Susie was getting tired of Hannaâ€™s vehemence, and allowed him to catch her eye briefly. It was only for a split second, but she got the full force of something she had not bargained for. It was as though she had just had a sudden slap in the face, most disconcerting and she looked away, trying to think about the other people. How had Hanna come to be such a bossy-boots? Where did the red-haired one come from? Not Germany or Holland, though he spoke German. Hanna must come from a family who all talk at the tops of their voices and never listen to each other. It is time, Susie thought, to slide away quietly, and she got her rucksack settled.
â€œYour eyes are beginning to glaze over,â€ murmured an English voice in her ear. Susie stiffened. The young man had edged round till he was close behind her. â€œWould you like a cup of tea? I know a place just round the corner. This lot will still be here in half an hour. Oh, come on!â€
It occurred to Susie that perhaps she could ditch Hanna painlessly in this way and a cup of tea never committed anyone. Perhaps she had imagined part of what she had seen. â€œAll right,â€ she said, getting up. Hanna did not notice, but there was a look, almost of alarm, from the dark-haired girl. â€œBut this is a jewellerâ€™s, not a tea-shopâ€, said Susie a few minutes later.
â€œAll the same, you can get a good cup. Just up those stairs â€“ hereâ€.
It was a pleasant, old-fashioned room with a long table and chairs, and casement windows overlooking the street. The young man went out through another door, saying â€œJust a minuteâ€, and Susie opened a window and looked out, thinking that she could always scream through it if the worst happened.
â€œThatâ€™s right, always make sure of your exit,â€ said her companion, reappearing with a tray. â€œThe kettle doesnâ€™t take long.â€
â€œDo you live here?â€
â€œNo, but I drop in sometimes. If you take off your sack, you can sit down.â€ He spoke casually, not looking at her, and Susie thought she might as well sit down and be comfortable.
A few minutes later, he was back with the tea and a packet of chocolate biscuits. Susie, hungry as well as thirsty, ate and drank gratefully. They considered each other. He saw a rather pretty girl, her fair skin childishly freckled. It was the steady, direct gaze of her eyes that held him. Too honest for me? He wondered. She turned her head to look round the room, and he saw only the line of head and shoulder as she moved.
Susie found it difficult to get a clear picture of him and yet she would never mistake him for anyone else. He seemed not much older than she was, young enough to play at being someone different. Tallish, dark, thin, but a face that was hard to fix in the mind. Only the bright, dancing eyes â€“ Susie blushed slightly and helped herself to another biscuit.
â€œAlright?â€ he asked, with a serious face, but laughter at the back of his voice.
Susie looked at him cautiously. The eyes were subdued now, as though curtains were drawn.
â€œYes, thanksâ€, she said. â€œBut I still donâ€™t understand. How is it that you can let yourself in and use this place?â€
â€œA business arrangement. Nothing criminal, you know. But itâ€™s convenient to be able to slip in and out sometimes.â€
â€œWhat sort of business?â€ Susie asked out of politeness and for something to say, but he hesitated.
â€œItâ€™s a bit complicated, but Iâ€™ll tell you all about it later, I hope. By the way, Iâ€™m Richard Winters.â€
â€œSusie. Thatâ€™s nice.â€ There was a brief flash from the grey eyes. â€œOne thing I sometimes do is to carry diamonds about, like these.â€ He tipped the contents of a small bag on to the table. The stones, unset but polished made a river of light on the dark wood.
â€œLovely,â€ said Susie politely. â€œOnly I think Iâ€™d like them better if they werenâ€™t so expensive.â€
Richard gave a sudden shout of laughter. â€œI mean,â€ Susie tried to explain, â€œItâ€™s difficult to see them for what they are and not think about what they cost.â€
â€œNot really a diamonds girl, are you, Susie?â€
â€œNo, not my style,â€ Susie agreed.
â€œNor mine, apart from carrying them round for Johan.â€ He put them away again and Susie said, â€œThank you very much for my teaâ€.
â€œWe might as well finish the biscuits. Look, one each.â€ He offered her the plate.
Suddenly he said, â€œSometimes we do things that arenâ€™t very legal.â€
â€œOh?â€ Said Susie doubtfully.
â€œWe have good reasons for everything we do.â€
â€œWell, thatâ€™s all right, then. You donâ€™t kill people?â€
â€œNo. Does that make a lot of difference?â€
â€œOf course. Things are only things, but people can get hurt and I donâ€™t like that.â€
â€œGood. Will you have dinner with me tonight, Susie?â€
â€œIâ€™ve nothing tidy to wear, only my jeans,â€ Susie hedged. â€œBesidesâ€¦â€
â€œWeâ€™ll go somewhere suitable, I promise. Look, shall I see you in the Dam, say about seven?â€
â€œWell,â€ Susie looked at her watch. â€œIâ€™m supposed to be catching a train to Denmark later tonight.â€
â€œBut you could stay another night, couldnâ€™t you? Iâ€™d like to show you our house tomorrow morning.â€
â€œOh, well, yes. All right, thanks. Iâ€™d better get back to the hostel now.â€ Susie felt slightly guilty about taking a free meal and then probably ditching the acquaintance. Still, having to pay for another bed night instead of sleeping on the train would cancel that financially and she had told him what she intended.
So they had a meal in an Indonesian restaurant, not one of the grander ones, but good.
â€œYou can speak Dutch,â€ said Susie. â€œEven my German is pretty feeble.â€
â€œDutch isnâ€™t difficult if you know German and English, and if you can get people to speak it to you. My mother is German and I was partly brought up in Germany, so itâ€™s not hard for me. What languages do you speak, Susie?â€
â€œFrench, I suppose. I do know a fair bit of German, but Iâ€™m not used to speaking it, which is pretty poor when Iâ€™m supposed to be doing modern languages.â€
â€œWhere are you doing them? Do you like it there? I was at Oxford for a year till my father died and I went off the rails.â€
â€œWhich college? Oh, I know some people there. We live just outside Oxford. Yes, Iâ€™ve got two sisters; they are married, but theyâ€™re still around a good deal. My mum and dad both teach.â€
â€œMy mother works in a clinic in Germany. I was at the university there too for a bit.â€
He seemed less alarming, quite ordinary in fact and yet there was something that sounded like a warning note. It occurred to Susie that if he were playing a part he would do it like this. But what, if anything, could he be hiding?
â€œTomorrow morning, Iâ€™ll show you a different bit of Amsterdam.â€ he said, as they waited at the tram-stop. â€œI hope youâ€™ll like it.â€
Susie did not know about the fierce argument he had with the others later that night. Marta, the dark-haired girl said, â€œItâ€™s hopeless, Richard. You canâ€™t bring a girl like that into it. She isnâ€™t interested in politics; sheâ€™d only be a drag, or worse.â€
â€œI mean,â€ said Rory, â€œWe can see how you feel, sure. Sheâ€™s very nice. But whatâ€™s the use of you getting romantic with a nice wee girl who doesnâ€™t know a detonator from a dishwasher?â€
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ said Marta. â€œYou of all people, Richard, you canâ€™t get soft. This is a child whoâ€™s always been looked after, you can see that, never had to do dirty work of any sort. She wants a steady fellow whoâ€™ll give her a house and babies. Not someone like you. Canâ€™t you see that? Why has it got to be this girl, Richard? Nobody objects to you having the odd fling, but why not leave this poor lass alone?â€
Richard simply shook his head. Finally, he turned on them.
â€œWhy? Because sheâ€™s the one I want. Sheâ€™s not stupid, anyway; sheâ€™ll learn. Of course, the business comes first with me, you know that. Iâ€™ll live and die for it, and maybe sooner than later. But while Iâ€™m here, I want her.â€
Marta and Rory recognised defeat. Things, Marta said afterwards, would have to take their course.
Susie, in her hostel bunk, slept happily, unaware.
The next day, they met early in the morning. Susie had been thinking it might be sensible to go straight to the station, but Richard was waiting for her at the hostel door. The morning sun was dazzling as she came out and heard him speak her name. A strange feeling of security was creeping in. Careful, now. She put up her hand to shade her eyes, and he took her arm and drew her aside. They both began to laugh.
â€œYou werenâ€™t going to turn up, were you?â€
â€œI hadnâ€™t quite decided. Anyway, Iâ€™m going on to Denmark today.â€
â€œAll right. Can I take your â€˜sack? No, all right. When you shake your head like that, your hair bobs about.â€
â€œI know. Iâ€™m not as daft as I look, really.â€
â€œYou look fine. Come on, we can get a tram from over there.â€
â€œWhere are we going, exactly?â€
â€œMiddle of Amsterdam. Thereâ€™s a house where several of us live on one of the big canals. I ought to warn you, itâ€™s a nice house, but weâ€™re just camping in it. There are other places where we stay, too.â€
Susie knew about squats, of course. â€œAre there a lot of you?â€ she asked.
