner tension with the constant nervous activity of his hands. 

“I saw Heinrich and Maria this morning,” Miranda says.  “Heinrich’s arm is giving him a lot of pain, but he insists he will be all right.  It is bandaged up and he’s got some penicillin.  Maria is looking after him.”  She pauses, and then asks curiously, “Are they a couple?  I can’t tell.  Maria seems to be very fond of him.” 

Max makes a small noise which is not really a laugh.  “She loves him.  I think she’s prepared to wait for a long time for him to decide what he wants her to be to him.” 

Miranda is not sure she understands this.  “He seems nice – but he’s always very serious, isn’t he?  Quite different from Maria.”

She cannot see Max’s face clearly in the darkness, but when she hears his voice again she knows that her questions have stirred up painful memories.  “Heinrich – is not the person he was before the war.  Terrible things have happened to him.  I can’t see any way he can ever get over them.”

“Oh.”  Miranda waits to find out if he is going to tell her more and, eventually, he does.

“He had a younger sister.  Alba.  They lost their parents when they were young, and Heinrich took care of her.  That’s how he knew Maria first – she was Alba’s friend.  Just after the war started, Alba went to work as a secretary in Innsbruck.  Apparently, one night she was walking home and she met some German soldiers.  She was very pretty.  They didn’t want to take no for an answer.”

Miranda gives a small gasp of horror.

“She killed herself, afterwards.  She left a note for Heinrich telling him that she couldn’t live with what had happened to her, and she walked in front of a tram.”  Max’s tone is flat.

“Oh, no!  Poor Heinrich.” Miranda realises, now, why there is always a sadness in Heinrich’s eyes.

“As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was Kurt, too.”

“Kurt?”

“Kurt Sommer.  Heinrich’s best friend.  Mama says they were inseparable when they were boys, although they were a little older than me so I didn’t know Kurt so well.  Kurt was a musician.  He played the violin – brilliantly.  He won a scholarship to study in Wien and left Palburg when he was about eighteen.  He only came back for visits after that.  By the time the Anschluss happened, he was playing with the Wiener Philharmoniker.”

“He must have been very talented.”  Miranda remembers being taken to concerts as a child and hearing the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra play.  She knows what a high standard is required from their musicians.

“He was.  Unfortunately, he was also Jewish.  He was one of the first to be sent to the camps.  No one’s heard from him since.  Although his family here did manage to leave for Switzerland before they could be taken away.”  Max pauses.  “So you see, Heinrich lost Alba and Kurt in just a couple of years.  Probably the two people he loved most in the world.  Like I said, I don’t think he will ever get over it.” 

Miranda feels cold with sympathy.  “No wonder Maria wants to look after him.” And no wonder Heinrich is quite willing to ambush German soldiers and kill them, she thinks.

“Yes.  And maybe one day – when the war’s over –“  Max does not finish the sentence.  Instead, he stands up abruptly, offering Miranda a hand to help her up from the steps.  “Anyway.  I didn’t sleep much last night and tomorrow will be another long day.  I’m going to bed.”

***

When Miranda meets Palmer on Tuesday afternoon, she is given a message to pass on to the Resistance - the details of another equipment drop which will be made on Friday night.  “And tell them to be careful,” Palmer adds.  “The Germans are hunting the Resistance all over the district.  But we have someone in the Schloss who we hope may be able to keep us up to date with whatever Schneider and his men find out.”

On the side of a grassy hill, halfway between Palburg and the barn where the Resistance members meet, there is a ruined chapel.  Following the directions which Max has given her, Miranda finds this place easily as she makes her way through the darkened countryside on Friday night.  After the evening meal she had gone out to deliver a message and some radio components to another of Palmer’s network, and Max had told her to meet him at the chapel afterwards rather than going all the way back to the farm. 

Max is already there when she reaches the chapel – a tall dark shadow moving against the black outline of the derelict stone building.  “Anna!  You’re here in good time.  We’d better get to the barn.”

“Have you been waiting long?”

“No, not long.” 

They meet the others at the barn and find Rico handing out torches and sacks from the secret hiding place behind the hay bales.  The torches have a red filter placed over their bulbs.  Yvonne is with them tonight, giving Miranda one of her kind smiles as she passes her a torch.  Miranda notices that there is a fresh bruise on the side of Yvonne’s careworn face, and hopes that Rainer is not a wife-beater in addition to being an unfaithful husband. 

Heinrich is there too, although he still looks pale and is holding his injured arm close to his side, not moving it freely.  It is clear from the disapproving expression on Maria’s face that she has advised him against coming tonight and has been overruled. 

Wearing dark clothing, they make their way through the footpaths and woods, avoiding any lanes where there may be vehicles although the night seems very quiet.  Once in the field where the drop is to take place, they wait in the shadow of the hedges until the drone of an aircraft engine can be heard very faintly in the distance.  Max gives a signal and they walk into the middle of the field, stringing themselves out into a long line and waiting until the plane is much closer.  When it is almost overhead they switch on their torches and wave the red lights backwards and forwards in unison, each person keeping time with the person in front of them.  The pilot flashes his lights to show that he has seen their signal.  Moments later little dots of white start to appear, floating down towards them, and Miranda sees that these are parachutes attached to packages of equipment, just like those which had been dropped on the night when she had landed. 

The sound of aircraft engines recedes into the distance and the packages are gathered up and stuffed into the sacks to make carrying easier.  They set off to the barn, where Yvonne has stayed to keep watch.  Once there, the parachutes are removed, the packages are sorted and some are hidden there while others are repacked in the sacks to take away.

