JACK CRANE had not been in London for three years. He found that the great, sprawling city was now not only the capital of Britain and of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It had become the headquarters of organizations and governments exiled from every part of Nazi-held Europe.
It fascinated Crane to discover what close touch these exiled governments were able to maintain with their people in Europe.
Hitler has tried, with a severe censorship, to hide the truth about the conquered lands. Yet there were people in London, Crane found, who were always well-informed about Nazi secrets. They knew every move made by Hitler's puppet rulers, and every arrest or execution carried out by the Axis secret police.
Crane saw underground anti-Nazi newspapers, too, which had been smuggled out of the occupied nations. They proved that the patriot fighters of Europe, on their side, were in close and constant touch with leaders in London.
The people who know how this two-way communication is managed cannot tell their secrets until the war is won. Yet Crane was able to learn a little about their methods. A little more he was able to guess. And one part he was lucky enough to see for himself.
* * *
The way it happened was this. One afternoon, in the Consolidated Press office, the telephone rang. Air Force Operations was calling Crane.
The press relations officer was on the wire. "There's a 'show' tonight you'll be interested in, Crane," he said. "Be at (he specified a military airfield) an hour from now, and you can come along.
"When Crane arrived, he was taken across the field to a hangar where a big cargo plane was being loaded with freight. It was a four-motored ship, of a type that Crane had not previously seen. A tricycle landing gear kept it level on the ground, and made the loading of heavy cargo easy.
Crane was introduced to the pilot, a Polish flier whose unpronounceable name had long ago been shortened to "Rocky." The co-pilot was a Scotsman who seemed to make it his business never to utter an unnecessary word. A Frenchman, Pierre, combined the duties of navigator and radio man.
"You and Pierre are to be our freight-handlers," Rocky told Jack Crane. "You'll have to ride in the cargo space, Crane, so you'll have plenty of time to look around and see what we have on board."
"Ready to take off, sir," a mechanic reported. Crane and the three airmen climbed aboard. It was already evening.
GUNS AND A PRINTING PRESS
Inside the fuselage of the great cargo plane, Crane found himself stumbling over crates and boxes until he became accustomed to the dim light. Then he began to look around.
Soon Pierre joined him. "I cannot tell you where we are going," he said in his soft French voice, "But let me explain what is in the boxes. Those boxes in front are full of rifle and revolver ammunition. The long boxes on your right have in them British 'Sten' guns a new repeating type like your American 'Tommy gun.'
"In those bundles are pamphlets and books, bringing truth and new hope to minds tired of Hitler's lying propaganda. There, at the back, are our two most precious pieces of cargo. One is a radio receiver and sender; the other a portable printing press.
"In the dim light, Crane examined the cargo. Each box or bundle was carefully crated. To each was attached its own small parachute.
Pierre demonstrated how the cargo would be released. First the tapes which open the parachutes had to be attached inside the plane. Then the two men would slide the door open, and push the bundles out one by one."
It will be dark when we get there," Pierre said. "But there's a full moon. I will come back and tell you when it's time to get ready.
"Left alone, Crane climbed on some packing cases to look out of the small window. The plane was flying so high that it was impossible to make out details in the landscape below. Crane had no idea where they were going. He thought to himself it was just as well: the censor would not let him write it in his story, anyway.
It grew dark, and Crane watched the hours go by on the luminous dial of his watch. Midnight. One in the morning. At last Pierre was back.
"Only ten minutes, now," he said. "Crane, it's time we were ready."
Jack Crane thought of the patriots somewhere below were they Poles, Norwegians, Czechs, Yugoslavians? Whoever they were, they were risking their lives in some field or valley down there in the darkness. Waiting for the weapons they needed to carry on the struggle, they were defying the worst the Nazis could do to them and their families.
Crane felt the plane tilt forward as it began to descend. Pierre explained to him that the motors had been cut, so that they could come in over the rendezvous without noise."
The danger comes when we begin to climb again," he said. "Then the Nazis can hear us. That is when they may fire at us. That is when the patriots below must take cover, hiding all the things we bring them.
"Pierre pushed open the cargo door....
* * *
A little later, all the cargo had been dropped. The plane was low over the trees, and as it rose Crane looked back in the moonlight. Men were running out, he could see, to roll up the parachutes and pick up the dropped freight.
Crane closed the cargo door, and Pierre was beside him.
"Let us hope that the radio and printing press are safe," said the Frenchman. "There, my friend, you have seen, in effect, the beginning of an underground newspaper."
NEXT WEEK: JACK CRANE VISITS AFRICA AND FINDS AN AMERICAN AUTO FACTORY.