A Kind of Education
Cincinnati, January 10, 1937
Annette Serrault had always had a difficult time interpreting the actions of adults in general and her parents in particular. As she said to Hans,
"I can never make out what they really want."
"I know what Klaus wants."
"With respect to railways?"
"But what does he want you to be when you grow up?"
"A railwayman, I guess. Maybe an engineer."
"I bet he doesn't really want that."
Hans looked puzzled, and she explained,
"Any sort of work with your hands is lower class."
"Not in America."
"Yes, in America too."
"What does your mother want you to be?"
"She wants me to marry well, better than she did, and to be very conventional and happy. That's pretty unlikely, especially now, and she knows it. But she'd never admit it. So I don't know what she wants me to do instead."
"Well, we're being kept busy at school. We don't have to think about anything else."
Hans had his limitations. Annette wasn't willing to leave it at that, but she knew that it would be useless to discuss the matter further.
In her own mind, Annette had decided that her father, whatever he wanted, talked mostly about money on the one hand, and, on the other, about a sort of rarefied and glamorized social respectability. It amused her that he now had neither.
Marie-Claude, who might say anything and want anything, the two not necessarily connected, nevertheless seemed largely focussed on money and sex. As far as Annette could make out, she now had neither.
Annette was herself much clearer than the adults as to her own desires. She thought respectability, no matter how rarefied or tinged with elegance, virtually useless. Money, she thought, was over-rated. It was undoubtedly useful, and necessary in reasonable quantities, but the adults' obsession with money went beyond all reasonable bounds.
This much, she had discussed with Hans. They were in complete agreement, and Hans said that Klaus would have agreed as well. That seemed entirely likely.
Annette hadn't discussed the desirability of sex directly with Hans, although, in their many conversations, they had touched on it here and there. She herself wasn't sure what to think.
Her principle sources of experience consisted in watching the copulation of various kinds of animals and in hearing human female cries in the night. On the animal front, it seemed that the males were more excited about it than the females, but that the latter, if approached at the right time in the right way by the right sort of male, found it pleasant enough. The cries in the night were more confusing.
The main problem was that they sounded as much like cries of pain as pleasure. She had discussed this point with her school-mates, some of whom had heard similar things, and everyone said that it was a matter, not just of pleasure, but of ecstasy.
With her mother and father it was anybody's guess. But it did seem to Annette that Klaus would be extremely unlikely to do anything to cause his wife pain. So she supposed that the scream of Charlotte's that sounded much more animalistic than anything she had heard from animals, must indeed have been an expression of ecstasy. That being the case, Annette was anxious to experience the same sort of thing herself.
Here again, Hans couldn't be approached. As good a friend as he might be, he simply wasn't old enough. After all, everyone said that girls were much more advanced than boys the same age. Who, then, was a possibility?"
The best and most likely prospect, it seemed to Annette, was the chauffeur, Martin. She was pretty sure that, on the boating trip on their previous visit, he had gotten Lotte drunk and seduced her. If Lotte, why not she herself? Annette had matured a great deal since that time, and men on the street certainly seemed to notice and admire her. If they did, why not Martin?
Best of all, Martin wouldn't tell anyone. A boy she met at school, or almost anywhere else, would be likely to boast. But Martin would lose his job if Klaus and Charlotte found out. Indeed, if Annette decided she didn't like sex and wanted to stop, she could threaten to tell them if he didn't.
Nothing happened immediately. Annette and Hans continued to go to their country day school, mostly enjoying it, and they all settled into a household routine which revolved around the management of railways. To Annette's initial amazement, her mother threw herself into railway management. Then, of course, she realized. They were totally dependent on the Seydlitz family, and they had to make themselves useful. She would soon be urged by her mother to herself show an interest in the C, L, and N and Bellwether railways, and it was far better that she do so before she was asked. She therefore asked Hans to explain what she didn't already know.
It was, she understood, a matter of turning a sleepy little railway that had never made enough money to modernize into a little giant that could link major railways without slowing them down. According to Hans,
"The first thing we needed was a new signalling system so that we could run more trains without having them collide. Frank Scrutt already did that while we were in France. The next thing is the passing tracks."
"That much I understand. I've been on local trains in France that were put on sidetracks while the expresses roared by."
"We aren't going to run passenger trains if we can help it, and all our freight trains will be long strings of empty tank cars going about the same speed. And they'll all be going south."
"Why are passing tracks needed, then?"
"Just to get our locomotives back to the north end of the line."
These various improvements to the line ran to millions of dollars, and, according to Hans, Klaus wanted to save as much of his own money as possible for crises that might occur down the line. This lead directly to Annette's first railway service.
