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Chapter 40

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« on: March 10, 2023, 05:43:34 am »

“NOW I see that you can walk without a crutch,” Ida’s voice said laughingly behind Mark. “But do not turn round suddenly, even to look at me, for that you will find still doesn’t work! Helmuth, please go and prepare food for the Herrschaften, and you, Wolfgang, tell Father Martin to join us when the meal is ready.

“Mark, when that great door closed behind you and Wolfgang bolted it, we were safe! Behind these thick walls we can even speak aloud. This part of the Schloss is very old and secret. We have ways in and out that no one knows but ourselves.”

As soon as they were alone, Ida cried, “Oh, my dear! My dear!” and with a swift movement she knelt beside him, burying her face against his breast. Mark felt her trembling in his arms. “Now I can tremble,” Ida whispered. “What a relief to be able to tremble; and to know that what I am trembling for---is safe! Mark! Mark! They made me kill all my dear idiots---I am now seventy times a murderer! But every one! and they had become so friendly and so gentle, they did no harm at all, not even to themselves!”

Mark held her close, and she clung to him as if she would never let him go. “It is so silly of me!” she murmured through her tears. “I wanted to be so grand and brave! I wanted to let you go as if I did not care! But I cannot! I cannot! I do care!”

Mark gazed down at her white strained face into her sleepless eyes; and knew that there was no beauty in all the world that could ever be half so dear to him. “Why do you try to save me?” he asked fiercely. “Don’t you know that I would rather take whatever chance there is---or none at all---with you?”

“Yes! I suppose it!” Ida agreed gravely. “But I also suppose that you are sensible and realize that there is no way of saving either of us together. You can leave here to-night with Father Martin, and no one will try to trace you. Why should they---you are but one of the seventy dead awaiting the army lorries so mercifully provided to put them away to-morrow. But me they would miss, and trace. I save us both by staying here---but not more than you save us---by leaving me! Since the war is not yet lost do you not believe that we shall win? Even I begin now to believe this, from the moment they have this war on two fronts---Europe is saved. So if we hope---we win---and then you will come back!”

“I will come back,” Mark said, “but knowing the risks you take do I dare believe that I shall find you?”

“Ah! But you do not yet know what the Gestapo have promised me,” Ida said laughing again, “instead of my dead patients? They will send me Austrian pilots who have had nervous breakdowns. I am to retrain them in courage. It seems Rennenkampf persuaded them I had a value for the Fatherland in spite of my lack of rules; and indeed I will retrain these Austrian pilots, and when they are healthy again they will know that they are Austrians---and for what Fatherland they must now fight! In order to do this---I shall become more outwardly Nazi than ever---I shall take no risks!”

“But you will be betrayed,” Mark urged anxiously. “They will find out what you are doing to these men! How can I leave you alone in all this danger?”

Ida drew his head against her heart. “But now I shall be careful as never before,” she whispered. “Now I have always two lives to save instead of one. And I am not alone---all on this hillside are my friends. I am a good skater, Mark. I know where human ice is thin. I shall not put my weight where there is nothing under me.”

“Before I go,” Mark said, suddenly raising his head and holding her eyes with his own, “you must marry me, Ida! If you are my wife I shall go more willingly. I have the right then to come back and fetch you, and whatever privileges are mine as a British subject you share with me!”

“Marry you!” gasped Ida, then she threw back her head, and laughed as if she could not stop laughing. “How funny you are, you English!” she cried. “To waste our time to-night in being married when we are in love! Still, I will refuse you nothing that you wish; it shall be as you say! I have never yet been married. And it is true---whenever Europe is free, I shall be the more free for being your wife.”

“How I have wasted all these weeks,” Mark said bitterly. “What can you have thought of me?”

“You were tortured,” Ida said quietly, “by other men. How can a man love when he has been brutalized by his brothers? For a time at any rate he can trust no man; and to be without trust is not to be alive! But when I came in and saw you standing without your crutches, which I knew you might, from your injuries, have done weeks ago, why then I knew you were alive again!”

“Yes, I am alive again!” Mark murmured. “How small and thin you are, Ida---but not hard!”

“Ah no!” Ida said laughing softly. “Indeed I am not hard! It is a pity that just when you are learning how to be a lover you should have to turn into a monk. Now I am in your arms. Now I am yours and you are mine! How little it takes to make a man and woman happy when they are in love!”

The door from Michel Salvator’s great room opened, and Father Martin came in. “I am glad to see you safely here,” he said to Mark with shining eyes. “It is a great thing that we three have accomplished together.” His grave joy met theirs and became part of it.

“This mad Englishman,” Ida said laughing, “will not be content to go, unless he marries me before we part. Is such a thing even possible?”

