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Authors: Alan Hunter

Gently Continental

BOOK: Gently Continental
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Alan Hunter
was born in Hoveton, Norfolk in 1922. He left school at the age of fourteen to work on his father's farm, spending his spare time sailing on the Norfolk Broads and writing nature notes for the
Eastern Evening News
. He also wrote poetry, some of which was published while he was in the RAF during the Second World War. By 1950, he was running his own bookshop in Norwich. In 1955, the first of what would become a series of forty-six George Gently novels was published. He died in 2005, aged eighty-two.

 

 

The Inspector George Gently series

Gently Does It

Gently by the Shore

Gently Down the Stream

Landed Gently

Gently Through the Mill

Gently in the Sun

Gently with the Painters

Gently to the Summit

Gently Go Man

Gently Where the Roads Go

Gently Floating

Gently Sahib

Gently with the Ladies

Gently North-West

Gently Continental

Gently Continental

Alan Hunter

 

 

 

 

 

Constable & Robinson Ltd

55–56 Russell Square

London WC1B 4HP

www.constablerobinson.com

First published in the UK by Cassell & Company Ltd, 1967

This paperback edition published by Robinson,

an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2012

Copyright © Alan Hunter, 1967

The right of Alan Hunter to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the

Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in

Publication Data is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-78033-942-9 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-78033-943-6 (ebook)

Typeset by TW Typesetting, Plymouth, Devon

Printed and bound in the UK

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

CHAPTER ONE

W
HAT IS MAKE-BELIEVE
? Is it any more than a label for an attitude?

Consider, for example, this Hotel Continental of Mrs Breske's, from which, even when you're on the beach, you can hear strains of accordion and zither – on an English beach, please note, combed by the British Territorial North Sea, with a few miles south, jutting out spiderily, the pale iron-work of an English resort pier, where there will be Bingo Tonite and every Nite, throughout the season, and imitation food is being served in imitation restaurants – this hotel, formerly the Grand, lying in a hollow between crumbling brown cliffs, facing east towards Holland and lanes of distant busy ships, English in every red brick, every slate, every sash window, backed by English fields, an English village and the solid unreason of English roads: English, if ever a thing were English, in its apparent sins and virtues, drearily, wearily English, unlikely to be claimed by any other nation; yet in which, Herr Brown, Herr Robinson, Herr Smith, Herr Jones, if you step, you step into a – slightly pre-war – Viennese establishment, with an alpenhorn for tourists to remark on gleaming extensively above the reception-booth, and a smell of floor-polish delicately tempered by a smell of most un-English pastry.

Make-believe?

But isn't Mrs Breske an
echte Tochter
of Vienna, born, not like her mother, in Leopoldstadt, but on the right side of the Radetsky Bridge? Second daughter of old Max Tichtel, twenty years chef at Romanoff's, who (poor old man, it is his only pleasure) she visits each year, during the off-season? Yes, yes, and herself a cook, celebrated for strudel pastry, a favourite pupil of Willi Schmidt's (the great Willi, of whom you have heard), doing very well until she married that scapegrace fiddler, Martin Breske, who left her with two children, one a baby, and of whom the less said the better. Oh yes, she is Viennese! Though now she has lived in England so long. Perhaps because she has lived there so long. Her English grows worse every year.

Make-believe?