Since Klaus' railways were publicly held, but not listed on the major exchanges, new shares could realistically be sold only to the original investors and their friends. A banker named Sunderman was the chief of these, not in terms of the money he himself put in, but in his tendency to get his clients and customers to invest.
The occasion for this fund-raising was a meeting at the Seydlitz home, nominally a director's meeting, but, really, a quasi-social occasion at which anyone interested in investing was welcome. Charlotte was used to giving parties of that sort, and she now had the help of Marie-Claude. Charlotte also said specifically that the presence of Annette would be helpful.
Hans refused to have anything to do with such things. He said to Annette,
"None of those people have any idea what the railway's going to be used for, and some of them are Nazis at heart. But they think they're going to get rich."
"I bet some of them are flattered by being invited here and having Klaus and Charlotte act as if they're important."
There were a good many discussions as to what Annette should wear, but, in the end, Charlotte said,
"She looks seventeen instead of fourteen, so we might as well dress her accordingly."
These days, Marie Claude never disagreed with Charlotte, and Annette ended up with her first silk stockings and high heels. When she wore the whole outfit at dinner one night for practice, Hans burst out laughing and Frank Scrutt had a look on his face which Annette had never seen there before.
The tea party itself revolved around some of the uglist and most boring people Annette had ever encountered. Mr. Sunderman himself reminded her of a toad which has eaten too many insects and might vomit them out at any moment. Annette smiled at him as she served him with tea, but stood a little to the side to avoid the effects of any untoward internal explosion.
Klaus gave a little talk, and Annette listened very carefully. He merely described the various improvements and said nothing about preparing for war. He made no promises at all, but said that it was necessary to raise cash to pay for the improvements, which were worth far more than they were costing the railway.
When he had finished, Marie-Claude, whom the others had never seen, asked if it were possible to invest right there and then. Klaus indicated that it was, and, when speaking to him personally after the end of his talk, she mentioned some large numbers which were overheard by some of the people near them.
When, a little later, Klaus sat down at a little desk with his stock transfer book, there actually formed a line of people who wished to buy more stock.
During the last stage of the party, Annette found Mr. Sunderman extremely friendly and full of questions about her. She stood tall, and, with her heels, was enough above him so that, although he was closer on the horizontal plane than she would have liked, the vertical distance partly made up for it. He had no sooner patted her arm affectionately than Klaus appeared, expansive and in good humor, and asked Mr. Sunderman some questions about finance.
After the guests had left, everyone told Annette how well she had done. For her part, she could hardly see that she had done anything.
As far as Annette could make out, both Klaus and Scrutt discussed every move with Hans, and even took his advice at times. It was inconceivable that either of her parents would ever have discussed anything of any importance with any child, but she now saw a possible opening. Hans listened to her, and the men listened to Hans. Could she not possibly acquire more influence over the things that mattered in this household than her mother?
With that thought in mind, Annette listened carefully whenever future plans for the railways were mentioned. She soon discovered that, in addition to eliminating passenger service on the C, L, & N, there would be no freight deliveries to the industries and warehouses along the route. After all, it was anticipated that there would be a virtually continuous flow of empty tank cars day and night. There would be no room for anything else.
The idea was to gradually wean the commuters, the day trippers, and the shippers away from dependence on the railway by slowly diminishing the quantity and quality of services. The hope was that the commuters would naturally shift to private cars and trolleys, while the shippers would shift to trucks. There was, after all, no major industry on the line which couldn't be supplied in that fashion. In the meantime, the railway personnel would get increasingly used to running longer trains from one end of the line to the other.
There had never been any intention to actively sabotage local operations, but only to let them gradually wither without renewing equipment. Some of this withering had already taken place. According to Hans,
"The pick-ups from local industries and other railroads have only slowed down a little bit, but we're getting complaints from all over the place. Even the cops are mad because we're leaving too many freight cars parked on the tracks that run down the middle of Eggleston Avenue."
"People get upset if you change their routines even a little bit. You'd think Frank Scrutt would realize that."
"He does. It's Klaus who thinks that people should be willing to make small changes for good reason. I think so too!"
"Well, the average Parisian will howl and scream and shout if you even mention any changes in routine. I bet most people are the same here."
The next day, Annette heard at the dinner table that there was another conflict in process. The C ,L, and N, even before its acquisition by Klaus, had been treating the commuters rather badly for some time. Like many another railway, it would have terminated its unprofitable passenger service, but for the government regulators. The only way around the obligation to run passenger trains was to run ones that no sane person would want to ride. Then, when the passengers had been driven away, it could be argued before the ICC that there was no demand for passenger service in a particular locality. The C, L, and N, running eight trains each way on week days, had long specialized in dirty coaches, delays, and stops and starts that rattled the teeth.
