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Resistance

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Max and Miranda both jump to their feet as a burly German soldier kicks aside the broken door and enters the kitchen, followed by several others.  Miranda’s heart rate rockets as adrenalin pumps through her body.  Max steps sideways around the table to stand closer to her.

The first soldier unholsters his pistol and points it at them.  “Don’t move.  Put your hands up.” 

Max and Miranda both raise their hands.  Out of the corner of her eye, Miranda sees Max glance sideways to the place where his own gun hangs from his police belt on the wall hook, hidden by his uniform jacket.  She guesses that he is thinking about making a grab for the weapon and deciding against it.  Four soldiers, their pistols at the ready, are standing a few feet away; the only thing Max will achieve by trying to reach his gun is to get himself shot. 

“Get back, and stand against the wall,” the first soldier instructs them.  They back slowly away from the table.   Through the kitchen window, Miranda can see another group of uniformed men separating to search the farmyard and outbuildings, with an officer issuing orders.  

The soldiers in the kitchen move aside to let another figure pass between them.  He is a slight figure in a long leather coat, hatless and with iron-grey hair, who strolls into the house in a leisurely fashion and halts a few feet in front of Max and Miranda, regarding them with an almost amused gaze. 

He is Cornelius Schneider, the Gestapo man from Berlin. 

“Officer Winter, I presume,” he says, looking up at Max, who is at least a foot taller than he is.  “Yes, I remember your face from my visits to the police station.  Not the cleverest move for an officer of the law - to involve himself in activities against the Reich.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir,” Max says, feigning a tone of confusion.  “Has something happened?  Why are you here?” 

Schneider shakes his head in amusement, tutting.  “Really, Officer Winter, you’re more intelligent than that.  You know exactly why I’m here.”  He turns his attention to Miranda.  She tries not to look alarmed, but a shudder goes down her spine as she looks directly into his grey and icy eyes.  “And you must be the Winters’ niece from Vienna, if my sources are correct.”

“Yes, I’m Anna Riegler, Max’s cousin,” Miranda says.  Trying to keep her face from betraying her thoughts, she wonders how thoroughly the Gestapo have checked up on Anna Riegler.  Have they bothered to contact Vienna yet?  Have they traced the death certificate of the real Anna? 

Schneider, however, makes no accusation about her identity.  Instead, he turns back to look at Max again. 

“I’ve learned some interesting things about you lately, Officer Winter.  According to your police record, you’re a conscientious officer – son of a Palburg farmer – well-known in the community - well-regarded by your superiors in the police force.  All very respectable and commendable.  And yet – when I look closely at the lives of certain plotters against the Reich – several of whom we succeeded in terminating this week – I’m told that you just happen to be a close childhood friend of several of them.  I investigate the friends of one traitor, and the acquaintances of another, and again and again I hear the name of Max Winter mentioned.  And I ask myself, can this really be a coincidence?

He pauses, waiting for Max to say something, but Max remains silent.    

“Naturally, I feel it my duty to examine the private life of a police officer who has such dubious acquaintances.  Of course, you may have been in complete ignorance of your friends’ activities, but I find that quite unlikely.  So you see, Officer Winter, I have been thinking about you – and then, last night, a concerned citizen made a report which interested me greatly.  He seems convinced that you are hiding children in this house - and my officers tell me that they would very much like to find certain children who are unaccounted for in this district.”

Jens, Miranda thinks.  So he did report us. 

“There are no children here, sir,” Max says, in a calm, level voice.  “Your informant is mistaken.”

Schneider smiles.  Not a pleasant smile, but one which makes a creeping shudder run down Miranda’s spine.  “We will see.  Search the house!” he snaps out in an aside to one of the soldiers.  There are a few moments of bustle and reorganisation amongst the troops.  Two men remain by Schneider’s side, while others are beckoned indoors from the farmyard and directed to search upstairs and downstairs.  Soon Miranda can hear heavy boots clattering on the floorboards above their heads and the sounds of furniture crashing to the floor.  She feels Max flinch slightly beside her as the sound of breaking glass reaches their ears.  From where she is standing against the kitchen wall, Miranda can see men descending the wooden steps into the cellar and then swiftly returning upwards, having obviously discovered that the small, stone-floored room contains no possible hiding places.

