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Resistance

Chapter Text

***

July/August 1944

***

Max’s suspicions and Palmer’s information are both accurate.  The army of the Third Reich is sending reinforcements to the Palburg area, determined to wipe out the local insurrection which had seen the German armaments train and the railway line blown up. 

Miranda does not plan to go out of her way to watch the arrival of the German troops, but she finds herself accidentally in the middle of it.  It seems like a normal morning when she sets off into the town to do some shopping for Doro, who is keeping Clara and Jürgen occupied with some baking.  Carrying an empty basket, she passes through the farmyard gate and starts down the sloping path beside the stream.  The old brown horse is busily occupied grazing amongst the long grass and wildflowers in the meadow, and barely lifts his head to watch her go by. 

At the foot of the path, she turns left and walks along the lane towards the buildings of the town.  She has just passed the next gateway when she hears an eager voice calling to her.

“Anna!  Anna!  Wait!”

Miranda turns to see Jens Schmidt opening the gate beyond which a track leads up to the Schmidts’ farm.  She has not seen him often since their first meeting, but she recognises his plump, childish face, now shining with drops of sweat after the exertion of walking on a hot summer’s morning.  There are wet patches at the armpits of his blue shirt and his ample stomach is bulging over the top of his trousers, barely restrained by his braces.  He beams widely as he falls into step beside her. 

“You are going to see the arrival of the troops, ja?” 

“No – I’m just going shopping,” Miranda tells him.  “There are troops arriving today?”

“Yes.  It shows that the Reich realises the importance of our little town,” Jens says proudly.  “We should be happy that the Führer is sending more troops to keep us safe.  These people who blew up the railway line need to be rounded up and made an example of.  They are a disgrace to all good citizens of the Reich.” 

Miranda makes a noise of agreement and they walk on, Jens still chatting away about the arrival of the new soldiers and seemingly happy that Miranda does not take much part in the conversation.  Glancing sideways at his face, Miranda notices that Jens’s wide, baby-blue eyes shine with a fanatical gleam as he speaks. 

As they enter the streets of the town, it is obvious that today is not an ordinary day.  There is a tension in the air and people are hastening in all directions, many seemingly heading towards the railway station or the town square.  Several shopkeepers are standing in their doorways, looking uneasily around them, as though wondering whether their customers will be too distracted today to carry out their routine errands.  The entrance to the police station appears to be busy, although Miranda cannot see Max amongst the officers hurrying in and out. 

Miranda glances towards a baker’s shop, thinking about the list of things she needs to purchase for Doro, but Jens puts his hand on her arm and urges her onwards.  “Come on!  Don’t you want to get a good view when they arrive?”

Not really, Miranda thinks, but she does not want to arouse his suspicions, so she continues to hurry at his side as he makes his way towards the bridge.  He does not release the clasp of his pudgy fingers around her arm.    

They reach the bridge, where there is a small crowd gathered outside the old white-walled inn run by Yvonne Schröder’s unsatisfactory husband Rainer.  Miranda catches a glimpse of Yvonne through the window.  Yvonne looks harassed and is carrying an overloaded tray of glasses.  Miranda averts her gaze firmly. 

A train whistle sounds, and from the edge of the bridge Miranda can see a huge black German locomotive already disgorging its cargo – both human and mechanical - on to the station platform.  Steam rises from the noisy engine’s funnel, and the normally quiet station is now a hive of activity.  Grey-uniformed troops pour from the passenger wagons of the train, and military trucks are being driven down ramps onto the platform.  Beside Miranda, Jens lets out a hiss of excitement as they watch the newly-arrived regiments forming up into lines and preparing to march through the town. 

“Some of them will be billeted at the Schloss, and they are taking over the Town Hall and the customs buildings too,” a man behind Miranda explains to his companion.  Jens turns eagerly at the sound of the man’s voice. 

“Hans!  Torsten!” he greets his friends.  “This is a great day for Palburg, isn’t it?  Now we shall be safe from those traitors who work against the Reich.  Have you met Anna Riegler?  She is Max Winter’s cousin from Wien.” 

Miranda gets the impression, from the lukewarm way in which Jens’s accquaintances return his greetings, that they are less interested in his friendship than he is in theirs. 

“Have you seen Lena anywhere?” Jens asks Hans and Torsten.  Hans is short, bearded and stocky while Torsten is tall and well-muscled.  They exchange glances.  Miranda wonders why neither of them appear to have been enlisted for military service.

“No, I haven’t seen her,” Torsten says.  “I think she is working today.”

