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Chapter Five

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« on: June 06, 2023, 08:43:07 am »


“AND I also rang up and informed the police that an accident had occurred,” said Karl, as he bent and tucked a blanket round the girl’s body. “And the police will be annoyed, Macdonald, as they are the world over, because we have moved the body. Not that the patient is dead, but police prefer the evidence to be left undisturbed.”

Macdonald was aware that Karl found an element of the bizarre in the present situation---which was in itself cheering, because if the girl were dead or dying, humour would have had no place, for Karl was a kindly young doctor.

“You’d better make up your mind,” went on Karl. “Do I present you to the Herr Rittmeister (the police officer) as his English colleague? Or do I explain that you are my father’s guest who kindly co-operated in the search for the missing lady? Are you, so to speak, ‘on’ in this?”

“Not if I can help it,” said Macdonald. “I am on holiday. I have no official standing---Gott sei Dank, as your father says.”

“I should keep out of it if you can,” said Karl. “The Herr Rittmeister is certain to smell his private rat if he knows you are an English detective. After all, if you were called to a casualty on Hampstead Heath and found an Austrian girl unconscious on the ground and an Austrian detective beside her explaining he happened to find her whilst he was on holiday, would you not say ‘this is too apropos’?”

“I probably should,” replied Macdonald, “but London is simpler than Vienna. I don’t want your Herr Rittmeister to get it into his head that I am over here for any other purpose than for a holiday.”

Karl chuckled. “He’s almost bound to let his imagination loose on you once he knows your status: being a Viennese he will approach the matter with more élan than an English policeman: he will say ‘He is here on a private mission connected with these English high-ups’---private missions always crop up in Vienna---and laughing apart, I regard this situation as an accident. The poor child has not been robbed. It seems to me that she just fell and stunned herself.”

“In the main I agree---and in any case, it’s the business of your city police to sort that one out,” said Macdonald. “If they’re not satisfied and think there’s any mystery about it, I will discuss it with them willingly, but I feel a bit like the aged Miss Vanbrugh---I don’t want to cook up an international situation. Listen! That will be the ambulance men.”

“Yes---and my father. I told them to ring him. He will go in the ambulance with the patient and see her suitably accommodated in hospital. You and I are on holiday, Macdonald. All we have to do is to answer the questions of the Herr Rittmeister. Are you prepared to enjoy that? How long is it since you were interrogated by a policeman?”

“I can’t remember that it’s ever happened,” said Macdonald, “but I know the drill---and you have to interpret for me. If I try talking German I shall perjure myself. Here they are.”

It was the ambulance men who arrived first, with Dr. Natzler just behind them. They laid the stretcher on the ground and with great skill and care lifted the girl on to the stretcher, steadied her head between pads and strapped her firmly. They had good torches, and the two Natzlers superintended the operation. It was just as the ambulance men lifted the stretcher that the police arrived---a Chief Inspector and a constable. Dr. Natzler spoke to them with the firm authority of the medical man in charge of a patient.

“It is your duty to ask all the necessary questions about this accident, Herr Rittmeister. My son and my English guest will answer your questions. It is my duty to get my patient to hospital without delay. So---forward.”

The ambulance men went off with the stretcher and Karl began his statement: he spoke simply and clearly, and Macdonald followed his German without much difficulty. In Vienna, as in London, the police drill was straightforward. Names, addresses, times, essential evidence---all were entered in the official note-book. The Chief Inspector was sensible and considerate: it was not necessary to stay here in the rain, he said. Any further questions could be asked later: all he wanted to know now was if, in the opinion of the two witnesses, this incident had the appearance of an accident only. Karl gave his own answer and then interpreted for Macdonald:

“Judging from the evidence, Macdonald, have you any reason to believe that this was anything but an accident?”

“The only thing against the accident theory is that she fell backwards and not forwards,” said Macdonald. “It was the back of her head that was damaged, yet she was lying face downwards when we found her: but she was not robbed. Her handbag had not been emptied, and the pearls round her neck are real pearls---I think.”

The Chief Inspector grunted, thoughtfully. “Yes. Yes, that will be considered. You believe that she would have fallen forward if she had been blinded by the lightning and had slipped?”

Again Karl interpreted, and Macdonald, who had followed the German, had time to check his natural response which would have begun “In my experience . . .” Instead he said, “That is for you to decide, Herr Rittmeister.”

The Chief Inspector looked at Macdonald in the gleam of the torch.

“You are acquainted with this lady?” he inquired.

“She travelled from England on the same plane as I did, and we talked during the journey,” said Macdonald. “I had never seen her before.”

