HE WALKED into his study, switched on the reading lamp, drew the curtains and threw more logs on the blazing fire, for it was very cold in Berlin that evening in March, 1933. He pushed an armchair in front of the fire, a huge padded leather one which looked much too large for his short spare figure, and put beside the chair a table with a box of cigars on it, matches and a thick wad of papers in a cardboard cover with a label inscribed, “ ‘The Radio Operator,’ A Play, by Klaus Lehmann.” He had the air of a man who is preparing to enjoy a long-expected pleasure and does not intend small discomforts to spoil it. Every few moments he glanced at the clock. Finally he opened a cupboard door and looked inside, scowled, and rang the bell; a manservant answered it, a man as long, thin and melancholy as his master was short and cheerful.
“Franz, did I not say there should be beer?”
“I could not say for certain, sir.”
“When in doubt, Franz, provide it.”
“Very good, sir.”
“I rather think, Franz, that I have told you that before.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“Of course I say so, haven’t you just heard me? Don’t stand there arguing, go and get it.”
The servant’s long wrinkled face assumed exactly the expression of a pained bloodhound, and he slid out of the room. Franz came back with a tall jug, put it on the table and prepared to leave, but his master said, “Just a moment,” took two glasses from the cupboard, filled them both and handed him one.
“Drink success to ‘The Radio Operator,’ Franz,” he said. “This is a great moment, when one hears one’s first play being performed for the first time.”
Franz’s ugly face lit up. “It must be, sir. Prosit! ‘The Radio Operator.’ ”
They drank with appropriate solemnity, and Franz put his glass down. “Excuse me, sir, it is time.”
“Heavens, yes,” said the other, springing at the wireless set and switching it on, to be rewarded with the closing bars of a Beethoven concerto. Franz left the room, while his master settled down in the big armchair.
“You are now to hear,” said the announcer, “the first broadcast of a new play, ‘The Radio Operator,’ by Klaus Lehmann. There is only one character, the radio operator himself ”
The play opened with the usual background of Morse, starting very softly, growing louder and more insistent, then dying away again to a whisper as the only character began to speak. It would seem that even the Morse, unintelligible jumble of letters though it was, delighted its author, for he snuggled down into his chair and a self-satisfied smile illuminated his scarred face even before the speech began.
“Tonight I sit for the last time,” said the radio operator, “in the little cabin they call the wireless room, surrounded by the familiar instruments --"
“I hope to goodness that’s right,” muttered the author. “Don’t believe I was ever in a wireless room in my life.”
“-- for tomorrow we reach Hamburg and I go ashore for the last time. Next voyage another man will sit here in my place, listening to the myriad voices of the air--"
“Nice touch, that.”
The Morse rose in intensity again, drowning the operator’s voice for a moment, and again the author smiled.
“For my life at sea is ended, and tomorrow I retire. How well I remember when I first went to sea !”
The operator had started his career in a Jewish-controlled shipping line, where starvation wages, revolting food, and disgusting accommodation had combined with the slave-driving habits of the owners to make his young life a misery. “And if a free-born German dared to complain he was met with hectoring disdain and bullying laughter.”
“Not a good phrase,” said the playwright, frowning. “I meant to alter that and I forgot. Hectoring something else and disdainful laughter would be better.”
Then the war came, the wireless operator joined the Imperial Navy, and was wounded at the battle of Hiorns Reef.
“On that great day,” he said, “I saw with my own eyes the proud English battleships blow up with a thunderous roar and become as it were dust in a moment, while their cries for help came to my ears over the air.”
Again the Morse rose and sank again, and the author took a pull at his beer.
“And I sincerely hope that makes the English sit up and listen,” he said.
The operator came out of hospital. The war came to an end and there followed the dreadful years of defeat, when the mark slumped, food was bad or unobtainable, and the people perished.
“I walked the streets of Hamburg,” said the wireless operator, “out of work, out of money, out of hope, starving, destitute, wretched. ‘Will this go on for ever?’ I cried, ‘will no one deliver Germany from her chains?’ But heaven was merciful and sent us a Deliverer.”
“Came the Dawn,” commented the author, lighting a cigar.
“Our Leader,” continued the voice from the radio set, “had an uphill task indeed, such as only a superman could have performed, but he has done it, and what do we see today? A Germany free, powerful, respected and feared. Her ships sailing the seven seas again with ship’s companies proud to serve in them, and the tramp of her armies shaking the earth. At home her people are busy, contented and happy, and her children grow up healthy, strong and fair. We know to whom we owe all this, to whom all praise and honor is due, and we shall pay it, we and our children and our children’s children; in days to come the whole world shall pay it too, saying as I do, ‘Heil Hitler ! Heil Hitler ! Heil!”’
The Morse broke in again, rising to a staccato climax, only to be drowned in its turn by the strains of the Horst Wessel Song. The author closed his manuscript and relaxed in his chair.
“That ought to please Adolf,” said Klaus Lehmann, Deputy Chief of the German Police.
