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Uncle Alf

Harry Turtledove

7 May 1929

My very dear Angela,

You will have seen, I am sure, from the stamp and the postmark that I am now in Lille. I have not seen this place for almost fifteen years, but I well remember the pounding we gave it when we drove out the damned Englishmen. They fought hard, but they could not hold back the All-Highest's victorious soldiers. And even to this day, I find, the lazy Frenchmen have not bothered to repair all the damage the town suffered at that time.

But the Frenchmen, of course, are never too lazy to make trouble for the Kaiser and for the German Empire. That is why the Feldgendarmerie sent me here. When they want results, what do they do? They call on your uncle, that is what. They know I get the job done, come what may. And I aim to do it here, too, though I do not think it will be easy. Of course, if it were easy, they would send an ordinary fool.

Here in Lille, they call Feldgendarmerie men diables verts—green devils—on account of the tall green collars on our uniform tunics. I tell you for a fact, darling, I intend to send some of them straight to hell. They deserve nothing less. They lost the war, which proves how naturally inferior they are to good German men, but now they think they can reverse the inescapable verdict of history with tricks and plots and foolery. I am here to show them how wrong they are.

You can write to me at the address on this envelope. I hope all goes well for you, and that you never have to trouble your lovely little head about the schemes of these degenerate Frenchmen. I send you many kisses, and wish I could give them to you in person. With much love, I remain your—

Uncle Alf


* * *


9 May 1929

My dearest sweet Angela,

It is worse here than I imagined. No wonder they sent for me. Lille is one of the most backward cities in France. Dazzling riches and loathsome poverty alternate sharply. Side by side with commercial wealth dwell the homeless in gloom and mud. And, though it shames me to do so, I must tell you that at least half the Feldgendarmerie men here are as corrupt as any Frenchman.

I suppose it is inevitable that this should be so. Many of these men have been in their places in Lille since the days of the war. I am not lying or exaggerating a bit when I say they have become more French than German themselves. They live off the fat of the land. They have taken French mistresses and forgotten the good German wives they left back home.

Such degeneracy should be punished. Such degeneracy must be punished! I have made my views on this subject very clear. If only I held rank higher than Feldwebel, something might be done. But a small, ruthless clique of officers has shamelessly held back my advancement. When I think I turned forty last month with no more to show for my life than this, I know how unjust the world is. If only I had been allowed to show what I might do, everyone would hold his breath and make no comment. Of that you may be certain!

Still, I serve the German Empire with a loyal and honest heart. It is the last and best hope of mankind. French revanchism must be, shall be, mercilessly stamped out. Heads will roll here in Lille, and I shall rejoice to see it.

Meanwhile, I hope your own pretty head back there in Munich is happy and content. I send you kisses and hugs, and I will try to send you and your mother some smoked duck as well. You would be healthier without it, though. This I truly believe. It is one of my cardinal principles, and I shall go on trying to persuade you till the day I die. Meanwhile, in this as in all things, my honor remains true. I am, fondly, your—

Uncle Alf


* * *


11 May 1929

Sweet darling Angela,

I hope to hear from you. In this miserable place, a letter would mean a very great deal indeed. Your love and kisses and the thought of you in my embrace could help me forget what a hole Lille is and what a pathetic lot of bunglers the local Feldgendarmerie men have proved to be.

They look ever so impressive as they strut through the town with big, fierce Alsatians on a leash at their side. But here is the truth: the dogs are braver than all of them and smarter than most of them. They see nothing. They want to see nothing, to know nothing. So long as they can get through the day without noticing anything, they are content. Then in the evening they settle down to cigars and to wine or foul apple brandy from one of the local estaminets, of which, believe me when I tell you, there are a great many. Men with more disgusting habits would be difficult to imagine.

Yet these are the ones who are supposed to root out treason! It would be laughable if it were not so dreadful. No wonder they had to call in someone whose belly does not hang out half a kilometer over his belt! Gott mit uns, our belt buckles say. With these men, their bulging bellies hide God from the world, and surely the Lord on high does not much care to look at them, either.

With them all so fat and sluggish and useless, it is up to me to go into the workers' districts and sniff out the treason growing here. And I will sniff it out, and we will cut it out, and the Second Reich will go on ruling Europe, as it was destined to do.

And when I have done my duty, how I look forward to seeing you again, to hugging you against me, to running my hands through your golden hair. Truly the reward of the soldier for doing what he must is sweet. The thought of coming home to you makes me struggle all the harder here, so I may speed the day.

Also tell your mother I remain her affectionate half brother, and that I will write to her as soon as I find time. As always, I am your loving—

Uncle Alf


* * *


My darling and beloved Angela,

By now I had hoped to receive at least one letter from you, yet the field post brings me nothing. Without word that you still feel kindly towards me, life seems very empty indeed. I do my duty—I always do my duty, for the enemies of the German Empire must be rooted out wherever they are found—but it is, I must tell you, with a heavy heart.

The French, though . . . Gott im Himmel, they are and shall always be our most implacable foes. The hatred on their faces when they see us go by! They may act polite when we are in earshot, but how they wish they had another chance to fight us! You can tell by the looks they give us that they believe the result would be different in a second match. The essence of German policy here is to make sure that second match never comes.

