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Lusitania WWI Female Spies 2

Updated on August 10, 2016

Chapter Two - Somethings Not Right

Four months earlier on a cold Sunday afternoon, Tillie and her mother, Ingrid, shared the warmth of the downstairs parlor. The wind did not seem to enter into this room like the cold drafts swirled upstairs. Tillie’s little sister, Rose, knelt on a chair by the table and lined dominoes into a row. When Tillie glanced toward her mother, Ingrid appeared to be intent on Tillie’s music. The upstairs grand piano presented a deeper sound than the upright that Tillie used now. But the comfort of the parlor space compensated for any sacrifice in the sound.


Matilda, the maid, entered as though on cue. She carried a carafe of coffee and mugs, and frowned at Rose until the child cleared her dominoes from the table. She strode her robust frame from the room and returned with spice cakes with powdered sugar frosting. She set everything out on the table and then stood to the side to pour. Rose was allowed a smidgen of coffee in her milk. If Jarvis had been home, they would have had beer upstairs. But happily Jarvis was not home, and Tillie could talk with her mother.


Ingrid dismissed Matilda for the day saying that Tillie could clear. As Tillie happened to be watching Matilda as her mother spoke, Tillie caught a brief flash of skepticism or maybe disdain cross Matilda’s cheeks. She wondered why the housekeeper disliked her, but lost the thought as her mother turned to her.


“I have something important to tell you, Tillie.”


Tillie waited, curious.


“I’ve booked passage to America. I want to visit my family before America joins the war and makes it all very uncomfortable.”


Several thoughts crossed Tillie’s mind all at once; visiting America, joining the war and on which side, what about her and who would care for Rose. What she said was, “When ?”


“We sail in March, not a good time for sailing the Atlantic but a good time for me. I feel a real need to see my mom and dad while I can. I will take Rose with me.”


Tillie tried to hide her hurt but she apparently failed as her mother quickly added, “Of course you can come too, but that would mean missing your music. I thought you would rather not.”


Tillie mulled this over. Why not wait a year to travel? Stopping, even briefly, her lessons at the conservatory could not be considered. She would play in the concert and had to prepare. After a minute, she sighed. “Am I to be left alone?”


“Yes, except that Jarvis will be around to maintain the household. You are seventeen now and responsible.” Her mother smiled at her.


Tillie looked at her half eaten cake. She did not want her mother to see her face because she didn’t know what to think. She remembered her grandmother as a harsh woman who taught her to peel apples and clean jars. Her aunts were too busy with their own children to give her much attention, and the men did not exist in her life. Other than really good food, Tillie did not care to visit her mother’s family.


As far as Jarvis caring for the household, that was a laugh. But maybe he would sleep at his work as he often did already. No Rose to pester her for bedtime stories. The house to herself. She could practice after work and into the night. These were all positive aspects of the situation, but, still, she did not feel positive about it. She felt a sting behind her eyes.


Now Tillie remembered that moment as she parked her bicycle in the line of bicycles along the long, narrow wood building that housed a munitions factory. If the truth be told, she had been far too driven with her music to miss her family. It had, in fact, often been a relief to practice without interruption or demands. Now that her audition effort had failed, she felt a tickle of guilt at the passage of weeks without more than a postcard here and there. Despite the guilt, she could not believe that her effort was a waste, her time better spent in finding an aeronautics school for Antonius. As she entered the hot building she longed to see her mom and even the spoiled little brat, her half-sister, Rose.


She opened her locker, shoved the newspaper that Antonius always put in her bike basket into the slot previously occupied by her apron. She forced her thick, blond hair into a net. When the bell sounded she sat on a tall stool at her station, ready to work.


At her supper break, she opened the newspaper on the long table lined with women unwrapping their food. She glanced at the date, Saturday, May 8, 1915, as she reached for her bag containing her biscuit with a slice of pork and spread with a mixture of lard and butter.


Heart sinking, Tillie realized her sandwich that she made that morning still sat on the end table by the garden door. The sandwich was part of her life before the audition. Hunger squeezed her insides.


