I SPY BLETCHLEY PARK: an extract.
Margaret meets Goering
Even among all the other luxury vehicles gracing Hotel Adlon’s car park, the gleaming black Mercedes-Benz cabriolet was still the biggest eye-catcher of all.
“Your transport for the evening, My Lady,” Richard said, sweeping an arm ceremoniously toward the passenger door and then opening it for her.
Margaret nodded appreciatively. “What a magnificent car. Is it really yours?” Whatever she had been expecting, it certainly wasn’t anything as grand as this. She had almost forgotten what it was like to travel in such style.
“It actually belongs to my employer,” he admitted. “Just one of three delivered to him only a few days ago direct from the factory. But he has provided me with use of this one for the evening so that I may convey you to his little gathering in style. He is most keen to ensure your comfort.”
His eyes ran over the elegant black evening dress and pale green silk shawl covering her otherwise bare shoulders. “And may I say how lovely you look, Margaret.”
She smiled in response to the compliment, at the same time noting that he was now wearing formal evening dress. He had told her earlier of the dress code expected and could not help but wonder yet again who their host this evening would turn out to be. Clearly it was someone who enjoyed the whole ‘dressing up’ thing. Richard had described him as his employer, which was another surprise. Up until now she had imagined her old friend to be living off his father’s inheritance. Not that this would last him forever. Certainly not in a city as expensive as Berlin.
“How far are we going?” she asked after they were both settled inside the car.
“Ah, a good question,” he responded. “I would say something close to…” He paused for a moment to stroke his chin, as if pondering the matter. “Six hundred metres perhaps.”
“Six hundred metres!” Margaret could not help but laugh. “You mean to say that this beautiful car has been provided for a journey that we could actually walk in just a few minutes.”
Richard sighed. “I fear that your recent life has made you forget how a lady of your rank deserves to be treated, Margaret. To expect you to walk any distance at all when responding to a formal invitation, especially when you are so splendidly attired, would be an unforgivable insult.”
She laughed again. “I didn’t mean that literally. But a taxi would surely have been sufficient?”
He shook his head. “Most definitely not. Our host would not hear of it.”
They drove south for a short distance and then turned into Leipziger Strasse. To their left, a high wall and thickly foliaged trees completely screened off what lay behind from public view. The car paused briefly at a pair of large metal gates, but these were quickly opened by one of the two armed soldiers on duty there, allowing them to follow a tree-lined driveway all the way to a large, four-storey house. A short flight of marble steps led up to the main entrance, while the leading edge of a square-shaped balcony directly overhead these was supported by a matching pair of circular pillars. Two more soldiers standing rigidly to attention were positioned left and right of the doorway. Between these two, holding himself in a slightly more relaxed manner, was a quite senior looking officer.
He came down the steps to greet them as they stepped out of the car and gave a brisk bow. “Good evening, Lady Margaret. I am Colonel Karl-Heinrich Bodenschatz, and it is my honour to escort you through to this evening’s proceedings.”
After a brief nod of acknowledgement to Richard, he led the way back up the steps and into the house.
Almost at once they were confronted by an imposing and elaborately decorated white alabaster staircase that, to Margaret’s mind, had obviously been designed for no other purpose than to immediately instill a sense of awe in visitors. What’s more, it probably succeeded in a lot of cases, she felt. However, having lived for most of her years daily ascending the infinitely grander and beautifully carved main oak staircase at Hadley House, this white creation made very little impression at all. In fact, by comparing it to what she was familiar with, all this did was acutely remind her of how much she missed living in the grand old house.
Once reaching the first level, they were taken along a hallway where the almost impossibly deep pile of the carpet underfoot muffled even the smallest sound of their advance. Bodenschatz then paused outside a set of double doors. As he opened these, the hum of several simultaneous conversations drifted out.