While the search of the house is going on, Miranda and Max remain motionless in the kitchen, watching the pistols which are pointed at them and the expressionless face of Schneider as he listens to the sounds of destruction.  After about ten minutes, the soldier who is leading the search returns to make his initial report to the Gestapo man. 

“There’s no one else in the house, sir.  No hiding places that we can find.  No one in the attics or the cellar.”

Schneider barely nods.  “Any evidence of children having been here recently?”

“None that we have found yet, sir.”  Miranda breathes a sigh of relief that she had taken the time last night, after Max had gone to bed, to strip the children’s beds.   She had piled dusty junk from the attic in their bedrooms to make them look long-disused. 

“Hmm.  Search again.”

“Yes, sir.”  The soldier clicks his heels, salutes smartly and turns to issue orders to the other men.  Schneider turns his chilling focus back to Max. 

“Where is your mother, Winter?  I understand she lives with you.”

“She has gone to visit a friend in Linz,” Max answers, still in that neutral tone.  Miranda admires his control over his face and voice. 

“And what is the address of this friend in Linz?”

“Hauptplatz 53,” Max replies promptly. 

Schneider regards Max for a long considering moment, before saying, “Do you know, Officer Winter, convincing though you are, I find it very hard to believe in your mother’s friend in Linz.”  He turns to Miranda.  “Fräulein Riegler, are you also going to tell me that Frau Winter has suddenly decided to take a trip to Linz?”

“Yes, sir.  I helped her to pack.”  Miranda is quite proud of the steadiness of her own voice. 

“Hmm.”  Without warning, Schneider unleashes a bony hand and slaps Miranda hard across the cheekbone.  Her head jerks back as pain radiates across her face, but she refuses to cry out. 

“Don’t touch her!”  The words spill out of Max’s mouth before he can bite them back.   

Judging by his expression, Schneider seems to be pleased at having goaded Max into this outburst.  He nods sideways to the burly soldier at his side who, without warning, punches Max in the face.  The unexpected blow rocks him back on his heels and he gives a startled grunt, but he does not try to retaliate.  Miranda watches in dismay as blood starts to trickle down his chin from a split lip. 

“Perhaps you’d like to reconsider your answer to this question,” Schneider says, his eyes following the trickle of blood with apparent satisfaction.  “Where is your mother, Officer Winter?”

“I told you.  She’s visiting a friend in Linz.”

A second blow from the burly soldier’s fist lands on Max’s right eye, which quickly begins to swell.  At another nod from Schneider, a third punch catches Max in the stomach and this time he doubles up, winded. 

“Please, stop!” Miranda begs, knowing that her pleading is unlikely to do any good. 

“Perhaps you need a little time to think about your situation, Officer Winter.  It may help to jog your memory.”  Schneider turns to his men.  “Put them in the cellar.  And tell Ziegler to make sure every inch of this place is properly searched, inside and out.  Rip it apart.” 

“Sir!”  The men salute and hasten to carry out his bidding.  Max and Miranda are hustled down the steps to the cellar, a soldier behind them holding a pistol to Max’s back. 

“Sit there!” their thin-faced guard orders them curtly, nodding to the dusty pile of empty potato sacks in the far corner.  “And don’t move.”

Miranda hears Max let out a small hiss of pain as he lowers himself to the ground.  His rapidly-swelling eye and bloody lip make his face look ghastly, and his bruised stomach is clearly sore.  She does not dare to speak in the presence of the scowling soldier, but she squeezes Max’s arm briefly in sympathy as she sits down on the sacks, hunching herself up with her knees under her chin.  She can feel the tension radiating from him as he sits beside her, their shoulders not quite touching.   