Listen again to the plunking twangle of the zither, the mechanical fluting of the accordion, the rippling laughter of young Trudi Breske – Trudi, so flamboyantly Austrian, china eyes, flaxen hair, always laughing at what men say to her, and they say a great deal – look about you at the eager young waiters, the maids dressed in operetta costumes, the dark, tall-stemmed bottles, beer steins, menus and wine-lists printed in German. What is make-believe? To pretend? But what is Mrs Breske pretending? She creates her Hotel Continental in her own image, and it is what it is. The world she was torn from in 1937 continued with her, because it was her. To her, make-believe was war-time London, deprivation, bombs, foreigners. The real, Vienna, continued eternally in the outward shape of her thickening figure, sprang forth in words, gestures, tears, some little things on the dressing-table. And then, when times changed, when the war was over, when the Nazis left, when the local Gauleiters, who included her uncle, were put behind bars and stripped of their loot, when she went back to Vienna to claim the estate of her dead sister, rightfully hers: lo, there stood a Vienna other than the Vienna of Mrs Breske. What could she do, poor woman, finding herself so denied? Except in her, Vienna had vanished: she was less of a foreigner in London. She found old friends, and cried with them, but it was an effort rather than a relief. Her very daughters spoke German so execrably that they were cheated by shopkeepers, who took them for tourists. Oh, oh, she would never forget her first return visit to Vienna. As soon as she could she collected her money, and cried all the way back to London.

Make-believe? Is it any more than a label for an attitude? A pejorative term used when we are reminded that our own reality is purely relative?

So Mrs Breske, middle-aged, a cook, a Viennese cook, with money left her by her sister, buys an old sea-side hotel, calls it the Hotel Continental, ransacks the Vienna of her dreams, creates about herself the outward image of the cosmos of Edith Breske: not Vienna as it was or is but a Breskeian extension, real, as fire burns is real, false, but no falser, than the beholder's eye. And it pays, pretty well, since Mrs Breske is business, and her daughter, Frieda, she's business, while Trudi is excellent decoration. Trudi will probably marry. Frieda probably won't marry. Trudi is the darling of the guests. Frieda makes out their bills. Trudi is gay, is innocent – it may be too innocent. Frieda is dark and grey-eyed, far from gay, perhaps not so innocent. Mrs Breske, nearing fifty, is not innocent at all. Her husband-less life has always been solaced by regular and mindless love-making. Frieda notices, but says nothing. Trudi apparently doesn't notice. At the moment the newest of the four waiters, Carlo, is taking up Mrs Breske's night cap. Carlo. Carlo Gordini. A dark-eyed waiter from Milan.

Make-believe? A woman with a man has surely some right to be regarded as real?

