Mrs Nicholas (Clementine) Orenhauser-Crowell
Dromo Presvisa 27
Maroussi, Athens, Hellas
Mrs Clement (Irene) Orenhauser
97328 Chambers Road
Eugene, Oregon, USA
I am sorry this reply is not as prompt as you are accustomed to receiving from me; Clement was sick with the flu last week, and the week before the Diplomatic community in Athens was in an uproar because of the tragic events in Germany in the previous week.
I am grieved to hear of Daddy’s illness. All of the family here in Athens send best wishes, and hope for his recovery.
Your letter rec’d on November the 8th is on my desk and I will endeavor to reply to your queries in order. I am, sad to say, unable to answer all of your questions: some answers I do not have, and others I may not give you.
I can tell you nothing of Uncle Richard’s location or movements, for the former reason. ‘Orenhauser’ seems to be an acceptable name among the Nazis—‘Aryan’ enough, whatever that means—and the Nazis are those he has been consorting with. Needless to say, he has not contacted us here, nor in Geneva. He is, as Daddy would say, “dead to me”.
He’ll be dead for real if Nicholas sees him wearing that uniform.
I am giving away no secrets to answer your second question. Nicholas estimates that war is indeed inevitable, perhaps as soon as next summer. The annexations of Austria and Czechoslovakia seemed calculated to bring the rest of Europe into conflict with the Reich. Nicholas thinks that Hitler’s next big move will be at either Switzerland or Poland, with Denmark as an outside chance. In any event, England and France seem unlikely to sit on their hands again.
And no, I have no idea what the Greek Government will do in the event of a Europe-wide war. I suspect that King Yeorgos (George, you would say) is leaning towards neutrality, but I don’t have any evidence for that.
If Nicholas knows, it is something he has chosen not to speak of.
We are all working on languages. I have become very accustomed to the Swiss version of French; Eleanor has become very fluent in Greek, and I can plug along in that language. No, I can’t actually read Greek with any fluency, but I can speak a bit and understand more.
Eleanor and I have taken up the study of German. I don’t like the language, but considering the circumstances, with the family spending so much time in Geneva, it is useful to understand the things people say in cafés and on the streets. At least a quarter of the conversations in Geneva are in German. That includes the Swiss version of German, which is...different, shall we say.
As for an escape plan, in the event of disaster: yes. We have several. I shan’t (for obvious reasons) detail any of them here. But whatever our plans, events are likely to make them redundant: “No plan survives contact with the enemy,” as Eleanor is wont to quote.
The near future? We are due in London before the New Year, as Nicholas has been placed on King George VI’s Honors List...yes, he is to be dubbed a knight. Please don’t make any fuss about that, I have already registered my objections. I can see why this is happening and I understand the reasons that Nicholas must accept. I sigh, but he is correct.
If you wish to visit us again, I think that after the New Year but before spring would be best. Then we will be here in Athens; I would not wish to see you in Geneva, with Nicholas’ predictions in mind.
I enclose more photographs of the family here in Athens, and one of Nicholas speaking on the floor of the Assembly of the League of Nations. Is he not an imposing figure?
We shall eagerly await news about your travel plans; give daddy a kiss for me, and let him know that we are fervently praying for his recovery.
All my love Mama,
Eleanor snorted: “Praying? Fervently?”
“I know, sweetheart, but it’s the least she expects. And the least I can do, really: to white lie about it, since she’s become so devout lately.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true. And it’s the easiest on us as a family, as well. Even if...” She trailed off, shaking her head.
“...Having become aware of the immensity of the Multiverse certainly puts all of Scripture into doubt,” added Clementine.
“Clem...that’s a bit understated.”
“All right, all of human Scripture is the insane maunderings of Bronze Age Nomads, or worse. But take care not to even hint at that opinion in public. Bad enough that your surname is a bit Jewish-sounding; let your Atheism be known, and we‘ll have no end of trouble.
“I know, I’d never let on.” Eleanor changed the subject: “Has Nicholas spoken to you about travel plans?”
Clementine shrugged: “We are wavering between ship and train. The train is winning out, what with our customary Christmas Eve party and all; we’d have to leave the day after Christmas to arrive in London on the 30th...and have Nicky’s birthday celebration on the train.”
“Hmm. There really is no way to be certain of arriving in time by boat, is there?”
“I’m afraid not. We’ll surely have a sleeper car on the train, though.”