“And I had never seen her at all,” concluded Karl.

The Chief Inspector nodded. “Very good. I will not keep you here. We will examine the ground, and I will call on you later if any further questions present themselves. Ach! Who is there?”

Even as he spoke a light blazed in their faces for a split second, leaving them momentarily blinded.

“A cameraman,” said Karl. “Who told them to come here?”

The Chief Inspector was angry and he shouted, first to the unseen operator of the flashlight to halt, then to the constable to pursue the man. The constable leapt forward obediently, but being still half blinded by the flash, he promptly took a header as his foot caught in a trail of bramble. Macdonald’s German was defeated by the Superintendent’s outburst, but the police whistle spoke for itself. Reinforcements were being called up.

“This is your affair, Herr Rittmeister, not ours,” said Karl firmly, when he had a chance to get a word in. “It was not I who informed the press there had been an accident. And we are both wet through: with your permission we will go home and change our clothes.”

The permission was gruffly accorded, and Karl Natzler and Macdonald trudged away down the track. It was not long before Macdonald realised that Karl was shaking with laughter.

“It is a long time since I featured in a performance so bizarre,” said Karl, when he could control his voice sufficiently to speak, and even then his English sounded markedly un-English.

“I’m glad you didn’t tell the Herr Rittmeister I was an English colleague,” said Macdonald. “He was angry enough with that unfortunate constable as it was: had he known a London C.I.D. man was watching, the Herr Rittmeister (as you insist on calling him) would have had a seizure---but can you explain what a cameraman was doing up here?”

“Of course I can. If there’s nothing else on hand, pressmen haunt the local police station in the hope of a scoop. When the patrol set out, the press hound followed, though he was too late to get much in the way of a picture---unless he synchronised with the ambulance down below there. We’ll try to get a copy of the picture for you, Macdonald---your first public appearance in Vienna. Let’s hope it won’t have a caption saying ‘English ace detective co-operates with the Herr Rittmeister Brunnerhausen in a mysterious affair in the Hietzing Woods.’ These newspapermen are devils at smelling things out. Here is Father’s car: we can drive home and investigate the chicken.”

“The cameraman incident still seems a bit odd to me,” said Macdonald a moment later. “Why did he do a bolt when challenged? Our chaps don’t do that---they brazen anything out: and it’s not an indictable offence to take photographs of policemen in conclave---or is it?”

“I suppose things are a bit touchier in Vienna,” said Karl. “We have all suffered from ‘Occupation Nerves.’ It’s a malaise which makes people do unpredictable things. And the Herr Rittmeister is famous for his severity: when he bawled Halt! I expect the cameraman lost his nerve.”

“In that case, cameramen in Vienna have their nerves much nearer the surface than the same breed in London,” said Macdonald.


Frau Natzler rendered praise and thanks to God with enthusiasm when Karl and Macdonald reappeared: during the absence of her menfolk she had imagined every sort of tragedy and crisis, and Karl reassured her with affectionate exuberance. The gnädiges Fräulein had been taken to hospital after an accident in the thunderstorm: Dr. Natzler had accompanied the ambulance and would soon be home again. Karl himself and Macdonald had covered themselves with glory. “And we are both wet through,” concluded Karl. “Can the chicken wait until we have had hot baths and put on dry clothes?”

“Go, quickly! The water is hot, the bathroom awaits---and I will bring you up some hot spiced wine to check the chill,” said Frau Natzler, and upstairs they went to the tune of “Nun danket alle Gott” (which took Macdonald back in retrospect to the great hall of the City Scriveners’ School on the last day of term).

It was not very long before they were all assembled round the chicken (from which issued a spicy fragrance never experienced in the more modest English style of cooking). Dr. Natzler had returned home, having seen his patient handed over to a colleague of whose skill he could not say too much.

“The child should be all right,” he said. “She has a bad concussion, but they think there is no fracture. It was indeed a providence that the two of you found her so quickly.” He paused and then added, “I have, of course, informed the Vanbrughs and told them all that I could. Sir Walter is very anxious to see Macdonald---and Karl, too. I said that you would perhaps go to Trauttmansdorffgasse after dinner----”

Frau Natzler interrupted with loud cries of protest. “It is too much!” she declared. “They have their utmost done: they have both soaked to the skin been---and if I my English forget, it is that I am angry. Let the poor fellows have some peace. Have they not enough done?”

“Sir Walter offered to come here, but he and his sister are both old, and they have been very much upset over this accident,” said Dr. Natzler.

