Willie's War Ch. 03bySnurge©
As the weekend approached Willie Froehlich began to have apprehensive feelings about sitting down to dinner with Fraulein Dietz and her friends. She seemed to associate with some of the most ugly and uninteresting people in the world and he could predict that none of them would care a dot about reading good books or be interested in art.
It seemed doomed to be a dismal affair until he heard laughter outside in the hall. It was the first Willie knew of Fraulein Dietz's brother spending the weekend at home, and when he opened the library door a crack to have a peep at his arrival a spider tickle crawled down the back of his neck.
Eduard had bustled through the door of the house without any prior warning even to his sister, and his laugh was infectious, it was a laugh that was rich and warm and brought a grin to the face of everyone in hearing. In his Luftwaffe uniform with his visor-cap tipped jauntily to the side of his head he exuded vitality.
Fraulein Dietz greeted him with gentle annoyance for not giving her notice of his intention, but her reprimands fell away from him like water off a ducks back.
Now the prospect of dinner didn't seem so daunting. Eduard would be there, so at least there would be someone nice to look at. And at least Eduard knew what he was, so there would be no mistakes and no misunderstandings as there had been with Günter.
Excitement bubbled inside him. While he bathed and dressed that evening he hummed a little tune. Eagerness to share the same dinner table as Eduard made him feel flushed all over. He looked at himself in the mirror; too much lipstick he thought, and wiped it off with a handkerchief. Five minutes later it was the way he wanted.
He applied blush and mascara lightly, stepping back to study himself as he pinned up his hair the way Loti had taught him, and fixed it with a black velvet band. Everyone said it suited him that way.
From the wardrobe he selected a plain, black silk dress, backless, figure-hugging and sleeveless with a deep V in the front. The skirt draped below his knees in sinuous folds and stretched over the rounded contours of his body to make him feel like a rather sexy vamp. The style precluded the wearing of a brassier, and his breasts were nowhere near as pronounced as Rosalyn's or Loti's, but he fancied they did have a nice girlish jut to them. The boys in Heidelberg had always said they did, anyway.
Rummaging around for accessories he found a pair of gaudy gold-coloured earrings and a dinky black velvet choker that complimented his dress and the hair band, and which also added a beguiling facet to his slender white neck.
When all was done he leaned on the dressing table and studied his face again in the small mirror. He pushed back a stray strand of hair that had fallen over his forehead, turned his head on one side and smiled at himself as he stuck out a vampish tongue. Move over Ginger Rogers, he thought.
Downstairs in the dining area the scene was one of intimacy and richness. It was an elegant place, its beige walls hung with panels of moiré silk, the carpets with their distinctive design, brought many years ago from the Caucasus. Candles flickered on an immaculately set table, lanterns illuminated the terrace outside and the balmy summer air wafting through the open windows was scented with jasmine.
The ambiance was almost that of a family gathering in which he felt oddly out of place. There were five people taking drinks on the terrace; Otto Hahn the solicitor, Eduard and Hermann Strasser in their uniforms, and the academic from Berlin, Professor Pohl. And Celina Dietz of course, who was magnificently sheathed in a glittering emerald evening gown of metallic lame which was probably a Madeleine Vionnet creation.
Even when aware of his arrival there was a tendency for most of them there to ignore him. Only Eduard made any effort. He gave a friendly wave as if greeting an old school friend and Willie's heart gave a little flutter as he then walked over to him. "You look enchanting this evening Willy. What would you like to drink?"
Willie wasn't very good with drink and had rarely ventured beyond an occasional glass of beer. Unfortunately he sensed that beer was out of the question in that place on that night. "Um, er. Perhaps a sherry."
"Dry or sweet?"
"Oh, um. Sweet I think."
"Of course. And in a big glass with ice. It makes an excellent aperitif with ice."
"Lovely." Willie agreed, not knowing if it would be lovely or not.
Eduard went to the side of the room and returned baring a goblet of dark liquid that tinkled with ice cubes. "Thank you." said Willie accepting the drink, "You're being very kind, but I don't wish you to neglect your sister's other guests."
The man's mouth curled up in cynical amusement and he replied in a soft, low voice. "Look at the choice Celina has given me; the professor, Herr Strasser and Otto Hahn. An egghead, a thug and a solicitor with the moral values of a second-hand car dealer. You are the only nice person here tonight. How are you doing with all that reading?"