“It is possible,” Father Martin said gravely, “since I am a priest and can give you the Sacrament of marriage. In the eyes of God you would be man and wife, but I doubt if in a civil sense such a marriage would count as legal. Still I could write you a certificate to say that the ceremony had taken place; and we have two witnesses. Have you a ring?”

“I have my mother’s wedding ring on my finger,” Ida said. She looked from one to the other of the two men, before she gave Mark the ring, as if she were perhaps for the first time in her life really afraid.

Mark, holding the ring in his hand, thought that he had never seen anything so light and fine as the thin circle of gold, and yet so indestructible. Everything about the short, simple ceremony reassured him; and made this parting seem more significant and less final. The words of the marriage service spoken in Father Martin’s voice sounded like living things. The two foresters, recalled from their duties to act as witnesses, looked on with awed and friendly eyes. The wind had fallen, and no sound came from the room in which Michel Salvator lived his solitary mad life. All that Mark had received had once been his; and had been useless to him. But what Mark possessed Michel Salvator had never known---the splendid obligation of a vow that he would never break.

Father Martin laid down his missal and turned away from them in a silence that for a time none of them interrupted.

“Now,” Ida said at last with her usual lightness, “before you turn my new husband into a monk, Father Martin, we will eat our wedding breakfast. Helmuth was not prepared for quite such a function but he has always managed to provide me with a Natur-Schnitzel in every crisis of my life; and he will not fail me now! Wolfgang, please bring us in two bottles of the best Vöslauer to drink together. You shall share one bottle and as I know the dreadful abstemiousness of Father Martin---we three can make shift with the other. There is only one toast I am content to drink on my wedding night---‘May all men win who fight the Nazis!’ ”

The two foresters waited on them, and drank with them; but towards the end of their last meal together, they stopped talking.

“We must go now,” Father Martin said at last. “Ida, you do not come with us?”

“As far as the pines,” Ida answered. “I have my cloak with me. Helmuth will stay here. The road beyond the pines is rough but passable. The Gestapo men have already driven down into the valley without mishap. Wolfgang will drag Mark on a sled till we reach the pines. No one is about at this hour.”

The whole of Mark’s strength came back to him as he felt the crisp snow under his feet and glanced up to take the edge of the wind against his cheek.

The silent world lay on the edge of visibility beneath the steady stars.

There was no sound but the shifting of the snow under the runners of the sled. They knew that they had reached the pines, because the darkness suddenly grew thicker.

“The road is now only two steps away,” Wolfgang said in a low voice, “your sleigh is there with your driver in it, Father Martin, you have your torch so you cannot miss it.”

Ida’s hands groped their way to Mark’s shoulders. He felt her lips hard against his lips. “My blood goes with you!” she whispered; then he held nothing; and the icy air against his cheeks froze her last tears.

They drove in silence down the mountainside, into the colder valley, where the damp penetrated even the heavy furs they were wrapped in; but Mark did not feel the cold of the valley; he felt only the deeper cold of his own loneliness. His heart went back with Ida into the great walls of the Schloss; and passed through the long dim passages, into the empty wards.

Everything about her was more real to him than what was happening to himself. Slowly the shapes of the mountains rose out of the sky and threw back the darkness, revealing the city of Innsbruck at their feet. Never had any city looked to Mark more beautiful or more fugitive. The tower of the Hofkirche and the yellow walls of the Hofburg were roofed with shining snow. No footstep had yet broken the flawless purity of the white streets. The ice-green river alone moved through the sleeping town. Time was no longer pressing upon its citizens. If someone had slipped back from those lost centuries in which the old houses were new, they would have met no surprises.

“Mark,” Father Martin said quietly, “I think if this war, as we are forced to hope, still goes on, that you may not see the city of Innsbruck like this again. From this bright air death and destruction will rain down on it. It is my little city. I was born here; and it is strange to me to think of losing it. Yet one by one the great jewels that Europe has sheltered under for all these centuries---its old palaces and towers---man will wipe out with his new weapons.”

“Can you speak calmly of such sacrilege?” Mark asked him fiercely. “What will be left of Europe if these things perish?”

“Man himself,” Father Martin said quietly. “These cities with their old names will be rebuilt by man---not for the few next time but for the many---and I think that those who build the new cities will be better men.”

“I cannot think lightly of losing what so many have loved---and for so long!” Mark objected. “And what better man can you suppose will come out of all this wanton destruction?”

“Yet I do suppose it,” Father Martin said reflectively. “There is an old saying ‘The Perishable must perish; so that the Imperishable may remain.’ I was thinking as we came along this valley how many better men I have known than ever before, you among them, Mark, in the last three tragic years of my life; under the Nazis I have moved from country to country on a lifeline of such men; some of them have been tortured for my sake---some of them shot---none have betrayed me. Such men risk their lives to-day and often the lives of those dearest to them, to give a piece of bread to help a fleeing Jew! You too must know this---for you have moved for this last year as I have by the hearts’ blood of your brothers!”

