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Authors: Leslie Thomas

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BOOK: Ormerod's Landing
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He felt his pistol, a mixture of comfort and anxiety to him,
in the holster below his armpit, stepped out into the trapped
sunlight and saw immediately the movement of a man, a
fisherman, who was sitting on the top of the wall where the
garrison guards had once been stationed. The man looked startled at Ormerod's appearance, but then waved in a relaxed manner and sat down again.

There was a flight of pocked stone steps leading from the

73

floor of the small fortress to the parapet on the walls. He
walked solidly up them, hesitating near the summit before he
exposed his head to the skyline, then cautiously rose until he
was standing on the wall. It was a thick embankment like the fortifications found in a stronghold of the Middle Ages. There
was a sturdy carpet of grass decorated with small and vivid
wild flowers. The smell came back to him, the sweet dryness of
summer, something from childhood he had almost forgotten. He had lived a long time in the city.

Ormerod had a good view from up there. He could see al
most the entire length of the island. The lighthouse was upright
on the cliff almost at his back and before him the slim land
stretched, shaped like a veal cutlet, narrowing and then running to fat. He could see the church with its small tower and
below him a smaller steeple which he guessed was a navigational
seamark. There was a schoolhouse with children in its en
closure and scattered houses in the varying dells and alongside
the bay where they had landed that morning. In the anchorage
were several small boats and in The Sund, the channel between
the main island and the other rocks and islets, several more
were riding on the thickening tide. The rocks over which they
had been pursued by the two German soldiers that morning
were now as submerged as the Germans themselves.

Now he was there he felt better, relieved that all the waiting and the idiocy of his preparations were over. But it was some
thing of an anti-climax, even taking into account the excitement of the action that morning, for here the war seemed
further away than ever. Seagulls mewed impatiently over the water, a donkey brayed back; the air was full of scents and
humming and a thin web of smoke came from one of the bay
cottages and hung in the still air. Ormerod descended from the
wall and began to pick blackberries.

They were plump and luscious, just as he remembered them from youth but had never come across since. He selected them
ambitiously, always reaching for a bigger and better berry a
few inches deeper into the catching thorns. He had been oc
cupied like this for five minutes and his mouth was stained blue-
black when he noticed a half-concealed path that had come into view with his progress around the flanks of the bushes.

74

With his newly-acquired carefulness he dropped down into the trench-like track and began to follow it with no great object other than to see where it went. It smelled beautifully rotten, bursting with late summery odours, and with small birds whistling in its green banks and wiry hawthorns. Eventually it curved and, to his pleasure, opened out on to a cupped beach, some two hundred yards away, without a footprint defacing the sand. Towards the centre of the beach were two tough rocks which seagulls sat on and shouted. The sea, a fine shade of green, eased itself without fuss on to the sand.

Ormerod in his summery mood was about to tread the beach, thinking perhaps that he might paddle in the sea, when he saw a movement only a few yards away to his left. His view was almost obscured by some tussocks of heavy marram grass so he eased himself up a minor sand-dune and, to his utter astonishment, saw Marie-Thérèse sitting naked in a good-sized oval rock pool. He felt himself blush for his involuntary voyeurism and pulled his head back below the grass again. He waited, his conscience hovering, then had another look.

She was sitting in the pool washing herself like some model Aphrodite. He was surprised at her smallness. She was not much bigger than a young girl, her body and her breasts well shaped, her hair lying carelessly across her forehead and shoulder, her face concerned with something between her toes. Ormerod withdrew his head and his gaze and lay against the warm sand.

Gently he allowed himself to fall down the slope of the sand and then, picking his steps, he withdrew towards the sunken path by which he had reached the place. He returned to the blackberry bushes near the old fort and sat eating the berries in the sun until, after ten minutes, Marie-Thérèse returned, also along the path.

'You look like a boy,' she said, but with a smile. 'You will have an ache in your belly.' She sat down on the same bank and he handed her some blackberries. She took them and throwing them up like a juggler caught them in her mouth.