“Oh, I know...but sex on shipboard just has a nostalgic feel for me.”
Clementine sat on Eleanor’s lap: “The letter I can post tomorrow...”
After several kisses Eleanor stood up, lifting Clementine off her feet.
“Ellie! What are you...oh. Oh!”
“Are you going through with this?” Clementine had made no secret of her dislike for the idea.
Nicholas made a face: “We’ve been over this. It would be out of character for the man I am pretending to be to refuse.” He grinned then: “It will give me a small advantage in future negotiations with the German ruling class, to be Sir Nicholas of England and not merely an Ambassador of the King of Greece.”
Eleanor said: “Yeorgos Basileos of Greece has no objection to this knighting, Clem. And it will be...”
“I know,” Clementine interrupted: “I promise to behave when we are called into the King’s presence... but it’s 1938, for goodness’ sake. What does it mean to be made a knight in this day and age?”
A fellow in the uniform of the King’s Own Guards stepped to Nicholas’ side: “Mr Crowell, His Majesty will see you now.”
Nicholas offered his arm to Clementine, who took it gracefully, and they entered the small but elaborately appointed room where George VI held court.
“Your Majesty,” said the guard, in a stentorian voice: “Mr Nicholas Crowell, with Mrs Crowell, and Miss Eleanor Greenlaw.”
“We command them to approach Us.”
Clementine nodded to the King as they approached; Eleanor sketched a quick and graceful curtsy, as she was a subject of the Crown.
When Nicholas knelt before the King, Clementine felt a thrill, unwilling though she was to curtsy or bow before a monarch. She stood still, her hand on Nicholas’ shoulder as the two men spoke to one another.
“Mr...erm.” The King consulted a card handed to him by his assistant: “Mr Nicholas Crowell, of Hellas: We are right well pleased with your service to Us, and to all of Europe, in your role as our cousin of Greece’s Ambassador to the League of Nations. In recognition of this, and in hope of encouraging your continued service in the cause of peace, We are minded to admit you to an honorary membership in the Order of the British Empire as a Knight Commander of that Order.”
“As I am sure Your Majesty is aware, I am a citizen of Hellas. My first duty is to the government of his Majesty George II of Greece. That said...”
The King spoke then, smoothly entering the opening that Nicholas had left him: “We understand fully. You are, however, also a British citizen...I believe?”
“I am, Majesty.”
“As an honorary Knight of Our realm, you would not be meant to swear fealty to Us, and neither We, nor any successor, would ever ask you to compromise your loyalty to Our cousin.” The King reached to his right, taking an ornate sword from a sheath held by a lackey: “Will you then accept this honor from Our hand?”
Nicholas said: “I will, Your Majesty”
“Will you now swear to be a good and true Knight, from this day forward, until death take you or the world end?”
“I swear it.”
“Then I dub thee Sir Nicholas, Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.” said the King, laying the sword on Nicholas’ shoulder. His Majesty winked at Clementine as he set the sword on the other shoulder—Clementine moved her hand in time for the sword to touch—and then on Nicholas’ head.
The King returned the sword to its sheath, then laid an elaborate sash over Nicholas’ right shoulder.
“Rise Sir Nicholas,” said the King: “Rise and go with God, and may your labors be fruitful, and your life happy.”
“I thank Your Majesty,” Nicholas bowed as he stepped backwards towards the door. A servant bowed to Nicholas as the family exited the room, and then followed them out.
“Here, Sir, is your honor,’ he said, handing Nicholas a document calligraphed and illuminated on parchment.
Nicholas glanced at it briefly and said: “Oh, thank you.”
“We must get back to the hotel, and prepare for tonight’s Ball,” said Clementine.
“And you must read those cables from Geneva,” said Eleanor: “One of them is flagged as from Herr Oster.”
“Gods above and below,” muttered Nicholas. He turned and spoke to the servant: “Thank you for your service in seeing that I got this...” He waved the parchment absently, already worried by the news.
The servant bowed at their retreating backs, as Clementine smiled over her shoulder at him. She noted his stunned expression, and briefly regretted such levity: ‘It is not fair to unleash that much sexual energy at a boy...a boy who surely has no way to process it.’ She put the incident out of mind, being as concerned to hear Oster’s report as the other two were.