THE STEAMER Whistlefield Star was a biggish cargo boat six hours out of Hamburg for Cardiff. The senior wireless operator was approaching middle age, red-haired, stocky and freckled. He had seen service in destroyers in the Great War and was a little too apt to tell people all about it. The second mate, on the other hand, was the possessor of a wireless set which he claimed would bring in anything except the morning’s milk, and he kept it in the saloon. The wireless operator came in off duty and found the second mate producing hyena-like noises varied by cat fights in an attempt to tune out an overpowerful German station which was broadcasting a Beethoven concerto.
“For the love of Larry,” said the operator, “pipe down. Can’t a man get a bit of peace from the blasted wireless in his spare time?”
“I shall in a minute, if I can’t get anything but this high-brow stuff. Give me something with a tune to it.”
The concerto drew to its close and there followed an announcement in German. The next item started with Morse, at first very soft, working up in a crescendo and then falling quiet again.
“Here, Sparks,” said the unfeeling second mate, “something to amuse you.” But the wireless operator was too busy telling the steward what he thought of the tea to pay any attention. A voice on the radio started to talk, and after waiting a moment in the hope of something better the second mate was just beginning to tune away from it when the Morse broke in again. “Taa,” it said, “tit—taa —tit—tit, taa. Taa, tit—taa -tit—tit, taa.” This time the wireless operator sat up listening.
“Here,” he said, “hold that a moment. T-L-T. T-L-T. Where have I heard that before? It’s a call sign. I used to know it.”
The Morse died out when the German voice went on talking, talking, while the wireless operator scowled with thought.
“I have it,” he said suddenly. “One of our people in Germany. We had a list of call signs to listen for, and I’m sure that was one of ’em. T-L-T.”
“What?” said the mate. “Britishers broadcasting from Germany? When?”
“During the war.”
“But did they? Who were they? What were they doing?”
“Spying, like. Intelligence work they called it, an’ I’ll say they had to be pretty intelligent to get away with it. There was a few of them used to transmit with spark sets, used to get messages out that way. In code, of course, couldn’t make head nor tail of what the message--Listen !”
The Morse began again, and the wireless operator snatched a pencil and an old envelope from his pocket and jotted down letters as they came. “T-L-T. RKEHO——” When it ceased again he looked mournfully at the result.
“Well, there you are,” he said, “and what it all means I’ve no more idea than a blind kitten. I don’t know if I ought to do something about it, but I don’t know who to send it to now. Now, when I was in the Service-”
“Oh, lor’,” said the second mate, and unostentatiously quitted the saloon.
YOUNG EMSWORTH settled himself down in his chair before the receiving set in the Foreign Office, pulled the earphones over his head and listened with pleasure to the last movement of a Beethoven concerto, magnificently rendered. “If only we could always hear stuff like that,” he murmured, “instead of all the awful tosh we have to listen to.” He glanced with distaste at the program. A play by Klaus Lehmann called “The Radio Operator,” doubtless some of that dreadful propaganda stuff, news, a talk on the Hitler Youth Movement, a concert of light music. He sighed and drew a writing pad toward him, for it was his business to listen to what Germany was being told, and report upon anything rich and strange. Also within his reach was the switch of the recorder, an instrument which would, if required, make a record of what was said, so that the exact wording could be studied at leisure. The German announcer’s voice ceased, and the play began with a crackle of Morse.
An expression of speechless amazement crossed Emsworth’s face, he shot out one hand automatically to switch on the recorder and then took his headphones off, looked at them and put them on again, an idiotic gesture sometimes seen when a man cannot believe his ears.
“Tonight,” said the guttural German voice, “I sit for the last time in the little cabin they call the wireless room, surrounded---”
Emsworth pressed a bell switch and after a short pause a messenger came in, but Emsworth held up his hand for silence because the Morse had come on for the second time. When it ended, he said, “Is Mr. Wilcox still here? Go and see. If he is,ask him to be good enough to come to me here.”
Wilcox came in, an elderly man, heavy and pallid with years of sedentary employment.
“What’s the excitement, Emswrorth?”
“D’you remember telling me the other evening about people transmitting messages from Germany during the war? You quoted three or four call signs, wasn’t T-L-T one of them? Yes—well, here it is again in a Morse background to a German radio play about a wireless operator.”
“Got a recorder going? Good,” said Wilcox, snatching up another pair of headphones and plugging them in. “Oh, he’s still talking, I dare say we’ll get some more in a minute. Yes, I had your job in those days, but it was a bit more interest---”
He broke off and listened intently, jotting letters down on a slip of paper. “T-L-T. RKEHOSWR-39X—.” When the Morse had ended again, he said, “How many times has that come in?”
“That’s the third. Once at the beginning, quite short and nothing but the call sign repeated, and once since, before this.”
