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Chapter Seven

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« on: June 06, 2023, 10:52:31 am »

==1==

NEVILLE Walsingham, known the world over under his pseudonym of J. B. S. Neville, had all the qualities which make a successful writer. He wrote admirable prose, lucid, rhythmical, shapely, with a real understanding of words and a capacity to use them in a forcible and original way. Perhaps his outstanding quality was controlled dramatic emphasis: everything he wrote was exciting---and at the same time highly literate. Someone had once said of him: “He’s a common denominator between the Royal Society and the twopenny libraries: he embraces brows of all dimensions because he’s a natural dramatist.” There was, also, inherent in his writing, a sense of detection: like Kipling’s famous mongoose, his motto was ‘Run and find out.’ and he satisfied his readers not only by facts, tersely and vividly narrated, but by the synthesis which he was capable of developing to make sense of those facts.

Macdonald would have agreed with all these comments; the C.I.D. man had read Neville’s books and enjoyed them, but he was aware of a quality underlying them which was less admirable than their prose---a self-assurance on the part of the author which amounted to a defect. Put in the plainest possible way, Neville was conceited, and it was this quality which had made Macdonald very guarded in his response to Neville’s advances: the last thing the C.I.D. man desired was to find himself figuring in an unofficial investigation brilliantly described in a Neville best-seller.

Walsingham, for his part, was very much aware of what he called Macdonald’s “cageiness,” and had been considerably irritated by it. The writer had gone out of his way to give Macdonald an opportunity to open up: while it was natural, perhaps, for a Superintendent of the C.I.D. to be cautious while talking to the Vanbrughs, pondered Walsingham, it had surely been unnecessary during their walk through the quiet streets. And it was this irritation which caused Walsingham to formulate an error of judgment.

“Holiday my hat,” he said to himself. “He knows perfectly well that there’s something damned odd in the offing and he’s no intention of letting me in on it.”

Walsingham walked back slowly to Trauttmansdorffgasse, and went up to the salon. Miss Vanbrugh had retired to bed, but Sir Walter was sitting over the wood fire, smoking a cigar. He glanced up as the younger man came into the room.

“I’m very troubled over the whole thing, Neville,” he said. “My sister is still unwilling to bring those two maids to the notice of the police, and it did seem to me that Superintendent Macdonald was satisfied that accident accounted for that poor child’s misfortune. He’s an exceedingly nice chap---and I’d trust his judgment in a matter like this.”

“A very nice chap,” agreed Walsingham, forbearing to point out that Macdonald had urged the Vanbrughs to put all the facts before the Vienna police. “Have you had any further report about Miss Le Vendre?”

“The hospital thinks she is in no danger: there is no fracture, her general condition is good, and they think she may recover consciousness within twenty-four hours. But what a maddening contre-temps, Neville. She was exactly the person I wanted---intelligent, diligent, trustworthy, and a most delightful person to work with. Moreover, she really is familiar with the German language and script, and what I would call ‘biddable.’ I’ve suffered from a few erudite young men as my secretaries---they all knew better than I did.”

“Yes. All very bad luck, sir,” agreed Neville, “but if she makes a good recovery---as healthy young people do---is there any reason why she shouldn’t resume her work with you?”

“The devil of it is---shall we ever know?” muttered Vanbrugh.

“Know what, sir?” asked Neville, and since there was no answer he went on: “Whether it was accident or assault?”

Sir Walter did not reply immediately, and then he said: “You know this city. It’s not so simple as some people like to think. The old intrigues go on.” He broke off abruptly. “I’m tired, Neville---and probably talking nonsense. I’ll go to bed and think things out afresh in the morning. I’m sorry to be a bad host. There are some journals there you might like to look at, and if you want anything, ring for Josef. He’s always around until midnight, and Anthony will be coming in later. He was dining with Sir Charles Bland.”

“That’s all right, sir,” said Neville Walsingham. “Josef and I are old friends. He knows my uncivilised addiction to a pot of strong tea around midnight---so good night and sleep well.”

