As Miranda cycles back to the Winters’ farmhouse after her final meeting with Palmer, she has little attention to spare for the beauty of the summer evening. A mellow golden light bathes the cobbled streets of the little Tyrolean town and the glorious mountains provide a spectacular distant view. Appetising smells drift out from the windows of houses and cafés as the Friday evening meals are prepared. Friday evening. And she is leaving on Sunday night. Two more days – that is all the time she has left in this place where she has begun to feel a sense of belonging.
The inn owned by Yvonne’s father is closed up this evening, its doors bolted against cheerful evening drinkers. Miranda wonders what is passing between the family within its walls – Yvonne’s curmudgeonly father – her unsatisfactory husband – her small daughter. How are they coping with the sudden shocking loss of a daughter, a wife, a mother? Will the discovery of Yvonne’s involvement in Resistance activities lead to interrogations for the rest of the family?
The butcher’s shop owned by Christian’s father is also shuttered and dark as Miranda rides past it. She has never exchanged more than a few words with Christian’s plump, grey-haired, widowed father whilst shopping for the scant meat rations, but she can only imagine what he is feeling tonight – perhaps sitting alone in his darkened rooms above the shop or even being questioned by the Gestapo about his son’s activities.
There are fewer people on the streets now, and fewer German sentries patrolling the town. A small group of soldiers are chatting and smoking in front of the police station. Miranda wonders if any suspicions were aroused when Doro brought a message to the station that morning to say that Max was ill and unable to come to work. He will have to report to work the next day, or his police colleagues are highly likely to start making enquiries about his whereabouts. Has someone already started to put two and two together and remember that several of the executed Resistance members had been childhood friends of Officer Max Winter? The potential for more discovery and disaster seems to be increasing by the hour.
Leaving the buildings of the town behind her, Miranda rides slowly down the lane which leads in the direction of the farm. She still feels strangely reluctant to return to the house where she had last seen Jürgen and Clara playing quietly in the cellar, seemingly subdued by the atmosphere around them. There had been a worried crease in Doro’s brow as she made pastry, and Max had been closeted silently in his bedroom, sent by Doro with orders to get some sleep after his outburst of grief and anger. Miranda doubts that he has managed to do much sleeping that day.
Her thoughts are so full of the people in the farmhouse that she is taken completely by surprise when a large figure steps out suddenly in front of her bicycle, causing her to skid to a halt and almost fall off. Managing to keep her balance, she looks up and sees Jens Schmidt outlined against the low evening sun. His wide, pudgy face lacks its usual foolish grin and his whole demeanour is uncharacteristically edgy. A premonition of danger prickles down Miranda’s spine as she gazes up at him.
“Hello, Anna,” he says, in a voice which manages to sound both smug and disturbing. She really does not like the way his eyes are roaming up and down her body.
“Hello, Jens,” she replies, keeping her voice light. “How are you?”
Jens grips the left handlebar of the bicycle firmly in his meaty hand, as if to make it clear that Miranda is not going anywhere.
“Well, I’m a little upset, Anna,” he says, still in that slightly edgy tone she has not heard from him before. “I’m a little upset by some things I’ve found out.”
“Oh? I’m – I’m sorry to hear that.”
Miranda is not afraid of Jens as he looms over her, even though he is twice her size, but she is wary. Something has happened to cause this change in his manner towards her. Committed Nazi though she knows Jens to be, he has always been effusively friendly towards her during their previous meetings. But there is no warmth now in the pale blue eyes which are looking her up and down.
“I’ve found out that women are liars, Anna,” he says conversationally. “Women are liars, did you know that? Well, of course you did – you’re a woman.”
