Authors: Helen Macinnes
“The edition does exist,” he said, as politely as he could. “Teubner printed it in Leipzig in 1836.”
The girl took the sheet of paper and held it without looking at it. The truth is, thought Frances, she doesn’t want us here at all.
Richard raised his voice.
“Is there anyone here, then, who
know about German lyric poetry?” The girl’s face was still expressionless, but her eyes shifted for one moment to a door in the back wall of the shop.
“We haven’t got it,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” said Richard. Frances knew by the cold edge in
his voice that he was angry. She moved over to the pile of books on the nearest table and lifted a volume. If it came to a test of endurance, she was determined to outlast the girl.
“Music here,” she said with charming surprise. She kept her voice as lighthearted as she could, and gave the silent girl a dazzling smile.
“You don’t mind if I look through these? Thank you so much.” Without waiting for an answer, Frances proceeded to blacken her white gloves on the dusty covers.
The door at the back of the shop opened. A short, stout man entered. He was in his shirtsleeves, and he mopped his brow with a handkerchief. He had shut the door behind him, but not before Richard had smelled something singeing, something burning. Paper could it be?
The small man looked at the girl in some irritation as he said, “I thought I heard customers.” He turned his back on her abruptly and listened to Richard’s questions. The girl picked up her scissors again, and went on with her work, but Frances noticed that she made only a pretence of being busy.
The bookseller was interested. “That was a very fine collection,” he said. “I had a copy at one time, but I believe it was bought. Over here I have some of the older editions of lyrics; I’ve so many books I sometimes forget what I have.” He pointed to the farthest bookshelves. His eyes were fixed for a few moments on the red rose of Frances’ hat.
She said, “I am very interested in some of these old song collections.” She waved her hand towards the music table. The bookseller looked at her gloves in dismay.
“But the books are filthy,” he cried. “Ottilie, where is the duster?” Ottilie mumbled something about the next room.
“Get it then,” he said sharply. Ottilie went reluctantly towards the back door.
“Helpful creature,” said Richard, more to himself than to the others. Frances had already picked up a large green volume, which she had noted particularly. “Songs of All Nations” read the fading gold letters in German. She turned quickly to the page which the index had numbered. She smiled to the bookseller.
“You are very kind,” she said, and smoothed down the page with the back of her hand. She held the book flat on the table so that both men could see the song title clearly. The bookseller’s eyes flickered as they read “O
My Love’s Like a Red, Red Rose
(translated from the English).” And then he smiled gently, his round fat face creasing with genial puckers. He mopped his brow again, and Frances closed the book carefully. She had just replaced it exactly when Ottilie was with them again. She had come back very quickly indeed, for such a slow-moving person. She shook her head disapprovingly over the soiled gloves.
She actually spoke. “It would have been better to take off your gloves,” she said.
“But my hands would have become dirty.”
“It is easier to wash hands than gloves.”
“But I couldn’t put my gloves on again, over dirty hands,” explained Frances gently. Ottilie shrugged her shoulders, and then suddenly became aware that the two men had gone to the far corner of the room. Frances hardheartedly pointed out a book to dust. It was a curiosity on early Church music.
“Do you like to sing?”
The girl said, “Sometimes.” She looked as if she were going to follow the men.
“Do you like Mozart or do you prefer Wagner?” Frances continued relentlessly.
“Wagner.” If eyes could poison, I am already writhing on the ground, thought Frances.
At that moment, the bookseller was shaking his head sadly. His voice was clearer. “No, I am afraid it’s gone. Ottilie, do you remember a small book bound in red calf which I bought from Professor Wirt?” Ottilie shook her head too; she made a movement as if to go over to where the men stood.
“Have you got any editions of
for a soprano voice?” cut in Frances with her disarming smile. Ottilie threw one last glance at the bookseller. The words “edition”, “Leipzig”, “difficulty” reached them. It sounded the usual business talk. Ottilie searched for the songs. Despite the foreigner’s smile there was a certain firmness in her tone of voice. Ottilie knew that type of customer. The quickest way to get rid of them was to find what they asked for; they knew what they wanted. If only she had recognised the type when they entered the shop they would have been away by this time. But they had seemed easy to deal with, judging from their appearances. She found two editions, and watched Frances look through the contents with interest. Her last suspicion melted as the men came back to the table.
