The Battle of Mussolini

Novelist and short story writer, who made his first appearance in the ATLANTIC and all of whose books hare appearec under the Atlantic-Little, Brown imprint, (IEOFFREY HOUSEHOLD is a graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford, am served with distinction in Greece and the Levant during the Second Warid War. Among his books are ROOI E VIALIC a collection of short stories, THE SALVATION OF PJSCO GABAH; and WATCHERS IN TIIK SHADOW.

A Story by Geoffrey Household

IME had dealt fairly kindly with both of them, thickening the loose limbs once burnt and slendered by desert sun but leaving them their fine-drawn regard for duty and each other. War was still a vividly remembered way of life, though now being recorded by historians too young to have experienced it. They had the facts right, Tarmer said, but not the day-to-day feel of them.

The old friend with whom he was lunching — and had once lunched, if you could call it that, every day for two oppressive years — received this remark with one of his personal silences as if a fuse were slowly burning down into sensitivity.

“A chap in the paper,” Bill Avory exploded at last, “was actually complaining that nobody ever entertained the public with a good story of an escape from an Italian prisoner-of-war camp.”

“There were mass escapes when Italy packed up. A lot of fellows got clear away as we did.”

“Before that, he meant. He said that an officer’s duty to escape had been less obvious in the casual climate of Italy than when subjected to the melancholy emptiness of German discipline.”

The fact that Avory exactly remembered the precious and exasperating phrase proved that it cut, and that he found truth enough in the slander to spoil the image which two prosperous middle-aged citizens conceived of their adventurous youth.

“I wonder if it wasn’t far harder to escape in Italy,” farmer suggested.

Avory insisted that it couldn’t have been. There was no denying that the climate had been casual so casual that a monk had been readily allowed to come into the camp for cocoa, and there had been goats in the outer perimeter.

“It seems absurd that we couldn’t just walk out,” he said.

It did, in retrospect. Even Tanner, whose conscience was far tougher than his friend’s, felt a shade of guilt as he remembered the failure of tunnels, of impersonations, of attempts to stowaway in ration carts. On the face of it, both men were examples of the lack of enterprise which that young critic of war on paper had mentioned. Prisoners in Germany did seem to have been more ruthlessly determined.

But Italians had more imagination than Germans and were less bound by routine. It had been impossible to calculate in advance where any of the guards would be idling at any given time. If you laid plans to take advantage of the usual genial but quite effective chaos, you would hit a night when discipline was of cold, Teutonic standard; and if you timed exactly —

“We could never time exactly,” he reminded Avory. “We had to work out an average.”

And even when they had averaged for week after week the guard changes, the movements of the Ditch Patrol, the interludes when illicit liters of wine were hoisted up by string to the five watch towers, they would find all their ingenious calculations dislocated because Colonel Colonna’s wife was giving a party and in need of orderlies.

The Colonel — that flamboyant old chevalier of the Mediterranean who commanded the camp — undoubtedly would have liked to invite all his prisoners, accepting their parole in the politest manner of the eighteenth century. He deplored the military honor of the twentieth which compelled them to make nuisances of themselves to him and his government.

“Your journalist sounds like that pompous ass, Fantle,” Tarmer protested. “He always made escape sound easy, too.”

Wing Commander Fantle had been the Senior British Officer. He took his responsibilities so seriously that he had no time for manners. Nothing ever prevented him from saying what he chose to his fellow prisoners, but to Colonel Colonna he could speak only through an interpreter. He had therefore chosen Captain Tarmer to be his adjutant in preference to more submissive officers. Farmer could translate his imperial protests into fluent Italian.

Fantle’s sole concern with Europe had been to drop explosives on it — useful enough at the time, but leading to contempt for the languages spoken at the point of impact. Thus it was easy to maintain a cordial atmosphere in spite of him. When the Senior British Officer started off a protest with “Tell that dam’ organ-grinder . . .” Tarmer had been able to insert some compliments and a proper respect for rank. Translating the other way around — for the Commandant’s interpreter spoke ItalianAmerican which Fantle willfully pretended he could not understand — it delighted him to make Colonna sound terse, cool, and British.

When either of them accused him of making sentences too long or too short, he sold the myth that it was impossible to be polite in English or precise in Italian. Since eyes could express themselves without any interpreter he had no hope of persuading the Commandant and the Senior British Officer to like each other, but at least he ensured as much tolerance as could be expected from two different animals separated by the bars of the cage.

