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Chapter Three

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« on: June 06, 2023, 04:51:13 am »

MACDONALD spent his first day in Vienna being lazy: lazier than he had been for years, for generally when he was on holiday his questing spirit sent him walking or driving, intent on enjoying a countryside or staring at buildings and works of art, only too well aware that there were more lovely and interesting things in the world than he could ever hope to see. But the Natzlers’ house in Altzaugasse was enough of an experience in itself to keep him happy for a while. Everything in it was subtly different from the contents of an English house: the furniture, the pictures, the china, all had their own quality, and when he had browsed among the Natzlers’ books, studied their pictures, even played their piano for a while, he went out into the garden with Marboe’s Book of Austria under his arm---and promptly went to sleep in the mellow October sunshine.

When he woke up, Dr. Natzler was sitting beside him, studying the Book of Austria, and he looked at Macdonald approvingly.

“Good. That was just what the doctor ordered. You have had a good sleep?”

“Very good: two solid hours,” said Macdonald, glancing at his watch, “and just before I woke up, I had solved a very complex case. I suddenly saw the answer and everything was made plain.”

“Wish fulfilment,” said Natzler. “That tells me you rested well. Can you remember your dream?”

“Of course I can’t. I very seldom dream and I never remember what I dream about.”

“We all dream,” said Natzler, “but for those who find life satisfying there is no need to remember the achievements of the subconscious. Nevertheless, if you wished, you could remember your dream.”

“I don’t suppose I do wish. It was all very unsound---intuition and not evidence. The only evidence was connected with a pair of suède shoes: oh---and that fair girl who was in Sir Walter Vanbrugh’s car. That’ll please you, you old dream pedlar.”

Ach, ja . . . So you do dream. You have never married, Macdonald?”

“No, I haven’t. And I don’t propose to experiment in riper years, as the English Prayer Book puts it.”

“Why did you never marry?” asked Natzler. “You would have made a good husband.”

“No, I shouldn’t. I like my job too well: and on various occasions when my job has brought me face to face with a sticky end, I have found time to thank God that I didn’t leave an indigent widow in the offing.”

Natzler chuckled. “My English will improve during your visit. A ‘sticky end’---is that English?”

“No, but it’s very expressive, and you know just what I mean. I’ll say bloody if you prefer it, but the word has lost its meaning.”

Gewiss . . . and ‘indigent’?”

“Penniless. Like most widows. See Traum, likewise Alpendruck, if I remember aright. You have turned my dream into a nightmare. I will go indoors and wash it away.”

Natzler chuckled. “The man of action . . . but why suède shoes? Did the gnädiges Fräulein wear such shoes?”

“I didn’t notice, but I’m ready to bet any money she didn’t. If you ever meet her, you can ask her if she likes young men who wear suède shoes.”

“The plot thickens,” chuckled Natzler. “That dream, I perceive it was classical in form, a text-book dream. This book I lent you, it is a very good book. It tells you all about Austria. I lend it to all our English visitors and they say ‘That is just what I wanted,’ but they never read it, not to the end.”

“Have you ever read it to the end, doctor?”

“No. But I have no need. The Pragmatic Sanctions of Maria Theresa----”

“No,” said Macdonald firmly. “I did Pragmatic Sanctions in the sixth form at school and decided I never wanted to hear about them again.”

“And me, with your Wars of the Roses. We will leave all that, and this evening we will go to a Heurige in Grinzing. You remember the Heurige?”

“We will go to a village inn, and it will have a bunch of green branches over the door, which means that we can taste the wines of this year’s vintage---which I shall much enjoy. And I hope there will be a zither player and that everyone will sing.”

“So . . .” replied Dr. Natzler.

==2==

The next morning Macdonald “turned tourist” on his own: with a map and a guide-book he walked round the city and sorted things out. He sat in an “Espresso” and drank black coffee and listened hard to the conversation around him, trying to “get his ear in.” He found again the church he liked best---Maria am Gestade---and staring up at its vaulting and slender apse, decided that he belonged to the Gothic school rather than the Baroque---though when he went back to look again at the oval dome of Karlskirche and its flanking columns he concluded he was moderately heretical in his convictions, like the Lamas of Shangri La. Later he met Dr. Natzler and stood him lunch at Sacher’s—that most famous of Viennese hotels.

