Bill Todd -- Klaus: A Railway Novel
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 Chapter 3


Hans had long since established it as a principle that he not be required to sit at the dinner table while the others talked endlessly, something they were very much inclined to do. When they ate at a restaurant, he was allowed to explore the neighborhood after he had finished, checking back frequently so that they wouldn't have to search for him.

On this occasion, Charlotte suggested that he and Annette take a little cruise with the chauffeur and maid. The others would then be able to take their time over tea. Hardly had this suggestion been made than Hans and Annette were up and moving toward the boat, the chauffeur and maid following readily enough.

In Hans' life, there were two adult male figures. Klaus was, of course, one. The second was the chauffeur, Martin by name.

While Hans couldn't remember his father very clearly, he still didn't really regard any other man as his father. Klaus was Cousin Klaus, a man whom Hans admired considerably, but who didn't presume to give him orders. Hans was happy to follow Klaus wherever he went, but it was Charlotte who set the rules.

On the whole, Hans wasn't a rebellious boy. He was perhaps aware of being a bit of an orphan, with a touch of the corresponding hard-eyed view of life. Charlotte was only a relative by marriage, and, while it was obvious to most people that she would never withdraw her support from Hans, he tended to interpret her suggestions to him as orders.

If Hans did rebel at all, it was by reason of his relations with Martin. Martin was a big man of some forty years of age who looked competent and reliable. But, still, he looked like a servant. Part of that look was, of course, the uniform. However, he also had that slight stoop which is acquired by always waiting to be told what to do.

Hans occasionally tried to work out what Klaus and Charlotte thought of Martin. It appeared that Charlotte, while depending on him in many little ways, never thought deeply of him at all. Hans had actually wondered how it was possible not to have much of any attitude toward someone who was around so much. Once, when Hans said something about wanting to grow up to be a chauffeur, Charlotte laughed gaily, as if that were a ridiculous thing to want to be.

Hans did know that Klaus liked Martin, and that he occasionally arranged things so that Martin could have the boat for a day's fishing. But, despite that, a formality existed between the two men which, so to speak, made it impossible for Hans to be with them both at the same time. It was only when Hans was alone with Martin that the latter's secret beliefs were ever mentioned.

Martin believed, with every fibre of his being, that there were lucky names, in particular, ones which had the letter 'r' in the third position or the letter 'n' in the next to last position. Persons with those names would prosper, and horses so named would win. Martin, with such a name himself, would one day strike it rich. Hans also had a lucky name, and Martin suggested to him that it was not unconnected to the fact that he had been adopted by the Seydlitz family.

As a fellow possessor of a lucky name, Hans felt a certain bond between himself and Martin. It was unfortunate that Klaus, Charlotte, and Erich didn't have such names, even though the latter two were only one letter away. Martin thought that might be worth something, but it was doubtful. In any case, it was up to the two of them to look out for the others.

Martin also explained to Hans that these principles could be used on a grand scale to predict the course of world affairs. For example, Germany and Russia could never conquer one another because both had luck. Germany had the 'r' in the third position, but the name for Russia in German was "Russland."

Hans was inclined to think that Martin's approach to things was more efficient than that of Klaus. Instead of making thousands of observations, as Klaus did, Martin could pick out the lucky railroads in a matter of minutes. At the top of the list were the Norfolk & Western, the Great Northern, the New York Central, and the Northern Pacific. Since the 'n' wasn't quite as good as the 'r,' railways such as the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac came next. Then, there were the many railroads such as the B&O and the C&O. If one expanded the ampersand into "and," one picked up the 'n' in the right position. It was, Martin and Hans agreed, a bit marginal. But it still counted, and it was what put the Norfolk & Western in the premier position ahead of even the double 'n' Grand Trunk Western.

Martin was always quick to point out that Mr. Seydlitz, with his vast knowledge, rated the Norfolk & Western the best railway of all. For Hans, that about summed things up. Klaus really did know, but Martin had a much quicker and more convenient method for finding out.

While Hans had been sworn to secrecy, ostensibly so that other people wouldn't be able to take advantage of the method, he realized, from the beginning, that it was especially to be kept secret from Charlotte and Klaus. It wasn't, after all, their kind of thing. They might not like its being taught to Hans. Charlotte might even fire Martin if she found out. It was thus a rebellious act for Hans to keep that secret. He did so without feeling the slightest guilt.