â€œThere are about a dozen people in the house at the moment, but they donâ€™t all belong to the business. Iâ€™ll tell you about that later.â€
The house was rather grand, though the paint was peeling. It might well have belonged to a rich merchant once, or it could be some firmâ€™s Head Office, about to be done up.
â€œIâ€™ll show you where you leave your rucksack â€“ thereâ€™s a big cupboard out here. You can keep the key yourself.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not necessary.â€
â€œAll the same, here it is.â€
Susie zipped the key into her secure pocket.
â€œNow, weâ€™ll see about some coffee. The kitchenâ€™s in the basement and thatâ€™s where youâ€™ll find the workers. Careful of some of these stairs.â€
The kitchen was vast, with some of it partitioned off.
â€œWe havenâ€™t yet achieved full community living with all the people here. Some of them like to keep their stuff separate, but among our lot we all share.â€
Marta appeared, carrying a saucepan, which was burnt black. She was looking black too, but on seeing Susie, she put down the pan, made an evident effort to look pleasant and said, â€œHallo.â€
â€œMarta is one of our thinkers,â€ said Richard. â€œSome people are more, well, instinctive.â€
â€œI am also responsible for preserving a basic standard of cleanliness and domestic behaviour that is acceptable to our neighbours.â€
â€œIâ€™ll wash the pan, Marta,â€ said Richard. â€œMarta does a great job on that side, Susie. Itâ€™s important for us not to offend people by behaving thoughtlessly.â€
â€œTell that to Rory and J.L.,â€ said Marta grimly. She picked up the pan and filled it with cold water at the sink.
â€œIâ€™ll make some coffee,â€ Richard said. Marta looked at him sceptically as he filled a kettle and put it on to boil. He looked round. â€œCups,â€ he said, putting some on the table. â€œCoffee-pot, er, coffee? Why donâ€™t we keep it in the tin marked Coffee?â€
â€œBecause Rory throws it all over the place when heâ€™s got a hangover. Itâ€™s in the one that says rice. Milkâ€™s in the fridge.â€
â€œWhere is Rory?â€
â€œHeâ€™ll come quickly enough when he smells the coffee. Just leave the door open,â€ said Marta.
As they sat down at the table, the red-haired young man lurched in, dressed approximately in a sweater and jeans. He collapsed into a chair and buried his face in his hands.
â€œOh, my God, I feel awful,â€ he said in a gentle voice.
Richard was on his feet behind Roryâ€™s chair, putting his hands on Roryâ€™s shoulders. â€œShake yourself a little, Rory-Roy, we have company,â€ he said softly. â€œHeâ€™s one of the instinctive ones,â€ he added to Susie. â€œHe has got some good qualities in spite of the mess. There are two more of us based here, but theyâ€™re away today. Oh, and Anna, sheâ€™s not active in the business these days â€“ she lives here permanently. The rest of us get around.â€
â€œI said Iâ€™d tell you about the business. We call it that, but itâ€™s not. What weâ€™re after is a complete restructuring of society.â€
â€œHow are you going to do that?â€
â€œThatâ€™s the question. The present systems involve so much injustice, because the people who have the capital can pay to influence the rest against their own interests. So we have to do things that show them what is going on.â€
â€œYou mean, you write pamphlets and things?â€
â€œWho reads those? Oh, we do that a bit and we have some serious writers, like Marta. But something that makes the front page or the television news is worth lorry-loads of pamphlets.â€
â€œYou mean blowing up bridges, that sort of thing?â€
â€œAnything that gets headlines and helps to show up the grabbers for what they are.â€
â€œBut how does blowing up a bridge do that?â€
â€œIt would have to be done when there was some cargo being transported that someone didnâ€™t want people to know about. This is all hypothetical, of course.â€ Marta snorted. â€œWe have to find out as much as we can and then act quickly. If we can think of something new, so much the better. We havenâ€™t blown up many bridges so far. Then we get in touch with the media to say what weâ€™ve done and why. Sometimes itâ€™s almost a kind of joke, like having the director of a profiteering firm strapped to one of his own neon signs with a poster to explain, without his pants. Of course, he wasnâ€™t there for long, but we made sure the papers had pictures.â€
â€œIt sounds quite fun, but do you really think it changes peopleâ€™s minds?â€
â€œWho knows? We can only do what we can do and look at opinion polls. Weâ€™ve done a bit, I think. Some people have had to get out of plummy jobs, and a few things have changed here and there, partly because weâ€™ve drawn attention to them.â€
Rory stirred. â€œKill the bastards,â€ he said.
Richard sighed. â€œYou see our difficulty. The temptation is great sometimes. But we are essentially non-violent in principle. Is that not so, Rory?â€
â€œOh, ah,â€ Rory mumbled.
Richard went on. â€œWe do have to adopt some practices we would rather not have to, so as to finance our operations. But we try not to damage anyone who would be really affected.â€
Susie thought this over. â€œDo you mean shoplifting from supermarkets?â€
â€œAs and when necessary.â€
â€œI canâ€™t do that.â€
â€œNor me,â€ said Rory sadly. â€œFolks will be noticing the hair.â€
Susie reverted to the original subject. â€œThe business â€“ are you linked up with anything bigger, communists or terrorists?â€
â€œNo. Well, we get on with people in all sorts of organisations, but the point of the business is that itâ€™s a free association. We donâ€™t take oaths, or have passwords or any kind of secret games. We trust each other, and nobody else. If anybody wanted to do the dirty on the rest of us, he could, but that doesnâ€™t happen. Thatâ€™s all there is to it.â€
â€œIt sounds impressive,â€ Susie said. â€œAre you really asking me to join you?â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t be telling you all this otherwise. But youâ€™re free to decide.â€
â€œIâ€™m going to Denmark this afternoon. Iâ€™ll think about what youâ€™ve said.â€
There was a brief pause, and then Richard said, â€œRight. How much longer does your ticket last?â€
â€œA week. I want to go to Norway and Sweden, and go up to the Arctic Circle and see a reindeer.â€
â€œWill you take a letter to Santa Claus in Copenhagen?â€
â€œAs long as there isnâ€™t a bomb in it.â€
â€œThere wonâ€™t be, Iâ€™ll show you. Iâ€™ve got a map upstairs â€“ Iâ€™ll get it, to show you.â€
As soon as he had left the room, Marta put her hand on Susieâ€™s arm. â€œListen, I have to warn you. Itâ€™s dangerous, no good to you. Itâ€™s best you just disappear, go back to England, and be safe with your family. Maybe he wouldnâ€™t go to England to look for you.â€
â€œHe would, you know,â€ said Richard, reappearing. â€œIâ€™d come after you, Susie. Martaâ€™s right in a way, though. Itâ€™s not an easy life. The law wonâ€™t protect you, and, as they say, thereâ€™s no future in it.â€
Susie looked at him directly. â€œI see,â€ she said. â€œWhereâ€™s that map?â€
A few days later Susie stepped off the Af Chapman hostel-boat in the harbour at Stockholm. It was a clear pale blue August morning, and the gleaming palaces on the other side reflected the light on the moving water. It was already autumn in the North; people had finished their long summer holidays and were going back to work.
Susie could not decide whether to go back to Amsterdam or to go straight home. She knew she would regret Richard, possibly a lot, but on the other hand the business, though no doubt it was doing a good job, sounded like a lot of trouble. Really, she ought to go home, but she did not much want to.
There were still some boats in the harbour. A pretty little vessel, the Micheline, was tied up nearby, and the crew were doing things with ropes and calling to each other. As Susie approached, one of them vaulted over on to the quay. She knew him.
â€œHallo, Susie,â€ he said. â€œDid you have a good trip?â€
â€œGolly,â€ said Susie. â€œYou do look different, only â€“â€
â€œPart of the fun. But you look the same, only better.â€ The sun came out from behind a cloud. â€œCome on board and have a look. She belongs to a friend of mine. Here, take my hand.â€
Another man came along and helped her too. â€œHans Lensberg,â€ he said, and continued in rapid German. Susie gathered, they were about to sail.
â€œCome over here,â€ said Richard. â€œSorry to spring it on you like this, but Hans doesnâ€™t want to miss the tide. When we get across, Iâ€™ll put you on a train for home if you like. Really.â€
Susie sat in the stern. She felt she ought to be cross, but it was wonderful to be sitting there, skimming the sparkling waters, while the seabirds dived and circled. When they were out of the harbour and on a steady course, Richard came back to her.
â€œIâ€™m sorry it was like this,â€ he said. â€œIt just happened that the wind and tide were right, and there you were at last. Are you very angry?â€
â€œIâ€™m trying to be,â€ said Susie. They looked at each other and began to laugh.
â€œGive me that rucksack and Iâ€™ll stow it below.â€ He came back and took her hands. It was all right. Peace surrounded them.
