The Return of Klaus
Paris, Gare de l'Est, July 1, 1936
The train bringing Hans and Klaus from Germany arrived almost exactly on time. Klaus, secretly pleased that no one had turned up to meet them, suggested that they have their luggage sent on to the hotel ahead of them. As he approached the taxi rank in front of the station, he joked,
"After all, it'll do no harm to give them a little advance warning of our arrival."
The uniformed man in charge of the taxis pretended, at first, not to understand what Klaus wanted. Then, he insisted that, if Klaus sent the luggage off unaccompanied, he would never see it again. Finally, after a goodly tip, he had the luggage loaded aboard a taxi while ostentatiously taking down its number.
As they walked away, Hans asked,
"Was he really worried about our luggage being stolen, or was that just to get a big tip?"
"Probably a little of both. One way or another, Americans always end up paying a little extra for everything in Europe."
"Is that because they don't like Americans or because they think we're rich?"
"I'd say again that it's a bit of both. You can avoid paying extra if you go to sufficient trouble. Some people do. But the amounts of money are very small from our point of view, and the convenience is often considerable. In this case, we can wander a lot more freely without our luggage."
Klaus and Hans proceeded north along the Rue Magenta, and then turned right. While they walked easily, and without any apparent aim, they came inevitably to some road bridges from which they could inspect tha maze of trackage leading from both the Gare de l'Est and the nearby Gare du Nord. As Klaus remarked to Hans, the central fact about the French railway system was well known.
"Almost all the lines lead to Paris and terminate here. If Paris is captured, the rest of the country can't hold out long."
They then walked a bit more until, on the Rue de Faubourg St. Denis, Hans found a model shop. There was there a good stock of airplane models, the ones which were to be put together with balsa templates, wooden stringers, and rice paper. They were supposedly powered by a propellor, in turn powered by a twisted elastic band, but Hans was the only one in his scout troop who could assemble them so that they actually flew. In view of the fact that he sometimes set them on fire before launching them, Klaus suggested the purchase of a few extra. Then, on the other side of the shop, there were railway model kits which Hans could build for his layout at home. One thing led to another, and, by the time they emerged, they were well laden with models of planes, trains, and ships.
Continuing to wander, the two drifted past the Place de la Republique and Les Halles as they discussed what they had seen in Germany. Hans, well acquainted with the Muellers, had, for the first time, visited extensively with his Seydlitz relatives. Indeed, his German was coming along so well that he had been able to converse with them quite naturally.
Klaus, for his part, had been quietly amused to watch. Hans, in appearance, was a throwback to his blonde Pommeranian and East Prussian ancestors. Moreover, Hans not only looked like his relatives, but found them congenial. The new Seydlitz generation lacked the vacant eyes of their forebears, and there were some lively intelligences among them. They still talked of military affairs, but in a more interesting way.
By keeping a sharp ear cocked to the lower end of the dinner table, Klaus had learned a good deal more there than from the older men around him. While the latter talked endlessly of their experiences in the war, Klaus had partially overheard the future Graf von Seydlitz, aged sixteen, telling Hans about Hitler. He now asked Hans about it, and Hans replied,
"He said some of his relatives didn't like Hitler because he wasn't, I guess, what we'd call a gentleman. But Wilhelm said there were a lot of lies going around about Hitler. One of them was that he wasn't a real soldier, just a clerk. Wilhelm said he'd been a messenger at the front, and that that was very different from being a clerk. Is that true?"
"Oh yes. A messenger was someone who had to run between trenches under fire, generally alone. He'd be a real dirt- eater."
"Yeah, I guess so. Another lie is that a former enlisted man would never be able to understand the deployment of large forces. Wilhelm said that he has a relative who's attached to the Army High Command, and who has actually talked with Hitler. The relative says Hitler is sharper than any of the regimental and divisional commanders except for Guderian and Manstein."
"I've never doubted that he was a smart man. But I've wondered whether he would be accepted by the ruling class. Besides his lowly origins, he really is a kind of socialist, you know."
