"A storm?" she said. "Oh, I hope not. I'm afraid I'll get seasick."
"You'll be fi ne. Just remember: don't stay in your cabin, go someplace where you can keep your eyes on the horizon."
"Is it that easy?"
"Yes. I spent two years at sea, that's how I know."
"You? A sailor?"
He nodded. "I ran away to sea when I was sixteen."
"Your poor mom!"
"I wrote them a letter," he said. "I went to Hamburg, and for a month all I did was sweep out the union hall, but then a Dutch ship needed a deckhand and I signed on and saw the world - Shanghai, Batavia, Calcutta..." This had been the purest possible luck; Stahl had gone to sea in the spring of 1914, before the war, on what by chance was the ship of a country that remained neutral, thus he was spared service for the enemies of Austria- Hungary.
"Say, you've had some adventures, haven't you," she said.
"I did. In 1916 we were shelled and set on fire, just off the coast of Spain. An Italian destroyer did that."
"But, you said 'neutral'..."
"We never knew why they did it. Exuberance, maybe, we didn't ask. But we managed to reach the port of Barcelona, where I got help from the Austrian legation. They could have sent me off to fight in the trenches, but instead they gave me a job, and that was my military service."
"What did you do?"
"I opened the mail. Made sure it got to the right people." She started to ask a question, but then a gust of wind hit her and she said "Brrr" and burrowed against Stahl, close enough now that her voice was soft. "So," she said, lingering on the word, "when did you decide to become an actor?"
"A little later, when I was back in Vienna." The Ile de France lifted and fell, hitting another wave. "I think, Iris, it might be time for you to go back to your cabin, your husband's probably beginning to wonder where you are."
"Oh, Jack sleeps like a log when he's drunk."
Excerpted from Mission to Paris by Alan Furst. Copyright © 2012 by Alan Furst. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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