by Patricia Murphy
Middle Grade Historical
ages 9 and up
It's 1943 and young Leo tries to protect his disabled sister Ruby as the Nazis invade Italy. After his mother is arrested, he turns to Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty to save them. But he is no ordinary priest. Known as 'The Pimpernel of the Vatican', he is the legendary organiser of the Rome Escape Line. Soon Leo is helping out with the secret network dedicated to saving lives of escaped prisoners. Bust as the sinister Nazi leader Kappler closes in, can Leo stay out of his evil clutches?
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In this extract from Chapter 11, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and 12 year old Leo visit the Palazzo of Prince Filippo Doria Pamphilj, a well known Anti-Fascist to collect funds to help the Rome Escape Line. After admiring the astonishing picture galleries on the first floor, the visit is interrupted by a Nazi raid led by the Nazi commander Kappler.
The incident was based on a real story about the exploits of the Monsignor who was known as the “Pimpernel of the Vatican” after the story of the English count in the French Revolution. The Monsignor was famous for this ingenuity and his disguises. Kappler had an obsession with capturing the Monsignor who consistently outwitted him and this was only one of many attempts.
“It’s Kappler! He’s here with troops to storm the palazzo! We’d better hide!”
I peeked out a window. The Nazis had blocked off the street and stormtroopers were fast approaching. Across the piazza I could see Kappler in a leather coat getting out of his car. And it was the very man we had seen on the road to Rome. I knew by the cut of him. Angry, cold, precise even at this distance.
“Go and stall them at the door,” the Prince instructed his secretary. “Hugh, I urge you to hand yourself in. They might shoot you if they think you are resisting arrest. The game’s up.”
“If they don’t find me and the money, they have no proof of anything. I’m away!”
Hugh was already across the room, his hand on the doorknob. He had grabbed his rucksack and stuffed the cash into one of the inner pockets in his cassock.
“I’ll make a run for it. Or hide in one of your thousand rooms. Leo, stay with the Prince!”
But I was having none of it and was on his tail. He shrugged and let me follow him.
We ran blindly down a corridor, away from the front door. There was a short flight of stairs leading to the cellars. Hugh stopped for a moment and ran down the stairs with me close behind him.
Down in the bowels of the house, the cellars were cold and musty. We heard a strange rushing noise from one cellar and looked in. Coal was pouring down a chute, a rumbling black waterfall.
Hugh and I ran in. I wondered if he was thinking of hiding in the coal. The acrid dust was already hitting the back of my throat and making my eyes sting.
“They’re getting ready for the winter delivery,” Hugh whispered to me. “And where there’s coal, there are coalmen.”
There was a break in the coal pouring in. Hugh risked a look up through the trapdoor.
Two grimy coalmen were above us, worriedly watching something – no doubt the SS men. Then they moved away.
Hugh climbed up the mound of coal and grabbed a coal sack from a pile at the top of the chute. The coalmen had turned away I could see by the mischievous look on his face that he’d had an idea. He took off his robe and cassock and stripped down to his vest and trousers, stuffing the clothes in the sack together with his rucksack. Then he smeared his face with coal and so did I. I enjoyed that bit.
Just as one of the coalmen was bending to throw in the next bag, Hugh called up, his voice little more than a breath. “In nomine Patris et Fillii et Spiritus Sancti.” In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The coalman started when he heard the sound coming from the cellar. He looked like he’d seen a ghost! But his face softened, recognising the Monsignor.
“You’ll be doing God’s work if you let us through,” Hugh said softly in Italian.
The coalman nodded and called to his companion. They whispered to each other and then dropped down into the cellar. Without exchanging a word, Hugh and I climbed up.
There was a line of SS men, grimly focused on blocking the side entrance and other doorways. Hugh strode by them toward the coal lorry, carrying the bag of “coal” on his back, the rucksacks hidden inside. I cursed myself as I suddenly remembered my little diary hidden within, betraying my true feelings about their filthy leader. I followed close behind him, my heart hammering so hard I thought it would give me away. I had that strange feeling I get when I’m nervous, like the whole world is frozen in time. The SS men barely glanced at us. In fact, they backed off as if they were worried their uniforms would get dirty. But there wasn’t the blackest coal that was as dirty as those SS men.
And here she is...
Patricia Murphy is the bestselling author of The Easter Rising 1916 – Molly’s Diary and Dan’s Diary – the War of Independence 1920-22 published by Poolbeg.
She has also written the prize-winning “The Chingles” trilogy of children’s Celtic fantasy novels. Patricia is also an award winning Producer/Director of documentaries including Children of Helen House, the BBC series on a children’s hospice and Born to Be Different Channel 4’s flagship series following children born with disabilities. Many of her groundbreaking programmes are about children’s rights and topics such as growing up in care, crime and the criminal justice system. She has also made a number of history programmes including Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson for Channel 4 and has produced and directed films for the Open University.
Patricia grew up in Dublin and is a graduate in English and History from Trinity College Dublin and of Journalism at Dublin City University. She now lives in Oxford with her husband and young daughter.
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