"The ones I talked to didn't say anything about that. They said it's better to be led by a real soldier, even an enlisted man, than by some civilian."
"Do they all assume that there'll be war?"
"Oh yes. I'll be on the other side, of course. I'll try not to shoot my relatives."
"The people at my end of the table were still talking about Hitler being an upstart, but they're mostly retired and hardly matter. Did the boys you met belong to the Hitler Youth?"
"Some do, but it seemed to be pretty much like the Boy Scouts. They do all the same things."
They had now reached the Seine at Chatelet, and Klaus gestured toward both banks.
"This is a very different country. I doubt whether the young men here talk much of war."
"Whatever they talk about, I can never understand them."
The next morning at breakfast Charlotte and Erich switched from French to English in deference to Klaus and Hans. Charlotte was as cheery in the small breakfast room as in her own home. She was also full of plans, some of which included the two new arrivals.
Hans was enlisted for a hike up to Montmartre. As advertized by Charlotte, its attractions consisted less in the Basilica of Sacre Coeur than in the opportunity to see artists living in a dissolute manner. There was also a promise of chocolate pastries. That left Klaus with Erich over coffee.
The relation between the two men had always been rather awkward. Erich had been too old to be treated as a child when he had come to live with the Seydlitz family, but it also hadn't seemed natural to treat him as an adult and equal. Klaus could never quite forget that Erich's father was the man who had last been seen hanging from the bedroom window. He suspected strongly that the same image, in more intense form, plagued Erich as well.
Klaus had naturally tried to encourage Erich in his interests, the healthiest of which seemed to be in flying. He and Erich both learned to fly a small biplane which Klaus purchased, but Klaus, usually in the rear cockpit, had Erich do most of the flying. Erich was often unsure of himself, but Klaus had persevered in encouraging him despite many rough landings, a descent into a hay-field, and a ground loop that had almost bashed his, Klaus,' head against the runway.
Oddly enough, these shared aeronautical experiences hadn't given rise to the kind of easy familiarity Klaus had hoped for. Also, contrary to what one might have supposed, Erich didn't improve much as a pilot. It seemed to Klaus that he was tense and often frightened in the cockpit, and that their numerous mishaps wouldn't have occurred with a more relaxed pilot. Finally, Klaus had concluded that Erich liked the idea of flying better than flying itself, and that, let alone, he would hardly ever have gone up. It was only that he couldn't refuse when Klaus suggested a flight.
At that point, Klaus gave out the impression that he had rather lost interest in flying himself. In fact, he had always had to wedge himself very uncomfortably into the small cockpit. Besides, as he remarked to Charlotte, there was no point in egging on a marginally competent pilot to the point where they would both be killed.
Since then, conversation between Klaus and Erich had been still more limited. Erich would usually chatter gaily about his various appointments, and then be gone fairly quickly. This time, it was different. Instead of going on about the intricacies of Parisian social life, Erich had almost nothing to say. Klaus, filling the unexpected vacuum, asked some questions about the French political parties which must have seemed elementary to Erich. Erich answered them much more carefully than might have been expected, but seemingly without enthusiasm. It seemed that he had not taken sides, but was observing the whole thing from a distance. That, in itself, was odd for Erich. What was even odder was that he described the French political scene in a highly cynical way which was also quite humorous. Detached dry humor had never been Erich's specialty.
After the discussion had gone on for half an hour, much longer than usual for a conversation between Klaus and Erich, the breakfast things were cleared away. The maid obviously wanted to clean up and Erich suggested a stroll down to the market at the Place Monge. He then surprised Klaus yet again by asking him about the state of politics in Germany. Klaus replied that all political questions in Germany had come down virtually to one: What was Hitler going to do? Erich, by this time more animated, said the French papers had been full of stories about the Anglo-German naval agreement. Klaus replied,
"Hitler doesn't really give up anything by forswearing a big fleet of battleships. In a war against England, and perhaps America, he's counting on submarines."
"Can submarines be used extensively against us?"
"The new ones can operate off our east and Gulf coasts."
