IT WAS something to have risen from a plowed Prussian field to such a position in life that men and women in a Norwegian tavern rose from their tables as you entered and abandoned their evening solace of pitiful refreshment. The great bulk of Captain Otto Sturmer swelled with the thought, his handsome face glowed, and it even seemed that his glistening black boots and his pomaded hair took on an added lustre. The room was warm, and still misted from the smoke of the vile tobacco used by the fisher folk; let them pollute the cold and damp of the streets.
There was little comfort and no pleasure on this bleak coast and in this difficult assignment. Captain Sturmer was therefore glad that he had made progress in the task of uncovering the nest of intrigue in and around Skudensund. He already held many threads in his hand and was sure of finally triumphing to the crushing of resistance, the death of the underground Norwegian rats, and the advancement in place and power of Otto Sturmer. But it was infernally slow and tedious and he resented fiercely the obdurate stupidity of the men along with the insolent indifference of the women. There were women he would have liked to impress.
A hesitant cough from a remote corner drew his attention and he saw one of them. His first glass of potent spirits was already swelling his natural egotism and everything in Norway was his to take or break; and this included daughters of the Nordic gods who sat regardless of their masters while other folk retired. Though a spasm of panic had gripped Ingrid, making her inside hollow, Captain Sturmer surveying her did not know it; he only saw that a fine-looking woman remained seated at her table with an air of serenity.
He strode heavily over to her table and bowed. “You look lonely, Fraulein; I will sit with you.”
Ingrid looked him over coldly. “No doubt you will sit where you like,” she said. “Our people have left you room.”
With her resolute features and yellow hair she was indeed such a Nordic beauty as the Fuehrer reputedly approved. At the moment the Captain felt too magnificent to be angry at her insolence but he was also mellow enough to be a little hurt; she was the type to mitigate for him the dreariness of Skudensund if she were willing. If not he could wait until his mission was finished and he could cease to walk softly; then it might please him to show her the place of conquered women in the New Order.
“You will drink with me Fraulein? We will be not German and Norwegian for a little while but just a man and a woman?”
She inclined her head. “At least I am a woman; and it is a difficult thing to be in these times.”
As they lifted glasses he watched her closely and tested her attitude with a toast. “To the day of victory; the day we sail for England,” he said, and her eyes were level and enigmatic as she sipped and put down her glass.
“To the day that you sail for anywhere,” she answered, “so long as it is away from Skudensund.” “I hoped we would forget we were enemies.” “It is not easy to forget you are Otto Sturmer.” His eyebrows arched but evidence of fame does not displease. “So you know my name?”
“Of course—everyone knows your name. And that you are getting to be a big man; that your loss would leave as big a gap as did Rudolf Hess. If you ever should be lost,” she added innocently. “And what more do you know?”
“I know why you are here.”
“The reason I am here,” urged the Captain with ponderous charm, “is that I am a man and you are a very lovely woman; it is a good reason and an old one.”
She made a gesture of impatience.
“Then you are wasting your time. You are in Skudensund because it is here that English fliers vanish from your sight when they come down by parachute; it is here that hunted men elude you after you have chased them from all over Norway; it is around here that the R.A.F. bombers know their targets so well; it is here that there always seem to be weapons in the hands of the people no matter how much you seize.”
“You seem well informed; but the reason I gave was for sitting at this table.”
“Even that is not true, Captain; you are sitting here because I wanted you to; and I wanted you here because I have business to do with you.” “Does that mean you have information to give?” “Not give Captain; to sell.”
“And is it worth buying?”
“It is everything you want. I have been in all the secrets. If you meet my terms I will take you, personally, to the very centre of the web.”
“And what is it you want from us?”
“I want Nils. Nils is in one of your concentration camps because he was caught distributing arms.” Ingrid’s face was no longer serene but she leaned across the table with flushed cheeks and twisted mouth. “It was not fair of them to give Nils so much dangerous work; he is perhaps being tortured now by your Gestapo but he will never tell them anything. Nor will you get a word out of me that way; but if I have Nils back safe and sound—then I will do as I said.”
