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A more distinctively old-world setting would have been difficult to imagine.
To one side of the expansive lawn, a string quartet was playing the "Menuetto" from Mozart's Serenade in G.
Waiters attired in fashionable suits made their way inconspicuously among the guests. Silver trays were held aloft by the deft fingers of catering experience, and were laden with truffles and single bites of bread topped with a multitude of colored things and glasses of white and red wine from the Mosel valley. Many other delicacies adorned various tables spread throughout the garden.
The silently moving waiters were by no means overdressed for the occasion. Most of the men sported tails and black ties, the women long gowns. The occasion had been long awaited. Everyone who was anyone in Berlin was here. Even the Führer was expected, someone had said, though he had not yet made his appearance.
The only men not sporting expensive tails were those in uniform, and more members of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe were indeed on hand than the dozen or two foreign diplomats present were altogether comfortable with. That Germany was rapidly becoming a military power again was certainly no secret, and the look in the faces behind the uniforms was not one to engender a feeling of security concerning the development.
Three or four there were, too, whose eyes revealed an intensity and devotion to their cause which, not many years hence, would produce such panic as to hold an entire nation of their countrymen in terror. Only a year before, the Gestapo had been combined with the SS under the command of Heinrich Himmler. Though the name of the secret police was by now well enough known, the cruel connotations of dread at the very hearing of the word were still in the embryonic stage.
The bright smiles and laughter and setting of cultured serenity that on this day surrounded Gestapo and military officers, as well as the most wealthy and influential from every walk of life in Germany, belied the ominous rumbling of world events as they approached from an ever-shrinking distance. This was Berlin, the eye of the hurricane whence all the windy tumult originated but where none of it could yet be felt. Here were the elite of society, those caught up, though they yet knew it not, in determining the direction history would march, changing the world for all time.
How could they know the facade of ebullience and good cheer for what it was?
They were part of the charade; how could they then recognize its hollow ring? The distant kettledrums of history were beating a faintly discernible cadence, though few of the Berliners in attendance that afternoon were aware of it. All the others—enjoying the quartet's rendition of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and the tinkling of champagne glasses, the laughter of gaiety and the faces full of smiles—basked in the self-satisfying glow of importance, feeling the flush all the more after two or three glasses of the expensive wines Otto von Dortmann had brought in for the occasion.
The host, at the moment, was engaged in the perfunctory process of welcoming one with whom he bore a striking resemblance yet seemed altogether nonchalant to see.
"So, Heinrich," Otto was saying, "Your field hands are, ah, able to carry on without you."
"Of course," answered the other with an imperceptible smile. "As well, I'm certain, as your bank without you."
"Ah, but farming and banking are too different to be compared, wouldn't you agree?"
"You are right, Otto, which is why I am content to be a farmer."
Otto forced a smile. "Well, Heinrich, I am glad your fields and cows could spare you long enough to come to the city. . . . But, now, if you'll excuse me, I need to greet my other guests."
Heinrich nodded and watched Otto walk away.
The tight smile was still spread across Otto's face. To him it had been an awkward exchange despite its brevity. In truth, he did not like it known that Heinrich was his brother. But the state of the family finances demanded that he show him at least the respect of an occasional invitation to such affairs.
The man with whom he had been speaking watched him leave with what almost looked like a twinge of compassionate sadness in his eye. Gradually the sounds of the string quartet and tinkling glasses intruded once more into his hearing.
The "country brother" of the host, however, as Otto referred to him in his absence, Baron Heinrich von Dortmann, was aware of a different strain of music that day than that which emanated from the two violins, the viola, and the ‘cello. And it sent shivers up his spine. As it also did the few foreign diplomats who were in attendance.
"Ah, Herr Baron, es freut mich sehr Ihnen noch einmal zu sehen," said a man to Heinrich in flawless German.
"The pleasure is all mine, Mr. McCallum," returned Dortmann. "You must let me return your favor and speak to you in your native tongue!"
"Favor granted then," replied the other as the two men shook hands.
"And let me add that it is a pleasure to see you once again as well. How are things in the embassy?"
A brief cloud passed over the American's countenance, though it lasted but a moment. "These are . . . uh, difficult and . . . occasionally troublesome times, Herr von Dortmann," he replied, casting an unconscious glance at one of the prominently placed Nazi flags that stood at each side of the entryway into the house as twin reminders of the times. "But then the life of a diplomat in a foreign capital is always one fraught with the unexpected and the perilous, you know!" he added.
He attempted a laugh. It was not as light in tone as that of the society ladies all around them, which tone, and the glance at the flag that preceded it, was not lost on the brother of the host.
"I think I know what you mean," said Dortmann. "Please, Mr. Ambassador, you do not have to guard your words with me. I am not a Nazi and have few sympathies with them."
"Then in a setting such as this, Herr von Dortmann," said the other, keeping his voice low, "it seems that prudence would suggest that you do not advertise the fact."
"Except for not wanting to embarrass my brother, I do not mind who knows it. What can they do to one who speaks his mind? We are a democracy, after all."
The other did not speak. In truth, Thaddeus McCallum was not the ambassador, but the assistant ambassador to Germany from the United States, and he was one who knew well when to hold his tongue. His wife was dead. He had lived in Berlin with his one son for the past four years.
"Ah, here's my son—Matthew," he said, turning and drawing in a nice-looking young man of seventeen who was sauntering toward the conversation, several items from one of the food trays in hand. "Matthew, I'd like you to meet Herr von Dortmann."
"It is nice to meet you, sir," said the young man, offering his available hand.
"The pleasure is mine, young McCallum," replied Dortmann. "You seem to be raising another young diplomat to follow in your footsteps," he added to the boy's father with a smile. "My daughter—" he said, glancing around, "my daughter is here someplace. She's about your age, I would think, Matthew—oh yes, there she is with her uncle. Neither of you go away—I'd like you both to meet her."
Dortmann turned and hastily bumped his way through Otto's well-dressed and highly placed guests. Matthew busied himself with the contents of his hands, while his father shook hands with several nearby acquaintances, including the German ambassador to Washington, who was home for a month.
In a minute or two, the baron returned with a young lady on his arm who was nearly the prettiest girl Matthew had ever seen.
"Mr. McCallum . . . Matthew," said Dortmann, beaming with pleasure and obvious pride, "may I present my daughter, Sabina."
"Fräulein von Dortmann," began the assistant ambassador. "Ich bin—"
The baron interrupted with a laugh.
"My daughter speaks better English than I do, Mr. McCallum," he said. "And if I know her, she will be excited for an opportunity to use it!"
"Think nothing of it," replied Sabina with a musical laugh. Her English was perfect, just as her father had noted, but yet held a delicate and charming Germanic accent.
"Miss von Dortmann, I am Thaddeus McCallum."
"I am pleased to meet you," she said, extending her hand.
"And this is my son, Matthew."
The two young people shook hands. Neither said a word. Their eyes locked for the briefest of instants, then both looked away.
It had been enough.
They had seen inside, and each knew it.
Before the moment had a chance to prolong itself to the point of becoming awkward, however, the little party of four suddenly became five.
"I say, McCallum," sounded a thickly embroidered and punctilious English accent, "jolly good show these blooming Nazis put on if they stop their Zeig Heils long enough."
"A first-class shindig all right, Worchester," replied the American, laughing. "But you'd better watch what you say—the baron here speaks better English than you do!"