â€œI shouldnâ€™t be doing this, I know, Susie. I told you what we do, but I made it look rosier than it is. Youâ€™d probably hate it, mostly, and if â€“ when â€“ I get killed or put in gaol, youâ€™d be left on your own. So Iâ€™ve no business to ask you to come with me, and itâ€™s that, really, not that Iâ€™m trying to change any political views you may have. I just want you, Susie.â€
â€œYes, I see. Iâ€™m not sure about anything, but Iâ€™d like you to be straight with me. Then I canâ€™t come back at you later, you know.â€
â€Iâ€™ll try, but Iâ€™m horribly devious and opportunistic, Susie. I canâ€™t help it. Iâ€™ll try to be honest with you and answer you truthfully, but you may have to kick me sometimesâ€. He tilted up her chin and looked long and hard into her eyes.
â€œEven if I tell you, will you really understand? I know youâ€™re not stupid, but how can you? Youâ€™ve never lived outside the law, never been victimised, got no chip on your shoulder.â€
â€œHow do you know?â€
â€œAnybody can see that, my lovely Susie. Bet you even had a happy childhood.â€
â€œI suppose so, more or less. Didnâ€™t you?â€
â€œNo, and I never before met anyone who had. Oh, I had a mixture of good and bad, which I suppose is what is usually called happy, but it wasnâ€™t, very often. Iâ€™m happy now, even though I donâ€™t think I ought to be.â€ He kissed her, long and gently, and the boat sailed on across the sparkling water.
The time of the voyage seemed to pass as though they were in a bubble floating gently through endless levels of blue ethereal space. The winds blew gently, the seas were calm, and much of the time, Richard was able to be with Susie. They stayed mostly in the stern of the little craft, close together, talking or being quiet. Richard talked about what he was trying to do, what they had done so far, places where they had been and other people. Susie listened, but not so much to the subject-matter as to him.
As she lay in her bunk at night, with the water slapping gently at the sides of the boat, she thought she was under an enchantment. She knew she would not leave him now, for any reason that she could think of. England, home, college, all seemed to have faded like an old film. Inexperienced as she was, she recognised the power of the feeling he had for her. Devious as he might be, and no doubt with lots of other failings, he had let himself be possessed almost totally. Almost; there was still a part of his mind that was ticking over with quite different thoughts, but if there ever were a conflict, she did not think he would give her up easily.
â€œRichard,â€ she said next day, â€œIâ€™m not going to be much use to you, in the business, I mean.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not what I want you for.â€
â€œI know. But am I going to be compatible with it?â€
â€œWhat do you want me to do, Susie?â€
â€œIâ€™m not sure. It depends on you, how much you want to do anything. Will you always want to go on in the same way?â€
Richard said slowly, â€œIâ€™ve always imagined it would only be for a few years, at most. Sooner or later, something will happen, and Iâ€™ll be in gaol for years, or more likely shot to bits, a mess on the pavement.â€
Susie shrank away slightly.
â€œThatâ€™s why I wouldnâ€™t ask you to marry me, though I think I could promise, with you â€“ yes, I really could. Iâ€™ve never felt like that about anyone else.
But it wouldnâ€™t be fair. I canâ€™t give you any settled life. Hans, now, heâ€™s an accountant and I think heâ€™s more or less happy at it. Heâ€™s getting married soon, though I donâ€™t think he feels as strongly as I do.â€
After a while, Susie said, â€œAnd you are really dedicated to going on till youâ€™re killed or gaoled? But, Richard, you donâ€™t hurt anyone, so why should they kill you?â€
â€œBecause things get more extreme as they go along. I may have to hurt people sometimes. Besides, our German police donâ€™t stop to ask questions first. So you see, Iâ€™m not a long-term prospect.â€
â€œI can look after myself. I donâ€™t want to be kept by anyone. Only I donâ€™t want to think of you as a mess on the pavement.â€
â€œSusie, we just have to live for the present. Itâ€™s all anybodyâ€™s got, truly. Perhaps I shouldnâ€™t love you, but I do, and I hope weâ€™re going to be happy together for a little bit of time. Will you stay with me, Susie?â€
â€œYes, I will. I love you, Richard.â€
Presently, Richard said, â€œWhen we get to Hamburg, I want you to stay for a few days with my mother while I sort out arrangements for a little holiday for us together. Sheâ€™s very upright and a bit fierce, but I think youâ€™ll get on with her. She doesnâ€™t exactly approve of what I do â€“ doesnâ€™t know much about it, in fact, and doesnâ€™t want to.
Iâ€™d like you to do some things while youâ€™re there, if youâ€™re willing. You can buy some things, suitcases and clothes. Get yourself a travelling outfit, a bit fancy, and some things to wear in a hotel in the country.â€
â€œI usually wear jeans. All right, I know what you mean. I suppose we are dressing up for one of your schemes. As long as you donâ€™t want it laid on too thick. Iâ€™m a rotten actress.â€
â€œYou wonâ€™t have to act, except to imagine that youâ€™ve just got married to a respectable young man. Just get what youâ€™d really like, with a bit on top. Youâ€™ll need some clothes, anyway. Let yourself go: itâ€™s going to be our honeymoon.â€
Richardâ€™s mother lived in a pleasant flat overlooking a park. Susie had not really expected a dear old lady, but she was a little daunted by the austere appearance of Dr Strauss-Winters, who was looking hard at her son. â€œAnd what is this about?â€ she asked in German.
â€œMother,â€ said Richard, â€œYou know how I feel about what I must doâ€ â€“ here, Susie lost track till he came to â€œBut I love Susie. She is very important to me. Will you look after her till Thursday, Mother?â€
â€œI suppose so. Arenâ€™t you going to stay at all?â€
â€œI canâ€™t, Mother. I have to see some people, to arrange about a trip. But Iâ€™ll be here on Thursday.â€
â€œI see. Well, my son, May the Lord bless you and give you some sense.â€
She kissed him, and Richard kissed first her, then Susie, and went.
Dr Strauss-Winters looked at Susie.
â€œYou had better go and put your rucksack in the spare bedroom, in there,â€ she said in excellent English. â€œThe bathroom is that door beside it. Then come and talk to me.â€
Susie, feeling dazed, tried to tidy herself up. She took off the blue cotton square, which had kept her hair from blowing over her face, washed and combed herself, but did not feel she ought to make herself look very different.
Dr Strauss-Winters had made some coffee. She looked at Susie considering.
â€œSo you are in love with my son, I suppose.â€ Susie nodded. â€œAnd what do your parents think? I suppose they know about thisâ€?
â€œNo, not yet. I had better write something to them tomorrow.â€
â€œThey are in England? I sympathise with them. How did you meet Richard?â€
â€œIn the Dam Square in Amsterdam. I was with some people who were talking, and then he was there.â€
â€œAnd how did you come to be there?â€
â€œIâ€™ve been travelling round in my vacation.â€
â€œSo, when the vacation is over, what will you do?â€
â€œI shall stay with Richard if he wants me to.â€
â€œYou will not go back to your university?â€
â€œNo, not â€“ that is,â€ Susie stumbled. She was beginning to realise what she was going to have to do.
Dr Strauss-Winters was silent for a few moments. Then she said, â€œListen, Susie, I do not know what sort of a girl you are. Perhaps you have had much experience. Are you healthy?â€
â€œOh. No, I shouldnâ€™t think so. I donâ€™t see how I could have.â€
â€œHow old are you, Susie? Nineteen? I suppose it is just possible, though you are very pretty.â€
Susie was pink. â€œI havenâ€™t slept with anyone else because I didnâ€™t want to before,â€ she said.
â€œI must apologize,â€ said Dr Strauss-Winters. â€œIn my work, it seems almost impossible that a girl should be, well, virtuous.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think Iâ€™m virtuous, exactly,â€ said Susie. â€œI just didnâ€™t want to, though of course there is always someone trying to get you interested. Richard is different.â€
â€œYou do not need to be ashamed of being a virgin.â€
â€œIt isnâ€™t importantâ€ Susie was blushing furiously by now, it didnâ€™t look as if it would be so for much longer, she thought.
Dr Strauss-Winters changed the subject. â€œYou know what sort of a life Richard leads? That his life, even, is in danger?â€
â€œAnd do you want to do the same, to blow things up, to shoot people?â€
â€œIâ€™m not shooting anyone, or doing anything much else, as far as I know. And Richard says he isnâ€™t hurting anyone either. Some of the things sound all right, and I might help a bit, perhaps. But I donâ€™t think you can force people to agree with you.â€
â€œGood.â€ There was a silence, and then Dr Strauss-Winters said, â€œSusie, perhaps, if he loves you, you may one day teach him that.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ said Susie.
A postcard to Mr and Mrs Jones:
â€˜I am in Hamburg for a few days. Everything is all right, but donâ€™t expect me back just yet.
