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Chapter Eight

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« on: June 06, 2023, 02:00:38 pm »

==1==

Anthony Vanbrugh, Sir Walter’s nephew, was a man of fifty. Born into a family of diplomats, he had been in the Foreign Office until 1939. Thereafter, duly commissioned, he had spent the years between 1940 and 1950 in those branches of the Services covered by the generic title “Intelligence,” including Field Security in Germany. Later he was drafted into Public Relations of a semi-diplomatic variety, and in 1955 he was attached to the British Mission in Vienna, though the exact nature of his work was known to few. It certainly involved regular appearances at those lunches, dinners, cocktail parties and even tea parties which are a feature of life for Foreign Office attachés stationed in European capitals. When his uncle took the big house in Trauttmansdorffgasse, Anthony Vanbrugh gave up his bachelor flat in the Ringstrasse and enjoyed the more spacious quarters of his uncle’s house. He was a mannered, urbane fellow, settling a little too easily into middle-aged comfort, possessed of a large amount of miscellaneous information and an authoritative manner.

Anthony Vanbrugh’s dinner to Sir Charles Bland had been one of those “semi-duty” occasions: he had enjoyed a good dinner and good wine, and if Sir Charles Bland had found his host’s conversation (and information) less enlightening than he had hoped, Sir Charles was too much of a born diplomat himself to betray the fact.

Anthony Vanbrugh drove himself back from Vienna to Hietzing just before midnight on the evening when Walsingham had visited the Grünekeller. He drove by the route which took him past Schönbrunn Barracks, and just before he turned down the steep hill of the Wattmanngasse he had to brake violently because a van, or converted jeep, cut across his bows in no diplomatic fashion. Mr. Vanbrugh swore: he counted himself a pretty good driver and was easily infuriated by bad driving manners on the part of others. He saw the van (or jeep) go bucketing down the hill under the trees, and wished the driver no good. His wishes looked like being substantiated, because the vehicle in front bounced in a startling lurch, and then swung across the road in a manner which suggested it was out of control. “The damn’ fool’s drunk,” thought Mr. Vanbrugh, taking the hill circumspectly. The thunderstorm of a few hours ago had brought down a lot of leaves, and these were still sodden enough to make the hill skiddy. Vanbrugh had his car well in control, but his attention was distracted by the tail lights of the van careering down the hill in front of him and it wasn’t until he was nearly on to it that he saw the body lying in the road. His brakes squealed as he jammed his foot down but the wheels slipped on the wet leaves and then the car skidded sideways a bit, the wheels touching the body.

“Hell,” thought Vanbrugh. “That blighter in the van ran this chap down and now I’m left with it, and no witnesses.”

He turned on his headlights (he had been driving with spotlights), got out and went to examine the casualty. It was a man’s body which lay face down on the road: he was dressed in a good raincoat, lightish in colour, and the wheel-marks of the jeep on the fine gaberdine left no doubt at all that the vehicle had literally run over him. Something about the raincoat and the good brown shoes which stuck out at a fantastic angle, made Vanbrugh think “He’s British . . . that’s an English raincoat. . . .”

Then he realised that the skirt of the raincoat was under the front wheels of his own car: the wheel had not gone over the body, but Vanbrugh could not turn the man over or ascertain his injuries until he had backed his car. He touched one arm tentatively, said to himself, “Hope to God he’s not dead . . . he must have been crashed face down. . . . Hell, what a mess. Nobody to help . . . what do I do now?”

He did what seemed most sensible in the circumstances: got into his car, revved up the engine and succeeded in backing it clear of the body, though the wheels were difficult to control on the skiddy road and he found himself with the car slewed across the road.

“If anything else comes down the hill there’ll be another smash,” he thought. “I’d better straighten up.”

It was as he got his car straightened by the kerb and turned the engine off that he heard footsteps and realised, thankfully enough, that somebody was approaching. “What do I do? Send them for the police and a doctor?” he thought, as he got out and went forward to the body again, but paused as he realised the pedestrian was running forward towards him---a young man and a powerful-looking one.

“There’s been an accident and I need help,” called Vanbrugh. “We’d better lift him out of the road.”

The newcomer stared, his blue eyes goggling in the reflected glare of the headlights. “Gott in Himmel . . . you’ve killed him. . . .”

“I didn’t kill him: it was the van in front that killed him,” snapped Vanbrugh. “Now carefully---I’ll take his shoulders----”

“We should not move him. The police will say----” began the other, but Vanbrugh cut in:

“I’m not going to leave his body lying there until the police come. Another car may come down the hill and it’s difficult to pull up. Do as you’re told.”