'You seem happy,' he observed. He could not help but look at her breasts beneath the blue woollen jersey, guiltily thinking how he had seen them a few minutes before. He had never

75

been a very sexual man and he had not seen many pairs of breasts.

'It is still summer,' she said, answering his remark. 'And I am back in France. That makes me happy. How do you feel?'

'Better after that shut-eye,' he said. 'I didn't realize how exhausting this invasion business can be.' He put some more berries in his mouth. 'There's a lot of these aren't there? Nobody seems to have been collecting them.'

'These people are lazy,' she said at once, nodding inland. 'Always they have had a good life here - as long as they did not ask for too much. Now they want to go on in that way, as if the war was nothing to do with them. As if France was still free.'

'You can't blame them really,' said Ormerod shaking his head. 'I wish nobody had thought of bothering me.'

'Fishermen make good spies,' she said regretfully, her face dropping. 'They move about and see many things. And they can make contact when they are out in the fishing grounds. They could be so useful.' She looked up again at him. 'And everyone is bothered, as you call it, in the end. Everybody. Nobody can keep away from the war.' She smiled wryly. 'Even when they run away from it, like the British.'

'You're not all that fond of us, are you?' said Ormerod.

She did not look at him. She threw another blackberry into her mouth. She turned towards him for further supply but he nodded at the bush. 'Pick your own if you're so independent,' he said.

She smiled at him. 'You, Dodo, have a heart. Whatever else you do not have, you have a heart. All I say is that unless your countrymen fight a little better and with more heart than in the past, then the Germans will be in London just as sure as they are in Paris.'

'I'd have nowhere to go home to then would I?' he sniffed. 'I wouldn't even be able to take friend Smales back.'

'Back!
You're not thinking of taking him back, are you?' She looked astounded.

'Well, that was my general idea. Yes. He has to be charged and appear in court and everything. The proper way. Other

76

than getting him back I don't see how justice will be done. It's not going to be easy, I'll grant you that.'

Marie-Thérèse lay back on the spiky grass and laughed. Her
face was bright in the sun and her breasts moved below the wool. 'My God!' she giggled. 'They all think
I'm
mad, but you're madder than me!'

As the evening thickened into night they sat in the old barrack
cell, a low oil lamp projecting their crouching shadows on to the wall like the forms of some ancient cave dwellers. They had talked little in an hour. Two men had come from the houses with some food and a bottle of cider for them. Now it was finished. They sat in idleness yet with a tautness about them that made them start at every quiet scurry of a mouse or
a moth in the enclosed air. They had both cleaned their pistols.
Now there was nothing else.

'One thing we forgot,' mentioned Ormerod. 'We should have
brought some cards. We might be here days.'

'We cannot leave the island yet,' agreed the girl sullenly. 'The Germans are bound to send a boat out to see what has happened to the two soldiers we drowned.' Ormerod momentarily reacted to the word 'we' but she did not seem to notice and continued: 'If we try to get to the mainland too soon they will certainly see us in the sea and that would be the end of
the matter. We will wait until they have come and gone away
again.'

Ormerod sniffed like a dog in the shadows. 'I can't see our friends here being all that keen on landing us on the mainland,' he observed. 'So far they haven't shown the sort of
bulldog spirit to say the least. The only one who's gone out of the way to be friendly is the village idiot. And he thinks we're
the British invasion. He's asked me three times when the rest of the troops are arriving.'

The girl laughed, a dry laugh that made for a sharp echo in
the confined place. 'Perhaps all fools should stay together,' she
said. 'We are the only ones who seem to understand. They
must
take us to the mainland. If I have to make them at the end of a gun they will take us.' She stood up and walked the

77

length of the old cell, her shadow thin like an insect on the wall. 'In truth, Dodo, I don't like the way we are here.'

'In this hole?' he said. 'Well, I'll second that.'