“It may have been my fault that we couldn’t work up enough resentment,” Tarmer said.

“You couldn’t help it! In a place like Medina Fort one was forced to have some military manners.”

IT WAS a little gem of seventeenth-century fortification —nothing but a museum piece until it occurred to some imaginative fascist official that a stronghold designed to keep the enemy out would be equally effective to keep him in.

The heart of the fortress where the prisoners were confined — housed partly in huts, partly in the renovated and whitewashed quarters of old blueand-gold artillerymen was a blunt-angled pentagon measuring about three hundred yards across. Formally delimiting this area was an inner perimeter of low wire. A prisoner who stepped over or vaulted the wire could officially be shot at. He never was. The Italians, with their sound grasp of essentials, realized that the momentary infringement was not worth the trouble of cleaning a rifle.

They could afford to be generous. Beyond this inner perimeter a stone glacis sloped down to the broad green ditch around the fort. The far bank of the ditch was a thirty-foot sheer wall, topped by a further fifteen feet of heavy wire fence. The prisoners had at last been forced to admit that the smooth, well-fitted ashlars of the wall were unclimbable.

“Anything is climbable,” said Bill Avory, still smarting from the accusation made by his older self against bis younger self.

“But not in a hurry,” Tarmer replied.

He remembered the ropes, pitons, and ladders which they had ingeniously made. Time to use them, however, could not be fabricated. The whole circuit was commanded by five watchtowers, one near each angle. At night the great ditch was floodlit from the towers. An escaping prisoner had as much chance as an actor on a stage of avoiding interested — almost friendly — observation.

Bill Avory had been convinced that the only way to get out was by the gate, by nonchalantly strolling past the guards at the barrier, over the seventeenthcentury bridge, and across the barrack square of the garrison. He was very nearly successful, disguised as the monk who came in for cocoa; but the Italians had guessed somebody would try that one. They were so delighted to have foreseen every detail of Lieutenant Avory’s plan that they returned him to the cage in fairly comradely fashion and with snatches of song. Colonel Colonna was bound to punish, but saw to it that bread and water and solitary confinement meant wine and rolls and a card party in the afternoon. Cavalry panache appealed to him. He was fascinated by the cherry trousers of the 11th Hussars which Bill still wore, even under his homemade cassock.

As soon as three goats were turned loose in the fort ditch, all plans for escape immediately took this new factor into consideration. During the day the animals were free to browse where they pleased; at night they were penned under the bridge. Inevitably they became pets. The convention which prohibited the crossing of the inner wire was being continually violated.

Colonel Colonna, very bothered lest his orders to shoot might possibly be obeyed, protested politely to the Senior British Officer. Fantle retorted that the wire ought to be put in reasonable repair, thus preventing officers from crossing it to feed the goats or to retrieve articles of clothing which the goats were eating. To this the Commandant replied that it was unsoldierly to use the wire as a washing line.

Tanner thought so too. He was a Guards officer, and his training occasionally overwhelmed him. He therefore translated the bit about the washing line correctly. The Senior British Officer snorted that the Commandant wouldn’t know a soldier if he saw one. Tanner, pulling himself together, interpreted this as a mere harmless comment that gentlemen in captivity could not be expected to keep up the high sartorial standard of Italian officers. Colonel Colonna at once sympathized, shook hands all around, and allowed a manly tear of pity to sparkle in his eye for a moment.

Overpetting was thereupon reduced; but the habits, characters, and potentialities of the three nanny goats were recorded by the escaping clubs with the devotion of psychoanalysts. The camp had time for patience, and one could never say that any scientific study was wholly useless.

THE goats were of marked individuality. Each reflected its upbringing, or at least seemed to do so when scrutinized by rampant imaginations. Tecla belonged to the Commandant’s wife; she was black, supercilious, and inclined to bleat at the harsh necessities of her life. Lucia was a gentle, modest job in brown and white, owned by a neighboring priory. Beatrice, who belonged to the camp doctor, was pure white but a liberal; she disliked the Church and the Military.

Fra Giuseppe, the monk who came in for cocoa, used to milk all three. Indeed it was almost certainly he who had conceived the economical thought of pasturing goats in the green ditch. When attending to Lucia and Tecla he always looked around to see that Beatrice was fully occupied. Her horns were slightly deformed; when her head was lowered, they pointed forward. She tended to be attracted by any bent backside clothed in black, whether cassock or breeches.

