That profound-sounding title actually introduces a rather easy post (I think) for the lazy or exhausted days after Christmas when no one feels, or at least I do not feel, like blogging and am stumped for ideas.
This scenario comes from a lightweight and entertaining novel by an author who can write much higher-level novels--Ellis Peters. This one is called The Horn of Roland, and, the cover advertising to the contrary notwithstanding, it is not a "classic whodunit," as no one gets killed in the entire book, except in the back-story, and then only by Nazis. You can't have a classic whodunit without a body.
The backstory isn't exactly a plot spoiler, as it is told within the first couple chapters, and here it is. See what y'all think:
The year is 1944. In a small Austrian mountain village, a 19-year-old boy, Lucas, is part of a secret group that guides people running from the Nazis through the Alps and safely into Switzerland. They have a system for getting false identity papers for the people they help, in case they are stopped. The group learns that their cover has been blown and that the SS are closing in within the next few days. The last remaining three members of the group, including Lucas, get identity papers made for themselves this time and arrange to meet and get away. Lucas is to pick up the papers for all three, meet his mentor, whom we'll call #1, and then go with him to meet #2, who for whatever reason needs help finding his way through the pass. (Perhaps he had some non-guide role in the group.)
Lucas comes back to the village with the papers only to find that the Nazis are already making their move and have cordoned off the entire small wooded area where he was to meet #1. He cannot get to the rendezvous without running straight into their arms. He waits for a couple of hours until they inexplicably call off the patrol and all go away. He slips quietly through the darkness to the rendezvous. Of course, #1 isn't there, but he meets a man who appears to be a gypsy who tells him that he heard a man arrested and that the patrol waited around for another hour after the arrest for someone else to come along. He leaves #1's fake identity papers with the gypsy, whom he instinctively trusts, with instructions as to how he might be able to get them to him if #1 should escape. Then he goes to meet #2 in the mountains, and both of them get away safely.
Nearly thirty years later, Lucas learns that #1's widow was told by the Nazis that he left immediately upon finding the rendezvous area cordoned off and that the widow has hated him ever since for ostensibly "betraying" her husband and "running for his life" in a cowardly manner. He spends the rest of the book trying to find a witness to prove that he did come to the rendezvous after all, though uselessly, as it turned out.
Question: Would it really have been wrong and cowardly for Lucas to have left immediately or after only a short wait in hiding when he returned to the town and saw the rendezvous area surrounded by a Nazi patrol?
It seems to me that he could quite reasonably have concluded what was, in fact, true--that his friend was doomed, either already arrested or merely being left to wait a while as bait in a trap for himself. If captured, Lucas would probably have been tortured and might have given away further information, harming others. Moreover, #2 was also his responsibility, waiting in the mountains for both his identity papers and for guidance. It seems to me that it was supererogatory for Lucas to wait the two hours and then to go to the rendezvous. In fact, the Nazis might quite easily have only appeared to go away while leaving some hunters still in hiding to catch him, so it could be argued that going when the evidence was so strong that his friend was already captured was itself unjustifiably reckless.
What do you think?