Authors: Helen Macinnes
Everyone sat silent for a minute, and then all began to talk at once.
“One war is enough for one lifetime,” said his wife, without lifting her eyes.
The girl in the blouse and skirt had entered again, carrying her guitar. The many voices of the crowded room faded into silence. Even the foreign visitors sat politely curious. The girl raised the guitar, its red ribbons falling over her arms. She smiled to the man at the piano.
“Aristide here has found music for the words of our François Villon. I shall sing two of his ballades.”
Frances looked at the silent faces; she wondered how many of them hid the thoughts of uniforms waiting for the third time. It may have been the low, sweet voice of the singer, or the simplicity of the music, or the poetry of the words. She felt her heart stifle. In it there were tears for the courage of ordinary people, hot rage against the disturbers of their lives. The Frenchman was right: it was too much. The singer’s voice dimmed, sweetly lingering:
Que ce refrain ne vous remaine:
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!
Richard’s hand lay on her arm. “Steady,” he said, “steady.” There was something as well as gentleness in his voice. So he had seen the man, or hadn’t he? She had no idea of the time. Perhaps they had failed. A moment of panic seized her. But Richard appeared calm. His eyes told her nothing was wrong, only to be prepared.
“I am afraid we must leave soon,” he explained to the others. A chorus of genial protest rose.
“Then you must come back often. To this table,” said the large Frenchman. “Let us drink to this.” They lifted their glasses.
Frances said suddenly, “To all men of good will, who live and let live. And perdition to their enemies, breeders of hate and destruction.” She was going to weep after all. Oh, hell!… They drank. The goodbyes were over. Richard led the way. The man from the Café de la Paix had just three minutes’ start.
Others had begun to go too. A few latecomers were just entering. The little entrance hall was jammed. They made their way through with difficulty. Richard had got his hat, with the help of the man in shirtsleeves. He spoke for a moment to Madame. Still no one came. They left, as slowly as would seem natural, but the man had completely disappeared. They went down the steep steps. It had begun to rain, and the doorkeeper put up his enormous umbrella for them as they waited for a taxi. Richard swore softly. Frances knew then that something had gone wrong. He fished in his pocket for a tip for the doorkeeper, who was showing them his poems which he had printed on single sheets for sale.
And then the door behind them opened, and there was a path of light over the wet pavement. It was the man in shirtsleeves.
“Monsieur has left behind his book.” He handed something to Richard.
“Oh, yes,” said Richard. He thought quickly. “Careless of me. Where did I drop it?” It was a small book and fitted into his pocket neatly.
“In the hall when you spoke to Madame, and bought some cigarettes. The gentleman behind you saw it fall.”
“Well, thank you very much,” began Richard, but the man had given an easy wave of his hand and was already back in the shelter of the doorway. Again the street was in darkness; a taxicab had halted on the slope of cobblestones, and the red
gnome was shutting the door. Richard leaned forward to give the taxi-driver their address. He noticed that more guests were leaving Le Lapin Agile. They stood grouped round the lighted doorway, and hesitated before the wet pavement. The man from the Café de la Paix was there among them. He might have been with the others, or he might have been alone. But one thing, anyway, thought Richard as the taxi skidded on the greasy streets; no one could say that he had been with the Myleses.
When they reached their room Richard threw the book on the bed and went into the bathroom. Frances began to undress. She was determined she would wait for her cue. Inwardly, she was annoyed with herself. She had missed everything. She had been so interested in the people at their table that she had almost forgotten about the man, and she hadn’t even seen him. She guessed that Richard was satisfied anyway, or he wouldn’t be whistling. He undressed quickly and sat on the edge of the bed as he set the small travelling clock’s alarm for half-past six.
“We can always sleep in the train,” he said philosophically, and picked up the book curiously. He hadn’t even noticed that she had done his packing for him this afternoon when he made a tour of the chief Paris stations. (There were only three ways by which they would probably leave Paris: either by the north or by the south or by the east; and Richard had said it was just as well to know the early morning express trains which left these stations.) But Frances had been mistaken…
“Did you have a nice afternoon?” He nodded to the suitcases and grinned.
“Thank you, darling. Did you have a nice walk?” There was almost too much sweet solicitude in her voice.
