The Special Case
CHATM RAPHAEL, who has published under the pseudonym Jocelyn Davey, is a former Oxford don,currently a British government official, who draws upon his experience for his fiction. His first novel, A CAPITOL OFFENSE, was a spoof detective story set in the British Embassy in Washington, and his defective, Ambrose Usher, appears in his other novels. He has also written a number of short stories.
BY CHAIM RAPHAEL
I HAVE to pass the racecourse outside Wingfield whenever I drive down to spend a weekend at Hatwick Hall with Elaine and Neville Blond. As the short village street slips by and I feel the tall familiar gates of the racecourse approaching, I get myself ready for the swift look that I will turn on the long rows of low dark-green stables before accelerating for the open road that lies ahead and the last four miles before Hatwick. I still cannot quite accept the fact that these stables house horses now, and not human beings. If someone is in the car with me, I begin to wonder as we approach the racecourse if I should try to explain. I know I cannot, and resolve to be silent.
For this is my war story, my blitz story, my youth story, and probably a lot more. I am the sole survivor, the Ancient Mariner himself. Perhaps it is odd for me to assume this role, since I was something of an outsider when hundreds of German refugees were imprisoned in this racecourse in 1940. Yet even at the time I knew that, in one sense, this was my experience rather than theirs and that when it was all over the memory of it would be left in my care.
Not that it was in any way grim for me. On the contrary, it was a brilliantly exciting time. Above us they were fighting the Battle of Britain. The sirens would wail from a long way off, with a timing quite unrelated to the planes or vapor trails that we would see winding through the clear blue sky. A few bombs now and then would plow up the harmless fields, and here and there would be the wreckage of a plane, a Heinkel or a Spitfire. Down below, the racecourse hummed with an existence of its own, like some Greek city-state, with its slaves and rulers, endless intrigue, high philosophy and low comedy. From behind the encompassing walls, the citizens plotted relentless war against the enemy outside — not the Nazis, of course, but that other, more personal enemy, officialdom.
When I had first met them, they were an anonymous mob to me. Then they had ceased to be a mob and became cases, each of them, in his view, a special case deserving priority. And finally they had stopped being cases and became Kettner the socialist. Stoessel the mechanic, Weissbrot the Talmudist, Kindler the crook. Sommetski the shlemiel, and so on in their hundreds. Behind them in London, and pulling all the strings, was Sir Gordon Tyrell, head of the Lord Lieutenant’s Office, as unpredictable a guardian of security as England produced even in those unpredictable days.
The German refugees in Britain had been rounded up and interned when France fell, not because they were likely to be sympathetic to Hitler when he landed at Dover but because they seemed an irritatingly alien element in the cozy and familiar society that was cheerfully girding itself to meet invasion. To the refugees, this internment was almost a heavier affront than the anti-Jewish laws which had driven them from Germany. They were insulted and terrified. Dumped suddenly into racecourses in various parts of England, they felt swindled out of the honor due to them as the enemy’s first victims, and they were terrified because Hitler was on the doorstep. Some wanted to get out of England as fast as they could, others wanted to be free to fight him, and all of them felt a sense of terror at being cooped up behind high walls, under the supervision of men alien to them — with guns.
THEIR sense of confusion and fear made them at first sight a pitiable group, or worse, to the major commanding the camp and his officers. Until the refugees arrived, with hardly a day’s warning, in a huge convoy of army lorries, Wingfield Racecourse had been a prison camp for a much more agreeable type of person, the German Nazis whom the authorities had rounded up or captured in the early fights at sea. A fine body of men, Major Blackwood told me: proud, independent, capable, healthy; a pleasure to look after them. And suddenly he had lost his beloved Nazis and been given these unfit, middle-aged wrecks, whining at their fate, pressing to get out. Above all, there was this constant screaming about their papers, their passports, their visas. They were driving him mad.