The Captain smiled inwardly. The woman was in his hands if she spoke the truth, and yet she thought she could impose terms. If Nils meant so much to her it would be easy to flog the man in front of her eyes so that she would give her soul for it to stop. But there were methods less crude. He ran a kindling eye over her and was sure she was not for Nils; it would be a pleasant business to so order things that first her information was secured any then her person. He almost hoped that she would struggle, for there would be fierce pleasure in the breaking of her.
While these thoughts ran through his head he was learning all about Nils and admitting that the liberty of one man was little enough to pay for such information as she offered. “This is Tuesday,” he concluded. “Give me time to check on what you have told me and I will meet you here on Friday with news about Nils.”
She assented and rose to leave. Captain Sturmer was quite complacent when she declined his escort. There would come a day.
JUST before dawn masked intruders took Ingrid from her bed and up the steep pine covered slope behind her house to the headland above the fiord. Her yellow hair fell free and abundant over the white night robe which was all she wore, but so that she could be urged over the rough ground her bare feet had been thrust into a pair of long rubber boots. Her assailants were grim and silent and she recognized the futility of protest or resistance.
The spring air still held a little bite and although most of the snow had gone from the ground the soil of the headland was yet soggy. A light growth of white birch stood where they took her and they tied each wrist fast to one of these slender trees so that her outstretched arms just spanned the space. They tied her tightly and the cords cut her wrists. For the first time a low cry escaped her compressed lips.
Her assailants left her then, left her to meditate and to look through the thinning wood to where the glint of a young moon on the cold waters of the inlet was beginning to pale in the first hint of grey morning. Shaking of the trees had brought lumps of sodden snow from laden branches on to her bowed head and naked shoulders, to melt and trickle down her back and over her breast.
Under the stress of pain and cold, time moves at an agonizing crawl; it could have been little more than an hour before the dawn cliff patrol found her. A stout sergeant with four men gazed at her and talked among themselves until the Unteroffizier came to a cautious decision. Leaving one very young soldier standing sentry, he sent back another man to report for instructions; this special service captain, this Sturmer, insisted on being called to see everything unusual before it was moved or touched, and blonde women bound to trees were unusual.
The Captain could put two and two together even before breakfast. He came striding on the heels of the messenger, thinking if the victim was his fair confidante of the previous night it was a bit of luck. Some of her combative attitude might have faded after this dose from her own people. When he saw that golden head bowed in the watery morning sunshine he exulted that she was being conditioned for co-operation by those unwittingly assisting him; he even stood for a moment in front of her to savor her distress, but Ingrid, seemingly, was not then aware of him or of events.
She was released and wrapped in the coat of the young sentry, who was bidden carry her in the wake of his officer. The Captain walked fast and the undersized youth from Bavaria stumbled heavily over roots and twigs as he panted behind. He shuddered at the fear of dropping his burden, and wished they would starve these big-boned Norwegian women a little more so they would weigh less.
They took her to a house occupied by an officer who had brought his wife from Germany to share garrison life. Ingrid awoke in midmorning to be fed by a fat and curious woman who displayed avid interest in the situation and a strong tendency to dislike the Captain. Ingrid accepted food and warnings and made no enquiries, reserving her strength for her next dealings with Stunner. He came at evening, brisk and full of purpose.
“You are better Fraulein?”
She rallied her faculties watching his keen heavy face as he sat forward in a chair by her bedside and, above his head, the Fuehrer watched her sternly from his framed place on the wall.
“I am much stronger,” she said, speaking directly to the picture.
“Then we can get down to business. You are in protective custody because it is no longer safe for you to be free in Skudensund—and I am going to need you. Was it known by your own people that you had promised me what you did?”
“Of course not; or I would have been killed. This was just a warning not to talk to Germans.”
He laughed. “You have no choice about that now. Your lot lies with us Fraulein.”
When she remained silent and unresponsive he became impatient.