Richard addressed Frances. He spoke in English, carefully, noting the sudden gleam of concentration in Ottilie’s eyes. He chose simple words, which would be understood by anyone who had had English at school.
“He cannot find the book. He must order it from Leipzig. Perhaps it may not be there. It may take time to find it elsewhere. It is a pity.”
Frances recovered herself, and said gravely and just as clearly, “I am sorry. Perhaps we should go to another bookshop.” She was enjoying herself immensely.
Richard returned to German. “My wife suggests another shop. Would you be so good as to advise us?” The bookseller smiled benignly. He dictated two addresses to Ottilie, who wrote them down, and Richard put the slip of paper in his pocket.
“If you cannot find it,” the bookseller said, “then come and see us again. If I am not here, then Ottilie will take the order.” He was looking speculatively over Frances’ shoulder, out into the street. “Good day,” he added suddenly, and walked with quick short steps to the back room.
The abrupt ending startled Richard. He saw a look of warning in his wife’s eye. She had either noticed or felt something. As Ottilie wrapped one of the song-books for Frances they made their way to a bookcase near the door. Richard observed that the girl was glancing at her wristwatch, that she was taking little interest in tying up the parcel. As Richard handed her the money, she seemed as if she were not even counting it… And then the front door swung open. It opened with such terrific violence that the hinges shrieked a protest which made Frances jump.
Three large men strode in, almost upsetting Ottilie. Richard could have sworn that there was almost an approach to a smile on her face. She gestured quietly towards the back door. The three men strode on. Their boots hypnotised Frances. They moved as if they belonged to the same body. They drew their revolvers. The leader turned the handle of the door, and then kicked it open. But there were no shots, no voices. Frances found herself breathing again.
She looked with just sufficient amazement at the girl. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Burglars?” The girl gave her first real smile. Frances watched its contempt and was satisfied.
The men filed out of the back room. Their self-assurance was replaced by bad temper.
“Where is he?” the leader snapped. The girl’s smile faded. Contempt gave way to fear.
“He went in there.” She pointed to the back room. “There is no way out.
“There is a window, fool. Who are these?” He nodded towards Frances and Richard.
“Customers.” The girl was sullen in her disappointment.
“What is your name? What do you want here?” He fired questions at Richard.
Richard looked surprised, and then let the right tone of slight annoyance creep into his voice as he answered. Frances registered appropriate amazement but she left everything to Richard. This was his show, and he was doing remarkably well as the innocent bystander. He was explaining at some length that they had tried two other bookshops and had failed in their search for this book; that they had been directed to the smaller second-hand dealers; that the book was still unfound; that the assistant in this shop had been good enough to write down the names of two other shops where… He at last found the slip of paper with Ottilie’s sharply pointed script, and handed it to the leader of the men. Ottilie, on the verge of tears, verified the statement. It suddenly dawned on Frances that A. Fugger was gaining some very valuable minutes. It seemed to dawn on the leader too, or perhaps his first suspicions were fading. He impatiently interrupted Richard’s description of the book.
“I shall leave this man with you to get further particulars. I
have work to do.” He stepped back, brought his heels sharply together, and raised his arm. He barked out his war cry. Now we’re sunk, thought Frances. She saw Richard stiffen slightly, and then relax again as he gave an inclination of his head and said, “Good day.”
The German trooper raised his voice. “I gave you our German greeting!”
“And I gave you our English one.” Richard’s voice was very quiet. “That is only politeness.”
At the word “politeness,” the German looked searchingly at Richard, and then at Frances. They held their expressions, and returned look for look. There was a moment’s tension, and then the two uniforms had marched away, leaving the third to produce a note-book and pencil. It was a good sign that they hadn’t been taken to some kind of police station, thought Frances, and touched the wooden table.