They wait in silence as the minutes go by.  Above them, they can hear the search of the house continuing and, on the opposite side of the cellar, they can just see out of the tiny cobwebbed window at ground level.  Now and then a pair of military boots can be glimpsed passing outside the window. 

Sporadically there is another crash of glass, or another thud as a cupboard or table is overturned.  Outside, there is a sudden furious outburst of squawking as the chickens are disturbed by whatever havoc the soldiers are wreaking in the orchard.  Another crash sounds like one of Doro’s big earthenware plant pots being tipped over.  Do they think we’re hiding someone under a plant pot?  Miranda wonders.  Or are they looking for secret Resistance messages, or a hidden radio? 

The distant crack of a gunshot makes both Max and Miranda sit up straight and exchange startled, questioning glances.  What are they shooting at? 

Eventually the sounds begin to lessen as the indoor search is completed, and they hear the noise of the soldiers’ boots clattering down the stairs and back into the kitchen.   They hear Schneider’s voice giving orders in the distance.  He seems to have moved outside from the kitchen into the farmyard and they cannot make out the words. 

Shortly afterwards, feet vibrate on the wooden cellar steps and a fair-haired soldier with a very young, boyish face appears.  He speaks to his thin-faced comrade.  “Herr Schneider is returning to the Schloss for his meeting with General SchwartzHe wants you and me to stay here and guard them.”  He waves his hand to indicate Max and Miranda.  “Then Herr Schneider is taking the General on a tour of the district this afternoon, and he is going to collect these two for questioning at the Schloss.”

The soldier with the gun nods to acknowledge this information.  “All right.  I will stay here with them for now.  You must patrol the perimeter of the house when the others have gone, in case these two have friends who decide to try a rescue.  We can swap over later.” 

The fair-haired boy – who cannot be more than eighteen – nods in agreement.  “Very well.”  He goes quickly up the steps again and is gone.  Moments after his departure Miranda hears the sound of vehicle engines starting up in the lane, and shouts from the other soldiers as they prepare to leave the farm.  After the military vehicles have roared off into the distance, silence falls over the farmhouse again.  Max, Miranda and the thin-faced soldier are left in the musty quiet of the cellar.  Miranda feels some relief that Schneider is no longer on the premises, but it is not much of a consolation.

***

The rest of the morning passes slowly.  Every hour, the two soldiers guarding them change places, one patrolling around the outside of the house and the other sitting in the cellar with a pistol or an automatic rifle at the ready.  At the end of the second hour, when the second soldier comes to change guard, Miranda asks if she can go to the toilet.  One of the guards remains in the cellar with Max while the other marches Miranda to the bathroom, holding her at gunpoint all the way there and all the way back to the cellar. 

More time passes until, looking out of the tiny cellar window, Miranda guesses from the light that it is now around midday.  The thin-faced soldier looks up as his young blond comrade clatters down the cellar steps again.  “Go and find some food, Krause.” 

The younger man nods and disappears upstairs towards the kitchen.  Shortly afterwards he reappears with a plate of bread, meat and cheese.  “It’s my turn to guard them.  I’ll eat down here.  Yours is in the kitchen.” 

They trade duties and the young fair-haired soldier – Krause - seats himself on the lowest step, holding his rifle aimed at Max and Miranda in one hand while he eats with the other.  He does not offer his prisoners any of the food.  They can hear the faint clatter of knife, plate and cup from the kitchen where the older guard is eating.  Eventually they hear the sound of the kitchen door closing as the man goes outside to begin another patrol of the farmhouse’s perimeter.     

