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The Strumpet Wind

The Strumpet Wind

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The Strumpet Wind

Lunghezza:
245 pagine
4 ore
Pubblicato:
Feb 25, 2020
ISBN:
9781839742644
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

The Strumpet Wind, first published in 1947, is a fictional account of espionage during the later days of World War II. Set in southern France, the novel revolves around a French family (the husband is a collaborator with the Vichy government and the German army), and an American intelligence agent, whose mission is to transmit false messages to the Nazis. Mercanton, the collaborator, attempts to switch allegiance to the Allied cause, but his actions, although helpful, do not prevent the tragic consequences brought about by his earlier activities. Author Gordon Merrick (1916-1988), served in the O.S.S. in France during World War II, reaching the rank of captain. The Strumpet Wind was his first novel.
Pubblicato:
Feb 25, 2020
ISBN:
9781839742644
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Gordon Merrick (1916–1988) was an actor, television writer, and journalist. Merrick was one of the first authors to write about gay themes for a mass audience. He wrote fourteen books, including the beloved Peter & Charlie Trilogy. The Lord Won’t Mind spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list in 1970. Merrick’s posthumously published novel The Good Life, coauthored with his partner, Charles G. Hulse, was a bestseller as well. Merrick died in Sri Lanka.

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The Strumpet Wind - Gordon Merrick

© Burtyrki Books 2020, all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means, electrical, mechanical or otherwise without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Publisher’s Note

Although in most cases we have retained the Author’s original spelling and grammar to authentically reproduce the work of the Author and the original intent of such material, some additional notes and clarifications have been added for the modern reader’s benefit.

We have also made every effort to include all maps and illustrations of the original edition the limitations of formatting do not allow of including larger maps, we will upload as many of these maps as possible.

THE STRUMPET WIND

By

GORDON MERRICK

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS 4

DEDICATION 5

Author’s Note 6

One 7

Two 13

Three 23

Four 37

Five 53

Six 70

Seven 86

Eight 98

Nine 113

Ten 134

REQUEST FROM THE PUBLISHER 140

DEDICATION

TO

ROBERT BLAINE RICHARDSON

who contributed much more to this book

than the author would like to admit

* * *

"How like a younker or a prodigal

The scarfed bark puts from her native bay,

Hugg’d and embraced by the strumpet wind!

How like the prodigal doth she return,

With over-weather’d ribs and ragged sails,

Lean, rent, and beggar’d by the strumpet wind!

The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene VI.

Shakespeare

Author’s Note

The characters of this novel are completely fictional and any resemblance they may bear to actual persons is coincidental. The same is true of the events described. There is, however, a wide gap between fiction and fantasy. Once upon a time, people were able to blunder through life without creating any serious difficulties, except for themselves. Once upon a time. Today, and for some years past, every man’s smallest act has been laden with a heartbreaking significance. I have imagined a situation in which common human failures, common human virtues, assume a life-or-death importance. I have never known anybody whose life or person resembled that of Roger Chandler, George Meddling, Danielle Segher, Jean Louis Mercanton, or any other character in this story. To that extent, this is entirely a work of the imagination. But I have not imagined the world in which these people lived...

One

I

I first met Roger Chandler in the summer of 1944 on an LST bound from Naples to St. Tropez, in the south of France. The invasion of southern France, a relatively minor operation designed to support the major landing in the north, had started the day we left Naples. Our small ship carried a diverse and colorful fragment of what was known officially as the second lift.

The invasion of southern France was never regarded very seriously in military circles, possibly because of the rather comic loveliness of the terrain over which we were to advance. And also because the enemy had chosen ahead of time to let us have just about everything we wanted. But at that time it was our war and each of us had been getting ready for this moment over a period of many dreary months of training and preparation, discomfort and the special frustration of being a part of the Army without being allowed to prove it in any practical way.

