Lusitania WWI Female Spies 3
Chapter Four - Goodbye Mother
That night Tillie fell asleep holding the colored page Rose sent to her. The next day first came Matilda and then came Jarvis. “Girl,” Matilda said. “Get yourself dressed. People will be calling to pay their respects. Jarvis is an important man.”
Knowing better, Tillie asked anyway. “Have you heard any gossip about Rose?”
“I know that is hard, about the pretty child, but no one knows nothing about it only that bodies float to shore every day.”
“No one will find Rose waiting for her to come to them. She is somehow alive.”
“Maybe so. Now wash your hair.” Matilda tisked but said not a word about any mess or dust. She added over her shoulder. “We’ll be opening the upstairs parlor for our visitors.”
Jarvis entered through the front door some time later. Tillie saw him come in from where she helped in the kitchen. Not surprisingly he was shadowed by Robert Lundgren who remained standing in the hallway. Jarvis entered the kitchen and immediately began examining the cucumber sandwiches and macaroni salad. Jarvis said to Matilda, “Pathetic.”
Matilda shrugged at him. She didn’t need to say who was responsible for food in the district. Instead she said, “We all do what we can.” Jarvis looked sour enough to curdle the cream. When his glance fell upon Tillie she saw his lip curl so she gave him her sauciest look. “You’re a disgrace,” he muttered under his breath. Then he turned toward the door.
Tillie stepped between Jarvis and his exit. “What does the embassy in Norway say about Rose?” Jarvis gestured for her to move from his path, but she did not do so. “What have you heard regarding Rose?” Her cheeks blazed. She felt tears starting to flow which burnt on her skin.
His eyes and his voice were cold and piercing. “You may never question me. If there is something that you need to know, I will make sure that you know it.” He gestured again for her to move, and she did. She did not allow herself to cry. She wiped her face and gathered her concert expression. She would find Rose herself. She would inform Jarvis if there was something he needed to know.
Captain Lundgren remained standing at attention the entire two hours of the visitation. Tillie brought him a glass of punch with ice. He gestured for her to set the glass on the foyer table. She thought he winked at her, but dismissed the thought as imagination. Returning quickly to her duties, she glanced back at him. He never moved.
Tillie did not own a black suit so she wore her black silk skirt, newly pressed, from the audition. She also wore her white silk blouse, and her hair in a loose bun at the nape of her neck. She wore no jewelry and no make-up. Still she felt the men looking at her with something uncomfortable in their eyes. Most of the men wore military dress and rarely spoke.
Her skirt with the slightest flair at the hem showed no more ankle than was prevalent in the room filled with dark color. She did not understand what these men wanted from her. Antonius told her that she was beautiful, and she accepted this, but she gave it little thought. What did beauty do for her?
A steady stream of visitors came and went. No one mentioned Rose, but many did ask about her music. Many asked about this year’s concert performance. She answered with good form quoting the conductor, Ludwig Guderman, regarding how the performance would lack young men. Everyone nodded. Young men were being sucked from the nation with a voracious appetite. Those who did appear on the street were no longer whole.
When the last visitor said their condolences and left the house so did Jarvis and so did Robert. Tillie sat at the grand piano but she did not play. Matilda finished cleaning the kitchen and came to say goodbye to Tillie. The stolid woman had tears on her cheeks which astounded Tillie. “We will miss your mother, yes we will.” Then pinning on her hat, she was gone.
Tillie still sat looking at the piano keys when a sharp knock on the front door startled her. She opened the door to Robert. “Let’s go downstairs,” he said. The Captain set a large box on the cluttered downstairs table. The box contained new black pumps and a black suit. “Not as ugly as your step-father wanted, but ugly all the same.”
Tillie laughed despite her heavy heart and then she offered coffee or beer. Robert accepted a cold mug of beer and sat down on the sofa. “Play something for me, Tillie.” He nodded toward the upright. Tillie sat before the instrument as though seeing a stranger. She opened the key board and played American Irving Berlin, He’s a Rag Picker.
“Is that for me? Is that where you think my taste would lie?” Robert leaned back on the couch, a thin smile on his handsome mouth and beer mug in his raised hand. The sight of him made Tillie’s stomach tighten. “If you want to play American, why not George Enescu. Perhaps I like classical.”
“I played Irving Berlin to entertain. I played it for me. I don’t seem able to play classical right now. Maybe after I find Rose, maybe then.”
“That’s an odd connection, your music and finding Rose.”