Krause takes his time over his meal, chewing bread and watching his prisoners without much interest.   Miranda wonders how many more hours will drag past like this as she and Max sit, cramped and hungry, left here by Schneider to consider their fate.  From what the other soldier had said, it seems that Schneider is entertaining some high-up Nazi at the Schloss today.  This General Schwartz must be of some importance for Schneider to entertain him with a tour of the district.  No doubt he would boast of the recent massacre of a group of foolish Resistance operatives.  We succeeded in terminating them, Schneider had said, as if he spoke of unwanted insects and not of the lives of Heinrich, Maria, Rico, Christian and Yvonne.

Heinrich, with his thin serious face and love of books.

Maria, with her untidy black curls and the soft look in her eyes when they rested on Heinrich.

Rico, with his flashing white smile and easy laugh.

Christian, with his round, amiable face and gap teeth.

Yvonne, with her careworn look and kind eyes, making coffee in the barn. 

Miranda sighs, shakes her head and looks at her watch.  It is now half past one.  She suspects they will have to endure this captivity for hours more before Schneider finishes entertaining the General and returns here to deal with them.  He will probably take them to the Schloss, where they will be subjected to the Gestapo torture techniques Schneider is famed for.  Perhaps he will give the General a final treat by allowing him to watch the torture and execution of two more foolish Austrians who are suspected of daring to work against the Third Reich.  At least he will never learn from me that he has captured a British agent, Miranda resolves, no matter what tortures he uses.    

Glancing sideways at Max, Miranda notices that his bruised eye has now swollen almost shut and that the blood has dried on his split lip.  She looks quickly across the cellar towards Krause, but he seems less interested in them than in the scraps of food remaining on his plate.  He has begun to hum tunelessly.  Miranda leans towards Max and breathes into his ear, just loud enough for him to hear it, “We need to get out of here.”

Max throws her a sceptical look.  “What do you suggest?”  he whispers back.  “Getting ourselves shot?” 

“We have to distract him.  I’ve got an idea.  But wait.” 

Max raises a quizzical eyebrow but does not reply.  He watches Miranda as she stares towards the cellar window.  She knows that for her plan to succeed they must wait until the older guard is as far as possible from the cellar, which will be when he is patrolling past the orchard at the other side of the house.  When she next sees his boots passing the little window, she waits a few more minutes for him to head away from the house towards the orchard.  Then she turns her head back towards Max and whispers into his ear again, “Now kiss me.”

His jaw drops.  Clearly this is not what he had been expecting to hear.  “What?” 

Miranda almost smiles at his confused expression.  “To distract the guard.  To make him wonder what we’re doing.”      

Max is still gaping at her in surprise, so Miranda takes matters into her own hands.  She leans sideways and touches her lips to his, hoping that he will go along with her idea.  At first he remains frozen, taken aback, but after a moment she feels him begin to respond.  As their lips part, their eyes meet and she nods at him encouragingly, with a sideways glance at Krause.  The guard has not yet noticed their actions.

Halfway through their second kiss, Max begins to seem more enthusiastic.  He shifts closer, cups Miranda’s face between his hands and claims her mouth with a gentle determination which makes her heart beat faster and her breath quicken.  She loops her arm around his neck and pulls him closer.  The situation is serious and this is only intended as part of an escape ploy, but suddenly being in such an intimate position with this man is causing a surge of the feelings Miranda has been trying hard to repress for the past few weeks.  And it may well be her only chance to experience kissing Max Winter.  His fingers are stroking through her hair and his beard is soft against her cheek.  Her hand slips inside the neck of his shirt and she catches her breath as she feels his warm skin beneath her fingertips.     

Max seems to be having difficulty controlling his breathing too.  “Anna!” he murmurs, as their lips part for a moment, and there is a look in his eyes which makes her blood heat up.  The need to distract the guard is almost forgotten in their sudden preoccupation with each other.

Max pushes Miranda gently down until she is lying on the potato sacks.  He continues to run his fingers through her hair and caresses the sensitive nape of her neck.  She pulls him closer, kissing his sun-browned throat and feeling his pulse racing beneath her lips. 

Krause finally notices what they are doing.  “Hey!”  he says, putting down his plate.  “Stop that!”

