We waited in silence. The guard at the door was singing quietly,
“Perche, Lili Marlene . . .
Perche, Lili Marlene?”
Otherwise there was silence. I climbed up on Frank’s shoulders and struck the plaster a light blow with the heel of my hand. It was something of a ceremony. Frank squinted up at it and said.
“Jesus Christ. We can get a battalion through there.”
The window looked enormous; it was magnificent. I pulled away the iron bars and handed them down. Then I slithered to the ground and grinned at Frank. It was too good to be true. I boosted him up on to my shoulders, and then felt his rubber-soled boot on my head, tearing at my scalp. He was a long time, and I was listening to the singing of the guard. I thought, Keep singing, you bastard, keep on singing. I saw Frank force his shoulders through the window, and for a few moments his feet slithered noisily along the ceiling, making a horrible noise. The guard was still singing,
“Una volt’ anchora, la voglio salutar’
E poi contento, partiro . . .”
Then Frank started sliding back, worming his hips back again, and I thought, Oh, God, It isn’t big enough. I had a moment of panic when I realised how much bigger I was than Frank. Then his groping feet found my shoulders again and his head re-appeared.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered angrily.
“I can’t reach the shelf, it’s too far down.”
It had seemed the shelf was only a couple of feet below, that it would have been easy to reach. There was nothing for it. I whispered,
“Well, for Christ’s sake, do a neck roll or something. Get on with it, blast you.”
Once more he disappeared with a wriggle, and this time his legs grew shorter, hesitated, then with a final awful slither disappeared altogether in growing momentum. There was a horrible thud outside, and I wondered if he had broken his neck. A moment later I saw his arm come through and I handed him the bottles, the blankets, just as we had arranged. I gripped the rough edge of the window, pulled myself up, clawing at the wall, one foot on the board, and thrust my arms through. There was a little difficulty and Frank whispered, “Try keeping your arms to your side,” and I thought, Jesus, it’s too small, I’m too wide, I shan’t make it. Frank pulled savagely at my head till my muscles were torn, but it was no good. I dropped down inside again and slipped off my jacket and shirt, handing them through to Frank. When I tried again it was better, I put one arm through first, then my head, twisting sharply at right-angles, then almost all my shoulders were through. Grunting at the strain, Frank tugged at my arm; I found the ceiling with one foot and pushed, and wriggled, and swore, and finally I was through, the rough stones scratching my flesh as I fell. I fell on my shoulders, as Frank had done, with an awful wallop.
It was quite black now. There was no moon, and we could not see the road below us. We hoped there might be a stairway down and tip-toed round to have a look-see. There was a skylight above us, and I crawled slowly up to it, testing the roof carefully before I moved. Suddenly, there in the lamplight below, were the guards and the appuntato playing cards together. I felt that the light was on my face and drew back. I wandered round the roof for a while, looking for a way down; there was none, so I rejoined Frank who was waiting anxiously.
I whispered, “No other way, we’ll have to use the blankets.”
We tied them to the bars of a window which was conveniently near; the knot took up an awful lot of the “rope” and we couldn’t see if it reached the ground or not in the dark pit below us. Frank looked at the clumsy rope snaking down into the silence and muttered, “Mon Dieu.” He swung himself slowly off the shelf, gripping the blankets tight. His eyes were anxious as they slowly sunk below. There was the sound of a tear on the way down, but they held, and a moment later I heard a whisper, “Va bene.”
I was worried about the tear; I could not see where it was. After a moment’s anxious thought I decided to leave the glass bottle behind; I did not fancy the thought of a fall in the dark with a glass fiasco in my hand. Frank had the metal water-bottle; it would have to suffice for us both. This was a lucky decision; the moment I put my weight on the rope it ripped in two with a long tearing noise and I fell to the earth. I landed on a flight of steps at the bottom, and rolled on to the road. I had let myself go limp as I fell, and I was unhurt, somewhat to my surprise, as it was a long drop down.
I told Frank about the bottle and he swore softly. We stood still for a moment in the angle of the wall, listening carefully. There was not a sound. Above us, the stars were bright and the sky was black. A cricket was calling; the rest of the night was silent.
The first obstacle was past. The worst was behind us. We were out.