How I thank God that General von Schlieffen was so resolute during the war, and kept the right wing of our advance through Belgium and France strong, stronger, strongest despite the unexpectedly quick Russian invasion of our eastern provinces. Once we wheeled behind Paris, knocked the English out of the war, and made the mongrel Third Republic sue for peace, we easily regained the bits of territory the Czar's hordes stole from us. Soon enough we bundled the Slavic subhumans out of the Fatherland and back to the steppes where they belong! We still have not exploited Russia so fully as we should, but that day too will come. I have no doubt of it; those Cossack hordes must not be allowed to threaten civilized Europe ever again.

But to return to the French. Here in Lille, as elsewhere in this country, endless schemes of revenge bubble and trickle and fume. I must get to the bottom of them before they grow too poisonous. I shall not find much help here—that seems plain. But I am confident regardless. The superior man carries on to victory, alone if necessary, and lets nothing obstruct him in the slightest. This shall be my plan here in Lille.

I wish I would hear from you. Knowing that you feel towards me as I do towards you would steel my resolve in the death struggle against the enemies of the Volk and of the Kaiser. May we soon see each other again. I would like to take you out to a quiet supper and walk with you in the moonlight and kiss you until we both are dizzy. I shall look forward to my hero's homecoming while holding off Reds and Jews and others who so vilely plot against the Fatherland here on foreign soil. With all my love and patriotic duty, I remain your—

Uncle Alf


* * *


17 May 1929

Dear lovely Geli,

So good to hear from you at last! When I got your letter, I first and foremost kissed the postage stamp, knowing it had touched your sweet lips but two days before. I am glad all is well in Munich, although I do not know that I ought to be glad you sang in a café. This does not strike me as being completely respectable, even if it might have been, as you say, "fun." Duty and discipline and order first, always. The people lacking them is surely doomed. These Frenchmen were frivolous before the war. Now they pay the price for their folly, and they deserve to pay it.

Which is not to say they are much less frivolous now. Walk into any of dozens of clubs and cafés here in Lille and you will see things that would never be allowed—would never be imagined!—in Germany. I shall say no more, drawing instead a merciful veil of silence over brazen French degeneracy.

But I do begin to make progress. In one of these smoky dens, while saxophones brayed out American music straight from the jungle and while dancers cavorted in ways I shall not—I dare not—discuss further, I heard two Frenchmen speaking of a certain Jacques Doriot, who has come to visit this town.

He is the man I principally seek, for he has been schooled by the vile Russian Reds who tried to overthrow Czar Nicholas in 1916. Had the Kaiser not swiftly sent soldiers to his cousin's aid, those devils might have succeeded in their criminal scheming, and then who knows what a mess this sorry world would find itself in now. But a whiff of grapeshot is always the best answer to such vermin. If the Czar had hanged a few hundred more of them after the troubles of 1905, he would have been spared his later difficulties, but he was and is only a wooly-headed fool of a Russian.

Meanwhile I listened as never before. I cannot speak French without showing myself a foreigner, but I understand it quite well. I had better, after so long tracking down enemies of the Kaiser! At any rate, I heard his name, so now I know he is indeed here in Lille spreading his filth. If I have anything to do with it—and I do—he will not spread it long. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.

After I return to Munich, perhaps you will sing for me—just for me. And who knows, my darling, what I might do for you? I am a young man yet. Anyone who says forty is old, forty is not vigorous, is nothing but a liar. I will show you what a man of forty can do, you may rest assured of that. My hair is still dark, my heart is still full of love and resolve, and I am still, and shall always be, your loving—

Uncle Alf


* * *


Dear sweet kindly lovely Geli,

Still only one letter from you, and now I have been in Lille almost two weeks. It makes me sad. It makes me terribly sad. I would have hoped for so much more. A lonely soldiers needs all the help from those behind the front he can possibly get. And I am, I must tell you, a lonely soldier indeed.

There are those who call me a white crow, a monkey in a jacket, because I do not fit in well with the other men of the Feldgendarmerie. They let so many things get in the way of their duty: their hunger for gross food and tobacco and strong drink, their coarse lust for the Frenchwomen with whom they defile their pure and vital German manhood, and sometimes—too often, I fear!—their venal appetite for money in exchange for silence.

None of these distractions holds the least appeal for me. You may be sure of that, darling! I live and work only to do harm to the foes of the German Empire. The others in this service, the worthless and shiftless ones, know it and envy me my dedication. They resent me because I do not care to pollute myself as they have polluted themselves. They resent me, yes, and they envy me, too. I am sure of that.

I went to the commandant. Brigadier Engelhardt and I go back some years now. When he was making observations at the front in 1914, a fellow named Bachmann and I stood in front of him to shield him from British machine-gun bullets (he was but a lieutenant-colonel then). None struck us, but that is the sort of thing a man of honor will remember. And so he saw me in his office, though I am but an underofficer.

I spoke my mind. I left nothing out, not a single thing. I told him exactly what I think of the sad state of affairs now obtaining in Lille. We might have been two brothers resting side by side in a trench during the Great War. And he listened to me. He heard every word I said, as though our respective ranks meant nothing. And they did not, not for that little while.

When I was through, he looked at me for a long time without saying anything. At last, he muttered, "Ade, Ade, Ade, what shall I do with you?"

"Hear me!" I said. "Do what needs doing! Drive the money changers from the Temple! Be a thorn in the eyes of those who would stand against the Kaiser. Not just Frenchmen, sir—the Feldgendarmerie, too!"