Apart from being a junior conspirator with Martin, Hans often functioned as the assistant to the older man. Martin, unlike Klaus and Charlotte, didn't scruple to give Hans direct orders, orders which Hans always obeyed without thinking much about them. On the boat, Martin was the captain and Hans the mate. Martin had originally explained that, on a real ship, it was one of the captain's responsibilities to maneuver the ship to its anchorage while the first mate, in the bow, supervised the crew that handled and dropped the anchor. On a motor launch, the prerogatives and responsibilities were somewhat reduced, particularly when the owners were aboard. Still, it was Martin who steered most of the time and Hans who anchored.

Despite the underlying seriousness in these arrangements, there was also an element of play-acting, and even levity. In connection with anchoring, Martin had once told Hans a joke,

"There was this captain and mate of a sailing ship who didn't get along. The captain, standing by the helmsman in the stern, got the ship into position to anchor, and then decided to move it. He yelled forward to the mate, telling him not to drop the anchor. The same thing happened a second time. Then, the third time, the mate yelled back, 'You can do what you want with your half of the ship. I'm anchoring my half here.'"

Then, after they had begun to keep a log for the boat, there was another captain-mate joke.

"One day, Mate Jones noticed that Captain Smith had entered into the log, "Mate Jones drunk today." Jones was very upset because he knew that the owner read the log, and he complained to Captain Smith. Smith said, "It's true, isn't it?" Jones answered, "Well I spose so." Then he didn't say anything more about it for the next week. But, when they were about to reach port, he put into the log, "Captain Smith sober today." Smith was furious, but Jones said, "It's true, isn't it?" They argued for a while, and then they agreed to throw the log overboard and say it'd been washed away by a heavy sea."

No adult had ever told Hans jokes before, and Hans had never heard Martin tell anyone else a joke. He seemed, really, no more a joking sort of man than Klaus. But Hans liked the jokes, particularly the one about the log book. It ended, not in a punch-line, but with a sensible solution to the problem.

Martin and Hans ran their boat without any of the conflicts generated by long years on the high seas, and, in this instance, they got under way quickly and with little fuss.

The maid, Lotte, was almost entirely silent in the presence of her employers. However, Hans didn't count as an employer, or even as the "young master," and she was now much more effervescent. They were hardly under way before she offered drinks all around, pausing only to pour herself one first.

Only Martin wanted one, and, having handed him a glass, she danced her way back to the stern, where, not quite spilling her drink, she sprang backwards into the large seat which Klaus had occupied. Annette, seemingly a little alarmed by Lotte, drifted forward to stand by Martin at the steering wheel. She was there joined by Hans after he had coiled the dock lines.

While Hans might have liked to have been alone with Martin, he didn't find Annette objectionable. She wasn't a girl who followed one around being silly, and, while rather quiet, one had the feeling that she knew what was what. Not only that, Martin seemed to like her. At any rate, he went to more trouble to point things out and talk with her than he would with most people, certainly more than he would have with Annette's mother.

It was now pleasantly cool, and they proceeded at less than half speed so as not to disrupt the scene with their own noise and wake. It was already established between Hans and Martin that the best thing at night was to be like old-time explorers, and thus not go much faster than their boats would have taken them. Then, as they slowly followed the shore and rounded bends, it was exciting to see whole new scenes open up. It was a bright night, and Hans believed that, under those circumstances, a properly trained scout could see more than in the daytime.

Although not a light was visible on shore, and there was no traffic on the river, they once heard the sound of a car in the distance. Then, when they heard a locomotive whistle far up the river, Hans and Martin exchanged looks.

It was tricky to get too close to shore without fouling the propellor, but, with Hans using the anchor to sound and Martin running dead slow, they got anchored no more than the length of the boat from shore. Hans took off his shoes and dropped over the side, the water coming well up his thighs. His feet were in mud, but it seemed to be a hard mud, probably clay, that supported him well. It was necessary only to give a little gesture to Annette, and she climbed over the side into his arms. Martin then handed her Hans' sneakers.

Annette was heavier than she looked, but Hans was confident of his strength, being glad only that there were no sharp rocks underfoot. Having landed her carefully, he sat on a fallen limb and put on his shoes. The train whistled again, but it was still a long way off. Hans led the way up the heavily wooded bank, his eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness as he pushed limbs out of the way and held them for his companion.

Annette was quite lithe and graceful as she ducked under some obstacles and bounded over others, all the while holding her skirt away from the twigs and occasional thorns that caught at it. She seemed to be able to see as well as Hans, with only an occasional beam of moonlight finding its way through the trees to pick out her white legs. It was just when Hans was beginning to have doubts that they suddenly came upon the low railway embankment.