“Yes, so it would seem.” Tillie found herself to be at ease with the man on the couch. “But I connect them, sort of poetic justice for caring too much for my music and too little for Rose.”
He stood and walked to the piano. He motioned her over on the bench and sat beside her, fingering the keys until she touched his hand to stop the sound. “It’s not right to punish yourself like that. Put your hate somewhere else. Put it on Jarvis or the German Navy or the war but not on your music. Someday your music may serve a larger purpose.”
“Such as?” His leg touched hers and she shifted away. Then wanted to shift back but was afraid.
“You would make a delightful spy. Go on tour. Entertain and gather information.”
Tillie felt the room grow cold. “I thought you enjoyed my company, instead you are a master recruiter.” She stood from the bench and shut the keyboard lid. “I have my new clothes, you’ve had your beer. Now go.”
Captain Lundgren stood as well. He looked down at her with his hard eyes. “I meant what I said.” When Tillie did not, could not, answer, he added, “We shouldn’t be alone without a chaperone anyway.”
He was likely ten years her senior. “I thought you were the chaperone,” she said as she held open the door.
Not moving from where he stood near the piano, Robert said, “I saw your friend, Antonius. He was running for the bus with a knapsack on his shoulder and eating a piece of birthday cake.”
“Antonius left already? That is why he has not come over.” Her connections in life were all leaving her. She fought the tightness in her throat, the pain in her chest. First she had to find Rose, then she could cry.
Robert nodded. “He had two hours from his enlistment to his departure. The bus was leaving for the aeronautics school outside of Berlin and he had to be on it.”
“You helped him with that? Getting into that school? Is he safe there?” Tillie forced words through her tight mouth.
Robert nodded. “He is safe there for a few weeks.”
“Thank you for that.” She did not soften her expression. She felt the fool because she was so easy to befriend. Perhaps easy to seduce. She could not be anyone’s fool. “Will you tell me what you learn of Rose?”
“The child is presumed dead, Tillie. I am sorry, but finding Rose is not a priority.”
“Nonetheless, you will tell me if something crosses your desk, or Jarvis’s desk?”
He stepped toward her and took her hand. She did not snatch it away. She could hold his hand now that she knew he had ulterior motives and could not be trusted. Robert said, “I will personally see to it that you are informed of any information regarding Rose.” He lifted her hand and kissed her fingers. She would have scoffed at such a gesture except the feel of his lips very nearly made her gasp.
Hundreds of people came to say farewell to Ingrid Kapaun. Tillie watched from a small nave near the back as men and women entered the church. Who was her mother to these people? Did they come for Jarvis? With so much mourning, did they come for someone unknown to Tillie? She recognized only a smattering of the women; church women, quilters and supporters of the arts.
Her mother would be pleased, and for that reason Tillie felt satisfaction. She had to admit to pleasure in the Catholicness of it all. On this one aspect of her life, Ingrid would not budge. She was Catholic and did not care how Protestant Jarvis wanted her to be. It was all political to him. The power near the Kaiser was Protestant, and so his wife should be as well. Tillie felt a surge of pride in her mother, deep respect. She had not defied Jarvis from stubbornness, but from belief. Jarvis had no recourse but to pretend he had wanted Ingrid to be Catholic. Tillie smiled.
Tillie followed her mother’s casket while resting her hand on the arm of Captain Lundgren. They walked slowly behind her stepfather with his mother. None of her mother’s relatives attended. Tillie knew they could not come from America. They already had the blessed favor of her last months of life.
Antonius’s mother told Tillie while the women planned the lunch that the parish women were so busy it was hard to know one funeral from the next. This was the third funeral this week. All of the deceased were young men, boys really
No one mentioned Rose. They could not offer sympathy when the child was not declared dead. They did not know what to say about a lost girl child. Tillie saw the concern in their eyes, and she wanted them to speak of Rose. The silence felt as though Rose were not real, did not laugh and play and color pictures in neat, tight circles.
Her stepfather would not allow the child’s name to be spoken in his presence. Everyone thought he was too grieved to hear it, but Tillie felt in her heart that he did not want to have responsibility, the complications of dealing with the British. Tillie no longer felt a kinship in loss with her stepfather, if she ever had felt such. In fact, she did not like him, had never liked him. He was nothing to her, and she was nothing to him.
She stepped into the aisle after the Mass ended and placed her hand on Captain Lundgren’s arm and walked behind the casket in a dignified walk she hoped pleased her mother. She did not cry. As they walked, she felt Robert put his right hand over hers in a possessive gesture that felt comforting and warm. For this moment, they were together, and she would never forget.