"They are men, Ade. They have the failings of men. They do good work, taken all in all," he said.

"They consort with Frenchmen. They consort with Frenchwomen. They take money to look the other way when the French want to smuggle. They ignored almost every regulation ever drafted." I grew more furious by the moment.

Brigadier Engelhardt saw as much. He tried to calm me down. "Don't chew the carpet at me, Ade," he said. "I tell you again, they mostly do good work. They don't have to follow every jot and tittle of the rules to manage that."

"But they should! They must!" I said. "We must have order in the ranks, obedience and order! Obedience and order are the pillars of the Second Reich! Without them, we perish!"

"We do have them here—enough of them," Engelhardt replied. Can he be corrupt, too? It makes me sad, terribly sad, even to imagine it. Shaking his head as if he were the font of righteousness, he went on, "Ade, you can't expect to bring the conditions of the front, where everything was an emergency, to an occupation that has gone on for fifteen years and may go on for another fifty."

Corrupt! So corrupt! A whited sepulcher of a man! Rage and indignation rose up in me. Only fools, liars, and criminals can hope for mercy from the enemy. Endless plans chased one another through my head. Furiously, I demanded, "If your precious men are as wonderful as you say, why was I sent for? Couldn't you track down this Red devil of a Doriot with your own green devils?"

He flushed. I knew I had struck home with a deadly shot. Then, with what might have been a sigh, he answered, "For special purposes, we need a special man." A special man! Even though, at that moment, he was far from my friend—was, in fact, much closer to being not only my enemy but an enemy of the Kaiserreich—he named me a special man! Recognizing my qualities, he continued, "This Doriot has a strong streak of fanaticism in him. It could be you are the right one to hunt him."

"We all need to be fanatics in service to the Kaiser," I declared: an obvious truth. "Moderation in the pursuit of Germany's enemy is no virtue, while iron determination to see the Fatherland thrive is no vice."

"All right, Ade," Brigadier Engelhardt said with a sigh. He did not like having an enlisted man outargue him. But, no doubt for old times' sake, he did not shout at me for insubordination, as he might have done. "Bring me Jacques Doriot. You may say whatever you like then, for you will have earned the right. Meanwhile, you are dismissed."

"Yes, sir!" I said, and saluted, and left. That is the superior's privilege: to end a discussion when he is not having the better of it.

Give me the chance, my dear, when I come home to Munich, and I will show you just what a special man is your loving—

Uncle Alf


* * *


23 May 1929

My sweet beloved Angela,

It pours rain here in Lille. And there is rain in my spirit as well, for I have still had no new letter from you. I hope that all is well, and that you will bring me up to date on what you have been doing back in the civilized and racially pure and unpolluted Fatherland.

Here, everyone is gloomy: Feldgendarmerie, Frenchmen, Flemings. There are more Flemings—of excellent Germanic stock—here in the northeast of France than one might think. Regardless of whether they speak the Flemish tongue, all those whose names begin with van or de show by this infallible sign their ancient Germanic lineage. A priest hereabout, l'abbé Gantois, has some excellent views on this subject. Few, though, seem to wish to lose their French and reacquire the Flemish of their long-ago forebears. It is a great pity.

Few people out and about today—certainly few of the so-called diables verts, who might catch cold, poor darlings, if they went out in the rain! So you would think, at any rate, to hear them talk. But I tell you, and you make take it as a fact, that rain in a city, even a sullen French industrial city, is as nothing beside rain in a muddy trench, such as I endured without complaint during the Great War.

And so I sally forth as usual, with an umbrella and with the collar of my greatcoat turned up. It is a civilian coat. I am not such a fool as to go out into Lille dressed as a German Feldgendarmerie man. One does not hunt ducks by dressing as a zebra! This is another truth some of my comrades have trouble grasping. They are fools, men unworthy of the trust the Kaiser has placed in them.

I sallied forth, I say, into a working-class district of Lille. It is in such places that Doriot spews his poison, his lies, his hateful slanders against the Kaiser, the Crown Prince, and the Second Reich. There are, no doubt, also French agents pursuing this individual, but how can the German Empire rely on Frenchmen? Will they truly go after the likes of Doriot with all their hearts? Or will they, as is more likely, go through the motions of the chase with no real hope or intention of capturing him?

I have nothing to do with them. I reckon them more likely to betray me than to do me any good. I feel the same way about the Feldgendarmerie in Lille, I must say, but I have no choice except working with them to some degree. Thus ordinary folk try to tie the hands of the superior man!

What a smoky, grimy, filthy city Lille is! Soot everywhere. A good steam cleaning might work wonders. Or, on the other hand, the place might simply fall to pieces in the absence of the dirt holding everything together. In any case, steaming these Augean stables will not happen soon.

I can look like a man of the working class. It is not even difficult for me. I wander the streets with my nose to the ground, listening like a bloodhound. I order coffee in an estaminet. My accent for the one word does not betray me. I stop. I sip. I listen.

I find . . . nothing. Have I been betrayed? Does Doriot know I am here? Has my presence been revealed to him? Is that why he is lying low? Has someone on my own side stabbed me in the back? I would give such a vile subhuman a noose of piano wire, if ever he fell into my hands, and smile and applaud as I watched him slowly die.