He told me this when I arrived, and I could sympathize with his feeling of helplessness. I had been dropped into the situation with equal lack of warning. Sir Gordon Tyrell had sent for me at Oxford, where I had thought to spend a last quiet week before reporting to the R.A.F. My name had come to him somehow; wires had been pulled; the R.A.F. had agreed to wait; and I found myself on my way to Wingfield. There was a special job to be done there, Tyrell explained. Of the thousands of refugees whom they had locked up in different parts of England and the Isle of Man, a few hundred had been puffed out and sent down to Wingfield because they claimed to be transmigrants who had visas pending for the United States. Wingfield, thirty miles south of London, was convenient for access to the U.S. Consulate. My instructions were simple: get their visas for them and get them out of England. The fewer Germans around during an invasion, the better for everybody.
There were, of course, difficulties. For one thing, there was the unfortunate mistake about the passports. When the refugees had been swooped on, one of the instructions given to the police had somehow led to all their most precious documents being taken from them, “for examination.” These documents, the lifeblood of the harried refugee, had been collected at a central point — some garage in the north of England — and then lost. It was unfortunate. There were also problems of wives, children, and relatives who would have to go too and were not conveniently locked up in a racecourse for easy processing. There was a slight problem of shipping. And finally—something they tended to overlook — there was a war on.
It was this last point that I found myself wanting to express when I entered the racecourse on my first morning, to be swallowed up in a second by the surging crowd of refugees clamoring for their cases to be heard. They had been told that someone was being sent from London to solve their problems, and they wanted to lose no time in telling me what to do. Their visas. Their wives. Their luggage. Why had England done this? They were ill. Their businesses would collapse. They had a brother in desperate danger in France, an uncle in Mexico who should be cabled to. . . .
I tried to bear with it for a while, getting ready for what I knew would be the worst moment of the first day. To help them, I had somehow to create documents, and I had prepared cards on which they were to give me all the information they could about their families, passports, guarantors, luggage, and so on. New photographs would have to be taken; and then, by collating all this with anything that would come in from other places, such as the refugee organization at Holborn House or the U.S. Consulate, some new documentary personalities could emerge, ready for the sacerdotal stamp of authority. My cards were an essential first step, but when I produced them and explained, shouting out the instructions in my best German from the steps of the Members’ Bar, the expected howl of rage arose from the crowd: “More papers!” “Enough of papers!” “They have destroyed our papers!” Behind them, the Tommies watched it all, silent and uncomprehending. The howls began to subside as the cards were passed around and the men disappeared to fill them out. Quiet descended.
Back across the road in Major Blackwood’s room an hour later, I took a grateful swig at the tall whisky and soda that he put before me. We were sitting drinking silently when I happened to put my hand into my pocket and found that something like a dozen notes had apparently been palmed on me, presumably during the first rush of the crowd. They were almost all of a pattern: “Please help me.” “I am a special case.” “My wife is ill: unless I am freed. . . .” Full names, date, and place of birth and other biographical details were meticulously appended. But one was a carefully written note in German and unsigned. It said:
We were almost all rescued from Nazi concentration camps through the help of England. This we will not forget. Now I have read in the Manchester Guardian three days ago that a debate was held in Parliament on the internment. The Government said that a mistake had been made and would be put right as soon as possible. In the middle of a war, the English Parliament takes time to defend the homeless refugee. This we will not forget.
I showed the note to the major and translated it for him.
“Hm,” he grunted. “No signature, eh? Doesn’t want any favors. Now that’s what I call a really special case.”