He spoke with the curt authority of one who has been accustomed to giving orders, and the other obeyed, muttering to himself the while. They lifted the limp heavy body on to the pavement and laid the man on his back. Vanbrugh said:

“Good God . . . It’s Walsingham. . . . Of all the shocking things . . .”

He bent over the injured man, and the sturdy young Austrian said, “I will go at once for the police and call a doctor.”

“Wait a minute,” said Vanbrugh. “I know this gentleman: he is a guest in my uncle’s house in Trauttmansdorffgasse---Sir Walter Vanbrugh’s house. I’m going to lift him into my car and take him home. I’m not going to leave him lying here until the police arrive.”

“You should not move him: the police will wish to see him,” began the other.

“That’s for me to decide,” snapped Vanbrugh. “The car’s pretty wide: we can get him almost flat if we lay him in the back. Now then---do as you’re told. I’m taking responsibility for this. . . . I’ll move the car level with him and we’ll lift him into the back. It’s only a couple of minutes from the house and I can telephone from there---it’ll be the quickest way of getting a doctor. He may die if we leave him lying here.”

“I think he is already dead,” replied the other.

==2==

“Don’t be a damned fool,” said Anthony Vanbrugh irritably.

It was not a wise remark to make to any police officer, anywhere: it was a particularly foolish one for a foreigner to make to a Viennese police officer, for the Viennese are still sensitive about being spoken to as though they were inferior beings.

“Gently, Anthony, gently,” protested Sir Walter. “Get a hold on yourself.”

“I’ve told the fellow exactly what happened, and he’s trying to prove I ran Walsingham down,” said Anthony indignantly.

“It is very difficult,” said the police officer, and Sir Walter had enough common sense to see that difficulties existed.

By the time the doctor and the police had arrived in Trauttmansdorffgasse, Walsingham was dead. His body showed multiple injuries, but the obvious cause of death was a broken skull.

“I tell you that when that van hit him, it was travelling at over fifty miles an hour: it crashed him down and bumped over his body,” declared Anthony Vanbrugh. But when the police officer asked his precise questions, Anthony found it difficult to give precise answers.

“Did you see deceased cross the road?” asked the policeman, “and if so, was he crossing towards Trauttmansdorffgasse or walking away from it?”

Actually, Anthony Vanbrugh had not seen Walsingham cross the road at all: he had seen the van (or adapted jeep) bounce over an obstacle and swerve violently, and had assumed the rest. Like many people who have not been accustomed to being interrogated, he was a very bad witness; he had formed his own conclusions and became irritated by the impartiality of a police officer who would not accept another man’s conclusions. Neither could he give any useful description of the vehicle which had done the damage: it might have been a van with a canvas hood: it might have been an old jeep, adapted as a van. He could not give its number. “I tell you it cut across me travelling much too fast,” he said. “I had my work cut out to avoid a smash. I saw it go bucketing down the hill and I thought it would capsize before it reached the bottom. The driver must have been drunk.”

==3==

The pedestrian who (unwillingly) had helped Anthony Vanbrugh to move Walsingham’s body was Hans Flüchs, the journalist. He, at least, was a very good witness. He told how he had seen Walsingham at the Grünekeller earlier in the evening and parted with him and Boris Schulze in the Hietzinger Hauptstrasse at eleven o’clock. Flüchs had then walked up to see a friend in the Rosengasse, to borrow a book, and he was walking back to his flat in Penzingergasse when he had first seen Anthony Vanbrugh’s car.

“I saw it was a big American car,” he said. “The headlights had just been turned on---I saw the lights come on. The car was half across the road, as though it had skidded. The driver roared his engine and backed a little. I said to myself ‘There has been an accident’ and I began to run.”

“What made you think there had been an accident?” asked the careful policeman.

“It was the way the car was placed when I first saw it,” replied Hans. “No driver would get his car in such a position unless something strange had occurred. Then, as I ran, the driver reversed a few yards back up the hill and I saw the body lying in the road. I thought ‘He has killed a man.’ Indeed, I still think so,” he added. “I saw no other vehicle, I heard no other vehicle: I saw the big car back away from the body and the body was partly under the car before it backed. I said to myself ‘He is going to drive on and leave this man he has killed’---that was why I ran, to let the driver see there was a witness.” After which, Hans Flüchs explained that it was owing to Mr. Anthony Vanbrugh’s insistence that the body had been moved. “I told him that nothing should be moved,” he said. “I know the police rules, Herr Inspector. I knew it was not in order. I said I would go and fetch the police, but Herr Vanbrugh would not have it. ‘He may die if we leave him lying here,’ he said, though I told him the man was dead already. It was not easy to argue with Herr Vanbrugh, and I thought ‘I will go in the car with him that I may give my evidence when the police come. If I do not go with him, who knows what may happen---and it might be his word against mine if our evidence is not the same.’ ”

