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Helen Macinnes


  Pray for a Brave Heart

  Above Suspicion

  Assignment in Brittany

  North From Rome

  Decision at Delphi

  The Venetian Affair

  The Salzburg Connection

  Message From Málaga

  While We Still Live

  The Double Image

  Neither Five Nor Three

  Snare of the Hunter

  Agent in Place


  Print edition ISBN: 9781781163276

  E-book edition ISBN: 9781781164341

  Published by Titan Books

  A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd

  144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

  First edition: December 2012

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  © 1945, 2012 by the Estate of Helen MacInnes. All rights reserved.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

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  For my Brother Ian

  We are but warriors for the working-day;

  Our gayness and our guilt are all besmirch’d

  With rainy marching in the painful field;

  There’s not a piece of feather in our host...

  And time hath worn us into slovenry:

  But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim.


  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  About the Author


  When you rested on one elbow the third strand of wire cut across the mountain-tops. When you sat up and stared at the grey faces of the precipices, irregular and massive against the high blue sky, it was the top strand of wire which now spoiled their line. However you looked you were always forced to remember you were caught, caged like an animal. The only way to see the mountains and enjoy them was to walk right up to the ten-foot wall of barbed wire and look between two of its strands. Even then, although you weren’t actually looking at the barbs, you could feel them, twisted and jagged, trying to draw your eyes away from the mountain peaks. And then a sentry would yell some fine Italian curses at you, and if you didn’t move quickly enough out of the twenty-foot zone behind the wire a bullet would whistle towards you. It depended on the Italian’s temper whether it whistled high above or unpleasantly near your shoulder.

  Peter Lennox’s set face—grim, hard, expressionless—turned away from the view of mountains. He felt his tense body might give his thoughts away; he leaned back on his elbow again. His fingers touched a solitary tuft of grass-blades, pitifully small and yet growing in spite of the heavy boots which paced over this ground. You have a view, Lennox was thinking, but you cannot enjoy it. You’ve fresh air, coming down from the freedom of the mountains, but all you can smell is the tannery which lies between them and you. The smell seemed always ripest at this late afternoon hour, just at the time when the prisoners were exercised. Perhaps that was why this period was chosen for their daily forty minutes of fresh air. (As a prisoner you had come to believe that anyway, whether it were true or not: it just fitted in naturally with all the pettiness of malicious restrictions and unnecessary domination which had become the background to your life.) Lennox began counting the short blades of grass... Nine. One more than yesterday. He began remembering how it felt to walk over a whole stretch of soft, fine grass. Hundreds and hundreds of blades—thousands, millions, of blades of grass. And here he could touch nine. He began admiring their defiance and their determination. And somehow his confidence—which had seemed to desert him this morning—began to return.

  He turned his head carefully to look at the walls of the prison behind him. You could tell from their appearance that they were thick and clammy, enclosing small dank rooms behind the boarded-up windows. Once the place had been called a castle—it was set proudly enough on the mountainside above the valley. Then it had become a nunnery, with its upper rooms walled into small cells. Later still it had become a hospital for the poor and the despairing. It had been a natural choice for housing prisoners of war, where men who had tried unsuccessful escapes from other camps could be taught that hope was abandoned by all those who entered here.

  Dispassionately Lennox studied the walls; the scabby plaster, once white and now weathered into green and brown streaks; the eternally shuttered windows. Only the windows in the left wing of the castle were not boarded up. That was where the Italian Commandant and his staff had their quarters. They, too, suffered from the perpetually sweating walls. But at least they had heating when they needed it, and furniture and rugs and other aids to comfort. Lennox smiled grimly as he wondered where the Commandant’s friends were this afternoon. The windows were empty: no one there to stare down at the men below as at some monstrous wild animals in a zoo. The Adjutant’s windows were empty, too. No girls laughing up there today. No gramophone records being played. Even the guard-room windows were silent, staring blindly at the mountains rising on the other side of the valley.

  Lennox shifted his weight to his other elbow. Something’s wrong, he thought, something’s wrong with the Italians. It seemed as if the other prisoners felt that too, for they were enjoying their forty minutes of fresh air with a good deal more zest and noise than usual. The stretch of grass outside the barbed wire was empty of the customary spectators. Generally some civilians from the town would choose this time of day for their late afternoon stroll past the camp. There, on the wide slope of grass at the prescribed (and safe) distance from the barbed wire, some would stand, some would stare, and some would laugh. “Eighth Army!” was the usual gibe, spat out with a good deal of venom as an arm was raised to point—in the silly way in which a mocking child points—at the ragged men crowded into the meagre exercise ground.