IT WAS two weeks before I was ready for die first bus load to go up to the U.S. Consulate in London to see about visas, and then it was only by working very long hours in the stable we had set aside as an office. During this time, documents had been pouring in from relatives, refugee organizations, and consulates all over the world. Fifteen of the refugees had been organized into a clerical staff under a man I had selected for the job — Baumgart, a quiet former insurance official, who ran the office stable with Teutonic efficiency. To maintain contact, I was dashing up and down between Wingfield and London on a motor bike I had nobbled from the army, with saddlebags chockfull of cards and papers. In London, with the blitz taking hold, it was becoming impossible to get around easily except on something like a motor bike, and I had many people to see, in many government departments, to get the whole thing moving. My London visits over and my saddlebags filled again, I would start back for Wingfield with a sense of expectant happiness, opening up the bike on the deserted roads to glorious bursts of speed, and then slowing down through the village and purring up to the racecourse gates as if I were coming home. Hearing the engine, the refugees would gather inside the gate and surround me as I got off stiffly, some of them still pushing forward with unbearable anxiety, others pushing for the sake of it, and a small number smiling unconcernedly or calling out laughingly, “Can I drive to London?” or “I’m a special case.”
One of the refugees, an Austrian engineer called Stoessel, had made himself the mechanic in charge of the bike, and he took it over from me, as I got off, to give it a little loving care, as a groom takes away a horse. If ever a man had been victimized by an administrative bungle, it was Stoessel — plump, gentle, and uncomplaining. He was an engineer of a high order and had been working on Rolls-Royce airplane engines when war broke out. Because of his skill and certain inventions that he had sent to the Admiralty, a special stamp had been put into his passport stating “Essential to the War Effort,” a tribute that was his undoing. The police, swooping down on him in a Derbyshire village on that fateful day, had been so determined to take care of clever Germans who might be agents in disguise that they had arrested not only him but also his wife, sending her down for safekeeping to Wandsworth Gaol. And now his papers were lost and he had become the guardian of my motor bike.
Baumgart, prissy but competent, would unload the papers from my saddlebags, and a crowd would follow us to the stable. Inevitably, when I got there, I would find that half a dozen notes had been stuffed into my pockets. I got used to it. We would settle down to work: our first solid list of emigrants was taking shape; a ship on which I had been allotted sixty places would be sailing in a week. The wrangling for places was already in full spate.
There were other problems too. The government, fulfilling its promise to Parliament, had announced certain categories of immediate release. Some of the refugees were leaving Wingfield, others were arriving, and the other racecourses were being combed for emigrants. The commandant complained that this state of uncertainty interfered with camp discipline. The refugees complained that the food was uneatable. Added to these were the fights within the camp itself. In one stable there was a huge map of the Lowlands and France, and bitter arguments took place there on Nazi strategy and Allied tactics. Under the grandstand, the Orthodox Jews among the refugees had set up a synagogue; opposite, as if to annoy them, a group of Marxists led by Kettner, the famous German socialist, had got hold of a typewriter and was putting out a camp newspaper.
The routine of prison life had, in other words, taken hold, though I hardly understood at first into what a marvelous historical pattern these things arranged themselves. But I was soon to learn. With the first bus load almost prepared, I was sitting one day in my stable working on the papers with great intensity, oblivious of the fact that the lunch hour had come and gone, when a young boy, neatly dressed in a white coat, arrived at my door bearing a note in a stiff white envelope. The note paper, equally impressive, carried a simple message: “Mr. Ratio Kindler and his associates will be happy if you will take lunch with them today.” It was clearly not an invitation but a command.
I accompanied the young man across the compound to a room in the bowels of the grandstand, where I found a dark, slim, and very well-dressed man of about thirty-five waiting to receive me, with the exact air of a maitre d’hotel. This, in fact, was what he was. The task he had been given in the camp, presumably by choice, was to organize the feeding arrangements. When the public bout was over, he and a select few retired to this quiet little room behind the kitchen, where lunch was served to them, in a style appropriate to their station, by some of his menials. It was perhaps a simple lunch that they put before me: some pate, a steak, strawberries and cream. The vin was ordinaire, but the brandy and cigars were rather fine. Then the others discreetly retired, and I was left alone with the radiant Mr. Kindler.
He brushed aside my questions with an elegant wave of the hand. “One has to organize oneself,” he said carelessly. “But I wonder if I might ask for your advice. You see, I have three ways of securing my release and am not sure which will be the swiftest or the best for me. I could claim release on medical grounds immediately. I have several doctors’ certificates. But I am also pursuing release for emigration, and if I get released on medical grounds first, this might affect my American visa, don’t you think? The other way is to claim release under the category of running a business essential for the war effort. I could arrange this quite easily, since I have a factory which makes protective head covering.”
