Story — From the January 2018 issue

Munich, 1938

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The Regina Palast was an immense, monumental gray stone cube of a hotel, built in 1908, with Versailles-style reception rooms, a Turkish bath in the basement, and three hundred bedrooms arranged over seven floors, of which the British delegation had been allotted twenty. These ran along the front of the hotel on the third floor, with views across the trees of Maximiliansplatz to the distant twin Gothic spires of the Frauenkirche.

After the prime minister and his team had left for the start of the conference, Hugh Legat spent the next ten minutes walking up and down the dimly lit carpeted corridor in the company of the hotel’s assistant manager. He found it hard to hide his frustration. I might as well have been a bloody hotelier, he thought. His first task, given to him by Horace Wilson, was to allocate a room to each member of the British party and then to make sure the porters delivered the correct luggage to the right room.

“I’m sorry to be a bore,” Wilson had said, “but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to stay in the hotel for the duration of the conference.”

“The entire duration?”

“Yes. Someone needs to get an office set up and running, establish an open line to London, make sure it’s permanently manned. You’re the obvious choice.” The dismay must have shown on Legat’s face, because Wilson went on smoothly: “I understand it’s a disappointment for you not to be at the main show .?.?. but it simply can’t be helped. So sorry.”

Illustration by Danijel Žeželj

For a moment Legat had considered confiding in him why he was in Munich in the first place. But instinct warned him that it might only make Wilson even more determined to keep him away from the German delegation. Indeed, there was something about Sir Horace Wilson’s manner—a vague hard shape lurking beneath the oily surface—that suggested to him that the prime minister’s chief adviser already had a shrewd idea of what he had come to do.

So all he said was, “Of course, sir. I’ll make a start right away.”

The suite designated for the prime minister included a bedroom with a four-poster bed and a Louis ­XVI drawing room with gilt chairs and French windows that opened onto a balcony. “It is the finest room in the hotel,” the under?manager assured him. The next?best rooms Legat awarded to Wilson, Strang, Malkin, Ashton-Gwatkin, and the two diplomats from the Berlin embassy, Henderson and Kirkpatrick.

The large double-aspect room in the southeast corner had been set aside as the delegation’s office. A tray of open-faced sandwiches and some bottles of mineral water had been provided for lunch. It was here that the two secretaries set up their typewriters—two Imperials and a Remington portable—and unpacked their stationery. Legat put the PM’s red boxes on the desk. An old-fashioned telephone was the only means of communication. He asked the hotel operator to book an international call to the switchboard of Number 10, then hung up and paced around the room.

He sat and poured himself a glass of water. It was warm and tasted vaguely of sulfur. Almost immediately the phone rang. He jumped up to answer it: “Yes?” Over the voice of the hotel operator informing him that he was connected to London he could just make out the exasperated tone of the telephonist in Downing Street repeatedly asking what extension he required. He had to shout to make himself heard. It was another minute before the principal private secretary came on the line.

“Cleverly.”

“Sir, it’s Legat. We’re in Munich.”

“Yes, I know. It’s running on the newswires.” Cleverly’s voice was very faint and hollow. There was a series of faint clicks on the line. That would be the Germans listening, thought Legat. Cleverly said, “It sounds as though you—” The robot?voice was lost in a crackle of static.

“I’m sorry, sir. Could you repeat that?”

“I said, it sounds as though you had quite a reception!”

“We certainly did, sir.”

“Where’s the PM?”

“He’s just left for the conference. I’m at the hotel.”

“Good. I want you to stay there and make sure this line stays open.”

“With respect, sir, I think I would be more useful if I were actually in the same building as the PM.”

“No, absolutely not. Do you hear me? I want—” Another burst of static, like gunfire. The line went dead.

“Hello? Hello?” Legat pressed the lever on the cradle half a dozen times. “Hello? Damn!” He hung up and looked at the apparatus with hatred.

For the next two hours Legat made repeated attempts to establish a line to London. It proved impossible. Throughout all this, in the garden opposite the hotel, the crowd kept growing. There was a holiday atmosphere, the men in leather shorts, the women in floral dresses. Much beer was being drunk.

He found a tourist guide to the city in the desk drawer. The hotel appeared to be only about half a mile from the Führerbau—left along Max-Joseph-Straße and up to Karolinenplatz, over the roundabout.?.?.?. Assuming he could find Paul von Hartmann quickly enough, he could be there and back in half an hour.

At the Führerbau, they waited.Each delegation had been allotted its own area. The Germans and the Italians shared the long open gallery that was next to the Führer’s study; the British and the French occupied the two reception rooms at the far end of the corridor that faced it. Paul von Hartmann positioned himself in an armchair in the gallery that afforded him a clear view between the pillars across the wide, open space to where the Allied officials sat in silence, reading and smoking. Both delegations had left their doors open in case they were needed. He could see them moving around, casting hopeful, anxious glances toward the big corner study where the Führer’s door remained firmly shut.

