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Authors: Jane Thynne

Woman in the Shadows

BOOK: Woman in the Shadows
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Copyright © 2014, 2016 by Thynker Ltd

Reading group guide copyright © 2016 by Penguin Random House LLC

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher—or in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.

Doubleday Canada and colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House Canada Limited

Originally published in the United Kingdom under the title
The Winter Garden
in hardcover and in a different form by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd in 2014.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Thynne, Jane, author

Woman in the shadows / Jane Thynne.

Sequel to: The pursuit of pearls.

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 978-0-385-68297-8 (paperback).--ISBN 978-0-385-68298-5 (epub)

I. Title.

PR6070.H96W65 2016     823'.914     C2016-900525-9

                                   C2016-900526-7

Woman in the Shadows is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well- known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

Book design by Barbara M. Bachman, adapted for ebook

Cover design: Victoria Allen

Cover photograph: © Mark Owen/Trevillion Images

Published in Canada by Doubleday Canada,
a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited
www.penguinrandomhouse.ca

v4.1

ep

Woman's world is her husband, her family, her children and her home. We do not find it right when she presses into the world of men.

—
A
DOLF
H
ITLER

Take up the frying pan, dustpan and broom and marry a man.

—
H
ERMANN
G
OERING,
N
INE
C
OMMANDMENTS OF THE
W
ORKERS'
S
TRUGGLE

PRELUDE
BERLIN, OCTOBER 1937

T
he flash and dazzle of fireworks, like multicolored shrapnel, studded the night sky. Vivid bursts of phosphorus erupted in the damp air, bloomed into extravagant showers of stars, then fizzled and died against the dark sheet of the Wannsee below. A faint plume of smoke drifted across the lake as the fireworks fell quiet and night closed in again.

From where she stood, in the deep shadow of the garden, Anna Hansen tried to work out which of the big villas on Schwanenwerder Island had something to celebrate. Fireworks were nothing special here. There were always parties going on in the grand houses. They all had large gardens stretching down to the lake from where, across the water, loomed the inky mass of the Grunewald's eastern shore. Between the shores the dip and ripple of small boats could be heard, rocking in the wind as the water slapped against their sides.

Anna shivered in the night air. It was cold standing here, surrounded by softly dripping shrubs. She shuffled her slippered feet and clutched her dressing gown more closely around her. Though it might have been the bangs and whistles that woke her, in truth she had scarcely been able to sleep, despite an exhausting day. But then, it was always an exhausting day at the Schwanenwerder Reich Bride School. It seemed there was so much to learn for women who were about to marry members of the SS. It wasn't like being an ordinary German bride, though, heaven knows, those girls had their work cut out. But as the Führer said, the women who were to marry the cream of German manhood needed to be something special.

Not that Anna had much choice when she arrived at the Bride School, a stately villa with pillared gates proudly topped by a pair of swastika flags and screened from the world by a ridge of tall pines. Classes there were compulsory—they had been since 1935, on Himmler's orders—and you needed to submit the certificate you received to the SS Race and Settlement Office before your marriage could go ahead. In some ways the school was like a military training academy, with a regime that started at five thirty in the morning and didn't end until the weary brides dropped into their beds at nine o'clock at night. That morning, for example, had begun with the usual outdoor bath, to take advantage of the island's fresh, pine-scented air, followed by energetic gymnastics in shorts and undershirts. After breakfast came Sewing, and then a visit from the local Mother and Child branch for Child Care instruction, before lunch, which was made on a rota by the brides themselves, wearing head scarves and spotless aprons.

Today they had been focusing on Cooking Without Butter because of the shortage, and it had been very dull. Though that was no bad thing, Anna thought, because all these regular meals were making her plump. After lunch came Culture, consisting of a talk on fairy tales. All brides needed to learn fairy tales because the German mother was the “culture bearer” to the next generation. Today's lecturer had explained how in “Cinderella” it was the prince's Germanic instincts that led him to reject the stepsisters' alien blood and search for a maiden who was racially pure.

