Authors: Helen Macinnes
Frances collected herself. “Oh, hello. How are you?” She made hasty introductions. “Freiherr Sigurd von Aschenhausen— John Clark, Sir Michael Hampton, George Sanderson. Herr von Aschenhausen, you know, was an undergraduate along with Richard.”
There was a pause.
“Charming to return and find Evelyn Waugh and Oxford still inseparable.” Von Aschenhausen’s voice was friendly. The three undergraduates maintained a polite smile in place. Frances knew they were placing his date of residence at the University very accurately. She thought of explaining that it wasn’t black satin sheets but Catalonian architecture which they had been discussing, and then gave up the idea as being more trouble than it was probably worth. Even allowing for the foreigner’s favourite indoor sport of underestimating the English, surely von Aschenhausen couldn’t be serious. After all he had been to three universities, one in Germany, one in England and one in America. One thing he must know about undergraduates by this time, and that was that they were always in revolt. They were never static. The only way they could form their minds was by opposing accepted opinion. Frances herself had seen the swing of the pendulum away from the æsthete to the politically conscious young man who Studied Conditions. The æsthete himself had been in rebellion against the realism of the post-War group.
George made some polite remark to cover up their
embarrassment. Michael was lighting a cigarette. John was gazing into the middle distance. Frances remembered he was allergic to Germany; since that kick four years ago when he hadn’t saluted a procession in Leipzig. The conversation limped along, the undergraduates hoping that von Aschenhausen would go; but he didn’t. Frances did her best: she talked about summer holidays. The undergraduates were going to France; von Aschenhausen was returning to Berlin. She explained that Richard and she would like to have their usual view of mountains.
“Where exactly were you thinking of going?” asked von Aschenhausen.
“We were in the South Tyrol last year. I’d like to get back there just once more”—Frances’ voice was honey-sweet—“just before the volcano erupts.” The Englishmen smiled grimly. The German protested politely.
“What! With this peaceful England? There will be no war, no general war. Just look at everyone in this room…” Unconsciously he straightened his back as he looked round the room. “And there’s not a soldier among you,” was the implication. He might just as well have said it. Michael flicked a piece of cigarette ash off his wounded arm. He spoke for the first time.
“There’s a limit to everything, you know. Goodbye, Frances. I must go now. Have a good time this summer.”
The others had to go now too, it seemed.
Von Aschenhausen remained. Frances shook herself free from her embarrassment. After all, he used to be amusing and gay. He had made many friends when he was up at Oxford; he had been invited around a good deal. She wondered how he
was getting along in the New Germany; he used to laugh off any political discussions by protesting that he wasn’t interested in politics. She racked her brains for something tactful to say. It was difficult in this summer of 1939. You were so conscious of nationality now. She was relieved when von Aschenhausen spoke.
“I am afraid that young man did not like me particularly,” he said. “Is it because I am a German, or is it his usual manner? I have noticed that a cripple is usually more bitter than the ordinary man.”
“Cripple?” Frances’ eyes widened; she was at a loss for words.
“Of course, there
a change in the attitude here towards me,” he continued. “Six years ago I had many friends. Today— well”—he smiled sadly—“it would be better if I came as an exile.”
“I wondered at first if you were, and then I thought not.”
“How did you know?” He looked at her amusedly.
“By your clothes.” She looked pointedly at his Savile Row suit. He hadn’t liked that; his smile was still there, but it was less amused—good—cripple indeed!
“It is really very sad for a German to find how misjudged and abused his country is. Of course, our enemies control the Press in foreign countries, and they have been very busy. They have clever tongues.”
“Have they? It is strange, isn’t it, how criticism of Germany has grown even in countries which were once really very close to her. I wonder how it could have happened.”
He looked as if he didn’t know quite how he should take that. She gazed at him steadily with wide blue eyes. He smiled sadly.
“You see, even you have changed. It is depressing to return to Oxford, which I loved, and to find myself surrounded by glaciers.” Was the man being really sincere, wondered Frances, or was it just another of those pathetic stories?
“Perhaps it is the change in you which has changed us.”