“Jens, I –“
He does not let her speak before he goes on, “Lena, for instance – my girlfriend, Lena, you remember I told you about her – she’s a liar. She let me think that she loved me, she let me send her flowers and chocolates, and all the time she was seeing someone else –“
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jens –“
He cuts through Miranda’s words again, the pitch of his voice now rising further in that edgy, slightly hysterical way. “She’s been sleeping with Torsten, and I thought he was my friend, but now I find they’ve both been laughing at me behind my back – she laughed in my face, Anna – she called me fat and useless – she said I was a joke –“
Miranda tries to cut off the flow of words by placing her hand reassuringly on his forearm. “Jens, that’s awful, I’m so sorry – but you’ll find someone better, you’ll see –“
“No!” He spits out the words, and Miranda feels flecks of saliva hitting her face. “No, I won’t, because all women are liars!” The rather manic look in his eyes intensifies and he suddenly grabs Miranda’s arm, pulling her closer to him. He lets go of the bicycle and it clatters to the dusty ground, knocking painfully against Miranda’s shin as it falls. “Even you, Anna! I thought you were my friend, but you’re just a liar too!”
“What? No, I’m not! Jens, calm down, I can see why you’re upset –“
Miranda’s attempt to speak soothingly fails. Jens maintains his painful grip on her arm.
“Yes! My mother said you were no good, that you were up to something, but I didn’t believe her. But she was right! I know now – you’ve come here to plot against the Reich, haven’t you? You’ve got children hidden away at the farm - I heard them - I came at night and watched you! What else are you doing? Who are the children you are hiding? Are you and Max lovers? Are you laughing at me too – poor, stupid Jens, who can’t even see what’s going on next door, right under his nose?”
Miranda’s head whirls as he pours out his accusations. She thinks quickly, trying to work out what she can possibly say to refute his words or defuse his anger.
“But I’m not so stupid!” he continues, still aiming his words right into her face. “Oh no, I was clever enough to find out what you are doing, and I know you’ve got Max and Doro involved in your schemes now. You’ll all be arrested for this, when I report you to Herr Schneider –“
“No!” Miranda decides that the only possible way to placate him is to try to flatter his ego. She strokes his sweaty shirtfront with her free hand. “Jens, don’t be angry with me. I’ve never thought you were stupid – you’re very clever and I am your friend. I would never be able to fool you. Max isn’t my lover – he’s just my cousin. He’s not as clever as you. I’m not trying to cause any harm to the Reich, but yes, I have been looking after some children. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
His chest is still heaving after his outburst, but he calms a little at her words. “It’s true, I am very clever. Everyone thinks I’m stupid, but I’m not.”
“No, you’re not at all.” Miranda hastens to agree with him.
“But you shouldn’t be hiding anyone, Anna,” Jens says, still looking edgy and suspicious. “I should report you for that – no one should be going against the orders of the Reich.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. Please – please don’t tell anyone, Jens. They’ll be gone soon. I promise I won’t hide anyone else.” Miranda tries to make her outward manner girlish and appealing, her eyes wide and pleading. Inwardly, she knows that the situation is now desperate and that the children must be out of the farmhouse this very day, if possible. What little safety they have enjoyed there is gone.
The anger fades from his pale blue eyes, but a look of cunning replaces it. Still holding Miranda tightly by one arm, he leers down the neck of her blouse and puts his free hand on her waist, squeezing enthusiastically. Miranda forces herself not to flinch at his unwelcome touch. His fingers leave her waist and stroke down her hip in a lingering way.
“I should report you,” he repeats, his breath quickening again, “but perhaps – perhaps I won’t, if you’ll be my friend, Anna.” He presses himself against her, a wave of body odour meeting her nose as her face is forced against his damp shirt. The hand on her leg moves upwards again as his fat fingers tug her blouse out of her skirt and begin to explore under her blouse. “You know what I mean, don’t you?” She can hear the excitement building in his voice. “I might not report that you’re taking care of children if you take – very – good – care – of - me.” Each of his last words is accompanied by a squeeze of her breast. Her skin crawls at his touch.
Miranda is perfectly capable of getting herself out of his clutches, of throwing him to the ground – even of rendering him unconscious or dead – but she simply cannot afford to do it. Knocking Jens out might allow her to escape, but it will bring the Gestapo hammering at the farmhouse door before she can plan anyone’s escape. What she needs to do now is to try to buy a little more time, even if it is only a few hours.