“Where is Papa today?” Nicolette asked. At not-quite-six years old, she had the peremptory tone of her maternal grandmother, and a six-year-old’s insistence on knowing everything.
“I told you yesterday, sweetie, he had to go to Bern for a meeting.”
“Because the gentlemen and lady that he needed to meet could not come to Geneva.”
“Why couldn’t they?”
Eleanor intervened: “For grown-up reasons, dear.”
Nicolette’s expression made it plain that she did not think that a satisfactory answer: “You never tell me anything.”
“We tell you quite a lot, as you know.” Eleanor’s expression made plain her amusement: “What we don’t do is tell you everything; often because we don’t know the answers, sometimes because we judge you too young for some information.”
“Humph,” said Nicolette, knowing that answer for an evasion. She also knew that it was the end of the matter, for the time being.
“Eat your croissant, Nicky.” Clementine finished her own pastry, and then sipped at the tea: “Perfect,” she said. Three-year-old Clement gazed silently at his own brunch, frowning.
‘He is silent more often than not, not at all like Nicky,’ thought Clementine.
Eleanor said: “Our waiter is pointing at you, Clem.” She spoke in an off-hand way, not wanting to disturb the children, especially not Clement, who had finally begun to eat.
Clementine didn’t look behind herself: “Pointing me out to someone?” She opened her handbag and touched the handle of her Colt.
Eleanor nodded, just a bit: “To a man in a neat but out of fashion suit, with a very pink day cravat...and a badge, which he is displaying to said waiter.” She put her hand under the flap of the man’s suit jacket that she wore, finding the handle of her own revolver.
Clementine kept the pistol grip in hand, badge or no: ‘It’s a measure of how tense things have become in Geneva that I carry the thing about in daytime,’ she mused. ‘Let’s just see how things go...”
The gentleman made a wide turn, so that they could both see him as he approached.
He bowed slightly to Eleanor, as he would to a man; he bowed lower before Clementine: “I beg your pardon, Milady...are you Ambassador Sir Nicholas’ wife? Mrs Clementine Crowell?”
“I am, as you perfectly well know. And?”
“I am Anton Samuel; I am working with the City Police. If I may prevail upon you, I have an errand to dispatch. I will not detain you long, perhaps twenty minutes...If you will?”
She nodded, slowly: “You need my assistance, then? In what form?”
Mr Samuel glanced sidelong at the children; he drew out a small notebook and jotted something in it, then turned the note so she could see it; it read: ‘A body to identify, if you can.’
Clementine made sure that Eleanor had also seen the note, then rose: “Certainly, I will do what I can, since my husband is unavailable.”
She kissed the children, Nicky first, and left Eleanor to deal with them for the time being. She could hear Nicky’s questions and Eleanor’s replies as the policeman escorted her out of the café:
“Where is Momma going?”
“To the Police Station, I imagine.”
“That policeman wants her to look at something, and answer questions.”
“Because your father is in Bern, and your mother’s job is to...”
The sound faded away as they exited the café. A cab awaited them.
They arrived at the central police station, a building made of white stone. After some formalities, which included establishing her identity beyond doubt, Samuel led her along a hallway to an elevator. They descended into the basement of the place. Samuel then escorted her into a frigid room with corpses on tables and a dignified medical examiner in charge.
That worthy led them to a table and drew back the sheet covering a woman’s body.
Clementine drew a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment.
“Milady?” the policeman prompted.
She set aside her irritation at the title: ‘These circumstances are tragic, quite so; no need to make this officer’s day any more difficult.’
She swallowed. The scone she’d eaten a few minutes before went back down her throat.
“Yes, Officer. I recognize her, though I don’t know her name…her real name.”
“Ah,” he said, bowing his head: “Could you tell me how you knew her, and what you do know about her?”
She sighed. The policeman immediately took her arm: “Allow me to escort you to an office, Milady.”
He led her back to the elevator. After going up several floors, they entered into a warm and welcoming room, apparently the office of a high-ranking police official. To her surprise, after seating her, her escort went around the desk and sat in the chair behind it.
The man’s shabby suit and extravagant cravat clashed with their surroundings. She sat up straighter, frowning a little: “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking, sir?”
“I am with the SND. Pardon me: you would say Strategic Intelligence Service. I am…liaison. To the local police.”
“The deceased?” he asked.
“She introduced herself to me as ‘Marie’. She said she represented the FAUD in Germany. The anarchist labor union...”