Still Legat did not come.

One hour passed, and then another. From time to time, a Nazi chieftain—Göring, Himmler, Hess—wandered by with his attendants, occasionally stopping to exchange a few words with the Germans. The boots of the SS adjutants rang on the marble floor. Messages were whispered. The atmosphere was that of a big, hushed institution—a museum perhaps, or a library. Everyone watched everyone else.

From time to time, Hartmann reached inside his jacket and touched the metal of the gun, warmed by the heat of his body, then slid his hand down the side of his shirt and felt the outline of the envelope. Somehow he would have to get it into the hands of the British delegation, and sooner rather than later—there was no point in leaving it until a deal was agreed on. Legat, it seemed, was out of the picture: why, he did not know. But if not Legat, who?

It would take him less than half a minute to saunter over to the British delegation’s room. Unfortunately, he could do so only in full view of the entire assembly. What possible excuse could he contrive? His mind, tired from two nights of little sleep, circled endlessly around the problem without finding a solution. Nevertheless, he decided he would have to try.

At three o’clock he stood to stretch his legs. He walked around the corner, past the Führer’s office to the balustrade nearest the British delegation’s room. He rested his hands on the cold marble, leaned casually against it, and looked down into the lobby. He risked a surreptitious glance at the British.

Suddenly there was a noise behind him. The door to Hitler’s study opened and Chamberlain appeared. He looked much grimmer than he had a couple of hours earlier. After him came Wilson, then Daladier and Léger. Daladier, patting his pockets, pulled out a cigarette case. At once, the British and French delegations streamed out from their respective rooms to meet them. As they hurried past him, Hartmann heard Chamberlain call out, “Come on, gentlemen, we’re leaving,” and the two groups walked along the gallery to the far staircase and began to descend. A minute later, Hitler and Mussolini emerged and stalked off in the same direction, with Ciano trailing behind. Hitler’s expression was still one of irritation. He was gesticulating at Il Duce, muttering to him angrily, his right hand making sweeping gestures as if he wished to consign the entire business to oblivion. The glorious possibility occurred to Hartmann that perhaps the whole thing had collapsed.

Legat was at the desk in the Regina Palast office, sorting through the contents of the red boxes and putting aside the documents annotated by the prime minister requiring urgent action, when he heard the crowd begin to cheer. He got to his feet and looked down into Maximiliansplatz. An open Mercedes had drawn up outside the hotel. Chamberlain was climbing out, accompanied by Wilson.
He locked the boxes and went out into the corridor. At the far end the elevator bell rang softly. The doors opened and the prime minister emerged with Wilson and one of his Scotland Yard detectives.

“Good afternoon, Prime Minister.”

“Hello, Hugh.” His voice was tired. In the weak electric light, he looked almost spectral.

“Where are we based?”

“Your suite is here, sir.”

As soon as he crossed the threshold the prime minister disappeared into the bathroom. Wilson went over to the window and looked down at the crowd. He, too, seemed exhausted.

“How did it go, sir?”

“It was pretty bloody. Will you tell the others to come in here? Everyone needs to be briefed.”

Legat stationed himself in the corridor and diverted the arriving delegates into the room. Within two minutes it was full: Strang, Malkin, Ashton-Gwatkin, and Lord Dunglass, Prime Minister Chamberlain’s parliamentary private secretary, together with Henderson and Kirkpatrick from Berlin. Legat went in last. He closed the door behind him, just as the prime minister came out of his bedroom. He had changed his collar and washed his face. The hair behind his ears was still damp. He looked altogether brighter. “Gentlemen, please sit down.” He took the large armchair facing the room and waited while they all found seats. “Horace, why don’t you put everyone in the picture?”

“Thank you, Prime Minister. Well, the whole thing was somewhat of a Mad Hatter’s tea party, as you’ve probably gathered.” He pulled a small notebook from his inside pocket and flattened it out on his knee. “We started with a speech from Hitler, the gist of which was (a) that Czechoslovakia is now a threat to peace in Europe; (b) that a quarter of a million refugees have fled the Sudetenland into Germany in the past few days; and (c) that the whole situation is critical and must be settled by Saturday—either Britain and France and Italy will have to guarantee that the Czechs will start evacuating the disputed territory on that day or he’ll march in and take it. He kept looking at his watch as if he were checking when the twenty-four-hour pause on mobilization would expire. Overall, I must say my impression is that he’s not bluffing, and either we sort this thing out today or it’s war.”

He turned a page.

“Then Mussolini produced a draft agreement in Italian, which the Germans have since had translated.” He felt around in his other inside pocket and pulled out a few typewritten pages. “Translated into German, that is. As far as we can gather, it’s more or less what was proposed before.” He threw it on the coffee table.