She glimpsed the sad, worn faces in the pews as she passed them. Their mourning was for far more than the loss of one woman. She looked at the casket with the men, three on each side. They carried her mother’s casket in a smart, unified step. Robert stood by her at the graveside. After the Monsignor finished his Latin words, after the mourners began to drift away, Tillie stepped to the casket and lay her hand upon it. “Rest in peace, Mother, through the mercy of God. I will find Rose. If she is dead, I will lay her beside you, but if she lives I will care for her.”
Robert sat beside her at the lunch. While she moved the scalloped potatoes with small bits of ham around her plate, he ate well. He buttered his bread and dipped it in the sauce. No one spoke much to her, just quick murmurs of sympathy as they passed from speaking with her stepfather.
Then a light touch on her shoulder startled her. She turned on her chair to see Walter. With Walter stood her teacher and her classmates from the Frankfurt Conservatory of Music. Tillie slid back her chair and stood to greet them. As she met Walter’s eyes she saw sadness in him that connected with her own. She wanted to tell Walter that it was all right. He earned the solo.
“Why are you so sad, Walter?” She could not understand it.
“We will talk when you return to school.” He laid his hand over hers and spoke softly so only she could hear. She nodded. The girl’s briefly hugged her and the boys gently shook her hand. Musicians were always so careful of hands. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for coming.”
Turning to Robert, she said, “Gone only three days, Antonius is not in harm’s way, not yet?”
Robert shook his head. His dress hat sat on the table at his elbow. He was in full military uniform and looked handsome enough to stop a heart. “What is the boy to you, Tillie? Are you spoken for?”
Tillie considered her answer, finally asking a question of her own. “What does it matter to you? Do you ask as a person or as a recruiter?”
He pulled her into his steel gray gaze, so cold and yet passionate. What was he trying to control? Robert was navy intelligence, and though Tillie was only vaguely aware of what that meant, she knew the title sparked fear. The girls at work would only whisper about such men.
“Today I ask as a man,” he said. He laid his fingers lightly on her hand.
“Antonius is my friend since we were children. He wants only to fly airplanes, and I want him to be happy. Do pilots survive better than the men in the trenches?” She turned to face him. They were alone now except for the church woman wiping tables.
“Too soon to know for sure. The early reports are grim, but no more so than our brave soldiers in the trenches at Verdon.” He indicated it was time for them to leave, to go home. The time allotted for mourning was over.
Robert glanced at her often as he drove, placing his hand on her thigh when the driving allowed. Tillie rested against the seat. Her bulky black linen skirt felt warm in the hot air inside the vehicle. She looked at the afternoon May sunshine bathing the streets of Frankfurt, her streets. Everything inside of her was vulnerable. So she watched the women in plain dresses with rolled socks and worn shoes stand in queues for rations. He was too hard for her, too difficult to understand.
“May I come in?” He had shut off the Mercedes and turned toward her. His expression one of mild inquiry.
“Are you a married man?” She asked in return and did not know where that question came from. She could not find in her heart any actual concern for morality. She did not feel it. She felt gratitude that this one time her fair skin did not burn red.
He looked away from her and hesitated. Then looking into her eyes, he said, “Yes, I have a wife in Berlin.”
Still she considered it. His solicitation softened her, flattered her. He touched her hand, his fingers caressing her skin. Then she opened her door without waiting for him to do so and stepped out. He frightened her. She was not prepared.
“Thank you for the lift,” she told him, leaning into the car door. “Maybe another time.” She turned away and was about to shut the door. “Thank you also for being with me today.” No words could express her gratitude so she said no more, shutting the car door.
“Wait,” he shouted behind her. But she ran down the stone steps, her new black pumps clicking like tap shoes.
Chapter Five - You Too, Walter?
The following Monday morning, May 31, 1915, Tillie dressed in her school skirt. Through the single window into the garden she could see the dappled sunlight on the new green of the rose bushes. She glanced up through the window as she struggled to iron her blouse. Also, since Matilda no longer came to fuss at her, Tillie had taken to sleeping on the horsehair sofa in the downstairs parlor.
Tillie knew that the housekeeper did not like her, considered her lazy and frivolous because she played the piano in her free time instead of helping her mother. Still, to just stop coming after all these years without a word seemed odd and hurtful. Tillie remembered the tears on Matilda’s cheeks when she said good-bye after the visitation. Had something happened more than the woman’s grief?