Walsingham waited for some ten minutes after Sir Walter had gone, and then walked slowly through the music-room and paused to glance back at the salon, conscious of the beauty of the graceful rooms. He was deliberately memorising his impressions, knowing that some time he would use them as a background---star-studded arch, ormolu cabinets, the chessmen on the black table-top, the golden-shaded lights gleaming on cut glass, on silver and ivory. He went down the state staircase slowly and touched a bell when he reached the entrance hall: old Josef, solid, solemn and respectful, materialised like a silent apparition from the shadows of an archway.

“Sir Walter has gone to bed, Josef---he’s tired. I’m going for a walk, it’s a lovely evening now.”

Bitteschön, Herr,” murmured the old man. “You have only to ring.”

“Thanks.” Walsingham looked directly at the old man. “Clara or Greta---which of them told the truth, Josef?”

“Greta,” he replied. “Clara should not have come here. I tell you this, Herr---but Frau Schmidt would be angry if she heard me saying it.”

“All right. I won’t quote you.”

Walsingham spoke German easily, using the Austrian idiom, and the old servant smiled at him as he opened the front door and then went ahead to unbolt the complicated “postern” in the double doors which opened on to the street.

Walsingham was conscious of a sense of exhilaration as he strolled along the beautiful silent street, where the trees cast graceful shadows, thrown by the street lamps on to stone and stucco walls and elaboration of iron grille and moulded doorways. He loved foreign cities; the hectic never-ceasing movement and brilliance of Paris, the immense statuesque ancientry of Rome, the contrast of squalor and magnificence of Naples; yet for him Vienna had a charm all its own. It was a civilised city, Walsingham was apt to declare: but he knew also that Vienna of to-day still held the aftermath of its seventeen years’ occupation. Seventeen years from the time the Nazis took control in 1938, ten years since the Quadripartite occupation: Germans, Russians, French, British and Americans, they had all been in “occupation.” “And Vienna’s not finished with them yet,” thought Walsingham. “After all, under its gaiety and brilliance Vienna has always been a centre of intrigue: from the Romans to the Holy Roman Empire, Caesars and Hapsburgs, pro-Germans and anti-Germans, pro-Russian and anti-Russian, anyone with a gift for intrigue can make hay in Vienna.”

He was rambling on, word-spinning, and he knew it, but the events of the evening had fired his imagination. These quiet dignified streets with their air of security and reticence, and the graceful Hietzing woods, had been the background to an “incident”---and Walsingham used that modern jargon-word in preference to simple “accident.” He was in process of developing an idea, as he had so often done before; an idea based on correlating what he had observed, during and since his flight from London in the Viscount. “If he’d been willing to talk, I’d have talked too,” thought Walsingham to himself, still resentful of Macdonald’s guardedness. “Since he wouldn’t talk, he’s no reason to complain if I undercut him.”

==2==

Walsingham’s stroll was not as purposeless as an onlooker might have imagined: walking diagonally across the quiet streets of Hietzing, he was making for an inn which he remembered well---the Grünekeller---situated just beyond the main streets of Hietzing, in the direction of Hutteldorf. The Grünekeller stood just below the slopes which led up into the woods, and it had acquired a local fame because its owner, Frau Kahlen, had a fine singing voice. There was always music to be heard of an evening in the Grünekeller: a young zither-player made a habit of playing there, and the company in the inn (mellowed by the white wine which was a speciality) would join the zither-player in a chorus which always had quality. Towards the end of the evening, if the fancy took her, Frau Kahlen would stand up and sing herself: sometimes the traditional airs of the Styrian province where she had been born, sometimes Schubert, or Johann Strauss: and after a moment for consideration, the zither-player would improvise a soft accompaniment, never at fault in pitch or rhythm.