Hoping to hear again from you soon, I kiss your hands, your neck, your cheek, your mouth, and the very tip of your . . . nose. With much love from—

Uncle Alf


* * *


25 May 1929

Dearest adorable Geli,

What a special man, what a superior man, your uncle is! Despite having to carry on in the face of your disappointing silence, I relentlessly pursue the Red criminal, Doriot. And I have found a lead that will infallibly betray him into my hands.

One thing you must know is that the folk of Lille are most fond of pigeons. During the early days of the war, we rightly confiscated these birds, for fear of their aiding enemy espionage. (Some of these pigeons, I am told, ended up on soldiers' tables. While I hold no brief for meat-eating, better our men should enjoy them than the French.)

Now, though, we have in France what is called peace. The Frenchmen are once more permitted to have their birds. La Societé colombophile lilloise—the Lille Society of Pigeon-fanciers—is large and active, with hundreds, it could even be thousands, of members, and with several meeting halls in the proletarian districts of the city. And could not these pigeons still be used for spying and the conveying of intelligence? Of course they could!

I know something of these birds. I had better—as a runner in the war, did I not often enough see my messages written down and sent off by pigeon? I should say I did! And so I have been paying visits to the pigeon-fanciers' clubhouses. There I am Meinheer Koppensteiner—a good family name for us!—from Antwerp, a pigeon-lover in Lille on business. My accent will never let me pass for a Frenchman, but a Fleming? Yes, that is easy enough for them to believe.

"Things are still hard in Antwerp," I tell them. "The green devils will take away a man's birds on any excuse or none."

This wins me sympathy. "It is not so bad here," one of them answers. "The Boches"—this is what they call us, the pigdogs—"are very stupid."

Nods all around. Chuckles, too. They think they are so clever! Another Frenchman says, "The things you can get away with, right under their noses!"

But then there are coughs. A couple of fellows shake their heads. This goes too far. I am a stranger, after all, and what sounds like a Flemish accent could be German, too. I am too clever to push hard. I just say, "Well, you are lucky, then—luckier than we. With us, if a bird is caught carrying a message, for instance, no matter how innocent it may be, this is a matter for the firing squad."

They make sympathetic noises. Things must be hard there, they murmur. By the way a couple of them wink, I am sure they deserve a blindfold and a cigarette, the traitors! And maybe they will get one, too! But not yet. I sit and bide my time. They talk about their birds. Meinheer Koppensteiner says a couple of things, enough to show he knows a pigeon from a goose. Not too much. He is a stranger, a foreigner. He does not need to show off. He needs only to be accepted. And he is. Oh, yes—he is.

Before long, Meinheer Koppensteiner will appear at other clubhouses, too. He will not ask many questions. He will not say much. But he will listen. Oh, my, yes, he will listen. If I were back in Munich, I would rather listen to you. But then, after all, I am not Meinheer Koppensteiner. Thinking of the kisses I shall give you when I see you again, I am, in fact, your loving—

Uncle Alf


* * *


28 May 1929

Dear sweet adorable lovely Angela,

Three weeks now in Lille and only two letters from you! This is not the way I wish it would be, not the way it should be, not the way it must be! You must immediately write again and let me know all your doings, how you pass your days—and your nights. You must, I say. I wait eagerly and impatiently for your response.

Meanwhile, waiting, I visit the other pigeon-fanciers' clubhouses. And I make sure to return to the first one, too, so people can see Meinheer Koppensteiner is truly interested in these birds. And so he is, though not for the reasons he advertises.

The workers babble on about the pigeons. They drink wine and beer and sometimes apple brandy. As a Fleming, Meinheer Koppensteiner is expected to drink beer, too. And so I do, sacrificing even my health in the service of the Kaiser. At one of the clubs, I hear—overhear, actually—quiet talk of a certain Jacques. Is it Doriot? I am not sure. Why is this pestilential Frenchman not named Jean-Hérold or Pascal? Every third man in Lille is called Jacques! It is so frustrating, it truly does make me want to chew the carpet!

And then someone complained about les Boches—the charming name the Frenchmen have for us, as I told you in my last letter. A sort of silence ensued, in which more than a few eyes went my way. I pretended to pay no particular attention. If I had shouted from the rafters, I am Belgian, not German, so say whatever you please!—well, such noise only makes the wary man more so. A pose of indifference is better.

It worked here. Indeed, it could not have worked better. Quietly, sympathetically, someone said, "Don't worry about him. He's from Antwerp, poor fellow." In fact, he said something stronger than fellow, something not suited to the ears of a delicate, well-brought-up German maiden.

"Antwerp?" someone else replied. "They've been getting it in the neck from the Boches even longer than we have, and there aren't many who can say that."

This sally produced soft laughter and much agreement. I memorized faces, but for many of them I still have no names. Still, with the help of the immortal and kindly Herr Gott, they too will be caught, and suffer the torments such wretches so richly deserve.

Seeing me make little response—seeing me hardly seem to understand—made them grow bolder. Says one of them, "If you want to hear something about the Boches, my friends . . . Do you know the house of Madame Léa, in the Rue des Sarrasins, by the church of Sts. Peter and Paul?"

I suspected this was a house of ill repute, but I proved mistaken. This happens even to me, though not often. "You mean the clairvoyant?" says another, and the first fellow nods. Madame Léa the clairvoyant? There is a picture for you, eh, my dear? Imagine a fat, mustachioed, greasy Jewess, telling her lies to earn her francs! Better such people should be exterminated, I say.