For a few seconds Tillie considered going without anything until she got home, but she had not actually eaten all day. Seeing the other women opening their lunch bags, made her feel faint. “I forgot my supper,” she said to the dark haired, pouty girl who sat beside her. Tillie was about to offer the girl money for part of her sandwich when the girl broke her sandwich in half and slid a half over to Tillie. It was dark bread with no meat, but Tillie thanked her profoundly all the same.


In return, Tillie shared her newspaper. Both of the girls read the headline. Lusitania Sank by German Submarine.


The sinking of the ship meant little to Tillie or her companion beyond the horrible loss. More loss, but at least this was glamorous. Melony gasped at the grainy photo of the first class dining room and a blond woman in a fur coat posing like a movie star. “Do you suppose that woman drowned?”


Tillie shook her head. “No one actually drowned,” Tillie said as she began to read further.


“Yes, they did.” Melony corrected her in no uncertain terms. “Rockefeller drowned. And that lady too for all we know.”


Tillie didn’t hear a word more as she tried to read the details, but the article contained few details other than the ship carried ammunition and explosives along with wealthy, important people. Possibly 2000 souls sailed on the ship. German hero Kapitanleutnant Walter Schwieger’s U-20, one week out of Emden, sunk the massive liner Lusitania fifteen miles south of the Old Head of Kinsale.


She heard Melony saying, “That’s what happens to the enemies of the Kaiser. Why do they fight?”


Tillie looked at the dark haired girl who shared her supper without question. “America is not an enemy of the Kaiser,” she said quietly. Melony shrugged. “Well,” Tillie continued. “I suppose it takes our minds off the boys in the trenches to read about this as though we should be proud.”


Only later, while her hands capped the bullets as they passed her station by the hundreds, did Tillie think again about the ship. Her mother was not due to sail from America for two weeks. Tillie thought it might be awkward for her stepfather that his wife traveled to England. But civilians traveled nearly as before and without recriminations. That was the route home from America: England to Norway to Emdon in Germany.


It was too soon; her mother was not on the Lusitiana. Tillie would, however, ask her stepfather about her mother’s travel plans. She would ask him after work at the same time that she asked how Antonius could become an airplane pilot.


After ten pm. Tillie left the squat building. Darkness, relieved only by a few gas lamps, settled heavy on the silent cobblestone street. The electric lights which ran the length of Dorr Wieson Street shut off at ten. It was a time for war and that meant conservation. Tillie hated conservation.


So, just as Tillie and her co-workers left the ammunition plant, the street went dark. Then slowly the gas lamps came on here and there. The women always stood for a few minutes waiting for the lights. Then they dispersed quickly enough. Many who lived close rode bicycle. Those who did not live close grabbed the last street cars. A fortunate few were picked up by motor car. In any event, Tillie soon stood alone on the cobblestone yard of the factory. Tomorrow was Sunday, her day off and Antonius’ birthday. Could she wait until morning to see her stepfather?


No, she could not wait. Something about it nagged at her. Why would all those people sail during a war? Did they visit family like her mother? The question made her too anxious to wait. So, despite being hungry and exhausted, she straddled her bicycle, adjusted her skirt and started the three mile ride to her stepfather’s building.


As she rode, she thought about her half-sister, Rose. Her heart melted toward the little girl. While Rose was without question extraordinarily intelligent; speaking full sentences and writing her numbers and letters at age three. The child was also such a spoiled, demanding little girl that Tillie found it difficult to love her.


Rose was also pretty with naturally curled blond hair and a round cherub face. This was not an issue to Tillie as she was also exceptionally attractive and felt no rub with Rose on that score. And suddenly Tillie missed her little sister with a gnawing kind of hurt.


Tillie promised as she rode along in the silent night that she would read the whole stack of books that Rose carried up the stairs to her bedroom every single night. When Rose returned, Tillie would love her.