Klaus knew Erich well enough to be surprised that he now seemed to care that German submarines were in a position to attack American coastal shipping. It might be that the receipt of his new commission as a second lieutenant had sobered him, or it might be that he finally realized how dangerous the situation was. More likely, thought Klaus, Erich had been rejected by a woman, and was temporarily down in the dumps.
After strolling through the market and buying some fruit, Klaus started down the hill to the Seine while Erich returned to the hotel. As he passed the cafe, Le Petit Cardinal, it occurred to Klaus that Erich must be angry at Charlotte. There had been a reference to "her" friends, as if they were not also his friends. But, surely, Erich would like Marie-Claude Serrault. Indeed, Charlotte's women friends were always attractive and interesting. Neither did it seem likely that they would snub Erich. If any American had ever been made for Paris, it was he.
Klaus was still wondering when he reached the Ile St. Louis. He had developed the habit of not being particularly concerned about Erich. He had done what he could, but had ultimately been baffled. He had therefore left the young man largely to Charlotte, who seemed to understand him. But now, if there had been some trouble between them, it might be necessary for Klaus to assume a role.
The present situation in some ways paralleled one that had arisen two summers previously. Erich had appeared one day to say that he was engaged to be married. Charlotte had been quite upset. It would have violated the West Point rules and meant the abandonment of Erich's military career. She was still more upset when she met the prospective bride.
It was, Charlotte said, a simple case of an older woman having used sexual wiles to trap Erich. Erich himself alternated between manic gaity and depression. He had ultimately spoken to Klaus, not directly about his proposed marriage, but about certain related matters. Klaus had used his ponderous presence to slow things down.
Unexpectedly, the woman hadn't claimed to be pregnant. In the end, Klaus had simply pointed out to Erich that, since he didn't wish to marry, he didn't have to.
This time, too, it was a matter of Erich getting out of something. He must get out of flying before the war started. But it seemed to Klaus that matters would take care of themselves. Erich would be washed out of the flying training program despite his previous experience as a pilot.
Klaus still had his conversation with Erich in mind the next morning at breakfast when Charlotte made a casual announcement to the family. It concerned business, and came as no great surprise. Charlotte, despite her fortune, modest only in comparison to that of Klaus, had never given up her penchant for small businesses. Some had been typically "feminine." For example, she had bought a dress shop and a gourmet food shop. But there had also been a good deal of real estate, a janitorial service, and a company that made window shades. Even the dress shop had been in the black.
In view of this record of success, and the obvious entrepreneurial acumen behind it, Charlotte's friends had often urged her to try something on a larger scale. She had never yielded to this advice. Some said it was because of a lack of confidence, but people who knew her better had a different view. It was just, they said, that she only wanted enterprises that she could keep her finger on. She wanted to know the employees and be able to occasionally drop in, mix a salad, sell a dress, or decorate a house. And, after all, there was really no need for her to make money.
There was at least one man in Cincinnati whom Charlotte had shocked badly. For decades he had run an old family company, comfortably making window shades. Then, in a matter of a year, a business started by Charlotte had taken his customers away. Shaken to his senses, he had made an attempt to retrieve the situation by cutting expenses. But it was too late. The company went bankrupt and he lost everything, even the house in which he lived.
In France the small businessmen were often even more rigid and less inclined to change with the times. They were sitting ducks for Charlotte. As a result, she now had several enterprises in Paris and elsewhere. She said that her businesses saved her from being a tourist, and that they gave her an opportunity to meet many more kinds of people. Of course, it wasn't necessary for Charlotte to justify herself in this, or any other, way. Klaus wouldn't have dreamed of questioning the wisdom of her investments. Besides, it was entirely her money.
It was in that atmosphere that Charlotte announced on this morning that she was acquiring a dress shop in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Two days hence, she would travel there for the purpose. Marie-Claude was going along to give advice, and would then remain in Luxembourg to visit some friends. She might even scout out some other possibilities for investment. Klaus, thinking nothing of it, took another croissant from the basket