But to return. After the first pigeon-fancier agrees this is indeed the Madame Léa he has in mind—heaven only knows how many shady kikes operate under the same surely false name in Lille!—he says, "Well, come tomorrow at half past nine, then. She gives readings Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Other days, other things." He chuckles knowingly.

Tomorrow, of course, is Wednesday. Who knows what sort of treachery boils and bubbles in Madame Léa's house on the days when she does not give readings? No one—no one German—knows now. But after tomorrow, she will be exposed to the world for what she is, for a purveyor and panderer to filth of the vilest and most anti-German sort. Such is ever the way of the Jew. But it shall be stopped! Whatever it is, it shall be stopped! I take my holy oath that this be so.

Maybe it will not be Doriot. I hope it will be. I think it will be. No, it must be! It cannot be anyone, anything, else. On this I will stake my reputation. On this I will stake my honor. On this I will stake my very life!

When the mothers of ancient Greece sent their sons into battle, they told them, "With your shield or on it!" So it shall be for me as I storm into the struggle against the enemies of the German Empire! I shall neither flag nor fail, but shall emerge triumphant or abandon all hope of future greatness. Hail victory!

Give me your prayers, give me your heart, give me the reward of the conquering hero when I come home covered in glory, as I cannot help but do. I pause here only to kiss your letters once more and wish they were you. Tomorrow—into the fray! Hail victory! for your iron-willed—

Uncle Alf


* * *


29 May 1929

My dear and most beloved Geli,

Himmelherrgottkreuzmillionendonnerwetter! The idiocy of these men! The asininity! The fatuity! How did we win the war? Were the Frenchmen and the English even more cretinous than we? It beggars the imagination, but it must be so.

When I returned to Feldgendarmerie headquarters after shaking off whatever tails the suspicious pigeon-fanciers might have put on me, I first wrote to you, then at once demanded force enough to deal with the mad and vicious Frenchmen who will surely be congregating at Madame Léa's tonight.

I made this entirely reasonable and logical demand—made it and had it refused! "Oh, no, we can't do that," says the fat, stupid sergeant in charge of such things. "Not important enough for the fuss you're making about it."

Not important enough! "Do you care nothing about serving the Reich?" I say, in a very storm of passion. "Do you care nothing about helping your country?" I shake a finger in his face and watch his jowls wobble. "You are worse than a Frenchman, you are!" I cry. "A Frenchman, however racially degenerate he may be, has a reason for being Germany's enemy. But what of you? Why do you hate your own Fatherland?"

He turned red as a holly berry, red as a ripe tomato. "You are insubordinate!" he booms. And so I am, when to be otherwise is to betray the Kaiserreich. "I shall report you to the commandant. He'll put a flea in your ear—you wait and see."

"Go ahead!" I jeer. "Brigadier Engelhardt is a brave man, a true warrior . . . unlike some I could name." The fat sergeant went redder than ever.

The hour by then being after eleven, the brigadier was snug in his bed, so my being haled before him had to wait until the following morning. You may be certain I reported to Feldgendarmerie headquarters as soon as might be. You may also be certain I wore uniform, with everything in accordance with regulations: no more shabby cap and tweed greatcoat, such as I had had on the previous night for purposes of disguise.

Of course, the other sergeant was still snoring away somewhere. Did you expect anything different? I should hope not! Such men are always indolent, even when they should be most zealous—especially when they should be most zealous, I had better say.

So there I sat, all my buttons gleaming—for I had paid them special attention—when the commandant came in. I sprang to my feet, took my stiffest brace—my back creaked like a tree in the wind—and tore off a salute every training sergeant in the Imperial Army would have admired and used as an example for his foolish, feckless recruits. "Reporting as ordered, sir!" I rapped out.

"Hello, Sergeant," Brigadier Engelhardt replied in the forthright, manly way that made him so much admired—so much loved, it would not go too far to say—by his soldiers during the Great War. I still tried to think well of him, you see, even though he had thwarted my will before. He returned my salute with grave military courtesy, and then inquired, "But what is all this in aid of?"

Having only just arrived, he would not yet have seen whatever denunciation that swine-fat fool of a sergeant had written out against me. I had to strike while the sun was hot. "I believe I have run this polecat of a Doriot to earth, sir," I said, "and now I need the Feldgendarmerie to help me make the pinch."

"Well, well," he said. "This is news indeed, Ade. Why don't you come into my office and tell me all about it?"

"Yes, sir!" I said. Everything was right with the world again. Far from being corrupt, the brigadier, as I have known since my days at the fighting front, is a man of honor and integrity. Once I explained the undoubted facts to him, how could he possibly fail to draw the same conclusions from them as I had myself? He could not. I was certain of it.

And, again without a doubt, he would at once have drawn those proper conclusions had he not chosen to look at the papers he found on his desk. I stood to attention while he flipped through them—and found, at the very top, the false, lying, and moronic accusations that that jackass of a local Feldgendarmerie sergeant had lodged against me. As he read this fantastic farrago of falsehoods, his eyebrows rose higher and higher. He clicked his tongue between his teeth—tch, tch, tch—the way a mother will when confronting a wayward child.

"Well, well, Ade," he said when at last he had gone through the whole sordid pack of lies—for such it had to be, when it was aimed against me and against the manifest truth. Brigadier Engelhardt sadly shook his head. "Well, well," he repeated. "You have been a busy boy, haven't you?"