The gentleman’s expression showed that he knew the organization. He spoke in German then, saying something like: “I will be dipped in mustard.”
She suppressed her reaction. ‘He must not have known she was in town. A serious lapse, for counterespionage…’
He said: “A passerby found her body in a drainage ditch near the river…”
“In the condition in which she now is?”
Silence ensued. Clementine knew without further discussion that the Nazis had murdered ‘Marie’. ‘By the condition of the body, they took their time about it, too.’
“Call me Madam Crowell, s’il vous plaît.”
He raised his chin, and an eyebrow: “Of course. Madam Crowell, you conceive I am sure that this is a bit of an embarrassment.”
“Certainly. You did not know that the anarchists of Germany had an operative in Geneva. Now you realize that the Nazis have an operative of whose identity you are unaware, and one with a distinctly sadistic streak. These revelations must be of great concern to you.”
“You deduced this? Of course you did. May I prevail upon you, madam…?”
“I hope that you will be kind enough to not speak of this incident for the time being…”
She smiled sweetly, and devastatingly: “I will, of course, tell my husband. Miss Marie was an acquaintance of his, and....a source of intelligence.”
He sighed: “I must rely upon Sir Nicholas’ reputation as a close-mouthed man for my comfort. Fortunately…”
“Yes, he is that,” said Clementine. “May I return to my companion and our children? I have been away rather longer than you promised.”
“I will escort you back to the café myself.”
“That will do.”
She put her hand inside her handbag again, gently holding the pistol’s grip in her hand. As soon as she had sat down in the back seat, she drew the weapon out. She glanced at the driver, and checked all of the windows in succession. Finally she relaxed, just a bit.
Again, Mr Samuel raised an eyebrow: “I hope your husband has taught you to use that pistol properly. If you are going to be carrying it around in the City, I mean.”
“It’s best to make no assumptions, sir. My father taught me to handle arms, beginning when I was but six years old.”
“I beg your pardon...”
“You have it. Here is the café, sir. I need to take leave of you now. I must contact my husband as soon as may be.”
“Ah...Might I ask why?”
She shrugged: “It makes no difference now, but Miss Marie was meant to be meeting Nicholas in Bern...today, actually. I hope his other contacts have some news for him, and that between us we may find the thug who treated her so badly.”
Samuel bowed his head: “I hope for the same outcome, Milady. Your pardon: Madam Crowell.”
She disembarked from the cab, and strode into the café: back straight and with a determined look upon her face.
Nicholas sat glowering, a shot of whiskey in hand. He held his mouth tightly, an expression that Clementine had come to know.
She smiled sadly: “Darling...if you feel that you shouldn’t say more...”
He shook his head: “It’s not that at all. Things are coming together in a very dangerous way.”
The sun was past its peak in the sky, and a breeze stirred the flowering shrubs around their patio. May had entered Athens with gentle weather and plenty of sun.
Nicholas grunted. He said: “I received a coded message from Herr Oster.”
“Your source in the Abwehr,” Clementine nodded.
“Yes. Apparently while the talks are going on to keep the peace with France and England, other, secret negotiations are occurring. Germany and the Soviets are, even now, negotiating a non-aggression pact.”
“The Nazis are publicly negotiating with the Russians,” said Clementine, frowning.
“Those talks were supposedly economic in nature,” said Eleanor.
Nicholas nodded: “Oster claims the other work is being done sub-rosa, hidden in plain sight by the economic negotiations.”
“Typical.” Eleanor had developed a distinct dislike of most diplomacy since she had come into close contact with diplomats.
“It is typical, sadly” said Nicholas. “Oster thinks the deadline is early September...and Poland is to be divided between Russia and Germany.”
“Hitler has been accusing the Poles of manufacturing mustard gas,” said Eleanor, nodding knowingly: “We ought to expect some sort of False Flag event in early September, I suppose.”
“That is very likely...” Nicholas trailed off.
He stood, tossed back the remaining liquor, and began to pace: “If this war begins, my prime mission in this Line is a complete failure. I suppose...”
“What?” Clementine asked.
“I ought to give some thought to how we can keep our family together. Since Clementine cannot easily Shift Lines.”
Clementine’s heart seemed to skip a beat, and she drew in her breath, briefly panicking. At last she said: “Do what you must, husband.”
“We will all do what we must,” said Eleanor.
“Yes,” said Nicholas.