Willie peeped up at his elegant features, feeling as giddy as the young girl he had never been. "I've done with the reading. I've made a start on typing it up."
When they sat down at the table he thought Eduard looked the dashing hero in his air force uniform. Professor Pohl should have been resplendent in his white tuxedo, but he seemed to care little about his appearance. He was thin and wiry and wore heavy framed glasses, a man in his late fifties who didn't seem to care that his dinner jacket was unbuttoned and flapped open and how his bow tie was tied inelegantly loose. During the meal that followed he sat with his chin cupped in his hands, elbows on the table, between each course of food.
For the first part of dinner the conversation centred on trivia. The food was delicious. Fraulein Dietz had persuaded Frau Klausen to provide an evening meal instead of a midday lunch that day, and she had excelled herself. A delicious home-made soup to start followed by veal escallops, and with a mouth-watering fruit sponge to finish.
Otto Hahn glanced sideways with some amusement as he observed Willie tucking into the schnitzel on his plate with obvious relish. "Your cook should be complimented, Celina. The food is clearly much appreciated. Few other people in Germany will have dined as well as we do this evening."
Celina Dietz reciprocated with a dignified smile. "Other people -- oh, I'm in my let-them-eat-cake mood tonight." she replied lightly.
"Veal is one of my sister's favoured dishes." Eduard put in. "I prefer well hung fowl myself."
"Pheasant hunting," Otto said, "Is it still good around here?"
"Never better. All kind of game. The woods about here are a great joy."
Eduard's sister smiled dreamily. "Not like the shoots in the old days though -- all the people that used to come here when I was a girl -- the parties, the picnics, the good times. Ravenskopf was always full of guests then, often fifteen, twenty all at once."
Rosalyn and Loti were waiting-on-table, and from the slightly startled expression that erupted on Rosalyn's face each time he cleared crockery from before Hermann Strasser it was clear the man was relishing the opportunity to caress the seat of his skirt with his broad hand whenever he could.
Willie found himself sipping wine nervously, his throat a little dry; it had something to do with the way Herr Hahn kept looking at him. It was disconcerting. It was as if he were devouring him with his eyes. Every now and again the solicitor smiled at him and for a brief moment touched his silk-clad knee.
When the meal was over the men lit cigars and sat back in their chairs. "I've noticed you decorate this fine old house in a traditional Teutonic style, Fraulein Dietz," remarked the professor, "You haven't yet been seduced by the trend for Art Deco."
Celina hesitated, loathed to admit she couldn't afford to buy modern works of art even if she wished to, but Hermann Strasser saved her the trouble of a reply. "Art Deco!" He spat the words out. "Art Decadent more like." he snarled.
Stirred by a subject close to his heart Willie spoke for the first time at the table. "Don't you think some of it is quite adventurous and rather exciting?"
The SS man gave him a disenchanted stare. "The Fuehrer despises all that distorted, modern abstract rubbish, and if he despises it so should we all." He turned to his host. "You spoke earlier of the good times, Fraulein Dietz, and I believe the good times are about to return. We have in Adolph Hitler a guide of the first magnitude in everything. I think everyone here will agree with that."
Celina smiled. "You speak of the Fuehrer as if he were a holy man."
"Perhaps he'd not holy, but there are many who label him as the 'New Messiah' and worship him without reservation. After the dismal years of the 1920s -- the crippling war reparations imposed on us, the stripping away of our overseas colonies, the destruction of our economy -- it is he more than anyone else who as given Germany back its self-respect. His decision to reintroduce compulsory military service for young men in defiance of the Great Powers I consider a master-stroke. It at once took the sharp edge off unemployment figures, while the need to equip an enlarged army as given German industry exactly the kind of fillip it required to rise up from its own ashes. "
"He as given us an air force too," Otto Hahn said pointedly to Eduard. "The Luftwaffe now has the most formidable air fleet in the world. Other nation's sit-up and take notice of us now. Being militarily strong accommodated the Anschluss with Austria and won us back the Rhineland. I don't doubt it will also solve the Polish problem."
Celina sighed. "I don't think most people wish for another war. They still remember the terrible cost of the last one."