In the afternoon Macdonald strolled over to Schönbrunn Palace, to renew his acquaintance with the gardens and fountains: it was another lovely sunny day and the warm coloured stones of the palace looked almost golden in the October sunlight. (“Maria Theresa yellow,” the Austrians called that subtle gold of the masonry.)

It was while he was standing by the garden front of the palace, looking up at the arches and colonnade of the Gloriette on the rising ground to the south that he saw Elizabeth Le Vendre again. She also was looking at the Gloriette, and as she turned and saw Macdonald her quick smile flashed out.

“Hallo! Isn’t that lovely? I’ve just been over the State Apartments and all that splendour got me down---but it’s perfect out here. Those arches against the sky are sheer fairyland.”

“Yes, I feel rather the same. The palatial tends to pall, but the Gloriette is always enchanting. You should go up there, the view is grand.”

He turned and looked at her: she was bare-headed to-day and her loose cream coat blew away from her slim figure, so that Macdonald thought she looked as young as a schoolgirl. “Are you enjoying the job?” he asked.

“Yes---or I think I shall when I get into it. It’s all a bit overpowering to begin with. I must tell you---Sir Walter told me who you are. We saw you in Dr. Natzler’s car.”

Macdonald laughed a bit. “Was it a shock?”

“No, not a bit. It may sound silly, but it made me feel safe. You see, it’s so different from London here, and I can’t talk to everybody as I do at home, and when I saw you I thought ‘I can speak to him. He’s quite safe.’ ” She broke off, and then added, “You see, I told Sir Walter I talked to you at Zürich, and he laughed and said ‘Oh, he’s quite safe.’ I haven’t got used to thinking of people as perhaps ‘not safe.’ ”

“I’m glad I was given a good character,” said Macdonald, “so would you like to climb up to the Gloriette and see the view?”

“Love to---if I’m not being a nuisance. When I came here, I expected to find Clare von Baden here. I knew her at Oxford, and she’s related to Sir Walter in some remote way I haven’t sorted out. It was because of Clare I got this job: she gave me a ‘good character,’ as you put it. She’s in quarantine for scarlet fever and she can’t come home until she’s clear. So that means I haven’t anybody to go out with just at the moment.”

“It’ll be all the nicer when she does come,” said Macdonald consolingly.

“It’ll feel more homely,” she said. “I find it difficult to be dignified all the time.”

Macdonald laughed. “I think I know what you mean. Very few English homes are formal these days. The passing of the domestic servant has done away with the formality laid down by Mrs. Beeton in her chapters on Household Management.”

It was Elizabeth’s turn to laugh. “Did you ever read that? ‘The lady of the house receives the guests.’ I used to read Granny’s copy, it’s marvellous. But you’ve hit the nail right on the head. You know how almost everybody lives in England now: we all help in the kitchen, and we often have meals in the kitchen, because it saves bother, and if we have a reliable charlady who really does come every day, it’s heaven.”

“And the household in Vienna is quite different?”

“Goodness, I’d say it is. You ring bells for everything, or else bells are rung to indicate what you do next, and the servants are so superbly dignified I hardly dare smile at them. It’s fun in a way---but I can’t tell you what a relief it is to talk to somebody who’s accustomed to kitchens---or perhaps you’re not . . .”

“But I am,” said Macdonald. “I’m very competent in the kitchen. I cook my own meals when I’ve time.”

“And eat them in the kitchen?”

“No, but only because there isn’t room, unless you stand up. My kitchen has ‘ette’ on the end. Here we are. It’s worth the climb, isn’t it?”

“It’s lovely!” she cried.