“Protective head covering?” I asked. “Steel helmets?”
He smiled. “I will have to see what contracts I get.”
“But your factory?”
“I have thirty girls making hats in Bond Street. I would switch them over and expand. That is no problem. No, the only problem is which form of release to claim. You may say, claim all. But the medical claim is a bit tricky for the American visa, and if I am released to run the factory, will the British authorities hold back my exit visa? It is not an easy problem, you will agree?”
“It’s one you will have to solve yourself,” I said. “I haven’t seen your name so far on the visa list.”
“Oh, Baumgart will see to that,” he said confidently. “Please don’t trouble yourself with the details. You work too hard. Work of this kind should be left to others. Some of us have more important things to do. You must go? So happy to have had the pleasure of your company. I hope you will allow me to offer you lunch again soon.”
Kindler had a good effect on me. Instead of rushing back to my stable, I slowed down a bit and wandered around the passages under the grandstand. I thought that I might have a chat, perhaps, with Kettner, but there was no one there when I looked into the camp newspaper room. From the room opposite, though, I heard voices, and I pushed open the door. There were six or seven men inside, all wearing caps, sitting in a half circle around a heavily bearded figure, Rabbi Weissbrot, a famous scholar whom I had already met over the problem of his visa. They nodded to me but took very little notice otherwise, and I sat down at the back to listen. The room, which was furnished in shiny mahogany, with photographs of race horses everywhere, looked out directly on the course, glowing in the afternoon sun.
The rabbi was reading and expounding an old commentary — the Midrash, it is called — on the Book of Lamentations. Whether he had selected this book deliberately or was using it because it happened to be on hand I could not, of course, tell, but there was a marvelous appropriateness in it. The Book of Lamentations is Jeremiah’s elegy on the destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Later, when Palestine was overrun by the Romans and the Second Temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D., the rabbis of the time—the authors of the Midrash—turned back to Jeremiah’s elegy and read a thousand prophecies in it about what they were actually going through six hundred years later. The parallels lay not merely in the suffering they experienced, which seemed to be foreshadowed in Lamentations, but in the preoccupation they had, as Jeremiah had, with the mind of a Providence that allotted them this fate; and so timeless is Jewish history that for Rabbi Weissbrot and his group everything that they were reading seemed just as applicable to the world of Hitler and Wingfield. With no sense of anger or complaint, they were seeking to understand God’s purpose in all that had happened to them — and not merely to them, but to their ancestors. If they could understand God’s purpose, they could identify themselves with it. Human history was an endless story with only one clear clue to hold on to and pursue, the role of the Jews. The Jews had a special role in God’s Providence. They were, in fact, a special case.
I wandered back to my stable. There was a telephone message from the head of the refugee organization at Holborn House. They had heard from Sir Gordon Tyrell’s office that the first bus would be sent down the next day to take the fifty most likely visa candidates to London. We were on our way.
THE next three weeks were a fantastic medley of coming and going. In general, everyone was being helpful. The Americans were leaning over backwards in the granting of visas wherever their rules on guarantors could somehow be met. Tyrell was waving aside every regulation of Whitehall whenever I turned to him to cut some red tape. Behind us, Holborn House was a massive bulwark in absorbing the pressure from wives, children, friends, and relatives. Even Goering was helping us by keeping air raids to a reasonable level, or at least by staging them according to a timetable that didn’t get in our way too much.
The first group of refugees was herded onto a train at Euston one dark night and disappeared north into the blackout, toward their boat at Liverpool, with an air of triumph that made it seem like the Exodus from Egypt. One wondered vaguely what they would make of their Promised Land. If the Bible was any guide, there would be a good deal of murmuring in the wilderness, and the Promised Land itself might not be quite so golden as they thought. Perhaps one day they would look back, not exactly to the fleshpots of England, but at least to some of its virtues. But, for the moment, life had only one purpose for them — to get out. They had had enough of Europe. America was a land of peace and plenty. They would start a new life, until Nebuchadnezzar or Titus appeared again.