Jens’s smooth childish forehead creases in a frown.  “I have not seen her for days.  I write her letters, I send her chocolates and flowers, but she never seems to be at home when I call.”  He turns to Miranda and explains proudly, “Lena is my girlfriend.”

Miranda catches Hans’s eye and understands from his expression and the humorous quirk of his eyebrow that the absent Lena may be trying to avoid Jens’s attentions.  Miranda cannot blame her.  “Lena’s been very busy,” Hans tells Jens in a soothing voice. 

“Perhaps I will catch up with her today,” Jens says determinedly.  “I will go and call on her again after we have watched the soldiers arrive.”  He turns again to look towards the station, and exclaims, “Look!  They’re coming now!”

A wide column of German soldiers has begun to march across the bridge which links the station to the town.  Trucks filled with more troops are joining the procession.  Miranda realises that this is a deliberate show of strength, designed to intimidate the local population and proclaim that, although the Allies might be sweeping across France towards Paris and the Axis forces might be in retreat towards Berlin, here in occupied Austria the might of the Third Reich was still strong.  What would Jens say, she wonders, if he knew that I helped to tie explosives on to the railway line and watched that armament train being blown into pieces?          

The first ranks of marching soldiers pass smartly by the little crowd of watchers by the inn.  More people have come to swell the ranks of the audience now, lining the streets as the troops march past.  Looking back towards the station, the lines of soldiers and vehicles seem never-ending. 

Jens is eager to keep up with the procession and see as much of it as he can.  He tugs Miranda away from the inn and they hurry along in the same direction as the marching troops, trying to keep up with the soldiers’ pace.  “Herr Schneider of the Gestapo is going to address the men in the town square,” Jens informs Miranda over his shoulder as he pulls her along. 

As they near the town square, the soldiers seem to slow their pace.  Shopkeepers and townspeople are still lining the route.  Miranda looks down at the soldiers’ feet and sees row after row of polished black boots moving smartly over the cobbles.  The sound of the marching feet, the noise of the truck engines and the murmured talk of the townspeople fill the air. 

Abruptly, a lone voice cuts over the mingled noises, its tone full of hatred.

“Go back to Germany, Nazi pigs!”

Everyone, including Miranda and Jens, looks around for the source of the unexpected shout. 

“What are you doing here?  Don’t you know that you’re losing the war?” 

Miranda cannot help thinking that she knows that voice.  Her gaze pans over the people in the street and into the town square, which they have just reached.  As the man raises his voice a third time to shout at the soldiers, Miranda sees him through the crowds – and dread runs down her spine like ice.  It is Heinrich.  He is standing at one side of the town square – fortunately, perhaps, not directly in front of his own bookshop.  His thin face is twisted in hatred, and his glasses are askew.  Miranda cannot believe that he is doing this in front of hundreds of German soldiers.  Maria is standing by his side, obviously pleading with him to stop shouting.  She looks desperate.

“You killed my sister, Nazi murderers!”

Right in front of Miranda, a truck full of soldiers stops and a young German aboard it swings his rifle from his shoulder, his gaze fixed on Heinrich.  He points the rifle in Heinrich’s direction, and Miranda feels panic rising in her stomach.  The German soldier with the rifle is almost close enough for her to touch, yet there is nothing she can do without bringing retribution on herself and, almost certainly, the Winter family. 

Maria must have seen the soldier with the rifle too.  As Heinrich opens his mouth to shout for a fourth time, Maria grabs hold of him, pulls his face down towards her and silences him with a fierce kiss.  As Heinrich freezes, clearly completely taken aback, Maria drags him behind a knot of people, pulling him further into the crowds until they disappear from sight.  There is no further shouting. 

The German soldier who has been aiming his rifle towards Heinrich pauses and straightens up, frowning.  The truck starts to move forward again, following the procession into the town square, and there is a sudden hubbub of noise again – a mixture of people discussing Heinrich’s outburst and others trying to pretend it did not happen.  Miranda hopes that Maria and Heinrich have taken cover in the bookshop by now.

“Did you hear that?” Jens asks Miranda.  “That idiot shouting?  I didn’t see who it was, did you?”

“No,” Miranda lies.  “No idea.  Very strange.”

“More than strange,” Jens says, his good humour restored as he admires the next regiment of soldiers marching past them.  “I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes when they catch up with him.”

Half the town must know who Heinrich is, and where his shop is, Miranda muses.  Many locals must know what happened to his sister Alba, too, at the hands of German soldiers.  How many people in this crowd will be prepared to identify him to the Germans, and how many will keep loyally silent?  And what will this mean to the Resistance network of which Heinrich is a member?  If the Gestapo identify Heinrich and start investigating his associates – Miranda shivers.  This is not good.  Not good at all. 