He looked surprised. “Oh, come now, Mrs. Myles. I haven’t changed so very much. I am still interested in literature and music. I haven’t become a barbarian, you know. Politically— well, I have progressed. Everyone does, unless he is a cow. I am more realistic than I once was, less sentimental. I’ve seen the stupidities committed in the name of idealism and abstract thinking. People are made to be led. They need leadership and with strong leadership they can achieve anything. At first they must take the bad with the good; in the end they will forget the bad, because the ultimate good will be so great for them.” He spoke with mounting enthusiasm.
“You believe you have not changed. And yet under the leadership which you praise so much you may only read certain books, listen to certain music, look at certain pictures, make friends with certain people. Isn’t that limiting yourself?”
“Oh, well, limiting oneself to the good, eliminating the bad—all that is better in the end.”
is to say what is good for you or bad for you? Is it to be your own judgments, educated at Heidelberg, Oxford, and Harvard, or is it to be some self-appointed leader who can’t even speak grammatical German?” Von Aschenhausen didn’t like that either. He obviously had no answer ready for that one.
Frances kept her voice gentle. “You see, you
changed. Do you remember the Rhodes scholar who preceded you here? Intelligent man, quiet, and very kind. What’s his name?
Rotha, wasn’t it? You liked him then. But where is he now? Oranienburg, I heard.”
Von Aschenhausen made an impatient gesture. “That is all very sentimental, Mrs. Myles. It is time that the British really saw the things which matter. Discipline and strong measures are needed in today’s Europe. It is a more dangerous and forbidding place than it was six or seven years ago.”
“That is just our point,” said Frances. “What made Europe more dangerous and forbidding?”
He laughed, but it didn’t sound jovial.
“You are a very prejudiced person, I can see. I suppose you will now lecture me gravely on the wickedness of Germany’s claims to natural
It is easy to talk when you have a large Empire.”
“On the contrary, Herr von Aschenhausen, I like to think of all people having their
, whether they are Germans or Jews or Czechs or Poles.”
His voice grated. He was really angry. “It is just such thoughts as these which have weakened Britain. In the last twenty-five years she could have established herself as ruler of the world. Instead, she makes a Commonwealth out of an Empire, and they won’t even fight to help her when she has to fight. She leaves the riches of India untapped; she urges a representative government on Indians who were about to refuse it. She alienates Italy with sanctions. She weakens herself all the time, and she thinks it is an improvement.”
“Hello, you are being very serious in this corner.” It was Richard.
“I’ve been having a lesson in statecraft,” said Frances, conscious of Richard’s eyes on the two pink spots on her cheeks. I shouldn’t let myself get angry, she thought, and listened to von Aschenhausen, once more smiling and plausible. She had the feeling that he was trying to cover up, as if he were annoyed with the impression he had given her. He was very polite as they said goodbye. He bowed low, his composure completely regained.
“I hope we meet again,” he said. “And don’t worry, Mrs. Myles. You will see that England will not be at war. You are all good pacifists, here. Enjoy yourselves abroad.”
Richard said, “I hope so,” and smiled. He took his wife’s arm and piloted her skilfully to the door. Frame waved a sherry bottle from two groups away.
“Lively party,” Frances called over to him, but the noise of voices around her drowned her words. Frame’s answer was also unheard. They exchanged smiles of understanding, a wave of the hand, and then Frances and Richard were outside the room into quietness and fresh air.
Richard lowered his voice. “I got to you as quickly as I could when I saw an argument had developed. I thought you had sense enough by this time not to waste your breath arguing with a Nazi. He is, isn’t he?”
“Yes. I think he didn’t mean to show it, but I made him angry.”
“What interests me is what he said to anger
“Was it obvious?” Frances was dismayed.
“To me, yes. No one else would notice. What was it anyway?”
Frances shook her head.
“All right; let’s drop it. I hope you weren’t too intelligent,
though. Peter wants us to be the unworldly don with his dim wife.”
Frances stared. “But we needn’t start that business until we are on the boat train.”
“Probably not; still, you didn’t notice Peter taking any chances, did you?”