They moved forward into a large reception room with paintings and tapestries adorning every wall, together with the ubiquitous swastikas and one exceptionally large portrait of Adolph Hitler. Approximately fifty guests were stood about, mainly in small groups. Most of the men were wearing evening dress similar to Richard’s, although a few, like Bodenschatz, were in full military dress uniform. As for the women, all were elegantly attired and dripping in expensive looking jewellery. Extravagant clusters of diamonds and rubies were especially noticeable. Margaret’s hand briefly touched her throat, where just a simple necklace was hanging.
Even amongst all these people, she was able to spot and identify their mystery host in his white, medal bedecked uniform almost at once. Though a little more portly than she had seen in photos, he was still unmistakable. Richard had not been exaggerating; Hermann Goering was one of the most important and influential men in Germany. Probably second only to Hitler himself. In spite of this, on spotting their arrival, he came striding over immediately.
“My dear Lady Margaret, how good of you to join us,” he said in excellent English after Bodenschatz had formally introduced him. “I have been so looking forward to making your acquaintance ever since Richard here told me of his chance encounter with you earlier today.”
She accepted his outstretched hand and allowed him to kiss her lightly on the back of her fingers. “I thank you for your hospitality, Herr Goering. And for the use of your magnificent car.”
By now, Bodenschatz had already summoned a circulating waiter with a raised arm and a sharp click of the fingers. Margaret and Richard were both handed flutes of champagne.
Goering waved a hand across the room. “As you can see, I have a number of civilian guests here this evening. They are mostly leading members of the business community, and as plenipotentiary of the four-year plan to restore Germany’s economy, I must work closely with these people to implement measures that will ensure the plan’s success. Gatherings such as this can play an important part in the process.”
“From what I have seen and heard, you are already enjoying a more than reasonable measure of success,” Margaret told him. “And to have been able to host the Games in such a triumphant way is quite an amazing turnaround given the circumstances.”
Goering did his best to look modest without coming even close to achieving it. “An excellent beginning, that’s true. But still a very long way to go.”
“I would be very interested to know more about this four-year plan of yours if you have the time,” she continued. “Perhaps England could learn something from your methods.”
“For you, Lady Margaret, I will definitely make the time,” he responded. “We can talk as much as you wish a little later on: just the four of us in a private room where there will be no distractions. Until then, unfortunately, I am compelled to attend to some of my other guests.”
He beckoned Bodenschatz in a little closer. “Karl is my adjutant and trusted friend. He will be able to introduce you and Richard to some of the more interesting people here while I am otherwise occupied. Please feel free to mingle as freely as you wish.”
With that, he moved off to initiate a conversation with a middle-aged couple over to their right.
After watching him go, Margaret took a sip of champagne. Something was telling her that this could turn out to be an even more interesting evening than expected.
It was just after eleven o’clock when Bodenschatz showed Margaret and Richard into a small study adjacent to the reception room. Goering followed them in just a couple of minutes later. With all of them settled comfortably in leather armchairs, the talking began.
For more than half an hour Goering spoke of nothing but his ambitions to make Germany the most powerful economy in Europe. He seemed to be very confident of success and took the trouble to answer all of Margaret’s questions in a fair amount of detail. He even complimented her on her understanding of the subject.
Gradually though, the roles were reversed and Margaret found herself becoming the one who was answering questions. First of all it was just her general impressions of the new Germany that she was asked about. Then things became rather more personal. Did she have any particularly strong political beliefs of her own? How did she think Germany’s efforts to recover its economy compared with what the British government was doing? Could those in Westminster be doing more to help their own people through the current hard times?
It was when this final question was posed that her burning resentment against the British political establishment, never too far from the surface, really began to show through.
“I understand exactly how you feel,” Goering told her.
“No you couldn’t,” she snapped back, for a moment completely forgetting social niceties.
He merely smiled. “Please allow me to be honest with you. I know all about your father’s outspoken anti-communist views, and how the Ramsay MacDonald government sought to ruin him because of it.”
