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A New Country
Ebury Street, London, September, 1936
There had been a good deal of discussion as to place of dwelling. Mrs. W. T. Bellows, the widow of an American insurance tycoon, could have chosen to live almost anywhere in London. In the end, she instructed her agent to choose for her a flat in a neighborhood which was good without being excessively fashionable. The opulence was all to be inside.
In the view of Mrs. Hawthorne, the lady who had been engaged to clean and cook, this interior elegance was rather overdone. Moreover, Mrs. Hawthorne didn't hold with rich American women who were too la-de-da to even choose their own drapery and furnishings. Neither did she think much of the decorating men who came and made her hold up samples against the walls. They then debated with each other as if she, Mrs. Hawthorne, had nothing better to do than stand there all day with a mauve drape over her arm. She told her husband a dozen times that she'd quit on the spot if Mrs. Bellows turned out to be what she expected.
As it happened, Mrs. Hawthorne was able to remain on station for a week before the situation approached intolerability. That is, before the arrival of the slut. The slut was not, of course, Mrs. Bellows herself. The latter impressed Mrs. Hawthorne rather favorably, making allowances for her being American. A striking-looking young woman with deep red hair, she seemed to come from the part of America where cowboys roamed the range. Indeed, her speech was quite extraordinary, and contained such words as "critter" and "varmint." Even so, she was much preferable to the decorators.
All had gone rather well at the beginning. The newcomer had complimented Mrs. Hawthorne on her cooking, something that had never happened before with an American. The housekeeper was also glad to see that Mrs. Bellows took a keen interest in the activities of the royal family. Unlike most foreigners, she knew the difference between a prince and a royal duke. It was a pity that Mrs. Bellows was so untidy, but Mrs. Hawthorne supposed that nothing better could be expected in the cicumstances. In any case, her messes were mostly confined to the bedroom, which wasn't Mrs. Hawthorne's responsibility. A maid was to be engaged for that.
The maid arrived late on a Thursday, and Mrs. Hawthorne was still boiling when she got home to her husband.
"Now, there's nothing wrong with hiring a poor girl for a maid. Nothing at all. But there is a difference. I tried to explain to Mrs. Bellows over and over, her being foreign and all. She probably can't understand. And her being connected with all this Spanish relief, I can't see that it alters. A Spanish slut is still a slut. Oh now, George, shut up, do! There's nothing funny in it."
The young woman in question, Maria, was a Spanish refugee from a town in Andalusia that had been taken alternately by Republicans and Nationalists. She had blood-curdling tales to tell, and had suffered from both sides. Unfortunately, she was dark and rather sensual looking. Mrs. Hawthorne took one look, and gave Mrs. Bellows her ultimatum, hardly out of the hearing of the alleged slut.
The next day, Mrs. Bellows, drawing Mrs. Hawthorne aside, advanced considerations of charity. Mrs. Bellows pointed out that, whatever might have happened in Spain, it probably hadn't been Maria's fault. Mrs. Hawthorne remained adamant. But, then, her employer went on an entirely different tack. She said to Mrs. Hawthorne,
"After all, she's moved from Spain to England, and that's bound to have a good effect. And then there's you and I. Particularly you. She'll be working with you most of the day. Whatever may have happened in Spain, you can teach her how to behave in England."
Mrs. Hawthorne was only barely convinced, but she remained as housekeeper.
The United States Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London, September 16, 1936.
Soon after her arrival in London, Mrs. Bellows called at her Embassy. Since she intended to be a long-term resident in the United Kingdom, there were a number of things that had to be settled. In her interview with a Mr. Jenkins in the consular section she mentioned her interest in doing something for the flood of Spanish refugees and added,
"I've already hired one as my maid, but I'd like to do much more."
"There are a good many organizations here that help the refugees, particularly the children. I can get the names of some of them for you."
"I'd appreciate that. Those dear children, I just can't bear to think .."
Mr. Jenkins seemed to have limited concern for Spanish children.