Wilcox nodded and went on listening. “More talky-talky, lots of, my hat, how these propagandists do gas,” he said. “No, I can’t remember exactly which this fellow was after all this lapse of time. After all, it’s sixteen years, but I can tell you right away it’s not the same fellow transmitting. I remember he had a distinctive, rather pedantic, style. I always put him down as a rather elderly self-taught amateur.”
“B—but,” spluttered young Emsworth, who found Wilcox’s calmness positively inhuman, “do you really think it’s the same man? After all these years? Do you think it’s real?”
“Yes, I think it may be real, but we can tell better when it’s decoded. No, I don’t think it’s the same man, I’ve said so already. As for ‘after all these years,’ stranger things have happened and will again. When it’s all over I’ll have those old codes turned up and--Sh !”
The Morse came in for the last time and was finally drowned by the Horst Wessel Song.
The next morning there was a conference on the subject attended by Wilcox and his immediate superior, also an elderly Colonel called up by telephone from the Sussex cottage to which he had retired when he left the War Office years before.
“The code in which these messages were sent,” said Wilcox, rustling papers, “was used during the late war by an agent of ours named Reck, who was science master of a school at Mülheim, near Cologne.”
“I remember,” said the Colonel. “A queer dry old stick. I only saw him once or twice. He never came to England unless it was really urgent, he had become so German that he could hardly speak English at all—he had forgotten it. Very useful man on his job.”
“Where is Reck now?”
“Dead. He took to drink, was removed to an asylum at Maintz, and died there,” answered Wilcox.
“Either Reck is not dead,” said Authority, “or he was careless enough to leave his code behind him and somebody has found it.”
“He went out of his mind,” said the Colonel. “I am sure of that, for I kept an eye on him. Denton went to see him once and said the poor old fellow complained of bright seraphim crawling up the walls.”
“He may well have mislaid his code,” said Wilcox. “I am sure it was not he who was transmitting. In any case, the question remains, who sent the message? Because at the best of times he only coded and sent messages, he did not originate them.”
“If it is genuine,” said the Foreign Office man, “it is probably somebody who was in touch with Reck in the old days. Is there anyone who went missing without trace and may have turned up again?”
“Plenty,” said the Colonel sadly, “but not, as it happens, connected with Reck. Let me see. Saunders was shot in Hampshire. Beckett runs a chicken farm in Dorset. Denton is in the Balkans, and has been for the last couple of years. Hambledon was drowned. MacVicar is in an engineering works on Tyneside. Thorpe is married and living quietly in Salisbury. No, none of Reek’s contacts are what you’d call missing. May I hear the message again?”
“The message was in four parts, in intervals in the play, you understand,” said Wilcox. “The first was merely the call sign repeated. Next came, ‘T-L-T. British agent in Germany begs to report thinks he may be of assistance.’ Then, ‘Your agent Arnold Heckstall will be delivered at Belgian frontier April 5.’ Finally, ‘Information in diplomatic bag reaching London April 6.’ That’s all.”
“April 5,” said Wilcox’s superior, “is Wednesday next; today’s Saturday. I have instructed the British Embassy in Berlin to watch their diplomatic bag like a mother brooding over her sick child. They may find somebody trying to do something to it.”
“Otherwise,” said the Colonel, “there’s nothing for it but to wait and see what what’s-his-name—Hinkson? —has to say, that is, if he turns up.” “Heckstall,” corrected the Foreign Office man. “We knew, of course, that they had gathered him in. We did not expect—er—a happy issue out of his afflictions.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Wilcox.
IN BERLIN there had been another conference between the heads of the police. “This fellow Heckstall,” said the Chief, “is a nuisance. I am perfectly certain he is an English agent.”
“Shoot him, then,” said the Deputy Chief cheerfully.
“I would with pleasure, but there have been too many Englishmen dying of heart failure in Germany lately. There was that curate. Who would have believed he really was?”
“The curate rankles with you, my dear Niehl.”
“I do not like to be misinformed,” said Niehl stiffly.
“Had I been in office at that time it would not have occurred,” said his subordinate soothingly. “In future we will be more careful with curates. Returning to Heckstall, leave him to me, I will manage him.”
“I should be very glad, my dear Lehmann. What plan had you in your mind?”
“If a man is put over the frontier at a quiet spot and found shot on Belgian territory in the morning, what business is it of ours?”
The third footman at the British Embassy brought a scuttle of coal into the Ambassador’s room, and made up the fire during his Excellency’s temporary absence. There were a number of papers on the table, some already tied into bundles for the diplomatic bag for London. The footman glanced hastily at the door, drew a long envelope from inside his coat, pushed it into the middle of one of these bundles, and immediately left the room as the Ambassador returned to it.
The conference at the Foreign Office was resumed in the evening of April 6 with one addition to the previous company, the British agent, Arnold Heckstall, who had flown from Brussels that afternoon.