Walsingham was never quite sure if it was the quality of the music, the quality of the wine, or the fact that there were one or two outstanding old habituées at the Grünekeller which attracted an unusual clientele there, but he did know that you could count on finding a writer or two, some painters, some amateur politicians and a number of very vocal local characters, not excepting an occasional agitator, whose views were at variance with orthodoxy. Of one thing Walsingham was pretty certain. The story of the English girl’s accident in the woods would be known to the habituées of the Grünekeller, and among the opinions expressed over the local wine there was a very fair chance that some interesting facts would emerge---even the truth itself.

The Grünekeller stood in its own garden, a little above the level of the road: lights were shining from its windows, and Walsingham was quick to observe that no cars were parked outside. This was a matter of satisfaction to him, because it implied that those within were local people, or at least Viennese: not foreigners or interested onlookers from the Embassies, who would certainly have come in cars. The sound of the zither, and of men’s voices singing softly and tunefully, floated out across the leafy roadway, giving the whole scene a fairy-story aspect.

When Walsingham got inside, he found the place was packed: the company sat around well-scrubbed tables, with their glasses or tankards, and a couple of plump red-faced maidservants pushed their way around, refilling glasses and collecting payment. At the far end, the kitchen door stood open, and the heat from the cooking-stoves could be felt right across the room, for supper had been served to those who asked for it. The whole scene was a complete contrast to the interior of an average English pub: more friendly, more domestic, more sedate, as though good music and good wine brought a measure of dignity and picturesqueness into the simple interior.

Walsingham stood against the wall, signalled for a drink, and studied the faces around the tables, to see if he could recognise anybody he knew. At the end of the table nearest to him he saw a stout dark fellow whom he recognised as a music critic---a man he had met on earlier visits to Vienna---and when the chorus came to an end, he saw a hand raised in greeting.

“Come---Willi is going home, there is a place for you here,” said the stout man.

“Boris Schulze,” thought Walsingham to himself, remembering the other’s name as he pushed his way between the tables and took Willi’s vacated chair. Boris greeted the Englishman cheerfully, in a deep rumbling bass.

“And what are you doing in Vienna, my friend?” he asked. “Austria is no longer a problem country: we stand on our own feet, we are a second Switzerland, yes? Do you seek a story in a neutral state?”

“You’re the focal point of the musical world again, Boris,” said Walsingham cheerfully. “If I can get in touch with old friends, I may yet get a ticket for the reopening of the Opera House.”

Ach---you are an optimist. Half Europe hopes to be at the Opera House. That is not good enough. And as for old friends---the old friend who is your host has been in trouble to-day, I hear.”

“And how did you learn that?” asked Walsingham, noting that Boris Schulze knew where he (Walsingham) was staying.

“All the world knows it,” rejoined Boris. “A matter of a thunderstorm, I hear. Herr Vogel here knows one of the ambulance men: he knows everybody, does Vogel: he knows the Herr Doktor Natzler. I wouldn’t put it beyond him to know the Herr Rittmeister, eh, Vogel?”

A short grey-haired man across the table turned and smiled obsequiously at Schulze, with a little bow: in contrast to most of the rubicund faces around the tables, Vogel’s was pallid---damply, unpleasantly pallid. He was curiously colourless, with pale eyes and a long nose which twitched, so that Walsingham was reminded of an albino rat.

“As a man of law, I know the police of our district,” he said mildly, “but I have no information I can give to your English friend; I only know that the young English lady was stunned by the thunder and taken to hospital in an ambulance.” He turned more directly to Walsingham. “It happens that I drove an ambulance during the war,” he said, “and I still know the ambulance unit---I am on the reserve, as you say. If you, sir, are a writer---a journalist, perhaps?---I think there is nothing here to make a story of. Though it was a violent storm. I thought my own house was struck by that first flash, the vibration was so great. You were, perhaps, out in this storm?”

Walsingham became aware of a curious quality in the obsequious voice: curiosity? suggestiveness? something with an undercurrent of unpleasantness. “Had you been at home, in the house, you would doubtless have gone to search for the young lady when she did not return,” concluded Vogel.