Hans had often been out with Klaus, and he knew how to assess roadbed and track. Since the tunnel through the foliage was only wide enough to accommodate the trains, it was still pitch dark where they stood at the base of the embankment. However, he was able, by feel as much as sight, to tell how well the embankment was built up, and whether it was likely to shift with time, water, and ice. He then helped Annette up to the track and guided her hand against the rail, saying,

"Main line track like this doesn't rust on top, but steel slivers split away from the rail on the outside. That doesn't matter til the rail is weakened. Then, one day, it'll break and there'll be a helluva wreck."

As they felt along the rail, they could feel some jaggedness along the outside. Annette reacted with some alarm, but Hans reassured her,

"That's not much. That's just common."

They then felt the wood of the ties to see if there were splits, and, again, Hans was able to pronounce favorable judgment. By this time, there was a faint sound in the distance, and Hans said,

"We'd better get down out of the way. There's nothing around here, so they won't whistle."

For a moment, there was no reply, and Hans couldn't even see Annette. Then, as he grew alarmed, she replied gaily from the darkness,

"I found a bigger piece out of the rail."

Hans rushed to her and found that there was, indeed, an indentation about the thickness of his forefinger. He replied,

"It's okay for the moment, but I'll get Klaus to report it tomorrow."

When they descended the embankment, Hans tripped over a discarded tie-plate, and only just avoided sprawling in the underbrush. Then, as Annette stood by his side, he said,

"You're not used to big American trains, are you?"

"This will be the first time I've been close to one."

"We have to keep out of sight in the bushes. If the engineer sees us in his headlight, he'll wonder what we're doing way out here. He might even think we're trying to wreck the train."

While it seemed to have taken a long time for the train to arrive since its first whistle, it soon became apparent that it was a fast one. The piston beat was so rapid that it merged with the general roar of the locomotive, and Hans was aware of Annette's growing alarm. He put his hand on her arm to steady her and make sure that she didn't try to rush off into the woods. Then there was the beam of intense light picking out everything in exaggerated and almost blinding detail. As it rushed closer, it cut through the leaves of the tree beside them so powerfully that Hans wondered if they had been exposed.

Hans happened to be looking at Annette as her face was suddenly illuminated, and saw there an expression which he couldn't place. He did, however, consider her a little unpredictable around things she wasn't used to. He thus held her arm more tightly as the thundering engine, seemingly with the noise and power of a tornado, burst almost on top of them

It was, as Hans had long since realized, a passenger train, probably hitting a good eighty. He felt Annette's alarm lessen as the coaches clicked along, surprisingly quietly, above them. When she could make herself heard, she asked,

"Is the ground supposed to shake like this?"

Hans again reassured her, and added,

"Now you see why the track and roadbed is so important. It has to be shook up and down, and from side to side, but still return to its original position each time. Everything gives, but nothing breaks."

Now, with only the smell of coal smoke in the air and the noise receding into the distance, it seemed lonelier and blacker than before. As Hans led the way back, Annette asked,

"How can you go in a straight line, and not in circles?"

"I've got a good sense of direction, even without my compass. Of course, we'd still go in circles if we had a long way to go. But, here, we've got the track on one side and you can almost smell the river on the other."

They returned to the river much more slowly than they had come, the scene lightening as the foliage overhead thinned out. When they emerged on to the bank, they were some distance downstream from the boat. Seeing no one in it, Hans called out. There was a moment's delay, and then Martin raised his head above the rail to reply,

"Can you walk up, or shall I bring the boat down?"

"We can walk okay. Be there in a couple of minutes."

It turned out to be easier to wade through the shallow water without their shoes than to negotiate the steep bank with its many crevices. When they got even with the boat, Hans tossed both their pairs of shoes aboard as Annette watched. She then waded out until, with her skirt held up well above her knees, she paused. Hans, coming behind, scooped her up with an appearance of ease. At the boat, he handed her to Martin, who, seemingly in an unusually good mood, took her and set her lightly on her feet.

As Hans climbed up on the foredeck to get the anchor, he was conscious of being in good spirits himself. He had enjoyed his little expedition ashore, and would be able to report to Klaus on the state of the C&O. He also hadn't minded having Annette along. She didn't ask dumb questions or giggle, or anything of that sort. However, the main thing was that Martin was treating him almost as an equal. Whether they just cruised a little on the river or set out for New Orleans, it was obvious who was in charge of the boat and who were the passengers.

Hans had hardly knelt on the deck to reach for the rope when he heard an odd noise. Turning quickly, he saw Lotte sitting on one of the long upholstered benches. She was hunched forward, and was making a high keening noise. Then, as he watched with fascination, she threw up violently into her lap.

It was Annette who rushed to aid Lotte as she continued, with awful noises, to lose the remainder of her cookies. Martin had turned to watch, but said nothing. Hans walked slowly aft on the foredeck, not sure what action to take. It did occur to him that Lotte was making a colossal mess, but it wasn't really his idea that he should help clean it up.