“I was picked up in Berlin on the evening of the day I got there,” he said, “and consigned to jail. That was on Wednesday, March 22. They came and hauled me out for questioning occasionally, but it was not too drastic. Then yesterday evening some S.S. men came in, an officer and three others, and removed me. I thought I was going to be bumped off, of course, but they pushed me into a car and we drove to the Tempelhof Airdrome. A plane was all ready, so we took off and flew for about two hours and came down near Aachen. There were some more S.S. men there, and we all got into Mercédès cars, four of them, with the officer, two others and myself in the second, and started off again. It was then something after midnight and perfectly dark, but we went through Aachen, which I recognized, that was how I knew where we were. They had refused to answer my questions, or, indeed, to speak to me at all except to give me orders. Some time later the cars all came to a standstill, and in the headlights of the first I saw a frontier marking post at the side of the road just ahead. The officer got out and ordered the cars to be turned round to face the way we had come, which was done.”
Heckstall paused for a moment with an odd little smile and then continued.
“They came and told me to get out of the car, which I did. As there were about six of them pointing automatics at me, there did not seem to be much I could do about it. Two of them took me by the arms and marched me along the road toward the frontier, with the officer following behind. At the mark post he sent these two men back and told me to walk on, with him just behind prodding me with his automatic.
“When we were out of earshot of the rest of the party—we must have been out of sight too, in the darkness —he said, ‘Keep on moving ahead of me, don’t look round. When you hear two shots behind you, run like blazes. Remember what I’m saying, it’s important. Don’t come back. Officially you’re dead, so don’t let anyone at home see you, either. Go somewhere quiet and keep silkworms, and give my love to the Only Girl in the World!’ He spoke the last five words in English with a strong German accent.”
“Silkworms,” said the retired Colonel, thoughtfully.
“He said silkworms, sir.”
“Go on, please.”
“Then he fired two shots and I ran like blazes, as he said. I glanced back once or twice and could see him walking back to the cars; he was silhouetted against the lighted road. I did not know where I was except that it must be Belgium, but after wandering about for miles in the dark I reached Limburg at about four a.m., got an early train for Brussels and flew back by the first available plane.”
“Yes,” said his Foreign Office chief slowly, “we were hoping you would.”
“We were told you would be released on the sixth.”
Heckstall merely stared at him.
“Tell me, did you see this officer plainly? What was he like?”
“Oh, quite plainly. Rather a nondescript little man, grey eyes, rather ginger hair going grey, short but not fat, thin face with duelling scars across his right cheek, quick, energetic walk, rather a pleasant voice, cheerful-looking fellow, looked as though he could see a joke. Short nose, wide mouth rather thin-lipped, square jaw. He was evidently someone very important, his men fairly jumped to it when he spoke.”
“Duelling scars,” said Wilcox. “Evidently a pukka German.”
“Which year,” asked the Colonel, “was that song about the Only Girl in the World popular?”
“ ‘The Bing Boys?’ Oh, about ’16,” said Wilcox.
“I am sorry to have come back without the information, sir,” said Heckstall.
“We got that today,” said his chief unexpectedly.
The startled Heckstall stared at him for the second time and slowly colored to his eyes. “It came in the diplomatic bag from the British Embassy in Berlin today,” the Foreign Office man went on. “It was written—or rather typed—on British Embassy notepaper, enclosed in an official envelope, and tied up with a number of confidential documents about another rather important matter which we’d rather they hadn’t read. And all this in spite of the fact that not only was the bag not tampered with—and it was not left unwatched for a single instant—but no attempt was made at any time to approach it. The King’s Messenger assures me of that.”
“I suppose,” said Wilcox, who had been rubbing his hand over his head till his hair stood straight on end like a scrubbing brush, “the Messenger is all right?”
“I’ll have him watched, shall I?” said his harassed superior. “And the Ambassador too, while I’m about it? Wilcox, I haven’t seen you do that since ’17.”
“I’ve had no occasion,” said Wilcox. “Any suggestions, Colonel?”
“No,” said the War Office man slowly. “Only—Reck used to keep silkworms.”
THERE was a German Naval Hospital at the top of the Avenue de la Reine in Ostende in the latter part of the Great War, and in January, 1918, a man was brought in, completely unconscious, and clad only in his underwear. He had been picked up on the beach, having evidently swam or floated ashore, and in addition to suffering from exhaustion and exposure, he was wounded in the head. When they had cleaned, dried and patched him up they stood round his bed and looked at him.
“The injury at the back of the skull,” said the senior house surgeon, “may give us trouble, it is impossible to say how much damage has been done to the brain. The facial injuries are trivial.”
“He’ll have a couple of lovely duelling scars when they heal up,” said the medical student. “Simply too Heidelberg for words.”
Their patient stirred suddenly, mumbled something, and then said in a clear, commanding voice, “Look at that, you insubordinate hound!” He shifted uneasily, and the sister slipped her arm behind his shoulder, lest he should slide down and disarrange the dressings on his head.
“If he is going to be restless,” said the surgeon, “he will have to be watched. He may have morphia.”
“Yes, sir,” said the ward sister.