Thinking of Matilda made her wish for Antonius, his dismissive laughter, his freedom from trivial concerns, and his ability to always move forward. He would be standing in the parlor by this time, waiting by the door to walk to school. This thought reminded her to grab the letter she wrote to him, attach the stamp and put it in the mailbox by the front door.
She stuffed her lunch in her pull string bag and stuffed the bag in her bicycle basket. Lunch consisted of a pork salad sandwich and some muskmelon in wax paper, respectable. Tillie was still able to redeem her coupons at the meat market though she heard people grumble that they could not get what was on the coupon.
Yesterday afternoon, the old man who ran the newspaper stand told her that a group called the Red Cross might help to locate missing war refugees. Rose qualified as a war refugee, so Tillie would risk being late for work today. After school she would see what the Red Cross could do. She worked out the route to the Red Cross address as she rode to school.
A mild shock slipped across her shoulders and down her back as Tillie stepped to the front door of the conservatory. The door was the same, abutting directly on the sidewalk, ordinary. Inside she climbed the wide marble steps listening to the muted sound of a pianist playingconcert music: Brahms's work, Paganini Variations. It was technically perfect, but lacked soul. She thought it must be Walter.
When she turned down another narrow hallway she listened with a new thoughtfulness. He was perfect. She opened the heavy, wood door and entered the long practice room with the beautiful grand piano near the grimy windows. For several minutes she stood still, listening to Walter play. When at last Walter paused, she clapped lightly and said, “Bravo.”
For a young man in full health, he pouted a lot. That was why he was not popular with his school mates. He hung his head and refused to be happy. Today, when he looked up at Tillie, she noticed his deep set gray eyes. When he smiled, her mouth opened to gape at him.
Walter was a handsome young man. He possessed thick, dark hair and even, strong Germanic features. She wondered why he wasted himself in this constant state of moping when he could be so attractive.
“Not so glum today?” she asked him as she walked to the piano. Without asking his permission, she pulled out her violin to join in the music. They did this often and casually while waiting for Professor Steinburg.
“I have made up my mind to enlist,” he said. He said this with a smile, his shoulders turned to her and his expression settled. Obviously this decision had lifted weight from him. Tillie froze, staring at him.
“Not before the concert?” She forced herself to ask through stiff lips. Her heart seemed to have stopped. Walter could not enlist before the concert. Unthinkable.
“Yes, before the concert. Immediately. I am telling the Professor today,” he looked peaceful and happy for the first time since Tillie knew him.
“Why?” Tillie knew the shock she felt sounded in her voice.
“Because I have to,” he answered with no emotion.
“Why,” she repeated, unable to recover from the shock.
He turned on the bench and faced her. “It takes more courage than I possess not to,” he told her, looking at her, checking to see if she understood. Finally he showed some feeling.
She did not understand. She tried to, but she could not fathom a pianist of his immense ability declining the opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity that could lift him to a world class status. She could see on his face that opportunity to play was not an argument. “What of your mother?” Tillie asked, knowing Walter was an only son whose father died years ago of a heart attack.
“I have to enlist, and she will have to accept it.” His eyes suddenly hard. Who was this man?
“What of the concert? You would sacrifice the concert? That is too much, Walter. No man can play like you. What about the music?” She could barely make the words.
“You are the better choice to play the solo.” He lightly fingered the keys, no longer looking at her. She had thought so too, but now she did not believe it. She did not have his masterful technique. Seeing her thoughts, he added, “What you do not have in technique you make up with soul. Besides you can practice technique.”
At this moment, her beloved instructor entered the room, slow and dignified as always. He looked to be about fifty years old. In 1910, he made the decision to instruct female students who met his stringent guidelines and could pay his exorbitant fees. Tillie began at the conservatory when she was eleven years old. But she did not graduate to having Steinburg as her instructor until she was fifteen.
In all her years, the annual concert presented by the conservatory at the Opera House in the first week of September was the event of the year for the school. It was the testament to Steinburg’s talent. Also he managed to snare from the University Ludwig Guderman whose very name gave the concert prestige.
Steinburg leaned his tall frame against a pole that rose from floor to ceiling in the middle of the room and made moving instruments difficult. The pole did not seem to serve a purpose, but there it was, smooth and round marble. He was a thin man and his trousers always seemed a bit short above his shoes. He leaned casually against the pole. This attitude warned Tillie that he had something difficult to say.
“How are you today?” he said through his beard and moustache. To this question both Walter and Tillie answered clearly, “Well, sir.”
