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Chapter Two

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« on: June 05, 2023, 11:43:13 am »


As the aircraft lost height approaching Vienna and the world below gained definition, it was not the city which claimed immediate attention, but the river. Vienna is not built “on the Danube,” as London is built “on the Thames.” The city was established well away from the flood-plain of its tremendous river: at first Macdonald saw the city as no more than a shadowy blur, while the great ribbon of the Danube itself showed strong and dark and clear, right across the endless plain. To the west, the bastions and foothills of the eastern Alps had levelled out: to the east, the plain stretched away to the limits of visibility, to continue, far beyond, to the unseen Carpathian Mountains. As he watched, Macdonald pondered over that vast level expanse of eastern Europe: that was the way the Mongol hordes had come galloping in, Attila and his Huns, the Turks, and all the other invaders from the east, he meditated. Vienna was, for them, the gateway to central Europe and the cross-roads to north and south.

Slowly the Viscount lost height, banking almost silently, the aircraft vibrating a little, pulsing like a live thing, the wing-tips describing great arcs across the sky, right above the city. Staring down, trying to pick up remembered landmarks, Macdonald saw the Danube Canal, then recognised the green dome of Karlskirche and the long roof ridge of St. Stephan’s Cathedral before they flew on, south-east of Vienna, to the airport of Schwechat. He had seen Vienna and the Danube long ago, from the heights of the Leopoldsberg and the Wienerwald, but there was a sense of drama in seeing it thus from the air---the river, the city, the plain.

They flew east of Schwechat, and then swung round, up-wind, and approached the airport, whose undistinguished shed-like buildings stood no comparison with Zürich. Taxi-ing in on the runway, Macdonald saw the fair girl smiling at him as she collected her belongings.

“Wasn’t it marvellous?” she said. “I’d no idea the Danube was so terrific.”

“It’s a wonderful sight,” agreed Macdonald. “I was as thrilled as you were. Are you being met at the airport, or do you go into Vienna in the B.E.A. bus?”

“I’m being met here: at least, I hope so! Isn’t the airport quite a distance from Vienna?”

“I believe so---but I shouldn’t worry. I expect there’s a reception committee laid on for you. Good-bye---and good luck!”

“Good-bye, and thank you again---and a lovely holiday!”

As Macdonald left the plane and went down the steps behind her, he saw that there was indeed a group of people on the tarmac, come to welcome those who were distinguished---or fortunate---enough to merit this privilege. Members of the Embassies were allowed to greet their guests as they stepped from the plane, and a man of Sir Charles Bland’s standing would certainly be accorded this courtesy, but the majority of passengers had to wait until Customs and passport formalities were over before meeting their friends. To Macdonald’s amusement, Miss Le Vendre was greeted and escorted to the buildings by an elderly man with “diplomat” written all over him: it was the assurance, as well as the smiling courtesy, which marked out the Embassy official. Queueing up with the rest of the commonplace travellers (and enjoying being one of a crowd for once), the C.I.D. man found himself waiting at the Customs counter beside the young man in the camel coat and was able to have a good look at him. His name was Charles Stratton---it was boldly printed on his handsome pigskin suit-case---and he was somewhat older than Macdonald had guessed---probably about thirty. He certainly spoke excellent German, and he was let through without being asked to open his case. Macdonald’s German was rusty, and he answered the routine questions in English. The Customs officer gave him a deliberate stare and then asked him to open his suit-case. Macdonald obliged, and his innocent belongings were carefully investigated, while the stout man who might (or might not) be associated with Scots whisky, watched proceedings with evident enjoyment.

“This’d be jam for some folks I won’t mention,” he said.

“Why?” asked Macdonald.

“I happen to know your dial---known it a long time, too,” chuckled the stout man, “and I enjoy a joke as much as the next chap.”

“Delighted to give you pleasure,” rejoined Macdonald, as he closed his case. “I don’t remember your face, though.”

“You wouldn’t. No one remembers us---I’m a camera man. If you look, all you see is the camera. I’ve often wondered some folks don’t use that---just the ticket on certain occasions.”

Macdonald moved on to the final passport officer, and again the stout man stood behind him.

“Name of Webster,” he said affably. “I got a lovely shot of you outside C.O. not long ago. Having a little vacation?”

“That’s the idea,” said Macdonald. “I’ve got enough sense not to argue with a camera man, but if you’d keep your lens off me while I’m on holiday, I’d be grateful.”