Max and Miranda ignore him.  With time against them, Miranda feels a sudden desperation creeping into their kisses.  She can taste blood from Max’s split lip, but she doesn’t care.  She merely yearns to get even closer to him and, from the way he is holding her tightly against him, he feels the same.   

Hey!  I said stop!  Get off her!” Krause protests, staring at them in consternation.  He really is very young.  He scrambles to his feet, waving his rifle in one hand as he lunges towards them.  “What are you doing?”

“What do you think we’re doing?” Miranda asks, smiling into Max’s mouth.   

Still waving his rifle at them rather than aiming it, Krause reaches out his free hand to grab hold of the back of Max’s shirt and pull him away from Miranda.  Before his hand can make contact, Max kicks out viciously at his leg and sends him staggering, off-balance.  In an instant, Max is on his feet and launching himself at Krause before the young soldier can recover.   The rifle clatters away across the stone floor as Max pins Krause to the floor, using his full weight to keep the German down. 

Miranda leaps up and runs for the cellar steps as Max bangs Krause’s head against the floor, stunning him.  She knows that the older guard has probably heard the shouts from the cellar and she wants to take him by surprise if she can.  At any moment he may come charging back into the house to help his comrade.  Skidding into the kitchen, she looks around and sees Max’s police belt still hanging from its hook beneath his uniform jacket.  She sends up a quick prayer that the Nazis, by some miracle, did not bother to remove the pistol from its holster after she and Max were marched down to the cellar.   

Her hands close around the cold metal butt of the gun and she breathes a relieved sigh.  She presses herself against the wall behind the kitchen door, where she cannot be seen through the window.  Within seconds she hears boots running across the farmyard and the door is thrown open.  The thin-faced guard hurries into the kitchen, heading towards the passage and the cellar steps.  He is only halfway across the room when Miranda steps out behind him and fires a single shot into his back.

For a desperate shot at a moving target, with no time to take careful aim, it is superbly accurate.  The soldier cries out as he pitches forward, knocking over one of the kitchen chairs as he falls.  He sprawls face-down on the floor, blood flowing freely from the gaping wound, his arms and legs moving jerkily.  Out of nowhere, Miranda has a sudden vivid memory of the straw dummies she had practised shooting at the SOE training base.

She is still standing over the twitching man when Max bursts into the kitchen, Krause’s automatic rifle in his hand.  He takes in the scene with one quick look, but his only comment is “Schieße!”  Then he says, “The guard downstairs won’t raise the alarm.  He’s out for the count, and I’ve tied him up well.”

“This one won’t raise the alarm either,” Miranda says, her voice sounding odd to her own ears.  She looks again at the dying man on the floor and wonders how she should feel about having shot him, but when she remembers how Christian and the others were gunned down she cannot regret her actions. 

There is a moment, as she and Max stare at each other across the soldier’s twitching body, when she is sure they are both remembering vividly the searing kisses and the rush of feelings they have just shared.  He clears his throat and says, “So, we have a few hours, probably, before Schneider or his men come back to get us.  Anna – there’s something I need to do before we get the hell out of this district.  And there’s something I need you to do, too, if you can.”

“Of course, anything.  What is it?”

“Go to the barn where we kept our equipment – where we took you the night you arrived.  Can you find it?”

“Yes.”

“Here’s a key for the padlock.  Stay off the roads and stick to the footpaths as much as you can.  I wouldn’t send you there in broad daylight unless I had to.  Behind the loose board, where we kept the torches and stuff, there’s a box with radio parts and ammunition.  We won’t use them, so we’d better pass them on to the Unterbach cell.  From the barn, you can go uphill through the woods to meet the Unterbach road.”

“I can find it,” Miranda says.  The village of Unterbach, higher up towards the hills than Palburg, had been on the maps she had studied during her SOE training.  Max has never previously mentioned to her anything he knows about another Resistance cell in Unterbach, but then she has never told him any details about Palmer or her real life in England.  With the possibility of betrayal everywhere, they all operate on a need-to-know basis. 

