From Abducting A General
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
The party, when I found them, were star-scattered about a tumble-down stone hut, shaded by a clump oftall plane trees and a beetling rock, with a waterfall and a deep pool. George Harocopos, his old father and his pretty little sister were looking after them in this Daphnis and Chloë décor. Billy (in his account) records that, as the party had been there for two days and as there were many mouths to fill, and also a chance that George, the mainstay of the household, might leave us, I tried to force some sovereigns on Uncle Evthymios, his father. This was a scene that had often happened. Two years before, I had sent five sovereigns with a covering letter saying, ‘Herewith for cigarettes’, to Aleko Kokonas, the schoolmaster ofYerakari, who had been ruining himself and his friends in support of British stragglers. The coins came back the next day with a note, ‘Thanks Mihali, but I’m a non-smoker.’
It was nearly always the same story. We managed to pay our headquarters expenses, but little else, except occasionally helping people left in the lurch by sudden death or disaster. The same applied to all this lordly talk of despatching runners all over the island. They, like everyone else in this story, were unpaid volunteers who worked as they did because they felt honour-bound to do so. We were allies, and there was no more to be said. That is why all the references to ‘Hirelings of the English’ in German communiqués were so ludicrously wide of the mark. They were as mistaken as their references, in thecontext of guerrilla activity, to ‘Communists’ and ‘Bolsheviks’. The only communist contributions to theCretan resistance were their attempts to disrupt the resistance for post-war political ends, as they managed to do with great skill in the rest of Europe. Fortunately, they were in the field too late. All that was worthwhile on the island had been absorbed years before by the non-political EOK movement – theEthniki Organosi Kritis (the National Organisation of Crete) – a centrist resistance movement.
‘Good morning, General. How are you?’
‘Ah, good morning, Major. We missed you.’
We might’ve been in a drawing room. Billy told me that the General’s mood had been alternating between morose depression and comparative cheerfulness. They had had a slight tiff, now made up, at the time ofthe village burnings. I think they were kept at a further distance from each other than would normally have been the case by the Potsdam-Carthusian French that was their only medium of communication. It was too rickety a bridge for all but the most tentative exchanges.
The General had become very fond of Manoli, and Manoli had the impression that he might try to escape. He was keeping a sharper lookout than usual, especially at night. For some reason George filled him with misgiving – rather strangely, for George had a very kindly nature. I think the memory of the closeness ofGeorge’s dagger during our ride through Herakleion had left a deep trace. As a German, the General had at first been an object of horror to all of our party; but as a human being, in the higgledy-piggeldy proximity of recent days, their feelings were guarded but favourable on the whole. My tentative feelings of sympathy had started, I think, with the Ode to Thaliarchus, on Mount Kedros, looking towards Mount Ida, and I have an idea that it was returned, although we, neither of us, referred to it, for the same reason. At any rate, we thanked our stars that, as things turned out, our prisoner was not General Müller, the notorious war criminal: life with him would have become insupportable.
It was easy to gather that the General was far from being an eager Nazi, or admirer of Hitler. When I asked him about war crimes, he said he knew that there had been terrible deeds in the Ukraine, and that elsewhere ‘many things happened which ought not to have happened.’ In my queer role of half-captor, half-host, I felt rather loath to press him on awkward themes. After all, we were not interrogation officers.
He was amazed at our close relationship with the Cretans. I explained about the feelings prevailing between England and Greece since the Albanian campaign, and even long before. And I told him, as well as I could, and as far as discretion allowed, the reasons for the present Husarenstück (Hussar-
I asked him about Germany’s allies on the Russian front, and was very surprised by his answer. By far thebest, he said, were the Romanians, who fought like demons – ‘wie Teufel’ (not, perhaps, it occurred to me, so much for ideological reasons, as from ancient and atavistic fears, all too justified, about the fate ofBessarabia). Next came the Italians, who had been, to his great astonishment, very good indeed. As for the Hungarians, it was, he said, as though they had no heart in it. The Russian campaign sounded like a nightmare. He reminisced a lot about the Great War, then the conversation ranged over many things.
Our sudden change of plans had produced a momentary lull. Once more, there was a great feeling ofstrangeness about these recumbent hours of smoking and talk beside the shady waterfall. I had an inkling that, even in more cheerful times (for him), the General had a rather solitary nature through which ran a dash of melancholy, although there were plenty of reasons at the moment for the deep sighs which recurred, both in his talk and in moments of silence.
Our way westward over the plateau of Yious was our familiar east-to-west route over the narrowest part ofwestern Crete. ‘Our sun is rising,’ George had said, as we set off at moonrise. It was a favourite saying in these nocturnal journeys. ‘Off we go,’ Manoli said, ‘Anthropoi tou Skotous.’ This phrase, ‘Men ofDarkness!’ was a cliché that often cropped up in German propaganda when referring to people like us, and we had eagerly adopted it.
We were off, I hoped, on the last lap of our journey. Diana’s foresters. Minions of the moon.