Strang said, “Will Hitler accept an international commission to determine which areas are to become German?”

“No, he says there’s no time for that—there should be a plebiscite, and each district can decide according to a simple majority.”

“And what happens to the minority?”

“They will have to evacuate by October tenth. He also wants us to guarantee that the Czechs won’t destroy any of their installations before they leave.”

The prime minister said, “It’s the word ‘guarantee’ I don’t like. How on earth can we guarantee anything unless we know the Czechs will agree?”

“Then surely they need to be at the conference?”

“Exactly the point I made. Unfortunately, this led to the usual vulgar tirade against the Czechs. There was a lot of this.” The prime minister smacked his fist into his other palm repeatedly.

Wilson consulted his notes. “To be exact, he said that he had agreed to postpone military action—but if those who had urged him ‘to do so were not prepared to take responsibility for Czechoslovakia’s compliance,’ he would have to reconsider.”

“Good God!”

Chamberlain said, “Nevertheless, I stood my ground. It’s inconceivable that we should guarantee Czech compliance unless the Czechs themselves agree.”

Henderson said, “What was the French position on bringing the Czechs into the talks?”

“To begin with Daladier backed me up, but then after about half an hour he changed his tune. What exactly was it he said, Horace?”

Wilson read from his notebook. “If the inclusion of a Prague representative would cause difficulties, he was ready to forgo this, as it was important that the question should be settled speedily.”

“To which I countered that I wasn’t insisting that the Czechs should actually take part in the discussions, but at the very least they should be in the next room, so that they could give us the necessary assurances.”

Wilson said, “You were very firm, Prime Minister.”

“Well, yes, I was. I had to be! Daladier is utterly useless. He gives the impression he’s loathing every minute of being here and just wants to sign an agreement and get home to Paris as quickly as possible. Once it became clear we weren’t going to get anywhere—in fact, that there was a risk the whole thing might break up in acrimony—I proposed we adjourn for an hour so that we could consult with our respective delegations about Mussolini’s draft.”

“And the Czechs?”

“Let’s wait and see. By the end Hitler had a face like thunder. He’s taken Mussolini and Himmler back to his apartment for lunch—I can’t say I envy Musso that particular social engagement!”

In the Führerbau, the German and Italian officials had drifted back toward the room where the buffet lunch had been laid out. The two groups didn’t mingle. The Germans felt themselves superior to the Italians. The Italians thought the Germans vulgar. Over by the window, a circle formed around State Secretary Ernst von Weizsäcker and Dr. Schmidt, the foreign ministry’s chief interpreter. Hartmann collected a plate of food and joined them. Weizsäcker was showing the group a document typed in German. He seemed very pleased with himself. It took a moment for Hartmann to grasp that this was some kind of draft agreement, produced at the leaders’ meeting by Mussolini. So the talks hadn’t broken down after all. He felt his earlier good spirits evaporate. His dismay must have shown on his face, because Sauer said, “There’s no need to look quite so miserable about it, Hartmann! At least we have the basis of an agreement.”

“I’m not miserable, Herr Sturmbannführer, merely amazed that Dr. Schmidt should have managed to translate it so quickly.”

Schmidt laughed and rolled his eyes at Hartmann’s naïveté. “My dear Hartmann, I didn’t have to translate a thing! That draft was written last night in Berlin. Mussolini pretended it was his own work.”

Weizsäcker said, “Do you honestly think we would have left something so important to the Italians?”

The others joined in the laughter. Across the room, a couple of the Italians turned to look at them. Weizsäcker became serious. He put his finger to his lips. “I think we should keep our voices down.”

Legat spent the next hour in the office, translating the text of the Italians’ draft agreement from German into En­glish. It wasn’t very long—fewer than a thousand words. As he finished each page he gave it to a secretary to type. At various points, the members of the British delegation trooped into the office to read over his shoulder.

1. The evacuation will begin on October 1st.
2. The United Kingdom, France and Italy guarantee that the evacuation of the territory shall be completed by October 10th .?.?.

And so it went on, eight paragraphs in all.

It was Malkin, the Foreign Office lawyer, sitting in an armchair in the corner, reading through the pages and puffing on his pipe, who suggested that “guarantee” be replaced with “agree”—a clever stroke, seemingly trivial, that completely altered the tenor of the draft. Wilson took it along the corridor to show to the prime minister, who was resting in his room. The word came back that Chamberlain agreed. It was Malkin also who pointed out that the whole thrust of the document implied that three powers—Britain, France, and Italy—were making concessions to a fourth, Germany: a thrust that gave what he called “an unfortunate impression.” He therefore wrote out a preamble to the agreement in his Chancery Lane copperplate:

Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, taking into consideration the agreement, which has been already reached in principle for the cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory, have agreed on the following terms and conditions governing the said cession and the measures consequent thereon, and by this agreement they each hold themselves responsible for the steps necessary to secure its fulfillment.