“When you get to the beginning of the village, there’s a house on the left with a green-painted balcony.  It’s the priest’s house.  At the back of the house is an old stable with a well in front of it.  One of the flat stones on the top of the well lifts up.  Put the box in the space underneath.  You don’t need to meet anyone there – it’s better if you don’t.  Just leave the box, and they’ll find it.”

Miranda nods.  “Where are you going?”

There is a strange, evasive expression on Max’s face.  “I can’t tell you.  I just need to do a few things – if I can.  And I have an idea to help us get away.  Meet me at the ruined chapel at sunset – if we both make it there – and we’ll decide what to do next.”

“All right.” 

Max looks at his police pistol, still in Miranda’s hand.  “You’d better keep that.  There are some more bullets for it in that drawer.”

Miranda lays the pistol on the table and opens the drawer.  Glancing down, her face flushes as she realises that several buttons on the front of her blouse are still open after her heated embrace with Max.  She refastens them quickly and, looking at the box of bullets, decides that it would make sense to get her rucksack and add the box to its contents.

She has to step over the now unmoving body of the German soldier to get to the passageway and the foot of the stairs.  Upstairs, she realises how much damage has been done during the soldiers’ unsuccessful but ruthless search of the house.  There is hardly a piece of furniture which has not been overturned or broken.  Vases, ornaments and mirrors have been smashed and piles of jumbled clothes lie in front of empty wardrobes.  Drawers have been pulled out and their contents thrown on the floor.  Miranda, looking at the devastation in Doro’s bedroom, is glad that Max’s mother has taken her most precious trinkets with her.  In her own bedroom, the small rucksack is no longer on the chair where she left it.   The searchers appear to have pulled out a few items of clothing from it, lost interest and tossed it on to the floor.  The pages of the picture book Clara made are crumpled and torn.  Miranda replaces her possessions in the rucksack and carries it downstairs.  There is plenty of room in it to add the box of bullets. 

Max passes her a small slip of paper.  Low tide in Palburg, it reads.  No fishing.  He smiles slightly at the expression on Miranda’s face when she reads it.  “Leave that in Unterbach with the box.  They’ll get the message.” 

Miranda nods.  She looks between Max and the back door, hesitating.  “We’d better go, then.”

“Yes.  The sooner we get out of here, the better.”  Max pulls on a jacket and picks up the automatic rifle he took from their guard.  As they step out into the farmyard and Max closes the door to his childhood home behind them, Miranda wonders what Schneider’s men will think when they return to find one of their comrades dead, another trussed up in the cellar and their prisoners gone. 

From the farmyard, they can see down the sloping field which leads towards the Palburg road, and it is then that they find out the reason for the gunshot they heard earlier.  At some time during the soldiers’ ransacking of the farm, one of the Germans must have amused himself by putting a bullet in the head of the old brown horse.  A motionless brown shape lies in the long grass and wildflowers where the horse used to graze.  Max’s lips tighten at the sight, but he says nothing.  Instead, he turns to Miranda and holds out his hand.  “Good luck, Anna.”

Miranda hesitates for a second or two.  She can still taste their kisses and part of her wants nothing more than to throw herself into his arms again.  But this is not the time.  She takes his hand and squeezes it briefly.  “Good luck.  I’ll see you at sunset.”  I hope, she thinks, knowing that the odds are stacked against them.  From this moment on, they are fugitives. 

Max nods, turns and disappears around the corner of the farmhouse, heading in the direction of the farm fields and woods.  Miranda leaves the farmyard through the main gate into the lane.  The tyremarks of the German vehicles are printed plainly on the dry, dusty road surface.  Rucksack on her back, pistol weighing down her pocket, she crosses the lane, climbs over a low wall and walks swiftly in the direction of the nearest trees which will give her cover.

