As WE WASHED UP BEFORE DINNER THAT EVENING WE MADE an inventory of the first day's profits. Instead of one ship we now had five with a total cargo capacity of about twelve hundred tons. We were—or soon would be—the proud owners of four hundred tons of coal. Within the next twenty-four hours we would receive some six hundred tons of supplies for Tito. We were on the trail of nine more ships and reasonably confident that the Admiral would find some way of placing the whole fleet safely under our control. Once this legal detail had been attended to and contact established with the other coast, we would be in business. Meanwhile, we were progressing at a tremendous rate.
Ivo Radic, with a cigarette and a glass of whiskey beside him, shaved. He (had opened all stops on his big baritone voice and shook the walls of the bathroom between dabs with the brush as he lathered his jowls. From the balcony Tim and I watched the last light of a colorful sunset fade slowly on the sea.
"By the end of this week we should be operating—and on a big scale, too," Tim said. "By the end of this week we may actually land our first shipload of stores over there."
"If nothing goes wrong. ..."
"That's true. We still have a couple of big hurdles ahead, but the Admiral surely will get us the authority we need to clear the ships. . . ."
"He will if he can, but it may not be up to him. It may prove very complicated."
"There's one point I can't figure out," said Tim. "Are we helping the Partisans—Mladineo and his group—to get their work done, or are they helping us? Whose show is this?"
"Let's say that as far as Tito is concerned it's Mladineo's show; we're helping him. As far as our headquarters are concerned, we'll call it our show; he's helping us. How's that?"
"It's good as far as it goes," Tim answered thoughtfully, "but it doesn't really go far enough. Cairo is going to ask you to justify. . . ."
"The operations themselves will be our justification or downfall. We either get results now, before complications begin to develop as a result of our having left Algiers without waiting for the conferences to be run off, or else . . ."
There seemed no point in finishing the phrase. Tim knew what I meant.
"We improvise," I told Tim, "and at our own risk. The alternative is to do nothing. We have a good chance—a better than even chance of getting these supplies moving. If we succeed we make a big contribution to the war effort. If we fail I'll be relieved, but I would rather be tried for proceeding here without specific authority than allow these opportunities to pass while waiting for Cairo to sanction every step we take."
The truth is I was worried about the irregularity of our position, but most of the time we were so busy that I managed to forget it.
"We can send Cairo a cable tomorrow and bring them up to date on what we're doing," Tim suggested.
There was no need for me to explain my point of view to Tim. I knew he was with me to the end, no matter what, even if a court-martial inevitable as doom awaited both of us.
Radic joined us on the balcony and a few moments later Mladineo and Olga arrived. Both wore pistols and kept them on when we went down to dinner. We left ours in our room that night, but it was the last time we ventured out without them. We learned the secret of their caution the next day.
The dinner was a complete success. We were "Ivo" and "Steve" and "Olga" and "Tim" and "Louis" to one another before it was half over. We drank a toast to Tito, then we drank to our operations, to the success of our endeavor to get supplies across, and, of course, our chivalrous guests proposed a toast to President Roosevelt.
Our Jugoslav friends were happy. They were amazed at the speed with which we moved. To them, there was nothing Tim and I could not do, nothing we could not obtain from the British or American authorities. The complication about clearing their ships caused them little real anxiety; we would solve that problem. It was not conceivable to them that we could fail.
There were flowers on the table and I told Olga she was our guest of honor—that the dinner was for her, which made her blush with pleasure. She looked prettier than ever with her tumultuous brown hair carefully brushed back and her eyes sparkling.
"Sometimes you embarrass me," she said ingenuously. "You treat me like a grande dame instead of just a little girl."
"But you are a 'grande dame in your own way," I protested.
"No I'm not," Olga insisted. "I've never even had a grown-up dress. I was at the convent in uniform until I put on these things." A pretty gesture indicated the severe uniform.
"Were you married in them?" I asked.
"Yes. These very ones," she said, straightening her tunic and brushing it with the back of her hand as though it had suddenly turned into an ermine wrap.
"Steve told me you were married under a pine tree. Was it a nice wedding? Were there many present?" I asked.