Listen again to that music. This is a particular night in July. A warm night. Even the sea breeze has died right away. Dinner is over – oh, a perfect dinner, lying lightly on the stomach – and some of the guests are sitting on the lawn, watching the sparkling flash of the lightship. And just below them the English sea is lying almost asleep, and an English tide is very softly washing along an English beach. Zither, accordion and fiddle. Something of Strauss's? Perhaps not. Cafe music. That strain again. Does it matter what it's called? Time to retire, but the night so perfect, the stars dusted on a gun-blue sky, the liquid air, the smell of the sea, the smoky yellow lamp of a longshore boat. Who could paint it, suddenly so moving, of a thousand nights, one? Mrs Breske has long since retired, Carlo has taken up her hot milk and brandy. Trudi, who was playing tennis with the guests all day, sleeps dreamlessly, her windows wide, only a sheet pulled over her. Frieda alone, grey-eyed Frieda, yet sits sulkily at the desk, waiting for the key-board to empty, waiting to lock up the doors. Pause, please. Look at Frieda. Twenty-nine-year-old Frieda. Frieda who takes after her mother. Pale. Rounded cheek-bones. Ovoid chin. Rather square in the shoulder, rather long in the body, moves with the air of it being an effort, but heavy-boned, strong. Frieda hunched over a paperback, turning pages rapidly, careless if she's looked at because men rarely look at her twice. Sulky. A thinking woman. Yes, look at Frieda. But now the musicians, who have a rostrum in the dining-room, are yawning and putting away their instruments, are going off to the kitchen for coffee and a sandwich. Frieda frowns, glances towards them, glances at the clock, the huge carved wood clock, glances through the foyer to the lawn: and sure enough, the guests are rising from their chairs. A lovely evening, Miss Breske. Thank you, Frieda . . . a lovely evening. An early call, please. Thank you. Did the American come in? – did he? Frieda glances at the key-board and looks sour. He didn't. Earlier, she'd seen him go out herself, that ugly, quiet, untypical American. The American who didn't take photographs, make calls, receive letters, but who talked in a thick Bronx accent and wore sky-blue shirts with silver stars on them. The American. Their American – because he had adopted the Hotel Continental. He guessed it suited him, was real restful, maybe he'd stop over a few weeks. So becoming their American. Wilbur Clooney, their American. Whom Frieda despised, and let it show, and who now would have to ring the bell to get in. To make certain, she locks the swing doors first of all, latches windows (the American has the cheek of the devil), then proceeds to the kitchen quarters, there to make her fortress secure. So the American will have to ring. And she herself will refuse to hear him. Miss Breske, Frieda, on a lovely night in July. And they retire, the guests, the musicians, the waiters, the maids in black bodices, the assistant chefs, the kitchen boy, and lastly Frieda, Miss Breske. Taking a last look from her bedroom window, at her mother's window across the courtyard. But her mother's window is dark. And no American is ringing the bell. So, so, the night hours pass over the Hotel Continental, which houses who knows what slumber, what dreams, what fornications, what ease and unease, till, at first just a hardening of the horizon, far out to sea, beyond the lightship, then a paling and yellowing many leagues off, as though there lay now a country unperceived by day, then a pallor feeling up the sky, developing perspective, beginning shadows, dawn stretches up from the eastward and the longshore boatmen dowse their glim. Still do they sleep in the Hotel Continental, while the trumpets of the morning are sounding? While the silly larks rise and trill over the marrams, while the blackbirds are bursting their throats? All still, nobody stirring? But there's the bell, and there again: and again, and again, somebody ringing, ringing, ringing. Up somebody – answer the door! Frieda, pull on your old dressing-gown. Mrs Breske, are you deaf – don't you hear that bell tolling? But who can be ringing at half-past four, ringing, ringing, ringing, ringing? The locks, the bolts, dawn breaks down the door. A man's voice, mumbling. A shriek – that's the maid. Mrs Breske's voice, querulous, mixing German with English. The man's voice again. Frieda, stealing along the landing. What's the matter? Who knows? It's one of the fishermen, wearing great leather thigh-boots. You can't understand what he says, or what Mrs Breske says either, and the maid has fainted, or is pretending to faint, down there on the bench carved like an eagle. And now Frieda is there, asking quick questions, Frieda in a sagging blue dressing-gown, giving orders, slapping the maid, riding over her mother's emotional pother. Get back to bed – I'll see to it. That's what Frieda is telling Mrs Breske. Ja, ja, but – Get back to bed. Ach, mein Gott, Frieda – Leave it to me. And suddenly Mrs Breske is howling, is shedding tears like a cloudburst – mein Gott, mein Gott – ach, Frieda, Frieda! But she does what Frieda says, she comes bellowing up the stairs, and the guests crowded on the landing dare not ask what the matter is. How she roars, this Mrs Breske, how she rocks as she stumbles along, how she cries first into her two hands this side, then into her two hands that side. And when she has stumbled into her room, which is some way distant from the guest rooms, still she roars, though someone is comforting her, someone, not she, slams the door. Meanwhile the fisherman stands below in his thigh-boots, his tan jumper, a huge man with a red face and hands hanging open at his sides, a great child of a man, looking foolish and embarrassed, waiting, eyes lowered, not moving an inch. For what is he waiting? Ah, back comes Frieda. She has fetched two waiters from the kitchen annex. Some low words – too low to catch, but the two shake their tousled heads – then the waiters and the fisherman go out together, and behind them Frieda bolts the doors. What can possibly have happened? From Mrs Breske's room, subdued moanings. In the hall, Frieda standing alone, Frieda, Miss Breske, in her blue dressing-gown. And the sun rises. And the sea sharpens. And the blackbirds, though not the larks, tire. And it is almost again as though nothing had happened, or nothing in particular, at the Hotel Continental.

BOOK: Gently Continental
6.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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