Clementine’s expression mirrored his, bleak and pessimistic: ‘He hasn’t much hope,’ she thought, suppressing more panic: ‘I’ve seen the equations...it does not look good for us.’
She mused then on the likely outcomes of the seemingly inevitable war: “It is not much comfort to us, but our problems are but a small part of the horrors that will likely engulf all of Europe...”
“Small cold comfort indeed.” Nicholas shook his head: “But we must keep up pretenses, mustn’t we? No one else in the West knows about the talks between Ribbentrop and Molotov, so...”
“So we must pack as always and take the train to Geneva in August, as though the League of Nations will meet as usual.” Clementine rose. “In the meantime, Athens is lovely, and our children are at the guest house with my mother...”
Nicholas raised an eyebrow: “Then shall we live in the moment, while we yet may?”
“I vote yes,” said Eleanor, standing up and taking Clementine’s arm: “Give us half an hour, Nick; then you may come to our bedchamber. We’ll be very ready for you by then.”
He bowed and sat down, pulling out his watch: “I shall be as patient as possible.”
They swayed a bit as they strolled towards the patio doors.
Clementine flirted her way across the ballroom floor, her senses alert for the kind of conversation that would tell her something---anything---about the world of diplomacy, or the world without.
The Greek government hosted the Ball, in celebratory anticipation of the opening of the Assembly in a month. Geneva throbbed with the usual excitement, as ambassadors and bureaucrats and royalty from around the world arrived, more of them every day. Brunches and teas filled the days, and soirées of many sorts the evenings.
‘This Ball is ever so fancy,’ she thought, smoothing her skirt. The men all wore the usual tailcoats and white ties, or military dress uniforms; women competed to wear the most expensive (or revealing) gowns.
Miriam had made the gown she wore that evening: red silk, strapless and appearing to be always about to simply fall away from her bosom. ‘I would attract male attention if I wore a habit; in this gown there is hardly a man here who hasn’t looked at me with lust. A fair number of the women, as well.’
The men who approached her were mostly not useful to her; their talk was aimed at her body, planting seeds that they hoped would lead them to her bed at some future time. That they each and all knew her to be married, and with children, seemed to add spice to the flirtations, for many of the men.
‘It’s so tiresome, really...I must not show any sign of that.’ She finally found the spot she wanted, at the edge of the crowd around the Ambassador from Poland. She flirted idly with two gentlemen from Argentina, while most of her attention stayed on an exchange of views occurring behind her, between the Polish Ambassador and the wife of England’s representative.
Those two spoke in polyglot fashion, as was not unusual in Geneva. She understood the French, and had enough German to keep up with the subject at hand, which was (of course) German intentions toward Poland. Under cover of innocent small talk, the Ambassador gave the lady important intelligence on the subject, which he knew she would convey to her husband.
Neither of them apparently noticed her eavesdropping. Had they noticed, they’d know that she also would convey their words to her spouse.
She listened to that rather interesting conversation, and made polite listening noises to the gentlemen who held forth before her.
She saw her husband in conversation with George II, King of Greece.
She knew that the King had plans to take a train to Greece the next day, and she knew that he was due to meet with his military advisors very soon. In that, she sensed her husband’s hand on the tiller of the ship of state.
Nicholas made a small handsign near his watch pocket, letting her know that the conversation he engaged in was of interest to their family.
When the crowd moved and the conversations she had involved herself in ended, she made excuses to all who approached: “Pardon me, my husband calls...I beg you, speak to me about this at a later time...Sorry, I simply must...s’il vous plaît…Danke...”
She arrived at Nicholas’ side in time to hear the King say: “I insist; your services to Us warrant this title, and I will distrain you to the rank if need be.”
Nicholas bowed politely: “No need of that, Sire. I see the diplomatic necessity, and will accept your Majesty’s accolade.”
The King turned to his factotum, who stood but a step away, to one side and behind him: “You heard? Then see to it, please. When next We are in Athens and our Ambassador has joined us, We will make his lordship’s promotion official. Meantime, he is to enjoy all the privileges of his new rank...ah, Kyría Crowell! We will allow your husband to give you the news.”
“Um…” Nicholas hesitated. “His Majesty is elevating us to the Hellenic Peerage, my dear.”
“I see,” said Clementine, wry and sardonic. “Must I now become a subject of His Majesty of Greece, and abandon my American citizenship?”