It’s difficult for me to give you a straight account of that trip. I remember...Well, let me put it this way. The weather was superb. Every morning the sun rose out of a placid sea like a promise of glory, and every evening it sank into a placid sea with a provocative splash of color. Our LST carried, as I said, a varied lot—intelligence officers and Red Cross personnel, civil government men and propaganda experts. It was a congenial group, and most of us had made the trip a number of times on peaceful missions, so it was easy to think of it as a holiday cruise.

We had slipped out of the Bay of Naples, past Capri, leaving the shadow of Vesuvius against the sky. We had moved in ponderous procession into the Mediterranean and past the precipitous shores of Sardinia and Corsica, straight for the holiday coast of France. We played cards and sang and talked about the wonderful restaurants in Theoule and Beausoleil, and what we would do when we got to Paris. We all had steady employment with a tolerant boss, so we were at ease and relaxed with each other, not maintaining the unconscious guards that men meeting as strangers retire behind under ordinary circumstances.

There’s no reason why we shouldn’t remember it that way. But there were other things. We played cards in bucket helmets and woolen OD’s, a life-preserver hung over our shoulders. We sang as dusk came on, the gay tough songs that an army accumulates, but as the sun sank we stopped, and the ship was covered in hush and we stamped out our cigarettes as we passed into darkness, into protective oblivion. We traveled in convoy, a long procession that passed out of sight, of craft as diverse as the men they carried—transports and freighters and stern sleek warships and absurd bouncing little passenger boats that looked like the Boston night boat and seemed proud to have been drafted for the common service.

We were careful nor to throw anything overboard because submarines have sharp eyes, and our jolly parade was lonely and touched with terror as night fell, and one by one our companions dropped from sight until we were alone on the great and ominous sea. Most of the ships carried a barrage balloon overhead, and during the day the sight of us all rolling, pushing, knifing through the water, was as cheerful as a handful of toy balloons at a county fair, but at night our own balloon rode over us like a silver sinister presence, pressing on us, independent but persistent, following us, a menace, a reminder....

I slept throughout the three-day trip on a stretcher laid out on deck. I had picked it out of a pile below decks under a sign reading: Stretchers must not be removed from emergency station. The lucky ones had found similar piles and we had set up our prizes on every bit of available deck space, on hatch covers, between ventilators, strapped against the rail. Mine just fitted the top of a stationary ammunition case, and there, imitating life like every good soldier, I set up my headquarters, received my friends, and conducted my business. Below me, on the deck, wedged between my ammunition case and the superstructure, I found another householder installed, a young captain whom I’d noticed several times during the day as we had embarked. Gaiety bubbled from him, and he was constantly the center of a laughing crowd, helping other officers board their gear or cheerfully giving a hand to the badgered enlisted men. Our intercourse had been limited to several nods as we set up our neighboring homes.

Shortly after nightfall, when we had already cleared the Bay of Naples, I pulled off my shoes and trousers, wrapped a blanket around me and stretched myself out on my improvised bed. I was already pretending to be asleep when I heard my neighbor rustling about in the dark beside me—the double thud as his boots came off, the faint pop of buttons being undone, the swish of trousers being drawn off. The stretcher creaked just below me and I heard the canvas stretch as he settled himself before he spoke.

I suppose you know what you’re sleeping on. He spoke softly in the dark. I peered down at him over the edge of my perch and caught the reflection of his eyes. You mean me? I asked.

Yeah. You know what you’re sleeping on, don’t you?

I don’t know. How do you mean?

Well, that’s a case of live ammunition. I just thought you ought to know.

Fine, I said, trying to be bright. You think it might go off?

No, not unless some planes come over. And then you could get off. But it’s a nice idea, just the same. He had a fine low voice with a hint of laughter in it.

Yes, I see what you mean, I said. There was a moment of silence, and then he said:

My name’s Roger Chandler. I told him mine and he reached his hand up to me. I shook it, and then I noticed he was wearing pajamas. It was so absurd under the circumstances I couldn’t help laughing.

You’re making yourself at home, aren’t you? I said. Oh, the pajamas? Well, there’s no harm pretending. I was ready to let it go at that, but he was apparently in a talkative mood, and after a moment he asked:

What outfit you with?

