Over the Sea
The North Ayrshire coast can be a cold and forbidding place at the best of times, but on this particular winter day the sun was looking as pale as Jenny could ever remember it being. Drawing her shawl around her, she walked along the beach, dodging through the barbed wire rolls that had been placed there as a last ditch coastal defence, and looked over the water to where Arran was dimly visible through the morning mist. The sound of planes over head hardly drew a glance from her - ever since the war had started, they had been a constant part of her day, and she had better things to think of. Such as getting home with the meat ration for her and her mother.
She finally climbed up the pathway from the beach to the cottage she shared with her mother and opened the door. Since their father and Jenny's older brother had been called up, they had looked after themselves here and kept their own solace, with the occasional trip into town for company.
"Mum, are you there," she called in her light Scots accent, but there was no reply. Thinking nothing of the silence, she walked into the kitchen and started to fill the kettle with water.
The young girl turned round, looked at her mother and stood still as the brass kettle dropped to the floor, the water spilling onto the flagstones.
“Oh, Jenny, I’m sorry I startled you, are you all right?”
Morag McTaggart picked up the kettle from the floor and placed it back on the range. A small woman, she was dressed in an old woollen sweater, tweed skirt and slippers.
“Mother, you startled me. Why didn’t you answer when I called?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jenny, I was talking to Mrs Black here. She’ll be renting our room for a few days.”
Jenny noticed for the first time the woman who had come in with her mother. She was slim, dark haired and dressed in a light grey jacket and skirt, white blouse and dark shoes.
“How do you do, Jenny?” She said extending a hand. “I needed somewhere quiet to think things over, and the postmistress in the town suggested I try here.” I hope you don’t mind?”
“Not at all,” jenny replied as she took her overcoat off. “Where is your husband?”
Mrs Black fingered the ring on her hand. “Missing – he was shot down and we haven’t had word yet as to where he is.”
“Sit down, my dear, and I’ll make some tea,” Morag said as she lit the wood on the stove. “You’ll be staying for three days, you said?”
“Yes, that’s right, and then I have to get back home to see if there has been any word.”
The morning sun shone down as Mrs Black closed the cottage door behind her. She had said she wanted to take a walk in the village, and agreed to come back with some bread from the bakery. The sea was calm and clear as she walked down to the little cluster of houses, and sat herself outside a tea room to have some refreshment.
A flaxen haired man sat at the table next to her looked over his copy of the Glasgow Herald at this woman, admiring her beauty and the way she was sitting, with her legs crossed. He was so lost in thought that, when the church bell struck the hour, he hurriedly looked at his watch and left, leaving the paper on the table.
Mrs Black sat for a few minutes, finishing her tea, before standing up. Leaving some money on the table, she walked off, but not before picking up the discarded paper and placing it in the shopping bag Morag had left for her. She walked down the road, her heels clicking on the cobbled street, and walked into the bakery.
“How are you enjoying our weather?” Morag asked as she carried a casserole over to the kitchen table.
“It is a little cold, but it’s now worse than I am used to,” Mrs Black replied as she lifted the lid and started to serve the hot pot out. Her accent was English and precise, as both Jenny and her mother had noted, but they weren’t concerned about that.
There was a knock on the door, and Jenny went to answer as her mother brought a fresh loaf of bread to the table.
“Who was it?” she asked as Jenny came back.
“Billy from the farm – apparently there’s a storm brewing up, and his father wanted to make sure we were all right.”
“A storm? But it looks so peaceful out there,” Mrs Black said. Jenny noticed a slight look of concern on her face.
“It happens if the wind gets up over the sea – we’ll know in the next hour or two. Will you have some tea?”
The three women sat at the table, talking about the day and the local news, as the sound of the increasing wind started to rattle around the windows. As the sun set, the sound of raindrops on the glass grew more and more intense.
“It’s going to be a rough note,” Morag said as she stood up. “Jenny – you make sure the windows and doors are secured while I get some wood in for tomorrow.”
“If you’ll excuse me,” Mrs Black said as she stretched and yawned, “I think I will turn in for the evening. I plan to leave tomorrow, and I need a good night’s sleep. Good night.”
As she left the kitchen, Jenny turned to her mother. “I thought she was staying until the weekend?”
“So did I, but she’s paid and hasn’t asked for anything back. See to the doors girl, before the wind blows them open.”
The wind continued to intensify in strength, and when Jenny was awoken at one in the morning by the sound she found her mouth was dry. Sitting up and pulling an old dressing gown over her nightdress, she left her room and walked down the corridor. As she passed the room that Mrs Black was using, she noticed that bedside light was on and there was the sound of talking coming through the door.