“What is new?” he seemed to have psychic powers. He looked at them with apparent benign eyes, but inside the blackness of his eyes was alarming intelligence.
Walter inhaled, looked directly at the man and said, “I am enlisting, sir.”
The Instructor did not move a muscle. He sighed and folded his hands across his stomach. “With those hands, Walter, you will hold a gun?”
“Yes, sir,” Walter replied and Tillie was amazed at Walter’s calmness.
“When?” Steinburg asked.
“Next week, sir, on June 7th, which is my birthday.” He did not falter, his gaze remained level.
“And you tell me this today?” It was a halfhearted question. The Professor added, “Though I must admit I thought it might come.” Tillie could only gape at both of them. None of this was happening. Surely Professor Steinburg would stop this madness.
Suddenly passionate, Walter pushed back the bench from the piano and stood. He strode several strides away and back. “I wish, sir,” nearly whispering, “that I had the courage not to go. My mother’s tears are easier to bear than the sneers of my fellows.”
“I understand,” the Professor said. Never had she seen understanding from him about anything but music. Now he was letting Walter off so easy, giving him an out, allowing him to breathe easy. The only clue to the cost of his understanding was sadness deep in his eyes, weariness.
“And you, Miss Tillie,” he adjusted his gaze to her. She found it difficult to look at him. “I received word from your stepfather that as of August 1st, he will no longer pay your tuition. I believe you will be eighteen years old in August.” He then somehow included both her and Walter in a mesmerizing group council.
Tillie froze with fright. Her hands went cold and her mouth dried. It could not be true. There had to be some mistake. She looked to the Professor to somehow save her from drowning in a sudden and deep chasm of despair. Music was her life. In the back of her mind, the words formed. What of Rose.
Steinburg continued, “What are we to do? The concert is little more than three months away and you two are my only pianist worthy of the piece.” He did not appear defeated, but he did appear discouraged. Concern deepened the fine lines around his eyes. Already the concert had sold out. He looked down and added in a barely audible mumble, “It will be a performance by young boys, girls and old men, but it must be done.”
As the silence took on a life of its own Steinburg waited. At last Walter answered, “I am paid through September. Tillie may use my tuition.”
Steinburg raised his head in surprise at this offer. He was not a financially generous man, and Tillie felt he did not expect this. Tillie watched her instructor so closely that she did not completely understand what had just happened. Tillie thought, what does it mean?
“All right.” Mr. Steinburg finally pulled himself free of the pole and stood erect, sighing. “Walter, you have one week to work with Miss Tillie.” He turned to her and inhaled deeply. “Miss Tillie, you are now the lead pianist and you have the solo. I expect you understand the time required for this.”
Tillie managed to nod. She reached to put her hand on the piano so she could remain standing. Then Mr. Steinburg did another strange thing that Tillie had never before witnessed, he smiled at them. He held more words for them, for Walter and for herself and Tillie held her breath. But he only hesitated briefly and strode from the room.
She and Walter looked at each other. She did not understand and had to ask Walter to explain to her what had just happened. The upshot of it all was that practice had to begin that afternoon. She did not know what to do about her job at the munitions factory.
Tillie sat down on the floor, over-whelmed. “Walter,” she said. “I have something important I have to do this afternoon. I have to visit the Red Cross for help to find Rose. I think I will also see Jarvis. Apparently he intends to set me adrift. And I have to talk to the supervisor at my job.” She had to go see Jarvis and find out his intentions. She was positive it was a misunderstanding. “A week ago I would have been so happy to have the solo. My mother would have been so proud. Now I feel sick.”
“Your mother is proud. Start with the ammunition plant. They expect you this afternoon and you can’t go AWOL. Any employer in Germany would give you time off for the solo in the Frankfurt concert.” Tillie said nothing but she doubted his words. Walter continued. “Then see the people at the Red Cross. That might take a while. They are busy, I’m sure. Probably a long que.”
Tillie could do nothing but stare at the boy. To say a list was easy. To do the list was impossible. “And what of Jarvis?”
“Save Jarvis until last. He doesn’t know that your tuition is covered through the concert. I am so happy to be able to do that. Mother won’t even think of a refund from Steinburg.”
“What about practice? Professor Steinburg will check. He will not be pleased, not at all. I have to practice. I have to practice with you.” Always the music. The music possessed her.
“No practice today, Tillie. You have to be able to focus. I mean completely focus on the music and nothing else. Take care of what you must. Do it today. After today nothing can stop you. I will talk to Steinburg. We will begin in the morning.”