I was grateful for the question, for my grey hair made me conspicuous, and I liked being accepted on a basis of equality. Usually the question went: What’re you, Pop, one of those UNRRA characters? I explained that I was with the Red Cross attached to Civil Affairs. He asked some more questions and I found myself giving a short sketch of my life.

I told him that I was an architect who had stayed on in Europe after the last war, working in many different countries. I had built the Bulkagov People’s Recreation Center in Moscow, several housing projects in Cologne and Berlin under the Republic, and a number of public and private buildings in France. My wife had died in France in the second year of the war. The strain of living on short rations under the occupation had proved too much for her delicate health. I had been interned briefly by the Germans in a fairly agreeable concentration camp, had eventually been shipped home on exchange where I had begun the endless process of returning as part of America’s vast war machine.

Chandler listened to my recital without interrupting, but I could feel his concentrated attention even in the darkness. As I grew to know him in the months that were to be so terrible for him I found this one of his most remarkable characteristics—his profound and genuine interest in the people about him.

As I finished he pulled out a cigarette, hesitated as he realized where he was, muttered Damn, and pushed it back into his pack.

So I guess you have a good many reasons for wanting to get back, he said.

I guess all of us have our reasons.

Do you think so? I have, of course. I know Europe pretty well, too, and I’ve seen what the Nazis have done, even to the people at home. But there’re plenty of boys who’ve come along for the ride because they have to, and that’s just about all it means to them.

Yes, well, I imagine they’ll have plenty of opportunity to find out as they go along.

Yes, I suppose they will.

We went to sleep then, our balloon riding stealthily above us in the sky.

II

I saw a lot of Chandler during the rest of the trip. When I’d had a good look at him the next morning I saw that he was not remarkable looking. He was, rather, what we like to think of as typically American. He had a broad Nordic face with a rather blunt nose. His mouth was full but strong, in a way that is supposed to indicate sensuality but rarely does. He had light brown hair, streaked with gold by the sun, that sprang with a slight wave from a broad low forehead. His eyes, however, were unusual—set wide apart, which gave him a straightforward look, but faintly shadowed under straight brows, and very large. They were expressive eyes, deep and attentive, but, though he laughed easily, his eyes never smiled.

He was well made, broad and solid, but he moved with a grace that was not characteristic of his kind. His hands, too, fascinated me. He had big square palms and long delicate fingers, rather blunt at the ends. They were hairless and the skin seemed stretched taut over the bones, giving them the look of hard steel. His hands had power and a life of their own. When he touched something, his hands didn’t slip over it, but met it and held it and curled around it as if he wanted to hold the world to him. He had immense charm, compounded of gaiety and simplicity and directness, and a mature repose which suggested a peaceful acceptance of life. But I noticed that when he lifted a cigarette to his lips his hands trembled almost imperceptibly.

He told me a good deal about himself during the trip, and more later when he laid bare his tormented soul, but he never told me what military organization he represented. I knew he was an intelligence officer, and I never asked for details. There were a good many intelligence outfits, all cloaked in alphabetical mystery—OSS and CIC and SCI and CID and PWB and possibly a few others. I never did get them all straight. Chandler had fallen into the work naturally because he spoke perfect French and pretty good Italian and German. His mother’s family had been French, and he had gone to school for several years as a child in Chambéry and Grenoble, and until just before the war had regularly spent his summers in the south of France and Italy. His father was a successful stock broker in New York and a member of a substantial New York family—not spectacular like the Vanderbilts or the Astors, but old and firmly rooted in New York social life. Young Chandler had been given a sensible education—Kent School in Connecticut after the brief period in France, and afterwards, Yale. He was only twenty-four when I first met him, so he had been too young to take much notice of the political forces boiling around him during his visits to Europe. Too, good American education of the sort he had had is calculated to insulate youth against thought.

