Dawn came gray and stormy as yesterday's dusk. at six o'clock orchestral music roused Major Shackleton and Captain Humes-Talbot, whose backbones popped and moaned as they pried themselves out of the narrow and wholly uncomfortable dead pastor's bed. They had slept clothed, to ward off the chill that sneaked in around the stained-glass window, and they went downstairs marked with unmilitary wrinkles.
Sleet slashed at the windows, and Shackleton thought he might scream. "Good morning," Michael Gallatin said, sitting in the black leather chair before a newly built fire, a mug of hot Twinings Earl Grey tea in his hand. He wore a dark blue flannel robe and no shoes. "There's coffee and tea in the kitchen. also some scrambled eggs and local sausage, if you want any breakfast."
"If that sausage is as strong as the local whiskey, I think I'll pass," Shackleton said, with a frown of distaste.
"No, it's very mild. Help yourselves."
"Where's Malloryi" Humes-Talbot asked, looking around.
"Oh, he had his breakfast and went out to change the oil in the car. I let him use the garage."
"What's that racketi" Shackleton thought the music sounded like armies of demons clashing in hell. He walked to the Victrola and saw the record spinning around.
"Stravinsky, isn't iti" Humes-Talbot inquired.
"Yes. The Rite of Spring. It's my favorite composition. This is the part, Major Shackleton, where the village elders stand in a circle and watch a young girl dance herself to death in a pagan ritual of sacrifice." Michael closed his eyes for a few seconds, seeing the dark purple and crimson of the leaping, frenzied notes. He opened them again, and stared at the major. "Sacrifice seems to be a particularly popular topic these days."
"I wouldn't know." Gallatin's eyes made Shackleton nervous; they were steady and piercing, and they held a power that made the major feel as boneless as a washrag. "I'm a Benny Goodman fan."
"Oh yes, I know his work." Michael listened to the thunderous, pounding music for another moment; in it was the image of a world at war, fighting against its own barbarity and the barbarity clearly winning. Then he stood up, lifted the needle without scratching the 78 rpm disk and let the Victrola wind down. "I accept the mission, gentlemen," he said. "I'll find out what you want to know."
"You willi I mean..." Humes-Talbot stumbled over his words. "I thought you'd made up your mind already."
"I had. I changed it."
"Oh, I see." He didn't really, but he wasn't going to question the man's motives any further. "Well, that's good to hear, sir. Very good. We'll put you in a week of training, of course. Give you a few practice parachute jumps and some linguistic work, though I doubt you'll need it. and we'll put together all the information you'll need as soon as we get back to London."
"Yes, you do that." The thought of the flight over the Channel into France made the skin crawl at the back of his neck, but that would have to be dealt with at the proper time. He drew a deep breath, glad now that his decision was final. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going for my morning run."
"I knew you were a runner!" Shackleton said. "I am, too. How far do you goi"
"Five miles, more or less."
"I've gone seven miles before. Loaded down with field gear. Listen, if you've got an extra warm-up suit and a sweater, I'll go with you. I wouldn't mind gettin' the blood movin' again." Especially after trying to sleep in that torture rack, he thought.
"I don't wear a warm-up suit," Michael told him, and removed his robe. He was naked underneath. He folded the robe over the chairback. "It's almost springtime. and thank you, Major, but I always run alone." He walked past Shackleton and Humes-Talbot, who were both too shocked to move or speak, and went out the door and into the cold, sleety morning light.
Shackleton caught the door before it closed. He watched, incredulous, as the naked man began to run with long, purposeful strides down the driveway, then across the grassy field toward the woods. "Hey!" he shouted. "What about the wolvesi" Michael Gallatin didn't look back, and in another moment he vanished into the line of trees.
"He's an odd chap, don't you thinki" Humes-Talbot asked, peering over the other man's shoulder.
"Odd or not," Shackleton said, "I believe Major Gallatin can get the job done." Sleet dashed him in the face, and he shivered in spite of his uniform and shut the door against the wind.