A flash of anger ran through Margaret. She glared across at Richard, suddenly aware that neither he nor Bodenschatz had uttered hardly a word since entering the room. “You spoke of my family’s private business,” she accused.
He shook his head, a hurt expression forming. “No. Margaret. I wouldn’t do that.”
“Then how would Herr Goering know of it?”
“Your good friend is entirely innocent, Lady Margaret,” Goering cut in. “All he did was confirm what I already knew. Under pressure I might add.”
“So who did tell you?” she pressed. “It was hardly a topic that would have featured in any of your German newspapers.”
“That’s true. But as you will be aware, a considerable number of the British aristocracy possess German origins, plus there are many more who simply share your father’s distaste for communism and have a strong liking for the way we are managing our recovery here. People such as two of the Mitford sisters, both of whom are still here in Berlin after attending the Games as guests of the Fuhrer. The possibilities for casual talk are numerous.”
“Even so, why would anyone consider my father’s misfortunes worth passing on to you?”
“Perhaps because I am renowned as a man who abhors injustice. A righter of wrongs is how I like to see myself.”
Margaret could not prevent an ironic laugh from slipping out. “Are you suggesting that you could somehow bend the British establishment to your will and correct the situation in my father’s favour? Knowing them the way I do, I doubt that very much.”
He merely smiled. “There are things currently happening at a very high level that you are entirely unaware of, Lady Margaret. Things which I’m sure you will understand I am not at liberty to discuss in detail at present. All I will say is this: You may be very surprised indeed what will become possible for both you and your father in the not too distant future.”
For a moment, she was totally confused. The implied promise was clearly there, and no matter how hard she looked, she could see not a trace of deviousness in his expression. Nor hear anything but calm conviction in his voice. Yet in spite of this, it was an almost unbelievable claim. What situation could this admittedly extremely powerful and influential man possibly engineer that might restore Hadley House to their keeping? And even if by some miracle he was capable of doing so, what would he want from her in return?
Richard’s words of earlier that day then returned to her. You may find it very much to your personal advantage to speak with him. Was this what he had been referring to?
She turned to face her friend. In return, she received an almost imperceptible nod. Imperceptible, but loaded with significance.
Her mind was now swirling with questions, but before she could give voice to any of them, Goering spoke again.
“I can see that my words have surprised you, Lady Margaret. And as you no doubt will have already suspected, I do have a proposition to put to you. But first, a question. How much do you love your country?”
“I love it very much indeed,” she responded quickly, astonished that he should even be asking her such a thing. “It’s just the people who govern it and the heartless way in which they implement many of their laws that I truly despise. Nothing changes, no matter which party is in power. Given all that they have done to my father, can you really blame me for feeling this way?”
He nodded. “Just as I thought. A true patriot. Like myself, of course.”
“Please don’t patronize me, Herr Goering.” She could not keep a sharp edge from her tone.
“My dear Lady Margaret, that was not my intention at all. Please accept my apologies. I merely wished to establish exactly where your loyalties lie before saying anything further.”
“Well now you have.” He was beginning to annoy her, but the carrot had been dangled and she was compelled to hear him out.
Goering fiddled with the swastika hanging from the left breast of his tunic for a couple of seconds before continuing. “The Fuhrer not only wishes to improve life for the people of Germany,” he began cautiously, as if looking for a reaction from her. “He also has plans to do the same for a significant number of other European countries. A strong hand is needed if Europe is to be cleansed of its many ills, and a lot of people – myself included – feel that, although the ultimate aim is to bring nations together as one in harmony, the vigorous but necessary methods we intend using to achieve this will eventually cause considerable conflict between our two governments.”
He looked her directly in the eye before adding: “You have told me yourself how those in Westminster care only about themselves. That is so true. They are determined to remain the dominant force in Europe and are certain to be highly resistant to any change for the better if they feel it reduces their influence.”
“I can agree with your assessment of their reaction,” Margaret told him. “But when you speak of conflict, are you suggesting that our countries might actually go to war with each other once again?”