"Of course, you have to be careful not to get mixed up with anyone who's sending arms to Spain. And almost anything, even food, can be construed as military supplies. The British government has made it illegal to send arms to Spain from here, and our government has also taken a strong stand."
"Yes, there's too much war in the world already, I'm sure. It's actually the people who are being victimized who..."
Mrs. Bellows, in her short time in England, had been fascinated by the speech, so much so that she had purged the wild west from her own speech in order to imitate it. She had decided that it was British to either add little tags like
"I'm sure" to sentences, or to leave off the ends of them altogether. She had also gathered that the word "actually", pronounced "ectually," could be added to virtually any sentence. She looked closely at Mr. Jenkins to see how he had taken her "ectually," but then remembered that he was a mere American himself.
Mr. Jenkins was also a rather dull dog, and the conversation quickly petered out. On leaving, Mrs. Bellows went to the information cubicle in the lobby and asked for the office of the Naval Attache. The Englishwoman behind the desk gave her rather precise directions and Mrs. Bellows responded,
"Thenk you. That's awfully kind of you, ectually."
The woman's head jerked up suddenly, rather like that of a snake about to bite, but Mrs. Bellows was away quickly. It was possible, she thought, that these people took her to be making fun of them.
When she arrived at the attache's office, she addressed the secretary in standard American english.
"I'd like to see Commander Filson, please. My name is Eustacia Bellows."
"I'm afraid that he's out, just now. But he should be back directly, if you'd care to wait."
As Mrs. Bellows took a seat, she recalled what she had been told about Filson. He had previously been a professor of mathematics at the University of Illinois. Then he had become interested in codes, and had done some work in cryptography for the navy. Finally, with the idea that the country would soon be at war, he had actually joined the navy. Given a special commission in recognition of his unique talents, he had branched out in other directions sufficiently to be appointed Naval Attache in London. Since naval attaches were concerned with intelligence in the broad sense, this wasn't as great a change from cryptology as might have been thought.
It was only a few minutes before a small middle-aged man with a little moustache came rapidly into the room. He looked too brisk and efficient to bother with people, but he immediately spotted the strange face in his outer office, smiled, and introduced himself,
"I'm Paul Filson. Did you want to see me?"
When Eustacia gave her name, he seemed to know immediately who she was and invited her into his office. Having closed the door and seated her in his most comfortable chair, he said,
"I've known all along that a naval attache is next door to a spy, but this is the first time I've been sent the genuine article. It's really quite exciting."
"I was almost sent as your assistant. But, then, they always want me to do evil things that they can deny. So they don't want me to have any official connection with the navy."
"It wasn't Murphy's idea that we pretend to be cousins, was it?"
"No. That was Sheldon Stone's."
"I've never met Mr. Stone, but he must have an extraordinary sense of humor not to find amusing the idea that I could pass as your cousin."
"I did tell him that no mathematician and crytographer could possibly have a cousin like me. I can hardly add."
"Then you might make a good cryptographer. A lot of it's intuition. Anyhow, we need a better story. How about this? You're the daughter of my wife's college room-mate. Then, all we need to do is take you to the parties where you'll meet people who might turn out to be useful."
"I'm thirty one. That's probably too old. Let's make it the younger sister of your wife's friend."
"Fine. That at least relieves you of having to pretend to be Jewish. And you won't have to tell stories about Uncle Hymie and cousin Maxie."
Eustacia laughed, but refused to let him get away with it.
"I'm sure you don't have relatives like that. I bet there are a lot of scholars in your family."
Just as his gestures indicated that he was about to say something self-deprecatory, Commander Filson managed to overturn the vase of flowers on his desk. As water poured all over his papers, Eustacia sprang to his aid, righted the vase, and started mopping. In his haste, Filson knocked over the vase again, this time breaking it. Laughing, he urged Eustacia to desist in her efforts, and took a seat with her away from the desk.
"The cleaning staff is used to me. I know that the meticulous naval officer isn't supposed to damage government flowers, but these casualties do seem to occur."
"Plants never survive me, and all my clothes have spots where I've spilled food and drink on them. It's a miracle that, in my career as spy, I haven't spilled anything more important."