“Of course they’re upset: they bring that young thing out to Vienna, and she nearly kills herself only a few days after she arrives,” said Karl. “I’m sure Macdonald won’t mind coming in the car with me to see them. After all, they know who he is, and it will console them to have the benefit of his experience.”

“Of course I’ll come with you,” said Macdonald, “if only to assure Sir Walter that I am not butting in as a policeman, and that the Herr Rittmeister accepts me as Dr. Natzler’s English guest and nothing more; but when it comes to experience, I think it is Karl’s experience which can explain the accident, not mine---if I followed his evidence to the Herr Rittmeister aright.”

“Well---it seemed to me to resemble an accident I once saw when some small boys played ghosts on a concrete staircase,” said Karl. “My guess is that Miss Le Vendre climbed up to the gun emplacement to see the view over Vienna. As you remember, the storm broke very suddenly: I think when she got to the top of the steps she was blinded and half stupefied by that first flash of lightning---it was terrific. She fell back, struck her head against the masonry and rolled over, so that when we found her she was lying face downwards. That seems to me a reasonable explanation. I do not think it reasonable to assume that she was attacked, because she was not robbed, she was not further---disturbed---as I might say for my mother’s benefit, and the little dog ran away home.”

“And who would have robbed her, in this district?” demanded Frau Natzler indignantly. “Such things do not happen here in Hietzing.”

“There are robbers and maniacs in every city in the world,” said Karl, “and I have seen the work of some of them---and Macdonald has seen much more. Did this look to you like a crime of violence, Macdonald? You remember that it was very quiet in the woods, apart from the thunder. We heard no footsteps---no one ran away. And the girl was lying just as she fell: she had not been placed in that position.”

“She had been lying in that position since the rain started,” said Macdonald. “The rain-water had collected in a hollow by her face, but the ground beneath her body was dry, so she hadn’t been moved.”

“When she is better, she will be able to tell you what happened,” said Frau Natzler comfortably, “and meanwhile I think Karl’s explanation is very sensible. Now let us finish the chicken---it is a good bird and none the worse for its extra cooking.”


It was just after dinner, when Frau Natzler had brought the coffee into the sitting-room, that her husband came into the room saying:

“Have you seen my keys, Ilse? In the general excitement I seem to have mislaid them.”

“Your keys?” she echoed in surprise. “But no, I have not seen them. You never leave your keys about, Franz. They must be in one of your pockets.”

“But they are not in any of my pockets,” replied Franz Natzler. “It is very strange. I must have put them down somewhere.”

“When did you last have them?” asked Macdonald. “If I lose anything I always try to remember the last time I used it.”

“Yes. That is sensible,” rejoined Franz. “I had them when I saw Herr Pretzel, just before Miss Vanbrugh called me on the phone. I remember now: I unlocked my drug cabinet to get some tablets. I gave the tablets to my patient, and I was going back to the cabinet when the telephone rang.”

“I put the call through to you in the consulting room,” said Ilse, “but you came to the box to speak.”

“Yes, yes. I did not want to talk to Miss Vanbrugh with my patient listening. He had taken his collar and tie off---I examined his heart---and he was very slow getting his things on.”

“Then you may have left the keys in the telephone box in the hall,” said Ilse. “I will go and look.” She hurried out, but Karl said:

“You would never have put your keys down by the telephone. It is second nature to put one’s keys back in one’s pocket. Are you sure you didn’t leave the keys in the keyhole of the drug cabinet?”

“I don’t think so---but I may have done,” said Dr. Natzler. “If so, they are no longer there. The cabinet is locked, but the keys are not in it.”

“What sort of tablets did you give?” asked Karl. “Barbiturates? Sleeping tablets?”

The older man nodded. “Yes. You are right.” Then he got up, adding, “I will go and look through my pockets again, just to make sure.”

Macdonald had been sitting drinking his coffee, and he glanced up as the older man closed the door. Karl gave his characteristic shrug.

“You will have followed the implications of all that, Macdonald. It happens in London, doubtless, but more often in Vienna, where nerves are nearer the surface---with good reason.”

“The drug addict who comes to a doctor for sleeping tablets?” asked Macdonald.

“That sort of thing: in some cases they go from doctor to doctor: they develop a vein of cunning. Of course my father knows all this, but sometimes it is difficult to spot; there may be a long and reasonable case history---an accident, a bereavement, an illness which has left chronic pain, a misfortune which has prevented normal sleep. I may be guessing quite wrong, and the keys may be in Father’s pocket, in a drawer of his desk, under his papers---but if one’s attention is suddenly distracted, as for instance by an agitated old lady on the telephone, one may omit to do the very thing which has become a habit.”