The police inspector grunted. He was incensed with Anthony Vanbrugh, who had called him a damned fool: he was incensed that police regulations had been set at nought and he had got an idea into his head that these English “High Ups” were taking the law into their own hands. He fixed Hans Flüchs with a stern eye.

“You have given your evidence, the facts of the situation,” he said. “You can now tell me, in confidence, the impressions you formed.”

Flüchs was truthful and honest, and it was not his fault if the impressions he had formed were misleading. “I heard no other vehicle: I saw no other vehicle,” he repeated. “To me, it looked as though the big car had just run the man down, and that the driver was backing away from the body so that he could get past, only when he saw me he changed his mind.”

==4==

Hans Flüchs was allowed to go home. Inquiries were set on foot to find out if anybody had seen a van with a canvas cover (or a jeep) approach or leave the Wattmanngasse. Anthony Vanbrugh accompanied the police back to the scene of the accident to show them where he had first braked when he saw the van and where he had braked when he saw the body---and then it began to rain again: not thunder rain, but steady determined rain which washed away brake-marks and skid-marks and fallen leaves. Anthony was now in a very bad temper: he was sorry enough about Walsingham’s death, but he was furious that his own statements were subject to question.

“I’ve told you what happened,” he said. “It’s your business to find that van driver---and if the driver wasn’t drunk I shall be surprised. You’ve got all the proof you need, the marks of the van wheels on Walsingham’s raincoat.”

“There are also the marks of your own wheels,” replied the inspector---and this was true. By the time the gaberdine raincoat was spread out, the marks of Vanbrugh’s tyres showed very distinctly, together with the mud and sodden leaves left by the original impact.

By the time the police left, Anthony Vanbrugh was in a state of unreasonable fury. He went up the state staircase only too anxious to go to bed and forget his troubles, but he found his uncle waiting up for him, sitting under one of the shaded lights beside the chessmen in the salon.

“I am sorry, Uncle. It’s a wretched business,” said the nephew. “It was sheer manslaughter, nothing else. I saw what happened and that damned inspector can’t recognise the truth when he hears it. I think I’ll have a drink. I need it.”

He went and poured himself a good tot of whisky and then added, “We shall have to let Walsingham’s people know---next-of-kin, whoever it is.” He paused, and then asked, “Is he married?”

“I don’t know. I know very little about him, except as a writer,” said Sir Walter unhappily.

“But you asked him to stay here,” said Anthony.

“Yes. I met him in London when I was there in the spring,” said Sir Walter. “Northington gave me lunch at his club and Neville Walsingham was also a guest. I had been discussing my own book with Northington, particularly those chapters dealing with the Anschluss period, and Northington said that Walsingham was remarkably well informed about certain facts, and that, as a writer, he might be able to give me some useful advice. At the end of luncheon, I invited Walsingham to dine with me. I found him intelligent and perceptive, and he was most generous in offering help and advice about my own memoirs---and not all distinguished professional writers are so generous. Eventually I invited him to stay here if he were passing through Vienna---and I was very happy to have him. He was able to give me a lot of help---as a writer, that is.”

The old man’s voice was very weary, but he went on: “Neville always wrote to me from his publishers---Bennet & Walbrook. I don’t even know if he has a fixed address in London. I will telephone to Bennet & Walbrook as early as seems reasonable in the morning.”

Anthony Vanbrugh put his glass down.

“Speaking frankly, it looks a fair-sized mess,” he said, and then added, “I don’t want to distress you, Uncle, but we might as well think out all the implications. Walsingham was, as you say, very well informed about a period which most Austrians are anxious to forget. For all we know, he may have come to Vienna to rout out a few more facts. Did he give you any reason for this visit?”

“He came to revisit Vienna, a city for which he had a great liking,” replied Sir Walter coldly, “and I had invited him to stay with me.”

“Don’t think I’m being offensive,” said Anthony, “but I can’t help remembering that that police inspector was quite anxious to involve me in this story---as though it would have suited him very well if he could prove that I had knocked Walsingham down.”