The prime minister signaled his agreement to that as well. Just after four o’clock the document had been retyped, and the delegation began moving downstairs to their cars. Chamberlain came out from his bedroom into the drawing room, looking tense, nervously smoothing his mustache with his thumb and forefinger. Legat handed him the folder. Wilson muttered, “Perhaps a better quotation from Shakespeare to have used at Heston might have been, ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends.’?” The corners of the prime minister’s mouth turned down slightly.

His detective said, “Are you ready to go, sir?”

Chamberlain nodded and walked out of the room. As Wilson turned to follow him, Legat decided to make one last appeal. “I really think I would be more useful at the actual conference, sir, rather than hanging around here. There’s bound to be further translating to be done.”

“Oh, no, no—the ambassador and Kirkpatrick can handle that. You man the fort here. Really, you’re doing a splendid job.” He patted Legat’s arm. “You need to get onto Number Ten straightaway and read them the text of our revised draft. Ask them to make sure it’s circulated to the Foreign Office. Well—here goes.”

He hurried after the prime minister. Legat returned to the office, picked up the telephone, and once again booked a call to London. This time, to his surprise, it went through.

For Hartmann, the existence of a draft agreement changed everything. Clever minds would now bend themselves to smoothing over points of difference. Iron principles would shimmer and then magically vanish. The most contentious issues of all, on which no accord was possible, would simply be ignored and left to subcommittees to deal with at a later date. He knew how these things worked.

He edged away from the luncheon party, replaced his plate on the buffet table, and slipped out of the room. He reckoned he might have only an hour, or two at most. He needed to find some secluded space. To his left were a couple of closed doors and beyond them a gap in the wall. He walked toward it: the landing of a service staircase. He looked over his shoulder. No one seemed to have noticed his departure. He sidestepped quickly and began to descend. He passed a chef in kitchen whites climbing the stairs carrying a tray of covered dishes. The man ignored him. He continued on down, past the ground floor, all the way to the basement.

The passage was wide, the walls whitewashed, the floor smooth flagstones, like the cellar of a castle. It appeared to run the entire length of the building. He could smell food cooking nearby, could hear the metallic crashes of a kitchen. He walked on firmly, in the manner of a man who had every right to be wherever he wished. He passed a staircase and a guardroom, opened a large metal door, and stepped into the heat of the afternoon.

It was the car park at the back of the building. A dozen black Mercedeses were drawn up in a line. A couple of the drivers were smoking. Faintly in the distance he heard cheers and shouts of “Sieg heil!”

He turned around and went back inside. An SS man appeared from the guardroom. “What are you doing? Hurry up, man! Can’t you hear the Führer is returning?”

Hatmann pushed past him and started climbing the staircase. He trotted up the steps quickly. His heart felt too full for his chest. He emerged more or less exactly where he had been standing when the first session of the conference broke up. There was a flurry of activity. Aides were moving hastily into position, straightening their jackets, smoothing down their hair, looking along the corridor. Hitler and Mussolini came into view, walking side by side. Behind them came Himmler and Ciano. It was clear that the luncheon interval had done nothing to improve Hitler’s mood. Mussolini stopped to talk to Attolico, but Hitler stamped on regardless, followed by the German delegation.

At the entrance to his study he halted and turned to look down the length of the building. Hartmann, no more than ten paces away, saw the irritation in his face. He began to rock up and down on the balls of his feet. From outside came a burst of even louder applause, and shortly afterward Chamberlain appeared at the top of the far staircase, followed by Daladier. They began to confer, standing together beside a pillar. Hitler watched the two democratic leaders for a minute. Suddenly he wheeled around, located Ribbentrop, and gestured angrily at him to go and fetch them. He disappeared into his study and Hartmann felt a rush of renewed optimism. The professional diplomats might imagine the deal was already done, but nothing could be settled until Hitler willed it, and he still looked as though he would like nothing more than to send them all packing.

It must have been after five when Legat finished dictating the final clause to the stenographer in Downing Street.

“?‘The Czechoslovak Government will, within a period of four weeks from the date of this agreement, release from their military and police forces any Sudeten Germans who may wish to be released, and the Czechoslovak Government will within the same period release Sudeten German prisoners who are serving terms of imprisonment for political offence.’ Have you got all that?”

“Yes, sir.”

He tucked the receiver under his chin and began gathering together the pages of the draft. In the distance he heard raised voices. The door had been left half-open. There was some kind of argument going on in the corridor. “Engländer!” a man was shouting in a thick accent. “Ich verlange, mit einem Engländer zu sprechen!

Legat went out into the corridor. At the far end of the passage, near the back of the hotel, a figure was gesticulating, trying to push his way past a group of four men in suits. They kept moving to block his path. “An En­glishman! I demand to speak to an En­glishman!”