There was no time to organize this exodus with any ease or exactness. It was not only the children of Israel who were after me to get things moving. Pharaoh himself, in the form of Sir Gordon Tyrell, had sent for me one day to tell me that whatever could be done should be done quickly, as transport was getting increasingly scarce. The Nazi submarines were taking their toll, lying in wait on the eastern run across the Atlantic for the ships heavily laden with food and war supplies from America. The whole refugee operation might have to end very soon.
Without being told, those who were at Wingfield seemed to know this, and the intrigues to get on the lists — first for the daily run to London to go to the consulate, and then, more difficult by far, to get a berth on a ship — grew more intense. Try as we did to convey the feeling that there was no favoritism and that everything done in the stables was handled strictly according to the studbook, there was a constant murmuring, and every day found personal letters of complaint for me or notes stuffed into my pocket. Baumgart was a tower of strength through all this struggle. he deliberately kept himself off the lists, and his calm Teutonic efficiency was probably more convincing than my fairly obvious flexibility and sentimentality. But even Baumgart had his soft spot. He asked me privately one day if we could do something for one of the helpers in the office, a man called Sommetski, whose father was already in America and very ill with cancer. I had seen Sommetski around. He was a dumb-looking creature, generating a feeling of mute helplessness. From what Baumgart told me, I realized that he was one of those people for whom things always went wrong. He had had a visa sent to him in Germany, but it had arrived after he left and expired before he could use it. Another visa was on its way when his guarantor suddenly died. He had arranged everything and secured a passage from England just before the war, when his small child had caught measles. Baumgart was trying hard to help him, but somehow it was impossible to push him forward.
My own favorite was Stoessel. His wife was still in Wandsworth Gaol; the authorities had not yet produced the information on his special work that would release him, and he was therefore relying on his emigration release. In the meantime, he went about his work smilingly and without complaint, polishing my motor bike until every part gleamed like silver and never asking for any kind of special attenTion. I was quite delighted one day when, looking through the lists, I saw that his visa was finally due to be granted and that his priority had given him and his wife berths on the next ship. When I told him about the berths, he glowed with relief.
I went across to see Baumgart and found him talking to Sommetski, who was sitting on a chair with a look of abject misery on his face. Baumgart took me aside to tell me that a cable had just come in from the refugee organization in New York advising that Sommetski’s father was desperately ill and could not last long. Sommetski’s priority would not entitle him to go on the next ship, and we had no idea when there would be another one. Was there anyone whom we could ask to surrender his place?
I thought I knew who would and went to find Stoessel. I explained that if he gave up his berths in favor of the Sommetskis, there was no guarantee that we could get him off later. He smiled in his soft Austrian way. “Of course I’ll stand down,” he said. “If you can get my wife out of jail without the emigration, that will be enough. We will wait. I will go back to work if they will give me the permit. Let Sommetski go.” Later in the day I saw Sommetski talking to Stoessel, or rather just looking at him in dumb gratitude.
I THOUGHT that all was now well. I should have known better. Fate does not let go of its hapless ones so easily.
At first it was just the feeling that our luck was turning. For one thing, Goering had become unreasonable again, and it was becoming extremely awkward to get around London because of the constant alerts and the holes in the roads that forced traffic into elaborate detours. Assembling the party at Holborn House for what might be our last shipment proved unusually difficult. There was an increasing fractiousness in the air.
The train was to leave Euston for Glasgow at 5:30 that evening, with the ship due to sail in the early hours of the next morning. There had been a constant procession of the emigrants all day through Holborn House. At 4:00 I was sitting in the room of one of the directors, drinking a cup of tea and edging carefully into a final sense of relief, when the news I had half been waiting for reached us. An agitated secretary burst in. “Sommetski!” she wailed. “He and his wife! They’re outside with their child. They’ve lost their papers. Left them on the bus.”