“You needn’t have said that, sir,” said Webster, sounding quite hurt. “A job’s a job, whether it’s yours or mine, and you’re not my job in this city.”

“Thanks. No offence meant,” said Macdonald. “Who’re you after---or would that be telling?”

“Well, you might have guessed that in one, sir, with all the ballyhoo over the reopening of the Opera House. I’m not doing anything official, you know---free-lance stuff. Celebrities in Vienna---shots outside the Opera House, outside the Hofburg, at Schönbrunn and all the rest. And if I’m lucky, a nice picture of the grand old star---that wonderful old singer, Hedwige Waldtraut Körner. She’s been a singer, she has: the Scala at Milan, San Carlo at Naples, Bayreuth, New York, Covent Garden---the whole caboodle. And now she’s in the news again along a different line---but you’ll know about that.”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” replied Macdonald. “Operatic celebrities aren’t my long suit.”

“You’re kidding me,” replied Mr. Webster, but Macdonald moved up to have his passport stamped and did not reply. Before he moved on, however, he turned to say good-bye to the stout camera man: there was something endearing about Mr. Webster.

“Well, good luck to the picture making,” he said.

“Thank you, sir: very kindly said. And you needn’t do the right about if you happen to see me around: I’ll not get you in the viewfinder, not even by mistake. I’ve got more sense than you might think and I wouldn’t cramp your style for words.”

He slapped his passport down on the counter and winked at Macdonald. “You to your job and me to mine,” he said.

“I’m not on a job. I’m on holiday,” said Macdonald.

“O.K., sir. Have a good one!” replied the other.


“Robert Macdonald---welcome to Vienna! I’ve waited a long time to say that, my friend. It is ten years since you said ‘I’ll see you in Vienna some day.’ ”

Franz Natzler stood beside his car, smiling up at his tall visitor. Natzler was white-haired now, and his blue eyes were misty with genuine feeling. As Macdonald shook hands, memory took him back in a flash to London during the blitz, and Franz Natzler fire-watching beside him. Natzler was a doctor and a practising psychologist, highly esteemed in Vienna, but he was partly Jewish in descent and he had managed to get his wife and himself out of Vienna before the declaration of war in 1939 and had arrived in London as a penniless refugee. It was in London that Macdonald had met him, working at a first-aid post in a bombed area, and the two men had started a friendship which had endured---and now they met again after a lapse of ten years.

“It’s good to be here, doctor. It’s twenty-five years since I was in Vienna and I’ve always promised myself I’d see it again. To see it with you is best of all.”

Natzler opened the door of his car. “Get in, my friend. Vienna’s not quite what it was, but the worst of the damage is made good. Now do you remember the district where I live---Hietzing?”

“Not far from Schönbrunn Palace---I remember that all right, and the Tiergarten . . . and the Gloriette. It’s to the west of Vienna, isn’t it? Near the woods.”

“Quite right. Pretty good after quarter of a century, my friend. Now would you like a quick drive round the city before we go home---to see the Stephansdom and the Karlskirche and the Opera House?”

“I should indeed.”

“We’ve got to get across Vienna anyway---and if Herr Vogel would only move on, we’ll get cracking---as the English boys say.”

Looking ahead at the car which stood in their way, Macdonald suddenly saw the camel coat again: he was sure there couldn’t be two coats like that in Vienna. The owner of it was in the Volkswagen ahead, talking to the driver.

“Is Herr Vogel a friend of yours?” Macdonald asked. “His passenger was on the plane.”

Dr. Natzler sounded a tattoo on his horn. “Hardly a friend: a patient, at one time. You helped me to read Shakespeare when I was in England, Macdonald. ‘One man in his time plays many parts.’ Certainly Vogel has done so. If that young man is a friend of yours, a word of warning might be reasonable. Ah---he moves, at last he moves.”

Natzler turned his car neatly and shot ahead of the Volkswagen and turned west towards Vienna. Macdonald answered his last comment.

“The young man is no friend of mine: I just happened to see him in the plane, and wondered about his occupation in the idle way that travellers do wonder.”

Natzler chuckled. “Kultur,” he said. “Something to the arts pertaining. That coat, it is fantastisch.”

The approach road to Vienna on which they were driving was a dull road with nothing to occupy the attention, and Natzler went on: “I, also, wondered about that young man. I had seen Vogel, pottering about, all agog---is that right, yes?---to meet a passenger on your plane: when the young man appeared it was quite a pantomime. They did not know each other by sight, and they circled round like two dogs, until at last Vogel saw the name on that beautiful suitcase, and then all was well. Although they had quite a little argument, as you saw, before they got away.”