“Rubbish!” said Sir Walter, and there was an indignant light in his weary eyes. “The thing is distressing enough as it is, Anthony, without you making unjustified implications. It was the inspector’s duty to get all the available evidence, and while I have every sympathy with the course you took, the fact that the body was moved made it more difficult for the police. And there is the additional fact that that poor child was injured in the thunderstorm. I am not suggesting for a moment that there is any connection between these unhappy incidents, but perhaps it is not unnatural for an Austrian police inspector to take a different view---to assume too easily that something sinister has been occurring in a foreigner’s household.”

“Yes. The whole thing’s a wretched business for you, Uncle---but that doesn’t justify the inspector’s manner to me,” replied the other. “In any case, there’s something about these two accidents I don’t like.”

“Do you suppose I like it?” said Sir Walter wearily, “but the one thing I beg is that you will not start making wild assumptions. You have said that a van passed you at excessive speed: you saw the van going down the hill and you saw it swerve and bump over an obstacle---in other words you saw it run over Walsingham. You say that owing to the wet leaves it was difficult to brake on the hill: the answer to all that seems plain---the van driver couldn’t check his vehicle in time to avoid an accident. But I refuse to admit that because we have had two accidents in one day to inmates of this house that there is of necessity any connection between those accidents.”

Anthony Vanbrugh poured himself another drink and took his time over it. Then he said, “Look here, I’m sorry, Uncle. If I’ve been talking unguardedly, it was because I was livid over the inspector’s attitude. He seemed to me to be unnecessarily aggressive. But leave that for the moment. What has been actually happening we’re not in a position to know at the moment, but credit me with enough common sense not to make sensational suggestions to the police. I’ve said whatever came into my mind to you. I shan’t say it to anybody else.”

“All right, all right,” said the old man. “These things have got to be investigated, we both know that---and to my mind the problem will have to be dealt with on a higher level than the local police. You heard me mention that there’s a Scotland Yard Superintendent staying with Dr. Natzler---Macdonald. He was round here this evening, because it was he and young Natzler who found Elizabeth Le Vendre up in the woods. Macdonald made it very clear that he was in Vienna in his private capacity, on holiday. But I don’t think he will maintain his refusal to act after this second . . . accident. Two British subjects are involved. I think the formalities can be arranged---it’s not an unknown thing for English police to co-operate in a foreign capital. And I can think of nobody I would be more glad to have in this investigation than Macdonald.”

“Well, that’s the best piece of news that’s emerged yet,” said Anthony. “I only wish you’d got hold of him at once: he could have kept that local inspector on the rails. What about ringing Macdonald up?”

“You know as well as I know that we can’t do things like that,” said Sir Walter. “This isn’t a case of asking a London C.I.D. man to act for us, in a friendly capacity. The thing’s got to go through the proper channels, so that the investigation will be an official one, with full recognition from the Police Commissioners in both capitals. And get this quite clear, Anthony: you won’t get any preferential treatment from a man like Macdonald. He will be entirely impartial---and rightly so.”

“I’m not asking for preferential treatment,” grunted Anthony, “all I want is fair play.”

Sir Walter raised his fine eyebrows but forbore to comment on this one: he had never had a very high opinion of his nephew’s intelligence despite Anthony’s successful career in “Intelligence.”

After Anthony Vanbrugh had gone to bed, Sir Walter sat down at the telephone. There are some advantages in putting through long-distance telephone calls in the small hours---provided the person or department you are calling can be relied on to answer. Sir Walter Vanbrugh knew that he would be given a clear line if he asked for it and at that hour speaking to London from Vienna was as easy as speaking from Vienna to Hietzing. It was only a few minutes before he got his number---London, Abbey XIXI.

“Is that you, James? Walter Vanbrugh here. I wouldn’t have called you at this hour without adequate reason, but there’s trouble this end which needs looking into. I’ll tell you the facts as briefly as I can.”

It was about three minutes later that James grunted, “I’ve got all that: very troublesome for you. What can I do about it?”

“Put the facts before the Commissioner, James. You know him, I don’t. It happens that there’s one of his Superintendents here, staying in Vienna, on holiday. I hate to interfere with a man’s holiday, but his leave can be extended later. . . .”

While Robert Macdonald slept the sleep of the just on the good Viennese bed in Altzaugasse, the telephone service in London and Vienna disposed of his well-earned holiday. As the authorities said, “His leave can be extended later. . . .”

Macdonald was not a victim of telepathy. He slept on, untroubled. It was not until eight o’clock in the morning that the Commissioner’s Office in London called him---and then it was Ilse Natzler who uttered most of the complaints.

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