We rushed out into the main hall. Mrs. Sommetski had fainted and was lying on the floor, where they were trying to revive her. The child was whimpering. Sommetski stood there, wringing his hands in a terrible unending movement of despair.
“I had all the papers in a little bag,” he said. “Our passports, visas, ship tickets, everything. We were in the bus coming here from the Marble Arch. I was holding the bag very tight not to lose it. And when we got here, I didn’t have it. I must have left it in the bus. And now all is lost.” He twisted his hands. Mrs. Sommetski had been revived and was sobbing in a chair.
We tried to pin him down to the facts. It had been a Number 25 bus, he thought. But the 25 bus going east along Oxford Street went on for about six miles further to Bow or Stratford. Normally it was a straight road; one might chase the bus. But with the bombing, bus routes were completely unpredictable. How could one know which bus it was? — if, indeed, it had been a 25 bus at all. And it was now 4:15.
Everyone was pushing questions at Sommetski, and I heard one of the secretaries ask him whether it could have been a 25-A bus and not a 25. She explained to me that the 25-A didn’t go all the way to Bow but turned off to a terminus near Islington. There was no way of checking with Sommetski, and with the service so disrupted there was no point in trying to telephone. But the 25-A was the only chance. I ran out of the room and jumped on ray motor bike, roaring down the street with a wild sense of excitement, swooping in and out of the obstructions and aiming as best I knew toward Islington. Once past King’s Cross, I had to stop to ask the way, but ultimately I found the terminal and drove in.
The yard was empty. It was quiet and peaceful after the bustle and confusion outside. I hitched my bike onto its stand and ran across to the little office. No one was in a hurry inside the office, and when I finally got hold of the duty clerk, he was quite unruffled at my anxiety. Yes, he told me, the 25-A did come into this terminal. There was one just coming in. I looked through the window and saw the great heart-warming red bus purr slowly through the narrow gate and come throbbingly to rest. The driver got down from his perch in front and stretched himself. The conductor was still on the bus, fiddling with the indicators; then he, too, left it and strolled across to the office, carrying the usual packages of tickets and money.
“Gentleman here asking if anything was left on the bus, Alf,” said the clerk to him.
“Just one thing,” said Alf, producing a little brown bag. My heart began to pound.
“This might be it, eh?” said the clerk to me, opening it and looking inside. “Can you describe the contents?”
I tried to speak calmly. “Two passports, name of Sommetski. A big paper with an American stamp on it, same name. And a ship ticket.”
He took the things out and put them on the desk. There they were, the product of years of waiting, centuries of despair. There was a little purse there, too, with two pounds inside. And there were some photographs of a small child.
He put the things back and handed the bag to me. “Just sign for it,” he said.
“Is there anything to pay?” I managed to ask.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “We always make a charge, depending on the value. Nothing valuable here, I see. Suppose we say two shillings.”
The bike seemed to sing as I roared back to Holborn House. When I came into the hall, Sommetski and his wife were pacing up and down, whispering together in a restless agony. I held out the bag. Mrs. Sommetski went white and fainted away again. Sommetski came toward me tremblingly. It was five o’clock. We gathered them together and rushed them off to Euston.
WITH the last ship gone, I thought f had better find out what was in the official mind about winding up the camp, and I went over the next morning to see Tyrell.
The office of the lord lieutenant, an ancient sinecure, was in a gracious eighteenth-century house off St. James’s. One wondered what went on there, apart from special operations that were thrust on it, like the internment of enemy aliens. Tyrell, graceful and unregimented, suited the mood of the house perfectly.
He was apparently quite pleased with the way things had gone, and not displeased with my own part. “You speak German quite well, don’t you?" he remarked casually. “Do you think you could pass as a German?”
A hundred pictures flashed through my mind, including one of a neat little firing party dealing with an agent in civilian clothes. “Oh, God, no!” I said. “I’m fluent, but I have a terrible accent.”