"Oddly enough, I did want to be a spy as a child. Also a watchmaker. One of my ideas was to make something that looked like a watch escapement, but was really a coding machine. Clumsy fingers prevented me from ever being more than an amateur watchmaker, and I found better ways to code."
The secretary then appeared with tea, setting the tray down carefully on a little table in front of the window overlooking the back street. Now peacefully settled away from the war zone of Commander Filson's desk, the talk turned to Spain.
"I've told various people that I'm interested in aiding Spanish refugees."
"Yes. I suppose one starts by sending food, and then slips in other things. Although, in our case, it wouldn't be so easy to mix fighter planes and pilots in with the potatoes."
"I thought I'd also try to meet as many Spaniards as I can. They'd be likely at least to know how to get in and out of Spain as inconspicuously as possible."
"Refugees are also good for intelligence. You can ask them, not only whether there's an airfield near a particular town, but whether the pilots sitting in the cafes are Italian or Spanish, and so on."
"I started by hiring a refugee as my maid. The only trouble is that my English housekeeper is convinced that she's a prostitute, and almost quit."
Filson looked delighted.
"It hadn't occurred to me at first, but there are actually certain signs. If she is, I expect I'll meet a lot of people quite rapidly."
"We have a cruiser anchored in the river. I hope you don't end up with half her ship's complement in your flat."
"I suppose the thing really would be to send her back to Spain, and have her pump the Nationalist pilots for information. I'm not sure how to go about that, though."
"Neither am I. I'm a complete amateur in this area. By the way, I don't even understand most of your role. This alias of Cynthia Harding that you're supposed to have, and something about the wife of a Japanese naval attache. Mr. Stone wrote me a letter that I still don't understand."
"I've seen some things he's written. It's funny because he can be very clear when he wants to be. Somehow, they seem not to have taught him to write at Yale."
"Having taught at colleges, I'm quite familiar with that problem."
Eustacia then got her alias and her real name straightened out, and explained her recruitment of Mitsy Tanaka as an agent.
"Mitsy has told her people that I'm here to collect information about Spain as Eustacia Bellows. They don't, we hope, know about Operation TEST, or my role in sending pilots to Spain."
"So the question is whether they'll transfer her husband to their embassy here?"
"Yes. We hope they value me enough to keep Mitsy in touch with me. If they do, we can continue to feed them information, this time about Spain."
"It looks as if the Japanese won't intervene, even to the extent that the Russians are. But they'll still want intelligence, and want to know, at least by implication, how their planes and pilots would stack up against the others. We can perhaps help them to think that their air force is even better than it really is."
"Oddly enough, we're even more interested in hiding things from the American public than from the Japanese. The Japs would just think it normal if the navy sent a few pilots over to practice in Spain. But our own people would have fits."
Commander Filson nodded rather nervously.
"It's all those anarchists and communists that our boys would be helping. People are going to have to learn that the fascists are much worse."
"There was some thought in Washington that you might not like deceiving the American public. You're said to have ethical principles."
"Who could possibly have thought that?"
Filson looked so happy in his role of local devil that Eustacia decided to explore a little further.
"It's rumored that you sacrificed a great deal to join the navy."
"It was just that I liked boats and didn't think the Nazis would be good yachting companions."
"There are still people at home who might like to invite them aboard. And even the Japs."
"Yes. So there's the answer to your question. Since these nice people don't understand, I'm willing to secretly do some very unpleasant things to their potential guests before the invitations can be delivered."
"You may eventually have to help paint me as a viper who used personal friendship to worm her way into the confidence of quite a number of people."
"I might as well begin by inviting the viper home to tea with my family."
Filson's address was a good one, in Duke Street, near the embassy. The flat itself seemed impossibly small for a family, and had probably been intended for a bachelor. The disorder made Eustacia feel good about her own housekeeping, and didn't seem to embarrass either the commander or his wife. Mrs. Filson, a small woman with gray hair and bright mobile eyes, dressed with a taste and flair that didn't seem to go with either her home or her husband. Hardly had the introductions been made when a small boy shot up and literally jumped on Commander Filson. The latter laughed and swung him around to display him to Eustacia.