“He is certainly an officer,” said Muller. “All that insubordinate hound business is quite definitely Potsdam. No doubt he will tell us all about himself in the morning ”
But the student was wrong, for the patient was quite unable to give any account of himself in the morning. He talked incessantly in the German of the educated classes, but there was never enough continuity in his remarks to give them any clue as to what or whom he was. In fact, apart from telling them in a wonderful variety of well-chosen phrases what he thought of some gunners and their shooting, he did not refer to his past at all. So things went on until the day came when the stranger opened his eyes and looked about him intelligently.
The ward sister was informed of it and came to bend over him and give him the usual encouragement. “There now,” she said cheerfully, “you are a lot better this morning, aren’t you?”
Her patient made an effort to speak, and she expected the usual “Where am I?” but to her surprise he said, “Who am I?” instead. She thought she must have misunderstood him, and answered, “You are in the Ostende Naval Hospital. You’ll have some nice soup now. Drink this and go to sleep.”
He obeyed her and dropped at once into the sudden easy sleep of weakness, but neither when he awoke again, nor the next day, nor for very many days to come did he remember who he was. He soon left off asking his pathetic question, but there remained in his eyes the puzzled, hurt expression of a child to whom some inexplicable unkindness has been done, though he was plainly a man in the late twenties. Once the senior house surgeon, Lehmann, passing ; through the ward very late at night, heard small uneasy sounds from the direction of the stranger’s bed, and discovered him awake and struggling with a frightful attack of panic.
“My dear fellow,” said Lehmann kindly, “what is the matter?”
“I don’t know—I’m frightened. I don’t know who I am. Oh, tell me who I am !”
“Hush, gently,” said the surgeon, taking a firm hold of the hot hands which clung to him for comfort. “Don’t wake the others. Try to calm yourself; you will make yourself ill again. There is nothing to fear.”
“But there is! You see, I don’t know what I’ve done, do I? I may be some criminal—and someday somebody may walk up to me and say, ‘Ha! Got you at last!’ and they’ll put me in prison for years and perhaps hang me, and I’ll never know what it’s all about.”
“Listen to me,” said Lehmann in a tone of authority. “You are frightening yourself with shadows. Do you think that we, whose lives are spent in seeing mankind in its worst moments, do not know good from bad? I don’t know who you are, but I will stake every penny I have that you are perfectly all right. Even when you were most delirious you never said anything brutal or base, and in your utmost weakness you were courteous and unwilling to give trouble. You a criminal? Nonsense!”
“But,” objected his patient, still only half-convinced, “some criminals are delightful people, I believe. Even a murderer might be. It doesn’t mean you’re all evil if you have killed somebody—if you have killed somebody you—I can’t remember--”
“Stop that at once,” said Lehmann. “As for killing somebody, since there is a war on and you are of military age, I should think it’s quite probable you have. You must pull yourself together. I am going to get you something to drink, and then you will lie down and go to sleep again, and we will have no more of this. In the meantime, think this over. You may or may not have killed somebody. Has it occurred to you that it’s more likely that you have married somebody?”
In the abysmal silence which followed this appalling suggestion, Lehmann disengaged himself and went away. When he returned with a glass in his hand he found his patient lying quietly back on his pillows murmuring to himself.
“Margareta. Marie. Julie. Helene. Susanne. Elsa—Elsa. No, I don’t think so. Klara. Anna.” He looked up with a sparkle of fun in his eyes. “Do I look married?”
“Not particularly,” said Lehmann, “and you don’t wear a wedding ring. But men don’t always wear one, and besides you might have lost it. Drink this.”
“Fancy me with a wife,” said the stranger, between sips. “This stuff is rather nice. I wonder what she’s like.”
“I should think you’d be a good picker,” said the surgeon judicially, “I have noticed you betraying a certain discrimination in the matter of nurses.”
“You are extraordinarily good to me. I wish I had a name, though.”
“You can have mine if you like,” said Lehmann diffidently, “till you find your own. I am quite sure it will be safe with you.”
“If you’re so darned decent to me,” said his patient chokily, “I shall blub on your shoulder in a minute. I say, d-do you think I’ve got a family?”
“I should say at least eight,” said the surgeon, patting his shoulder.
“All with noses that want blowing?”
“Oh, go to sleep—Lehmann,” said Lehmann senior, and went away laughing to himself.
The next day a committee of nurses round the stranger’s bed christened him, after discussion, Klaus, because he came from the sea and Nikolaus is the patron saint of sailors, and Klaus Lehmann, feeling already that he had the beginning of an identity again, started life afresh.
WHEN HE was well enough to he discharged from hospital they sent him to Hamburg on the assumption that if, as seemed likely, he had been in the Imperial Navy, he was more likely to come across someone who knew him in a Naval base than anywhere else in Germany. He set out for Hamburg in a state of trepidation which he knew he had felt before somewhere, and when he was thinking of something else the memory returned to him. He had felt like that when he was a small boy and was sent, alone, to the dentist.