“How about Nils?”
“There has. been little time, but you must trust to me about that; and we cannot wait or your friends will get cautious and go to ground.” He gave her a grim smile. “If you get obstinate and we turn you loose, we have means of letting it get known that you are going to betray them ; you have told me what they would do then.”
She was silent, picking idly at the bed cover and frowning. She looked tired and defeated.
“What day is this?”
“Then if I know Nils is being freed I will take you on Saturday night.”
“Why not tomorrow?”
“They meet there and work on Saturday; and now you must catch them—all of them—so that no one in Skudensund knows what I have done.”
She spoke in a tone of petulant weariness as if the whole project was now bitterly regretted. Looking at her he wondered if she was honest with him, if she was an actress. It would make no difference, for he would take plenty of precautions.
Saturday night came dark with a fine misty rain. The German woman had found for Ingrid a green sweater and a pair of slacks which were tucked into the rubber boots she had worn on the headland, and a glistening black military raincoat completed her outfit as she led the party in single file and savored the fresh rain on her face and in her hair. Captain Sturmer was on her heels with his revolver in his hand. He had promised to save her from falling again into the hands of her “friends” should there be an unexpected ambush, but with the twenty picked men carrying tommy guns, a portable arc lamp, and a machine gun, there seemed little danger.
They all carried flashlights and wore rubber shoes and stole north with the sea below and to their left, at the foot of a rough slope of scrub and rock. Then they turned sharply down toward the water when they came to the foot of the abrupt escarpment of the headland Ingrid had such cause to remember. On this side it was a towering wall of almost bare rock getting ever more imposing as their path writhed through the growth at its base. It was about one o’clock when Ingrid held out an arm in warning and halted. “Here,” she whispered.
She turned abruptly leftward again through a cluster of trees and flashed her light on an innocent appearing flat stone which formed one side of an otherwise grassy hummock. “Pull at the top of that,” she told them. Then she jumped lightly down in the shaft revealed and called on them to follow.
They were in a rocky tunnel in which they had to crouch and descend through the absolute dark by touching the walls, close on either hand, and by cautiously feeling each footstep on the sharply sloping floor. But very soon the end of this ordeal was indicated by a place ahead where the darkness was merely grey instead of inky. Moving with the sure stealth of familiarity Ingrid emerged into the great cavern and without a word spoken she and the Captain marshalled the whole force, with their presence still unsuspected by the men they had come to take.
Ingrid had explained this place to the Captain with great care and he had laid his plans accordingly. Although vision could yet tell him little he knew they stood in the great secret headquarters hollowed by nature under the towering headland and entered only by the narrow hole through which they had crept. The cavern was huge, with high rock walls and a great vaulted roof under which voices came echoing and reverberating from the distance, where lanterns shone, flickered, or vanished, as the underground workers moved at their tasks. The whole place made a rough circle, and lapping restlessly at their feet was water of the dark lake which Ingrid had said filled the cavern saving only for the rock causeway of varying width on which they stood, and which circled the walls, giving access to minor caves used by the insurgents as their stores and hiding places.
The unsuspecting victims seemed, to the Captain, about directly opposite. He knew they had crossed the lake on frail rafts which were the only craft available and were now tethered on the far shore by the working men. His own plans did not require them; he would take his captives alive so that with a pitiless and insistent inquisition he would be able to grasp all the filaments of intrigue reaching from this centre to all the haunts of insurgent Norway.
Surprise was the essential, so not a light could be shown or a word spoken. Ingrid was to lead them softly around by the rocky ledge in a stealthy unlighted passage, with his revolver prodding at her back and every man in the chain linked by touch with his fellow. Those in charge of the machine gun and the lamp were to remain where they were and await the signal of Stunner’s flashlight.
Carefully the party set out and a great hand took a firm grip on the back of Ingrid’s coat as she began her slow progress over the uneven causeway. Coming so recently through the pitch dark of the tunnel her eyes pierced catlike through the mitigated gloom. Only some hard breathing and an occasional stumble might have warned their unsuspecting victims.