“And if I can’t do it?”
“But you can do it.”
Tillie found herself outside in the warm sun. For several minutes she sat on her bicycle and did not know where to go. What was she doing? The Red Cross. The address was in the opposite direction from her work. She would go there first. She had extra time this morning. It could not take hours to ask for help.
The German Red Cross was housed in a two story red brick building on a corner lot. Abutting the red brick to the south was a solicitor’s office, and that was all that Tillie could see for sure. A line of people snaked out of the door and down the street. A policeman directing the line told Tillie to park her bike along the side of the building and wait her turn. He allowed no questions. Not that Tillie would ask anything of the sour man with fingers missing on one hand and a scar across his nose.
She parked her bike and took her place behind the last man. A soft murmur rose from the line as people told one another of their troubles. “Every day at first, mind you, but only on Mondays now. My son’s a prisoner in Russia. Nothing worse than that. A prisoner in some filthy Russian camp, but they deliver mail.”
At first Tillie listened with interest but soon she allowed the words to float around her and did not hear them. The old man leaning on a cane ahead of her in the queue wobbled in the sun. She reached to steady him but he righted himself. An hour passed and Tillie was only a few feet closer to the door. “Is the queue better at another time?” She addressed the old man.
“Nope,” he said. “You can get right in at 8:00 AM if you sleep in front of the door and the police don’t move you off the street. It’s worse once you get inside the door. Hot and crowded all the way up the stairs. Once you get to the end they’re in a big rush. Will send you to the end of the line for any missing dot. You have to be ready to say your peace and take your answer and get out of the way.”
“Sweet Jesus,” Tillie mumbled. There had to be a better way. The line moved faster in the next hour and she reached the doorway. People saved places for calls of nature and the side of the building where the bicycles were parked smelled like urine. Tillie’s house boasted a flush toilet and she was appalled to pee on the ground. She lifted her skirt and did what she had to do. Returning to her place in line.
Her lunch would be rotten in the bag on her bike she realized as she accepted a cup of water from a volunteer. The young woman went up and down the line offering water to those who managed to gain access to the building. Everyone drank from the same cup. At least on the stairs Tillie could lean against the wall. The old man, Roger, conserved his strength and kept moving. He cradled a package to send his prisoner grandson.
Roger stumbled on the final step, dropping his cane and his package. Tillie nearly cried in frustration. The clerk motioned for her to come around, but she shook her head. “This gentleman is ahead of me.” She gathered the cane and the man and the package. By the time Roger stood at the counter, the narrow faced clerk had composed herself. She recognized Roger and called him by name. “I’ll see to it. And I believe I have a package for you.”
Happy Day. Hope for them all. Roger was helped to the down stairs clutching a narrow package in brown paper. At last Tillie faced a heavy jawed woman dressed in a navy blue dress and wearing an apron of all things.
“I need help to find my little sister who was a passenger on the Lusitania and is lost in England.”
The woman appeared to take in the information with a nod. She disappeared into a door behind her and returned with a thin file. “We received information just this morning, but since we had no record of any German passengers we have not looked at it.” She placed the folder on the counter and opened it. “Your sister’s name?”
The woman looked up sharply. “I heard about her.” How was it possible that in a country full of missing and imprisoned citizens did the woman hear about Rose? “The child traveled as an American.” The woman studied the papers on the counter. “She is listed as missing and presumed dead. I am sorry.” The woman gave Tillie a dismissive look.
“No,” Tillie said. “Look some more.”
“It is odd to have so many children listed as missing, way out of proportion. Even a child listed as a Russian Prince. God have mercy.” The woman did not appear to be rushing her rather she was trying to convince her to accept matters as they stood. She scanned the pages. Then she looked up and met Tillie’s eyes. Tillie sighed, the heaviness in her heart near to blinding her. The woman noted Tillie’s name and address on the folder and told Tillie to come back in a few days.
Jarvis kept her waiting in the hall for nearly two hours. More exhausting than riding more than twenty miles across the city was sitting in the hallway. Tillie did not know if the wait was directed at her personally or if Jarvis was seriously busy. Certainly the blockade of the German ports by the British was creating sufficient problems to keep the man busy.
Whatever his reason, the wait could not matter to her. First she stood at the triple glass window and then sat on the window seat. The building’s finest architectural feature was those brick columns that allowed for the protruding windows. She used the time to practice.