“Sadly, that is a very real possibility. Our Leader will not abandon his plans to restore Europe’s fortunes just because your parliament objects to meaningful progress for the many.”
At last Margaret began to see where this conversation was leading. “So if this conflict were indeed to happen, I take it that you fully expect to win this time?”
“Without a doubt. Very quickly indeed and with minimal loss of life on both sides. Soon now, Germany will possess the largest and finest armed forces in the world.” He gave a short laugh. “What could Britain do to stop us? Your Royal Air Force is still using bi-planes from the last war, while the Luftwaffe…”
He checked himself, as if suddenly realizing that he was saying too much.
Margaret continued with her train of thought. “And of course, any victory you secure would be followed by a significant change in the ongoing government of Britain.”
Goering nodded. “The necessary adjustments would be made.”
“Adjustments that would allow certain properties to be returned to their former owners?”
“You understand the position perfectly, Lady Margaret. Rest assured that Earl Pugh’s property would be one of the very first to be dealt with.”
Despite having anticipated a response along these lines, to hear it actually confirmed out loud still forced an involuntary blink of surprise from Margaret. The first thought that came racing into her head was Doctor Grant’s trigger theory and how her father might react. Owning the estate once again would be certain to give him a whole new lease of life. Even if the effects of the stroke continued to limit him physically, in his mind at least he would surely be restored to his spirited old self. After the recent years of depression, what a blessing that would be. It might even extend his life expectancy by many years.
Goering spoke again. “There is also the matter of succession. Something could most definitely be done to ensure that you, and not some distant male cousin, will inherit the earl’s estate when he finally passes on. That would be a most pleasing outcome for both of you, I should imagine.”
Just when Margaret thought she was absorbing his first suggestion, this entirely unexpected second proposal hit her with even greater force. She closed her eyes for a moment to fully take it in. Something that she had longed for nearly all of her life but never considered remotely attainable was now tantalizingly being held out as a very real possibility. She could not force herself to wish for war, but if it was going to happen anyway, many good things might come out of it. Why shouldn’t she and her father benefit from them? And as for those vile creatures in Westminster, what a joy it would be to see them humiliated and forced from office. She would enjoy every moment of her long-promised revenge.
She drew a deep breath. Stop it, she told herself angrily. You’re racing ahead way too fast. Even if Goering was absolutely right about everything, such a situation could be several years away. Nothing much was going to change for her next week. Nor in a few months. And there was still one burning question yet to be answered.
What was expected from her in return for all these favours?
The question was met with a dismissive wave of Goering’s hand. “Almost nothing, especially at first,” he told her. “I would request only that you keep your eyes and ears open for any little scraps of information that you think might be of use in shortening whatever period of hostility eventually arises. Obviously, the briefer this turns out to be, the fewer number of lives will be put at risk.”
Margaret frowned. “You mean spy?”
“No, not really. Perhaps see it more as an intermediary role in helping to bring matters to a swift and peaceful conclusion.”
“I’m not a fool, Herr Goering. Please don’t mistake me for one. I know exactly what you are asking of me.” She paused before adding: “What’s more, I will certainly sleep on the matter and provide you with an answer in the morning.”
A look of surprise briefly showed on his face. A smile then quickly formed. “Splendid, Lady Margaret. I shall look forward to hearing from you. However, let me add just one thing before I return to my other guests. Believe me when I say that both the Fuhrer and I have a great affection for Britain and its people. In many ways we regard you as kindred spirits. It is only your self-serving politicians that will ultimately cause friction between our two countries.”
He gave a small laugh. “So you see, in many ways you might say that we are on the same side with a common enemy to defeat.”
Margaret’s expression gave nothing away. “A point I have not overlooked,” she remarked.
Her gaze then shifted to Richard. “I would like to return to my hotel now,” she told him.
I SPY BLETCHLEY PARK IS NOW AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE TITLE, AND AS A PAPERBACK.