“Fantle used to swear that the antifascists were always ready to help us,” Avory said.

“Like hell they were! We never saw an antifascist except the doctor.”

A genial and comforting soul! But it would have been absurd to ask him for help in an escape. He would have replied at once, with sound common sense, that they were much better off where they were than wandering around the countryside.

“Even Mussolini wasn’t antifascist,” Tarmer went on. “He was just pro-British.”

So far as one could judge the political opinions of a goat, that was the literal truth. Mussolini’s proBritish sympathies were obvious from the day he was introduced, black, weighty, and gamboling with anticipation, into the fort ditch for the sake of roast kid and the future of the milk supply.

The prisoners at once christened him Mussolini, and the name stuck. Their guards, watching with approval the potency and cavortings of the animal, failed to see any grave insult to their head of state. Disrespect there might be, but they themselves were far from reverent — though showing more subtlety than could be expected of the enemy.

“Just imagine the row in a German camp if everybody had started to call a billy goat Hitler!” Avory exclaimed.

“There you are, you see! Germans go blind with anger, which must have been a great help when one wanted to get away from them. Your man who made that crack about the casual climate of Italy didn’t know that it made escape harder, not easier.”

Mussolini adored the prisoners, possibly because he took the cheering of the enemy as more of a compliment than the sardonic encouragement of unfrustrated guards. He recognized affection in the voices, and looked to the British for approval of his revolting preliminaries, his tender approach, and his decisive attack. During the days of Mussolini’s attention to Lucia, Tecla, and Beatrice, the camp’s morale had been high and joyous. There was something fresh to talk about, something to exaggerate, and a new and promising source of noise.

Noise in the ditch — plenty of it and at the right place — was essential to the escaping scheme registered in the names of Avory and Tarmer. The plan was born from a tunnel dug practically singlehanded by a vast Marine who had been picked up by an Italian destroyer while optimistically trying to swim from Kithira to Crete. His tunnel ended, as they all knew it would, where the massive masonry of the fort met bedrock. But there or thereabouts he dug up the remains of a crossbow.

This inspired Avory to a flight of imagination, which Tarmer carried into the world of reality by finding a mechanic to work on it.

“I wonder what happened to Tommy Robins,” Avory said. “He was as good on materials as you are on men. Getting the feel of them, I mean.”

Pilot-Officer Robins had manufactured from old car springs two crossbows of formidable power. Tested for silence, weight of projectile, and range, they were accepted by the committee of four as fully developed secret devices and stored for use when the perfect occasion arose.

The target was the cable which sagged from post to post above the high wire fence of the outer perimeter. A rocket-shaped grapnel, with four deep hooks at one end and a rope at the other, was to be shot like a whaling harpoon across the ditch and over the cable. A hearty pull on the rope should then either break the cable or drag it off the insulators. Immediately after the watchtowers had been plunged in darknesss, a second grapnel would be fired over the fence. The hooks were bound to catch somewhere at the top of the wire, and the party would then climb wall and fence by means of the hanging rope.

So far, so good — always assuming that the nearest watchtower did not notice the first projectile and its rope soaring through the air. But if the four partners were to be able to put a reasonable distance between themselves and Medina Fort by morning, there must be no suspicion that any escape had taken place. The camp, therefore, had to appear quite silent and peaceful in the accidental darkness, and there had to be a simple explanation of the scrapes and scufflings as the party swarmed up the rope.

That was where the goats came in; the most promising way of creating a diversion was to let them out of their pen. But it was far from foolproof. A sleepy Beatrice could not be absolutely trusted to put in a personal attack on the patrol; and those docile creatures, Lucia and Tecla, were certain to do nothing but browse.

The constant activity of Mussolini, however, added new and exciting chances of success. A couple of days after the patriarch’s arrival, Avory called a committee meeting in one of the old galleries beneath their quarters.

“If we could set Mussolini free in the ditch,” he had said, “and if he got tangled up in a coil of wire or some tin cans or something in the dark, the Ditch Patrol wouldn’t look for any other explanation of noises.”

“He might hurt himself,” the Marine objected.

“He might,”Tamer agreed. “And if he does I will ask the Senior British Officer to send some flowers. But the Geneva Convention says nothing about damage to goats.”

Farmer remembered speaking with some bitterness. That very morning Wing Commander Fantle had declared that Colonel Colonna, his half battalion of decrepit ice-cream merchants, and the four half-witted apes perched up in each watchtower were quite incapable of keeping an enterprising rabbit in a hutch. Meticulous planning could get a man out of anywhere. Look, he said, at all the empty-headed crooks who escaped from Dartmoor!