Beyond the troops, and the trucks, and the heads of the crowd, she can see a shining black car parked by the fountain in the town square, and a raised dais on which Cornelius Schneider and a group of German officers wait to address the arriving troops. 

“Come on, let’s get a good place to hear the speeches!”  Jens urges Miranda, but this time she makes her excuses.

“I’m sorry Jens, but I really need to get on with the shopping now.  Doro will be wondering where I am if I take too long.  I hope you enjoy watching.  Good luck with finding your girlfriend later, too.”

“Thank you, Anna.  I hope we will see each other again soon,” Jens beams at her, and Miranda is unable to return his hopes as she backs away from him and melts into the crowds.

***

Miranda does not see Max until much later that day, when he returns to the farm at the end of his day’s work.  It is impossible to talk about Heinrich during dinner, while the children are there listening.  Therefore, although there is some discussion about the arrival of the German reinforcements during the meal – Doro asking questions and Max and Miranda contributing what each of them knew and had seen – it is not until later, when Doro is putting the children to bed, that Miranda is able to talk freely to Max.  They are in the kitchen, where he is washing dishes while she dries them and puts them away. 

“I know you were mainly in the police station today, but did you hear anything about someone shouting insults at the German troops?”  Miranda asks.

Max looks up from the sink in surprise.  “Yes – someone did mention something.  That some idiot was heckling them, but he disappeared before they could identify him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if someone turns him in, though.  Why?  Did you hear it?”

“Yes.  It happened just as Jens and I got to the town square.  Max – it was Heinrich.”

Max’s hands go still on the plate he was scrubbing.  “What?”

“It was Heinrich,” Miranda repeats, watching incredulity spread across Max’s face.  “He was in the town square with Maria, and he started shouting at the soldiers – calling them pigs, and saying they murdered his sister.  He was beside himself.  One of the soldiers pointed a gun towards him, but Maria – well, she kissed him to shut him up, and then she pulled him into the crowds, and they managed to disappear.”

“What the fuck?”  Max has dropped the plate into the sink now.  Speaking through his teeth, he hisses, “Is he insane?  Does he want to get us all arrested – or shot?”

“I think it was just the sight of all those Germans marching through the town – and don’t forget all he’s been through – perhaps it sent him over the edge?”  Miranda suggests. 

Max paces the kitchen – twitchy, restless and angry.  “Half the town must have recognised him.  How long will it be before someone gives his name to the Gestapo – and then what?  They start nosing around – who are his friends?  Where has he been lately?  They start searching properties – and then!”  He breaks off, clearly unable to find words for his feelings. 

“Perhaps they won’t find out – perhaps the Germans will decide to forget about it –“ Miranda is aware that her tone is hopeful but unconvincing. 

Max gives her a very direct look from his blue eyes.  “The Germans forget nothing.  No, if Heinrich can’t be relied on any more, if he’s cracking up, perhaps it’s time to drop him from our unit.  Better to cut the connections, distance ourselves from him.  Although it may already be too late to do any good.  You’ve already seen someone watching this house, haven’t you?” 

***

During the next week, Miranda wakes each morning with a feeling of doom hanging over her head.  There is no news of Heinrich or anyone else being arrested.  There is no message of hope from any of their contacts offering help to get the children away from Palburg.  There are no meetings with Palmer, although Miranda decides that at their next assignation she needs to tell Palmer about the issue with Heinrich.  It was possible that SOE might decide that the Palburg Resistance cell was too close to being discovered.  They might decide it is time to bring Anna Riegler home.  Although, Miranda thinks, there must be SOE agents all over Europe who daily face much greater perils and put themselves at far more risk.  Here, in this sleepy little Tyrolean town, the SOE must consider that she is safer than most. 

It feels as though a sword of Damocles is hanging over their heads.  Both Max and Miranda are jumpy, their ears straining unconsciously as if expecting at any moment to hear the roar of military truck engines in the farmyard, and fists hammering at the kitchen door.  And yet they carry on with everyday life.  Max puts on his police uniform and goes to work each day.  Miranda continues to help with the children, to do the shopping and help on the farm and clean the house and do the hundred daily chores as they present themselves.  But Miranda has lost the enjoyment she had managed to find at the warmth of the summer sunshine, at the beauty of the mountains and countryside, at the companionship of the Winters and the children.  It feels as though a clock has started ticking down on her life here, and that the days of her existence as Anna Riegler may be over sooner rather than later.

One evening Max returns from a stroll through the darkness to a contact’s house with long-awaited news of Clara and Jürgen’s parents.  They have been sent to a work camp in Poland, but the contact knows nothing else about them.  There is also news of another drop of supplies from the RAF, which will take place in two nights’ time at one of their regular locations. 