***

It takes her twenty minutes to reach the barn she first saw on the night she arrived in Austria.  Miranda has never seen it in daylight before.  She has seen no one during her hurried journey through woods and footpaths, and heard no sounds apart from birds and animals and one distant vehicle engine.  The old, overgrown building is deserted – the padlock hanging undisturbed from the stout wooden door.  Miranda pulls out the key Max had given her and quickly lets herself into the barn.  She breathes in the smell of the piled-up hay bales and tries not to be overwhelmed by the vivid memories of the lost friends she had met here.  Here, Yvonne had brewed coffee and Rico had sorted the packages dropped with Miranda from the British plane.  Here, she had met Max for the very first time, never imagining how important he would become to her. 

Miranda pushes the memories away and shoves aside the hay bales which hide the loose planks in the barn’s wall.  The box is there, just as Max had said.  She does not open it, but pushes it into the top of her rucksack, replaces the planks and the hay bales and leaves the barn as she found it.  Outside, the world is still quiet, except for the twittering of birds, but Miranda’s skin prickles with awareness.  Nowhere is safe now.  A sense of urgency drives her on as she returns to the shelter of the woods and climbs upwards through the trees in the direction of Unterbach.   

***

When she comes within sight of the first rooftops of Unterbach, Miranda stops and waits behind a wall, hidden from the winding road which leads up towards the village.  She hears the sound of hooves and a moment later a farmer comes into view, leading a horse which pulls a cart laden with hay.  He passes her without any idea that he is being watched from behind the wall.  There is no one else in sight as Miranda hurries through the fields beside the road, using walls and trees as cover.  She passes grazing cattle which lift their heads and stare at her incuriously.  The cowbells around their necks tinkle as they move. 

The priest’s house looks very old, the thick wooden walls discoloured by age.  Like all the buildings in this area, it has a steeply-pitched roof on which rocks are roped to hold the snows which lie heavy here in the winters.  A green-painted balcony, the paint old and blistered, runs across the front of the building.

A scrawny tabby cat slinks across Miranda’s path as she skirts the side of the house and creeps towards the dilapidated stable building just visible at the rear of the property.  The yard behind the house is paved with old stones and weeds flourish between them.  The old stable is empty, the door hanging crookedly from broken hinges, and the stones of the ancient well in the centre of the yard are thick with moss.  There is a circle of flat stones around the top of the well.  The well-handle is rusty but there is a stout-looking rope hanging down into the well’s depths, so perhaps it is still in use. 

Standing beside the well, Miranda looks uneasily up at the windows at the back of the priest’s house, which stare blankly back at her.  She has no idea whether there is anyone in the house but all she can do is to try to complete her mission as quickly as possible.  It takes a few tries before she finds the right stone which lifts to reveal an empty space beneath it.  Miranda pulls the box from her rucksack, opens it and adds Max’s coded note to the small packages within it.  She places the box in the secret hiding-place and sets the heavy stone firmly down on top of it. 

Looking up at the windows of the house once more, Miranda cannot shake off a strong feeling that someone is watching her – someone who is waiting until she has gone before they will investigate what she has left under the stone.

She is about to turn and hurry away when she pauses and bends to pick up a pebble from the ground.  She leans over the edge of the well, feeling the chill from the cold water below rising up to meet her face. 

Miranda drops the little pebble into the well and counts the seconds before she hears a faint splash as it strikes the water.  She knows it is silly, but she cannot resist the temptation to make a wish at the well.  Please protect them all, she thinks.  Max, and Doro, and the children.  And please let this beautiful country be free again one day.  And please, please let me come back. 

Is it greedy to make three wishes, she wonders?

Leaving the well and any unknown watchers behind her, Miranda hurries from the yard and heads back the way she came.  She will have to find somewhere to hide herself before she goes to the ruined chapel to meet Max at sunset.  She wonders where he has gone with the rifle and what he is planning to do with it.  She wonders if he will still be alive to meet her at sunset.

***