This was so wonderful that his spirits rose with a leap. Then his memory was not destroyed, only stunned, and one day some door would reopen in his brain and he would he a person again, with a home and friends and relations of his own.
He was given employment in the Naval depot and spent wearisome days filling up forms indenting for vests, singlets, jumpers, trousers and socks, Naval ratings, for the use of, in the intervals between devastating headaches, but he never met anyone who had known him.
As the summer of 1918 drew to its close and the news from the Western Front grew steadily worse, the morale of the Navy deteriorated. Discipline became slack and finally had, little groups of idle men stood about and ratings were covertly or openly insolent to their officers. Unpleasant scenes were continually occurring, where frayed tempers, undernourishment and despair combined to make ; men lose control of themselves; on one of these occasions Klaus heard a Naval officer call a seaman “you insubordinate dog.” At that the little door in his mind opened for an instant, and he heard himself saying, “Look at that, you insubordinate hound,” something to do with petrol, a dump somewhere, and men in field : grey. The door closed again at once and he could remember no more, but that must have been in the Army, not the Navy. No wonder the life here seemed unfamiliar and no one ever knew him, he must have been a soldier, not a sailor.
Work in the depot petered out, and in October he was discharged. He left Hamburg just before the rioting broke out and drifted down toward the Western Front to look for his lost identity somewhere in the German Army. He wandered through Hanover, Dortmund, Elberfeld, and Dusseldorf toward Aachen, sometimes stopping several days in one place if he liked the look of it, and sometimes going on again next morning. He stayed for nearly a fortnight at a tiny place called Haspe among the forests northeast of Elberfeld, because there was an old lady there who said that Klaus Lehmann strongly reminded her of her brother at about that age, and he had left a son who had been reported missing. She did not know the son, and Klaus, might, conceivably, be he. She produced a photograph of the late Herr Rademeyer to prove her point.
“There you are,” she said. “You can see it for yourself, a child could see it. The same forehead, the same nose, one ear sticking out more than the other, the likeness is ludicrous. You are thinner, of course; my brother was well covered.”
Klaus looked with awe at the presentment of a portly gentleman with a stuffed expression, and suppressed an impulse to describe him mentally as a pie-faced old sausage maker— after all, this might be his father— and said, “He has a kind face, kind hut firm.”
“You might have known him, to say that. Of course, since he was your father you probably did. I mean, since he was probably your father, you did. Georg was a great character, quiet but unyielding. You will stay with me till Thursday week when his widow, your mother, comes to visit me. She ought to know.”
At the time appointed Frau Rademeyer came and dispelled the illusion of peace.
“Nonsense, Ludmilla! The young man is no more like Georg than he’s like the Shah of Persia, and he’s even less like my Moritz. You must be in your dotage, Ludmilla.”
“Nonsense yourself,” said the old lady stoutly. “There is a strong resemblance.”
“Besides, Moritz had scars on his left knee ever since he fell against the staircase window. Young man, show me your left knee.”
“I fear I am not the Herr Moritz Rademeyer,” said Klaus, pulling up his trouser leg. “Quite unblemished, as you see. Well, I must go on looking, that’s all— For pity’s sake, Fräulein Rademeyer!”
For the gallant old woman had crumpled into a heap in her chair and burst into tears.
“I wanted him for my nephew,” she wailed. “I am so much alone.”
“Let’s pretend I am,” suggested Klaus, and kissed her hand. “It will be just as nice.”
“You are a fool, Ludmilla, to let yourself be imposed upon by some good-for-nothing from no one knows where, but what can one expect from an old maid but folly?”
“Leave my house, Mathilde ! I will not be insulted !”
“I shall be only too pleased--” began Frau Rademeyer, rising from her chair, but at that moment the servant Hanna burst into the room.
“Oh, Fräulein ! Oh, Herr Lehmann ! The postman has been and he says the war is over !”
“Control yourself, Hanna,” said her mistress. “Go and fetch old Theodor with his truck for the luggage, the Frau Rademeyer is leaving us.”
“But, gnädige Fräulein, the war—”
Hanna went, and so did Frau Rademeyer.
Klaus stayed on for a few days, but the news had made him fidgety. Somewhere out there, beyond these prison walls of pines, great events were stirring, and he in this backwater—
“I must go,” he said. “I will come back, but I must go and see what is happening. Perhaps I shall find myself, and I’ll come back to tell you I’m no longer a good-for-nothing from nobody knows where.”
KLAUS LEHMANN reached Aachen in time to see the German Army coming home. Still no one recognized Klaus out of all those thousands, nor did the Army customs and the Army slang awaken any response in his mind. He felt no more at home there than he did in the Navy. “I must have belonged to one or the other, surely,” he said to himself, “unless I was in the Air Force. Perhaps that was it, and I made a forced landing in the sea, and that’s how I came to swim ashore. It’s a reasonable solution. I will go and look for the Air Force—what’s left of it.”