Romerberg Square did not practice a high degree of conservation. The City Hall was alight in every one of its long, narrow windows. The building next to it where her stepfather worked and lived was ablaze with light and buzzing with activity at eleven pm on a Saturday night. Tillie considered this to be extraordinary as tomorrow was Sunday and these people had families, not that actual time with family counted a great deal in the Kaiser’s Germany.


She entered the foyer of her stepfather’s building without anyone bothering her. Small groups of men stood along the walls. Some of them glanced toward her, but no one spoke to her. She preferred the stairs to the lift and took the stairs two steps at a time. Her stepfather’s office and apartment was in the front, west corner of the fourth floor.


As Tillie turned into the wide marble hallway, she saw her stepfather in conversation with a man in military uniform. The two men stood at the far end, in front of the hallway window, the glass black behind them. Tillie hesitated as sudden fright seized her arms and legs. Her stepfather looked different to her. He stood, as always, tall, slim and erect, but haggardness hung about his usual impeccable appearance, a slump in his shoulders.


As a civilian, he did not wear the disturbingly decorated uniform of the Kaiser’s Army. Still, his suit appeared wrinkled. What was wrong with him? At that moment he looked up and saw her. Immediately he moved toward her. His name was Jarvis Kapaun, but she called him Sir. Being uncomfortable with the term father, or stepfather, or Jarvis, she said, “Sir?” Her own father was likely still alive somewhere.


“How did you hear?” he asked her.


“Hear what?” She could barely whisper.


Then the younger officer, his naval hat protruding from under his arm, approached them, his eyebrows raised in a question. Jarvis turned to the young man and said, “Captain, this is Ingrid’s daughter, my stepdaughter, Tillie Lucas.” Turning to her he said, “Tillie, this is Captain Lundgren from naval intelligence. He has brought sad news to us.”


Chapter Three - Captain Lundgren and Antonius

A messenger materialized beside Jarvis and handed over a slip of paper. Jarvis excused himself and nodding to Captain Lundgren was gone like a whisper. Tillie remained, standing alone with the Captain, feeling both awkward and afraid.

“If you’ve come to tell us about the Lusitania, my mother was not on board,” Tillie blurted.

“How did your mother happen to be in America?” He tried to make his words sound like conversation to pass the time. Tillie knew he was digging for information. That was his job. She decided to play along and besides she suddenly wanted to talk about her mother.

“My mother is from America. She was born over there. She’s visiting her family now while it’s still safe.”

“America is a big place. Do you know from where in America?”

“I was ten years old when we came here. I remember the journey like yesterday, and I remember Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. We sailed to Oslo and from there to Emdon where her fiancé, Mr. Jarvis Kapaun, met us at the dock. He carried flowers for my mother and did not so much as glance at me.” Instantly Tillie’s cheeks burned hot. Why had she said that? And to a stranger. The words simply popped out with no connection to her brain. Robert Lundgren looked away.

Tillie could see Jarvis as he stood on the pier six years ago. He had black hair and mustache and an egg-shaped head that was far less attractive then he obviously felt it to be. He was a relative of a relative. Tillie’s mother left her home all the same, and Tillie could only imagine how her mother’s heart must have quaked with fear as she stepped onto the pier.

“Another thing,” Tillie stammered. “My little sister Rose is traveling with my mother. The newspaper did not mention any children on the Lusitania. No children.”

The tall, lean officer turned to look at her. His expression remained blank as stone but Tillie saw something flash in his eyes. Sorrow? No, he had no cause for sorrow. He was a handsome man, blond hair and hazel eyes. Yes, sorrow flashed in his eyes.

Jarvis strode toward them with such an air of ownership that he appeared the master of the mansion. Tillie studied him while he spoke quietly to the Captain. He was off kilter. His eyes would not stay still. Tillie thought he appeared disrupted, scattered. She followed behind the men into another room which was mercifully empty of people and contained only a smattering of furniture. This large box like room served as the entry to an ornate, equally large office which belonged to her stepfather.

Jarvis first sat in the high backed chair behind his desk while Captain Lundgren found a place in front of the fireplace. He stood holding a notepad and pencil. Tillie did not remember moving to the leather couch but was sitting against the hard wood of the arm. Only when Captain Lundgren looked toward her stepfather and said, what would you like to do for funeral arrangements for your wife? did Tillie believe.