Legat walked toward them. “I am En­glish! Can I help?”

The man called out, “Thank God! I am Dr. Hubert Masarik, chef de cabinet of the foreign minister of Czechoslovakia! These men are from the Gestapo and they are holding me and my colleague, the Czech minister in Berlin, Dr. Vojtek Mastny, imprisoned in this room!”

He was about forty, distinguished-looking in a pale-gray suit with a handkerchief in his breast pocket. His long, high-domed head was flushed. At some point his round tortoiseshell spectacles had been knocked awry.

Legat said, “May I ask who is in charge here?”

One of the Gestapo men swung around. He was broad-faced with a hard tight mouth and badly pitted cheeks, as though he had suffered smallpox in his youth. He looked ready for a fight. “And who are you?”

“My name is Hugh Legat. I am the private secretary to Prime Minister Chamberlain.”
The Gestapo officer’s attitude changed at once. “There is no question of imprisonment, Herr Legat. We have merely asked these gentlemen to wait in their room for their own security while the conference is in progress.”

“But we are supposed to be observers at this conference!” Masarik adjusted his spectacles. “I appeal to the representative of the British government to allow us to do what we were sent here to do.”

“May I?” Legat gestured to be allowed to pass. The three other Gestapo men looked to the officer. He nodded. They stood aside. Legat shook hands with Masarik. “I’m very sorry about this. Where is your colleague?”

He followed Masarik into the bedroom. A professorial figure in his sixties, still wearing his overcoat, was seated on the edge of the bed, holding his hat between his knees. He stood as Legat entered. He looked utterly dejected. “Mastny.” He held out his hand.
Masarik said, “We landed from Prague less than an hour ago and were met by these people at the airport. We assumed we were being taken directly to the conference. Instead we have been forced to remain here. It is an outrage!”

The Gestapo officer was standing in the doorway, listening. “As I have explained, they are not allowed to participate in the conference. My orders are that they are to wait in their hotel room until further instructions have been issued.”

“Therefore we are under arrest!”

“Not at all. You are free to return to the airport and fly back to Prague whenever you wish.”

Legat said, “May I ask who issued this order?”

The Gestapo officer stuck out his chest. “I believe it comes from the Führer himself.”

“An outrage!”

Mastny put his hand on his younger colleague’s arm. “Calm yourself, Hubert. I am more used to life in Germany than you are. There is no point in shouting.” He turned to Legat. “You are the private secretary to Mr. Chamberlain? Perhaps you might speak to the prime minister on our behalf, and see if this unfortunate situation can be resolved?”

Legat looked at the two Czechs, and then at the Gestapo man, who was standing with his arms folded. “Let me go and see what I can do.”

The crowd in the park opposite the hotel was still large. They watched Legat leave without interest: yet another official in a suit; a nobody. He walked quickly, his head down.

Max?Joseph?Straße was quiet and lined with cherry trees flanked in turn by handsome apartment blocks of red and white stone. There was a smoky mellowness in the air. Pushing through the autumn drifts in the warm late-afternoon light reminded him of Oxford. Two well-dressed elderly women exercised their dogs. A uniformed nanny pushed a pram. It was only after he had been walking for about five minutes—after he had passed the obelisk in the center of the roundabout and gone a little way toward Königsplatz—that he sensed that at some point, without noticing, he had crossed an invisible frontier into a darker and less familiar world. What he remembered as a park had become a parade ground. In a pagan temple, a black?uniformed soldier stood guard before an eternal flame.

He could tell the Führerbau by the crowd in the granite square in front of it. The building itself was classical, impersonal, of whitish stone: three stories, with a balcony in the middle of the first where he could imagine Hitler appearing at one of those vast quasi-religious spectacles that filled the newsreels. He explained his official status to a sentry and was allowed to pass. An officer in an SS uniform inside the lobby checked his name on a list.

“Where would I find the British delegation?”

“On the first floor, Herr Legat, in the reception room in the far corner.” The adjutant clicked his heels.

Legat climbed the wide red-marble staircase and turned right. He passed an area of low tables and armchairs and suddenly there ahead of him was Hartmann. It took him a few seconds to be sure it was actually him. He was standing, holding a cup and saucer, talking to a silver-haired man in a dark-blue suit. His hair had been receding when he was at Oxford but now he was almost entirely bald. His handsome head was cocked as he listened to his companion. He looked stooped, strained, weary. Yet for all that, something of the old aura still hung around him, even at a distance. He spotted Legat over the other man’s shoulder, registered him with a slight widening of his violet eyes, and gave a barely perceptible shake of his head. Legat walked on.