“I must say I thought he was a little—theatrical. He was very unlike himself.”
Richard shook his head slowly. “No to both of these. He was too worried to be theatrical. By the way, he didn’t turn up at the party.”
“Perhaps he changed his mind,” said Frances.
“Perhaps. Or perhaps he was just being very sure that he wouldn’t meet us again. That’s probably nearer it.” Richard’s voice was gloomy.
Frances pressed his arm to her side. “Cheer up, Richard, or you’ll have me worried in case I spoil your fun. It’s one of the troubles of having a wife, you know. You just can’t get rid of her.” She was rewarded with almost a smile.
But the sun had gone, and with it the bronze in the leaves overhead. The playing fields were empty. Over the grey walls and the sharply pointed rooftops the sounds of bells followed them as they walked slowly towards their house.
The rest of the week passed quickly. Frances was busy with the closing of their house. She also made a hectic dash to London for some clothes she “simply must have.” Richard finished the odds and ends of work which face a tutor towards the end of term—but from Peter Galt they heard nothing.
“Which means we are to go ahead,” said Richard at breakfast on Wednesday.
That morning he bought their tickets to Paris and interviewed the bank about a supply of Traveller’s Cheques and some French money. The expense of their unknown journeys had worried him, but his bank manager, who had always been tactful about overdrafts, met him with a discreet smile. The bank had been authorised to give Mr. Myles a letter of credit. Richard did not ask who had authorised it. The bank manager treated it all as something merely routine.
In the evening Richard hunted through his bookshelves and
picked out the Baedekers and maps. He had a fair collection of these, for since his first year at Oxford he had spent part of each summer walking and scrambling his way across mountains into villages. He spread them out around him as he sat on the floor of the study, and lit his pipe. He wondered which he could omit: surely the Pyrenees and Majorca would be unnecessary. Peter had hinted in the direction of Central Europe. Still, it was better to be safe; he knew his way about these maps, and they ought to go along, all of them. He would take less clothes if his suitcase got too crowded.
Frances came in, her hair brushed loosely to her shoulders.
“Don’t overwork, darling,” she said with mock concern. “I begin to feel exhausted. I came in to ask you to sharpen my pencil.” She held out a miserable stub.
“What on earth do you do with your pencils?” asked Richard. “Gnaw them?”
Frances disregarded this with the adroitness of four years of marriage. She looked at the note-book in her hand, and checked off the items she had written there. Richard watched her as she bit her lip and counted. He felt that wave of emotion which came to him when he looked at Frances in her unguarded moments; and he had the bleak horror which always attacked him then when he thought how easy it might have been never to have met her.
Frances straightened her legs. “That’s that,” she said. “Just my own things to pack tomorrow after Anni departs. Richard, that is going to be a difficult moment. Other summers it was different. She always knew she would be coming back in time for October. She seems to feel she will never be back here. I found her packing in floods of tears this evening. I’ve sent
her out now to say goodbye to her friends. So there goes the best cook we shall ever have. It was really rather painful this evening. I’ve got just as much attached to her as she has to us. She wants her father’s farm to have the honour of a visit from the
if they should visit Innsbruck this summer.”
Richard finished sharpening the pencil. “Her people were pro-Dollfuss, weren’t they?”
“They were… I have a feeling that they have changed. Anni has been very silent about them since she returned last year. One thing she did tell me. Her sister told her that if she came back to England and a war broke out she would be stoned to death. That is what they said we did in 1914. Isn’t it appalling?”
“Well, I suppose if a nation allows concentration camps, it will find it hard to believe that other people don’t use similar methods. Cheer up, old girl, who cares what a lot of uncivilised people think anyway? It’s only the opinion of the civilised that really matters.”
“Yes, but it looks as if a lot of the civilised will be killed because they ignored the thoughts of the uncivilised. Ignoring doesn’t expose them, you know, Richard.” She traced a pattern on the carpet with her pencil. “Sorry, darling, I’m tired, and depressed. We’ve all gone so political these days. I worry and worry inside me, and I think everyone else is doing the same; it is difficult to forget what we all went through last September.”