Hermann Strasser offered a severe look. "Such people are selfish and are not good Germans. The Fuehrer thinks only of the welfare and betterment of the nation, and if necessary he will drag such faint-hearted fairies kicking and screaming into the glorious future he plans by the scruff of their miserable necks."
Testing for a diverse point of view Celina looked to the other side of the table. "You circulate in Berlin society, Professor Pohl. What is everyone saying? Will there be a war?"
The professor shrugged. "Speculation is rife. Herr Hitler as resolved to reunite all German speaking peoples in a Greater Reich. Everyone as their own theory and mine is that the Fuehrer must go further than that and move against Poland. It is the only way to provide Lebensraum -- space for the German nation to expand. Poland can provide a great deal of space. Afterwards other places may also be useful, but first and foremost we must have Poland.
Hermann nodded agreement. "The security and standing of any country is determined by the size of territory it possesses."
"Very true." Otto said, taking another swig of brandy.
"But Poland as a population of its own." put in Willie rather timorously.
Hermann's dark heavy-lidded eyes glittered with passion as he looked around the table. His expression was one of stone, his face an effigy that wouldn't have looked out of place on Easter Island. "Only beast-like Slavs live there, and Herr Hitler has a profound hatred for them. The Slavs are remnants of the pagan Huns that pillaged Europe centuries ago and most of them will be removed. Those that are left we can use much like the ancient Spartans used the Helots. In the New Reich we shall probably need slaves to till the soil and provide labour for industry whilst the legions of our own vigorous Aryan warriors protect the State."
Professor Pohl sparkled with interest and resting both elbows on the table linked his fingers together. "Ah yes, the Aryan's. A fascinating subject and one that follows the line set down in Mein Kampf. 'Man is a fighting animal and the fighting capacity of a race is determined by its purity'."
Otto Hahn drained his brandy glass and pouted thoughtfully. "I take it you support the theory that the Aryan or Nordic high-browed people are destined to rule over the more primitive low-browed races."
"Yes, it's a much debated, but widely held belief that all true German's originate from that mysterious and superior species of people, and any governing race would of course be under German leadership. Vacher de Lapouge made a very good case for it in his 'L'Aryen'. In some mythologies they are believed to have founded the ancient civilisation of Atlantis. But of course that society was destroyed by a great cataclysm long ago and now no one knows where it lay."
Willie hiccupped and wobbled slightly in his chair. He had consumed a large sherry and two tall glasses of sparkling sekt when even a small glass of beer usually made him feel whoosey, but that night the fortification loosened his inhibitions and encouraged him to speak out. "Professor Dietz believed that Atlantis was a large island in the Baltic."
Pohl gasped in amazement. Eduard chuckled.
"Willie is collating my father's notes with the aim of putting together a book for me." explained Fraulein Dietz. She had planned to introduce Willie's involvement with her father's work at a time of her own choosing, and a look of severity crossed her face now showing her concern in case her guests should feel embarrassed at the interruption.
Hermann Strasser just looked puzzled. "It would seem incredible. Can it be proven? I mean, that the site of that fabled lost continent is in the chilly Baltic?"
Most of what circulated in Willie's head was a mixture of an effete man's demented ramblings and his own imagination, linked together by what other people had written in their own books. That was exactly the kind of things he was typing out to please Frauline Dietz, and it would probably have been best not to say too much about it. But the ability for conversation, almost dormant since he had sat down, was now revived, and once started he was unable to prevent himself continuing with gusto.
"There is evidence that antelope, elephants and crocodiles once lived in Europe, so the entire region must have been sub-tropical at one time. Ancient Greek tradition as it that Atlantis lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules -- a reference to the Straits of Gibraltar - but that only means it wasn't in the Mediterranean. It could be anywhere else. Professor Dietz studied everything very carefully, and he was sure that a large stretch of land existed once in the waters to the north of Pomerania. He was certain that a magnificent civilisation once thrived there, and he was convinced it could only have been Atlantis."
At the foot of the table Eduard cradled a brandy balloon with both hands and offered his warmest smile. For him the conversation had taken an opaque turn, and had now become incoherent. "Is any of this credible to the scientific mind, Herr Pohl?" he asked.
Pohl paused to examine the glowing end of his cigar, pale blue eyes myopic behind thick spectacles. "It makes perfect sense and I'm sure the Fuehrer would agree. He is convinced that every manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill that we benefit from today is the product of Aryan creative power.
