Jack Higgins – Night of the Fox

Jack Higgins – Night of the Fox

Jack Higgins – Night of the Fox

The German Occupation of the British Channel Islands during the Second World War is a matter of fact. Although mention is made of certain political and military leaders within the historical context of the period, it must be stressed that this is a work of fiction, nor is any reference intended to living persons.

The Romans used to think that the souls of the departed stayed near their tombs. It was easy to believe that on a cold March morning, with a sky so black that it was as if night was about to fall.

I stood in the granite archway and looked in at the graveyard. The notice board said Parish Church of St. Brelade and the place was crammed with headstones and tombs, and here and there a granite cross reared up. There was a winged angel on the far side, I noticed that, and then thunder rumbled on the horizon and rain swept in across the bay.

The porter at the hotel had given me an umbrella and I put it up and ventured in. On Sunday in Boston I’d never heard of the British Channel Islands off the coast of France or the Island of Jersey. Now it was Thursday and here I was having traveled halfway round the world to seek the final answer to something that had taken three years out of my life.

The church was very old and built of granite. I moved toward it through the tombstones, pausing to look out over the bay. The tide was out and there was a fine sweep of golden sands extending to a concrete seawall and I could see my hotel.

I heard voices and, turning, saw two men in cloth caps, sacks over their shoulders, crouching under a cypress tree by the far wall of the graveyard. They stood up and moved away, laughing together as if at some joke, and I noticed they were carrying spades. They disappeared around the back of the church and I crossed to the wall.

There was a freshly dug grave, covered with a tarpaulin although the tree gave it some protection from the rain. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so excited. It was as if it had been waiting for me and I turned and moved through the headstones to the entrance of the church, opened the door and went inside.

I’d expected a place of darkness and gloom, but the lights were on and it was really very beautiful, the vaulted ceiling unusual in that it was constructed of granite, no evidence of wooden beams there at all. I walked toward the altar and stood for a moment, looking around me, aware of the quiet. There was the click of a door opening and closing. A man approached.

He had white hair and eyes of the palest blue. He wore a black cassock and carried a raincoat over one arm. His voice was dry and very old and there was a hint of Irish to it when he spoke. “Can I help you?”

“Are you the rector?”

“Oh, no.” He smiled good-humoredly. “They put me out to grass a long time ago. My name is Cullen. Canon Donald Cullen. You’re an American?”

“That’s right.” I shook hands. He had a surprisingly firm grip. “Alan Stacey.”

“Your first visit to Jersey?”

“Yes,” I said. “Until a few days ago I never knew the place existed. Like most Americans, I’d only heard of New Jersey.”

He smiled. We moved toward the door and he carried on, “YouVe chosen a bad time of the year for your first visit. Jersey can be one of the most desirable places on earth, but not usually during March.”

“I didn’t have much choice,” I said. “You’re burying someone here today. Harry Martineau.”

He had started to pull on his raincoat and paused in surprise. “That’s right. I’m performing the ceremony myself, as a matter of fact. Two o’clock this afternoon. Are you a relative?”

“Not exactly, although I sometimes feel as if I am. I’m an assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard. I’ve been working on a biography of Martineau for the past three years.”

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Categories: Higgins, Jack