“For Our part, no,” said the King. “Your title can be honorary...I know that American law forbids you such a title…” The King paused for Nicholas, who smoothly entered the gap:
“His Majesty has offered us a most excellent estate, in the countryside near Athens. In the mountains, and very defensible in a pinch…”
Nicholas could practically hear Clementine’s thoughts, as she calculated the necessities and the likely future of their family. “Very well. Someone should call Eleanor; the children ought by rights to be asleep by now.”
“Yes,” said Nicholas: “My assistant has gone to find the phone. I think she will have to go scout this property for us, since I---we---cannot leave Geneva at this juncture.”
“We certainly cannot.”
They paused, gazing at one another. They could hear George speaking to his assistant: “...set back the repairs at Castle Mystra by a month and put those funds to repairing the outer wall at Kírie Nikolai’s new estate...no, the times being what they are I will grant the land to him by allod...see that the papers for the transfer of title are packed with my on-voyage luggage, in the official valise...We will complete this Grant poste haste.”
The King turned to them: “You and your Lady wife are dismissed for the time being. Kírie Nikolai, see me tomorrow at ten, for a consultation about the German problem.”
“As Your Majesty desires,” said Nicholas, bowing and stepping away. Clementine bowed also, as a man would; she took Nicholas’ arm and they departed, entering the dance floor and joining the waltz in progress.
Nothing of global importance seemed to happen for the next week and a half: Nicholas took leave of Geneva, again, saying he had to go home to the Commonwealth and do some calculations. Clementine kissed him goodbye, lingeringly.
The children began lessons with their new tutor, a woman chosen by Nicholas and Clementine for her deep knowledge of obscure historical events, and her fluency in German.
“The children speak Greek, English, and French with great fluency, Clement astonishingly so for a three year old,” said Eleanor.
“When he deigns to speak at all,” rejoined Clementine.
Eleanor sighed: “Yes. And I suppose German is a good idea, with the world tipping the way it is.”
“Yes,” said Clementine: “And perhaps Italian, if the worst holds off long enough.”
Of course it did not. By the afternoon of August 30th, the tensions near the border between Germany and Poland had reached their tipping point.
That day Nicholas appeared from nowhere, in the dining room at the Geneva house.
Clementine looked up from her afternoon tea, a custom she had adopted from Nicholas and Eleanor’s example: “You have never dropped in to any of our domiciles in the past.”
“I didn’t want Paths marking our homes out for any other Saltarae to find. That doesn’t matter now…”
She sighed. She rose and embraced him, kissed him passionately, and asked: “How soon must we be packed?”
“No idea,” he muttered. “The League is unlikely to meet this year, nor in the foreseeable future, I expect. We may need to return to Hellas on a moment’s notice, or we may have plenty of time…”
“Well, we have emergency suitcases and even rucksacks packed, of course.” She pondered: “I’ll have Ysabet pack up anything extraneous of the children’s stuff.”
She led him to a seat: “What’s up?” she demanded.
He grimaced: “Using the equipment I have at my disposal in the Commonwealth, I’ve detected what I believe to be the false flag operation that will start the war...German soldiers in Polish uniforms are bivouacked all along the border. Ribbentrop and Molotov have signed their non-aggression pact, and Molotov left that meeting to go straight to Siberia. I believe he’s meeting the Japanese, to negotiate an end to their mutual hostilities.”
Clementine drew in a deep breath: “It starts tonight? Tomorrow?”
“Probably. Within a week, doubtless.” He looked around: “Eleanor?”
“We had a little spat, nothing serious. I believe she spent the night at your suite in the Hotel du Ville.”
“I’ll call. I want us together, tonight...”
Nicholas started as the telephone in the parlour jangled. He glanced at the clock on the mantle: “Three AM. This has got to be it.”
He strode across the hall and picked up the handset: “Crowell.”
He stood nodding: “I understand. I’ll be at the Assembly by seven, and I’ll see you there.” He cradled the phone gently, though his fists were clenched and his expression desperate.
Clementine and Eleanor came out of the bedroom together, Eleanor in a smock-like top and men’s pajama trousers and Clementine in a nightgown. She wrapped a robe around herself as she ran to him: “Has it started?”
“I am afraid so, dear. SS troops staged a series of false flag events yesterday and last night, and the Panzerkorps are moving to the border as we speak. By the time I get to the Assembly Hall the invasion will have officially begun.”