  But today there was no one there, no one except scattered sentries. And the prisoners—at least, those who were fit enough—were enjoying themselves. Some thirty of them had gathered round the “goal-post”—the solitary tree which never blossomed, but in some strange way still stood erect in a patch of bald earth—and were playing a game of mock football. There wasn’t enough room for a proper game: the men had to content themselves with taking odd shots at the goal. The ball was a wad of old newspapers tied into shape with knotted string. (Last week the leather ball w
hich the Red Cross provided had been confiscated, after it had accidentally smashed the Adjutant’s bedroom window, scattering his squealing guests with the broken pane.) The men had slipped off their tunics and were playing either in shirt-sleeves or vests. The deep bite of the North African sun was still on their skin. Their months of captivity, of work in the near by tannery, of fresh air and exercise measured by minutes in the late afternoon, had only bleached the varieties of brick-red and walnut-brown into a sickly tan. Lennox looked down at his hand, with its bones and sinews now so prominent. A most sickly and unbecoming tan, he decided. His wound didn’t improve the general appearance: it had healed in an angry white gash across the back of his hand. He began flexing his muscles, slowly and carefully. The wound had healed, but every month the hand seemed tighter. It might be merely worry or imagination which tightened it. Once he got out of here the hand would probably be strong once more.

  About a hundred other men, less energetic than the players, lounged on the hard patch of earth. They were content to be spectators, content to catch the last rays of autumn sunshine before they were herded behind the thick walls for the long night. Besides, dysentery doesn’t encourage a man to chase after a football, or to plod round and round a meagre rectangle of restricted space as a few of the more determinedly hearty were now doing.

  From the scrambling group of players there was a shout, “To me, lad, to me!” That was the sergeant-major, square-set, broad-voiced, and as Yorkshire as his vowels. He was waiting impatiently for a pass from Miller, the New Zealander. And Miller, swerving aside from two of the walkers who doggedly kept their even pace in spite of footballers and bodies strewn over the ground, obliged. The sergeant-major swung into position, and missed the goal by a foot. There was a laugh, and a mock cheer.

  Miller had dropped out of the game. He was limping slightly, as if his wound was troubling him again. He picked up his shapeless jersey, wiped his brow with it, and pulled it over his cropped fair hair. He was walking slowly, at a tangent, stopping here and there to speak a word or reply to a question. Gradually he drew near the waiting Lennox. The sentries guarding the double wall of barbed wire would have thought there was only chance in the meeting of the two men. Lennox’s tight mouth relaxed as he glanced over his shoulder once more and saw that the Commandant’s and Adjutant’s windows were still quite lifeless. He felt in his pocket for a cigarette, and expertly halved it.

  “Thanks,” Miller said. “I’ve a match.” He bent down to light Lennox’s half. “Mountain-gazing as usual, I see.” Lennox half-smiled as he pulled steadily at the mutilated cigarette. His grey eyes flickered over the New Zealander’s face and then returned to the wire. The sentries were still bored. The bell, which would end this reprieve in the open air, would not ring for another six minutes. It looked as if Miller and he could talk before they were shut away into their separate sections of the prison. Miller was pretending to watch the game of football. They were two men drawn together by a cigarette and a match, with no other interest at the moment except the game and a row of mountains. They seemed to be as bored as their guards.

  The New Zealander was speaking, quietly, lips scarcely moving, head unturned. “Johann has come through.” Lennox’s lips tightened on his quickly burning cigarette. “No,” he said at last.

  “Yes. Told you he was all right.”

  “The buttons?”

  “Complete set. German infantry, as you wanted.”

  When Lennox didn’t answer, Miller said quickly, “Johann’s all right. I’ve told you. He’s Austrian. Tyrolese. Hates the Eyties. Hates the Germans, who abandoned him and his people to Mussolini.”

  “You are taking a steep chance,” Lennox said. Seven months of planning, of alarms and subterfuge. Seven months of tedious preparation, of gathering a disguise together. Seven months of giving up most of his precious food-packages to pay the more bribable guards, so that he could secure a piece of string or sewing thread or a small tube of glue. Seven months of worry and strain, of perpetual threat of discovery, of working out a map, of learning more German and enough Italian. And now the buttons, which would give the finishing touch to his old army coat, bleached and dyed so secretly and painstakingly, had materialised. They came too easily. After so much trouble and worry they came much too easily. He stared at the wire, and it seemed to tighten round his throat.

  Miller was still talking about Johann. “I told him nothing about you. He thinks the buttons are for me. So if he’s been planted here to trap us he will give the wrong information.” He allowed himself to glance at Lennox for a moment. This will be his third attempt, he remembered: the first from this camp, but the third altogether. The other two had failed because of sheer bad luck. Miller himself had only tried once, but it hadn’t been planned in the careful way Lennox worked out his escapes. When a man planned like Lennox it was unfair that he shouldn’t succeed. He remembered now that in each case Lennox had been caught (once in sight of Jugoslavia, once in Southern Italy) by trusting to the good faith of smiling civilians. No wonder that the mention of Johann, the seventeen-year-old Tyrolese in the prison’s post office, had stiffened Lennox like that. He scarcely trusted his own shadow now. And you couldn’t blame him: not after two disappointments.