They came at length to where the causeway widened to form a square platform of some size, and just a few yards from them were open boxes from which the workers were taking what looked like rifles and carrying them back into the darkness until their lanterns seemed to vanish in the black cavernous wall. Captain Sturmer flashed a light across the lake and instantly the powerful beam of the arc lamp shone out over the black water, bathing the craggy wall of the cavern in a white flood of light and illuminating black active figures which leaped and ran until they were lost in what the lamp showed to be a tunnel. It looked, from the entrance, more roomy than the one by which they had entered this underworld.
The Captain had been about to shoot at the running men but Ingrid grasped his wrist. “There is no escape,” she hissed. “That shaft only runs up to the storerooms and the hide-outs, where we keep the fugitives. You can follow them up and take them all.”
INSTANTLY his suspicion of her flamed and he threw her away so roughly she sprawled on the rock. Otto Sturmer was used to hunting men, and shooting them down as they ran was not the least attractive part of the business. Damn it, he was only going to wing them so they would be nice and helpless for his questioning, so they could writhe and sweat under the glare of his curious eyes and finally choke up their little bits of information which would make Captain Sturmer an even bigger man, able to swagger with the best and stand bold in the very presence of Himmler.
Now they had taken to a rat hole which might be dangerous for a ferret. A desperate man with a gun might hold up an army, and this slave woman had dared to interfere. In a second spurt of fury he kicked her as she was still on hands and knees. Then he bent down and yanked her to her feet.
“We are going in after them,” he told her grimly, ‘‘and you are going first. My men are valuable to the Fuehrer so you will absorb any bullets that are shot at us. Explain to your friends as you go.” He pushed her sternly ahead and crouched behind this human shield while his men followed with their guns at the ready.
But there was not a sign of opposition as they climbed the steeply rising passage. It was big enough to walk erect in, and after a sharp turn it widened and opened into a big square cave empty of man but filled with boxes and stores. A mere glance showed stacks of arms, piles of clothing, cases of tinned food, tins which might contain oil. As the Germans deployed amid this profusion Ingrid collapsed to sit on a packing case, and clasped the ribs still sore from the Captain’s boot. She knew that until the men were caught there could be no rest and that he would drag her along as a combined shield and guide. So she spoke to him and pointed to a corner where a pile of boxes stood against the wall.
While the soldiers tore down the barrier which disclosed an inner cave, Ingrid was made to stand by and call to the hunted that there was no chance for them but surrender, that guns were trained on the door and that grenades were ready to be hurled into the small refuge to which they had been chased. Every light was playing on the opening as the trapped men came filing out with their hands held high.
Grinning with relief and delight Captain Sturmer made sure of them. He had their wrists bound behind their backs and a rope looped round each neck and running all along the line with the end in the hands of a soldier. He strutted, and regarded them, and swelled with triumph. Feet straddled and arms akimbo, he exulted.
‘‘Tell me, Fraulein, were any of these rats in the attack on you?” He had quite forgotten his rage against Ingrid and so melting was his happy mood that he felt she deserved to have her Nils-—that is later.
It had never been like Ingrid to be meek, but her recent trials seemed to have made her submissive. She pointed out a tall fair-haired boy. “Him,” she said.
Sturmer was genially consolatory. ‘‘You will be revenged; by the time he dances at the end of a rope he will be glad. I will take particular care to see to it.”
The boy threw his head back defiantly and spoke to Ingrid in Norwegian. There was nothing pleasant in what he said and she leaped forward and slapped his face with gusto. It seemed that all her pent-up resentment against herself, the Captain, and the wretched train of events was behind that blow. Then, as it seemed the march was to begin, Ingrid seemed again bent on truckling for the Captain’s favor. She called to him and indicated a box from which he took books and papers and in which he was soon engrossed. A find indeed. Records, lists, letters; clues to all the underground work in Norway, and finally a list of public enemies among the Germans whose liquidation was essential. The last name was that of Otto Sturmer and the joke appealed mightily to the reader.