Her concert music was Brahms Variations on a theme by Haydn and the technical work involved was tremendously challenging and suited perfectly for Walter. How had she questioned this choice by the conductor? Now it was to be her lead and her solo. She could do the music. Yes, if left alone to prepare she could do the music. But would her own thoughts give her peace? Not likely. With her fingers on the window sill, she played parts over and over, the music in her head, the sound in her head.
Suddenly Captain Robert Lundgren stood at her elbow. “Good Morning, Miss. The Officer in Charge of Kaiser Wilhelm’s War Supplies will see you now.”
Tillie barely stifled a startled scream at the sudden rending of her concentration. She composed herself and smiled at Robert and the use of her stepfather’s formal title. She smiled while looking into Robert’s eyes. She thought to ask about Rose, but he had on his work face. He did not break character for a second, though she thought she saw a hint of humor at the corners of his mouth. Tillie followed him without a sound.
As usual, Robert took up his position at the fireplace. He stood with his hands behind his back and feet slightly apart. He was as much a fixture as the standing lamp. He maintained a blank, soldier expression and appeared to look through the opposite wall.
Jarvis did not stand when she entered. He merely looked up from his desk. The space before him was as tidy as humanly possible. The surface gleamed with hard redwood polish, decorated only with the fountain pen and ink that was a gift from Tillie’s mother.
“What can I do for you, Tillie?” he asked, expressionless, his face a deliberate blank mask.
“I have been selected as lead pianist and for the piano solo for the concert in September.” Now the excitement would rear its head and sound in her voice. Jarvis, after all, represented the only family she had. She wanted to share.
She did not know what she expected, perhaps some praise, some congratulations, some pleasure. But she got none of it. From the corner of her eyes, she saw Robert give a quick nod at her in appreciation. But Jarvis had no response whatsoever, except for a slight shake of his egg-shaped head.
“As you know, Tillie, on August 1st you are eighteen years old. As of that date, I will have completed my responsibility to your mother. That school you attend costs three times each month what you make at the ammunitions plant. Your instructor does not strike me as one to allow you free access even with your abundant talent. So, you will have to explain to him that you can’t complete your assignment.” He said these cruel words with almost a smile. Why did he hate her? Why did her chest contract with pain?
She had no answer for this. She stared at him, dumbfounded. No one in their right mind would forsake such an opportunity as she had before her – except Walter. She had assumed upon learning of her accomplishment that Jarvis would leap from his chair. He would enthusiastically resume paying her tuition. She expected joy, possibly a hug. No she did not expect a hug.
She thought of Walter. In that second, the vision of Walter in her mind provided strength. She would not tell Jarvis about the offer from Walter. Let Jarvis wonder how she paid. Let him wonder about the job at the munitions plant as well. Let him go to hell.
“England is blockading the port. We will have little food soon enough. Your ration card will go to someone more valuable to the war effort,” again he smiled, a cold, satisfied smile.
Tillie wanted to ask what she had done. But she did not. Instead her pride surfaced as well as her stubbornness. “Well, Sir,” she said. “Is it not your job to make sure the civilian population has food?” She did not budge from her stance. She neither lowered her eyes nor moved her feet. Her breathing remained level.
She could do this only because of Walter’s offer regarding tuition. Jarvis may have expected a hysterical girl pleading for mercy, but she would not plead. Instead she wondered where were the photos of her mother and Rose that previously hung on the wall behind his desk.
“My job is none of your concern!” he raised his voice, and she felt victory. “It is the desire of the Kaiser to supply the men risking their lives on the battle front as a top priority. The civilians will need to fend for themselves. I wish you luck with that.” He did not smile. He stood and placed his hands palm down on his desk.
“And the house?” she could not completely keep the tremble from her lips, so she smiled to hide it.
“Be out by the first day of August,” he answered, glowering at her for no reason.
“And the housekeeper?” she wondered.
“Surely a strong, healthy young woman as yourself can wash your own sheets. As the house will be empty, I explained to Matilda that no housekeeper was necessary.”
“Oh,” Tillie said. She turned to leave. That was all she needed to know.
But he coughed lightly behind her, and she turned back. “Never be late again for your shift at the plant. I will no longer protect you from discipline.” He pursed his thin lips with a smug look. She knew that Jarvis considered that a parting shot that would strike hard.
“I will not be late,” she smiled at him. She hid her hands behind her back to hide the tremble. What a proud papa he made! She could not admit that it hurt how little he cared, not until the door shut behind her. Then she could no longer keep the tears from her eyes. Had she really believed he would be proud of her, that he would love her?