Through the open door he could see Strang and Dunglass. The British party looked up as he walked in. They had spread themselves around the large room. Henderson was reading a German newspaper. Kirkpatrick had his legs stretched out and his eyes closed. Malkin had some papers on his lap. Ashton-Gwatkin appeared to be reading a volume of Japanese poetry. Strang said sharply, “Hugh? What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to stay at the hotel?”

“I was, sir, but something’s come up. The Czech delegation have arrived at the Regina Palast and they’re being prevented from leaving their room.”

“Prevented how?”

“By the Gestapo. They want the prime minister to intercede on their behalf.”

There were groans from around the room.

Henderson said, “I don’t see why they should imagine the PM can do anything about that.”

“Even so, it will be hard to make an agreement without them.” Strang sucked on the stem of his unlit pipe; it cracked and whistled. “I think you’d better go and soothe them, Frank. You know them better than the rest of us.”

Ashton-Gwatkin sighed and closed his book. Legat noticed that Dunglass was craning his neck to peer along the corridor, in the manner of one of those mystified?looking birds he liked to shoot.

Kirkpatrick saw it, too. “What is it, Alec? Is something happening?”

“Yes,” said Dunglass. As usual he drawled without seeming to move his lips. “Hitler’s door is open.”

Hartmann thought that the passage of six years had barely changed Legat at all. He might have been crossing the quad at Balliol. There was the same odd combination of age and youth: the thick, dark, boyish hair flicked back on his forehead and the pale gravity of his expression; the lightness of his movements—he had been a runner at Oxford—encased in those stiff old?fashioned clothes. The sight of him caused Hartmann to briefly lose track of what Weizsäcker was saying. He failed to notice Schmidt hurrying toward them.

“Herr von Weizsäcker and Signor Attolico—” Schmidt nodded to the state secretary and beckoned to the Italian ambassador—“excuse me, gentlemen: the Führer would like you to join the talks.”

The men sitting nearest them overheard. Heads turned. Weizsäcker nodded as if he had been expecting this. “Does he want anyone else?”

“Only the British and French ambassadors.”

“I’ll fetch them,” volunteered Hartmann. Without waiting for approval he set off toward the two delegations. He entered the French room first. “Monsieur Francois?­Poncet?” The boulevardier’s face, with its old-fashioned wax mustache, swung around to look at him. “Forgive me, Your Excellency, the leaders would like their ambassadors to join them.” Even before Francois?Poncet was on his feet, Hartmann was striding next door. “Sir Nevile, a request from the Führer’s study—would you please be good enough to join the heads of government?”

Strang said, “Only Sir Nevile?”

“Only Sir Nevile.”

“At last!” Henderson folded his newspaper and placed it on the table. He stood and checked his buttonhole in the mirror.

Kirkpatrick said, “Good luck.”

“Thanks.” He sauntered out of the room.

“Does this mean there’s been a breakthrough?”

“I fear I am only the messenger, Mr. Strang.” Hartmann smiled and bowed slightly. He glanced around. “Are you comfortable in here? Is there anything you need?”

“We’re fine, thank you, Herr—” Strang paused.

“Hartmann.”

“Herr Hartmann, of course, excuse me.” Hartmann waited pointedly and Strang found himself obliged to introduce his colleagues. “This is Lord Dunglass, the prime minister’s parliamentary private secretary. Sir William Malkin of the Foreign Office. Frank Ashton?Gwatkin, also of the Foreign Office. Ivone Kirkpatrick from the Berlin embassy I expect you know .?.?.?”

“Indeed, Mr. Kirkpatrick. Very good to see you again.” Hartmann went around the room shaking hands.

“And this is Hugh Legat, one of the prime minister’s private secretaries.”

“Mr. Legat.”

“Herr Hartmann.”

Hartmann held on to Legat’s hand a fraction longer than he had the others’ and tugged it gently. “Well, do let me know if I can be of any assistance.”

Legat said, “I should get back to the hotel.”

“And I suppose I should talk to the poor old Czechos,” said Ashton?­Gwatkin wearily, “assuming I can find a telephone that works.”

The three men went out into the corridor and walked toward Hitler’s study. The door had already closed again. Hartmann said, “Let us hope some progress is being made.” He stopped. “I shall look forward to seeing you later. If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen?” He inclined his head graciously, turned to his left, and began to descend the service stairs.

Legat continued on his way with Ashton-Gwatkin for a few more paces, then he, too, halted. “I’m sorry, I’ve just remembered there’s something I need to tell Strang.” The ploy seemed so obvious it embarrassed him, but Ashton-Gwatkin merely raised his hand in farewell—“Later, dear boy”—and carried on walking. Legat retraced his steps. Without a backward glance he followed Hartmann down the stairs.

He couldn’t see him but he could hear the soles of his shoes ringing on the steps. He expected him to stop at the ground floor; instead the clatter of leather on stone continued for another two flights until Legat found himself emerging into a basement passage just in time to catch a gleam of daylight to his right and the sound of a door slamming shut.