Richard looked up quickly. “Come off it, Frances. You know I told you to leave my stuff.”
“Someone had to…”
“My poor put-upon wife.” He drew her down on to the bed and rolled her between the sheets. Frances began to laugh. It was no good harbouring righteous indignation; not with Richard.
He picked up the book again. “Do you mind if I read in bed?”
“Not if you talk first; I’m too sleepy to wait until you’ve finished reading. I’m almost bursting with curiosity.”
Richard was looking at the book in a puzzled way. “Yes, I may take quite a time to get through this.” He held it out so that the title was towards her. Frances looked at it with a mixture of amazement and excitement. It was a guide to Southern Germany.
Richard kicked off his slippers and slid in beside Frances. His voice dropped naturally. “You didn’t see him? He was there all right. Sorry to hurry you away, but if he didn’t mean to get in touch with us inside the room, the only other alternative was for us to follow him out. He left on the dot of two. Then I lost him, or I thought I did. I had been expecting something unusual to happen. This book was the only thing that did. It’s it—or nothing.”
“And if you don’t find any information there?”
“We are completely and beautifully stuck.”
Frances adjusted herself comfortably for sleep. “Darling, you had better begin. It looks an all-night job.” She yawned heartlessly and closed her eyes.
Richard settled the lamp beside the bed to suit him, and
opened the book. It seemed a new edition. He began at the first blank pages and examined each successive page carefully for any markings. His care was rewarded.
There was a small, lightly pencilled star opposite one of the sections in the contents list following the large map, title page, and two introductions. It was the section on Nürnberg. There were still two other pencil markings on the list of contents; one was a small horizontal stroke, the other a vertical one. Star first, obviously, thought Richard, and turned to the pages on Nürnberg.
The description of Nürnberg followed the usual thorough pattern. It led off with stations and hotels and other helps to tourists. Richard examined the small print carefully. There were so many helpful hints to tired travellers after each entry, so many abbreviations of map references and prices enclosed in neat brackets. It made finicky reading. A careful glance at a page wasn’t enough. Richard groaned and stared at the beginning of the page again. His eye-straining concentration was rewarded by the time he got to the section on tramways. Route 2 seemed interesting: from Gustav-Adolf-Strasse via Plärrer, Lorenzkirche, Marientor, Marienstrasse to Dutzendteich. A small horizontal line was neatly pencilled before Marienstrasse. With so many brackets and hyphens and commas and colons mixed into the text, the line was scarcely noticeable. The marking connected with the pencil line in the list of contents. Nürnberg, Marienstrasse, horizontal line. He turned to the contents page. The horizontal mark there lay beside Augsburg.
He studied Augsburg as he had done Nürnberg. Hotels, restaurants… He read on carefully, but it wasn’t until he came to the historical details about the city that he made any further
advance. There, among the early benefactors, was the name of one Anton Fugger (1495-1560). He liked the name of Anton Fugger, especially with that neat vertical line just in front of the A. Nürnberg, Marienstrasse, Anton Fugger, vertical line. He turned quickly back to the contents list. It was difficult to keep his excitement down. He forced himself not to be too confident. The vertical line marked Heidelberg.
This time, the information began with the air service and railway station. His eyes might have begun to tire with the strain, or perhaps he was too excited, or perhaps it was sleep. He knew he was jumping words. Frances slept comfortably beside him. He looked at the alarm, and checked it unbelievingly with his watch. It was nearly half-past five. There was no time to waste. He groaned again, and began to read, with his fist pressed hard against his chin. The discomfort checked that seductive idea of sleep.
He read on. Suddenly he sat up. It fitted in! God, it fitted in! He looked again: “Archæological Institute, free on”—yes, that was the pencilled star all right—“free on Wednesday and Saturday, 11
.” So there it was, in its neat circle: Nürnberg, Marienstrasse, Anton Fugger, free on Wednesday and Saturday from eleven until one o’clock. A telephone book in Nürnberg would probably give the number of Fugger’s house in Marienstrasse. But how to identify themselves when they met Herr Fugger? There must be some other clue. There had been no writing on the title page. What about the last page? Failing anything there, he would have to examine the book right through perhaps in Nürnberg itself. But among the last blank pages he found two things. One was a red rose petal, neatly pressed and pasted on to the paper. On the back of the page there were some
music-notes, roughly jotted down in pencil after a treble clef. He whistled the notes to himself. The simple tune was vaguely familiar. All the notes were of the same value; it was this which had made the song seem vague at first. But it now was clearly recognisable. He relaxed back on his pillow and smiled amiably at the ceiling. He had forgotten about sleep. In any case Frances would have to be wakened in less than fifteen minutes. What he needed now was a tub and a shave.
