Vicki looked considerably better after a good night’s sleep. Moreover, there was nothing like an arrival in a new country to make people forget their problems and instill a sense of adventure. An English B&B was an adventure in itself, and Vic eased Vicki gently into the Pusey Street breakfast room. Elizabeth greeted her with considerable warmth, and congratulated her on her new job.
Vic had told Vicki very little about Elizabeth, and, by the time they settled back with post-breakfast coffee, Elizabeth had told her own story, this time with reference to the Vienna night club and her difficulties in getting to her husband in America. As she did so, Vic wondered to himself how Nazi Elizabeth might have been. Even as a Jew, he didn’t feel any anti-Semitism on her part, but there could have been other parts of the Nazi ideology that attracted her. At one point, he asked her, “Weren’t there Nazis who were idealistic in a funny kind of way?”
“Those were the New Europe people. They looked forward to the end of national divisions and hatreds, and had something close to a socialist ideal for society.”
“No rich people and poor people?”
“Pretty much. Of course, they were authoritarian in their own way. People a lot like themselves would be laying down the rules and enforcing them.”
“Were they also anti-war?”
“They thought the war necessary to the establishment of their ideal state. But, of course, they were joined by violent thugs and brutes who loved war. In a group of officers, you could often tell at a glance which ones were the idealists and which the brawlers.”
Vicki asked, “Were the idealists also anti-Semitic?”
“Toward the end, I began to realize that they never mentioned Jews at all, and had pained expressions when anyone else did. I think they had more than an inkling of what was happening, but tried to deny it, even to themselves.”
Vic supposed that Elizabeth’s fiancé had been an ‘idealistic Nazi’. She had clearly recognized the limitations of the Nazi regime, but it remained an open question just how conflicted she had been. Perhaps thinking along those lines, Vicki said,
“It sounds to me like the age of kings. People always wanted a good king like Peter the Great, who’d set everything to rights and make everyone happy. But, sooner or later, there’d be a run of bad kings.”
Elizabeth replied, “Not only that, the good king would have some really bad ideas that no one could veto. So, here we are in messy democracies. I’m convinced of their necessity myself, but I can’t convince the American government that I am.”
Vicki nodded with apparent understanding. Vic hadn’t told her that Swede and Joan had some of their own plans, probably including Elizabeth. Elizabeth might get used, but she might thereby get to America. Was that okay? Even on the basis of her short acquaintance with Elizabeth, Vicki might not think so.
Later that morning, Vic called Swede, saying that Vicki had arrived and was getting settled. Swede immediately invited them out to dinner, adding, “See if that friend of yours, Elizabeth, can also come.”
“Okay. She’s not busy these days, and probably can.”
Without her husband and Kennedy, Elizabeth was definitely not busy. After accepting, she said, “There are a lot of people that Seth and I know, but they’re really his friends. It wouldn’t be natural for me to just turn up on their doorsteps.”
“I bet you’d be welcome on Prince Todd’s houseboat.”
“If Kate weren’t there, I’d be a little too welcome! On the other hand, when she is there, it’s hard to get her out without having the Prince tag along. The upshot is that I’d be happy to meet your American friends.”
The George restaurant was a fairly fancy one as Oxford went, and Vicki wore the dress she had gotten at Jordan Marsh. The cold biting wind whipping through the narrow streets required something else, and Vic outfitted her with a former Royal Navy watch coat which Billy Penderby had given him. It was an amazingly heavy wool garment. Medium blue and double breasted, it had a double row of brass buttons with anchors on them and a large collar which could be turned up. It was quite water resistant, and Billy said that it had been worn on convoy duty to north Russia in the war. Vic had found it too small and tight for him, but it easily encompassed Vicki. Coming down almost to her ankles with the collar turned up to obscure half her face, it amounted to a mobile cocoon.
Elizabeth, a little teasingly in view of Vic’s known obsession, pointed out that Vicki looked quite elegant in it. It hadn’t occurred to Vic that a woman could be elegant in a man’s greatcoat, but it actually had a nice shape and military look that suited Vicki. As they emerged into the night, he said to her, “You look better than you would have in the fur coat you never got.”