He preferred not to think of the absurdity of the figure he must cut—the Whitehall civil servant in his dark suit and watch chain hurrying along the subterranean service corridor of the Führer’s private palace. Legat passed a guardroom—empty, he was relieved to see—opened the heavy steel door, and stepped out into daylight and a courtyard full of black Mercedeses. At the far end, Hartmann was waiting. He waved and hurried toward him. But Hartmann immediately set off again, turning right and vanishing from view.

From then on Hartmann kept about a hundred yards ahead. He led Legat past the two Temples of Honor with their motionless guards and wavering flames, past another monumental white?stone Nazi building identical to the Führerbau, then out of Königsplatz altogether and into a wide street with big office blocks festooned with swastikas. He glanced over his shoulder. Nobody seemed to be following him. Ahead was an ugly modern building that looked like the entrance to a railway station but advertised itself as the Park Café. Hartmann went inside. A minute later, Legat did the same.

It was the end of the workday. The bar was crowded, mostly with workers from the nearby government offices to judge by the look of them. There were a lot of brown Party uniforms. He peered around for Hartmann through the clouds of cigarette smoke and saw his bald head in the corner. He was sitting at a table with his back to the room but facing a mirror so that he could watch what was happening. Legat slipped into the seat opposite him. Hartmann’s wide mouth split into his familiar vulpine grin. “Well,” he said, “here we are again, my friend,” and Legat remembered that for Paul there was always amusement to be had in any situation, even this one. Then Hartmann added, more seriously, “Were you followed?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’m not exactly used to this sort of thing.”

“Welcome to the new Germany, my dear Hugh! You’ll find one has to get used to it.”

The man at the next table was in an SA uniform. He was reading Der Stürmer. A vile caricature of a Jew with the tentacles of an octopus dominated the front page. Legat hoped the noise from the bar was too loud for them to be overheard.

He said quietly, “Is it safe here?”

“No. But safer than staying where we were. We will order two beers. We will pay for them and take them out into the garden. We will continue to speak entirely in German. We are two old friends, meeting after a long interval, with a great deal to catch up on—this much is true. Lies are always best when mostly true.” He signaled to the waiter. “Two beers, please.”

“You haven’t changed much.”

“Ah!” Hartmann laughed. “If only you knew!” He pulled out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes, offered one, leaned over, and lit Legat’s first and then his own. They sat back and smoked in silence for a while. Occasionally Hartmann looked at him and shook his head as if he couldn’t believe it.

Legat said, “Won’t they be wondering where you are?”

“One or two will no doubt be looking for me.” He shrugged. “It can’t be helped.”

Legat continued to look around the bar. The unfamiliar tobacco was strong. It burned the back of his throat. He felt horribly exposed. “Let’s hope they don’t finish the talks before we get back.”

“I don’t think that’s likely, do you? Even if there’s an agreement, they’re sure to be some while yet, settling all the details. And if there isn’t an agreement, then it’s war .?.?.?” Hartmann flourished his cigarette. “And then you and I and our little meeting will be entirely irrelevant.” He regarded Legat through the smoke. His large eyes were more hooded than Legat remembered. “I read that you had married.”

“Yes. And you?”

“No.”

The waiter arrived with their beers. He set them down and moved off to serve another customer. Legat realized he had no German money. Hartmann put a handful of coins on the table. “Have this on me—‘my round,’ as we used to say.” He closed his eyes briefly. “The Cock and Camel. The Crown and Thistle. The Pheasant in St. Giles.?.?.?. How are they all? How is everyone? How is Isaiah?”

“It’s all still there. Oxford is still there.”

“Not for me, alas.” He looked maudlin. “Well, I suppose we should transact our business.”

The Brownshirt at the next table had paid his bill and was rising to go, leaving his newspaper on the table. Hartmann said, “Excuse me, comrade, but if you’ve finished with your Stürmer, might I take it?”

“My pleasure.” The man handed it over, nodded to them affably, and left.

“You see?” said Hartmann. “They’re quite charming when you get to know them. Bring your beer. We’ll go outside.” He stubbed out his cigarette.

There were metal tables on a gravel surface beneath bare trees. The sun had gone. It would soon be dusk. The beer garden was as busy as the bar—men in lederhosen, women in dirndls. Hartmann led him over to a small table beside a bed of lavender. Beyond it was a botanical park. The neat paths and flower beds, the specimens of trees, seemed familiar. Legat said, “Haven’t we been here before?”

“Yes, we sat over there and had an argument. You accused me of being a Nazi at heart.”

“Did I? I’m sorry. Sometimes, to an outsider, German nationalism didn’t sound that much different from Nazism.”

Hartmann flicked his hand. “Let’s not get into all that. There isn’t time.” He pulled out a chair. The steel legs scraped on the gravel. They sat. Legat refused another cigarette. Hartmann lit one for himself. “So. Let me go straight to the point of it: I would like you to arrange for me to meet with Chamberlain.”

