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Chapter 23

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« on: March 09, 2023, 03:03:51 am »

THE only one of the patients Mark could bear to talk to, with Dunkirk burning into his brain, was Rennenkampf.

The Austrian patients only paid lip service to the war that was shaking the world to pieces. For them a complete Nazi victory meant better food and the least possible interference with their daily habits. They did not like Germans, and hoped that as soon as Europe was completely conquered they might see less of them. They could provide their own Nazis. They took no interest in Hitler, except two or three of the patients, who thought they were Hitler; and these merely stormed or wept if their identification with the Führer was disregarded. But Rennenkampf took the war even more seriously than Mark himself. For him there was no other subject. The Nazis won---or the world came to an end. Rennenkampf respected the British for their wholesale escape from Dunkirk. He admitted that none but a seafaring people of peculiar enterprise and courage could have staged such a retreat, with the German army at their heels and the Luftwaffe above them. But what had they escaped with? Nothing but their lives! The little equipment their few divisions possessed had been swallowed up with 50,000 of their comrades by the Wehrmacht. Now their island lay wide open---an oyster with its defenceless pearl at the mercy of the Führer. Nothing remained to accomplish but to clean up France and stretch out their hand a few weeks later for the British Empire.

Rennenkampf did not attempt to argue, he merely told Mark with unfettered ecstasy what was happening and what would happen, to the last of Hitler’s feeble opponents. America and the overseas Anglo-Saxons were simply loot. Japan could busy itself with China and India, until the Reich were ready to take over from Japan. The Ukraine and Russia would be a mere mid-summer ramble for the German army. They needed Russia---Russia was a granary---but look how little Finland had stood up to the Red army!

The Communists had no discipline, they talked all the time; they might have been formidable had not Hitler so carefully hamstrung the Democracies from any attempt to link up with them. They really had an air force and some good paratroops. How laughable that idea Ribbentrop dropped so cleverly into the ears of his British friends---that they should send Lindbergh, the American flyer, who knew no Russian, to report on the Russian air force. And he had reported, after a fortnight’s visit, on what he had been cleverly shown---and not shown by the Russians---that their air force was useless! The party held their sides over that in Berlin. Because the British believed it. They took no trouble to find out what they did not want to know. A spoiled and degraded people the British---comfort-loving to the core.

Mark made no comments upon Rennenkampf’s criticisms. He found it curiously fascinating to study at first hand, the fantastically formed Nazi mind. It even impressed him---it was, within its rigid limits, so complete.

Rennenkampf at twenty was both infinitely younger and far more experienced than the boys Mark was accustomed to educate.

What Rennenkampf didn’t understand was knowledge. Of this he had so little that Mark was often left incredulous that at his age such ignorance could be real. He knew no history; no literature; no classical languages; no art; no religion. He knew enough mathematics and physics to be at home technically in the use of weapons. He understood how to work and mend a tank. He could pilot any German plane. On the subject of guns, pontoon bridges, mines and booby traps he was, although not an engineer, sufficiently expert to make a reliable use of them. He was a magnificent shot; a powerful swimmer; a first-class skier. He played no games, except football, which he despised, but acknowledged that games had physical and even moral uses. He knew nothing of animals. He had a contempt for horses---which he thought archaic; and had never learned to ride. He never read books except those dealing with technical subjects.

His feelings for women were purely primitive. When he wanted one, he took one. He did not so much discard his mistresses; Mark doubted from his description of these brief adventures, whether Rennenkampf had ever known a mistress well enough to discard her. He simply regarded all women, except his own mother and sisters, as the natural prey of man. You had, he explained to Mark, one kind of hunger for food, and another for women. It was right and natural for a man to satisfy both, in a plain and simple manner. Austrians were both too romantic and too complicated in their sex affairs, it was all part of their fanciful mildness which had to be cleared up. Mark found that Rennenkampf was really fond of his own mother and sisters; they were his devoted and willing slaves. They agreed with all the Nazi doctrines; and in return they would be cared for and protected by all good Nazis.

Some day his sisters, who were both younger than he was, would marry his comrades. He would himself one day marry a comrade’s sister, of the same type as his own. Had Mark a sister? No, Mark was glad to say, a little drily, he had no relations except his brother, Oskar Pirschl, who was an artist.

Rennenkampf was concerned to hear that Mark had anyone in so low a category as an artist for his next of kin, until he found that Pirschl had actually painted a portrait of the Führer---that cleared up Mark’s status completely. Rennenkampf became almost affable, when he thought that he had picked out as a possible comrade from this Austrian Rest Home, a man with such a distinguished relative.

It even excused Mark for preferring bookbinding to field work. “Still, you must never forget,” Rennenkampf told Mark kindly, “that as soon as your cure is completed you will become a soldier! Everything you do from henceforward should only be done with this motive. If you read, it must only be books upon war weapons and their uses; in the same manner you must spend all your spare time in exercises, which will afterwards be of use to you. I myself will teach you the elements of drill. You cannot for instance practise too often the goose-step. You have good shoulders and biceps, but there is a terrible lack of firmness about you!”

Mark found that there was a complete fusion between Rennenkampf’s thoughts and his acts. His emotions coloured both, so that he always worked at white heat and moved upon a single track.

