i 16b0d473103b6aa5

BOOK: i 16b0d473103b6aa5
8.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


He was playing with infinite delicacy, not looking at Hambleton at all, and

presently the music changed again to another from the same little red French


“He is just doing it to amuse himself,” said Hambleton reassuringly to

himself, “it has no connection with you at all. One tune suggests another from the

same period.|

“Yes, it has,” himself insisted. “He tried to remember of whom you

reminded him, he tried through music and he’s got it. You’re unmasked, Thomas

Elphinstone Hambleton…”

A Toast to Tomorrow
Manning Coles



To A. M. Y.

Remembering the Free City of Danzig

All the characters in this book are ficticious, and any resemblance to actual persons,

living or dead, is purely coincidental.



Published by arrangement with Doubleday & Company Inc.



Berkley Publishing Corporation,

15 East 26th Street, New York 10, New York

Printed in the United States of America


He walked into his study, switched on the reading-lamp, drew the curtains and threw

more logs on the blazing fire, for it was very cold in Berlin that evening in March 1933. He

pushed an armchair in front of the fire, a huge padded leather one which looked much too large

for his short spare figure, and put beside the chair a table with a box of cigars on it, matches and

a thick wad of papers in a cardboard cover with a label inscribed, “
The Radio Operator

by Klaus Lehmann.” He had the air of a man who is preparing to enjoy a long-expected pleasure

and does not intend small discomforts to spoil it. Every few moments he glanced at the clock.

Finally he opened a cupboard door and looked inside, scowled, and rang the bell; a manservant

answered it, a man as long, thin and melancholy as his master was short and cheerful.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Franz, did I not say there should be beer?”

“I could not say for certain, sir.”

“When in doubt, Franz, provide it.”

“Very good, sir.”

“I rather think, Franz, that I have told you that before.”

“If you say so, sir.”

“Of course I say so, haven’t you just heard me? Don’t stand there arguing, go and get it.”

The servant’s long wrinkled face assumed exactly the expression of a pained bloodhound,

and he slid out of the room leaving the door ajar and admitting an icy draught. “Now I’ve

annoyed him, Franz always leaves the door open when his feelings are hurt.”

Franz came back with a tall jug, put it on the table and prepared to leave, but his master

said, “Just a moment,” took two glasses from the cupboard, filled them both and handed him one.

“Drink success to
The Radio Operator
, Franz,” he said. “This is a great moment, when

one hears one’s first play being performed for the first time.”

Franz’s ugly face lit up. “It must be, sir.
Prosit! The Radio Operator

They drank with appropriate solemnity, and Franz put his glass down.

“I know how you feel, sir, if I may say so. I felt like that myself once.”

“I didn’t know I had a fellow-author in the house.”

“It was only a little thing, sir. It went:

Though she was old

Her heart was never cold

I’ll never see another

Like my grandmother

My parents put it in the paper, sir, when she died.”

“I see,” said the successful playwright. “An epitaph, and very nice, too. 1 always think

epitaphs must be so difficult. Either you delight the family and nobody else, or else you delight

everybody except the family.”

“Yes, sir,” said Franz. “Excuse me, it is time.”

“Heavens, yes,” said the author, springing at the wireless set and switching it on, to be

rewarded with the closing bars of a Beethoven concerto. Franz left the room, shutting the door

this time, while his master poured himself out some more beer and settled down in the big

armchair with the manuscript upon his knee to listen to his very own play.

“You are now to hear,” said the announcer, “the first broadcast of a new play,
The Radio

, by Klaus Lehmann. There is only one character, the radio operator himself—”

The play opened with the usual background of morse, starting very softly, growing louder

and more insistent, then dying away again to a whisper as the only character began to speak. It

would seem that even the morse, unintelligible jumble of letters though it was, delighted its

author, for he snuggled down into his chair and a self-satisfied smile illuminated his scarred face

even before the speech began.

“To-night I sit for the last time,” said the radio operator, “in the little cabin they call the

wireless room, surrounded by the familiar instruments—”

“I hope to goodness that’s right,” muttered the author. “Don’t believe I was ever in a

wireless room in my life.”

“—the table before me, for to-morrow we reach Hamburg and I go ashore for the last

time. Next voyage another man will sit here in my place listening to the myriad voices of the air


“Nice touch, that.”

“—instructing, warning, comforting—”

The morse rose in intensity again, drowning the operator’s voice for a moment, and again

the author smiled.

“For my life at sea is ended, and to-morrow I retire. How well I remember when I first

went to sea!”

The operator had started his career in a Jewish-controlled shipping line, where starvation

wages, revolting food, and disgusting accommodation had combined with the slave-driving

habits of the owners to make his young life a misery. “Cockroaches,” said the operator, in a tone

quivering with emotion, “cockroaches in my bunk, cockroaches in the wireless room, even

cockroaches in the coffee, and if a free-born German dared to complain he was met with

hectoring disdain and bullying laughter.”

“Not a good phrase,” said the playwright, frowning. “I meant to alter that and I forgot.

Hectoring something else and disdainful laughter would be better.”

Then the war came, the wireless operator joined the Imperial Navy, and was wounded at

the battle of Hiorns Reef. He seemed to have had the singular gift of being in several different

parts of the North Sea at once, but what of that?