That meticulous planning! God, they had spent hours and months of hours at it! But Mussolini reminding them forcibly of the outside world and their own Lucias and Teclas — was an inspiration to still further planning. How to let the goats loose? Tarmer had a vision of finding a use, at long last, for the damned monk who swilled their cocoa. The full details could wait. For the moment it was enough to ask Tomrny Robins to make a twentyfoot pole smoothly tapering — so that it would not catch on obstructions when poked or withdrawn — to a short, sharp spike at the end.

“Not for Mussolini?” the Marine had implored him.

“For Beatrice — through the casemate.”

Out of the subterranean galleries there opened casemates which had once held the guns to sweep attackers off the glacis. The mouths were blocked by iron bars and coils of wire, frequently checked by the Ditch Patrol. Even so, prisoners had crawled through them, but only into the glare of the lights and immediate arrest.

One casemate, close to the bridge, was just above the pen of the three nanny goats. It was quite possible to spoil Beatrice’s sleep and temper by working a pole through the entanglement and poking. Yet only the combination of Mussolini and Beatrice could really be trusted to raise hell. The committee pointed out to Tamer that Mussolini was shut up out of reach in a pen of his own.

“Even if we talk Fra Giuseppe into letting the nanny goats out,” Bill Avory objected, “he won’t let Mussolini out, too. The girls have to rest sometime.”

That was true enough. It looked as if Mussolini would have to be kidnapped or invited into the camp, and then concealed until the moment came to make use of him.

No CONTACT with Fra Giuseppe was possible on the following day. The escape committee was despondent, for Mussolini, having generously fulfilled the purpose of his visit, might at any moment be driven back to his home. Preparations, however, were complete. The crossbows could go into action at ten minutes’ notice.

On the next evening Fra Giuseppe was seen in the ditch, all pastoral in the last of the twilight, while the four goats walked peaceably in front of him to their respective pens. Tanner shouted to him that parcels had arrived with a fresh supply of cocoa. He suggested, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, that Mussolini ought to come too, to say good-bye to the boys.

“But he smells!” the monk had protested.

“So do we! Be a sport, Fra Giuseppe!”

He was. Over the bridge, past the laughing guards at the barrier, trotting happily and poisoning the air for fifty yards around him, came Mussolini followed by Fra Giuseppe. The goat sat down with his four legs curled under him: a black, contented bulk upon the cool paving of the fort.

Somebody served him the scrapings of the evening’s spaghetti; someone else wreathed his horns with paper flowers left over from such Christmas celebrations as the camp had had. He looked straight from hell, but he was in heaven. Mussolini brimmed over with affection for humankind and yet was continually deprived of the petting he adored owing to his penetrating odor. He shared to the full the emotions of those girls in the advertisements whom men won’t dance with.

As soon as Fra Giuseppe had become gently inebriated by the smell of simmering cocoa, Tarmer asked him why his Lucia had been limping and hoped that she had not cut herself on the wire of the inner perimeter while licking salt from outstretched hands. The monk had noticed no limp — reasonably enough since she hadn’t one — but promised to have a look at her before he went home to his priory. Tarmer’s eloquent Italian rippled with anxiety for Lucia. Meanwhile, the cocoa failed to appear. Fra Giuseppe at last realized that he was being subjected to gentle, almost ecclesiastical blackmail, unspoken and perhaps not even deliberate. He agreed to go down to the ditch and report back immediately on Lucia’s condition.

As soon as the monk had strolled off toward the barrier and the bridge, leaving the delighted Mussolini where he was, Avory raced to the casemate and started to arouse Beatrice’s brisk temper. The twenty-foot pole was already through the casemate, its point free and commanding the little pen. The crossbows were set up and loaded.

“Cocoa,” Tarmer murmured, the imagined scent of it almost as vivid as the real scent twenty years earlier.

“Now?” Avory asked in surprise, sharing step by step the train of thought except for that sudden nasal memory. “Wouldn’t coffee and a brandy be better?”

Yes. Yes, they would indeed. One couldn’t recover the taste of cocoa brewed in a POW camp. It was as hopeless as to try to re-enter the paradise which brown sugar had been at the age of five.

Bill Avory beckoned to the waiter and chuckled.

