Slowly but surely the train lurches to a halt. Hugo finishes his pastry. There are sounds of shouting outside and he wipes some of the condensation from the window with his thick glove. He can just make out vague, directionless flashes of light in the dark, against the banks of snow.
He looks across at the girl, and sees her eyes. Her pupils are huge. Her brow is wrinkled and shiny. She holds his eye contact so tightly that he cannot, for a moment or two, let go.
There are voices coming along the corridor, indistinct initially and growing in volume as they proceed towards them. For a second or two, Hugo cannot forgo a look as they approach and yet when he looks back, she is still looking right at him.
Imperceptibly, he nods. No-one else in the compartment notices, for it was such a small nod. Yet the girl sees it and just as subtly returns the tiny movement back to him.
Three soldiers enter; one with a flat cap at the front. All look very stern.
“Papers,” he grunts, without anything but formality in his body.
Hugo brushes the crumbs off his coat onto the floor, as the rigmarole runs through the first four in the compartment and then he casually holds out his own documents.
As the one seemingly in charge inspects his papers, he stiffens and looks up at Hugo, down and then back up again. He is virtually dribbling at the sight of Hugo and salutes stiffly. Belatedly, so do his two accomplices and there is an air of tension about. But it is a different tension from when they entered at first.
“Comrade,” he says. “I am sorry that we disturbed you.” He hands back the papers with two hands and bows.
He carries on to the final passenger.
The girl opens her ragged purse and passes a crumpled piece of paper, nothing like the one that Hugo gave up.
The officer takes one look and overreacts.
“Take her.” The two soldiers push their way in and just as they are about to grab the girl, Hugo puts a stiffened arm across, taking the breath away from the first soldier.
“No,” he says.
There is only a hint of resistance, before the officer quickly reacts.
“Stop. Stop!” He clumsily pulls the soldiers outside.
He looks at Hugo, with puzzled eyes. Questioning eyes; as if he is desperate to know why Hugo has intervened, yet also very keenly aware of his own perilous position.
“She is with me.” Hugo explains. “I am her guardian.”
“Of course. Sir.” The officer salutes.
Attempting to save face, he bustles his soldiers away, along the corridor to the next compartment and they continue their activities.
She looks at him again, a fraction more relaxed. He can see it in her eyes. In her whole demeanour.
It’s almost unnoticeable again, but he sees it. He is looking for it.
A tiny nod. A very small adjustment of her mouth into a very small smile.
“Thank you,” she mouths at only him.
Hugo tilts his head to acknowledge her gratitude.
And he moves his head in another tiny nod, in return.