It was into this situation that Klaus blundered when he discontinued the first-class club car on the early run from Blue Ash, Silverton, and Pleasant Ridge to the Court Street Station in downtown Cincinnati. It was only a commuter trip of forty minutes, and it seemed silly to bother with first- class service. Besides, the club car needed to have its bearings replaced, a moderately expensive process.
What Klaus reckoned without was the Silverton Chowder and Marching Society. This consisted of a couple of dozen lawyers, doctors, and business executives who commuted on the club car, each man having his chauffeur drop him and pick him up at one of the tiny suburban stations. In the morning, a rotating member of the club had his man bring quantities of hot coffee in thermos bottles. On the return in the afternoon, a different member would supply, according to the club constitution, "whatever he deemed it appropriate for the members to drink, with a view to their continued right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." If, by chance, some stranger happened on to the car, the courtesies of the club were jovially extended to him.
The members of the society had such a good time that social events in the evening had also become a tradition. In fact, when one member moved from Kenwood closer to the city, he had himself driven back out to Silverton every morning so that he could enjoy the full ride. The club members, long since recognizing that the car wasn't being kept sufficiently clean, once a week brought one of their own maids. She would ride in, clean the car on its siding at the Court Street station, and then take another train back to Silverton.
It was a bleak day in the history of the Silverton Chowder and Marching Society when the members, lined up as usual, found that their car wasn't coupled on to the end of the train.
The amount of hell that twenty one influential men and their wives could raise was really quite extraordinary. Before Klaus even knew what had happened, he was waited on by one of the members of the club, a lawyer named Paul Garfield. Mr. Garfield casually mentioned some of the legal recourses available to railway passengers who found their service terminated. Smiling as he left, he expressed the hope that, in such circumstances, the railway would be represented by a good legal team. The case would, he thought, be an interesting one.
When she heard the details, Charlotte asked,
"Can you get their car back on the train tomorrow morning?"
"Oh yes. I've already given instructions to that effect. The last thing we need is to have the ICC interfering with our operation."
It turned out that Mr. Garfield had also found a notice of termination of service posted at the Court Street Station, and Klaus was afraid that he might make that the basis of a complaint just to make sure that they kept his car on the train. It was at this point that Annette asked when the train left the Silverton Station. When told, she replied,
"Mother and I could get on it every week day and serve free coffee and pastries as we travel in. I could still get to school on time."
It seemed to strike everyone as a good idea. Scrutt said,
"If that doesn't make them happy, nothing will."
Klaus agreed, but suggested that it would be a great inconvenience for Marie-Claude and Annette. Annette knew how much her mother hated to get up early, and, noticing that lady's fixed smile, she suggested,
"After the first day, we could take turns doing it."
It was easy to identify the members of the society. They were bunched at the end of the platform, and they were looking suspiciously down the track at the approaching engine, ready to cause trouble if their car should again be missing. Annette and Marie-Claude were accompanied by Martin and Lotte, bearing a large amount of hot coffee, croissants of several kinds, muffins, and a selection of condiments.
Martin and Lotte just managed to get things set up at the end of the car and get off before the train started. When Annette and her mother proceeded to offer around the various delicacies, some members of the society looked as if they would be happy to remain on the car until it was time to go home.
Annette was dressed in what Hans called her "big lady outfit," and she quickly picked out Mr. Garfield from the description Klaus had supplied. Approaching him immediately with coffee and her basket of croissants, she took pains to exaggerate her accent. Taking the coffee and choosing a croissant, he asked,
"Have you been brought straight from France to keep us from causing trouble?"
Annette smiled and replied,
"Of yes, sir. We want you to be very happy. We'll be here every day."
The men seemed to like to be talked to in that way, and Annette received quite a lot of attention on the ride in to town, even more than her mother.
In the first week, Annette found herself enjoying her every-other-day stint as the morning hostess. The men, while mostly older, were relaxed and humorous, and, as Marie-Claude pointed out, they were all important and well-connected. It occurred to Annette that her mother was looking for a husband, and was willing to get up early to expand her circle of acquaintance. Annette remarked to Klaus at one point,
"If these men are important, we might as well get them to love the railway."
"It's bound to help us sooner or later."
Klaus then laughed and added,
"When the crisis does come, you may be the one to explain to them why their service is being suspended."
"But it'll be wartime then. I'm sure they'll understand."
It was gradually discovered that Lotte wasn't needed to carry their supplies on board, and, when it was Annette's turn, she sat in the front seat with Martin as he drove to the Silverton station. It was on one of those mornings that he told her of his theory of lucky names, adding,
"I saw your last name spelled out the other day. You have a very lucky name."