"This is Jimmy."
Jimmy dropped to the floor wordlessly, gave a snappy salute, and raced off into the next room.
"He's a handsome boy. It doesn't look as if he lacks for energy."
Jean Filson replied,
"As you can see, we started late. At forty three I think I'm doing well just to avoid major disasters like fire and pestilence."
"Aren't you a bit crowded here?"
"The small flat seems to help. Jimmy's faster than I am, but I can always corner him in here. This business of giving salutes is new. It embarrasses Paul."
"I didn't really want a conspicuous display of proper naval etiquette, and even patriotism, in the home."
"You were the one who wanted to name him Foodrow Filson, Paul."
"Yes. If we had, he'd probably give speeches in front of the fireplace. I suppose it's better to salute."
Finally, Eustacia was maneuvered through the wreckage to a chair, and given yet another cup of tea.
Like Murphy, back in Washington, Filson took for granted the right to share secrets with his wife. In this case, since Mrs. Filson was having foisted on her the fictitious little sister of a fictitious, or perhaps real, college room-mate, some explanation was obviously required. Neither Filson nor Eustacia mentioned Operation TEST, but he set forth the rest of her mission.
"Eustacia will be secretly collecting information on air warfare in Spain. So we want her to meet, not only the attaches, but anyone who might have relevant experience or connections.
As the discussion proceeded, Eustacia noticed movement in the pile of newspapers, cardboard boxes, and clothing at her feet. She watched rather apprehensively until a small boy, aged about three, stuck his head out. Commander Filson noticed and remarked casually,
"That's George. George, this is Mrs. Bellows."
The boy, still sleepy, looked suspiciously at Eustacia and retreated to his father. George's appearance seemed to remind Mrs. Filson of something else.
"Jimmy's been suspiciously quiet for some time. I'd better see what he's up to."
George, now awakening, came halfway over to Eustacia, stopped and looked. She addressed him with somewhat apprehensive cheerfulness,
"I've got a daughter older than you who'll be coming over next month. Would you like to meet her?"
George nodded solemnly, went to the corner, and picked up a much used lollipop on a stick. He then presented it to Eustacia with some ceremony. She thanked him and put it in her mouth. Commander Filson looked mildly surprised, but said nothing. His wife, just returning, was horrified.
"Oh Eustacia, you don't have to do that! You can't imagine where that's been!"
Eustacia attempted to reply in a British way.
"It's rather good, actually. Peppermint. I've never believed in germs much."
"If you can touch that, you ought to be rewarded. Do you remember where we put that Grand Marnier, Paul?"
"Yes. It should go very well with peppermint lollipops. Can you find us some more, George?"
It wasn't long before the little party became even less formal. Eustacia was moved to ask,
"You know, ever since I got here I've wondered about all the books. So many, and so carefully arranged in their shelves."
Mrs. Filson replied.
"I know. Everyone wonders how they could have escaped the general chaos. The children did tear up one or two."
"Yes. Before they learned that we cared a hell of a lot more about the books than we did about them."
"Don't believe him, Eustacia. He's really an excellent father."
"I can see that already. I'm the opposite. A lousy mother who talks devotedly about her daughter."
Mrs. Filson seemed rather impressed.
"Are you really? That helps confirm something I'm noticing more and more. A great many of the most interesting women I've met here seem to be rather indifferent mothers. Their children may even be the better for it."
"Well, Dottie's highly independent and quite strong, I'd judge. She might make a better spy than I."
"These English women turn their children over to nannies, and then do all kinds of things. The children often have crises when they get older, and the mothers usually try to do something then. But, even if things go permanently wrong, these women aren't shattered the way American mothers would be. Mistakes can be sent to the colonies. If male, anyway. I haven't discovered what they do with disgraceful daughters."
Eustacia had never met anyone who recommended child neglect, even if her actual practice belied her words.