Annette was sitting on the bench just beyond Lotte with one arm around her back and the other hand on the girl's forehead. As Lotte continued to retch, now with minimal outpouring, Annette called out,

"Hans, quick."

When Hans bounded up, Annette said,

"It's almost all in her skirt. If we can lift her gently above the rail and tip her outward, it'll go in the river."

Hans, realizing for the first time that Annette spoke with a slight accent, put his arm under Lotte's knees. He felt some slime as he lifted, but Annette was helping from the other side, and they carefully sat Lotte on the narrow strip of deck outside the cockpit coaming.

Then, as Annette had said, it was a simple matter to swing and tip her slightly away. Annette actually put her hand into the mess and held Lotte's uniform in such a way that much of the vomit went over the side. A good deal of the remainder landed on the deck, where it would be easy to clean. Annette then had Martin bring her a bucket. While Hans held Lotte, Annette scooped up water and poured it on Lotte's mid-section. The latter let out a little scream when the water hit her, but Annette told her that she was wet anyway and would feel better with the mess washed away.

After that, they laid Lotte on the bench seat and covered her with a blanket. As Hans went back to raise the anchor, he glanced at Martin. The older man seemed quite shaken, enough so that Hans said,

"I think she'll be all right. Just an upset stomach."

After securing the anchor, Hans was surprised when Martin said to him,

"They'll blame me."

It seemed unlikely to Hans that Charlotte, or anyone, would blame Martin because Lotte was sick. However, the other was so serious, and so bothered, that he, Hans, hardly knew how to reply. Martin was now, more than ever, treating him as an equal, but not in a way that he liked. Hans went back to see how Lotte was doing.

Annette now had Lotte's head in her lap with a towel under it. With another towel, this one moistened, she was cleaning Lotte's face. The latter, now crying, was also moaning and saying something which Hans couldn't understand. Sitting on the other side of Annette, he asked quietly,

"Do you think she's going to be sick again?"

"I don't think so. She said she feels better."

"She sure doesn't look it."

Annette then whispered to him,

"She's crying because she's ashamed."

Hans whispered back,

"She shouldn't be ashamed. I've done that. On one scout outing we ate something bad and almost all got sick."

"I think she's sick because she got drunk. She thinks everyone will know. I'm getting her cleaned up, but she'll still be soppy wet."

"Martin doesn't want them to know either. Maybe we could say she fell overboard."

"Once she gets into the light, the stains will show on her white uniform. I'll tell my mother she got something bad at the restaurant that made her sick. Mother's always warning me about eating things in this country. She'll believe that."

"Well, there was a lot of funny food there."

Lotte had now turned on her side with her face toward Annette while the latter soothed her. Annette said reassuringly,

"I can't smell liquor on you any more. Can you, Hans?"

Hans bent and sniffed and wrinkled his nose. While agreeing that she didn't smell of liquor, he indicated by gesture that the smell still wasn't good. Annette shrugged and replied,

"That doesn't matter."

Then, after a moment's silence, she glanced forward at Martin and asked in a whisper,

"Did you say he didn't want anyone else to know she's been sick."

"Yeah. He said he'd get blamed. But even if Charlotte figures out that Lotte got drunk, she won't blame Martin."

There was then another pause before Annette whispered,

"If he feels that way, he must've done something. Maybe he got her drunk so he could do something he shouldn't to her."

Hans' immediate reaction was to defend Martin, but he hardly knew what to defend him against. Of course, in the Scouts he had heard stories about travelling salesmen and some of the things they did to women, but he was sure Annette wouldn't know about that. He replied,

"You think he got her drunk and kissed her?"

"More than that, probably. Remember, when we got back from the train, we couldn't see anyone in the boat at all. They must've both been lying down."

Hans could hardly speak at all. Then Annette looked at him and said,

"I'm sorry. You like him, don't you?"

Hans could only nod, and Annette replied,

"Well, I guess grown-ups do all kinds of things. You should hear my mother talk."

"Does she do those things?"

"I don't know, but they must've done something to put me here. The same with you."

Hans was always very uncomfortable when the discussion turned to his parents, and he said only,

"I guess Martin must've done something. I've never seen him scared before."

When they got back to the restaurant, the rest of the Seydlitz party was ready to embark. No one seemed particularly upset to hear that Lotte had been sick, and Marie-Claude, with an alarmed look, touched her own stomach. Lotte was allowed to remain where she was, and Charlotte and Marie-Claude cleared another place on the cushions for the exhausted Annette to go to sleep. They then joined Jill, and all three sat conversing quietly.

Bill Todd -- Klaus: A Railway Novel
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