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Authors: Margaret Mayhew

Those in Peril

BOOK: Those in Peril
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About the Book
In 1940, as the shadows are lengthening over Europe, free-living artist Louis Duval decides to leave his studio in Brittany and, in his small motor boat, make the perilous journey to England. His aim is to offer his services in the continuing fight, and to help liberate his beloved France from the enemy. He reaches Dartmouth where he finds lodgings with a young widow, Barbara Hillyard.
Lieutenant-Commander Alan Powell of the Royal Navy, whose promising career was blighted by severe wounds in the previous world war, has been assigned the task of forming an undercover organisation to make clandestine boat trips across the channel to gather vital information. He enlists Louis Duval, who agrees to return to France to establish a Resistance network there. Alan, withdrawn and lonely, falls deeply in love with Barbara, but she seems to have eyes only for the attractive Frenchman
Margaret Mayhew
For Sylvie and Malcolm
I thank these kind people for their generous help: Richard Parkes, Reg and Sheila Little of Kingswear; Michael Pollard who served on clandestine wartime MTB operations; Commander Michael Sizeland, Lieutenant Commander Charles Addis and Commander Mark Thistlethwaite of the Royal Navy; Sylvie and Malcolm Bates for material on Brittany and the early days of the French Resistance; Derik Quitmann and James McMaster for information on fishing boats and sailing; Linda Evans, my editor; and Philip Kaplan for everything.
The news was very bad. In spite of the beautiful weather, Louis Duval had spent the spring of 1940 indoors in his studio, painting the view of the Pont-Aven quayside from the window. In that way he could listen to the bulletins on the wireless while he worked – his eyes directed outside, his ears attuned inside to the babble of news being broadcast, interspersed, optimistically, with dance music. At the beginning of June he realized that the battle for France was all but over. By then, most of the communiqués being broadcast were out of date and unreliable and there was no advice from the Government to the people on what they should do next.
From the talk and rumours circulating like wildfire in the bars and cafés in the town he knew that there were still plenty who clung euphorically to hope, but he was not among them. The facts, as he saw them, were unpleasantly clear. Holland and Denmark had been taken and the Belgian king had handed over his country on a plate. Thanks to that unexpected betrayal, the Germans had since surrounded most of the British Expeditionary Force in northern France and the British had been attempting the near-impossible feat of rescuing their trapped army by sea. Those of the French forces not trapped with them were – with some honourable exceptions – in disarray and panic. The remnants of the British army still fighting elsewhere in France were being overrun by the German panzer divisions steamrollering merrily across the country. The battle for the Somme had been lost. Within weeks, perhaps even days, all remaining resistance would collapse. He had no doubt that an armistice was already being sought by certain members of the Government and that, in the end, some kind of shameful deal would be struck with Nazi Germany in the name of France.
By the second week in June he had reached a decision. He cleaned his brushes and put away his paints. At the foot of the stairs his landlady, Mademoiselle Citron, intercepted him.
‘Have you heard, monsieur? The Boche are at Rouen. It is a disaster.'
The more terrible the news, the more gratified she looked. He guessed that she was probably already wondering how much she would be able to charge to billet members of the occupation forces. A German officer or two of the old-fashioned Prussian school would suit her nicely – well-behaved, clean and tidy and prompt with the rent. A far more appealing option than any of the ragtag French refugees reported to be streaming towards Brittany with their belongings piled high on carts and wheelbarrows. Louis himself rented the whole top floor of the house from her – a very large studio, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The daylight was excellent, the views delightful and it suited him admirably, or he might have taken the trouble to look elsewhere for a more congenial
Mademoiselle was a businesswoman, before all else. It was difficult to place her age – somewhere in the mid-forties, he judged. Unattractive, with a sallow skin, a thin mouth, poor teeth and a sour disposition. It was a nice irony that birth had bestowed on her such a suitable name: Miss Lemon. When he had first rented the attic rooms from her, she had kept coming up the stairs on this and that flimsy excuse until he had finally realized, wearily, what she was hoping for. He had rebuffed her as politely as possible but knew he had not been forgiven for the slight. Nor, he suspected, for the fact that he had never shown any interest in painting her – with or without her clothes on. There was a rich fund of far more interesting subjects in and around Pont-Aven. She was eyeing him now, speculatively.
‘Will you be staying, monsieur?'
He'd been right: she
thinking about accommodating the Germans. ‘I'll let you know, mademoiselle.'
‘As soon as possible,' she called after him. ‘I need to know how I am placed.'