At length his eager search was satisfied and a soldier was ordered to carry the papers along. Sturmer led the way, this time with Ingrid trotting meekly at his heels, and even from the back of him she knew he was visualizing himself telling how he trapped the whole troublesome Norwegian underground movement while intent upon his words were fat Goering, jealous Himmler, and the Fuehrer himself.
He halted abruptly where the tunnel debouched into the cavern, and behind him halted the whole procession of Ingrid, soldiers, and roped prisoners. There was water. His jack boots splashed in it and his flashlight played on it. Then he took two sudden steps to the rock causeway and stood knee deep. He flashed his lamp on the walls and saw a tide mark well above the present level. He cursed himself for a dolt and Ingrid for a fool.
‘‘You told me this was a lake. It is tidal water.”
‘‘Why, yes, Captain; it is the sea.”
‘‘The sea. The sea. Where is the channel? There is none! Where does it come in?”
‘‘It comes up from below. Deep down, they say. There is a big hole in the cliffs under the water line. More than one man has tried to dive through it. There is a story that one man did get through one time—a long time ago and no one remembers rightly.”
She paused and then added impatiently: ‘‘It makes no difference. There are the rafts to cross on, and the tide will go down.”
As if he could take all those prisoners over on two frail rafts! The rats would find some way to upset everything into the water, and even if they went quietly it would mean ferrying to and fro for an hour or more. He looked at Ingrid sourly.
‘‘It matters that you hid something from me. You will regret it. I will cross with two men and you will come with us. The Sergeant will take the other men and the prisoners back into the caves until the tide is down. I’m going to get these papers and information concerning this place to the Colonel as soon as possible. Come.”
THE ARC lamp from the opposite shore shed a wide path of light across the water in which they could see swirls and bubbles on the surface as the tide came up. The rest of the water had the deep and cold aspect of glossy darkness. With a load of four people the raft was heavy and the two men with the paddles were not expert, so that the craft gyrated and proceeded crabwise. Captain Sturmer stood frowning in the centre and to secure balance he directed Ingrid where to sit, so that as they tipped and tilted water washed through her fingers and over her legs.
The inexpert boatmen began to get the hang of their craft and the course was being more straightly set when there was a marked undulation of the water. For no visible reason long smooth swells were tilting the raft until foothold was precarious and all around the great cavern they could hear the waves slapping and plashing on the rocks. The Captain dropped to one knee and then suddenly one soldier lost his balance as the disturbance waxed. He fell into the dark engulfing swell and the following upset was so violent that his fellow followed him and then Ingrid quietly slid into the cold wet embrace and started to swim. She had quietly removed her big boots.
Only the Captain, face down and clutching at the boards, clung to the raft. This was spinning and drifting as the surface convulsions grew ever worse. In all his long career of facile bullying Captain Stunner had never known such terror and fury as grew on him in those moments.
Tossing and spinning he saw only in flashes what was taking place. One moment he made out something big, black, wet and shining pushing an ugly snout from the dark depths; then he was around and facing the dank rocky walls. Again his anguished face was turned to the middle waters and the thing was pushing a great wet steel turret above the surface, while clinging to the railing around its sleek deck was the damned Norwegian woman with her damp yellow hair shining in the rays of the arc lamp.
He had little time for his frenzied thoughts of her; he had, indeed, hardly time to understand that this was a submarine making its rendezvous with the Norwegian insurgents and that she had tricked him, and delayed him, into this disastrous predicament. His mind was only groping toward full realization of these things when the raft crashed against the wall and the Captain was struggling in the water, then going down weighted by his heavy boots and heavy uniform. Never a swimmer, he threshed aimlessly and helplessly until it seemed hopeless to struggle any more.
Ingrid had no intention of losing her Captain. She had kept an eye on him when he went down, and finally dragged him by his short bristly hair to the deck of the submarine. A sailor of the Norwegian Navy helped her and her prize over the railing. Already most of the crew were ashore freeing the prisoners and making captive the leaderless and bewildered German soldiers. They were to be brought aboard shortly, but in the meantime the ship’s doctor and Ingrid got Sturmer to a bunk and set about reviving him.