So she represses her physical revulsion, lifts her head, smiles into his face and puts her free hand around his sweaty neck, pulling him down to her. “Oh, I could take very good care of you, Jens,” she murmurs into his ear. “Please – please don’t report me. I’ll get rid of the children, and then we can spend more time together.”
She is not sure that he is completely convinced, but he kisses her wetly and eagerly, sticking his tongue in her mouth. Miranda wonders if he has ever kissed a woman before. How far had he actually got with the faithless Lena?
She tries to pull back slightly in a way which will not make him feel rejected. “Not – not here, Jens,” she says, winding her fingers in the neck of his shirt coquettishly. “Someone might see us. And Doro will be wondering where I am. But can I come to your house later? Is there somewhere we can meet there?”
Jens is reluctant to let go of her. “Tonight?” he asks, squeezing her waist under her blouse again.
“Not tonight – I don’t think I can get away tonight. But tomorrow night – I promise.”
There is a moment when he wavers, and Miranda is not sure if his excited lust is going to overcome his desire to get someone arrested, to punish someone after his crushing rejection by Lena. She strokes his chest again. “I’ll make you feel better, you’ll see,” she murmurs in his ear. “We’ll have some fun together.”
Jens actually pants with excitement at these words. “Tomorrow, then,” he says, finally releasing her from his hold. “Come to the gate of our orchard, and I’ll show you where we can be together. We have a hayloft –“
“Sounds perfect.” Miranda says, reaching up to kiss him on the cheek. She picks up the fallen bicycle. “Will you walk me up the field, Jens?”
Jens is eager to do so, and he wheels the bicycle for her as they climb the steep footpath beside the stream together. At the broken gate into the Winters’ farmyard they say goodbye and he gives Miranda another wet kiss. She waits until he is out of sight before she wipes her mouth vigorously with her hand.
Miranda hurries across the farmyard to the kitchen door, trying to clear her thoughts and think of a plan. She has staved off the immediate danger, but the threat is still very real. She is almost sure that she has convinced Jens that she will turn up for their assignation tomorrow but she is not completely sure. Even he has enough brains to begin to doubt her sincerity when his feelings of lust start to subside. He may get home, have second thoughts and decide to tell the Germans to search the Winters’ home within a few hours.
The children are not in the kitchen when Miranda enters, but Max and Doro are sitting opposite each other at the wooden table, clearly in the middle of a heart-to-heart. Max still looks haggard, but slightly better than when Miranda had last seen him. They both look up as Miranda pushes open the door, and there is clearly something in her face which immediately alerts them to further disaster.
“What’s happened?” Max asks, pushing his chair back and standing up quickly. Miranda waves him back to his seat, drops into another chair and begins to tell the story of her encounter with Jens as quickly as she can. She does not describe much about how Jens touched her, but she sees Doro and Max exchange a look and she knows they are both reading between the lines.
“Are you all right, Anna?” Doro asks, reaching out a hand to her as she finishes her story.
“I’m fine,” Miranda says quickly. “But we need to act fast. If Jens knows the children are here, it’s not going to be long before someone comes looking for them. I’m afraid your involvement with the Resistance is going to be exposed pretty soon too, Max.”
He nods. “We have to get them out tonight – but where?”
“We have some outbuildings at the far edge of the farm…” Doro is thinking aloud, but Max shakes his head at once.
“No good. If they come here to search, they’ll search the whole farm. And probably every place nearby.”
“I have the address my contact gave me – the safe house in Switzerland,” Miranda says. “If only we could get them there – or at least to somewhere on the way.”
“If one of us takes them, the Nazis will know we’re guilty,” Max says. “But I think you’re right, Anna – the game’s up. Maybe we all need to disappear.”
“I’m leaving on Sunday night,” Miranda says. “I wish I could take you all with me.” There is a long pause as her eyes meet Max’s eyes. She wishes she could read what is in his gaze. Doro is looking from one of them to the other with interest. Miranda looks away first.