Culture should have been what Anna enjoyed best. She had been a dancer after all, not so long ago. Chorus line at the Wintergarten. Standing there amid the shadowy shrubs, she ran an absent hand over her rumpled, shoulder-length hair. Her dark roots were showing badly, and the bleached curls were already turning to frizz in the damp air. She sighed. It was hard to imagine a greater contrast than that between her previous life and the one she was living now. Her old friends would die laughing if they could see her. But then Anna's circumstances had changed. Changed drastically. And by some miracle, just as she had needed to escape from a difficult spot, SS Obersturmführer Johann Peters, six foot two with a jaw like granite and eyes as blue as the Baltic Sea, had walked into her life. From the moment Johann had come up to her in that dank little nightclub, she hadn't looked back. If it hadn't been for Johann, she might even have resorted to answering one of those depressing advertisements you saw in the newspapers.
54-year-old lawyer, pure Aryan, desires male offspring through marriage with young virgin, hardworking, low heels, no jewelry.
So when Johann had requested a dance, and shortly afterwards her hand in marriage, she had taken him up on it without a second thought, even if it meant spending six weeks at Bride School in preparation.

The villa that housed the Bride School had been occupied by a single Jewish family until it was transferred to the ownership of the Deutsches Frauenwerk. As Anna walked between lessons, she would look wistfully at the grandeur of the décor, the mahogany paneling of the hall and the line of little bells in the kitchen, which were connected to different rooms in the house. The whole place was full of color: pistachio paint in the hall, almond white on the dado rails, and deep burgundy in the library, which still smelled of leather and cigars. The music room—an entire room devoted to music!—was painted daffodil yellow, and the ballroom, which was lavender blue, had a ceiling like a wedding cake, molded with plaster roses, from which great chandeliers were suspended. Anna liked to imagine the life that had existed there before—all the parties and the fun and the elegance. There were patches on the walls where gold-framed oil paintings had hung, and if you stood quite still you could almost sense the family that had once lived here, evanescent as a waft of perfume down a corridor, or the faint ripple of laughter in the air.

Now, however, the ballroom had been fitted with desks and its damask curtains taken down in the interest of cleanliness. Cleanliness was all-important at the Bride School. Everything had to be hygienic and disinfected, smelling of soap and polish. Dirt, and all soiled traces of the past, must be scrubbed away. Dirt was disgusting, the instructors said. Dust was almost un-German.

Anna's dormitory, where eight girls slept, was a long room on the top floor. It must have been the nursery originally, but it had been redecorated in the same stark, brutal fashion as the rest of the house. Iron bedsteads flanked the walls, and the floors were bare boards. The wallpaper had been whitewashed over, but if you tipped the wardrobe slightly, you could see a remnant of it, pale pink with knotted posies. Anna was observant like that. She had an eye for detail; she always liked to know what lay underneath things.

It had been hard to leave her bed and slip out of the house unnoticed. Strangely for an organization that believed so fervently in fresh air, the dormitory window was kept locked, and after bedtime the corridors were patrolled by the sewing mistress, Fräulein Wolff. Brides were encouraged not to leave the room except in cases of emergency. Luckily the only person to notice Anna waking that night was Ilse Henning, a good-hearted country girl with a shelf of a bosom and a face as scrubbed as a pine table, who blinked at her in puzzlement, then rolled obediently onto her side. Ilse probably assumed, quite correctly, that her roommate was going into the garden to smoke an illicit cigarette.

That much was true. Yet it was a deeper restlessness that was troubling Anna Hansen. All day she had had the curious sensation that she was being watched. It was nothing obvious. Just a brooding self-consciousness that crawled across her skin, raising the minute hairs on her neck, making her tense, the way a gazelle tenses when it scents the approach of a predator. Several times during the day, both in the garden and in the house, she'd had the distinct feeling of someone's eyes upon her, only to wheel around and find nothing there. She had repeatedly attempted to rationalize the sensation. Perhaps it was the sorry shortage of nicotine that had set her nerves jangling. Or maybe the ugly gardener, Hartmann, the one with the limp and the hedgehog haircut, was spying on her. He was always hanging around eyeing the Reich Brides. What was a creep like him even doing in a place like this? Why couldn't he be sent to the Rhineland or something?