He came back to life puzzled at finding himself in a stuffy steel cubbyhole which smelled of oil and seemed to be crammed with people; yet there were only two—a naval officer and a yellow-haired woman he remembered. Full memory suddenly flooded back and he spat and cursed. A rush of hot mortification made him writhe as he saw how he had been duped. They took no sort of notice of him, but the woman smiled at her companion. “Good work, Doctor. He’s my fish and much too big to throw back.” Then they left the room and a steel door clanged behind them.
A WAVE of self pity swept over him. Now that his cunning and lusty brutality had brought him so far, a power in the party, and with this great scoop on the Norwegian Coast causing him to be greater than ever; now to be suddenly frustrated, and worse—to be a captive and the fool of the woman he had intended to break! With returning strength he rose and beat with fury on the metal door.
A key grated in the lock and the door opened. A tall naval officer stood with a revolver in his hand and Ingrid was by his side. At the sight of this gold braid the Captain became suddenly aware that his own panoply of power—his uniform and glittering boots—had been taken from him and that he stood barefoot in a pair of borrowed pyjamas.
“I hope you are better, Captain. I want you to meet Nils.”
“Yes, Nils. The only man who can bring a submarine through that underwater hole and up here. This is only his fiftieth trip.”
“I checked on your story and your Nils is in our camp.”
“Not my Nils, Captain; that one is your Nils. We know all about him and that he is a quislingite spying on the other prisoners. This is my Nils—but I may have misled you.” He glared, and would have turned back to the bunk, but she spoke sharply with a note of command.
“Come with us. Now you are better you can join your men.”
The idea of being ordered about by a woman was both unnatural and repulsive, but the officer with the revolver looked at him with persuasion and his heated protest was stifled. Meekly he followed.
They entered the narrow wardroom where some men were sitting and finishing drinks. He remembered them, for only recently they had been his prisoners. They all rose and lifted their glasses.
“To Ingrid. Good-by, Ingrid. Good luck!”
“Be careful of her, Nils; she’s dangerous. She slapped my face and jarred my teeth.”
Ingrid laughed. “I had good reason. He never dared to kiss me when we were both free in Skudensund; but when I let him bind me on the cliff he took a cowardly advantage.”
Nils looked at his watch. “Get to shore, gentlemen. I must be off to get the tide through the passage. You’ll get word in the usual way of my next trip. Good luck, and drink to us next Tuesday, for we’ll be married in London that day.”
The Norwegians made their farewells and filed out to the ladder up to the conning tower.
Nils handed the revolver to Ingrid and spoke to Sturmer. “You go where she tells you and make no trouble,” he said. “Your men are prisoners and you will join them for the voyage. You’ll find some missing, for we had to liquidate those who manned the lamp and machine gun. They were close to the landward exit of the cavern and would have escaped but for our own machine gunners.” He nodded curtly, squeezed Ingrid’s arm, and abruptly followed his guests to the ladder.
Ingrid took the gun carelessly; she was quite sure the Captain would give no trouble. A Gestapo hero in pyjamas, bare feet, and at the wrong end of the gun is a broken man. She could even be sorry for his depression. They had had an interesting time together.
It was her happiness that made her genial and expansive. With the Captain sullen and forbidding she handed him a cigarette. “You are my fortune,” she said softly. “Our people thought you were dangerously near our secrets, and from London we were urged to capture you. You must be a very important man, Captain—they were very insistent —and that I have turned the trick will mean a lot for both Nils and myself.”
He folded his arms and scowled at her. “You may take me to London,” he said. “I will only wait for the Fuehrer; and when he comes be sure I will remember you.”
“Fair enough,” Ingrid smiled. She lifted a glass from the table, poured a drink, and handed it to him. “Let’s repeat our toast of that evening in the tavern: “To the day we sail for England.”