“On that great day,” he said, “I saw with my own eyes numerous gallant destroyer actions

between the bull-terriers of our Fleet and the darting, stinging wasps of the enemy; I saw our

cruiser squadrons sweep the English ships out of their way as a broom scatters autumn leaves; I

saw the proud English battleships blow up with a thunderous roar and become as it were dust in a

moment, while their cries for help came to my ears over the air.”

Again the morse rose and sank again, and the author took a pull at his beer.

“And I sincerely hope that makes the English sit up and listen,” he said.

When the operator came out of hospital he was sent to the shore station at Ostende, where

the U-boats, returning from their nocturnal adventures, reported arrival in the chilly dawns—or

did not return nor report. The war came to an end and there followed the dreadful years of defeat,

when the mark slumped, food was bad or unobtainable, and the people perished.

“I walked the streets of Hamburg,” said the wireless operator, “out of work, out of

money, out of hope, starving, destitute, wretched. ‘Will this go on for ever,’ I cried, ‘will no one

deliver Germany from her chains?’ But heaven was merciful and sent us a Deliverer.”

“Came the Dawn,” commented the author, lighting a cigar.

“Our Leader,” continued the voice from the radio set, “had an uphill task indeed, such as

only a superman could have performed, but he has done it, and what do we see to-day? A

Germany free, powerful, respected and feared. Her sons walking the world with stately tread and

unbending necks, her ships, well found, well provisioned and equipped, sailing the seven seas

again with ships’ companies proud to serve in them, and the tramp of her armies shaking the

earth. At home her people are busy, contented and happy, and her children grow up healthy,

strong and fair. We know to whom we owe all this, to whom all praise and honour is due, and we

shall pay it, we and our children and our children’s children; in days to come the whole world

shall pay it too, saying as I do, ‘Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! Heil!’”

The morse broke in again, rising to a staccato climax, only to be drowned in its turn by

the strains of the Horst Wessel Song. The author closed his manuscript and relaxed in his chair.

“That ought to please Adolf,” said Klaus Lehmann, Deputy Chief of the German Police.

The S.S.
Whistlefield Star
was a biggish cargo boat six hours out of Hamburg for Cardiff,

and she carried two wireless operators. The senior operator was approaching middle age, red-

haired, stocky and freckled. He had seen service in destroyers in the Great War and was a little

too apt to tell people all about it. The second mate, on the other hand, was the possessor of a

wireless set which he claimed would bring in anything except the morning’s milk, and he kept it

in the saloon. The wireless operator came in off duty, looking for supper, and found the second

mate producing hyena-like noises varied by cat-fights in an attempt to tune out an over-powerful

German station which was broadcasting a Beethoven concerto.

“For the love of Larry,” said the operator, “pipe down. Can’t a man get a bit of peace

from the blasted wireless in his spare time?”

“I shall in a minute, if I can’t get anything but this high-brow stuff. Give me something

with a tune to it.”

“You might know you can’t get anything but Hamburg off here. Owl Oh, Lord, don’t do

that, you’re turning the sardines liverish.”

The concerto drew to its close and there followed an announcement in German. “Sounds

like the end of the concert,” said the second mate, “perhaps we’ll get something decent now.”

The next item started with morse, at first very soft, working up in a crescendo and then falling

quiet again.

“Here, Sparks,” said the unfeeling second mate, “something to amuse you.” But the

wireless operator was too busy telling the steward what he thought of the tea to pay any

attention. A voice on the radio started to talk, and after waiting a moment in the hope of

something better the second mate was just beginning to tune away from it when the morse broke

in again. “Taa,” it said, “tit—taa—tit—tit, taa. Taa, tit—taa—tit—tit, taa.” This time the wireless

operator sat up listening.

“Here,” he said, “hold that a moment. T-L-T. T-L-T. Where have I heard that before? It’s

a call-sign. I used to know it.”

The morse died out when the German voice went on talking, talking, while the wireless

operator scowled with thought, till the second mate got fidgety.

“I’m fed up with all this yap,” he said, “I’ll have a look round to see if I can’t find

something else.”

“I have it,” said the wireless man suddenly. “One of our people in Germany. We had a

list of call-signs to listen for, and I’m sure that was one of ’em. T-L-T.”

“What?” said the mate. “Britishers broadcasting from Germany? When?”

“During the war.”

“But did they? Who were they? What were they doing?”

“Spying, like. Intelligence work they called it, an’ I’ll say they had to be pretty intelligent

to get away with it. There was a few of them used to transmit with spark sets, used to get

messages out that way. In code, of course, couldn’t make head nor tail of what the message—


The morse began again, and the wireless operator snatched a pencil and an old envelope

from his pocket and jotted down letters as they came. “T-L-T. RKEHO—” When it ceased again

he looked mournfully at the result.

“Well, there you are,” he said, “and what it all means I’ve no more idea than a blind


“P’raps it doesn’t mean anything,” said the second mate. “Just trimmings, like, like what

BOOK: i 16b0d473103b6aa5
8.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Last Orders by Graham Swift
Safiah's Smile by Leora Friedman
Star-Crossed by Luna Lacour
Kaleidoscope by Tracy Campbell
Pilgrim by Timothy Findley
Children of War by Deborah Ellis