"Sir, I have been doing my duty, as is expected and required of a soldier of the Kaiserreich," I said stiffly.

"Do you think abusing your fellow soldiers for no good cause is part of this duty?" he asked, doing his best to sound severe.

"Sir, I do, when they refuse to do their duty," I said, and the entire story of the previous evening poured from my lips. I utterly confuted and exploded and made into nothingness the absurd slanders that villain of a Feldwebel, that wolf in sheep's clothing, that hidden enemy of the German Empire, spewed forth against me.

Brigadier Engelhardt seemed more than a little surprised at my vehemence. "You are very sure," he remarks.

"As sure as of my hope of heaven, sir," I reply.

"And yet," says he, "your evidence for what you believe strikes me as being on the flimsy side. Why should we lay on so many men for what looks likely to prove a false alarm? Answer me that, if you please."

"Sir," I say, "why did the Feldgendarmerie bring me here to Lille, if not to solve a problem the local men had proved themselves incapable of dealing with? Here now I have the answer, I have the problem as good as solved, and what do I find? That no one—no one, not even you, sir!—will take me seriously. I might as well have stayed in Munich, where I could have visited my lovely and charming niece." You see, my darling, even in my service to the kingdom you are always uppermost in my mind.

Brigadier Engelhardt frowns like a schoolmaster when you give him an answer he does not expect. It may be a right answer—if you are clever enough to think of an answer the schoolmaster does not expect, it probably will be a right answer, as mine was obviously right here—but he has to pause to take it in. Sometimes he will beat you merely for having the nerve to think better and more quickly than he can. Brigadier Engelhardt, I will say, has not been one of that sort.

At last, he says, "But Ade, do you not see? No one has spoken Doriot's name. You do not know that he will be at Madame Léa's."

"I know there will be some sort of subversion there," I say. "And with Doriot in the city to spread his Red filth, what else could it be?"

"Practically anything," he replies. "Lille is not a town that loves the German Empire. It never has been. It never will be."

"It is Doriot!" I say—loudly. "It must be Doriot!" I lean forward. I pound my fist on the desk. His papers jump. So does a vase holding a single red rose.

Brigadier Engelhardt catches it before it tips over. He looks at me for a long time. Then he says, "You go too far, Sergeant. You go much too far, as a matter of fact."

I say nothing. He wants me to say I am sorry. I am not sorry. I am right. I know I am right. My spirit is full of certainty.

He drums his fingers on the desktop. Another pause follows. He sighs. "All right, Ade," he says. "I will give you exactly what you say you want."

I spring to my feet! I salute! "Thank you, Brigadier! Hail victory!"

"Wait." He is dark, brooding. He might almost be a Frenchman, all so-called intellect, and not a proper German, a man of will, of action, of deed, at all. He points a finger at me. "I will give you exactly what you say you want," he repeats. "You can take these men to this fortuneteller's place. If you bring back Jacques Doriot, well and good. If you do not bring back Jacques Doriot . . . If you do not bring him back, I will make you very, very sorry for the trouble you have caused here. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir!" This is it! Victory or death! With my shield or on it!

"Do you wish to change your mind?"

"No, sir! Not in the slightest!" I fear nothing. My heart is firm. It pounds only with eagerness to vanquish the foes of the Reich, the foes of the Kaiser. Not a trace of fear. Nowhere at all a trace of fear, I swear it. Into battle I shall go.

He sighs again. "Very well. Dismissed, Feldwebel."

Now I have merely to wait until the evening, to prepare the Feldgendarmerie men who shall surround Madame Léa's establishment, and then to—to net my fish! You shall see. By this time tomorrow, Doriot will be in my pocket and I will be a famous man, or as famous as a man whose work must necessarily for the most part be done in secret can become.

And once I am famous, what shall I do? Why, come home to my family—most especially to my loving and beloved niece!—and celebrate just as I hope. You are the perfect one to give a proper Hail victory! for your proud, your stern, your resolute—

Uncle Alf


* * *


30 May 1929

My very dearest and most beloved sweet Geli,

Hail victory! I kiss you and caress you here in my mind, as I bask in the triumph of my will! Strength and success, as I have always said, lie not in defense but in attack. Just as a hundred fools cannot replace a wise man, a heroic decision like mine will never come from a hundred cowards. If a plan is right in itself, and if thus armed it sets out on struggle in this world, it is invincible. Every persecution will only make it stronger. So it is with me today.

After fifteen years of the work I have accomplished, as a common German soldier and merely with my fanatical willpower, I achieved last night a victory that confounded not only my superiors who summoned me to Lille but also the arrogant little manikins who, because they did not know what I could do or with whom they were dealing, anticipated my failure. All of them are today laughing out of the other side of their mouths, and you had best believe it!

Let me tell you exactly how it happened.

That fat and revolting sergeant had finally reached his post when I came out of Brigadier Engelhardt's office. Laughing in my face, the swine, he says, "I bet the commandant told you where to head in—and just what you deserve, too."

"Not me," I say. "The raid is on for tonight. I am in charge of it. After that, we'll see who gloats."

He gaped at me, gross and disgustingly foolish. Such Untermenschen, even though allegedly German, are worse foes to the Kaiserreich than the French, perhaps even worse than the Jews themselves. They show the Volk can also poison itself and drown in a sewer tide of mediocrity. But I will not let that happen. I will not! It must not!