â€œItâ€™s a chap,â€ said Mr Jones.
â€œIt might not be,â€ said his wife. â€œShe might just have decided to stay with some people â€“ girls, I mean, for a bit.â€
â€œSheâ€™d have said more about them, and anyway she wouldnâ€™t have let her ticket run out without a second thought. No, sheâ€™s fallen for some so-and-so. I could go over and look for her.â€
â€œTim, donâ€™t talk like that! Besides, Susieâ€™s always been sensible about boys. They run after her, and she just doesnâ€™t get excited, take it or leave it, thatâ€™s Susie.â€
â€œIt was bound to happen one day,â€ said Mr Jones.
* * *
Susie wandered round the shops looking for the things Richard had asked her to buy, the sort of things a nice English girl would take on her honeymoon. She wondered how she was supposed to know and hoped Richard was reliable on contraceptives. One of her sisters had gone hiking round Scotland and the other, a specialist in under-water archaeology, had spent her wedding trip mostly under the Aegean.
She pulled herself together and started buying underclothes and night-dresses, then a couple of suitcases. Dr Strauss-Winters was out during the day, so it was not too embarrassing bringing things back to the flat. Gradually, she acquired a reasonable quantity of clothes, finishing with a soft blue suede velvet jerkin and skirt that gave her the sort of appearance she usually preferred to avoid.
She had long ago realised that life was more comfortable, if one could get by without too much attention, without doing the blonde thing. In the blue outfit, she was an undoubted blonde.
Thursday came. Dr Strauss-Winters was going to be at home for the day, she said. In the morning, Susie had her hair done, hung around the shops for a while, and was looking rather nervously at the vision in the bedroom mirror, when the door-bell rang.
Richard was looking very handsome in a well-cut blazer with a silk cravat.
â€œGosh, anyone for tennis?â€ Said Susie. â€œYou look the complete yuppie. I suppose I do too. Is this all right?â€
â€œYouâ€™ll do. And then some.â€
In the dining-room the sun was streaming in over the window-box geraniums, and the table was set.
â€œYou will have lunch,â€ said Dr Strauss-Winters. â€œYou had better have something to eat before you start your new campaign of destruction. It is ready, so sit down. I suppose I cannot ask where you are going.â€
â€œSouthâ€, said Richard. â€œA little town on a big river. Itâ€™s better for you not to know the name, Mother.â€
â€œNo doubt the railway line crosses the river at that point?â€
â€œI believe it does. Thereâ€™s a very nice hotel there. I think Susie will like it.â€
â€œDo you ever really think what any of us will like? To see you shot into pieces? I know what war is like, and it is not nice at all. Will Susie like that?â€
â€œSusie knows what I have to do, Mother. She can leave any time she wants to. But as long as she stays with me, Iâ€™ll stick to her. I couldnâ€™t say fairer than that, could I? Not if it were a regular arrangement.â€
Susie thought briefly about her mother and father. Of course, Richard was right. All the same.
â€œ.....Susie, Iâ€™ve been talking to Richard. Thereâ€™s a ring Iâ€™d like to give you, an old one, but itâ€™s prettyâ€. Dr Strauss-Winters opened a small wooden box and took out a pearl and sapphire ring, which she handed to Richard.
â€œOh,â€ said Susie. â€œI canâ€™t take your ring, Doctor. Itâ€™s a family one, isnâ€™t it?â€
â€œI am not likely to have any other daughter to bestow it on,â€ said Dr Strauss-Winters â€œI am pleased for you to have it. May it bring you good fortune, my poor child.â€
â€œWe must go,â€ said Richard. â€œCome and see the car, Susie. A VW, almost new, with British registration. Where are your suitcases?â€
â€œGood-bye, Dr Strauss-Winters. â€œThank you for being so kind.â€
Richardâ€™s mother kissed her. â€œMay God protect and guide you both,â€ she said.
When they were alone in the car, Richard said, â€œIâ€™ve got another ring for you, too. It will keep that one safe, the old oneâ€™s a bit loose for your finger. Whatâ€™s more, Susie? I meant what I said. Apart from all the fun and games, I do love you, and Iâ€™ll keep faith with you as long as you want to stay with me.â€
â€œRichard, Iâ€™m a bit scared. But as long as I feel Iâ€™m any useâ€¦â€
They had been heading south for an hour or so when Susie noticed that he did not look well.
â€œRichard, you look awful. Thereâ€™s a place where you can stop just ahead.â€
When they had stopped, he said, â€œIâ€™m sorry, Susie. Itâ€™s only a migraine, but a damned nuisance. I canâ€™t afford to hang about.â€
â€œIt wonâ€™t do any good if you drive into a wall.â€
â€œI have to get there.â€
â€œThen the best thing would be to let me drive, and you can lie down in the back till you feel better.â€
Richard tried to look at her closely, but had to confess that he could hardly see. Susie helped to settle him in the back. â€œItâ€™s a right-hand drive,â€ he muttered.
â€œThatâ€™s all right. My Dadâ€™s car is just like this, only a bit grottier. Where do I make for?â€
So Susie drove off through Germany, wondering a little at herself. The picture-book villages came and went, and the flat lands passed into low hills. Occasionally, she wondered if Richard would be all right, and why he had to get to wherever they were going.
Three hours later, she was beginning to feel tired, so she turned into a parking place where there were trees and grass by a river. There was no movement from Richard, who had covered his face with a scarf, so she got out quietly and walked around for a few minutes.
Richard had woken as the car stopped, but lay still as he recollected his thoughts. He pushed the scarf off his face and tried turning his head and using his eyes. The migraine had gone. Cautiously, he sat up and looked out. Susie was standing by the river, her hair lit up by the afternoon sun. She was playing ducks and drakes with some of the flat stones from the river-bank. As he watched, she was approached by a man from another car. Richard got out, and as he slammed the car door, Susie turned and smiled at him.
â€œI began to feel rather stiff,â€ she explained. â€œHas the migraine gone? Oh, he was only asking me about some pottery or something of that sort nearby.â€
â€œI bet.â€ Richard held out his arms. â€œCanâ€™t let you out alone, can I?
Susie looked at him closely. â€œYou donâ€™t look too grand yet.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be all right, but if you wouldnâ€™t mind doing the last bit? Itâ€™s not far, and Iâ€™ll direct you. By the way, we are an English couple called Robinson. I am Ken, you are Julie, and we come from Wheathampstead. Itâ€™s in Hertfordshire.â€
Altbrucke was a pleasantly situated little town. It had a castle on a spur of rock standing out above the river, and red-roofed houses clustered about it. The hills around were wooded, and the old town was full of walled orchards and little gardens.
The hotel was an eighteenth-century inn, the courtyard lined with creeper, just beginning to redden. The proprietors were friendly, simple people who were concerned that Richard was not well. He said apologetically that he would like to go to bed at once, but would they please see that Susie had something to eat, as she had driven a long way. He added that she knew little German, for which Susie was grateful. In fact she had a good theoretical knowledge, but the less she had to talk the better, and she realised that this was what Richard had in mind.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, darling,â€ he said to her at the foot of the stairs. â€œYou go with Frau Kessler and have your dinner, and Iâ€™ll see you later.â€ A light kiss, and he was off up the stairs. Frau Kessler, smiling maternally, showed her to a little table by the window in the dining-room.
Susie sat and watched the passing traffic as she ate. Across the road, the river alongside, and she had a good view of the castle. She wondered how Richard was â€“ he seemed to have got over the migraine, but perhaps it had left him very tired. Later, she watched the television for a while. There was news of a bad accident in London, and she looked at the pictures of the familiar streets as from a world outside.
At eleven oâ€™clock, everyone was going to bed, so she got up and went upstairs. Suppose the door was locked? She turned the handle quietly. The wrong room? No, she could see the new suitcases in the moonlight â€“ the curtains had not been drawn over the open window. Richardâ€™s breathing rose and fell regularly.
Well, she had not much choice at this stage. Not even a couch to curl up on. Still in the semi-dark, she found her way to the bathroom with her small suitcase, changed into her new nightdress and got ready as quietly as possible. In the dark, certainly. Richard was up to something he hadnâ€™t told her about. How much of a catâ€™s-paw was she?
She crossed the moonlit room and knelt to say her prayers before slipping into bed. It did cross her mind that it might not be entirely appropriate in the circumstances, but she needed all the help she could get.
Suddenly, in the night, she was awake. A small sound had disturbed her, but now there was silence. Silence â€“ no breathing. She put out a hand, and found the place warm but empty.
She sat up. Still silence. The bathroom door was ajar, but there was no-one in there. She slipped out of bed and stood listening. The long windows were shut now, and she wondered whether it had been the closing of the catch that had woken her. She opened them, and looked out into the warm night. The moon was setting behind the trees, but still some gleams came from the river, where the water rushed over the weir near the railway bridge. The headlamps of a solitary car came winding down the hillside long before it passed on down the road.