Elizabeth was not nearly not so well protected, and, as they traversed the half dozen blocks, she sheltered as best she could behind Vicki.
Swede and Joan arrived simultaneously from their hotel in the same block, and everyone got inside the restaurant before introductions were made. Joan was fascinated by Vicki’s coat and remarked, “If we could get Swede a coat like that, people would flee at the mere sight of him.”
Since they had arrived before the normal English dinner hour, there were few people as they went upstairs. Joan said, “We’ve been to this place, and it’s not the kind where you look at the food without eating it.”
Their previous experience in Boston was explained to Elizabeth, who replied, “I don’t think there are places like that in England. At least, I hope not.”
Swede did try not to be conspicuous, letting Joan deal with the head waiter. The attempt largely broke down when they had to find an extra large chair for him, but, at least, they were seated in a far corner of the restaurant.
As much as anyone, Joan led the conversation. It was light and amusing, and Vic, for one, was impressed by the breadth of her knowledge of Europe. He then remembered that they had spent at least a year at Oxford, and had travelled on the continent. Both she and Swede were observant travelers who remembered what they had seen.
Elizabeth was also quite good at being a cosmopolitan European. There was, of course, nothing about the Luftwaffe fiancé, the night club, or the Helferinnen von Dienst. Someone who hadn’t known would probably not even have been able to detect her nationality. It seemed to Vic that Swede found her very attractive. So far as he knew, Swede wasn’t inclined to have extramarital affairs. However, given his choice of Joan as his wife, he probably thought that attractive and charming women were able to accomplish whatever needed to be done.
Now seeing her at her best, Vic himself found Elizabeth quite sexy in a sophisticated way. Indeed, she notched well into his concept of elegance. In that respect, she wasn’t far removed from the Polish ladies in London.
Across from Elizabeth, Vicki was also a center of attention. Swede was quite interested in her job, pointing out,
“If Lyons can be computerized, I could rent time on computers and automate some of my own operations.”
Vicki, like most other computer people, believed that almost everything everywhere could be automated, and was supportive. However, Swede had no immediate intentions in that area, and it seemed to Vic that he and Joan mainly wanted a safe and prosperous niche for Vicki.
As far as Vic could see, Joan was enjoying herself, talking with everyone and eating with enthusiasm. She didn’t seem to have any concerns about anything, but he suspected that she was accomplishing whatever she had in mind.
As they were lingering over coffee, it was to Vic’s considerable surprise that the head waiter led in Prince Todd and Princess Katarina and seated them at the next table. Then he remembered. Despite the monetary failure of most of the Prince’s schemes, they spent money in gobs whenever they came by any. Katarina, in a full-skirted white dress, looked too good to be denied entrance to any establishment, whatever the status of her escort. In fact, the Prince, with his black jacket with the curious insignia, himself looked quite distinguished. This time, Vic was able to make out the small letters, ‘SSE’, below the insignia. He recalled that it stood, not for ‘south southeast’, but for the Seven Seas Empire. The prince, claiming to own the seabed under all the oceans, held sway over a realm of oceanic domain.
In easy conversational distance, Swede and Vic stood as Elizabeth introduced all parties, referring to Swede as an American real estate investor. The prince replied, “Real estate pierces my interest sharply.”
That was the way the prince talked, and Katarina, used to mediating between him and the outside world, re-directed Swede’s attention with her own, rather unusual, sort of flirtation. She and the prince then sat down to eat.
After dinner, they went to a pretty Victorian pub in a nearby street. It was higher toned than Frank Collins’ favorite, and a little more expensive than the one previously favored by Elizabeth and Kennedy, but still filled with a mix of academic and business people. Sitting at a fairly large round table, Joan and Swede were naturally quite curious about Prince Todd and his consort. Elizabeth gave them a fairly condensed version of the story, which she was obviously used to doing. At the end, Swede said, “I can imagine that girl decoying the guard off into the alley while her accomplice robs the bank.”
His wife looked a little shocked, but Elizabeth replied, “I don’t think the prince is young and active enough to rob a bank, but he may find some other use for my little friend.”