The doctor chuckled and then added: “A nice little mystery for you: is that young man, Herr Stratton (I also read his name), being taken ‘for a ride,’ as they say. Friend Vogel had the look of a cat approaching the cream.”

“You seem to have a poor opinion of Herr Vogel,” said Macdonald.

“Myself, I would have nothing to do with him,” said Natzler. “He . . . how do you say it, my English to the dogs has gone . . . he makes opportunities.”

“An opportunist,” said Macdonald: “a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, if you remember your Shakespeare.”

“Ach---that is very apt: and the young Herr Stratton, he looked to me a wealthy trifle.”

“He looked to me a nasty bit of work,” said Macdonald. “Too mannered and no manners.”

“Mannered and manners,” said Natzler. “That is very English: a crossword language if ever there was one. See, we approach our city. That is----”

“It’s the Cattle Market,” said Macdonald promptly. “Even I can remember that . . . and ahead on the left, beyond the railway, is the Belvedere and the Botanic Gardens.”

“So . . . very good, and beyond that, my friend, is Stalin Platz---a new one for you. See, we will go up to Karlplatz, and then see the Opera House, and up the Kartnerstrasse to the Stephansdom---and you will have made your bow to Vienna, old and new.”

For the next half-hour Dr. Natzler drove Macdonald round the complex crowded streets in the heart of Vienna, until the C.I.D. man began to get his bearings again. He remembered the centre of the city as “the Gothic Kernel”; narrow streets, with no great boulevards laid out as in Paris or Munich. The streets crowded round the great spire of St. Stephans---as unforgettable as the Danube. It was the containing Ringstrasse that opened up vistas of wide tree-lined streets, of parks and open spaces, and the glorious baroque riot of domes and elaborately decorated façades which make Vienna a delight and a bewilderment to learn. Some buildings Macdonald did remember---the enchanting green dome of Karlskirche and the twin columns in front of it: the Opera House, now once again superb and renewed after its wartime destruction; the Albertina, where he had once rejoiced over Dürer’s drawings: the Hofburg, which had been the Imperial Palace (with yet another dome), and Peterskirche (another dome).

“You remember it all?” asked Dr. Natzler anxiously, and Macdonald laughed.

“You’re asking something, doctor. Remember it? I never learnt it properly. After all, the Romans began it, and it was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire for about eight hundred years, and they all did something to it. But I remember the core---Stephansdom, and the Ringstrasse around it and the trees and the colour and the gaiety and the baroque exuberance. It still is exuberant---despite Stalin Platz and the Occupying Powers.”

“Good, good. Vienna has had its effect, it has made you talk. That is Viennese, to talk exuberantly as you say. Now we will go home. Ilse will be impatient to see you. She will ask you one thing---did you remember the Opera House?”

“Yes, I did. It looks just the same, except that it’s cleaner.”

Natzler laughed. “Just the same---you should have seen it after the bombing. And you must go over it while you are here. It is now the finest Opera House in the world.”

They left the heart of the city, and presently were driving along a wide boulevard, westwards, towards the Schönbrunn Palace and towards the Wienerwald---Vienna woods. Dr. Natzler was almost penitent.

“It is too much, that I should demand of you ‘do you remember’ after so long. . . .”

“What’s a quarter of a century?” asked Macdonald cheerfully. “You were in London in 1945. If you’re still alive in 1970---and I see no reason why you shouldn’t be---and you go to London, you’ll still recognise St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. But you’ll have forgotten how to get from one to the other. That’s how it is with me, but it’ll come back.”

“What a sensible fellow you are!” said Natzler. “That is as I remember you: first kindness, then good sense: common sense, as you call it, though I myself should not call it so common, not even among Englishmen.”

“I’m not really English. I’m a Scot,” retorted Macdonald.

“Ah ha: but I remember you once described yourself as a London Scot,” replied Natzler. “In short, you are a Londoner, as I am Viennese.” He drew out to pass another car, with a “C.D.” plate above its registration number, and he raised his hand in salute as they passed. It was a chauffeur-driven Daimler, and in the back seats Macdonald saw Miss Le Vendre and her silver-haired escort. She saw him, too, and waved to him.

“Sir Walter Vanbrugh,” said Natzler, “you know him, hein?”

“No. I’ve heard his name---he was in the Foreign Office, until he retired. The fair girl with him was on the plane with me.”