In the distance, a rumbling grew to a steady roar. The express was coming out of the tunnel and across the bridge. As it passed on down the line, Susie was shivering. She closed the window and ran back to bed, where she hid her face in the pillow. Time passed, and she grew quiet again, waiting for a sound.
At last it came. The window opened and closed. A dark figure slipped into the bathroom The shower was turned on for a time, and then Richard came out, rubbing himself with a towel, and went to the window. He stood in the shadow of the curtain, but it was as though Susie saw him clearly. For the moment, he was not pretending to be anything but himself.
He stood there silently while Susie watched. They both waited. A low noise started and grew till the air was full of it. Richard had tensed. Susie flung back the bedclothes and ran over to him. He put both arms round her, holding her tight, and then opened the window again.
â€œWhat is it, Richard?â€
The sound came again, and again. Stone collapsing, water rushing. Lights sprang up in windows, Richard drew a deep breath and relaxed. He turned back to her. â€œIâ€™ve blown up the railway bridge,â€ he said, and kissed her.
The next morning she was woken by being kissed gently on her eyelids. â€œWake up, Susie,â€ Richard pleaded. â€œThereâ€™s so much I want to talk to you about.â€
â€œMm?" Susie didnâ€™t want to think. â€œTalk?â€
â€œOther things too. I want you to drive out with me, as soon as you can get ready. And we need some breakfast first.â€
â€œOh, dear, Iâ€™m in a bit of a mess.â€
â€œMy fault entirely. Iâ€™ll carry you to the shower. Put your arms round my neck.â€
â€œThanks...You can put me down now.â€
Susie showered, feeling she did not quite belong to herself. â€œWake up, Susieâ€ she had been told all her life. â€œGoing through life in a dream â€“ where will it get you?â€ Could have been worse, she thought. At least it was Richard, and not one of the others. Then she remembered the bridge.
She turned off the shower and dried herself. Then she realized her clothes were in the bedroom, and she had just washed her nightdress.
â€œRichard,â€ she said.
â€œSusie, my love?â€
â€œCould you bring me my dressing-gown?â€
â€œYou canâ€™t be shy with me now!â€
â€œWell, I am. Donâ€™t rush me, Richard. Please could you?â€
â€œAll right, love. Here it is.â€ He was laughing quietly.
Susie put on her new dressing-gown and came into the bedroom.
â€œThank you....You always look different, Richard, only â€“â€
â€œNot to you, love. Youâ€™d always know me, wouldnâ€™t you?â€
â€œPerhaps, yes. Yes, Iâ€™d know you now.â€
He pulled her down beside him. â€œBreakfast?â€ Susie suggested.
â€œI suppose so. Iâ€™d better give you a bit more time to recover, maybe. Did I hurt you, love?â€
â€œNot much. It just feels a bit odd.â€
â€œDear Susie, Iâ€™m sorry.â€
She put up a hand and rubbed his cheek.
â€œWe must get dressed and out early. Iâ€™ll tell you about it all later. Look, love, do you mind taking this tasteful floral shopper down with you? It can go in the car. I warn you, itâ€™s got incriminating evidence inside.â€
â€œJust clothes I have to dispose of. Iâ€™ve washed them, thatâ€™s why the bagâ€™s heavy. I donâ€™t want to leave it in the bedroom.â€
â€œAll right. But youâ€™ll tell me all about it?â€
â€œI will, when weâ€™re out.â€
There was nobody much about downstairs. A girl made them coffee and brought rolls, ham and cheese. As they were finishing, Susie remembered.
â€œRichard, the sheets â€“ we ought to wash them.â€
â€œIâ€™ll have a little chat with Frau Kessler. I think sheâ€™ll understand.â€
â€œOh, gosh. Iâ€™m going out before you do.â€
â€œAll right. Here are the car keys.â€
Outside, the town looked busy. But there were no trains. Susie walked along to where crowds of people were gathered, all staring at the remains of the bridge. The road bridge had been damaged too, and water swirled everywhere. She went back to the hotel, where Richard was waiting.
â€œFrau Kesslerâ€™s quite happy â€“ what is it, Susie? I see. If the road bridge is closed, weâ€™ll have to go another way. Get in now, weâ€™ve work to do.â€
They drove out ten, fifteen miles on country roads till they came to an evident picnic spot. It was not as immaculate as Susie had believed German beauty-spots were, and there was assorted elderly rubbish sprinkled around. They were alone there, and Richard took out of the shopper a plastic bag containing a decrepit pair of trainers. They looked as if they had been scrubbed, though stains remained. Richard put his fingers into a hole in one of them and ripped it, so that the upper was nearly off. Then he got a lump of earth and grass, and rubbed it on both. Finally, he disposed of them into a culvert.
â€œNow we need a garage, so we had better get back to the main road.â€
After getting petrol, Richard dropped a torn, damp tee-shirt into a rubbish bin.
â€œWhat else is there?â€ asked Susie.
â€œJust jeans. No, no socks, no underpants. Next stop Waldberg, I think. You can get something for a picnic lunch, and I shall visit a launderette.â€
When they had parked the car, he took off his jacket and put on a nondescript anorak and slightly tinted glasses. â€œThirty minutes,â€ he said.
Susie did the shopping and then sat on a public bench to wait. She had put on a serviceable grey cardigan, and her own sun-glasses, though the day was not over-bright. She still got a friendly approach from one man, which she stopped by saying she was waiting for her husband. This worked, and she looked at the rings she was wearing. It was strange, the importance people placed on rings. She reminded herself that she was not really married.
Richard came back laughing. â€œPoor woman, she was so grateful when I helped her with her washing. I donâ€™t think she will even realize sheâ€™s got an extra pair of jeans; she had so many.â€
They drove on. â€œWeâ€™ll go up into the hills for our picnic,â€ said Richard. â€œThereâ€™s a nice place with a waterfall. Not near the trainersâ€™ last resting-place.â€
â€œWere those all the things you wore last night?â€
â€œOf course. Itâ€™s safer to dispose of them separately, at a distance. Iâ€™m afraid I left the shopper in the launderette. I hope you werenâ€™t too attached to it.â€
â€œWhy, exactly, did you blow up the railway bridge?â€
â€œThere was a load of nuclear waste due to come through, though it was being kept quiet.â€
â€œWill people know now?â€
â€œYes, the papers have been told. Not by me â€“ the others will have done that. All we have to do now is to enjoy the rest of the week.â€
â€œHave you got anything else planned?â€
â€œNot for the next few days, no. Weâ€™ll stay around, of course. If we are questioned, you know who we are and what we are doing. Donâ€™t try to say more than you need. Just be the blushing bride. That reminds me â€“ hereâ€™s the turning.â€
There was a mountain lawn above the waterfall, where a few rowan and birch trees grew. Lower down a couple of families played and paddled, but up here there was solitude. Susie produced the picnic lunch, and they ate it slowly.
â€œWhat did you do with the plastic bags?â€ Susie asked.
â€œIncinerated them in the gentsâ€™. They shrivel up with a match, and then they flush down. â€œHe caught her eye and grinned. â€œYouâ€™re good at this, Susie. Attention to detail is important.â€
â€œYou like doing this, donâ€™t you?â€
â€œYes. No. Not always.â€
â€œWill you go on doing it?â€
â€œTill I get caught. Do you think I ought to stop, Susie?â€
â€œNot if you feel you ought to go on. But things change, nothing stays exactly the same. You might perhaps think of other ways of influencing people.â€
â€œGoing into politics? Donâ€™t quite see it.â€
â€œWhat is it you really want to do, I mean as an overall sort of goal?â€
â€œGood question. I sometimes ask myself that.â€ Richard lay back and chewed a grass stalk. â€œI started because I couldnâ€™t stand the smugness of governments and authority generally. They all seemed to me to want a kick up the backside.â€
â€œYou have to have some sort of social structure and law to protect people.â€
â€œDoes it, though? Have you seen it? Look, Susie, you know anyone in authority can get away with murder, literally. I do know. One of my recent forebears used to whip his peasants to death, and died in his bed at the age of ninety. And as for the last world war....â€
â€œI donâ€™t believe anyone would be able to do things like that now. Of course wicked people do get away with things, but wouldnâ€™t it be better to use the legal system against them? Speaking as one whose ancestors were peasants, bar one.â€
â€œTell me about the one. The wicked squire?â€
â€œCertainly not. My family has always been poor but respectable. No, she was a fairy.â€
â€œTell me more!â€
â€œMy grandmother was said to be a descendant of one of the Men of Myddfai, in Wales, and they were supposed to be the descendants of the Lady of Llyn-y-Fan. She was a water fairy who came out of the Great Van Lake and fell in love with a local farmer. When they got married, she said she would stay with him until he struck her three times. Off course he didnâ€™t mean to, but in the end he did, and she had to go back to the Lake. But she used to come out to see the children, and she told them fairy secrets and they became famous as doctors, well, healers.â€
â€œSounds to me like a medieval advertising campaign. Iâ€™d say your Men were commercially aware types who wanted a bit of status.â€
â€œPerhaps. Oh, I expect so, but all the same.â€
â€œIâ€™ll believe it. Is that a raindrop?â€ A little wind got up in the rowan trees, and sky clouded. Presently the rain came in big drops.