“I always wish I had been watching,” he said. “All I saw at my end of the pole was Fra Giuseppe unlocking the door of the goat pen. And then Beatrice charged.”

The monk shot out into the floodlit ditch with the doctor’s anticlerical goat a yard behind him. It looked as if his initial burst of speed might carry him clear out of the operational area; but, fortunate for the plan, Beatrice caught him.

Her butt went home just above the right knee. The desperate monk, screaming for help, swerved, spread his cassock like a bullfighter, and received the next charge in the cloth. Beatrice’s horns bruised painfully but were not sharp enough to penetrate loose clothing; cloth stretched tight, however, was another matter. The monk’s excellent technique resulted in a heaving tangle of black and white. When it became possible for the eye to separate one from the other, Beatrice was dressed in the lower half of the cassock and Fra Giuseppe was embracing her hind legs in a frantic attempt to prevent her from cantering away with the rest of it.

“It was more than we dared hope for,” said Tarmer. “We could hear the sentries cheering and laughing in the towers.”

The monk was between Towers 1 and 2, and it was certain that the guards were looking at nothing else. The Bridge Tower to the west and No. 3 Tower to the east were unsighted by the angles of the pentagon. Tommy Robins fired the grapnel over the cable. The Marine heaved on the rope. After a moment of resistance the grapnel returned to hand, flying back into the camp on a lower and more violent trajectory than the curve of its outward journey.

The darkness shocked by its sudden totality. Not only were the floodlights extinguished but all the camp lights as well. There was an instant of astonished silence on the part of both guards and prisoners, through which echoed the exclamations of Fra Giuseppe, now rendered hysterical by the kicks of Beatrice and by his incoherent gratitude to the saint whose miracle or the soldier whose Christian charity had put out the lights.

The second grapnel sailed over the ditch and caught. With the interested assistance of Mussolini, escape was now nearly certain. Tarmer stood by the affectionate head, Avory at the stern. They lifted him over the inner perimeter wire and dropped him on to the glacis between the Bridge Tower and No. 1. He had an old leather shoe tied to his tail by a yard of cord. Its mysterious leaps and scufflings ought to be enough to delay and deceive the Ditch Patrol for the half minute required to climb wall and wire.

Tarmer and Avory raced back from the disposal of Mussolini to find Robins and the Marine still testing the rope. Resistance was soft and unreliable. The grapnel seemed to be caught in a weak loop of wire which it was pulling out along the top of the fence; it felt as if it could not be trusted to support bodies climbing furiously up the rope against time.

It stuck firmly on something hard, evidently the top of a post. But a last jerk was indecisive, though nothing appeared to break or yield. Tarmer and Avory added their weight to the rope and had to take a step backward as it gave. In the darkness it was impossible to see what was happening; there was nothing for it but to keep on pulling in a desperate attempt to recover the grapnel and try again. Another yard or two of rope came in, and its angle was not so steep. The sensation was baffling. They felt as if they were the winning team in an obstinate tug-of-war. Then thirty yards of that formidable outer perimeter fence fell over into the ditch, forming an impenetrable trampoline suspended from the leaning posts at each end of the wreckage.

There was another terrifying moment of silence, which ended in the almost musical twanging and tearing of wire as the grapnel was worked loose by brute force and recovered.

The guards on No. 2 Tower turned their attention from the bleating of Beatrice and the monk, and challenged. They then opened fire with rifles on the ditch and the collapsed fence. Since their eyes were still unused to the blank darkness, they found it hard to judge the correct angle of depression. Some of the shots strayed across the protruding angle of the camp and sang past the ears of the defenders of No. 3 Tower.

“I’ve never understood 3 Tower,” Avory said.

“They swore afterward that they thought parachutists were trying to rescue us. But I know what happened. They had a light machine gun which they’d never had a chance to use. and they weren’t going to be left out of whatever excitement there was.”

No. 3 Tower put down a curtain of fire on the ditch and at least hit the glacis. Ricochets from that smooth stone slope howled across the camp, some of them on a trajectory low enough to tear splinters off the wooden roof of No. 2 Tower.

On the still peaceful western side of the camp Mussolini behaved as if he had been in on the plan since the beginning. Loyal and single-minded, he charged down to the quietly grazing Tecla and tried to console her loneliness. Tecla at any time was a dignified goat, her expression always making it clear that Mussolini’s were unwelcome attentions to which it was her duty to submit: so now, approached by an importunate lover at, for goats, an unreasonable hour, she fled for her pen under the Bridge Tower.