Annette was glad that she had already heard about this from Hans. It sounded completely crazy and stupid to her, but, instead of pointing out that her father's lucky name hadn't done him much good, she smiled pleasantly and asked what good things were likely to happen to her. Martin said,
"You might meet a good-looking man."
"The ones on the train are too old for me."
"Well, you might meet someone later at school."
"The boys are too young."
"Well, then, we'll have to find someone in between for you. There's Mr. Scrutt. He also has a lucky name."
"My mother wouldn't like that. Neither would the others."
"No, they wouldn't like it if they found out, and he might be afraid on that account. But they might not find out."
"They would if it were Mr. Scrutt."
"Yes, I guess you're right there. It'd have to be someone a whole lot more discreet."
Annette said nothing and didn't smile, but she did turn her head slightly toward him as she reached down to sample one of the croissants from the basket. Her look was, Annette felt, a questioning one. Out of the corners of her eyes, it neither affirmed nor denied, but it conveyed understanding, in particular the understanding that unusual things were possible among unusually discreet people.
Nothing happened that day. Indeed, the next several times, as Martin drove Annette, they talked in what had become their usual way, not quite casually, but without any strong personal elements. It was when Martin picked her up at the Court Street Station on Wednesday that Annette sensed a change. The usual procedure was for them to hurry home to pick up Hans. Annette would change quickly and they would be off for school, sometimes a few minutes after the opening bell. On this day, Hans had taken the bus, and, as Annette got into the car, Martin said,
"The train was early today. You won't have to hurry quite so much. Since we don't have to pick up Hans, I could take you right to school."
Annette ran her hands over her silk skirt and said,
"Schoolgirls don't dress this way. I'd better change. Anyhow, the others would miss us, wouldn't they?"
"Your mother and Mr. and Mrs. Seydlitz were supposed to go down to meet some people at the Sinton for breakfast. They're probably there by now."
Martin continued to look straight ahead, and they threaded their way out of the city and up to the higher ground against the rush of the inbound traffic.
The house was indeed deserted. Martin came in the front door with Annette, and, as she turned to walk slowly down the passage to the wing of the house where she and her mother lived, she continued to talk over her shoulder to Martin. He said,
"That window in your room doesn't close properly. Were you cold last night?"
"Rather. Something must be loose."
"I'll have a look at it."
As Martin took a screwdriver from his pocket and bent to the window, Annette unfastened her skirt and stepped behind an opened closet door as she removed it. When she tossed her skirt on the bed, she saw in the mirror that Martin was slowly approaching the closet, the tool still in his hand. As she unbuttoned her blouse, he said,
"You want it, don't you?"
"Yes, but not with the screwdriver."
They both laughed as Annette came out, now in her slip, and said,
"I wonder if I'll scream the way the others do."
"Some do, some don't."
"We'll have to say that the car broke down on the way to school."
"This won't take very long. We might be a half hour late at most."
A short time later, when they were both on the bed, there was screaming. It puzzled Annette because she was sure that she wasn't screaming. It turned out to be Lotte.
The situation then deteriorated rapidly, in fact so rapidly that Annette never really did get a chance to find out what sex was all about. Lotte made all sorts of threats, and was quite violent, particularly toward Martin. The most embarrassing part was that he still had to drive Annette to school, Lotte accompanying them. Annette hardly said a word the whole way, but she thought that it would probably be a good thing to postpone further such activity until Hans was mature enough.
That evening at dinner, Annette was still embarrassed, and was unusually quiet. Lotte was serving, and, while Annette was pretty sure that she wouldn't say anything to Charlotte or Klaus, she still caught some black looks in her direction.
No one noticed Annette's silence because the others, including Hans, were near euphoria. Klaus had just succeeded, after extensive negotiations, in buying a controlling interest in a locomotive works in Germany for what he seemed to regard as a modest amount of money. It made Annette realize how rich he must be, and then, too, she suspected that her mother and Charlotte had gotten Mr. Sunderman and his friends to put up a good deal of the money.
It came out only by degrees that there was a secret. In fact, Annette didn't really get it until Hans whispered to her as they were getting up from dinner. The intention in buying the works was to systematically destroy it from within, and thus damage the Nazi war effort. A little later, Klaus said,
"Of course, we won't only place the seeds of self-destruction in the works. We'll see to it that all the locomotives produced have the same tendencies."
The plan was for Klaus and Charlotte to go to Germany to supervise the operations while Hans and Annette remained home with Marie-Claude, who would run the house. Hans immediately wanted to go to, saying,
"I'll join the Hitler Youth and find out all their secrets."
Charlotte, however, was adamant. It was obvious that she thought that Germany was now dangerous, but she insisted only that Hans' and Annette's schooling mustn't be disrupted. Annette was just as pleased. She had no desire to join the female auxiliary of the Hitler Youth.