â€œDamn. Susie, are you all right?â€
â€œI canâ€™t run. You go on.â€
â€œGive me that bag. Iâ€™ll get your anorak.â€
He was off, bounding down the steep path, as the thunder rolled and lightning flashed round the hill-tops. Susie made her way down slowly, as the rain hurtled down, soaking the fluttering white dress. When Richard returned, he saw her as a pale glistening figure, looking up at the birches in a brief shaft of watery sunlight.
â€œCome on, youâ€™ll catch your death,â€ he said, wrapping her in the anorak. Then he picked her up, threw her half over his shoulder and started down again.
At the hotel, he insisted she should have a hot shower and get into bed while he went out for an evening paper. Susie, warm and comfortable, stretched out a hand and put on the radio. There was some jolly music and then the news.
â€œFollowing the explosions this morning in Altbrucke, the old man who was injured has died in the something-or-other hospital.â€
Susie went cold. The announcer continued to burble, and she switched him off. If she had heard correctly, the explosives had blown up an old man, who must have suffered for hours, perhaps, and then died. Of course Richard hadnâ€™t intended that, but it had happened.
Richard came in with a couple of papers. â€œWhatâ€™s the matter?â€ He asked.
â€œThe old man â€“ the radio said something about an old man whoâ€™s died.â€
â€œIâ€™m afraid so. Heâ€™s dead, is he? Poor bastard, he must have been sleeping rough.â€
They read the account in the paper. Walther Winkle, aged 69, no fixed address but well-known to local people, had had a leg blown off, but had not been found for some time.â€
â€œAll that time he was lying there, and we.....â€
â€œIt happens all the time, love. Nobody would ever be happy if they stopped to think of all the people who are in pain or dying at any given moment.â€
â€œI suppose not, but I wish it hadnâ€™t happened.â€
â€œSo do I. Susie, we all have to die, more or less painfully. When my turn comes, Iâ€™ll accept it, and you must too. Someone was alive, and now heâ€™s dead. There arenâ€™t any exceptions. Susie love, donâ€™t cry, donâ€™t.â€
He put his arms round her so that her sobs shook him too. â€œSusie, Susie, I canâ€™t bear you to be like this.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€ Susie gradually controlled herself. â€œI didnâ€™t mean to say you didnâ€™t care.â€
â€œAll the same, I was responsible. Do you want me to give myself up?â€
â€œNo, of course not. Iâ€™m just sorry about it.â€
â€œSo what are we going to do?â€
â€œCould you try harder to see that no-one gets hurt?â€
â€œIâ€™ll try, love.â€
He drew his fingers through her hair. â€œHave another tissue.â€
â€œRichard, all this hotel and so on. Who is paying for it?â€
â€œNobody who canâ€™t afford it. All right, itâ€™s the proceeds of criminal activity. A lot of it came from the RBZ robbery, which I wasnâ€™t involved in. Even you canâ€™t worry about an international group of crooks like that. The car actually is on loan from a friendly garage. It goes back next week, and then weâ€™re on to old clothes and porridge. We donâ€™t live in luxury, Susie.â€
So they spent the next few days quietly in the hills and woods, coming back to the hotel each evening. On their last morning, Susie went out on to the balcony. She had tended to avoid it, because it looked out over the ruins of the bridge, but now she gazed all round, trying to commit the scene to memory. She wanted to remember it as it was, not as worse or better.
Richard came out to her. â€œAre you happy, love?â€
She sighed. â€œWell, yes. And you?â€
â€œSusie, Iâ€™m so happy Iâ€™m frightened.â€ He looked out over the river. â€œIt seems wrong â€“ oh, I know what I told you, but Iâ€™ve always felt it wasnâ€™t part of my job to indulge in being happy myself. Well, itâ€™s made me happy when Iâ€™ve done something I thought useful, but I never thought I could feel like this. Whatâ€™s going to happen to us, Susie?â€
â€œIsnâ€™t it a sort of basic human, well, privilege, to love someone?â€
â€œFor everyone except me, I thought. Something must happen. But I do love you, Susie.â€
They went downstairs, Susie in her blue suit and sailor hat. Frau Kessler came out to say good-bye to them, and kissed Susie. She had tears in her eyes as she wished them happiness, long life and good fortune.
So they drove off, and that was the end of the beginning.
â€œWeâ€™re going to Munich, for a bit, at least. The house in Amsterdam has had to close, but this will be more central anyway. The German police are not very tolerant, so we will have to keep a low profile. No wild parties. On the other hand, there are lots of student types around, so it should be easier to melt into the background than in some places.
â€œWho will be living there?â€
â€œBesides us, Marta of course, Rory, I suppose, Jean-Louis for a while, Anna and her child, possibly a couple of Italians. And anyone else who turns up and wants to muck in, junkies apart. I canâ€™t cope with them as well, and they have a nasty habit of dying on you. Iâ€™m handing over the car at a spot just off the autobahn. Rory should be there with the van. If heâ€™s drunk, J-L will come.â€
After a while Susie asked â€œWhatâ€™s the next operation?â€
â€œSeveral possibilities. We might do something in Stuttgart, or perhaps Salzburg, especially if we can find anything to show up authority as ridiculous and make people laugh....Youâ€™re quite right, there wasnâ€™t much to laugh at in Altbrucke.â€
* * *
Dear Mum and Dad,
I am going to take a year off and try to get a better grip of conversational German. I am very bad at it, I realise, but it is beginning to improve and I should like to be really fluent in it. I have written to the University.
I havenâ€™t a proper address at the moment, so you had better write to me at the General Post Office in Munich. I am going to try to get a job in Munich if I can. At the moment, I am staying with friends.
Please donâ€™t worry about me. I am very well and perfectly all right.
* * *
The house was in a quiet street, which was largely offices. There was a way into the yard for the van, which was just as well. Susie had put her hat into a suitcase, but had not had time to change. Richard was talking urgently to Rory and another man who had come out of the house. He turned to her.
â€œSusie, Iâ€™m sorry but Iâ€™ll have to rush off for a couple of hours. The girls will look after you.â€ He gave her a hug and the three went off. Susie picked up her suitcases and went inside, feeling like the new girl at St Clareâ€™s.
Marta was inside, scrubbing a floor. She looked at Susie in her blue velvet and sighed.
â€œRichard wants you to have a room up on the second, youâ€™d call it the first floor. It looks over the back. Shall I come up with you?â€
â€œNo, I expect I can manage, thanks.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know what itâ€™s like.â€ Marta seemed to be scowling, but it might have been her natural expression.
Susie went up the wide wooden stairs, nice but battered. She found a door with â€˜Richardâ€™ pinned on it on a piece of torn paper.
Susie was not house-proud. However. The extent of the dust and dirt was such that she stopped short. A bedstead with some things on it had been pushed into the room recently, leaving deep tracks. Considered as a human habitation, the room was awesomely negative. Susie put down her cases outside the door, where it was merely dirty, and went downstairs again.
â€œCould I have a broom and dustpan?â€ she asked Marta in careful German.
Marta got up silently and pointed out the best of a pile behind the kitchen door. She also handed Susie a plastic sack. â€œYou had better change your clothes,â€ she said.
â€œYes.â€ Susie smiled at her.
â€œThere will be some hot water soonâ€
â€œGood. Auf wiedersehenâ€.
Cleaning up was quite a satisfactory job. Susie changed into her bikini and got fairly black all over.
The bed was the worst bit. The pillows were so nasty that she threw them out of the window into the yard. The blankets she tied into a bundle. The mattress was a good deal worse than many decorating woodland scenes, so that went out of the window too. Susie reckoned it would be more convenient for the pigeons that seemed to be keen on it.
Having shifted the loose dirt, she went to look for a bucket. Marta provided her with the necessary materials and said that the water in the bathroom would be hot by now. Susie looked sympathetically at her, as she had evidently had a rough time with the kitchen and ground floor. Rory had come in, and was sitting at the kitchen table looking surprised, but she just nodded at him.
At last the bedroom and bathroom were scrubbed and mopped, and she had managed to clean herself up as well. She put on her old jeans and sweater, took the rest of the money Richard had given her in Hamburg, and carried the rolled-up blankets downstairs.
â€œWhereâ€™s the nearest launderette?â€ she asked. Rory offered to show her, so off they went. At the end of the street, it occurred to him to offer to carry the bundle. However, after a while it became clear that he had little idea and wanted to go for a drink, so Susie abandoned him and set herself to question people till she found somewhere.