“When will you return here, and must we be ready to leave Geneva today?” Eleanor asked.
“No hurry. The Swiss Government has already declared its neutrality, so we can wait and leave for Hellas at our leisure.”
“Oh, yes, I read that.” Eleanor took both of them by their arms: “Come to bed now, you too Nicholas. The call you feared has come, and there is no need to stay awake waiting for another.”
“Yes,” said Nicholas: “I will come to bed, and I’ll hope for sleep.”
“If none of us can sleep,” said Clementine: “Then other activities may occur to us.”
“I suppose they may. I will…”
“...do your best, I know,” said Eleanor. “Half of you is worth a half dozen lesser men, Nick.”
“Don’t think too much, not now.” said Clementine, taking his other arm: “You’ll do enough thinking later today.”
Between them they led him into the bedchamber.
Thirteen months followed: very busy months for Nicholas.
Busy, but depressing: between the many and various declarations of war by various countries upon one another, the declarations of neutrality, and the Axis’ rapid victories on many fronts, he was alternately overwhelmed with diplomatic paperwork and mired in melancholy.
“Why in world did Avenol ask for you in particular to aid in his rump administration?” Eleanor had little love for the Frenchman, and none at all for the tasks he assigned to Nicholas.
He shook his head: “I have no real idea. Perhaps because of rather than despite my criticisms of him on the floor of the Assembly before the outbreak of the war...I had no desire to be in Geneva for any part of 1940, and here it is October and I’m languishing here, as his Majesty seconded me to Avenol, while Greece lies under threat from Mussolini...” He shook his head.
“Nevertheless, my duties here in Geneva are coming to an end. The Palace des Nations is pretty well mothballed, the records of the League are thoroughly secured...and Avenol is due to step down and cede his meaningless position to the Irishman.”
“So it’s back to Athens, soon?” asked Clementine.
“I’ve asked the Secretary General for leave to resign my post...I would guess we could travel by the twenty-third of October at the latest.”
“A week, then.”
“Can we be ready?” asked Nicholas.
Clementine shrugged: “In a pinch we could depart tonight. We’d leave a great pile of our possessions behind, but all the papers and documents, plus sufficient clothing and emergency food, are packed and stacked ready for flight. We could carry the really crucial stuff on our backs, and walk to Athens, if need be.”
“I hope it won’t come to that,” said Nicholas.
Eleanor interceded: “We are prepared for the contingency. I will see to it that everything else is dealt with. Ysabet and Angelos will assist me: you two should concentrate on diplomacy.”
“Agreed,” said Nicholas. “You should both know: the Greek government’s...discussions...with the Italians are not going well. And there are a lot of Italian troops in the south of Albania, a far larger force than would be needed to hold the countryside.”
The women glanced at one another. “Frying pans and fires, as they say,” said Clementine.
“How in hell are we going to get back to Greece, anyway?” asked Eleanor. “If Italy is threatening to invade Hellas, and Germany owns the whole of northern Europe...”
“Two possibilities,’ said Nicholas: “We might ride the train across Vichy to Marseille, and take ship from there to Piraeus. Or we might fly...”
“Dangerous options, each of them.” Clementine bit her lips, worrying. “How well would our diplomatic status protect us?”
“On the train, completely. At sea? A Greek ship is still a neutral one, but Germany has shown some lack of regard for that status...in the air, we’d not be safe at all. It would be by far the fastest way home, though.”
They sat, not looking at one another, each buried deep in thought. They all looked up at once, and began to speak all together: “I think...” “We should go...” “...We must leave now!”
Nicholas rose, and drew them into his embrace: “Yes. We each think and feel the same way, therefore it is the right thing to do. I will arrange the train tickets, Eleanor...”
“I will supervise the final packing and Angelos will do what must be done for our security...”
Clementine said: “I will get Ysabet and the children ready and call for the motorcar...”
“Nicholas, I will want cash,” said Eleanor.
“Yes, of course: be as generous as you feel you should be with the rest of the staff.” He strode to the safe in the corner, spun the dial through its combination, and stared for a moment at the contents. After contemplating the near future, he grabbed two large stacks of banknotes, of all sorts: francs and marks and dollars and pounds. He stuffed those wads of cash into his pockets and abandoned the rest. He left the safe open as he headed for the telephone.