He went by stages from Aachen to Darmstadt. He passed through Cologne on December 13,1918. That was the day the British troops marched in.
At Darmstadt airdrome he found a number of German war planes waiting to be surrendered for demolition, but very few men about. Klaus leaned against the corner of one of the sheds, looking gloomily at nothing in particular, since that seemed to be the only occupation of such men as were to be seen. Presently he was observed—a long, thin officer walked toward him.
“What are you doing here?” “Nothing,” said Klaus with perfect truth.
“What is your name?”
“I have no rank now,” said Klaus with mournful resignation.
Several regiments of the German Army had mutinied and torn the badges of rank from their officers’ uniforms. The flying man jumped to the conclusion that Klaus’ case was one of those which called for tact, so he introduced himself in the correct manner. “Flug Leutnant Becker, sir,” he said, saluting.
The Flight Lieutenant thought it advisable to preserve a sympathetic silence. The two men had just reached the doorway of the mess when they heard the distant roar of airplanes approaching, and turned to look in the direction from which it came.
“The victorious Allies, I presume.” “No, sir, ours! They must be Goering’s lot,” said Becker excitedly.
Five planes drew nearer as they spoke, circled the airdrome, touched down and taxied up to the sheds, a man in the leading machine shouting, “Got any petrol?”
“No, sir, none,” yelled Becker in reply, at which the newcomer signalled with his arms to the other four pilots, they all switched off their engines and quiet descended again on the airdrome. The men climbed out of their machines and their leader strolled with Becker across the grass toward Lehmann. He was a big man with a booming voice, and Klaus distinctly heard him say, “Who the devil’s that? One of the demolition squad?”
Becker apparently gave some satisfactory explanation, for when they met the stranger was cordial. Becker introduced them.
“How d’you do?” said Goering, shaking hands. “Met you before somewhere, haven’t I?”
Klaus’ heart leaped up, but all he said was, “It is possible,” in guarded tones.
“What were you in?”
Lehmann felt a little annoyed. The question was natural enough, but it was a sore point with him. “Oh, I just made myself useful here and there,” he said.
Goering stared, then an idea struck him. “Oh, I see! Intelligence, eh? Do you still have to be so hush-hush about it now it’s all done with?”
“Is it?” said Klaus, and left it at that.
While they were still thirty yards from the mess, a figure appeared in the doorway, a square solid figure which Goering appeared to recognize, for he paused in his stride and said to Becker, “That fellow there! Is that Lazarus?”
“That is Squadron Leader Lazarus, sir. He has been in command here since Squadron Leader Fienburg left last week.”
Goering muttered something which the tactful Becker thought it wiser not to hear, and walked on again. Becker dropped back a little and Lehmann joined him.
“Look out for squalls,” muttered Becker.
“Can’t stand each other. Always squalls.”
“Good evening, Goering,” said Lazarus from the doorstep.
“Evening, Lazarus,” said Goering, without attempting to salute. “Got any petrol in this dump of yours?”
“You will address me as ‘sir,’ ” said Lazarus, his long nose reddening.
“I asked, sir, whether, sir, you had any petrol, sir,” said Goering impertinently.
“To put into the tanks of my : machines. Not to wash in, though to be sure it gets the grease off,” said the Flight Commander, staring at his superior’s rather oily complexion.
“I have no petrol,” said Lazarus, ; “and if I had you would not get it. Your machines are grounded by order of the High Command.”
Goering stated what he to be the appropriate ultimate destination of the High Command.
Lazarus had the infuriating quality of becoming cooler as the other became more heated. “Your agitation is understandable, Flight Commander, though your expression of it is unfortunate in the extreme. The Allied Commission is expected to arrive here this afternoon—at any time now,” he added, glancing at his watch. “You will be good enough to control yourself and not give the enemy an opportunity of saying that a German officer does not know how to behave in defeat.”
“You lousy pig-faced Jew,” began Goering, but the doorway was empty. “Someday,” promised Goering, “you shall pay for that.” He stalked in at the door, disregarding entirely his [ enthralled audience behind.
Later the others were in the bar, talking in quiet tones and covertly watching Goering, who was sitting by himself on a high stool with his elbows on his knees, glowering at everyone and drinking heavily.
“Rather distressing, what?” said Becker to Lehmann later while Goering was being helped to bed. “I do dislike that braggart manner, though, don’t you?”
“A trifle hysterical, perhaps,” said Klaus. “One could not wonder if that were so.”
“No worse for him than for the rest of us, but Goering was always 1 like that. One of those get-out-of-my-way-blast-you fellows. Now, Udet is different. Udet--------”
It was made plain to Klaus that Udet was something quite exceptional, but not all Becker’s enthusiasm and friendliness could make Lehmann feel that the Air Force was where he belonged. Perhaps Goering’s wild guess was correct, and he had belonged to German Intelligence. If so, he had no idea what steps he could take to establish contact. It would be necessary to wait until somebody recognized him and fell on his neck with ecstatic cries of “Ah ! The famous X37 ! We thought you were lost to us.” A pretty picture, if a trifle improbable. None the less, he went to Berlin to look for his lost background.