Having got the covers into the machine, she went out to find some sheets and pillows. Then she bought some disinfectant, bath cleaner and furniture polish before collecting her load, which she had tumble-dried. She returned wearily to the house, where Richard and the other man had now returned, and seemed to be asking about supper.
â€œSusieâ€, said Richard, brightening, â€œYou couldnâ€™t manage to stir up a little something, could you? Martaâ€™s on strike.â€
â€œNo,â€ said Susie. â€œNot if it was ever so, â€œAnd Iâ€™ve only cleaned up one room and the bathroom. I should think Marta must be flat out after tackling all this lot and getting the boiler to work. Why donâ€™t the rest of you get on with something, even baked beans or spaghetti? But you come upstairs with me first, Richard.â€
They went up to the room, and Susie looked proudly round at the damp floor-boards and decrepit bedstead.
â€œItâ€™s clean, anyway,â€ she said. â€œLook, I donâ€™t want to insult anybody, but the things on that bed were a public health risk, so I threw them out into the yard.â€
â€œI did offer you the simple life,â€ said Richard, gazing round with dismay. â€œI didnâ€™t mean this.â€
â€œThe blanket-things are clean now, in that plastic bag. We can put them out to dry off.â€
The covers were shabby, even ragged, but clean and now almost dry. Susie produced the sheets and pillows, and looked hopefully at Richard. â€œI think we can manage now,â€ she said.
â€œSusie, youâ€™re wonderful. But weâ€™ll have to do something about this. I believe there were down-and-outs using the place before.â€
â€œIt could do with some real strong-arm stuff if the rest of it is the same.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll all have a go at it tomorrow. By the way, weâ€™ve brought back the Italians I told you about. Iâ€™ll go and see if they can handle some spaghetti.â€
So the next morning they all worked hard, more or less, getting rid of the worst dirt. Anna, whom Susie had not met before, came out of her room on the ground floor and looked coldly at her. Anna was a striking-looking dark girl who spoke roughly to her small child, whom she pushed back into her room before closing the door on the rest of them.
The two Italians, Tommaso and Bruno, were having a great time with a bucket of water. Jean-Louis on the other hand was spending his time polishing the banisters very carefully, and the two parties came into some conflict. Richard appeared, â€œMopsâ€, he said. â€œYou will both mop that up thoroughly. Dry it before the whole place floats off.â€ He then went on in Italian, and the two began to clear up. â€œWait till the circus is finished, J.L. Come up with me and Iâ€™ll show you something.â€ he said. They went into a large room on the first floor, overlooking the street. There was carving everywhere, around the fireplace, the windows and the cupboards. Susie had swept it and started to do a hasty spray-and-rub job on the panelling. J-L, a French student, looked round and nodded.
â€œI shall do the cheminee, you permit?â€
â€œIâ€™ll go and see if Marta wants help with the lunch,â€ said Susie. â€œShe has to keep stopping to sort out those two on the stairs. You can go on doing this. Itâ€™s quite easy.â€
For lunch they had spaghetti again, with cheese and tomatoes. That was all, but there was plenty, and they were hungry. As they were getting through the later helpings, Richard said, â€œNow weâ€™re getting settled in, thereâ€™s the big room upstairs we can use as a general meeting-place. J-L is doing a splendid job on the chimney-piece. Weâ€™ve all got rooms where we want them: Marta and Anna are on the ground floor, with a spare room for visitors. Susie and I are on the floor above, and the rest of you above that. The attics weâ€™ll leave for the moment. Is that OK with everyone?â€
Anna did not seem very pleased. â€œIt is not pleasant to be so near the street,â€ she said.
â€œYou did say you wanted it â€“ well, where would you rather be?â€ Richard answered.
Anna shrugged her shoulders but said nothing.
â€œWell, if you decide youâ€™d like to move, let us know and weâ€™ll see what we can do.â€
He spoke gently to Anna, who seemed to Susie to be an unmitigated nuisance. Perhaps because of the little girl, about two or three years old, who was wandering round nibbling bits of food as they took her fancy.
â€œNow,â€ he went on, â€œWe have to think. What next?â€
â€œSomething to make people laugh,â€ said J-L. â€œLaughter is a powerful weapon.â€
â€œIt is. What have you in mind?â€
J-L expounded a complicated scheme in French, with reference to Geneva.
â€œSwitzerlandâ€™s a tough nut,â€ observed Richard. â€œIf you can make the Swiss laugh, youâ€™re a genius.â€
â€œThere are others there too,â€ argued J-L.
â€œWe might do it if you can provide us with solid info about whoâ€™s doing what, and where. Something like this has to be planned pretty carefully. If it goes wrong, it will only come back at us. Youâ€™ll have to go there and check your data, J-L. Anything else?â€
â€œIâ€™d like to do something at Freiburg,â€ said Anna. â€œTheyâ€™re a lot of pompous prigs.â€
â€œTrue. But it comes back again to local knowledge. Can you get up-to-date info, Anna?â€
â€œI know what it was like.â€
â€œWell, if you could make a note of what might be helpful, we could get someone to check it. Anything else?â€
â€œBombs,â€ said Rory. The Italians grinned. â€œLovely big bang. Just shove a few around the place.â€
â€œNot in Munich,â€ said Richard. â€œNot till weâ€™re out of it. No point in getting the local police too active too soon.â€
Tommaso suggested blocking the Alpine tunnels.
â€œThat would be effective if we could do it, but what are we trying to prove there?â€
â€œCapitalist swine?â€ suggested Bruno.
â€œUp to a point, but ordinary people use them too. Are we against the tunnels? I donâ€™t think so. All the same, weâ€™ll keep it in mind in case something happens to make it an appropriate job. Anything else? Amsterdam?â€
â€œWe did leave a parting gift for the police. And yes, we might do something at Hilversum, but again we need inside knowledge. Do they take on casual staff?â€
The little girl, Rosa, had got restless and was wandering about. Susie followed her as she went out to the yard, and started to arrange some pots of dead plants. She was talking busily to herself in German, and Susie listened with interest. The pots were apparently not well-behaved, and got smacked a good deal.
Richard appeared and said he was taking the van out for an hour or so, and perhaps she could practise her German on Marta. Susie agreed, and went to help with the washing-up. Anna took Rosa to their room. Presently, her voice was raised, and then Rosa started to scream. After a while, Marta went and shut the kitchen door.
â€œWe can do nothing,â€ she said. â€œDonâ€™t look so distressed, Susie. All little children cry. Anna is not patient, but it will pass. You had better not try to help.â€
Richard came back with a van-load of unfashionable easy chairs and a clean mattress. Rory then took the van out, and his haul included a crate of beer and a television set.
â€œNow weâ€™re all set for a jolly evening,â€ said Richard. â€œYou will please not tire yourself out tonight, Susie. Last night you were asleep before I shut the door.â€
â€œIâ€™m not really used to hard work,â€ Susie admitted.
â€œWhich of us is, on todayâ€™s showing? Only Marta, and sheâ€™s a heroine or a masochist.â€
â€œAnd what good does that do me?â€ asked Marta. â€œYou and Tommaso can wash up tonight. Weâ€™ll need more wood in the morning, by the way.â€
Marta did not show her feelings much. Anna, on the other hand, made hers very clear. Susie was sorry for her while unable to like her. She suspected that the dreadful bedding had been put in the bedroom for her benefit and not by Marta.
So they settled in, and developed a kind of routine. Marta got up early to write her book. Anna got up late, except when Rosa cried a lot. After a while, when Rosa started to cry, Marta began to open Annaâ€™s door so that Rosa could come into the kitchen. Susie would get up and go down when she heard her too, and Richard generally followed, so they would all have breakfast together. Then Marta would go back to her book, and Richard to his papers, or he might go out. Susie would clear up and get Rosa dressed, if her clothes were available. She was rather proud of getting her toilet-trained, which made life pleasanter for everyone.
In all this Marta was understood to be publicly responsible. They were all careful of Annaâ€™s jealous feelings, though Marta could be firm with her, if necessary. Anna was accepted as a difficult person, but one of the family. Nobody bothered about Susieâ€™s feelings, but then Susie had Richard. She also had Rosaâ€™s affection, though she tried not to let Anna see this.
By October, Susieâ€™s spoken German had improved considerably, and she decided to look for some work. As it turned out, German was not actually necessary, since the job consisted of collecting two small American girls from school in mid-afternoon, and looking after them till their bed-time. The parents were doing medical research, and although they had a housekeeper, they were worried about the childrenâ€™s English.