“I’ll go round tomorrow night, after dark, and leave the signal to meet for the drop,” Max says.  “I’ll notify Yvonne, Rico and Christian.” 

“And…Heinrich and Maria?”  Miranda asks questioningly. 

Max frowns.  “Can I trust Heinrich any longer?  I said I would cut him off from the unit.”

“Perhaps you need to speak to him first, though,” Miranda suggests.  “Tell him to come on Thursday night for the drop, and then you can tell him that you don’t want to work with him any more.”

Max looks doubtful.  “It will be difficult moving all the supplies without him and Maria, but – I don’t know.”  He thinks for a few moments, then says, “Perhaps you’re right.  I need to see exactly what state he is in.  And if someone was going to turn him in for shouting abuse at the Germans, you’d think he’d have been arrested by now.  I’ll get him and Maria to come on Thursday night for the drop, and I’ll talk to him then.”

Later, Miranda is to wish – to wish very desperately - that she had not persuaded him into including Heinrich and Maria in the mission.

***

Although she still has a feeling of impending doom, Miranda feels slightly better the following evening, which is Wednesday.  Heinrich still hasn’t been arrested, they know where the children’s parents are, though the news is far from good, and by taking part in the drop on Thursday night Miranda will feel that she is doing something useful to justify her role here.  She wonders why it is so long since Palmer has contacted her to arrange a meeting.  Usually she is summoned to see the older woman at least once a week.

Max seems to be feeling more upbeat tonight, too.  During dinner he fiddles with the radio and finds some music for them to listen to – a pleasant change from the speeches of Hitler which are sometimes all they can find being broadcast.  As Miranda helps Doro to clear the table, and the children help Max to begin doing the dishes, the wireless begins to play a cheerful dance tune.  A woman with a high, clear voice is singing while a band plays.  Clara starts to jig about to the music, which puts her in danger of dropping the cup she is holding. 

“Careful – you’ll drop that!”  Miranda takes the wavering cup out of Clara’s hands. 

“Dance, Onkel Max!  Dance with me! Clara grabs Max’s hand and makes his arm sway in time to the music.  He laughs and leaves the sink to come and dance with her.  In the limited space around the big kitchen table, they hold hands and swing each other from side to side.  Max twirls Clara under his arm and Doro claps.

“You’re such a good dancer, little Clara!”  Max laughs.    

“Do you want to dance too, Jürgen?”  Miranda asks. 

Doro moves out of the way to the side of the room and turns up the volume of the music as Miranda and Jürgen join the dancers.  They spin and turn energetically, bumping into each other frequently, and Miranda tries to remember the last time she danced.  Probably one of the evenings at the SOE training centre in Hampshire, when they had listened to the Light Programme on the wireless after dinner. 

The music changes to a slower tempo and a different tune as a male crooner starts to sing a mournful song about love and loss.  Jürgen loses interest in dancing and returns to his seat at the table to finish off the last leftover piece of cake before his sister notices it.  Miranda watches Clara and Max still swinging each other around the floor until Clara sees her watching them and pulls her hand abruptly out of Max’s.

“Dance with Tante Anna now – she hasn’t got a partner!”

“Are you tired of me already, Clara?”  Max is laughing as he holds out his hand obediently towards Miranda.  She hesitates before placing her fingers in his clasp and stepping towards him, putting her other hand lightly on his shoulder.  It feels like so long since she has danced with a man.  She feels Max’s hand on her lower back as they revolve around the table, more slowly now in keeping with the gentle tempo of the crooner’s lament.  Miranda glances at their clasped fingers.  His hand, so much larger than hers, is warm and firm and a little callused from the farm work.  She fixes her eyes on the neck of his shirt, reluctant to look up and meet his gaze.  When she does so, she suddenly realises how close their faces now are, and that he is looking at her in a way he has not done so openly before.

Unexpectedly, the air between them feels very warm and charged.

As the crooner’s voice trails away, there is a sudden crash of cymbals and the fanfare of a trumpet as the band on the wireless sweeps into another lively dance tune.        

Miranda escapes to her bedroom a short time later, pleading fatigue and saying that she would like to get an early night.  But she lies awake for a long time, staring into the darkness and feeling the heat in Max’s eyes burn her face.

It’s not the best time to fall in love, in the middle of a war, is it? she had once asked him.

She is still awake much later, when she hears the sound of the kitchen door closing very gently.  Max is back from his night-time mission to leave the secret signs which will notify each Resistance member of tomorrow night’s supply drop. 

Miranda rolls over in bed, and tries once more to get to sleep.

***