'I think that it would be better if we were with the islanders.
Here they tell us we are hiding, but we have very conveniently
made ourselves prisoners. We are in a
souriciere -
a mousetrap.
When the Boche arrive these men could quite easily lead them
to us.'

Ormerod looked at her in surprise. 'But they're still French,' he said. 'They wouldn't do that.'

She shook her head. 'I would like to think that also. But I think it is foolish to be here, shut up like this. Perhaps the Germans may search the island and it would not take them long to find us in this place.' Her eyes regarded him brightly
in the dimness. 'No, I think we are sitting like chickens in this
mousetrap. Come, we will go and join my countrymen.'

They went out into the early night. It was balmy, with fresh
stars looking down on the island and the scent of the sea
coming clearly to them. The lighthouse sent its beam over the dark channel. Ormerod nodded that way. 'They'll have a radio
there,' he said. 'Do you think they will have sneaked on us?'

Marie-Thérèse was trudging beside him down the stony path
that led to the village houses. She shook her head vigorously.
'I don't think they would
betray
us by sending a message,' she
said firmly. 'They would never do that. But if the Germans were here, on Chausey, and the people here considered it was dangerous for them to conceal us, I think then we would soon be discovered.'

The houses had observed only nondescript blackout, and
cracks of light could be seen in windows as they appeared. For
the first time Ormerod noticed a larger building almost on The
Sund from which two men came. They opened a door and warm light and a whirr of voices came out. Marie-Thérèse touched Ormerod's shoulder and they sank into some bushes, a painful interlude for Ormerod because his bush was one of the many blackberry thorns. They waited until the men dis
appeared, talking deeply, in the direction of the landing place,
and then, rising cautiously and in Ormerod's case gratefully, they moved towards the building and spied through the cracks

78

in the ill-fitting blinds. It was obviously the island inn. There were rough tables and benches, with oil lamps burning, and with perhaps fifteen men sitting around holding mugs of cider. Two women moved about replenishing the glasses. The youth who was the island idiot was in a corner plucking haphazardly at a ukelele. Marie-Thérèse moved to the door, touched the latch and pushed it open with her foot.

They walked in together. Ormerod saw that the girl had her pistol in her small, pale hand. If the Gestapo had entered the effect could not have been heightened. The men stared at them in the lamplight and one of the young girls dropped a flagon of cider onto the floor and ran weeping to get a cloth to wipe it up. The simple boy produced a dramatic strumming chord on the ukelele.

'Bonsoir, mes amis,'
smiled Marie-Thérèse, closing the door behind her.

'Evening all,' said Ormerod, nodding around.

'We were lonely,' the girl said, sitting down on a bench. She eyed Ormerod and he sat on another at the other side of the room. It would not do to be too close together. A mangy mongrel came and sniffed around his boots as if it smelled a foreigner. 'Do you offer your guests a drink?' asked Marie-Thérèse.

The older man who had been with them in the morning on the outer rocks nodded and called to the second girl, who was standing stupefied, and she brought a flagon and two glasses. Ormerod was glad of the drink. The cider was dark and powerful. Drunk in England it had never failed to give him a bad stomach, but he needed a drink. The girl raised her glass and looked through the dark liquid. 'To France,' she said to the islanders, 'our country.'

With an astonishing sullenness they raised their glasses and repeated the toast. She added another. 'To victory.' They answered this with a mumble.

She drank once and then fixed them with her hard gaze. 'Don't you want victory? Don't you love France?'

They looked shamefaced into their glasses. It was the old man who replied. 'Here,' he said, 'on this little island, we want only peace. We want no trouble. The Germans have left us

79

alone. They come here sometimes to buy lobster - and they
pay a fair price. Sometimes they come to take some wine from
the chateau in the north of the island. We do not care. There
is no one in the chateau now. The wine is not ours. In any case if they want to take the wine there is nothing we can do. They have guns. You must understand that the only trouble we have
experienced here so far has occurred today - you, madame. And your English friend.'

BOOK: Ormerod's Landing
11.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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