She remembered refusing to hold her mother’s hand. Considering herself too big to hold onto her mother’s hand, she clutched her Raggedy Anne doll instead. However, her mother was calm, a smile painted on her lips.

Her own father left them high and dry when Tillie was a toddler. As they sailed that ship across the Atlantic, Tillie pestered her mother to tell her about him. As they walked the deck, wrapped in cloaks and looking at the star-filled sky, Ingrid told her the story.

In a quiet, distant voice, she said, “It was not really his fault. I realize that now. We were very young and lived with my parents. Even worse for him was my Grandmother. She was as harsh an old German as you will ever meet, and he was a musician and a Jew. He gained a chance to play in a band booked at a night club in Chicago. So, we went.

“We lasted two weeks. It was no place for a little girl, a bit squalid I would say. One morning I woke up in our room and he was gone along with all his things. His saxophone and his music, his keyboard and costumes were gone. The room was empty. The first thing that crossed my mind was how empty it was. How little of our things were actually mine or yours for that matter. He left an envelope with train fare and a note saying good-bye.”

“Is that all, mama?” Tillie asked thinking of something more she knew her mother kept.

“Not all,” her mother answered. “He left me a plain, gold wedding band. I keep it always.”


Now the ring lay at the bottom of the sea. And Rose. Where was Rose? Tillie had heard no mention of the little girl. She tried to see Jarvis’s face but the room was lit only by a single lamp on his desk which put his face in shadow. Captain Lundgren could not see to write his notes and eventually strode to the doorway and flipped a switch. The overhead chandelier burst into light, and Tillie put her head into the crook of her arm.

Jarvis was saying, “We encouraged her to travel to America. As long as America remains neutral, we want our good German civilians to visit.” He slammed his fist on the desk which made Tillie jump. “Our German travelers were expected in an unspoken code of honor to spread the word of Germany’s mission of honor in defense of Germany’s neighbor, Austria.”

Silence. Then Jarvis stood, pushing back his chair with his legs. His body was taut and his hands in fist. Tillie gaped at him, thinking he was angry at the loss of his wife, but then the man spoke through gritted teeth. “Now I have this mess. The Kaiser will ask how it was that my wife sailed to England. If the woman was going to drown she could in the least have been sailing someplace decent. Make the arrangements with Tillie. I don’t have the time for this.”

Captain Lundgren moved to the couch and sat down beside Tillie. Tillie said to him, “If I hadn’t come here would I have been told?” She received no answer and didn’t expect one. Instead she began to tell Robert the name of the priest and the church, Saint Agnes Catholic church. A smile hovered on her mouth as she gave the address. Jarvis hated that Ingrid insisted on staying Catholic. But she had right to the end.

“Your mother traveled home to Germany on the Lusitania as an American citizen. Would you know why?”

“My mother wanted to please her American family, to go the easier route. Surely, traveling in the United States had to be easier as an American than as a German.”

“Her body is recovered from the water off the Irish coast. Diplomatic communications take a skewed route through Norway, but your mother will be sent home for burial.”

“And Rose?” Tillie was trembling now.

“Nothing was found of the child, but the scene is apparently chaotic. Identification of both the survivors and the dead flounder much the same as the ship itself. The manifest of passengers clearly listed Ingrid and Rose as first class passengers. The search for bodies continues.”

Tillie searched the man for compassion and found instead professional curtesy. Only that brief glimpse while standing in the hallway gave her a clue that a heart beat beneath the uniform. She could have been wrong about that.

At last, Tillie stood. “Sir,” she said, stopping her stepfather as he paced, “I would like to go home now.”

He waved his hand for her to leave and sat down heavy on the couch she just vacated. She thought the two of them shared this grief and should comfort one another. With this in mind she went to him, knelt before him and touched his knee. “I am so sorry,” she whispered.