  “I passed the buttons to Jock Stewart when he was scrubbing the post-office floor today,” Miller went on quietly. “He is hiding them in your mattress now.”

  Lennox stirred. That at least was a good plan. Stewart, the intransigent Scotsman, had been detailed to a week’s fatigue-duty for some minor infraction of the rules. This meant a good deal of scrubbing and cleaning and slop-carrying. It also meant no exercise in the yard, for the Adjutant had so arranged the fatigue-party’s routine that they were emptying the slop-pails from the rooms of the other prisoners at this moment. So Stewart, although he lived in a different part of the prison, would now be in Lennox’s room. That was a good plan. In the event of an escape the men who were examined most carefully were always those occupying the same quarters as the man who had escaped. Suspicion fell naturally on them.

  “Thanks,” Lennox said. “Thank you, Dusty.” He stared at a small white cloud, already tinged red round its soft edges. The sun would soon go down. The bell would ring any minute now. “What did it cost you to get them?”

  “Nothing,” Miller answered. “Johann doesn’t take bribes.”

  Lennox’s eyebrows went up. “A gaoler who doesn’t take bribes?” he asked mockingly.

  Miller’s good-natured face was frowning. “He’s all right, I tell you,” he said shortly. After all, he thought, I’ve been working in the post office for months now. I’ve seen Johann every day. I ought to know what he’s like. “If it hadn’t been for him and his information we’d never have known about the capture of Sicily or any of the recent news,” he said. Then his frown cleared as he saw Lennox’s eyes. Men got that way just before an attempt to escape: after they had perfected the main plan they would worry about the details unnecessarily. Miller pulled his sweater more closely round his neck. The first evening breeze from the mountains was shrewd. “Going to be damned cold here this winter,” he said, looking down at his thin shorts. Like most of the men, he was still wearing the lightweight clothes in which he had fought in Africa. Warmer clothing had been promised, but then the Commandant always promised. And now it was the beginning of September, and the cold autumn rains would soon lash the unheated prison. “If we are still here,” he added, and half-smiled as he glanced at Lennox’s face for a moment. “Something’s blowing up, judging from the calm all round us today. Reminds me of the Sunday when Musso resigned. Something’s blowing up.”

  Lennox didn’t seem to think the idea so very funny. “Yes,” he said grimly. “Maybe peace will be signed and you’ll all ride out of here while I’m still squirming through ditches.”

  “Oh, we’ll stop and give you a lift in our borrowed Bugatti,” Miller said generously. He was grinning openly now as he watched the game of football. He laughed more than necessary wh
en the sergeant-major missed another shot at goal. Then, suddenly, he was serious again.

  “Don’t worry, Pete. You’ll make it. Good luck to you,” he said as he rose. “This will be the last time I’ll get a word with you, I suppose.”

  Peter Lennox said “Yes.” It was the habit of those who were about to make an escape to avoid in the last few days the friends who had helped them. It averted suspicions and shortened the punishments for the men left behind. “Thanks, Dusty.”

  For a moment the two friends looked at each other. Then the New Zealander moved away as slowly, as desultorily as he had come. He was talking to Ferry, the South African, now: they were still chatting when the bell began its mournful peal. The sentries, usually nagging the men to march quickly inside, were less urgent today. Lennox picked himself up slowly and joined the tail-end of the straggling crowd. He had his last look at the Dolomite ranges. Well, he thought, it wouldn’t be long before he might look at them as a free man. With luck and care, it wouldn’t be long.

  Then he noticed that the two sentries outside the wire were no longer bored. They were staring at the road, some hundred yards across the grass from the outer wire. Lennox and the men beside him stared too. Three large army trucks were coming swiftly towards the camp from the direction of the town. And they were not Italian. They were German.

  “Perhaps some boxes,” a man beside Lennox suggested hopefully. “About time some more packages were arriving.”

  “The Germans don’t act as the Italians’ postmen,” another said acidly. He muttered something under his breath about bloody optimists.

  But speculation was silenced as Falcone, the least likeable of all the prison guards, appeared at the wide arch of doorway. He was a small, thin-faced man with a thick skin, which the Abyssinian campaign had stained into a permanent walnut colour. Camp gossip said he suffered from flat feet, an unfaithful wife, stomach ulcers, and strong Fascist convictions. Today he seemed to be feeling the effect of all four ailments simultaneously. There was more than the usual violence in his voice. His mounting rage contrasted strangely with the lassitude of the five other guards.