They stood on the rising ground opposite the garden front of Schönbrunn. Above them, the arches of the Gloriette were open to the sky: at their feet the arches were reflected in a formal pool. To the east and north, Vienna was stretched out below them: to the west the Wienerwald climbed to the heights of Leopoldsberg, and to the south, beyond the Gloriette, the ground fell away to open farmland towards the hidden castle of Hetzendorf in the distance. Elizabeth stood facing south, with the keen wind whipping her fair hair back from her face.

“It’s lovely,” she said again, “and I’m glad it’s near where I’m living. It’s a good place to come to blow the dignities away.”

“Isn’t there a dog to take for walks?” asked Macdonald. “Dogs can be very companionable.”

“Of course they can. I adore dogs. There is a dog, but he’s terribly old---a fat dachshund. It would be a dachshund, wouldn’t it? He belongs to Miss Vanbrugh. I asked if I might take him out---he’s called Fritzel---and she said yes, if he’ll go with you. But so far he won’t, he waddles under the sofa and trembles when I touch him.” She broke off, laughing, and then said, “Oh, I must tell you. I saw my ‘allergy’ again, still in his camel coat---on a day like this. He was in the palace, in the Chinese room, and when he saw me he just turned on his heel with an expression of pained disgust.”

“Had he got his suède shoes on?”

“No. They were new and they must have pinched, because he changed them at Zürich. I know he did, because when we got back in the plane he’d got leather brogues on.”

Macdonald laughed. “Are you sure you didn’t imagine the suède shoes?”

“I’m quite sure. He sat in front of me in the bus from the Waterloo Air Terminal, and I particularly noticed his shoes because he stuck them out in the gangway: they were so snappy---quite new, rather long and narrow. What my young brother would call ‘spiv shoes.’ He really is pretty ghastly---but not so ghastly as he thinks I am.”

“Perhaps he is a poet, after all,” said Macdonald. “They’re very shy birds.”

“I’m certain he isn’t. He may be a novelist. He’d got a great slab of typescript in his brief-case. I saw him toying with it.”

“You’re a very observant person, aren’t you?” said Macdonald.

“Not really. I only note things in bits. I notice clothes; I’m used to men’s clothes because I’ve got two brothers and they’re frightfully fussy. They spend much more on their clothes than I do on mine.” She broke off and then said, “May I ask you to have a cup of coffee with me? They serve coffee in the courtyard down there, and you gave me some coffee at Zürich.”

“Thank you very much. That would be most agreeable,” said Macdonald. “Perhaps we shall see Dr. Natzler. He had to see a patient this afternoon, but he said he’d come along to find me here.”

“Oh, I do hope so. I thought he looked a dear, and Sir Walter thinks the world of him.”

“Well, we’ll keep our eyes open for him, and if I see your ‘allergy,’ I’ll speak to him and try to find out what he is.”

Her eyes danced with amusement. “Say if he knows you by sight! Wouldn’t he be shattered?”

“That’d make it all the more interesting. He’s no business to know me by sight. But he doesn’t, anyway. I had a good look at him while we were in the Customs, and he had a look at me and was quite unimpressed.”

“Isn’t it odd that we’ve all come to Schönbrunn this afternoon, after travelling in the plane together.”

“No,” said Macdonald prosaically. “Every visitor to Vienna comes to Schönbrunn, it’s one of the show places. I haven’t got a Baedeker, but I’m sure he gives Schönbrunn all the stars in the firmament, and to-day is just the right day for it.”

“Baedeker,” she said reflectively. “Do you know what he said about Oxford and Cambridge?”

“Yes, I do. ‘If you have not time to visit both universities, Cambridge may be omitted.’ ”

“Then you were at Oxford.”

“Why the assumption?”

“The complacent way you quoted old Baedeker. No Cambridge man ever quotes it without going pale in the face.”

“An unwarrantable assumption,” said Macdonald. “Look, there’s Dr. Natzler. Now we can all have coffee together.”

==3==

The old Austrian greeted Elizabeth Le Vendre very charmingly, in his own language, and bent to kiss her hand, and she replied in German, speaking with an ease and fluency which betokened real familiarity with the language.