“Perhaps we could take them to –“ Doro begins, but she is interrupted by the sound of three quiet knocks on the back door. All three of them jerk their heads towards it, startled. Miranda sees Max stand and take his gun from the uniform holster which hangs on a peg behind him. He clicks off the safety catch and holds the pistol down by his side, concealed from whoever is at the door. Doro rises and goes to lift the latch.
The door opens to reveal a very unexpected visitor standing nervously on the step. It is not Jens or a German soldier but Christian’s father, the butcher. His face, normally jovial, is drawn and nervous, but he manages a small smile for Doro.
“Doro! May I – may I come in? I need to speak with you and Max.”
“Of course, Klaus.” Doro holds the door open for the butcher to enter as Max replaces the safety catch on his pistol and puts it down. Klaus pulls his hat off to reveal dishevelled grey hair as he sits down beside Miranda. There are stains on his loden jacket and bags below his eyes.
“Klaus – I’m so sorry – about Christian,” Doro begins, but he holds up a hand to stop her.
“I know. But my son knew the risks – and he believed he was doing the right thing. I believed it too, but I always feared that this would happen, and now it has.” He sighs heavily. “They came to question me this morning. I thought they would take me away, to the Schloss, but they didn’t. But they will return - and they will come for you, too, Max.” He looks across the table at Max. “You have to get away. You too, Doro. And you –“ He glances at Miranda, “Anna, isn’t it?”
“Yes, we know. We were just trying to make a plan,” Max says. “Are they watching your shop, Klaus? Could they have followed you here?”
Klaus shakes his head. “I don’t think so. I hope not. I was very careful. I didn’t see anyone. But I don’t think I can go back. I may not get away twice. I left my van behind the shop, but I went to my brother’s house and took his old car, the one he left behind when he went to Innsbruck. I hid it in a copse near here. I have a few cans of fuel which were meant to be used for my deliveries.”
“You have a car?” Max stands up again and begins to pace around, thinking. He turns to Klaus. “Klaus – if you’re leaving now, could you take my mother with you? And two children?”
Doro looks startled and stares at Max, but his eyes are fixed on Christian’s father.
“Two children?” Klaus asks in surprise. “What children?”
“Hana and August Strobl’s children. They’ve been with us since Hana and August got taken away. But Jens Schmidt knows they are here now, so the Germans are going to come looking for them.”
“The Strobl children – here?” Klaus looks astonished. “I had no idea. Yes, of course I’ll take them, but – where can we go?”
“If you can get to the Swiss border, I’ve got the address of a safe house,” Miranda says, speaking for the first time since Klaus’s arrival. “We’ll pack their things now – they barely have anything to take.”
“You pack too, Mama,” Max says. “You’re going with them.”
“But Max – I can’t leave you here –“ Doro protests.
“Yes, you can,” Max says firmly. “Go now, while you have the chance, and I’ll follow you soon. If the car is that little old rust-bucket Christian’s uncle used to drive around town, you’ll be lucky if it gets four of you to the border, never mind five.”
When Max had rescued Clara and Jürgen from their parents’ house he had only been able to bring one bag of clothes and toys with them. They have accumulated a few more possessions since then – Doro has knitted them socks and made Clara a frock for her birthday, while Max has gifted them some of the books and toys kept from his own childhood. Now, while the confused children collect up the last of their treasures from around the house and put on their shoes, Doro has already packed the rest of their things into a shabby suitcase and is sorting rapidly through her own wardrobe to choose what she can fit in her own case.
Acting on Doro’s instructions, Miranda empties drawers of underwear and folds blouses and skirts. Doro’s hands are trembling as she rolls stockings and tucks them neatly into the side of the suitcase. “This is all so sudden - I still don’t know if this is the right thing to do –“
“It is,” Miranda assures her. “Think how much better it will be for Clara and Jürgen to have you with them, instead of just going off with a stranger. They won’t be nearly so scared.”