“I drove up to Leopoldsberg after lunch,” said Walsingham, “and I saw the storm break over Vienna---it was quite a spectacle.” He returned Vogel’s deliberate stare. “As Schulze says, you are well informed, Herr Vogel.”

“There is very little information about the matter,” rejoined Vogel. “I met Fräulein Brückner as I walked to this inn: it was at her house that Dr. Karl Natzler telephoned for the ambulance and the police, so she heard such details as there were---a most unfortunate accident.” He pushed back his chair. “It is time I went home,” he said. “I had expected to meet my young guest here---Herr Stratton: but he must have been delayed. He had business in Vienna to-day. I bid you good night, gentlemen.”

Vogel got up and pushed his way to the door, and Walsingham became aware that the foregoing conversation had aroused considerable interest among the men who sat at their table. Schulze was smiling to himself and he grinned at Walsingham.

“Vogel is like that: he likes to make mysteries,” he said, “while always explaining that there is no mystery at all. I also must be going. Will you stroll back with me, my friend? I go to catch the late train to town.”

Walsingham finished his beer and got up, and the zither-player swept his fingers over the strings again, so that the hum of conversation was blurred by the music.

When they were outside, strolling down the shadowy road, Schulze said:

“It is an odd story, my friend. It is surprising how news travels. Did you notice the big fair young fellow at the end of the room? His name is Flüchs. He is a journalist---a reporter. He has collected enough facts to make an interesting story, though I doubt if his paper will ever publish it.”

“Look here---I’m puzzled over all this,” said Walsingham. “What business is it of Herr Vogel’s where I am staying or what I’ve been doing?”

“Vogel makes everything his business,” replied Schulze. “He is what you call a busybody. And don’t try to appear too simple, my friend. A story like the accident to Sir Walter Vanbrugh’s secretary is a gift from heaven to those who like mysteries. Now tell me, isn’t it true that you came to the Grünekeller this evening because you knew that they would be talking there of this accident?”

“Well, yes. I know it’s a place where all the local news is debated,” admitted Walsingham.

“And you are right,” agreed Schulze, “and if you want to know the facts that were debated, let us wait a moment until Hans Flüchs catches us up. He will be following us---I know he will. You may be able to give him a warning about not being too clever. Myself, I think he is being too ‘smart,’ as you say in English.”

Schulze stood still for a moment and lit a cigarette with deliberation, and Walsingham heard footsteps behind them. Schulze called:

“Hans---is that you? Come and join us. Mr. Walsingham, who is my friend and also a writer, would be interested to hear all those facts you have so industriously collected. Indeed, he may save you from putting a foot wrong. It is still possible for an industrious reporter to make mistakes in Vienna---even though Austria is now a neutral country.”

“I do not wish to make any mistakes, nor to offend in any way,” said Flüchs. He was a big fellow and he clicked his heels and bowed to Walsingham solemnly, his fair hair shining in the light which streamed out of the inn windows.

“Very correct,” chuckled Boris Schulze. “Let us walk on. I will tell Herr Walsingham how all this started, and you shall tell me if I am wrong.” They strolled on slowly and Schulze continued:

“Hans here is a reporter, as I said. If there is nothing to prevent him, he likes to go to Schwechat airport to see who arrives on the B.E.A. plane. Sometimes there is news to be had that way: or, as one might say, the forerunner of news---the comings of important persons, whether in diplomacy or trade---or even the arts.”

“That is a journalistic practice,” said Hans Flüchs solemnly. “It is quite correct.”

“Quite correct,” said Schulze. “And last Monday several interesting persons arrived by the B.E.A. plane. Hans will tell us about them.”

“There was Sir Charles Bland of the International Chemical Corporation,” said Hans Flüchs. “There was Sir Walter Vanbrugh’s new English secretary, met by Sir Walter himself. There was a Mr. Stratton, a writer, met by Herr Vogel. There was a high-ranking English police officer of the London C.I.D., met by Dr. Franz Natzler----”

“Here, steady on,” put in Walsingham. “Where did you get that idea from?”