There is a worrying moment while Max and Miranda are on their way back from the barn to the Winter family farm.  They have stayed away from the roads and lanes again and are hurrying along a footpath which runs parallel to a road, but is divided from it by a high stone wall, when they hear the loud noise of several engines approaching at speed.  Max, walking in front of Miranda, stops and signals her to wait where she is.  They stand and listen behind the wall, and seconds later three vehicles roar past them in convoy, heading in the direction where the parachute drop took place.

When the sound of the engines has died away, Max releases a breath.  “German army vehicles.  Kübelwagens.  I recognise the sound of the engines.”

“Do you think someone reported hearing the plane?”

“Yes, probably, and they’ve gone to check it out.  Luckily, all of us should be well out of the way by now.  But it shows they are on the alert.” 

There are no further alarms on the way back to the farm that night.

***

Several days later, Miranda wakes early and comes down to the kitchen before the normal breakfast hour.  The kitchen is empty of people, but the coffee pot has already been put on the stove to heat and there are other signs that someone has made a beginning on meal preparation.  Miranda is just getting the remains of the previous day’s bread out of the larder when the back door into the farmyard opens and Doro comes in with a few eggs held in her apron.  Miranda presumes that she has been out releasing the chickens from their night-time coop and shooing them into the orchard.

“Good morning,” Miranda says cheerfully.  “It’s another lovely sunny day.” 

Doro replies to her greeting, but looks worried.  “Anna, have you seen Max this morning?” 

“Max?  No.  I’ve just got up.” 

“He must have got up and gone out very early, because I can’t find him anywhere.  It’s his day off today, so he can’t have gone to work.  I wonder where he can have gone to?”

Miranda shrugs slightly.  “I have no idea.  He didn’t say anything to me.  Perhaps he just felt like going for a walk, as it’s such a beautiful morning?” 

“Perhaps.”  They work together to lay the table and prepare the breakfast, but Miranda finds Doro’s slight unease beginning to transmit itself to her.

They have not yet finished getting the food ready when there is the sound of someone lifting the latch of the back door.  Doro looks round quickly and an expression of relief crosses her face when she sees Max, followed by an expression of astonishment when she sees that he is ushering two small children hurriedly into the kitchen.  There is a bulging rucksack over his shoulder, which he sets down on the floor.  “Take your coats off,” he tells the children, “and sit down.”

The two brown-haired children obey him silently, looking bewildered.  One is a boy of about seven, the other a girl who looks about five years old.  They look as though they were dressed in a hurry.  Miranda notices that the little girl’s shoes are on the wrong feet. 

“I’m sorry, Mama,” Max says, as he bends to take off his boots.  “I had to bring them here.”

Doro is still looking astonished and rather dismayed, but her expression becomes kind as she turns to the children.  “You’re the Strobl children, aren’t you?” 

The boy nods and whispers, “I’m Jürgen and this is Clara.”

Clara is staring big-eyed around the kitchen. 

“Max?”  Doro is waiting for an explanation. 

Max sighs and sits down at the table next to Jürgen.  “I found out yesterday that August and Hana might be on Schneider’s target list.”

“Really?  But why?  They’re not Jewish, and I’ve never heard of them being involved in politics.”

“Schneider is digging deep.  Someone found out that one of August’s grandparents was Jewish.  Apparently being one-quarter Jewish is enough to get you sent to a camp now.”

Doro’s face is horrified, and she seems to have forgotten the tipping coffee pot in her hand, so Miranda rescues it.  “They’ve been arrested?”

Max looks frustrated.  “I should have gone to warn them last night, but I was so late back from work - I thought it could wait until this morning.  I was too late.  When I got there, there was a car outside already.  I kept away and watched August and Hana being brought out.  Then I wondered where the children were, so I went in and searched for them.  They were hiding in a cupboard in the cellar, with wood stacked in front of it.  Luckily the soldiers missed them.”  He jerks his head towards the rucksack on the floor.  “I stuffed some of their clothes and things in there.”

“Mama woke us up and told us to hide in the cupboard,” Jürgen says suddenly.  “She told us to be very quiet and not make a sound and we didn’t.  Even when we heard those men being loud everywhere.” 

Doro pats him on the shoulder.  “You must have been very brave, Jürgen.” 

The boy looks at the bread on the table and his lip wobbles.  “I’m hungry.”

Clara bursts into sudden sobs.  “I want Mama and Papa!  Why did those men take them away?”

Doro becomes practical.  “You poor children!  Let’s get you some breakfast.  You’ll feel better when you’ve had some food.  Anna, can you fetch the butter?  Clara, do you like eggs?” 

There is a burst of activity as all the adults help to finish the preparation of the meal.  As she passes Max at the sink, Miranda asks in a low voice, “What are you going to do with them?”

He shrugs.  “What can I do?  They’ll have to stay here until I can get them away somewhere.”

“Is that safe?”

“No, not at all, but it’s the only choice.  We have plenty of space.  We just have to make sure none of the neighbours – especially the Schmidts – see or hear them.  Hopefully it won’t be for too long.  I don’t like bringing danger to Mama’s house.  Will you help her look after them?”

 “Of course.”  Miranda wants to help, although she knows absolutely nothing about looking after children, other than what had been included in Home Economics classes when she was at school.  It was certainly not included in SOE training. 

“Thanks, Anna.”  He looks over his shoulder quickly, but the children are too busy stuffing food into their mouths to listen to what he is saying.  “Perhaps your English contact might have an idea about getting them away?”

“Yes.  I’ll ask.”  They join the others at the table and continue with breakfast.  Doro is telling Clara that she will show her the chickens later.  Miranda looks from Doro to Max, from Jürgen to Clara, and wonders exactly what the consequences of this new development will be for all of them.

***