“Well, I will do my best to keep them safe, the poor little dears.” Doro sighs as she picks up the china box which contains her few trinkets and items of jewellery. “I’ll take my husband’s gold watch…we might need some things to sell if we run out of money.” She rolls the box safely in a woollen cardigan and adds it to the suitcase before turning to place a hand on Miranda’s arm. “Anna – I know you are leaving soon, but while you’re still here – you will look after Max, won’t you? I’m so afraid for him.”
Miranda finds herself unable to swallow down the lump in her throat as she sees the tears in the older woman’s eyes. “Of course – we’ll look out for each other – but Max will be all right, you’ll see. He’s promised to follow you to Switzerland as soon as he can.”
“If we can get there without being stopped, it will be a miracle.”
Since Miranda suspects this statement to be true, she does not reply. When Doro has finished packing her case and gone downstairs to hurry the children, Miranda goes into her own room and looks around. On the night of her arrival it had seemed bare and unfamiliar, but now it feels both familiar and safe. The small rucksack she had arrived with is under the bed. Miranda sighs. She may not be leaving immediately with Klaus, Doro and the children, but she will be gone so soon that she may as well pack up her possessions now. She brought so little with her that it takes only a few minutes to fill the rucksack. She adds a blue headscarf embroidered with Alpine flowers which Doro had gifted her – “This will suit you far better than it does me” – and a little home-made book which contains a picture story Clara drew for her days ago. Clara had coloured the pictures in crayon and added captions in her rather wobbly writing. Max had made holes and tied the pages together with ribbon to make the story into a book. Miranda tucks the book deep down at the bottom of the rucksack, which she leaves on the chair in her bedroom. All she will have to do is to pick it up when she departs and there will be no signs left that she ever occupied this room.
The packing has taken very little time, but they wait until darkness comes before the escapees leave the house. Doro insists on cooking a meal while they wait, saying that it will be as well for everyone to fill their stomachs while they can. “Who knows where we’ll be by the time of our next meal?” she says, slicing bread. “I’ve packed enough food to keep us going for a few days, though.”
“And when we get to Switzerland you’ll still make cakes for us, won’t you, Oma Doro?” Jürgen asks hopefully. “Do they have nice food in Switzerland?”
“They make a lot of cheese in Switzerland,” Klaus tells him, unable to help smiling at the boy despite the obvious tension and sense of urgency in the room. “They make chocolate, too.”
“Mmm!” It is clear that Jürgen is oblivious to the dangers of the journey and thinking only of hoped-for culinary delights of the future. Clara’s little face is more solemn. She eats obediently when Doro urges her to, but under the table she squeezes Max’s hand for reassurance.
“Onkel Max, why aren’t you coming with us?” Clara asks.
“There wouldn’t be room for a giant like me in Klaus’s little car, Clara. And I have some important things to do here. But don’t worry, I’ll come and find you as soon as I can.” Miranda is impressed by the cheerful tone Max manages to use as he speaks to the child. Clara’s face brightens a little.
As soon as the sky outside the kitchen windows darkens into nightfall, Max goes out and patrols around the nearer parts of the farm and up and down the lane. He comes back and reports that there do not seem to be any signs that the house is being watched. Doro buttons the children into their coats and takes a last look round her home of many years to check for any other precious items she cannot bear to leave behind which can be squeezed into her suitcase or pockets.
Max is going to accompany his mother, Klaus and the children to the copse of trees where the car is hidden. Miranda has agreed to stay behind at the house, where she can attempt to stall Jens or any other unexpected visitors who may appear. She kisses the children. “Be good, and always do what Oma Doro tells you, all right?”
Clara flings her arms around Miranda’s neck. “I wish you were coming with us, Tante Anna. Will we see you soon?”
“Perhaps,” Miranda replies, not wanting to upset the child with the truth. No, you won’t see me, because in a few days’ time I’ll be in England, and I’ll be Miranda again. Your Tante Anna doesn’t really exist. “Goodbye, Jürgen. Don’t eat all the food too soon. Goodbye, Klaus. Thank you so much for what you’re doing.”