It was all over in ten minutes. The Nazi snapped his book shut. They all made such business-like gestures, thought Richard irritably. Did it really prove greater efficiency to walk with a resounding tread, to open doors by practically throwing them off their hinges, to shut an insignificant note-book with an imitation thunder-clap? Probably not at all, but—and here was the value of it—it made you look, and therefore feel, more efficient. The appearance of efficiency could terrify others into thinking you were dynamic and powerful—but strip you of all the melodrama of uniforms and gestures, and detailed regime worked out to the
th degree of supervision and parrot phrases and party cliches, and then real efficiency could be properly judged. It would be judged by your self-discipline, your individual intelligence, your mental and emotional balance,
your grasp of the true essentials based on your breadth of mind and depth of thought. Richard studied the young man opposite him. Viewed dispassionately, he was tall and thin; he was already going bald; his chin was weak despite the posed pout of the lips; but whatever strength his chin lacked, his eyes with their intense stare sought to gain. It was a pity the effect was so like that of a goldfish.
“That is all,” the Nazi said. “We shall find you at the hotel if there is anything else we need to know.”
Frances leaned over the table and fixed him with wide-open, innocent eyes. “Why?” she asked gently.
“Yes. Why? We are English visitors, we visit your bookshops; we buy a book, and then you ask us questions and questions because the man who owned this shop was a burglar.”
“Well, don’t tell me he was a
Frances was shocked. The trooper looked perplexed.
“I mean,” explained Frances as if to a child, “in England the police come to arrest a man if he is suspected of a crime like theft or murder.”
The man exchanged a look of amusement with Ottilie. Then he said stiffly, “This is not England, thank God.”
“Quite,” said Richard.
Frances was keeping her jaw clenched. Keep me from laughing out loud, she prayed, especially when it comes. It came. The arm shot out, the heels clicked, the magic words were invoked. The Myleses bowed and said “Good day,” gravely.
When they left A. Fugger’s bookshop, Ottilie had again
picked up her scissors and was bending over the table.
“Charming wench,” said Richard. “One of the higher types, I suppose, of Nordic womanhood.”
Frances had her own private joke. “No one told her to stop her work, and so she goes on. How long will it take before she realises that she is already out of a job? Richard, if ever a sailor needed grog, that sailor’s me.”
They walked back to the old town at a medium pace. They didn’t see anyone following them, but probably someone would. Richard, continuing his role of the wandering scholar, discovered another small bookshop with much second-hand material. The assistant, a pleasant young man with really gentle manners—Frances sat on a chair and watched him with a mixture of pleasure and relief—promised to make inquiries for the book, after Richard had spent half an hour in the poetry section. He bade them good morning like a human being. In fact, thought Frances, he is the first really obviously human being I’ve met since I arrived here.
When they got to their hotel, Frances went upstairs to change her gloves. Richard sat in the entrance hall and looked through a Nürnberg paper. It seemed as if the inhuman Poles and the wicked Jews were behaving with abominable, not-to-be-tolerated cruelty to the Germans who were living in Poland. The editorial worked itself up into a fine lather. It made crude reading. By the time Frances came downstairs, he was very bored. It was not only crude, it was an insult to intelligence.
He looked at Frances, and was instantly aware that something had happened. The look she gave him was too intense. She surprised him by suddenly standing on her toes and kissing him; but it brought her close enough for him to hear the word “Searched,” spoken with motionless lips. So they had taken advantage of their slow return to the hotel, as he had hoped they might.
He returned her kiss and said, “Good.”
Frances saw the American, whose foot she had mutilated yesterday morning, halt in amazement. On an impulse, she smiled to him. He reddened as he raised his hat and turned hastily away. Perhaps he didn’t like to be found looking quite so amazed.
“Let’s eat,” she suggested. “I’m ravenous. Only, not a sausage place.” She shuddered. Last night’s dinner had been at one of the sausage showplaces, small and amusing, except that the whole menu was devoted to sausage. It was strange how her mind, as well as her stomach, rebelled when the choice was sausage or sausage or sausage.