He caught the next train for Paris, travelling via Rennes. After Rennes, the compartment was empty except for a little old nun huddled in the corner like a bundle of black rags, her veiled head bent low over a prayer book – bent so low that her nose almost touched the pages. He smoked and watched the Breton scenery passing by – woods, lakes, streams, apple orchards, stone farmhouses embedded for centuries in the landscape, cows grazing, tethered goats – and then dozed for a while. When he woke up later they were on the outskirts of Paris. The nun had put away her prayer book and was sitting with her gnarled hands folded neatly in her lap. Her face was pale as parchment and webbed with fine lines. He smiled at her. ‘It seems not many of us are in a hurry to go to Paris these days, sister.'
She looked at him serenely. ‘I go where God sends me, monsieur.'
At the Gare Montparnasse, he had to elbow his way through a huge crowd of people fighting to board trains to Brittany. The mood was close to panic and, he thought, ugly: insults hurled, blows struck, no quarter given. He took the metro to Monceau and walked across the park towards the rue de Monceau. The trees and grass were a fresh, new green, the sky blue, the sun shining, the air pleasantly warm. Paris was looking her best, which made her present situation all the more tragic, all the more terrible and all the harder to bear. There were no young lovers entwined on benches, or lying on the grass, only one woman out with her poodle. He admired her as he passed – not beautiful but very elegantly dressed with a charmingly provocative little hat tilted over her brow. Even the dog, trotting along beside her in a jewelled collar, had style. Otherwise the park was deserted. The rue de Monceau was also empty except for a Citroën parked at the kerbside halfway down. He opened the outer door to the apartment building and went into the sunless courtyard with its row of metal mailboxes against the wall. Before he had reached the staircase beyond, the glass door to the concierge's flat had opened.
‘Monsieur Duval?'
He turned. ‘As you can see, Madame Bertrand. It's me.'
‘One cannot be too careful these days.'
‘No, indeed. I might have been a German. Madame Duval is at home?'
‘I believe so.'
She would
so. No-one passed her glass door, going in or coming out, without her noticing.
‘How is your husband?'
‘Poorly. It's his liver again. Another crisis.'
Monsieur Bertrand's liver had given trouble for years and been the subject of much discussion, but now Duval could not afford the time to stop and listen to the latest state of affairs. He went on up the stairs to the first floor, knowing that the old woman would be watching him every step of the way, her nose questing upwards inquisitively like a bird's beak. He still had his own key but, out of politeness, he rang the bell at the apartment door. Simone opened it. Almost a year had passed since they had met. Time improved her looks, rather than the reverse, he thought. She was one of those rare women who grew in attraction with maturity – in spite of the thickening waistline, the little crow's feet round the eyes, the sprinkling of grey hairs. And she knew how to choose and wear clothes. He had never seen her look anything less than chic.
‘I'm sorry to call without warning.' He had always been careful to avoid walking in on any of her lovers.
She smiled drily. ‘There's nobody else here. Come in, Louis.'
He walked into the apartment. Nothing seemed to have changed since his last visit – or indeed, for many years. The furniture and furnishings, like the apartment lease, had belonged to Simone's mother and had been passed on intact when she had died. He had got on well with his mother-in-law – rather better, it had to be said, than with his wife.
‘A drink, Louis?'
While she went into the kitchen, he lit a cigarette and stood looking out of the half-open window at the street below. A middle-aged man and woman were feverishly loading suitcases and boxes and bags into the Citroën, piling them to the roof. The woman scurried back indoors and came running out again carrying a wicker basket in her arms that emitted furious cat yowls. The doors slammed and the car went off fast down the street, skidding round the corner as though pursued by a pack of panzers. He turned away from the window and caught a glimpse of himself reflected in the big gilt-framed mirror over the mantelpiece. He looked rather worse than usual, he thought, passing a hand over his uncombed hair: a poor specimen of humanity in a creased linen suit – overweight and out of condition. Too much drink, too many cigarettes, too much food, too little sleep and, probably, too many women.
Simone came back into the room with two glasses of Pernod. ‘So, Louis, what on earth are you doing here? Everyone is leaving, not arriving. There has been a big exodus – people running away like frightened rabbits. Everyone says the Germans will be in Paris within days.'
‘So it would seem.'
‘They've been burning papers at the Quai d'Orsay. We've seen the smoke. What do you suppose is going to happen next?'
He shrugged. ‘The Government will desert Paris and run away too. Reynaud will resign and Pétain and his weaselly defeatists will deliver up France to the Nazis.'
‘So, you think it's hopeless?'
‘I'm afraid so.' He offered a Gauloise but she shook her head.
‘Not those horrible things.'
He lit her Chesterfield for her – the brand she liked best. ‘I thought it might be difficult for you to get those now.'
‘There are still Americans in Paris – newspaper correspondents, broadcasters, diplomats . . . I know one or two of them.'
‘Perhaps not for much longer.'
BOOK: Those in Peril
4.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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