“Ah, well,” he murmured. “We’ll think of something else for you. Tell me about Rado Kindler. He’s down at Wingfield. Do you know him?”
My eyes popped a little. “Oh, yes, I know him,” I said. “Very good taste in brandy.”
“Yes, so I gather,” said Tyrell. “Pretty astute, you’d say?”
I agreed that astute was the word.
“We may use him,” Tyrell said. “Some talk about his going out to South America.”
So many things were being left unsaid that I hesitated to pursue the subject. I assumed that something like a double agent’s role was in mind for him. The part suited him, if one could only be sure. But wasn’t that the way with double agents? They had to give just this air of being untrustworthy in order to generate the feeling that they could be bought. And suddenly I began to wonder. The lunch. Had this been his way of testing me? Rather a sweet thought.
Tyrell had remembered something. “We’ve one more ship for you,” he said. “A Norwegian ship escaped last week and is sailing for New York in two or three days. I’ve just sent you a message about it. Lots of cabin space. You can have seventy berths.”
THIS time, Stoessel would go. I was determined. I phoned down to Baumgart immediately to tell him about the ship and asked him to make quite sure that Stoessel’s papers would be processed in time. I got in touch with the governor of Wandsworth Gaol to notify him that Mrs. Stoessel was to be released for emigration. I sent a message to the American Consul saying that I could personally recommend Stoessel for a visa, that he was an exceptionally pleasant person who deserved a break, that he was, in fact, a special case.
The provision of this unexpected ship with seventy berths seemed like a miracle to the refugees, and everything went with a swing. Messages and paper flashed back and forth, and when the day for departure arrived and the whole troop was assembled in Holborn House for a final checking of documents, the atmosphere was one of holiday. The Wingfield contingent had been brought up by bus, wives and children had come in from all over the place, and, greatest joy of all, Mrs. Stoessel had been brought up by a warder from Wandsworth and reunited with her husband.
I went with them to Euston. There was an alert on, and occasional bangs. But Stoessel stood outside the station with me to take a last look at London.
“I didn’t want to go,” he told me. “I would have liked to stay. They shouldn’t have put my wife in prison. It was a mistake, I know; but I can’t stay here now. I wish I could.”
We shook hands and I wandered away. I’d had enough too. I walked down Southampton Row to Holborn House to pick up my motor bike, thinking rather sadly, as I caught sight of it waiting for me outside the office, that I should have to give it back now to the army. The excitement was over. The war stretched ahead, gray and endless.
Perhaps I should have a last talk with Tyrell. I got on the bike and roared the engine a bit driving to St. James’s. Parking near the Ritz, and realizing that it was lunchtime, I suddenly felt the desire to indulge myself for once. The carpets, the soft lights, the obsequious waiters were balm to the soul. I sat down in the Grill Room, and there across the floor was Kindler, lunching with another man as elegant as himself and two beautiful women.
He saw me at the same moment and came across immediately, delighted, it seemed, at the encounter. “So much pleasanter than Wingfield,” he said. “I breathe again.”
“How do you happen to be in London?” I asked him.
“Oh, I got permission to come up and see my dentist,” he said airily. “They gave me a special guard. There he is, outside.” Sure enough, a Tommy from the camp was sitting waiting in the hall.
“And what have you decided about release?” I asked.
“Well, I’m not quite sure,” he said, cocking his head a little to one side as if weighing the whole thing. “I think I may be opening an arms factory, making automatic rifles. I’m just discussing it now.” He waved his hand toward his table, where his companions sat drinking champagne.
“Oh, then you’ve decided to stay in England?”
“No,” he said. “Not in England. I think I shall be going abroad. More interesting, you know.”
“Abroad? Perhaps South America?”
There was a slight twinkle in his eye. “Perhaps. Perhaps. There are so many interesting things to do. One has to organize things, don’t you think? And now you must join us for lunch. I insist. You take things too seriously. You need a change.”
I joined them. He was right. I needed a change.