Stopping by the wooden closure, Jenny listened to the faint sounds coming from the other side. She recognised the voice of Mrs Black, but her accent was different and she was speaking in a language that wasn’t even Gaelic.
“Ich verstehe, dass das Wetter zu rau ist, damit Sie ein Boot senden, aber ich wissen muss, wann ich gesammelt werde.
„Ja verstehe ich, überwache ich diese Frequenz und….“
Through a crack in the door sill, Jenny could see Mrs Black bent over something on her bed. She was dressed in black pants and sweater, with a hat over her hair, and heavy army boots on her feet. She turned suddenly and looked in the direction of the door, as Jenny held her breath. The young girl could now see a radio set in her guest’s case.
“Ich habe eine Situation, hier, zum zu beschäftigen. Erwarten Sie weiteren Kontakt. Heil Hitler.“
The light in Mrs Black’s room suddenly went out, and Jenny stepped back against the opposite wall. She had said the name of the little tinpot madman in Berlin – Mrs Black….. Mrs Black was a spy!
She quickly turned and started to walk towards her mother’s room, but before she had taken more than a few steps a strong hand had clamped itself over her mouth, and Mrs Black whispered into her ear “How unfortunate for you, Fraulein, that you heard my transmission. Into my room – schnell!”
Some minutes later, Morag was woken by the sound of Jenny saying quietly “Mum…. Mum, you have to wake up now.”
Opening her eyes, she dimly saw Jenny standing by the bed, but something was not quite right.
“Jenny, my dear, whatever is the matter…” she started to say, but then she saw Mrs Black standing beside her, a pistol in her hand.
“My Apologies, Frau McTaggart, but I am afraid your daughter has discovered my little secret. I must ask you not to shout out or make any sudden moves, or else neither of you will enjoy a long and happy life which you most assuredly deserve.
“Here, put this dressing gown on and stand up – I regret that I must make sure neither of you can disturb anyone else for a while.”
“What are you talking about,” Morag said as she stood up, before realising what was wrong with Jenny. Her arms had been pulled behind her back, and her dressing gown cord had been passed around her arms and chest to hold them together.
“She’s a spy, Mum, she’s a Nazi spy,” Jenny cried out.
“Please, I am a German yes, but not one of those fiends,” Mrs Black said as she took one of Morag’s pillowcases and tore it into strips. “I am doing my duty by my country, as your men folk are. Please, Frau McTaggart, turn around and put your hands behind your back.”
“I thought you said your husband was shot down in the RAF,” Morag said as she looked over her shoulder and watched the woman tying her wrists together.
“I said he was shot down – and he was over the English Channel when his Luftwaffe squadron was attacked. Now, both of you please step into the wardrobe over there.”
Morag and Jenny were pushed over to the large wooden wardrobe in the room. Opening the door, Mrs Black gestured with the gun towards the interior.
“Step in and make yourselves comfortable – I need to talk to my contacts and see how long you must remain my guests from now on.”
The two women watched as the door was closed on them and the key turned in the lock. As the sound of the boots reverberated on the wooden floor, Jenny put her head on her mother’s shoulder and started to cry.
The dim light of the dawn was shining through the window when the wardrobe was unlocked. The two women were sat on the floor, sleeping, as Mrs Black looked in.
“Good morning, ladies,” she said, and Jenny opened her eyes in surprise as the events of the night came back to her memory. “I’m sorry you had to spend the night there, but I assure you it is not my intention to harm you.”
“Why? Why are you doing this?” Morag mumbled as she was helped to her feet.
“I need to take some important information to my superiors who are waiting in Ireland. The bad weather meant my… ride was delayed, so I was trying to make new arrangements when I heard your daughter at my door.”
“Is your name even Black,” Jenny said as she and her mother sat down on the bed while their captor untied their hands and arms.
“Yes – although it is actually Frau Gertrude Schwartz, not Black. Enough of this, however – I am afraid I must avail myself of your hospitality for a day until my contact comes for me tonight. Regretfully, I also have to take steps to make sure you do not raise the alarm.”
“What sort of steps,” Morag asked as she clutched her dressing gown around her.
“Here – I have made us all some tea,” Gertrude said as she handed the two women a steaming cup of brown liquid. “Drink up, and then I will explain how this will work. Jenny, I am afraid you will be spending the day in bed with a bad cold.”
“But I feel fine,” Jenny said as she took a sip, but out of the corner of her eye she saw a worried look on her mother’s face.