"I suppose that system would suit me very well. As it is, I know Dottie won't feel any great loyalty to me when I'm old. You get what you give. On the other hand, I've been decent and reasonable with her, often in difficult circumstances. So, if that's what I get in return, I'll be content."
Commander Filson had been listening attentively to what many would have considered a women's conversation.
"A world without love sounds very neat and clean, and quite attractive. However, we're here speaking of the upper class English. They don't need much love because they enjoy a range of largely invisible privileges we wouldn't dream of."
"I've already noticed some pretty visible privileges."
"Sure, but there are others. For example, an elderly upper class Englishman can be entirely without family, and even without money, but rely absolutely on the loyalty of a whole class of people. Not just his old servants, but all kinds of ordinary people who've never worked for him will go to great lengths to protect him and make life comfortable for him."
"My housekeeper worries about the welfare of the royal family and nobility. People who have a hundred times what she has."
Filson took a sip from his glass and threw out,
"If you have the active sympathy of half the population, you don't need love."
His wife replied,
"Of course, if you're Jewish, you can't count on quite so much automatic sympathy."
"Nor can any American. But I have faith of a kind. I've done some dirty things for my country, and I'll go on doing them. I've been the scarlet woman in one scandal, and I'll likely be in others. But I have the strongest feeling that there's someone in power who won't dump me."
"You mean Sheldon Stone?"
"No. I don't rely on him at all. It's no one specific, really. Just a kind of people who wouldn't dream of acknowledging me, but who pay their debts."
Mrs. Filson looked at her husband and said,
"It sounds almost like a religious belief."
"I've never been at all religious. It's more the idea that the young gentleman will provide for his dead father's old mistress. Even if he has to hide his charity from his mother and wife. Or it may just be that I believe in honor among theives."
Filson waved his glass conversationally.
"You know, I never heard anyone talk about honor until I joined the navy. Then I heard a great deal about it, most of which made me uneasy. Now you've given me a new look at it. Honor among thieves. That seems much better than 'Death before Dishonor' and the other things one sees tattoed on marines.
His wife said,
"Paul, you should have 'Honor among thives' engraved on your official stationery. Or would that constitute behavior unbecoming to an officer?"
Eustacia, feeling a little dizzy, slipped from the chair to a seat on the floor beside Jean. She then said,
"I suppose, given the nature of my mission, that I should have it embroidered on my underwear. What effect do you think it would have on, say, the German attache?"
"Oh, that's Geyr von Schweppenburg. He's intelligent, quite nice, and very correct. He's often concerned about protocal. If he ever did get into such a situation, he'd be greatly puzzled. I think he'd finally conclude that an honorable thief is much to be preferred to a dishonorable one."
"That's what I think, too. You should introduce us and tell him that we have a great deal in common."
After that, Eustacia became drunk, and then sick. She was conscious of very little until she awoke the next norming in peculiar circumstances. At first, while still mostly asleep, it seemed as if someone was running a finger along her nose and over her face. Then there was a sound of intense whispering. Then, when she awoke more fully, there were, standing beside the couch on which she found herself, two small boys. They looked quite serious, as if, in the midst of conducting a scientific experiment, they had just observed a singular phenomenon.
The boys were soon recognized as George and Jimmy Filson, and the locale, even apart from their presence, could only have been their parents' living room.
Eustacia reacted with shame and humiliation. Just then, Jean Filson burst into the room in a bathrobe.
"Morning, Eustacia. I hope they didn't wake you."
Eustacia's frantic apology was cut short.
"It's not your fault at all. Paul loves to get people drunk. He keeps secretly refilling their glasses. You're not the first to sleep here by any means."
"I normally don't drink much at all. I guess I'm just not cut out ...."
"Do you feel badly? We've got some ...."
"No thanks. Actually, I feel quite good."
"But hungry? I'll have breakfast in just a minute. Paul, the villain, will be asleep for hours, so we can just relax."
When, finally, Eustacia left, she hardly felt embarrassed at all. It
had all seemed perfectly natural.
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