I'm so tired of thinking about the War.
I think that Engel is too, honestly, the way she's been sitting on the other side of this table, rubbing her pale green eyes and looking desperately tired. It's late, and she probably wishes she were home and in bed, rather than waiting for the scabby wee lass to scribble out another page or two of confession. (Well, bully for you, Fräulein. At least you have a bed to go home to, once our fun here is done.)
It's freezing in the makeshift prison cells of the Château de Bordeaux tonight, and since my fingers are getting so cold that I can barely hold this pen, I'm going to think about a time that I was extremely cold and happy. A time from before the war, because those moments really did exist. Here's a treat for you, Amadeus von Linden: I'll tell you a bit about my time in Switzerland, just so you can squirm a bit and wonder how your daughter's doing, and whether you haven't been offing some of Isolde's little classmates in your manic fascist campaign to conquer all of Europe for the Führer.
Mostly, though, I want to stop and think for a moment or two about Millie.
It's funny, I almost wrote "Maddie" there. Only a few letters off from one another—an "add" for an "ill." The two couldn't be more different, of course: Maddie, with her sensible, logical mechanic's brain and pilot's steadiness; Millie, twice as fanciful and frivolous and gay as yours truly. Oh, but how I admired Millie! She's three years older than me, which would make her twenty-four now, and my fourteen-year-old self couldn't have dreamt up someone so confident and witty and glamourous if she'd tried. Millie was in finishing school, when we met—also in Switzerland, but since I haven't already spilled the beans on her school like I have on Seiler, I won't say another word about where, just in case you Jerries one day do decide to invade your neutral neighbour. She joked that it was the finishing school that had taught her sophistication—"my overwhelming sense of entitlement," she called it, exhaling a steady billow of indigo cigarette smoke from between her scarlet lips—but finishing school can only teach people the formalities of manners. Millie was naturally elegant, like my lady mother.
I often wonder what she's doing now.
We met on a ski trip, must've been back in 1936 or so. The snow was extra powdery in the Alps that winter, and so a group of us from Seiler turned up at a resort, along with what felt like half of the rest of the continent. My friend Justine's uncle ran the resort, so we were able to plan things last-minute and still get a room for the five of us, but it was like Piccadilly Circus whenever we stepped outside into the hallways—everyone bustling about in their layers, toting skis and sleds and toboggans over their shoulders. On one of these misadventures outside the room, I think when I was trying to sniff out a pack of playing cards for that evening, someone turned too quickly as they passed me, and my nose became much better-acquainted with the ends of their skis than either of us intended.
"Hey!" I heard someone overhead yell as I sat down rather hard on the floor, slightly dazed and with blood dripping down my front.
As I blearily rummaged about a pocket of my woollen coat for a handkerchief or something to staunch the flow, I became aware that the person who had come to my rescue was berating my accidental assailant. But what caught my attention was not that she was doing it, but rather how she was doing it: Not knowing the nationality of her interlocutor, she appeared to be trying the same phrase in a variety of different languages. I listened bemusedly to her first three goes—"Do you realise you've just hit this poor girl?" "Vous savez que vous avez frappé cette petite là?" "Sie sehen, Sie haben diese Kleine unbeabsichtigt geschlagen?"—and I think I picked up on Russian and Italian and maybe Ancient Greek, before she finally gave up and waved her hands at me. (The poor man, who I believe was actually Hungarian, looked aghast when he realised what he'd done, and valiantly helped me to my feet with any number of what I assume were apologies, then quickly left when I made it clear that I was more or less fine except for my nose.)
"Comment ça va?" my polyglot champion asked, and that was when I got my first good look at her.
She had a profile like a Grecian goddess, and wavy auburn hair that flowed around her pale, smooth face. She was wearing a gorgeous dark-purple coat that complemented and brought out the scarlet of her lipstick. But what really struck me were her eyes, which were dark brown and so incredibly warm that I felt I could have just melted in them. I don't know if the fact that she was so kind made it better or worse that I was standing there with blood gushing out of my nose, staring dumbly at her.
"Having a bloody miserable time of it, to tell the truth," I finally managed, sounding like I had a head cold.
She felt in her own pockets for a kerchief, found none, and then tugged the pale gray silk scarf from around her neck and held it out for me to take.
"Are you mad?" I asked.
"Oh, go on, better my scarf than the carpeting," she laughed. "Plenty more of those floating about my armoire. Lucky your coat is black, at least it won't stain. Your head all right? I hope it all looks much worse than it feels?"
She took me to the washroom and cleaned me up as best she could, I trying my hardest to convey a sense of dignity in spite of it all (because, yes, I aspired to appear dignified in my life prior to this stint at the C d B). Miraculously, after a thorough rinsing, her gray silk scarf came out more or less unscathed, but she told me to keep it, just in case I needed it later.
"I'm Millie, by the way," she said finally, holding out a hand, and even though one of my hands was still holding a tissue to my nose and applying pressure to the bridge, I held out my other hand and introduced myself in return.
"You speak Russian?" I asked her.