Susie turned up for the interview in her blue suit, having nothing much between that and her jeans. As her hair had grown rather long, she tied it back. Mrs Barnes, a tough professional lady in her thirties, explained that she and her husband had a heavy work assignment which did not allow them much time with the children, and they had recently been alarmed to find that the younger one did not seem to understand English very well. Her husband, a podgy man sitting at a desk looking through papers as they talked, nodded silently.
â€œBut will you mind doing all the jobs that come with little children?â€ asked Mrs Barnes, looking at Susieâ€™s outfit. â€œCleaning them up, bathing them, all that?â€
â€œI donâ€™t mind that. Itâ€™s got to be done. Would you mind if I wore jeans?â€
â€œI should say that would be very sensible. Now suppose we go upstairs and meet Kate and Emily? You donâ€™t have to come, darling.â€ Mr Barnes grunted. â€œTell me, Susie, have you had much to do with little children? It can be quite a shock to some girls. Boys too, of course.â€
â€œOne of my sisters has two small ones. Iâ€™ve often helped with them, and I used to have a Sunday school class for beginners.â€
â€œThat sounds very promising. Well. Here we are. The children have their own play-room. Of course they donâ€™t stop in there all the time, but the idea is that anything messy is kept in there. It doesnâ€™t always work that way, but we try,â€
In the play-room, a middle-aged woman sat at a table polishing silver, while two little girls were using books to construct a village on the floor.
â€œFrau Schiffen looks after us,â€ said Mrs Barnes in German. â€œThis is Miss Susie Jones, Frau Schiffen. Katie and Emily, come and say hallo to Susie.â€
Katie was a small, fragile-looking six-year-old, and Emily, who took after her father, was nearly as big. Katie came and smiled charmingly at Susie, while Emily appeared to be reserving her position.
â€œI would like them to be socially adept, but itâ€™s not easy,â€ said Mrs Barnes. â€œEmily especially. She can be very, very stubborn.â€
â€œSome people have to take their time,â€ said Susie. â€œMaybe sheâ€™s had a lot of new people lately?â€
â€œWell, she has, too. It doesnâ€™t seem to worry Katie, but then sheâ€™s a different personality.â€
Katie smiled winningly and stroked Susieâ€™s skirt. â€œI like your pretty dress,â€ she said in German.
â€œYou see, they even talk to each other in German,â€ said their mother. â€œOf course, weâ€™re very glad theyâ€™ve learned it, but we donâ€™t want to take two non-English speakers back to the States next summer. That could be a very harsh experience. Katie, suppose you tell Susie what youâ€™ve been doing in school?â€
Katie hesitated, then said in German, â€œWe read our books, and write . . .â€
â€œBut in English, Katie!â€
â€œIt must be difficult when the school uses German for all the lessons,â€ said Susie. â€œHave you got any English books, Katie?â€
â€œYes,â€ said Katie, furrowing her brow.
â€œOf course you have, darling. Whereâ€™s your lovely birthday gift from Granma? Why, youâ€™ve got it down there on the floor; pick it up quickly, now.â€
As it was serving as a load-bearing wall, this was unfortunate, and Emily began to howl.
â€œBut, darling, itâ€™s your lovely â€˜Little Womenâ€™. Granma would be sad if you got it all messed, wouldnâ€™t she?â€
Emily howled louder.
â€œMaybe there are some other books they could use for building houses?â€ Suggested Susie. â€œYou know, out-of-date reference books, that sort of; thing?â€
â€œI know just the thing,â€ said Mrs Barnes. â€œFor Peteâ€™s sake, Emmy! Katie and Susie, come with me . . . There, now, Iâ€™ve been wanting to shift them, but it seemed a shame to throw them out. They are concerned with the proceedings of a learned society which folded a good long time ago, and we inherited them with this book-case. They look pretty tough, donâ€™t they?â€
â€œMore ways than one,â€ agreed Susie.
Mrs Barnes thought this was funny, and laughed a lot as she mopped Emilyâ€™s face. The children settled down to rebuild their town.
â€œNow, Susie, I donâ€™t suppose you have any references with you. If you can; give us the names of say, your old school teacher and somebody like your minister or vicar, I could ring them. If you donâ€™t know their numbers, suppose you give me your motherâ€™s number, and she can tell me. How about that?â€
As it turned out, it was her father who answered Mrs Barnes when she rang, after Susie was gone. He gave her the information she wanted, but also made some discreet enquiries.
â€œSo sheâ€™s going to do this part-time? Not living with you, I gather... She didnâ€™t say much about where she is, I suppose? Other young people. Yes, well, we had an idea there was a young man, but she hasnâ€™t actually mentioned â€¦ Well, if you would give us a ring if anything seems to be going wrong, weâ€™d be most grateful. Perhaps youâ€™d let us have your number, too.â€
Susie walked back. It was only about a mile, and the day was warm and glowing. She picked up a crimson leaf of creeper â€“ it had been green when they were at Altbrucke. There was the pale leaf of a lime, and a speckled green and yellow one from a plane tree. A yellow chestnut flyer reminded her of school. Two years ago she had been starting her last year there... Well, now she was back with children. The future was something she did not want to contemplate.
Back at the house there was a good deal of activity. A publicity campaign was planned for the following night in Lindenberg, a small town not far away. In the late afternoon they would drive there together, to see it by daylight, and later on they would be dropped at suitable points around the town, each with a poster or two. After putting them up, they would go to an arranged point where the van would collect them.
The town council, Richard explained, was being pushed by a large industrial group into allowing it to build a potentially dangerous chemical plant in one of the poorer suburbs. It was all being rushed through with as little discussion as possible.
â€œWe want to make people aware of whatâ€™s going on,â€ Richard said. The posters are to draw peopleâ€™s attention on Monday morning on their way to work. Another group is handing leaflets during the day, but weâ€™re keeping the two ops separate, so that the other lot can act publicly and canâ€™t be got at for damage to public buildings.â€
â€œOnly the cost of having the posters taken down.â€
â€œThatâ€™s all right. What do you want me to do?â€ Susie asked.â€™
â€œIf you and Rory stick to the van, and drive us all round, you can have a couple of quickies to put up â€“ some of the others will take a while â€“ and then pick us all up again. If youâ€™re questioned, youâ€™re a loving couple, right?â€
â€œIf you say so.â€
â€œRight, then. I want you all to memorise the dropping and picking-up points in relation to your targets. You should all have a reliable watch and a torch. Weâ€™ll have a check tomorrow after lunch. If you havenâ€™t got one, Anna, you had better wander down to the shops now. Only stick to the cheaper lines if you donâ€™t want to be picked up.â€
He handed out sheets of instructions, with diagrams and sketches, to everybody, and went through them with each person. Susie and Rory had the complete itinerary, with a map of the town.
Rory can drive, if heâ€™s in a fit state, and you will give him the instructions. The posters youâ€™ve got arenâ€™t terribly important, so if youâ€™re running late for any reason you can ditch them.â€
â€œWhat sort of paste or glue is it?â€
â€œMostly a waterproof paper paste. Some bits weâ€™ve got on a peel-off backing.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll need some clean-up stuff in the van.â€
â€œTrue. Some thermoses of coffee might come in handy. Oh, and there are brushes. Have we got enough, Marta?â€
â€œI had to buy two extra.â€
â€œYou bought?â€ said Tommaso incredulously.
â€œWell, itâ€™s a small shop, and I saved a bus-fare,â€ Marta said apologetically.
Richard was happy, and not much worried about the project. At worst, he pointed out to Susie later, there would be publicity of one sort or another.
â€œYou will have to keep an eye on Rory,â€ he said. â€œHeâ€™s all right when heâ€™s sober, but if heâ€™s got a bottle in his pocket he may be all over the place. If heâ€™s drunk, youâ€™ll have a bit of a handful, but you should be able to get him to put his head down in the back, and then drive yourself. Heâ€™s gentle enough. If he wanders off, leave him. You must keep to the schedule.â€
On Sunday they had a good meal before setting off. Anna had apparently intended to leave Rosa alone in the house.
â€œShe sleeps well,â€ she said. â€œNo need for anyone to stay.â€
It was not yet five oâ€™clock, and Rosa was playing a wild game with Rory. There was a silence among the others, till Richard said, â€œOh, weâ€™d better take her with us. She can sleep in the back of the van.â€
So Rosa was washed and put into her night-clothes, in which she rolled around the mattresses in the van.
Richard had worked things out carefully, and they rehearsed the whole operation, without posters, in the daylight. It seemed very easy. They drove round once more, largely for Susie and Roryâ€™s benefit, before going out of the town a mile or so to spend the next few hours at a roadside cafe with some of the people who were going to hand out the leaflets on Monday. By and by, Susie, feeling tired, climbed into the van and went to sleep alongside Rosa. Some hours later, Richard was shaking her gently, and she sat up, trying to recall what she was doing.
â€œRoryâ€™s a bit merry, though Iâ€™ve tried to keep him on lager. Annaâ€™s turning awkward...
* * *