|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 7||August, 2001|
I spent the better part of the fourteenth of May on the train from Paris to Le Mans. It was a fairly modern locomotive - French, though with the odd swastika to hammer home the occupation - and we proceeded swiftly westwards from the capital.
I shared my compartment with only three other passengers. Two were a husband and wife - M. and Mme Charcutier - from Le Mans, on their return from a visit to their daughter in the city. He was a confectioner and tobacconist, she a maker and purveyor of knitted garments. I glanced over several photos of their offspring, making polite 'hmm' noises at each one. M. Charcutier offered me a cigarette, which I accepted.
I retired from photo-gazing in order to smoke my cigarette and was offered a light by the compartment's other occupant. He was a young German lieutenant from an infantry regiment. By the lack of wear in his uniform, and the lack of grey in his glossy black hair, I could tell he was newly-commissioned.
"Please, allow me," he said, leaning across and striking a match. I lit my cigarette from the proffered flame and sat back, taking care not to crumple my cheap blue suit.
"My name is Volker Koenig," he said, "May I have the pleasure of your name?"
"I'm Gerard Arnoux," I replied, "A Parisian who finds he must visit his family in Le Mans. I must say, M. Koenig, your French is excellent. I am afraid I cannot reply to your linguistic gesture as, ah... Ich habe keine Deutsch."
"Sehr gut," replied the German, chuckling.
"How do you find France?" I asked.
"Oh, very pleasant," said Koenig, "Before the war I had little opportunity to travel - there is always a silver lining, though perhaps not for you."
"You will forgive me, I hope, if I do not love Germany," I said, stubbing out my cigarette.
"It would be unfair to expect you to do so."
There was a sudden clatter as the door of the compartment was opened suddenly. A corpulent German sergeant stood there, flanked by two soldiers.
"Papers, please," said the sergeant, his voice betraying an utter lack of interest.
My mind raced. There had not been adequate time to prepare proper documents - my papers would not stand up to more than a cursory inspection. I stood up as Volker took his papers back from the sergeant.
"Just one moment, Monsieur," I said, "I am afraid I shall have to -"
Mid-sentence I lunged at the sergeant, pushing him back into the corridor and knocking down his two flunkies. Breaking free of the sergeant I began to pelt down the corridor, my feet pounding and the countryside rushing by outside the windows.
CRACK! My heart leapt a foot as a bullet flew past me, smashing one of the interior panes of glass. The train gave a sickening lurch sideways and I stumbled into the carriage door. Swinging the door wide, I found myself faced with the ends of the two swaying cars and the racing railway below.
Glancing behind, I saw the sergeant bracing for another shot with his pistol and realised it was time to act, not to ponder. I leapt for the next carriage, aiming to grab the railings at the back even as they rattled and wobbled with the speed. I missed by some margin.
Scrabbling frantically in the air as I fell, at last my left hand caught hold of a handle on the side of the train. I was dragged along, my feet scraping on the pebbles beside the rails. Pain ran like fire through my arm and shoulder. Now, I can partially blame my over-active reflexes, but to be fair I'm also not that tough when it comes to resisting pain and, well, to cut a long ramble short, I let go.
I rolled down the grassy embankment, hitting several stones on the way. I came to a halt and just lay there breathing heavily for more than ten minutes, while my back throbbed.
As night fell I had made some way across the countryside. It was slow going, as I avoided the roads - doubtless patrolled - by crossing the fields and meadows. The night was cloudless, and the moon was gibbous and bright. A quiet, darkened village nestled between low hills maybe a couple of miles away. It wasn't a pretty village by any stretch of the imagination, so when I say 'nestled', I mean in fact 'sat like a mis-shapen lump'. Its ugly cottages made of a dull, soupy grey stone huddled together and looked less than inviting. I decided to head for the nearby woodland instead. The fringe of the trees lay close by, on the other side of a wheat field. I started for it and all of a sudden heard a familiar sound - the clatter of tank treads on the road. I dived in to the crop and lay on my back, motionless, looking at the stars. It was really quite pleasant there, my field of vision curbed on all sides by stalks of wheat and above only the inky sky and the stars. I stayed still while the tank rolled past slowly in the lane.
I waited till it sounded like it was a long way off, then got up and peeked over the rustling ears of wheat. I couldn't see anything untoward. I briefly reflected that this didn't mean nothing untoward was around, but I had to make a move, so I headed up the slope towards the trees. Crouching low, bent double, I quickly made my way, pushing through the stalks. The mud of the field stuck to my shoes, which weren't made for gallumphing around the countryside, and I soon slowed to a stealthy walk. There was a stretch of open ground between the field and the woods. I took a deep breath and sprinted, hoping that darkness would be cover enough that no one nearby would see me.
Maybe I got seen, maybe I didn't. As far as I'm concerned, there's no point slinging blame around and hoping it'll stick to someone else, it's all water under the bridge. Let's just let bygones be bygones and sleeping dogs lie.
As I came to a halt under the trees, I heard the click of a Sten gun. I know it was a Sten because it was shortly being waved in my face.
"What are you doing here?" demanded a coarse-looking fellow who appeared out of nowhere or from behind a tree, "Who are you?"
I didn't have time to answer before we saw the flickering of searching torch lights through the woods, and we could hear barking dogs and footsteps rapidly approaching. German soldiers were all around us in seconds. I raised my hands without being told.
"So," said a mocking voice in poor French, "I see we have caught a couple of rats like the rats they are.... "
To be continued....
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 7||August, 2001|
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