The feeling came on her again as she lay trying to sleep in the dormitory, listening to the distant crump of fireworks, and to shake it off she had risen and crept out into the chill October air.

The moon was obscured by a bank of heavy cloud as she progressed through the garden, avoiding the gravel path and staying close to the shrubs at the edge of the lawn. Behind her the house was a shuttered and slumbering hulk, with only a single lamp burning on the ground floor. Ahead lay the leaden expanse of the lake, visible only by the lights that glimmered from the few yachts and pleasure boats moored at its shore.

She stopped at the trunk of a large pine tree and pulled out her cigarettes. Around her a dim tangle of laurel receded into a pool of deeper shadow. There was dense vegetation underfoot. Flecks of water from the lake blew against her face, and she hugged her arms to her chest, wishing she had worn something warmer than an old silk dressing gown. Because of the rigid dress code at the school, nightwear was the only area where brides had any self-expression. Most of the girls opted for a floral tent of scrubby toweling, but Anna's was creamy silk with ivory lace inserts, and a matching negligee that smelled of smoke and perfume and acted as a consoling, luxurious reminder of the good old days.

Suddenly she sensed a frisson of movement in the bushes, a spectral shimmer accompanied by a rustle of leaves. She froze, her senses on alert, straining to filter the night sounds. The fireworks had subsided now, and the night's silence was penetrated only by the whine of the high trees swaying and the thrum of a car making its way along the lake road. More faintly, the soft rattle and groan of boats, their timbers creaking, and the water slapping on their sides, carried on the breeze.

There it was again. A distinct crackle of leaves, a few yards to her left. Anna stiffened, her heart lifting into her throat, and whirled to see a white shape and a pair of golden circles trained on her. She almost laughed with relief.

“God, Minka. You gave me a fright! Hiding from the fireworks?”

The cat approached and rubbed against her leg. She was a friendly animal and much loved by the Bride School inmates. Anna squatted down to stroke her head, then took out her lighter, an elegant silver lozenge engraved with her initials. God forbid anyone should find her with it. She had had to smuggle it in here, because smoking was strictly forbidden at the Bride School. The Führer called cigarettes “decadent” and said smokers were unfit to be German wives and mothers. All brides had to sit through a lecture on the poison of nicotine and how the Jews had brought tobacco to Germany to corrupt the native stock. She snapped the lighter open, the flame leapt up and lit the cigarette, and she took a deep drag, impatient for the first delicious hit to coil down her throat. Sighing, she rested her back against the bark of the tree. This was a long way to come for a smoke, but it was worth it.

Beside her the cat froze and lifted her head. She had seen something, but what? A mouse perhaps, or a bird? A fox even? Following her gaze, Anna stared blindly into the murk.

“Is someone there?”

A sudden screech heralded the launch of a single rocket that flared and dissipated in an emerald shower, lighting up the sky. The cat's pupils contracted to slits. As the sound died away, Anna heard something else. The soft crunch of a footstep on the wet earth.

“Who is it?”

The words choked in her throat. As she stared desperately around her into the darkness, frantic thoughts raced through her mind. It had been a mistake to come out here. She should never have left the dormitory. Perhaps it was the creepy gardener, spying again.

“Hartmann? Is that you?”

Two more steps, and then a face loomed up before her. As Anna peered desperately through the darkness, terror engulfed her. Her knees almost buckled, and it took everything she had to summon a tone of coy flirtatiousness.

“Well, hello, stranger.”

The man raised the Walther 6.35-caliber pistol, and Anna's eyes widened, but the sound of the shot was drowned in another exuberant volley of fireworks. A spume of scarlet sparks arced and spangled the sky. The man with the gun watched Anna languidly as she fell, then he turned away and melted into the shadows. For a moment Anna's hand clutched frantically, as if she were trying to haul herself up on empty air, then it dropped back and the lighter slid out of her open palm, down into the damp grass.

BOOK: Woman in the Shadows
11.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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