She wanted him to touch her, to understand her engulfing sadness, but he did not reach out to her. He did not raise his eyes. He sat still as the furniture until at last the Captain took her hand and helped her to her feet. Tillie understood at that moment what she had already known; Jarvis Kapaun was a completely self-centered man.

“Women are always the stronger,” the Captain said as he ushered her from the room. He said this like a line in a play. Tillie wondered if the German army had line training for the millions of times they had to tell women about death. Grief crushed her throat and she could not speak.

As they stepped from the door and onto the street a dark dampness hung about encasing the electric lights along the square so they appeared to be white smudges on black paper. In deft motion, Captain Lundgren hooked Tillie’s bicycle onto the back of his Mercedes and tightened a clamp across the top bar to hold it in place.

He opened the passenger door and Tillie slid onto the seat. She watched the wiper remove the moisture from the windshield. She looked through the window to the row of government buildings, lighted and looming in the gloom. It is all fake, she thought. All that power is for show when the people inside can not reach out a hand to their own.

As the Mercedes slid forward through the streets, the street lamps turned to tiny gas pinpoints. The Captain appeared to know her address so Tillie said nothing, becoming cocooned in the dark silence. As they neared her house he suddenly broke the silence, and his voice startled her.

“Do you have friends in the army?” He asked her. He could not completely remove the cold military distance on his voice.

Tillie had to rearrange her thoughts and finally answered. “Yes, my friend has a birthday tomorrow and he hopes to enlist first thing.” She sounded far away to her own ears. Thinking of Antonius, she added, “He wants to fly airplanes.” Tillie wondered if Antonius still waited for her.

Captain Lundgren asked her several questions about Antonius. What was his training in aviation? How did he know of it? What did he think the purpose would be? Finally, she heard him take a deep breath as he stopped the car in front of her house. From inside his jacket he pulled a small note pad and a pencil and handed it to her. “Write this down,” he told her while he held a small flash light.

She did so with infinite care. It was a name for Antonius to use when he enlisted and a number for verification. If he could pass the training and the exam, Antonius would have a chance for the meager, but growing, Luftwaffe.

The Captain unbolted her bike and carried it down the flagstone steps. She did not stop him even though she always left the bike on the sidewalk, leaning against the brick of her house. The garden was in complete darkness and he used the flashlight to find her door. She nodded and he pushed it open. “In the future you need to lock this,” he told her as he stepped back.

She slid passed him into the cozy downstairs sitting room. She turned on the light, seeing her silk skirt in a pool on the floor. Was that today? Was that only today? Her music books inside the cloth satchel lay on the table. It was the same place she left twelve hours ago but it was no longer familiar. She turned back to Robert, suddenly realizing he still stood at the doorway.

“I am all right now,” she told him.

He nodded, stepping away and shutting the door. The room was empty about her. Antonius had gone home which disappointed her. Then a light knock sounded on the door and she jumped thinking it was Antonius. Tears began to flow as she opened the door expecting the kind face of her friend.

“These letters were in your mail box.” The Captain spoke as he thrust the letters toward her.

“Thank you,” she answered. He hovered for a lingering minute, and then once again shut the door. She heard his boots lighter and lighter on the stone steps.

Today, she had been too distracted to check the mail. Everyday she checked the mail and as each day passed, she felt a keener stab of disappointment at the emptiness inside the box hanging by the front door. Today, when she forgot to look, the box contained three letters addressed by her mother’s fine hand. She sat down and held the letters in her trembling fingers.

Somewhere in the back of her thoughts, Tillie realized she was hungry and tired, but she could neither eat nor sleep. All she could do was sit on the smooth horsehair couch in the small, cozy downstairs sitting room and hold the letters written to her from her mother.

The next thing she knew the door flew open and Antonius burst into the room like a lightening bolt. He carried a picnic basket on one arm and flowers in his hand. He stopped his motion only when he looked directly at Tillie.

“Oh,” he said. Tillie thought of a balloon loosing air and deflating in a little heap of wrinkled skin. He came to her. He sat beside her, and took her hands. “What is it?” he asked her, taking the unopened letters from her cold hands. “Tillie,” he asked, “What has happened?”