“No – use me, and Jenny will do whatever you ask,” she said to the German standing in front of them.
“I admire your courage, but I have made my decision. Jenny, when you have finished we will make sure you wash, and then I suggest you wear some suitable clothing – trousers, thick socks and a jumper would be best. Morag, you should get dressed now before we get started.”
“All right, but if you harm one hair on my daughter’s head, I’ll…..”
“You will do as you are told or you will discover how efficient a Luger can be,” Gertrude said as she placed the gun on the table. “Apart from poor Jenny’s sudden illness, all must be as it usually is for today. So, get dressed, and then we will see what happens.”
“Please, sit down Morag.”
The older woman sat in a chair at the kitchen table, dressed in an old woollen sweater and trousers with a scarf wrapped over her shoulders and her hair. She looked at Gertrude as she sat opposite her, having changed into a white roll neck sweater and a pair of overalls, with a polka dot scarf over her hair.
“Now, are you perfectly clear? I am helping today as Jenny is ill in bed, but I will be leaving tomorrow. If anyone asks, that is the situation. Understood?”
Morag nodded, but her thoughts were up in her daughter’s room where Jenny was lying on her back on the bed. She was wearing an Arran sweater, brown corduroy trousers and thick socks over her feet and the trouser cuffs. Gertrude had brought into the house a long length of coarse brown rope, and two pieces of that were holding her wrists against the iron bedstead, bound securely over the jumper and keeping Jenny in a spread eagled position. Her ankles and legs were bound with more of the same rope, and a thick woollen scarf was pulled into her mouth to keep her quiet. She tried to scream out, but all that could be heard was a muffled “hlp” as her head fell back onto the two cushions.
“Just don’t hurt my baby,” Morag whispered as she sat there.
“My dear Morag, I don’t want to hurt either of you, but I will do what is necessary if I am discovered. So, my pistol stays with me, and I stay with you.” She stood up, walked over and brought back two pairs of Wellington boots. “Shall we get started with mucking out the hens?”
Some distance from the cottage, a flaxen haired man was sat watching the building through a pair of binoculars. As he watched Morag and Gertrude walk out into the yard, he put his hand to his chin and rubbed it, contemplating what the best course of action would be.
The morning passed slowly, as the two women carried out some work in the yard before returning into the house for lunch. As Morag heated some soup up, Gertrude laid out three bowls.
“So Jenny is going to have something to eat?”
“Of course, Morag – I only need to hold her captive, I do not intend to starve her. Once we have eaten, I will take a tray up and feed her.”
“And what will I be doing?”
“Eat your lunch, Morag – you’ll find out soon enough.”
Jenny turned her head as the door opened and Gertrude backed in carrying a tray with a steaming bowl and slices of bread. Morag followed her in, her hands secured behind her back with rope.
“Why don’t you sit down on the chair, Morag, and I’ll give Jenny her lunch?”
With some difficulty, Morag sat herself down on the small wooden chair in the room as Gertrude laid the tray on the bed, reached over and removed the scarf from Jenny’s mouth.
“Mum, are you all right?” she said as the sodden wool was taken from between her lips.
“I’m fine, Jenny, just scared,” Morag replied. The coarse rope was biting a little into her skin as she tried to twist her arms round, but she hid the discomfort she felt.
“Open wide,” Gertrude said as she held a spoon filled with broth to Jenny’s mouth, “You need to eat to keep your strength up.”
“You said your husband was shot down,” Morag said to break the silence.
“Yes – he was a good man, not one of those Nazi thugs, just serving his country. I hate this war, but I have to play my part as well as everyone else.”
“You do know you would be shot if you were caught?”
“Possibly – but do not think for one moment we are the only ones who are using females to do undercover work, Morag. The French, your own government – they all are.”
She finished spooning the soup into the young girl’s mouth, and allowed Jenny to take a bite from the bread. “So,” she said through the crumbs, “What are you going to do now?”
“Well, I have offered to get some supplies in while your mother is tending you in bed. I should not be too long, but I do need to make sure you cannot raise the alarm as to my true purpose for being here.”
“What does that mean,” Morag asked nervously.
“I am afraid I will need to restrain both of you for a few hours, and then let you have some freedom before I leave. So, Jenny, if you have had enough?”
“Please, be gentle with my mother,” the young girl said.
“Of course,” Gertrude replied as she pushed a pair of belled up handkerchiefs into Jenny’s mouth. Removing the scarf from her hair and shaking it out, she folded it into a wide band and tied it tightly over her packed mouth, letting her head drop to the pillow when she had finished.