Robert, who escorted her into the hallway, removed his white handkerchief from an inside pocket and wiped her cheeks. “Bravo to you,” he said with more warmth than seemed possible from his stone-statue appearance.
“Thank you,” she answered and began to walk toward the stairs.
“You may certainly stay with me.” He spoke to her back. She turned in time to catch that smile he kept so well hidden. She had to smile back. The man had humor in his soul if only a small corner of it. She felt better, stronger. She lifted her head and strode down the hallway.
She rode her bicycle over the cobblestone streets to the ammunitions factory. She rode the familiar streets in the warm summer light barely seeing the pedestrians in faded colors, without thinking about her route. Her thoughts swung like a pendulum between the excitement of the performance before her and the abyss of sadness at no one to share her success. What did it matter if no one cared? Her mother would have been proud. Antonius would also be proud if he knew. Rose would care. And, she allowed herself also the tiny voice in her heart to believe that possibly Captain Robert Lundgren cared.
Tillie entered the long, low building that housed the workers. She sought her shift supervisor, Mrs. Schulton. Glancing at the time clock, Tillie was shocked to see that it was barely a half hour to the start of her shift. Rubbing her hands together for warmth, she tried to find the courage to face the woman. Tillie hated confrontation more even than conservation. Keeping the concert in her thoughts, she would do what she had to do.
As she walked between the rows of women, all ages, shapes and sizes, she noticed them for the first time. She noticed the intensity of their expressions as they worked for the soldiers of Germany. She heard the whir of wheels as the shell casings went through the machine that folded them like paper. They were making tools of destruction, of death. Yet, many of the women prayed as they worked.
Tillie spotted the robust frame of Mrs. Schulton walking toward her. The woman walked with immense energy like a general before his troops. Her blond hair, covered with a white cap, managed to hang a bit on her forehead. The small flaw gave the supervisor a more approachable appearance than any of the other supervisors. Tillie always felt gratitude in being assigned to Mrs. Schulton’s section.
Mrs. Schulton stopped about two feet from Tillie and looked at her with a questioning expression. Tillie plunged ahead. “I am to be the lead pianist in the Frankfurt concert.” To Tillie’s amazement, Mrs. Schulton gasped, clutching her heart. Tillie’s head went light as though she floated. Mrs. Schulton touched Tillie’s arm and led her to the lunch room and motioned to the nearest bench, then she sat down beside her.
“I have to practice,” Tillie said. “I have to practice every day all day. I can’t come to work.” She looked at her cold hands and could not bring her eyes to look at Mrs. Schulton. Only the whirring sound from the factory floor answered her words.
Finally Mrs. Schulton said, “What can we do? Have you told Mr. Kapaun?”
Tillie nodded but she could not speak.
“He sent you to fend for yourself, did he? Well, I suppose war is a serious business, a very serious business.” She shifted beside Tilly, inhaling through her teeth. “Let me think.”
Hope rose in Tillie’s heart. She prayed, please, please, please.
“The performance is in September. I have two women pregnant and two more sick. But . . .”
Please, please, please God.
“This is what we will do.” She sounded pleased with herself. “In exchange for two tickets to the concert I will pull your work card from the file.”
Tillie gasped. She would not show up on any attendance reports sent to her stepfather. It was a huge favor, possibly a dangerous favor. Tillie raised her eyes to look at Mrs. Schulton. The woman returned Tillie’s look and smiled. “We are at war,” she said. “We are not dead, yet.”
“Thank you.” Tillie stood. Nearly she bent to hug the woman, but, of course, she could not do that. Mrs. Schulton also stood and without another word she bustled from the lunch room and returned to her duty. Tillie’s legs wobbled beneath her and she put her hand on the table. All that bike riding and no food, all the change in her life would make her sick. She did not know how she found her bike or how her legs were able to peddle. Black dots formed into a circle around her vision.
Tillie found herself on a park bench along the Main River. As she sat on the iron bench facing the water, the curved path and the clean cut grass, she remembered her lunch still in the bag in the bicycle basket.
She thought of Rose. She thought of her mother and how much she missed her. She wondered how Antonius was doing, if he was flying the planes he loved. She received no correspondence from him and wondered why. Tears slid down her cheeks, unnoticed.
An old man on a bicycle passed along the path and looked at her and looked quickly away. So much grief in the country, one girl crying on a park bench was no more remarkable than the geese honking overhead. No one should cry; no tears, no laments; be strong and move forward.
At last, she sighed, mounted her bicycle and rode home. Tomorrow she had to begin practice.