“And now we will talk English, because Macdonald’s German is still hard work to him,” said Natzler, as they went on to the sunny terrace against the old stables, and sat down at a small table. “It was Macdonald who made me talk English, when I was in England during the war,” went on Natzler. “You see, he taught me his language much better than I taught him mine.”

“It’s terribly difficult to learn a language unless you live in the country where it’s talked,” said Elizabeth, and Dr. Natzler nodded.

Schön: and you have lived in Germany, Gnädigste: I knew that the moment I heard you speak.”

“Yes. I was in Germany when I was a schoolgirl. After the war, when everything in Germany was at sixes and sevens, some English officials were sent out to get things going again and sort things out, and my father was one of them. We lived with the Army, more or less, but I had my lessons in German, and I just got to talk it quite easily.”

“So. Sixes and sevens,” said Dr. Natzler. “Why sixes and sevens?”

“Goodness knows!” said Elizabeth. “There must be a reason, but it’s just an expression you use without asking why---English is a most unreasonable language. Oh, do look! Isn’t she wonderful? She looks as though she ought to live in Schönbrunn. Erzherzogin Maria Theresa. . . .”

An old lady, superbly clad in a sable coat, topped by an immense picture hat, strolled slowly past them escorted by an even older gentleman in a silk hat, and followed by a severe-looking elderly maid carrying a parasol, a bunch of flowers and a tiny dog.

“Ah . . . look well, Gnädigste,” said Dr. Natzler. “You are fortunate. That is Hedwige Waldtraut Körner---one of the great singers of all time: perhaps the greatest operatic soprano Vienna ever produced. She was indeed great! How many times she sang my heart away when I was a young man.”

“Oh . . . of course I’ve heard of her,” said Elizabeth, “but I didn’t realise she was so old. She was in Germany during the war, wasn’t she? English people who knew about her didn’t like her very much.”

“But must we perpetuate our hates?” asked Natzler sadly. “For me, I will only remember her singing. Music overrides national bitterness. Did they cease to play Bach and Beethoven in England during the war? No. I rejoiced to hear German music in London, even though it was the Germans who had driven us from our homes.” He bent across and patted her hand “What was it your poet said . . . ‘Old unhappy far-off things.’ Let us forget them, Gnädigste. See, the sun shines, the world is beautiful---and you are beautiful, too. Our old singer was once young and beautiful, and her singing was divine. It took me up to heaven, and I have never forgotten.”

“Forgive me!” said Elizabeth. “It was a silly thing to say. Of course you’re right. I’m glad you told me how you loved her singing. I shall always remember you talking about her.”

“I am a sentimental old man!” chuckled Natzler. “And now tell me, what are you going to see in Vienna?”

“All of it!” she laughed, “the great palaces and churches---and the Opera House, of course, and the little house where Schubert lived and the house where Beethoven lived---and Strauss. And I want to go up through the woods---to Leopoldsberg, is it? And the Kahlenberg.”

“Ach---you have been reading about it all?”

“Of course I have, and talking to everybody who knew Vienna. There’s one place I’m longing to see, a village with a monastery and a wonderful church---we should call it Holy Cross in English.”

Heiligen Kreuz---yes, that is most beautiful. But you will need a permit. Sir Walter will see that somebody takes you to Heiligen Kreuz, or he will take you himself. But if you want a guide to show you your way, remember I shall be happy to take you, gnädiges Fräulein. Perhaps I know Vienna even better than Sir Walter does!”

“That’s very very kind of you, Dr. Natzler---but I know you’re very busy, and it will be good for me to find my way about. And now, will you forgive me if I run away home? I told Miss Vanbrugh I would be in at four o’clock. She is rather old, and she might worry if I am late. She wanted me to take one of the maids with me when I went out---but I couldn’t bear it!”

“We will walk home with you,” replied Natzler. “Our houses are not far apart. Then we shall know that Miss Vanbrugh has no cause to worry.”

==4==

Having escorted Elizabeth Le Vendre to the Vanbrughs’ mansion in Trauttmansdorffgasse, Natzler and Macdonald strolled back to the more homely house in Altzaugasse.