Would you believe it, that lumpen-sergeant had the infernal and damnable gall to ask Brigadier Engelhardt—Brigadier Engelhardt, whom I protect with my own body during the war!—if I was telling the truth. That shameless badger!

He came back looking crestfallen and exultant at the same time. "All right—we'll play your stupid game," says he. "We'll play it—and then you'll get it in the neck. Don't come crying to me afterwards, either. It'll do you no good."

"Just do your job," I say. "That's all I want from you. Just do your job."

"Don't worry about it," he says gruffly. As though he hadn't given me cause enough for worry, God knows. But I only nodded. I would give him and his men the necessary orders. They had but to obey me. If they did as I commanded, all would be well. I could not be everywhere at once, however much I wanted to. I had discovered the foul Red plot; others would have to help snuff it out.

When the time came that evening, I set out for Madame Léa's. The Lille Feldgendarmerie would follow, I hoped not too noisily and not too obviously. That stinking sergeant could ruin the game simply by letting the vile Marxist conspirators spot him. I hoped he would not, but he could—and, because he was so disgustingly round, there was a great deal of him to spot.

The church of Sts. Peter and Paul is lackluster architecturally; the house Madame Léa infests even more so. A sign in her window announced her as a Liseuse De Pensées, a thought-reader—and, for the benefit of German troops benighted enough to seek out her services, also as a Wahrsagerin, a lady soothsayer. Lies! Foolishness! To say nothing of espionage and treason!

I knocked on the door. A challenge from within: "Who are you? What do you want?"

"I'm here for the lecture," I answered.

"You sound funny," said the man behind the door—my accent proved a problem, as it does too often in France.

"I'm from Antwerp," I said, as I had at the pigeon-fanciers' clubs.

And then Lady Luck, who watched out for me on the battlefields of the war, reached out to protect me once again. If one's destiny is to save the beloved Fatherland, one will not be allowed to fail. I was starting to explain how I had heard of the lecture at La Societé colombophile lilloise when one of the men with whom I had spoken there came up and said, "This Koppensteiner fellow's all right. Knows his pigeons, he does. And if you think the Boches don't screw over the Flemings, too, you're daft."

That got them to open the door for me. I doffed my cap to the man who had vouched for me. "Merci beaucoup," I said, resolving to thank him as he truly deserved once he was under arrest. But that could—would have to—wait.

To my disappointment, I did not see Madame Léa there. Well, no matter. We can round her up in due course. But let me go on with the story. Her living room, where I suppose she normally spins her web of falsehood and deceit, is quite large. The wages of sin may be death, but the wages of deceit, by all appearances, are very good. Twenty, perhaps even thirty, folding chairs of cheap manufacture—without a doubt produced in factories run by pestilential Jews, who care only for profit, not for quality—had been crammed into it for the evening's festivities. About half were taken when I came in.

And there, by the far wall, under a dingy print of a painting I suppose intended to be occult, stood Jacques Doriot. I recognized him immediately, from the photographs on file with the Feldgendarmerie. He is a Frenchman of the worst racial type, squat and swarthy, with thick spectacles perched on a pointed nose. His hair is crisp and curly and black, and shines with some strong-smelling grease I noticed from halfway across the room. I was right all along, you see. I had known it, and now I had proof. I wanted to shout for joy, but knew I had to keep silent.

Several men, some of whom I had seen at one pigeon-fanciers' club or another, went up to chat with him. I marked them in particular: they were likely to be the most dangerous customers in the room. Doriot took no special notice, though, of those who hung back, of whom I was one. Why should he have? Not everyone is a leader. Most men would sooner go behind, like so many sheep. It is true even among us Germans—how much more so amongst the mongrelized, degenerate French!

More would-be rebels and traitors continued to come in, until the place was full. We all squeezed together, tight as sardines in a tin. One of the local men did not sit down right away. He said, "Here is Comrade Jacques, who will speak of some ways to get our own back against the Boches."

"Thank you, my friend," Doriot said, and his voice startled me. By his looks, he seemed a typical French ball of suet, and I had expected nothing much from him as a speaker. But as soon as he went on, "We can lick these German bastards," I understood exactly why he has cause the Kaiserreich so much trouble over the years. Not only are his tones deep and resonant, demanding and deserving of attention, but he has the common touch that distinguishes the politician from the theoretician.

No ivory-tower egghead he! He wasted no time on ideology. Every man has one, but how many care about it? It is like the spleen, necessary but undramatic. Theoreticians always fail to grasp this. Not Doriot! "We can make the Boche's life hell," he said with a wicked grin, "and I'll show you just how to do it. Listen! Whenever you do something for those damned stiff-necked sons of bitches, do it wrong! If you drive a cab, let them off at the wrong address and drive away before they notice. If you wait tables, bring them something they didn't order, then be very sorry—and bring them something else they didn't ask for. If you work in a factory, let your machine get out of order and stand around like an idiot till it's fixed. If it's not working, what can you do? Not a thing, of course. If you're in a foundry . . . But you're all clever fellows. You get the picture, eh?"

He grinned again. So did the Frenchmen listening to him. They got the picture, all right. The picture was treason and rebellion, pure and simple. I had plenty to arrest him right there for spouting such tripe, and them for listening to it. But I waited. I wanted more.