"It was very nice," she answered. "My mother was there, and all our friends on the island were there too. It was before they shot the hostages, when everything was quiet. Steve gave me two presents, a portable typewriter"—captured from the Italians, I learned later—"and this pair of shoes." Her un-stockinged leg came out from under the table to expose the brogues for my admiration.
"Haven't you ever had a party dress?" I asked.
She laughed: "No. I've never even had one on."
'Would you like to wear one?"
Olga treated me to that peculiar glance children reserve for adults who ask stupid, patronizing questions, then answered in more grown-up style: "Would I!"—rolling her brown eyes like a colored girl.
Tim had been listening to the conversation.
"I'd like to go out right now and buy her one," he said. "I'd like to buy her the most beautiful God-damned evening gown there ever was." He appeared to be on the point of bolting from the room to get it.
"I'll wear one after the war," Olga laughed. "These clothes are best for now. Can you imagine me playing the grande dame in an evening gown aboard the Bog s Noma?"
That idea provoked gales of laughter. It was a very gay dinner party, even though the food was atrocious and the wine was worse, and when it was over we all went back to the port to see that everything was in order there for the big stevedoring job we would have to tackle at six in the morning when the coal cars arrived on the pier.
The crowded harbor was indescribably beautiful in the moonlight. The vast clean shape of ships lay all about, their grey hulls gleaming silver or wrapped in velvet shadow. A soft night wind rippled the lake of mercury between them. We left our cab at the foot of the pier and walked out along the tracks past mountains of freight that had been landed at dusk and would be carried away at dawn.
The sound of many voices singing in chorus drifted down to us—voices like the Don Cossack choir. . . .
Suddenly Ivo threw his head back and poured forth great
golden notes as he recognized the song and joined in the
refrain. Olga, in full soprano, did the same. It was a Partisan
. marching song coming from the Bog s Nama. We fell in step
and linked arms as we advanced along the pier.
"Our stevedores are limbering up for tomorrow morning's work," Radic said, when the song was finished.
A little crowd had gathered at the end of the pier, coming from all parts of the harbor. There were British and American sailors from ships anchored a mile away and a small group of naval officers accompanied by Red Cross nurses from a hospital ship. One of the Partisan girls had strummed a few phrases of music on a guitar, sitting in the moonlight on the boat deck of the Bog s Nama; the Partisans had come over from all the ships—for the Jugoslavs are a musical people, like the Russians—and gathered to sing their rousing battle songs; the audience had drifted in. Now it was a full-fledged concert with the music sung in four voices and t"he audience as quiet and serious as they would have been in Carnegie Hall.
Our arrival caused a break in the program and Olga had the excellent idea of serving a round of rakjia to all the singers and their guests on the pier. The singers crowded 'round, eager for her to take her place among the sopranos and I learned that she was famous among them for her fine voice. Tim and I joined the sailors on the pier, sitting on a five-hundred-pound bomb unloaded that afternoon from one of the lighters, but our dinner guests joined the choir on the boat-deck and the wonderful songs pealed forth again. The repertoire appeared inexhaustible, as, indeed, it very nearly is; for every great incident in the Partisan struggle against the fascist invader is celebrated in song produced at once by the nation's leading poets and musicians. A new Partisan recruit's first task is to learn them, so that he can add his voice to the choruses when marching. These stirring and heroic songs sustain them in their darkest hours, help them to keep going when they have already marched beyond fatigue and exhaustion and the limits of endurance—and must still go on.
It was one o'clock in the morning before the singing ended and we drank our last round of rakjia and said goodnight. Petrinovic reported everything ready for the coal-heaving task in the morning. There was not a professional stevedore among the Partisans; some of them were sailors, some were business men; many were well educated and spoke several languages; but all of them would be there at six o'clock to take the coal off the cars.
"What wonderful people," one of the British naval officers said as we walked away. "Who in the world are they?"
"Tito's men from the National Army of Liberation in Jugoslavia—Partisans," Tim answered.
"I know," the officer answered. "That's why they wear the star on their caps, isn't it? But who are they and what are they doing here? They sing like a great professional choir. Is it true that they are all Communists?"
"About nine out of ten of the people on these ships are good Catholics," Tim answered. "What is a Communist?"