The Ditch Patrol, which had been idling its way from No. 4 to the Bridge Tower, clearly decided that the eastern side of the camp was well covered by fire from Nos. 2 and 3 and was also extremely unhealthy. It therefore cautiously continued its round until alerted by the bouncings of Mussolini and his shoe. It didn’t stop to investigate at all. It took such cover as there was and plastered the ditch with automatic fire. Most of it was high. The guards on the Bridge Tower, nervously searching the impenetrable darkness for the unknown enemy which had attacked No. 2 and 3 Towers, briskly engaged the Ditch Patrol.

By now Mussolini was in safety with Tecla under the bridge. But Tecla must have made the most of the difficulties and protested that the pen was not nearly large enough for Mussolini too. Her excuse was acceptable. He was always a free and easy goat who liked plenty of space and publicity. He therefore trotted off beyond the bridge on the scent of Lucia. She had half-heartedly followed her master, the monk, and was now browsing close to No. 1 Tower.

No. 1, hitherto deprived of any opportunity for heroics, at once opened fire on the mysterious noises. Since the ditch ran straight between No. 1 and the Bridge Tower, without any protruding angle, the gentle slope of the glacis was murderous, and the stuff came off it with the accuracy of tennis balls. The terrified Lucia joined Tecla under the bridge. The guards up in the Bridge Tower, attacked from both sides and hearing beneath them the sinister rattlings and scrapings of the final bloody assault, surrendered to Mussolini.

“I suppose it was funny,” Avory said.

“It was damned dangerous. Nobody felt like laughing till Fantle appeared.”

Dodging from cover to cover, the Senior British Officer had joined the prostrate and fascinated group just as the crossbows had been dismantled and concealed. He demanded a situation report from his adjutant, fanner replied that the goats had got out, that the guards had mistaken them for escaping prisoners, and that in the general confusion part of the fence between No. 2 and 3 Towers had fallen into the ditch.

“Then what the hell are you still doing here?”

“Personally, sir,” Avory had said, “I am waiting for the lights to go on so that I can finish my book.”

Hardly fair, perhaps. But the disappointment was bitter. As for a mass breakout in the confusion, it couldn’t be launched into an unseen tangle of wire through which nothing but artillery could blast a path.

The firing and the distracted cries of Mama mia! died away. Searchlights and the head lamps of trucks illumined the ditch, revealing not a single corpse, not even of a goat. All was painfully quiet except between No. 1 and 2 Towers where the Ditch Patrol, having clothed Fra Giuseppe in a blanket, was fearlessly meeting the challenge of Beatrice.

When the break in the power line had been repaired, Colonel Colonna at the head of a full company marched into the camp and paraded his innocent charges. To his astonishment not one was missing.

It was then that resentment should have been shown, that the prisoners should have jeered at their captors and established such a moral ascendancy that it would have been necessary to telegraph for a battalion to control them. But only four knew what had really happened. The rest were gasping between laughter and bewilderment, and inclined to hope that a revolution had broken out in Italy.

As soon as the parade had been dismissed and only the senior officers remained, the Commandant observed in a tone of mild distaste rather than rebuke:

“I am informed that some joke was played upon Muss — upon the he-goat.”

“We all sincerely hope he came to no harm, sir,” Tarmer answered.

“Thank you. Apart from a sprained tail he is unhurt. May I ask you, gentlemen, to accept the apologies of myself and my command for disturbing your evening?”

“Tell him that it was a disgraceful, cowardly episode,” Fantle stormed, “and that we don’t give a damn for his apologies!”

Tarmer’s conscience stung him a little as he remembered how he had translated that one. But Colonna was no German commandant bristling with suspicion, fury, and punishments. In spite of what he must be feeling, he still cultivated a friendly atmosphere full of human acceptance of the tasteless tricks of young officers and the liability of troops to panic in the dark.

“The Senior British Officer assures you, sir,” Tamer had said, putting an extra formality into his voice so that the change of tone would not be too obvious, “that between gentlemen of goodwill all apologies are unnecessary.”

No, he had not been wrong. Unmilitary, perhaps. But if there was anything whatever to be said in favor of war, Colonna represented its spirit better than Fantle. He said as much to Avory.

“ Just what that damned journalist meant by the casual climate of Italy!” Avory replied.

“But it cuts both ways. In any German camp the posts would have been set in concrete with decent efficiency. And then all four of us would have got clear away.”