"My friend, the eminent Professor Rosenberg as long maintained that the Nordic people evolved in a legendary, now-lost land mass in north-western Europe. The Greek, Pytheas, called it Thule, but such a place could easily equate with Atlantis. Most of the leadership of the Nazi Party, including Himmler, are members of the Thule-Gesellscaft -- the Thule Society, who believe our Aryan past is closely linked to the antediluvian world beyond the dawn of recorded history."
His gaze suddenly rose up and settled keenly on Willie. "If Atlantis produced the Aryan race it would obviously be close to Germany. And if dear Professor Dietz can present proof to qualify such a theory his work will be precisely the kind of academic study so many important people are yearning for. Can he do that? Can he provide proof?"
Willie sensed Fraulein Dietz's eyes glaring hard in his direction, almost demanding an affirmative answer. She was smiling but it was the kind of smile that cautioned him against smiling in return. He hid his anxiety, his long lashes drooping over eyes that might have revealed uncertainty. "Erm, oh yes. I'm sure he can." he said.
Throughout the entire evening Otto Hahn had been acutely aware of the smart little morsel seated next to him. He'd admired Willie's girlish profile in the flickering candlelight, noting how elegantly his hair was pinned back except for a few corkscrew tresses that had prised themselves loose to drift about his face and neck. "You're a saucy madam and no mistake. You spoke up very bravely just now." he murmured.
When the little porcelain princess gave him a watery smile he decided it was time to try for something else, and Willie's attention was suddenly diverted once more by the man's straying hand, which this time moved from his knee to grope beneath his skirt in an attempt to run lecherous fingers along his inner thigh.
Willie dug his nails dig into the palms of his hands as he swivelled sideways to shake off the lecherous intrusion, but suspected the man wouldn't desist until he made a scene that was certain to bring on Fraulein Dietz's displeasure, which was certain to be displeasure at his own behaviour rather than that of the debauched solicitor.
The tortured expression of discomfort on his face was soon noticed by Eduard, who pushed himself to his feet. "Excuse me everyone, but I need to get outside and take a breath of fresh air." Turning his eyes sideways he added. "Perhaps Willie would like to join me."
"Oh yes. I'd like that." Willie exclaimed pushing back his chair.
Eduard's boots scraped on the paving has he strode onto the terrace. "I hope you don't think I'm taking advantage of you by requesting your company."
"Not at all. I'm only grateful to get away from the table. I was beginning to feel trapped."
"I understand. Some of my sister's acquaintances are not gentlemen."
He received back a trusting look that made his insides tighten. "You're a gentleman, Eduard. I think you probably lark around a lot with your friends, but I sense you are very right and proper about things that really matter."
Eduard nodded solemnly. "I'd feel upset if we beat the Poles in a war and didn't treat them right afterwards. In the past the Reichwehr as always been honourable in its fights, and I resent the likes of Herr Strasser wishing to poison that tradition."
The evening air was warm and sweetly perfumed by the garden and he at once invited Willie to descend from the terrace and take a stroll among the shrubs and stands of flowers. They walked side by side for a while, careful not to touch.
"At the moment my airgruppe is converting from Stuka dive-bombers to the new Messerschmitt fighters. Superb machines. The best in the world. If trouble does come they will prove a real war winner."
"'War is sweet -- to them that know it not.'" replied Willie solemnly. "The philosopher Erasmus wrote those words five hundred years ago, and they are as true today as they were then. I wish everyone would stop talking about war."
Eduard treated him to a slow smile. "I dare say you do. You are a gentle creature, Willie, but unfortunately we are living through times that require forceful measures. The Great Powers suffered political blindness following their success in 1918. In a move to punish our country and keep it weak they granted Poland access to the port of Danzig on the Baltic coast by way of a wide strip of land that cuts through German territory."
"I've heard of it. It's referred to as the Polish Corridor."
"Yes. It separates East Prussia from the rest of Germany; a nonsense you will agree, to split a country into two pieces like that. And it's not just the Corridor either. The Poles have never ceased in their claims to the greater part of Silesia, a province that as been German since the time of Frederick the Great. "This book my sister insists you write -- my fathers concepts -- it's all silliness of course."