“It will be a little lonely for that child until Clare von Baden returns home,” said Natzler. “The Vanbrughs are both aged. There is a nephew living with them---Mr. Anthony Vanbrugh, but he also is mature.”

“I expect she’ll soon find some young friends,” said Macdonald. “There must be several families connected with the Embassy who will take her in hand. I can’t imagine that a youngster like that will have a dull time in Vienna.” He broke off, obviously considering a different topic, and as they turned in to the Natzlers’ house he said, “I was interested in seeing your old opera singer. Can you tell me why an English cameraman should have told me she is in the news? Is her return to Vienna ‘news’ in the international sense?”

“No, it’s not as simple as that,” said Natzler. “Come into the garden and I will tell you.”

They went and sat on the grass, under Frau Natzler’s beloved apple trees, and Natzler began:

“Waldtraut Körner always loved Germany and the Germans. True, she was almost worshipped in Vienna, but her heart was given to a German very long ago. She gave her farewell performance in Vienna in 1935---she was then fifty-five years old, but still beautiful, and her voice was a miracle. She retired to live in Salzburg, but on the outbreak of war she went to a Schloss in the Bavarian Alps and lived, under the protection, one might say, of Graf Steinadler.”

Macdonald put in a word here: “Steinadler---one of Hitler’s generals?”

“Yes. Steinadler was shot after the attempt on Hitler’s life. It is now said that the Waldtraut Körner is in possession of Steinadler’s diary and private papers. She inherited his property---according to the terms of his will.”

“You mean that she has papers of General Steinadler’s which have never been published?”

“Just that. I do not, of course, know all the circumstances, but I do know that there was great excitement in publishing circles in Vienna when the news leaked out that Waldtraut Körner was negotiating the sale of some important papers to Probus Verlag. ‘Probus’ is a post-war publishing firm, and they have produced one or two travel books and escape stories which have had international fame.”

“Do you know how the story leaked out?”

Natzler shrugged his shoulders. “There is no one answer. You must realise that Waldtraut Körner is still a great name in Vienna. It was known that she had come on hard times: money will not now buy what it once did. Perhaps some men in the newspaper world always believed that she had a story to tell if she could be induced to tell it. But the Schloss Steinadler was hidden away and difficult of access, and newspaper men could not contact her, as they say. But when Waldtraut Körner came back to Vienna and lunched at Sacher’s with Herr Schwarzdorn of Probus Verlag---well, that was news. And as to the rest, if anyone overheard a word about Steinadler, a guess was not too difficult.”

“Good lord, no. Steinadler was said to have been behind that plot to kill Hitler---but I should be very much surprised if the Nazis left any documents for future publication at the Schloss.”

“But they left Waldtraut Körner alive: and if a woman like herself wanted to hide something, I would say the Schloss Steinadler was rich in hiding-places. It is a Gothic castle, with walls ten feet thick, up on the hillside. Steinadler---a black eagle: that Schloss is like an eagle’s eyrie, for all that the General made it snug enough to live in.”

“Well, it’s quite a story,” said Macdonald, “and so Probus Verlag will put their imprint on another best-seller.”

“Not so,” said the doctor. “It is said that ‘Probus’ did not offer a large enough sum. If gossip is right, the General’s papers still await a purchaser.”

“If it comes to bidding, it’s the Americans who can generally outbid the rest of the world,” said Macdonald. “I hope the old lady has got her papers in a safe place. They would be worth the attention of certain expert thieves. Where does she live?”

“She is staying in a hotel on the Kärntnerstrasse, but her papers, I do not doubt, are in the strong-room of a bank. Here is Ilse---she has news, I think.”

“It is from Karl,” cried Frau Natzler, waving a letter. “He comes to-morrow. That is joy for us, dear friend! Two weeks he can stay.”

“That’s grand!” said Macdonald and the doctor chuckled.

“We should put the flags up,” he said. “This is an occasion. I must order some more wine.”

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