“Herr Vogel was told by Herr Webster, who was also on the B.E.A. plane,” said Flüchs. “He was able to do him a small service, to help him to get a picture. Herr Webster is a cameraman: he knows the Herr Superintendent of Scotland Yard by sight; and the Herr Superintendent was met at the airport by Dr. Natzler. That I know. Also Herr Stratton, of whom Herr Vogel spoke, was met by Herr Vogel. It is all a very interesting story.”

“What is an interesting story?” demanded Walsingham, and Flüchs went on in his careful precise voice:

“That all these people should have arrived in Vienna together, mein Herr. There was the young lady, the secretary, staying with Sir Walter Vanbrugh, she who had the unhappy accident: there is the C.I.D. officer, staying with Dr. Natzler, who helps to find the young lady. There is Herr Webster, who knows the C.I.D. officer by sight: there is Sir Charles Bland, who this evening is dining with Herr Anthony Vanbrugh: and there is yourself, Herr Walsingham, who left London on the same B.E.A. plane as the young lady and the C.I.D. officer, and you are staying with Sir Walter Vanbrugh in Hietzing.”

“I told you Flüchs was industrious,” chuckled Schulze. “See how he has worked to collect all his facts! Hans had German grandparents: the Germans are an industrious race.”

“He certainly took a lot of trouble to check up on the B.E.A. passengers,” said Walsingham, “but why did he bother about it? What made him think that the passengers on that plane were of such interest?---or was it second sight? Did you prophecy to yourself that there was going to be a story for you, Herr Flüchs?”

“Like any other newspaperman, I always look out for a story,” said Hans Flüchs. “There are many stories in Vienna---even though we are now a second Switzerland, as Herr Schulze reminds us.”

“Doubtless,” said Walsingham dryly, “but I think Schulze was right when he warned you against being too clever. I think you are making a mistake in trying to connect the young lady’s accident in the thunderstorm with your researches into the passengers on the B.E.A. plane: and I would give you a piece of advice. It is well for journalists to observe what might be called ‘international courtesy.’ If visitors come to Vienna on holiday, be they writers or detectives or business magnates, it is better to respect their desire for privacy on their holidays than to publicise them over hastily.”

“I understand your meaning, Herr Walsingham,” said Flüchs stiffly. “I told you I wished to give no offence: I wish to be very correct. But since you give me advice, I am encouraged to ask one question. Is it not true, Herr Walsingham, that you yourself came to Vienna to investigate a story---a story, one might say, of the writing world, since you are a famous writer?”

“No, it is not true,” said Walsingham crisply. “I came to Vienna because I love Vienna, and because I wished to stay here again now that Austria has regained her freedom.”

“There you are,” said Boris Schulze. “You have been warned, Hans: do not be too clever. Do not be too industrious. Do not, in short, be too Germanic. And this is where I go to catch my train.” He turned to Walsingham. “I have been a good friend to you: I have given you a ‘close-up.’ You now know all that was being said in the Grünekeller. So if, on another occasion, I ask you to get me music and books from London, I feel I shall have earned them.”

“Right. Ring me up to-morrow and we’ll have a meal together,” said Walsingham.

Schulze walked off towards the railway station, and Walsingham turned to Flüchs. “Are you putting in a story for your paper to-night?” he asked.

“No. I have reported the facts of the young lady’s accident. For the moment that is enough,” said Flüchs. “I may, perhaps, approach those in authority before I go further. I wish you good night, Herr Walsingham.”

Walsingham strolled back slowly towards Trauttmansdorffgasse, sorting things out in his mind. Was there anything in the facts collected by the industrious Flüchs which could not have been collected by a journalist in search of copy, by the usual journalistic channels?

“What’s the betting that Hans Flüchs made friends with pretty lazy Clara?” pondered Walsingham, “or even with Miss Le Vendre herself,” he added as an afterthought, “and whether any of it has got anything to do with the matter in hand is anybody’s guess.”

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