"Oh, I dabble." Millie winked. "Only am truly fluent in French and German, besides English, but languages are my passion. I pick them up as I can."
"Ich auch," I told her in German, just to sound impressive, and she laughed and asked if I wanted to sit down over some cocoa while my nose went back to normal.
Looking back on that afternoon, I cringe just a little, thinking of how I absolutely fawned over Millie, sat there positively doe-eyed as she told me about her finishing school and all the mischief she was constantly getting herself into there ("Darling, trust me, do as I say and not as I do, and you'll live a far less fraught life"). Just for fun—and, if I'm quite honest, because I wanted to impress her as much as I could—I kept switching from English to French to German, and she kept pace with my leaping about, her eyes twinkling merrily.
"What do you think you'll do, when you go back to Britain?" I asked her finally, several hours after I'd stopped bleeding all over the place and had told her pretty much everything that there was to know about me at the time (other than the fact that I was completely and utterly smitten, which I think she knew very well anyway).
"Don't know, really." Millie shrugged, a curl of cigarette smoke unfurling from the corner of her mouth in a sigh. "Not whatever eligible marriage my parents have lined up for me post-finishing school, that's for sure. I'd much rather go and see the world. How about you?"
"Uni, I suppose," I replied. "I think I'd like to read German, although I'm not sure what I'll do with that, either."
Millie smiled at me, her eyes a bit wistful. Looking back on it, she probably would have given anything to have gone to uni to study languages. Maybe she did, you never know. I wanted to make myself seem even grander, so I puffed myself up a bit and added, "Perhaps I'll become a famous actress. I do love making believe, and everyone says I'm quite good at it. Have you ever wanted to be in the pictures or on the stage?"
Millie chuckled at that.
"Of course, but it'd be a terrible fit," she told me.
"Why?" I really was stunned. A face like Millie's was made to be printed on posters and advertised across entire cities. Plus, she had such presence. Hard to believe she wouldn't want to take centre stage somewhere, that she'd ever be content quietly doing clerical work in backrooms, or what have you.
"It's funny, but I'm really quite dreadful at pretending to be someone I'm not." Millie put out her cigarette and looked at me very seriously. "Mind you, I'm generally very happy with who I am, so I don't feel the urge to pretend, most of the time. But it can complicate things, when you're not willing to play along with the roles that society's cast you to fill."
It was the first and only moment that she came across as anything less than debonair and totally fearless. I gaped at her for a few moments, unsure of what to say, and finally settled on, "Well, I think you're absolutely wonderful, for what it's worth."
"Thanks for that, darling," Millie laughed. The sky had darkened outside by then, and the lamplight within the café shimmered gold in her auburn hair when she tossed her head. "I think you're wonderful, too. But that doesn't mean that I should keep you any longer than I have; I imagine we both have friends who've been wondering where we are."
"Will I see you again?" I asked her.
"Doubt it, as we leave tomorrow morning."
"Then look me up, if you're ever in Scotland," I insisted, suddenly feeling bold and daring. "Craig Castle, Castle Craig, in Aberdeenshire."
"Beaufort-Stuarts at Craig Castle, Castle Craig, Aberdeenshire. I'll be sure to come visit, when I'm able."
Millie grinned at me, and since it's now so clear that she was saying it just to humour me, I blush to think of how long I spent waiting for someone from back home to tell me that an unbelievably fashionable young lady had dropped by, asking for me. As it was, we paid up and walked outside into the freezing cold, and I got a final look at her in the soft yellow glow of the street lamps, with snowflakes like tiny flurries of feathery stars drifting all about her. I'd never seen anything so beautiful in my life; it made me feel like something was swelling up inside my chest, squeezing all of the air out of my lungs. Millie took my hands in hers—I'd left my gloves back in our room, so they were on their way to becoming nearly as cold as they are now—and she planted a deliciously slow and deliberate kiss on my cheek with a "Bis dann, Liebling." Then, as my face flushed warm enough to make up for my icicle hands tenfold, she walked out of my life forever.
(I kept her gray silk scarf, though. Or, I did until you bloody took it from me, upon my arrival in this cell. I suspect you idiot Fascists may add a few bloodstains back into the weave before
Engel just tugged my paper away to see what I'd been writing, and, having taken note of the complete lack of treason in this most recent recollection, she's now cross with me for keeping her here late for no good reason. But—and given the odds that she'll now just scrap this page instead of sending it along to v.L. with the rest, I feel I can write this—she's also cross with me for being so blunt.
"You could get in real trouble, you know," Engel said, handing me back the page and scowling. "For writing things like that about another woman."
Well, golly, thanks, Anna Engel. Like I don't already know what the Nazis are doing to women who fancy other women and choose not to keep it hidden. And like I'm not already slated for Nacht und Nebel for a million other reasons already. Besides, our favourite SS-Hauptsturmführer's far from an idiot, and if he hasn't already kicked up a fuss over every single word I've written about Maddie, there's no reason for him to start now.
Still, it's nice to know that she cares. We might be well on our way to true friendship, Engel and I.
Now if only she'd find it in her cold Teutonic heart to heat this place up a little, for my sake.