But his natural response to people, springing out of a warmly emotional nature, had led him to ask himself questions, and at Yale he had become deeply interested in Socialism and the labor movement. He had almost got himself suspended by joining a movement to unionize the campus workers. As the war gathered momentum, he joined all the inter-allied movements on the campus, and volunteered the moment the United States declared war. He graduated in 1942 and was commissioned directly into the Army. The next two years he spent in training—regular Army training and specialized training for the intelligence service, with a good many stretches of the dawdling that the Army provides to try the sanity of its personnel. At twenty-four, he had been at war in one way or another all his thinking life. He had thought war and talked it and written about it and practiced it. He, more than most, had investigated the influences behind it. He had had some experience of the many peoples and countries involved in it. He was an anti-Nazi, and he knew why. He didn’t like racism and he didn’t like the suppression of individual liberties, and he didn’t like personal dictatorship. He really didn’t like these things. It wasn’t like some people sitting at home and reading the newspapers and saying, Isn’t this awful? Listen to this. He really didn’t like them; they made him mad and he wanted to do something about them. He had even recognized certain aspects of the things he disliked in the life about him at home, and he wanted to do something about them too, when the time came.

It was a pleasure to listen to him. He made sense without over-intellectualizing or taking the soapbox the way a lot of bright kids do. But although he was very sure of the things he was against, he was clearly confused about the things he was for. His talk reflected a negative rather than a positive point of view. He was, actually, equipped with a set of ideals learned from books. His background had stood in the way of their assimilation. He had never had an opportunity to test them. Yes, in spite of his obvious sound qualities, there were several questions in my mind that prepared me a little for the thing that happened later.

III

As I said, we had a lovely invasion trip. The days passed without any unpleasant excitement. We got up and stood in line along the rail for breakfast, and sat around and stood in line for lunch, and sat around and played cards and fussed with our gear, and stood in line for supper. Then we went to bed. The foredeck was closely packed with vehicles of all kinds, ambulances and trucks and jeeps, and a couple of mysterious-looking hearses that belonged to the intelligence groups. The enlisted men were assigned to the vehicles and lived and slept in them.

After the first day the whole deck looked like a dingy tourist camp. The men had rigged up hammocks and strung out clothes lines between the trucks. They sprawled about all day between the wheels, mostly in groups playing crap with thick wads of invasion lira, or centered around a kid with a mouth organ listlessly humming snatches of familiar tunes. Some just slept. There was a pair I particularly liked to watch. One was a sharp, tough little black-haired guy with a pimply face, who slouched half asleep against the rear tire of his jeep. The other was a big blond rawboned kid with a dopey expression. He passed the days hunched over the little fellow, his big hands slowly, carefully fumbling through the little one’s hair, intently searching, or squeezing pimples on the little man’s chin. It was a gentle, painstaking labor, and went on with some interruptions almost the entire time we were at sea.

On the third day the word passed around that we were nearing our destination. It was mid-morning, and at first there was a good deal of stir among the enlisted men as they stowed their kit and passed cracks back and forth among themselves. Who we gotta die for this time?’, they called, and, Come on, Wally, the German High Command has heard you was comin’, so you gotta fix yourself up pretty. But after a while they quieted down and everybody just watched the sky, and the horizon straight ahead of us. I was playing gin rummy with Chandler. We faced each other across the cards in our helmets and lifejackets, our forty-five’s strapped around our waists. I had been winning steadily, and was about to clean him out of his remaining lira when somebody called, There she is." We both glanced up and I caught Chandler’s eye. He just looked at me hard for a moment and I could see the muscles in his throat contracting. Then we laid down the cards and walked over to the rail.

There it was. A thin line of blue on the horizon. If you knew France you can understand a little of what it meant to me. I had lived in France off and on for more than twenty years. When the catastrophe came in 1940, I felt as if life had been unbearably diminished. There were Frenchmen with us too, and their mood was contagious. They had been exiles, and the return had been a long bitter struggle. For a moment, we were part of a gallant and breathtaking armada, bearing hope. Everybody stood quietly and watched as the smudge on the horizon grew and was transformed into the outline of those dear familiar hills. A French liaison officer standing beside me murmured, Enfin, and his eyes were filled with tears. None of us knew where we were going; officially it wasn’t even acknowledged that our destination was France. But as we drew near, all of us who knew the country were sure that we

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