She told him.

“And Rose? Did this captain say anything about Rose?” Antonius appeared stunned. When Tillie shook her head, he continued to stare as though he didn’t quit believe her. Finally he stood. Without another word he left room. Tillie heard his heavy tread on the stairs that led to the kitchen.

He returned with oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon and a bit of sugar and milk. He set the tray on the table and then helped her to the chair. Still without speaking above a gentle murmur intended to comfort, he picked up her skirt and folded it. He moved her music to the piano. Then he gently pried the letters from her hand.

While she ate, he read the letters aloud. The letters were postmarked two weeks apart and the first one nearly two months old. They were gossipy letters written on paper so thin the fountain pen nearly tore through. Ingrid wrote about her relatives in America, about the land laying fallow. Tillie smiled at that. Of course, her mother who used every inch of black dirt would notice unplanted ditches and long lawns of nothing but grass and flowers.

Her mother described the streets of Milwaukee and the loudness of everything. She missed her quiet house. In the last letter a piece of folded, off-colored paper slipped to the floor. Antonius picked it up between his fingers while reading the last paragraph. In a few brief lines, her mother told Tillie she would be sailing on the Lusitania. The passage had come to her as a gift and so she would make use of the ticket to return early. Rose was homesick.

Antonius picked up the folded paper and opened it to a colored picture of a doll in a cradle. Rose sends this for you, printed carefully in the corner so as not to disturb the lines of red and blue and purple and brown crayon.

Tillie had no more tears but she reached into her pocket for her hanky and felt with her fingers a folded sheet of paper. “For you,” she said as she slid the paper across to Antonius. “Captain Lundgren had me write this down for you.” She watched his face as he read the information and turned questioning eyes toward Tillie.

“When you go to enlist ask for that man. That number is his phone. He is with the Luftwaffe.”

And what did Antonius say to that? He grabbed Tillie’s hand and said, “He has a phone too?” Tillie laughed until tears covered her cheeks. Though she hoped Antonius would wait a few days to enlist, she knew he would not. His face tried not to smile. Out of respect for her, he struggled to remain calm. But he could not hide the excitement he felt. The boy was a tightly strung live wire waiting to break free. Now his body buzzed. His legs stood taut trying to keep his feet from jumping.

“Airplane school,” he whispered to her. “What will I learn in aeronautics school?”

Tillie shrugged, looking at him. Then suddenly he dropped to one knee and grasped her hand. “Tillie, marry me. Marry me today. No, today is Sunday. Marry me tomorrow.”

Tillie’s heart lurched inside her chest. She tried to show him the respect of considering his words and then realized that she was in fact considering his proposal. Antonius was safe to love. “I’m still a child,” she said. “I’ve never had sex.”

Antonius opened his mouth and then closed it again, but he did not move nor did he release her hand. At that moment she loved him. At that moment she felt the despair in her heart soften. She felt her shoulders loosen and the grip on her throat relaxed. She shook her head. “I love you like a brother. You are my brother. We can’t get married.”

Then as he stood at the door, he told her in his gentle voice, “I will tell your teacher at the conservatory what has happened.”

The poor boy was pulled in two directions; to stay with her, his best friend since they were eleven, or to propel forward to be a soldier for his beautiful and powerful homeland. The picnic basket sat crooked and forgotten on the floor.

Tillie said, quietly, “Please go, Antonius, I must sleep now,” letting him off the hook with his conscience clear. She picked the flowers up from the floor, daisies. She moved stiffly across the room and found a vase and water. If she had begged for him to stay with her, he would have done so. It was enough to know that he would have stayed if she had asked him to.

She removed her clothes and walked nearly naked to her bedroom where she pulled a white night dress over her shoulders. She pulled her quilt from the bed and dragged it behind her to the sitting room. She thought the cleaning lady would be all frumpy and angry with a girl her age leaving her clothes about. She could not care. She selected a piece of chocolate cake from the picnic basket and ate the sour chocolate slowly.

Page Turning Fiction

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