“Perfectly true,” said Macdonald, “and if one’s habit, or reflex, has not worked, then one’s left without a clue. Would it be only the key of the drug cabinet which has gone astray?”

“No, there are a number of keys on the same ring---door keys, desk, medical cases---all his keys except the garage key and ignition key. It’s quite a heavy key-ring, you’d hear it if it dropped. I’m sorry this has happened: he’s had a long day, and losing things is maddening to a methodical person, but it’s no use offering to help; he’s more likely to remember if he’s left alone. Have some more coffee.”

“Thanks. It’s very good coffee,” said Macdonald.

Karl chuckled a little as he refilled the cups. “You’re a very restful person, Macdonald. I know quite well that you have several ideas you’re prepared to discuss---coincidence, shall we say. But you don’t obtrude them.”

“I think you’ve got enough to think about for the time being,” said Macdonald. “If you want to discuss coincidences later in the evening, I shall be quite prepared to do so. Here is your father.”

“I can’t find my key-ring, but things aren’t as serious as I feared,” said Dr. Natzler. “I have a spare key for my drug cabinet and I have checked my stock. Nothing is missing, nothing has been moved, so there is nothing to worry about.”

“I expect we shall find your keys in the cellar, among the coke,” said Frau Natzler. “Margret took your wet clothes down there and shook them all before she hung them up to dry, and Margret is deaf: she would never have heard them fall. We will find them in the morning, so let us not worry any more to-night. And if Karl and Robert must go out again, let them go now. The rain has left off and it is a beautiful night.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” said Karl. “Shall we walk to Trauttmansdorffgasse? It’s only a few minutes, and I don’t think it will rain again.”

“By all means,” said Macdonald. He turned to Frau Natzler. “We will only stay a few minutes,” he assured her, “and then everybody can go to bed early. It’s been rather one of those days, as we say in England.”

“Indeed, I shall be thankful to have you all in bed,” said Ilse, “and if the telephone goes to-night, I will answer it! There has been enough of to-day.”


As they strolled down the steep hill to the Gloriettestrasse, Macdonald said to Karl, “I don’t want to bother your father again to-night, but I think it would be worth while for him to find out if his patient---Herr Pretzel, wasn’t it?---had really been recommended by the friend your father mentioned.”

“Otto Weinberg,” said Karl. “Father has already thought of that. He telephoned, but Weinberg is away: he is staying near Graz, in the country, and he is not on the telephone, so that must wait. But since my father is satisfied that nothing is missing from his cabinet, it looks as though my suggestions were ill-founded. All the same, as the keys are still missing, we must be careful to bolt and chain the door to-night, and if the keys are not found in the morning we will get a locksmith to change the locks.”

As they turned left into the Trauttmansdorffgasse, Macdonald said, “It’s just possible that the keys dropped from Franz’s pocket while he was bending over the stretcher up in the woods. In which case the police should have found them.”

“There’s a chance,” agreed Karl, “though I don’t think it’s very likely. That key-ring is fairly heavy and it would stay in the bottom of the pocket. I think Mother’s idea is more likely, that the keys dropped out when Margret shook the clothes. But I’m certain of one thing---Father must have been worried: more worried than he admitted. Otherwise, he would certainly have emptied his pockets when he changed his clothes. To empty one’s pockets---that also is so habitual that it becomes a reflex. But we will not tell the Vanbrughs that anybody is worried: otherwise we shall not get home till the small hours, and the worry will be like the House that Jack Built.”

“It’s odd that you should quote that,” said Macdonald. “It’s been running through my head. . . . ‘This is the guest who talked to the son who suspected the patient who stole the keys which belonged to the doctor who lost the key which opened the door which led to the house that Jack built.’ ”

“If that’s an improvisation, I give it top marks,” said Karl. “Do you still read poetry, Macdonald?”

“Of course I do. It’s a habit---you either have it or don’t have it. Why do you ask?”

“Only because you can improvise words to a beat . . . and ‘Why?’ to you? What’s the connection between poetry and all this? I can’t see any myself, but I think there is in your mind. Your sub-conscious is logical---I’ve noticed it before.”

“That’s enough,” said Macdonald firmly. “I know we’re in Vienna: I know your father studied Freud and Jung and Adler. I know you peddle in the sub-conscious: but I do not. I will oblige with my conscious mind as far as it goes: my sub-conscious is my private property.”

“You’re very revealing,” chuckled Karl. “This is the Vanbrugh mansion: this is where we both say there is nothing to worry about---no matter how much we worry inside---in our own private property, as you say.”

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