Legat sighed. “They told me in London that was what you wanted. I’m sorry, Paul, it’s just not possible.”

“But you are his secretary. Secretaries arrange meetings.”

“I’m the most junior of his secretaries. I fetch and carry. He’d no more listen to me than he would to that waiter over there. And besides, isn’t it rather too late for meetings?”

Hartmann shook his head. “Right now, at this very moment, it is still not too late. It will only be too late after your prime minister has signed this agreement.”

Legat cupped the beer glass in his hands and bowed his head. He remembered this absurd stubbornness, this refusal to abandon a chain of reasoning even when it had demonstrably started from a false premise. They might have been arguing in the taproom of the Eagle and Child. “Paul, I promise you, there’s nothing you can say to him that he hasn’t considered already. If you’re going to warn him that Hitler’s a bad man—save your breath. He knows it.”

“Then why is he making this deal with him?”

“For all the reasons of which you’re aware. Because on this issue Germany has a strong case, and the fact that it’s being put by Hitler doesn’t make it any weaker.” He remembered now why he had accused Hartmann of being a Nazi: his main objection to Hitler always seemed to be snobbish—that he was a vulgar Austrian corporal—rather than ideological. “I must say you’ve changed your tune! Weren’t you always going on about the injustices of the Versailles treaty? Appeasement is simply an attempt to redress those same wrongs.”

“Yes, and I stand by every word!” Hartmann leaned across the table and continued in an urgent whisper. “And there is a part of me—yes, my dear Hugh, I admit it—that rejoices that you and the French have finally had to come crawling on your hands and knees to put it right. The trouble is, you’ve left it too late! Overturning Versailles—that’s nothing to Hitler anymore. That’s just the prelude for what is to come.”

“And this is what you want to tell the prime minister?”

“Yes, and not just tell him—I want to show him proof. I have it here.” He patted his chest. “You look amused?”

“No, not amused—I just think you’re naïve. If only things were that simple!”

“They are simple. If Chamberlain refuses tonight to continue to negotiate under duress, then Hitler will invade Czechoslovakia tomorrow. And the moment he issues that order, everything will change, and we in the opposition, in the army and elsewhere, will take care of Hitler.”

Legat folded his arms and shook his head. “It is at this point that I’m afraid you lose me. You want my country to go to war to prevent three million Germans joining Germany, on the off chance that you and your friends can then get rid of Hitler? Well, I have to say, from what I’ve seen today, he looks pretty well entrenched to me.”

He stopped himself from going on, although there was plenty more he could have said. He could have asked whether it was true that Hartmann and his friends—as their emissaries in London had made clear over the summer—intended to hang on to Austria and the Sudetenland even if Hitler was deposed, and if it was also true that their aim was to restore the kaiser, in which case what should he whisper to his father, lying in an ocean of white stone crosses in a war cemetery in Flanders, the next time he visited him? He felt a spasm of irritation. Let’s just sign the bloody agreement, get back on the plane, fly out of here, and leave them to get on with it.

The electric lamps were coming on—strings of pretty yellow Chinese lanterns suspended between ornate wrought-iron poles. They glowed in the gathering dusk.

Hartmann said, “So you will not help me?”

“If you’re asking me to arrange a private meeting with the prime minister, then I have to say no—it is impossible. On the other hand, if there’s some proof of Hitler’s ambitions that we ought to be aware of, then yes, if you give it to me now, I’ll undertake to make sure he sees it.”

“Before he signs any agreement in Munich?”

Legat hesitated. “If there’s an opportunity, yes.”

“Will you give me your word that you’ll try?”

“Yes.”

Hartmann stared at Legat for several seconds. Finally, he picked up the Stürmer from the table. It was a tabloid, easy to hold in one hand. He shielded himself with it. With the other hand he began unfastening the buttons of his shirt. Legat twisted on the hard metal chair and looked around the beer garden. Everyone seemed preoccupied with their own amusement. But in the undergrowth around them any number of eyes could be watching. Hartmann folded the paper and slid it back across the table to Legat.

He said, “I should go now. You stay and finish your beer. It would be best if from now on we did not acknowledge each other.”

“I understand.”

Hartmann stood. It was suddenly important to Legat that things were not left like this. He stood as well. “I do appreciate—we all appreciate—the risks that you and your colleagues are taking. If things become dangerous and you need to leave Germany, I can promise you that you will be well looked after.”

“I am not a traitor. I will never leave Germany.”

“I know. But the offer is there.”

They shook hands.

“Finish your drink, Hugh.”

Hartmann turned and walked across the gravel toward the café, his tall figure moving awkwardly among the tables and chairs. There was a brief glow from the interior as he opened the door, then it closed and he was gone.

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