The sound of the running water drew Frances gradually out of sleep. Slowly and then suddenly she realised she was alone. She awoke fully with a panic of fear.
“Richard,” she began, “Richard…” and then connected the sound of running water with a bath. She was calm again as Richard came out of the bathroom, the towel draped round him with one end slung over his shoulder. He had a crisp, curling beard of shaving soap.
“The elder Cato,” he announced, “come to reprimand a slothful wife.”
Frances looked at him sadly.
“No response? Is it as bad as that?”
“Go away, darling. I love you, but not at this hour.” She settled drowsily on her pillow.
“Not on this morning you don’t, my love.” He heartlessly pulled the sheet off the bed. Frances looked resigned. She lowered her voice.
“Where are we going?”
Richard sat down beside her. “Nürnberg.”
“You’ve been there?”
“Yes. Wake up, Frances.”
Frances roused herself. “What else did you find out?”
“You are like a red, red rose.”
“My love. So the notes say.”
“Richard, there is something peculiarly horrible about you this morning. God, how I hate men when they are secretly elated.” She looked sadly at her husband and then she began to laugh.
“Good. So you like Cato at last?”
“It’s your beard, my sweet.” She giggled weakly. “It pops.”
“The soap bubbles,” she began, “listen…” She smothered her laughter.
“Anything to cheer a girl up. Are you really awake now? Well, listen, Frances. Get dressed. Get everything collected. Then we pay the bill and depart at once for the station. I got the train information yesterday, so everything is simple.”
Frances sobered up. Richard was in earnest now. “All right. What actually did you find out last night?”
Richard was non-committal. “A name and address in a town and the time we might visit it. Also that your hat will still be worn, and the first seven notes of a song.”
My Love’s Like a Red, Red Rose?”
Richard nodded. “Come on; rise and shine.”
He obviously did not want to tell her any more than that, decided Frances as she bathed and dressed quickly, and packed away the final odds and ends. Richard was ready before she had put on her hat. He had finished writing the labels on the suitcases. Frances saw their name followed by the words “Passenger to Nice.” The room, stripped of their belongings, looked colourless in spite of the wallpaper. It was just another hotel bedroom.
The dark-haired, sallow chamber-maid came in at half-past twelve. They were generally out by that time. The room looked empty. She had a sudden suspicion. Yes, she was right, they were not only out but gone. The boy who brought up the breakfast trays was whistling in the corridor. She ran to the door.
“Well, I see they have left. It is a bit sudden, isn’t it? They must have been early.”
“Yes. They didn’t have breakfast. Pierre was downstairs on duty when they left.”
“They are lucky, wandering about like that with no work to do. Did they go back to England?”
“Pierre said the labels were for Nice, and Michel drove them to the station.’
“Nice? Well, some people have all the luck.”
She waited for the boy to leave the corridor, and then she went downstairs. She searched for Michel before she slipped into the ’phone box. It was risky if Madame saw her—but she couldn’t wait until she was off duty. Fortunately this corner of the hall was dark, and she kept her voice low.
“Gone this morning. Gare de Lyon. For Nice. Nothing out of the usual last night.” Well, that was that nice little fee earned.
When they arrived at the Gare de Lyon in plenty of time Richard paid the taxi-driver, Michel, as he directed the porter to the
train for Nice. They were very early, the porter said. In that case, they would leave their bags at the left-luggage office while they had breakfast. Richard had the satisfaction of seeing the naively inquisitive Michel—it was part of his friendly interest— drive away. The porter was glad enough to have such a short trip. He departed with his tip, well pleased. In ten minutes, Frances and Richard returned for their luggage with another porter. This time they drove to the Gare due Nord. Frances looked at Richard in the taxi, as he changed the labels on the suitcases. He was smiling broadly.