“Yes. I saw them drive out from the airport. He will have been to the Embassy on his way home. Sir Walter also lives in Hietzing, in Trauttmansdorffgasse.”

“And is Sir Walter also a patient of yours?”

“Quite right. All sorts and conditions of men I attend (that is classical English, nicht wahr?)—from Sir Walter to Herr Vogel. And the devil of it is a doctor can never forget he is a doctor.”

“You’re not alone in that,” said Macdonald. “It’s a failing which develops with age. Last time I was in Vienna I was in the C.I.D.---as I have been ever since. I was only an Inspector then, and I swear I never gave my job a thought. I only wanted to enjoy myself---and I did.”

“And it’s harder now,” said Natzler. “You can’t get away from your work: your mind still works on detecting. But that, my friend, is because you are tired. I knew that when I first saw you. You’re tough, as the Americans say, and you don’t look any older than you did last time I saw you, but you look tired. We will change all that! We will have a holiday together, you and Ilse and I---and Karl. Did I tell you that Karl also was coming home for a holiday?”

“Good!” said Macdonald. “I shall be glad to see him again, he’s a fine lad. So he’s taken to doctoring too?”

“Yes: he specialises---tuberculosis. He has been working with Köch in his Clinic near Lucerne, and he will be flying from Zürich, as you did. He hoped to be able to get away to-day and so arrive with you, but it was not possible. I shall be glad for you to see Karl again. He has done well in his work. . . . Sehen Sie! You remember that?”

He slowed down and Macdonald caught a glimpse of the Schönbrunn Palace among the trees. “Yes. I remember that. It’s a lovely sight. It’s one of the greatest palaces in Europe, though I always enjoyed the gardens and the Gloriette and the clipped trees more than the amazing galleries and the porcelain room and all the rest. I wonder if the old Emperor used to enjoy his gardens.”

“Franz Josef: he lived there and died there and they took him thence to the Capucine Crypt---the last of the great Hapsburgs, the end of an era. We have seen some thrones tumble in our lifetime, Macdonald---though the British throne seems more stable than ever. There’s something about the British that stands firm.”

“Is it because they recognise the need for change and change in reply to the need?---and the royal family changes to meet altered circumstances? There’s a difference between Victoria and Elizabeth II---God bless her.”

“Amen. A difference and yet a sameness. How can I say it? Sir Walter Vanbrugh---we saw him just now: he’s nearly eighty years old. He was in the Foreign Service when Victoria was Queen. Has he changed? I think not.”

“Well, he’s retired,” said Macdonald. “I’m not going to get involved in foreign policy, so I won’t say ‘a good thing too,’ as I might have done. Is he living in Vienna?”

“He is. His son-in-law---Gore Spencer---is in the Embassy here, as Sir Walter was himself once, in the time when Franz Josef was still Emperor. There’s a link with the old days for you. The young girl he met at Schwechat would be his new secretary, I think. He is writing his memoirs, he tells me.”

“Another edition of ‘A Diplomat Remembers,’ ” observed Macdonald dryly. “I often wonder if the diplomats look back with pride over the results of their activities in this century.”

“Ach---you may well ask: but let us not ask. ‘Throw physic to the dogs’---I remember that one---and diplomacy with it. Foreign policy, it is verboten during your holiday. See, here we turn, away from Schönbrunn to our quiet streets. Altzaugasse, where we live, is quite near the woods, up from the Hietzinger Hauptstrasse—you must learn your way about. Then you can take the car and drive yourself.”

The quiet leafy roads of Hietzing were very beautiful on that October day: the trees were turning gold, and their warm colours shone against the stonework and stucco of the graceful houses: houses which had fine doorways and wrought-iron grilles over the ground-storey windows. Macdonald found a resemblance to the Regency houses of London, though in this district of Vienna there was a more spacious air, and the architectural embellishments had something faintly rococo about them. It was difficult to determine exactly what the quality was, for they were reticent houses, yet moulding and ironwork, doorway and shutter, each had a character which made Hietzing quite unlike any corresponding residential area in London or in Paris.

“Ilse will be looking for us,” said Dr. Natzler---and Ilse was. The front door of Altzaugasse 25 was thrown open as the car pulled up and Frau Natzler had no inhibitions about welcoming an Englishman. She put her hands firmly on Macdonald’s shoulders and kissed him on either cheek.

“You are welcome, dear friend, so very welcome. Franz and I have waited for this day. Kommen Sie---I have all ready to make you a good cup of tea. After so long, you have come to us in Vienna.”

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