Clementine fell to her knees: “Oh, my that feels so good!”
Eleanor raised her back up: “Dry land, or at least a dock...we were definitely at sea too long.”
Nicholas came into sight, rolling their small pile of luggage on a cart. The children were riding atop the luggage, Nicky smiling and Clement frowning. Nicholas said: “Sir Michael Palairet has a car waiting for us. Ah, here’s his man...”
A uniformed figure appeared out of the mist and seized the luggage cart from Nicholas. Nicolette leaped down from her perch and Nicholas lifted Clement off with a sweep of his arm: “Let’s go. Sir Michael has news...”
Angelos looked at the car; he made a handsign to Nicholas, who nodded. Angelos jogged away, evidently taking a direct route home.
The Sir Michael's valet loaded their luggage and the chauffer opened doors and assisted the travelers with their burdens. Soon they’d joined the British Ambassador in the rather crowded passenger compartment of his car.
Palairet knocked on the glass; the driver rolled it down a bit.
“The scenic route, Walter. I must update Lord Nicholas on the situation.”
“Understood, Sir.” The glass sealed them in again.
“How much have you heard of the situation at the moment?” Sir Michael spoke in a terse fashion, worrying at his necktie.
“I know that the damned Italians attacked Hellas last fall,” said Nicholas: “We have been on the road for six months, old man, for a trip that would normally take a couple weeks at most.”
“We heard you were on the way. We feared that we’d lost you, you know.”
“You very nearly did, several times over. A month on the train line, most of which we were forced to walk, because of the bombings...then once we got aboard ship...”
Clementine said: “We steamed in circles, and back and forth across the Mediterranean several times. If it wasn’t one thing it was another!”
“U-boats?” Sir Michael asked.
Nicholas said: “Yes, among other things. Bad weather, a nasty fracas with some pirates, and stuck in various ports in North Africa, while the crew scrounged up fuel...The Nazis and Italians have looted far too much of the coal and diesel normally available...it was a nightmare.”
By that time, Nicolette and Clement had fallen deeply asleep, one on each side of Eleanor. Nicholas glanced at them, judged them safely unconscious, and said: “All right, old friend: what’s the real situation?”
Sir Michael leaned back in his seat, sighing: “October 28th last, the Italian army attacked via Albania. Our intelligence suggests that Benito expected the Bulgarians to join in, which would have spread the Greek Army pretty thin...Bulgaria never budged, though, so the Greek resistance was pretty stout. Then the King moved most of the reserves into the northwest, around Epirus, and counterattacked. A British expeditionary Force helped out there, but it was mostly your military that did the dirty work.”
“Amazing,” said Nicholas.
“Greeks got a big chunk of Albania. They didn’t get to Vlore, though, more’s the pity.
“They could have re-supplied by ship, if they had,” said Clementine.
Sir Michael raised an eyebrow: “Indeed.”
“When did the Germans get involved?”
“So far as I can tell, old Adolf didn’t want to mess around in the southern Balkans at all. He was quite happy sitting on the oil fields in Romania, which are crucial to his plans. Then Benito invades Greece, the Brits join in, and he has a potential British presence on his right flank.”
“An irritation, at least.” Clementine had her eyes closed, visualizing a map of the area.
“I can imagine. He’s a madman, you know. I watched him ranting like a maniac at Chancellor Schushnigg in Vienna...”
Clementine interceded: “How mad is he, really? He’s been extremely successful so far...militarily, I mean.”
Palairet frowned: “Your friend Herr Oster...”
Nicholas frowned: “...yes?”
“When he couldn’t reach you, he sent a message to me...he thinks the Fuhrer is contemplating an invasion of Russia.”
Clementine’s eyes opened very wide: “That would be...utterly mad.”
“Barking mad, I should say,” said Nicholas.
A moment of silence ensued. Then Sir Michael continued: “So, with the Germans lining up to attack Greece so as to save their ally Mussolini, old Benito sent in everything he could spare. I guess he hoped to move the Greek lines back a bit, to save his own face. The old bastard was there himself, you know, supervising the attack. Didn’t work. After two weeks of fighting, the Italians have backed off a bit...”
“And that’s where we are now,” said Nicholas, nodding.
“More or less. The Nazis are coming, though, sooner rather than later.” Sir Michael knocked on the window again, three times, rapidly. The limousine abruptly sped up and moved through the streets towards home.