“That is the worst of all my nightmares,” Mark admitted. “There was a girl---I never told you about her---her name was Lisa---and she died to save me.”

“It is also what is best,” Father Martin said gently. “Best even for that girl. It is by such people Europe will be rebuilt. You must tell them that in England. Tell them whom it is that they must trust! Let them make no mistake about it! When their armies enter---these are the builders! These men have destroyed the spirit of their conquerors with their own blood. Safe people have not learned how to trust others. They are seldom themselves trustworthy. They still fight for what they can gain---not for what they can give! But here under the Nazis---in these cities that will be destroyed---men fight for what they can give. They know that there is nothing else worth fighting for!”

“Why did this have to come?” Mark burst out still angrily, “why cannot men have happiness? It seems so simple, what we really want; and never let ourselves have!”

“And so it is simple,” Father Martin answered. “But men are too clever to believe the simple Words of God. Two thousand years ago we were told that man must love his brother as himself. We had witnesses for the truth of this saying, for it was in our own hearts. But we built up a lie; instead we treated our brothers as slaves and enemies; and none of us---or far too few---tried to obey the law that was in our hearts. We had looked so long at the lie we had built up instead, that we no longer saw it was a lie. Now Hitler has put his searchlight of evil on it, and once again it becomes visible; and when a lie is visible it breaks down; and from under it spring up fresh words of God---new virtues---a new kind of courage! This lie, that Hitler both typifies and exposes, is not yet quite broken down---but the cracks appear! Perhaps this second chance will be enough---perhaps there may have to be a third chance. It could even be that we deny God a third time; but what we cannot do is to change Him; or any of His laws.”

They had reached the outskirts of the city. Innsbruck still slept---a sparkling, frozen dream. The sleigh stopped in an empty street behind the monastery.

“What a miracle!” exclaimed the monk who was preparing breakfast in the kitchen, as they entered. “It is Father Martin home again and with a friend!”

Quick hands helped Mark as he stumbled forward into the warmth and brightness. No one seemed surprised to see a strange lame brother; he was asked no questions; and Father Martin gave no explanations.

“It is also a miracle,” Brother Christopher continued when they had made Mark comfortable by the fireside, “that it is still within the octave of Easter, so that we can give you coffee! Otherwise a great rarity and likely to become more so! And an egg! We have saved some the peasants brought us on Easter Day for the hospital. But these I shall prepare now for you and Father Martin; I shall not need to ask the Father superintendent since it is well understood that all those who have run special dangers shall be allowed special privileges. Father Martin here---has been allowed many such extras!”

“Hush! Hush! What do you know of dangers---except the one you face every day that your tongue may run away with you!” Father Martin said with a friendly chuckle. “Have you a room warmed and well prepared for a visitor? Good! Mark, you can sleep now for seven hours---and then we must make ready for a longer journey, but this will be an easier one---by train---and one of those extra privileges Brother Christopher rubs into me---is that even sleepers have been reserved for us!”

As soon as Mark had finished eating, Father Martin took him into a little spotless cell full of sunshine.

“From your window,” Father Martin said with a deeper friendliness than he had ever shown Mark, “you can see your old friend the Habig. To-morrow it opens---the gateway to the Brenner, and we shall go through it! Now you must sleep.”

He passed so quickly and quietly out of the room that Mark hardly knew that he was gone.

Mark’s eyes still rested on the golden sides of the Habig, but he saw instead a procession of the friends who had helped him on his way. Lisa with her laughing eyes, Andreas daring death with him through the mountain storm; the whole Planer family working together for his escape; the Bavarian peasant guard, who had let him go safely on his way; Felix and Pirschl; Hermann and the Spanish horses; the fishermen who had taken them safely across the Neusiedlersee and back again at dawn; the boy and girl at the Senner hut who had given them shelter; Karl and Gerda; and all the nameless faces of those who had provided Mark with food or a roof while he was a Runner in an enemy land.

When he had drawn the curtains and lain down to sleep, a fresh crowd of images pushed their way into his mind. He saw a crowd of boys with short archaic jackets filling narrow crowded streets under old mossy walls. He saw green velvety fields with the sun playing on white figures in a rhythmic dance. The chief’s face came back to him in the old shining friendly room against a background of books. Suddenly Mark knew that he would find his life work again, and yet that it would be wholly different, because the pattern had been broken up. It was no longer rigid. Beneath it a new stream ran. But he was still greatly troubled that he could not see Ida’s face. Suddenly he thought to himself, “But I can’t see my own!” and then Mark felt her fingers pressing lightly on his wrist and heard her voice murmuring as she bent over him: “Sleep deeply! You will wake among friends!”

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