“Come, Morag,” she said as she took the arm of the older woman and led her out of the room. Jenny lay quietly, as the sound of grunts and movement came from her mother’s room down the corridor, then she caught a glimpse of Gertrude in her skirt and jacket as she walked down the stairs. The closing of the cottage door left the building in comparative silence.
As she lay there, she turned her head to one side and looked at the ropes that were tied over her jumper. From down the corridor, she could hear low groans coming from her mother’s room, and she was concerned about what their captor had done to her.
Twisting her wrist round, she noticed the wool seemed to slipping under the rough rope, and an idea began to form in her head.
“Mmm – m gng t tr smtng” she called out as best she could, and then she started to slowly move her left wrist up and down under the rope. As she did so, ignoring the growing burning sensation in her skin, she found that the sleeve of her jumper was slowly moving down her arm underneath the coils of hemp.
“Och, that’s a shame – you tell Morag I asked after her and Jenny, and enjoy your journey home.”
“I will, and thank you,” Gertrude said as she left the post office and walked down the street. Outside the café, the flaxen haired man watched her as she walked down the road, then stood and followed at a discreet distance.
With a final effort, the sleeve on Jenny’s left arm slipped out from under the ropes. Pausing to catch her breath for a few minutes, she slowly worked her hand out through the now loosened ropes and shook it as her arm came down to her side.
Turning to her right, she started to untie the knot that held her right arm in place, and finally was able to sit up and unite the scarf from around her mouth. She worked quietly, listening all the time for the sounds of approaching feet, as she untied her legs and stood up.
Slowly, she crept down towards her mother’s room, and opened the door. Morag as lying on her side on the bed, with her legs pulled up behind her and her headscarf tied over her mouth. Jenny put her fingers to her lips, and walked round to see how her mother had been secured.
A length of rope was holding her crossed ankles to her wrists, with rope around both of them, but otherwise there were no other bindings. Jenny walked back round, pulled the scarf down and removed a pair of socks from her mother’s mouth,
“Jenny, my angel, you have to go and….” The sound of footsteps approaching and the door opening stopped the older woman talking.
“Trust me, Mum,” Jenny said as she pushed the scarf back over her mouth, went to the back of the room and unlocked a door. Retrieving something from inside, she opened the wardrobe door and hid inside.
“I have returned as promised, Morag,” Gertrude said as she walked into the room, “and now I can let both you and Jenny have some free time, so long as you both agree to behave yourselves. Do you agree, Morag?”
The older woman nodded as Gertrude stooped over her, not noticing the wardrobe door opening and Jenny stepping out.
“My mother may say yes, but I say get your hand sup, you Nazi,” she said as she raised the shotgun her father kept in the cupboard and pointed it at Gertrude’s back, cocking the hammer as she did so.
“My compliments, Jenny, I did not think you would get free,” Gertrude said as she stood up and raised her hands above her head. “Am I to consider myself your prisoner?”
“You certainly can, you bitch, so untie my mother and then kneel down while I decide if I’m going to save the Army the bother of a trial.”
“Jenny, no,” her mother said as the gag was removed completely. “Let the authorities deal with her. We’ll tie her up, and then you can go and get the police from the village.”
The sun was starting to set as Morag tied Gertrude’s ankle to the leg of the chair. After she had been released, the three women had come down into the kitchen, and Gertrude was sat down in one of the chairs at the table. Jenny had pulled her hands through the slats in the chair back, and tied her wrists together before securing them to the chair back. She had also wound a long length of rope around her chest, weaving it through the slats so that the German woman was held firmly in place. Morag had tied her legs to the top of the chair legs, and her ankles to the bottom.
“May I be permitted a cigarette?” Gertrude asked. Morag nodded as Jenny lit a round tube and placed it in their captive’s mouth.
“Thank you,” she said as she let out a puff of smoke. “So, I suppose you will report me to the authorities now?”
“Get a move on, Jenny – it’ll be dark soon.”
“One more thing before I go,” Jenny said as she picked up the scarf she had been gagged with all morning. “I think this is only fair,” she said as she pulled the material deep into Gertrude’s mouth, knotting it tightly at the base of her head.
“Watch her, Mother,” she said as she closed the door behind her, and set off into the rapidly descending gloom. She had walked maybe half an hour along the shore when she bumped into a soldier walking in the opposite direction.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she held her hand out to help the fallen man down.
“Not a problem,” he said as he replaced his helmet over his flaxen hair. “Where is a beauty like you off to in such a hurry?”