And Doriot gave it to me. He went on, "The workers' revolution almost came off in Russia after the war, but the forces of reaction, the forces of oppression, were too strong. It can come here. With councils of workers and peasants in the saddle, I tell you France can be a great nation once more. France will be a great nation once more!

"And when she is"—theatrically, he lowered his voice—"when she is, I say, then we truly pay back the Boches. Then we don't have to play stupid games with them any more. Then we rebuild our army, we rebuilt our navy, we send swarms of airplanes into the sky, and we put revolution on the march all through Europe! Vive la France!"

"Vive la France!" the audience cried.

"Vive la révolution!" Doriot shouted.

"Vive la révolution!" they echoed.

"Vive la drapeau rouge!" he yelled.

They called out for the red flag, too. They sprang to their feet. They beat their palms together. They were in a perfect frenzy of excitement. I also sprang to my feet. I also beat my palms together. I too was in a perfect frenzy of excitement. I drew forth my pistol and fired a shot into the ceiling.

Men to either side of me sprang aside. There was no one behind me. I had made sure of that. To make sure no one could get behind me, I put my back against the wall, meanwhile pointing the pistol at Doriot. He has courage, I say so much for him. "Here, my friend, my comrade, what does this mean?" he asked me.

I clicked my heels. "This means you are under arrest. This means I am the forces of reaction, the forces of oppression. À votre service, monsieur." I gave him a bow a Parisian headwaiter would have envied, but the pistol never wavered from his chest.

Indeed, Doriot has very considerable courage. I watched him thinking about whether to rush me, whether to order his fellow traitors to rush me. As I watched, I waited for the men of the Lille Feldgendarmerie post to break down the doors and storm in to seize those Frenchmen. My pistol shot should have brought them on the run. It should have, but where were they, the lazy swine?

So I wondered. And I could see Doriot nerving himself to order that charge. I gestured with the pistol, saying, "You think, monsieur, this is an ordinary Luger, and that, if you tell your men to rush me, I can shoot at the most eight—seven, now—and the rest will drag me down and slay me. I regret to inform you, that is a mistake. I have here a Luger Parabellum, Artilleriemodel 08. It has a thirty-two-round drum. I may not get all of you, but it will be more than seven, I promise. And I will enjoy every bit of it—I promise you that, too." I shifted the pistol's barrel, just by a hair. "So—who will be first?"

And, my sweet, do you want to hear the most delicious thing of all? I was lying! I held only an ordinary Luger. There is such a thing as the Artilleriemodel; it was developed after the war to give artillerymen a little extra firepower if by some mischance they should find they had to defend themselves at close quarters against infantry. I have seen the weapon. The drum below the butt is quite prominent—as it must be, to accommodate thirty-two rounds of pistol ammunition.

A close look—even a cursory look—would have shown the Frenchmen I was lying. But they stood frozen like mammoths in the ice of Russia, believing every word I said. Why? I will tell you why. The great masses of the people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one, that is why. And I told the biggest lie I could possibly tell just then.

Nevertheless, I was beginning to wonder if more lies—or more gunshots—would be necessary when at last I heard the so-welcome sound of doors crashing down at the front and rear of Madame Léa's establishment. In swarmed the Feldgendarmerie men! Now, now that I had done all the work, faced all the danger, they were as fierce as tigers. Their Alsatians bayed like the hounds of hell. They took the French criminals and plotters out into the night.

That fat, arrogant Feldwebel stayed behind. His jowls jiggled like calves'-foot jelly as he asked me, "How did you know this? How did you hold them all, you alone, until we came?"

"A man of iron will can do anything," I declared, and he did not dare argue with me, for the result had proved me right. He walked away instead, shaking his stupid, empty head.

And, when I return to Munich, I will show you exactly what a man with iron in his will—and elsewhere! oh, yes, and elsewhere!—can do. In the meantime, I remain, most fondly, your loving—

Uncle Alf


* * *


31 May 1929

To my sweet and most delicious Geli,

Hello, my darling. I wonder whether this letter will get to Munich ahead of me, for I have earned leave following the end of duty today. Nevertheless I must write, so full of triumph am I.

Today I saw Brigadier Engelhardt once more. I wondered if I would. In fact, he made a point of summoning me to his office. He proved himself a true gentleman, I must admit.

When I came in, he made a production of lighting up his pipe. Only after he has it going to his satisfaction does he say, "Well, Ade, you were right all along." A true gentleman, as I told you!

"Yes, sir," I reply. "I knew it from the start."

He blows out a cloud of smoke, then sighs. "Well, I will certainly write you a letter of commendation, for you've earned it. But I want to say one thing to you, man to man, under four eyes and no more."

"Yes, sir," I say again. When dealing with officers, least said is always safest.

He sighs again. "One of these days, Ade, that damned arrogance of yours will trip you up and let you down as badly as it's helped you up till now. I don't know where and I don't know how, but it will. You'd do best to be more careful. Do you understand what I'm telling you? Do you understand even one word?"

"No, sir," I say, with all the truth in my heart.

Yet another sigh from him. "Well, I didn't think you would, but I knew I ought to make the effort. Today you're a hero, no doubt about it. Enjoy the moment. But, as the slave used to whisper at a Roman triumph, 'Remember, thou art mortal.' Dismissed, Ade."

I saluted. I went out. I sat down to write this letter. I will be home soon. Wear a skirt that flips up easily, for I intend to show you just what a hero, just what a conqueror, is your iron-hard—

Uncle Alf


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