It was as if giant blinkers protected his eyes from any other spectacle than that of Hitler’s Reich. All other human hopes, standards of behaviour or conclusions of thought were insignificant or even unrecognizable to his absorbed consciousness. Nor did Rennenkampf seem to miss anything, for he was both passionately vigorous and happy. He knew that he could do superlatively well what was expected of him. True he had for a time misunderstood the instincts of his physical nature, they had even momentarily conflicted with the order of his Führer. They had seemed the same, he explained rather bewilderedly still to Mark, but it had turned out that he had been on a wrong tack altogether. He saw it all now quite plainly, Ida had explained to him that even his instincts, though healthy, had to be directed. Not by his own blind impulses or red-hot desires, but simply by the express orders of Hitler.

It was quite right, for instance, to wish to kill---this he had been taught and his instincts thrilled in obedience as he had thought to the lesson, but he must not kill what he wanted to kill---even if he felt it to be right! Such impulses were to be instantly resisted. He must kill only what he was ordered to kill. Hitler only wanted killed the enemies he himself presented to his faithful Germans---for that purpose. To kill anyone else was to waste the powers of a good soldier.

“I really was mistaken,” Rennenkampf explained humbly to Mark. “I tell you this to help you, brother, for I desire to make you a good comrade. You have the physique for it, and I can see by the clearness of your grey eyes and the colour of your hair---not so flaxen as mine, but almost gold---the signals of your good Nordic blood. Together we will be allowed, I hope, to invade those altogether cursed British Isles, and lick them into a Teutonic shape. If I obey everything told me here---and indeed I shall obey even this woman they have set over us, because of her special knowledge---then I will ask for your freedom as well as my own! Think of England under our feet---have you by any chance ever been there?”

“No,” Mark said unhesitatingly, for he thought the less he knew on this dangerous subject the better, “I’m afraid I haven’t much knowledge about it, though of course here in Austria, we have seen, formerly, many English, and got to know their strange habits and even their ways of speech.”

“Yes!” Rennenkampf said reprovingly. “That is one of your un-Germanic mistakes! It is terrible to think how international your people once were. Corrupted and estranged from their brothers over the border. But all that is now over---we need never entertain one of those hated foreigners again---except as useful slaves!”

“You think there is nothing any of them can contribute towards the German Reich?” Mark ventured.

“Nothing at all!” his companion replied hastily. “Perhaps the French---silk stockings for our girls---but even that might in the end debase them! Let Europe model itself upon us, then we shall have a world worth fighting for!”

“But nobody left to fight!” Mark rather unkindly reminded him.

For a moment Rennenkampf looked blank and dispossessed, then his face cleared and his eyes gleamed once more with religious ecstasy. “There are the stars!” he told Mark impressively. “I asked one of our best professors of physics if there could not be in all this space about us, worlds constituted like our own in the same conditions of heat, oxygenized and lit by a similar sun and moon---where other beings not unlike ourselves might exist, and he said it was distinctly possible!”

“Ah, well,” Mark said, unable to control a smile, “it must be highly gratifying to you to think that with everyone else on earth fought to a finish, there are still other worlds to conquer among the stars!”

“I see nothing at all to laugh at,” Rennenkampf told Mark severely. “To a good German, as I hope you will one day become, when you get over being so leichtsinnig and unpractical, such thoughts are definitely inspiring!”

Perhaps Mark would have been able to listen with less equanimity to the gloating prospect Rennenkampf unfolded had he not been actively involved in reducing its possibility. He made a comrade of Rennenkampf by day---but at night, with Rennenkampf locked away in the ward till morning, Mark was free. Now at last, with a room to himself, he could take an active part in a regular shuttle service of news between Berlin and London. Once a fortnight Pirschl visited him with his collected information. Once every few weeks Father Martin met him for a similar purpose in the chapel. Ida’s small car always stood in readiness for Mark to use at night, at some little distance from the Schloss.

On the outskirts of Innsbruck, Mark dropped his car in the garage of one of Ida’s surgeon friends, and went by foot to a place on the railway line, where he met a Czech railwayman, who worked on the Brenner. Pollak was the carrier of messages to Italy. His son had been killed by the Nazis, and he lived for nothing else but to avenge his boy’s death. As he had always been a railway worker and had worked on the Brenner for the past twelve years, he was entirely unsuspected. He not only carried any messages to an accredited British agent in Italy, but he checked up on all the traffic between the Reich and Italy, adding his own reports to those Mark gave him.

Although their plan seemed foolproof, Mark and Ida never overlooked the least of their precautions. If Mark should be stopped on the road at night by any civil or military police, he carried a written order from the Schloss to bring back with him the surgeon from the suburbs of Innsbruck (in whose garage he stored the car), for an emergency brain operation. The operation had never been necessary, for the back roads were very unfrequented, and the doctor’s car known. No one at the Schloss except Felix knew any of the steps Ida and Mark took. Each member of the shuttle learned only his own part in its working.

By day Mark lived his normal life as a Depressive patient on slightly improved lines. He moped less, spoke more, and only expressed his nervous irritability by occasional outbursts. His friendship with Rennenkampf made excellent cover for these self-induced rages and it sometimes seemed to Mark almost unfair to take advantage of Rennenkampf’s newly acquired self-control.

Rennenkampf reported on his friend’s symptoms regularly to Ida who took a malign pleasure in passing them on to Mark.

“In time,” Rennenkampf asked her a little wistfully, “should you suppose---this poor fellow---can become as normal as I am?”

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