“We… we’ve captured a German spy, and I need to let the police know.”
“A spy? Who’s watching her?”
“My mother – why?”
“Well, I’ll take care of her for you. Take me to where you are keeping her, and I’ll take her into custody.”
“Oh, thank you,” Jenny stammered as she took the soldier by the arm and led him back to the cottage.
“That was quick, Jenny, did you….” Morag started as the door opened, but when she saw the soldier come in she almost clapped her hands with joy.
“Wonderful, wonderful – can you take care of this spy for us, son?”
“I think so,” he said as he looked over the bound and gagged Gertrude, then said in perfect German “Gut sind Sie wirklich in einer feinen Verwirrung, ja?”
Gertrude looked up into the eyes of the soldier, who went on to say “Ich setze voraus, Sie möchten, dass ich diese Verwirrung heraus sortieren und Sie auf Ihrer Weise sehe. Nicken Sie einfach, wenn der der Fall ist.”
Gertrude continued to look at the soldier, before slowly nodding. He smiled, and then unholstered his rifle before turning to Morag and Jenny.
“You speak German?” Jenny said.
“Of course – I grew up there after all. Please, raise your hands and consider yourselves my prisoner, damen,”
The two women looked at each other, and then slowly raised their hands.
“I was asked to come ashore and escort this lovely lady to her boat, and I’m glad I got here early, otherwise it would have been a wasted trip. Both of you, go in front of e out to the barn.”
Turning to the trussed spy, the soldier said “Sie sitzen gerade ruhig, während I diese zwei sichern, und dann komme ich, Sie zu befreien.“
Gertrude grunted as the three left her in the kitchen, and made their way over the dimly lit courtyard to the barn.
“Stop there ladies,” the soldier said as he closed the door behind him. Looking at the wall, he saw a ball of twine and picked it up.
“You,” he said tossing the ball to Morag, “start tying your daughter up – hands behind her back, palms together, and make sure it’s tight.”
“I’m sorry dear,” Morag said with tears in her eyes as she started to wrap the thin cord around her daughter’s wrists. As she pulled it tightly, the soldier watched over her shoulders.
“Lie face down on that pile of straw,” he ordered Jenny, and as she allowed herself to fall forward he passed the fallen twine ball back to Morag.
“Now her ankles – and make sure it is secure, or else I will have to re-do it, and she will not like that.” He watched as Jenny’s ankles were lashed together, before taking a knife and cutting the twine above the knot.
“Your turn, mutter,” he said as he pulled Morag’s hands behind her back and started to wind the twine round them, securing them and then her ankles together. Pushing her onto the straw, he moved the two women so that they were facing each other, and started to use the twine to secure their bodies together around their legs and moving up from there.
“Just our luck,” Jenny said as the twine pulled her and her mother together around the waist, “two spies in 24 hours.”
“Yes, deuced bad luck, ladies” the soldier said as he cut the twine for the last time. “I’m sorry you have to go through this, but it will all be over soon I promise.”
Taking a scarf from his pocket, he pulled it into Morag’s mouth as a gag, before pushing a handkerchief into Jenny’s mouth before using the twine to secure that in place. Closing the barn door behind him, he went back into the house and started to free Gertrude.
“How much time do I have,” she asked as she rubbed her wrists.
“Just enough to get your stuff and go. I will make sure the alarm is kept quiet here until you have escaped.”
“Thank you,” she said as she took the man and kissed him, before hurrying up the stairs. Ten minutes later, case in hand and dressed in black, she hurried out of the door and away from the cottage.
The soldier stood for a minute, lighting a cigarette, before setting off back towards the town. As he entered the small cluster of houses, he met the local policeman coming the other way.
“Officer,” he said as he passed, “I’ve just been past a cottage about two miles back.”
“The McTaggart place?”
“I don’t know who lives there, but I heard the sound of shouting. I think you may need to go and check everything is all right.”
“Well, I’m heading that way anyway. Thank you, son.”
“Thank you officer,” the soldier said as he kept walking down the street towards the local pub. Inside, ordered a pint and sat down next to a uniformed Army officer.
“Everything go according to plan?” he asked in a low voice.
“It very nearly didn’t – the young girl managed to get free and was on her way to raise the alarm. It was lucky I was watching and able to intercept her.”
“So they thought you were a spy as well?”
“Yeah – you may have some waters to smooth over that one.”
“One day, James, one day. For now, let’s be content they know what we want them to know, and leave it at that. Come on – the car’s outside.”
The two men drank up, walked out and climbed into the waiting car, which set off into the dark Ayrshire night.