Doro envelops Miranda in a tight hug. Miranda can feel the other woman’s tears against her cheek. “You’re a good person, Anna,” she whispers. “Be safe, always, and take care of him while you can.”
“I will,” Miranda promises. A moment later the door clicks shut behind Max and the travellers and Miranda is left alone in the kitchen, where the oil lamp is the only light. She hears the creak of the main farmyard gate into the yard as it opens and closes, and then it is very quiet.
Max returns about forty minutes later, letting himself quietly into the kitchen to find Miranda sitting at the table. She is looking unseeingly at the browned pages of one of Doro’s favourite cookbooks. Faded and well-read, the printed recipes are annotated with scribbled comments and amendments.
“They’ve gone,” Max says, putting a foot on a chair to begin unlacing his boots. “We got to the car without any difficulty. There doesn’t seem to be anyone about at all. Klaus knows all the back roads in this district, so with any luck he should be able to keep out of sight on the first part of the journey, anyway. After that – well, they’ll have to be clever. And lucky.”
“At least no one will be looking for them yet. As far as anyone else knows except us, Doro is here in the house and the Strobl children disappeared weeks ago. Well – of course Jens knows there are children here, but he may not tell anyone – not yet, anyway.”
“If he keeps his mouth shut until tomorrow night, what are you going to do? Surely you’re not going to go over there and let him put his hands on you again?” There is a spark of anger in Max’s blue eyes as he speaks, and inexplicably Miranda’s heart leaps to see this.
“I haven’t worked out what I’m going to do yet. But whatever happens tomorrow, we haven’t got much time. I think he will report us, probably sooner rather than later. He would do anything to please the Nazis at the Schloss.”
Max frowns, and then yawns. “At least my mother and the children have a chance to get away now. I’m going to bed. If I have to show up at work tomorrow and convince everyone that I don’t care about some Resistance fighters being killed, I’d better get some sleep first.” His voice flattens on the word killed despite his efforts to control it. About to leave the room, he turns and looks at Miranda. “Anna – I’m sorry about this morning. I know you didn’t betray us. I shouldn’t have accused you, but I – I wasn’t thinking straight.”
Miranda reaches out and takes his hand in hers. “It’s all right. I can’t imagine how you were feeling. I’m so sorry it happened.”
For an instant the air becomes charged between them and she thinks he is going to pull her towards him, but he hesitates and the moment is lost. “Goodnight, Anna,” is all he says, as he leaves the kitchen.
It takes Miranda a long time to fall asleep that night, but eventually she sleeps soundly. She wakes early to the sound of knives and plates clattering downstairs. When she arrives in the kitchen the fresh eggs are already in a bowl on the table. Max is heating coffee, dressed in the old clothes he wears for farm chores. He usually puts on his police uniform after breakfast.
“I wonder how far they have got now?” Miranda says, fetching the last of the butter from the cold safe in the larder. She does not need to explain who they are.
Max shrugs. “Who knows? I just hope they are staying safe, and keeping away from anywhere that may be busy – or where soldiers are.”
They talk very little during breakfast. It feels strange to be alone together in the house, without the sounds of the children’s chattering or Doro’s kind voice.
Miranda is just pouring the last of the hot coffee into Max’s cup when she hears a noise which makes both their heads snap to attention. Outside, in the lane, there is the sound of several vehicle engines and the loud squealing of brakes. There is a thud, as the big gate is pushed open forcefully, and the clatter of more than one pair of boots on the cobbles. A moment later someone hammers on the kitchen door, so hard that it bounces on its hinges. A harsh voice calls, “Max Winter! Open this door at once, or we shall force an entry! You’re wanted for questioning!”
Has Jens betrayed us?
Have they caught Klaus and the others?
These questions race through Miranda’s mind in the few seconds before the person outside grows impatient. The next sound is a splintering crash as a heavy boot bursts open the door.