THINGS were in a mess. There were political upheavals, fighting in the streets, but Klaus Lehmann took no part. Eventually he obtained a post teaching mathematics in a school at Dusseldorf, where for a couple of years he was not unhappy. Early in 1922, due to currency inflation, Fräulein Rademeyer’s income dwindled to vanishing point, and she sold the white house in Haspe with most of its contents and moved into Dusseldorf to share Klaus’ lodgings.
They were fairly comfortable at first, though every day saw prices higher and food and clothing scarcer, but the real blow fell when Lehmann’s school closed. This was the time when the mark soared to an astronomical figure, and people took attaché cases to collect the bulky bundles of worthless notes which constituted their wages. Klaus tramped the streets looking for work, occasionally getting a week’s employment sawing timber or loading brick.
Fräulein Rademeyer came back one day to the two bleak rooms they tried to call home, and Klaus lifted his head in surprise at her air of unmistakable triumph. She shut the door carefully behind her, put her bag down and took out of it half a cabbage, perfectly fresh, a wedge of cheese, a small piece of steak, a loaf, a twist of paper containing alleged coffee, and another containing several spoonfuls of brown sugar.
“Wait,” she said. “That is not all.” She brought out of the pocket of her cloak a small parcel wrapped in grease-proof paper.
“Butter,” she said in awed tones, “real butter.”
“Have you been going in for highway robbery,” said Klaus, “or merely petty larceny? Not that the result is petty--"
“There is a man outside the door,” she interrupted, “with a bundle. Would you bring it in, my dear?”
Klaus returned with a small sack containing firewood on the top and coal underneath not much, but some.
“For heaven’s sake, explain,” said Klaus. “Have you met Santa Claus, or what is it?”
“I met a school friend of mine, that is all, though it is true her name is Christine. She has a son-in-law. Do you know anythin about” she pulled a leaflet from another of her numerous pockets and read from it “Transport by land, road and railway, construction of tunnels and bridges, ships, aeronautics, or meteorology?”
“No, but I jolly soon will if it means work. Why?”
“Because her son-in-law is in j charge of the section of the Deutsche Museum which deals with all those j things, and he wants steady, reliable I men to look after them.”
“I think I could manage that. You only have to walk about and tell people not to touch.”
“You have to explain things to I children when they ask you questions.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” said Klaus j happily. “You just tell ’em they’ll understand all these things better when they are a little older.”
They went to Munich in the spring of 1923, and found two tiny bedrooms and a sitting room in the upper half of a workman’s house in Quellen Strasse, close to the Mariahilfe Church in the old part of the city. From here it was only a short walk for Klaus through the Kegelhof and by Schwartz Strasse and the outer Erhardt Bridge, to the Isar island which is nearly covered by the immense buildings of the Deutsche Museum. The pay was desperately little in those days, but permanent.
Klaus was fortunate in the man who worked in the same part of a section as he did. Herr Kurt Stiebel was an elderly man who had been a partner in a firm of solicitors of some repute in Munich; in common with the rest of the professional classes in Germany he had been brought to absolute penury in the slump, and thought himself fortunate to have obtained a post which would provide him with a fireless attic in a narrow turning off the Hohe Strasse, and almost enough food to keep him from starving. Klaus brought him home to Quellen Strasse one evening after the Museum closed to drink watery but hot cups of “Blumen” coffee and eat a few leathery little cakes Ludmilla had saved up to buy for the party.
They discussed their work at the museum, posers they had met and disposed of. “My father used to say,” said Ludmilla, “that you can’t teach an old hand new tricks, but I have learned many things this last year or so.”
“We all have, my dear lady, even to seeing a saddler of Heidelberg Chancellor of a German Republic, and a house painter from Vienna leading a march on Berlin.”
“Where is he now, what is his name—the house painter?”
“Hitler. Serving a sentence of five years’ detention in a fortress.”
“Did you ever see him?” asked Klaus. “I have heard much about him. General Ludendorff was behind that, I understand.”
“Certainly he was, there is no secret about that; Ludendorff, in my opinion, wanted to turn out Ebert and did not care what tools he used for the work, but as you know, the scheme failed ignominiously. Yes, I have seen Hitler several times and have been to one or two of his meetings. You know,” said Stiebel, as one apologizing for a lapse, “one goes anywhere when one has no occupation, it serves to pass the time. To my mind, he is just a stump orator, I doubt if we hear any more of him. When prosperity returns to our Germany, as return it must, there will be no place for such firebrands as Hitler.”
“Apart from Ludendorff,” said Klaus, “did any of the more conspicuous war figures support him?”
“Only Goering, so far as I can remember. He was very severely wounded in the shooting, and smuggled out of the country, I hear. He may have died, I do not know.”
“Goering? The air ace? I met him at Darmstadt,” said Klaus.
To be Continued