Harry Takes Off, Part 6
The walk back through the town was similar to the outward journey, except for the marching columns of soldiers heading East. Their thudding boots raised clouds of dust that dried the throat and the regular rhythm of their passing was punctuated by commands from the sergeants.
Harry made a point of counting them as they passed and had reached a number over a thousand by the time they regained the main building. But there had already been soldiers before them and they just kept on coming.
Khuwelsa had extracted the lead from one of the cisterns while perched on the toilet lid, and replaced the missing metal with a wad of folded cotton, sliced from Harry’s petticoat using a small knife. She thought her makeshift replacement would hold for perhaps a few hours. They hoped to be away before they were discovered.
The second part of the plan was trickier.
When they approached the door to their prison Harry allowed Khuwelsa to go ahead of her and through the open door. Harry turned on Johannes.
“This is completely outrageous. My father will hear of this. There will be stern words to your government.”
“Harriet, your father is precisely the reason why you are to be kept here until tomorrow,” he said. She kept her head down and sniffed. “Fraulein Edgbaston?”
Harry knew she’d never win awards for acting but she didn’t have to do this on the stage. She pulled out a kerchief and lifted it to her face. The handkerchief had been soaked before they left the facilities and she wiped it across her face, putting dampness on her face rather than taking it off. She rubbed her eyes hard in an effort to redden them. With her complexion crying always made her blotchy and quite ugly (as Khuwelsa had pointed out on more than one occasion).
She sniffed again and raised her eyes. Johannes sifted his feet and looked uncomfortable. “There is no need for tears, Harry.” He glanced at the guards, all looking at him, and then patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. “You must go into the room now.”
She sobbed, pretended to suppress it, which caused something of problem in her throat and turned into a short fit of coughing. She felt Johannes patting her shoulder again. Men are so useless, she thought. Give them a gun with something to shoot and they’re all bravado and swagger. Faced with a crying girl, they crumble.
Which was just what she had counted on.
Khuwelsa’s voice drifted from the room. “It’s alright, Harry, I’ll look after you.” That was her signal she had finished. Harry was grateful, the next stage involved collapsing to the floor in a dead faint and she hated smelling salts. And as she wasn’t wearing a corset it might be unconvincing.
She sniffed. “Thank you for being so kind, Johannes.” She closed on him and raising herself on tip-toes gave him a peck on the cheek. She turned and walked into the room. The door shut with a firm click.
Khuwelsa could barely contain her laughter. She put her hand on Harry’s shoulder. “It’s alright, Harry, I’ll look after you.”
“Oh stop it, he was trying to be nice.”
Then she too had a fit of giggles that she desperately tried to suppress. “Did you do it?”
Khuwelsa nodded. “Of course, I did.”
Harry went to the window and the humour went out of her. The army continued to march past and she counted a further thousand men as she peered through the window of their prison. And that didn’t include the five hundred she estimated must have gone past when she wasn’t looking.
The column charged to equipment, numerous steam and diesel-powered automatic artillery units. She had no experience with which to judge how powerful they were but there was a group that had barrels that she thought she could stick her head into. Or Johannes’s head.
Finally came a hundred steam trucks carrying supplies and support staff.
Could the Germans really be going to war?
If she needed any further convincing, an hour or so before dusk the sky was filled with the sound of a hundred engines as the German air fleet went over. Followed finally by three zeppelins that were so low they filled the sky.
They needed to get out and warn her father.
Below them, in the courtyard sat the Pegasus so near, and as yet unattainable. They might be able to get out of the room but how could they possibly get down there, inside, get the furnace going and all without getting shot by some trigger happy German.
It was seven in the evening when a meal was brought. She made sure she ate everything, even though it was not very appetising. Khuwelsa never had a problem eating anything that was put before her. There had been a time when she had been starving, and when Harry’s father had brought her home she had been scared too.
Harry looked over at her friend who was busy fiddling with her tools in the fading light. She smiled. That was a long time ago.
At eleven o’clock the lights went out. The guards still patrolled but the number of people out in the streets and in the compound was greatly reduced. That was the good thing about armies. They even slept by the clock.
But she couldn’t afford to do that. So she continued to stand at the window looking out even though she kept slipping as she drifted to sleep. On one occasion she caught herself after deciding that lying down for a few minutes would be completely fine.
It was then a rattling alarm went off.