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the world is too much with us

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the world is too much with us

 

11 April 1961

“Beth Hamishpath!” the court usher shouted, and as the judges filed in, Nightingale struggled to his feet.

He couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he had no right to be in the chamber. The 750 seats in the auditorium were all full, and yet the silence within the space was deep, the kind of silence that was a noise unto itself. It was broken only by the coughing of old men who had had their lungs destroyed by trench warfare decades – only decades? not centuries, long centuries? – ago, and the soft sighs of chairs as shaking limbs were lowered onto them.

Halevy, Landau and Raveh sat solemn as any parliament of crows, and then the prisoner was escorted into the bulletproof chamber. And even though Nightingale and every other man and woman kept their breathing steady, nonetheless the silence changed.

Ostensibly he was here to see if the man in the dock had had any knowledge of the goings-on at Ettersberg. The bulk of the evidence suggested that Reinhard Heydrich had directing the programme; not a practitioner himself, he had nevertheless sent Nazi funding to Project Fenrisúlfr and he had sanctioned the use of Jewish prisoners in the early days of the project, and after Heydrich’s death in ’42 it had rolled on just fine without him till the flower of English wizardry had thrown itself into the charnelhouse of Europe.

But in the files that they had fetched, there were often references to men further up the chain of command, and while they were likely all dead, there was always the possibility that this man was one of them.

And yet Adolf Eichmann was a slender, balding little man with scraggly hair and thick lenses, who sat small and alone in the case that had been built to protect him from any assassination attempts. Nightingale sensed no vestigia, no sign that he was a practitioner. He had, through the machinations of the British government, been given access to Eichmann’s interviews while in detention. And still nothing.

He didn’t quite know if he wanted Eichmann to be responsible, so as to have someone to point his rage at – or not, so that he could tell himself, for the millionth time, that Ettersberg was over. Some days it seemed that as he approached the infirmity of old age, his body took pity on him and ached less. Today was not one of those days. The sixty-odd years of his life weighed heavy on him. Today, staring down at Adolf Eichmann on trial in the holy city, Nightingale’s whole body was a bruise. Now as it was then, he thought bitterly to himself.

*

December 1931

“I say, Nightingale,” David put the pints down and regarded him, with that straight-on gaze that he had used since their Casterbrook days. “You’re looking hale and hearty, aren’t you?”

Nightingale flushed a little, then resented himself for it. He was well aware enough of how he looked – having spent his late twenties dashing about the far-flung tropical corners of Her Majesty’s Empire, he was more tan than any Englishman had any right to be. And he had chosen to spend his sabbatical from the Foreign Office here in Manchester; as a result his arms and face were speckled with small burns and soot from the forges, and his hands roughened from working with the staves.

And in fact most of the time this hardly bothered Nightingale – in fact just the other day he had been proud when Dennings had grunted and tossed him the burn salve for his singed face, and when he had looked over the staff Nightingale had forged he had said no word of criticism, which was as good as praise. The Master Smith had made no secret of his disdain for the “poncey London toff” who’d turned up a year ago asking to learn the weird of the Sons of Weyland.

And then there was Jacob, who’d laughed and stroked Nightingale’s broadening shoulders with his own forge-hardened fingertips –

But now here was David again, slender and sleekly blond and refined as ever, with his scholar’s glasses and his soft, ink-stained scholar’s hands. Nightingale felt a helpless flash of annoyance. If anyone had to be out of place here, it was David, surrounded by the rough work clothes and loud Mancunian voices of The Leaping Hart, and yet David did everything with the insouciance of a man who’d been born to power and wealth and then arrogantly tossed it all away to pursue Newtonian magic. His cut-glass vowels when he’d ordered at the bar had drawn him several raised eyebrows among the crowd, and yet he hadn’t noticed at all. And so it was that it was Nightingale who was left to squirm, embarrassed for David and embarrassed of David and feeling distinctly hot under the collar and frustrated all over again.

“Your health,” Nightingale lifted the glass perfunctorily before taking a gulp. “How is the Folly doing?”

“Same as ever, of course. Nothing ever changes about the old pile,” David took a deep swig of his pint and made it somehow seem prim. “Though Billingstone is much excited about this new branch of physics which he believes may challenge Newton’s conclusions in a number of areas. For now von Ardenne and I have uncovered some truly fascinating principles on chimerical bonding–”

“You’re still in contact with von Ardenne,” Nightingale interrupted, fist inadvertently clenching around the pint glass.

“Yes, in fact I spent a month last summer in Munich with him while you were gallivanting about in Burma. We were working with bovine-canine property transference, you see--”

“I wasn’t gallivanting,” Nightingale interjected, but his muttered comment went unnoticed by David, who was well and away into a technical explanation. Of all his collaborators, von Ardenne had held David’s attention the longest; they had had a fruitful correspondence for years. That David would visit the Continent for him, even with the National Socialists gaining increasing traction, and the fractious politics of Spain –   

“Was it safe on the Continent, then?” Nightingale asked, cutting off David’s rhapsody on the complication commonly associated with ruminant stomachs.

“Safe as houses,” David answered dismissively. “Safer certainly than wandering about the witchy hill tribes of Burma. You worry too much, Thomas.”

“And who’s this, Thomas?”

Nightingale jolted, feeling the blush rise on his cheeks despite his better attempts to force it down. “Jacob!”

“Introduce us, little bird,” Jacob rumbled, the smooth, velvet baritone of his voice at odds with the roughness of his craggy face and body.

“Don’t call me that,” Nightingale said weakly, but Jacob was hardly listening as he grabbed a chair, turning it around and sitting in it back to front, as was his wont. It was how he sat by the forge, watching Nightingale work and giving him suggestions on the pattern weaving of the metal, propping his arms on the back of it, strong, thick thighs spread around the chair’s back.

“Jacob, this is David Mellenby, a colleague of mine from the Folly in London. David, this is Jacob Bruhn, of the Sons of Weyland.”

“Pleased to meet you,” David said stiffly.

“Likewise, m’sure,” Jacob replied. “What brings you down Manchester way?”

“Just dropping in to see Thomas – I’m en route to Edinburgh.”

En route, eh,” Jacob repeated, grinning. “Yeah, you didn’t strike me as the sort to take up with the Sons of Weyland, not like the Nightingale here. Not one for running about adventuring, are you?”

“My interests are more scholarly, I’m afraid – though I’m certainly extremely taken with the quality of your work,” David said smoothly.

“May be there’ll be more call for it in the future, if things keep on the way they seem.”

“Surely you haven’t infected him with your worrying ways, Thomas,” David said.

“It ain’t the Nightingale,” Jacob said, catching the barmaid’s eye and signaling for a pint. “The Sons of Weyland can tell trouble coming on their own.”

“And what, pray tell, are the signs of this trouble?”

“That little dishrag going around stirring up trouble in the beer halls of Germany don’t count as a sign of trouble? And the Communists standing by and doing nothing, if you don’t count that colossal tits-up mistake with shooting Wessel and making him a bloody martyr for the Nazi cause.”

“Brüning and Hindenburg are still in power. That shows that people are hardly going to go berserk and vote for “that little dishrag”, as you put it, without considering all their vote alternatives carefully.”

“I’m not sure you’d know what most people would vote for,” Jacob said, softly. “Have you heard of the Salt March, for instance?”

“No,” David said, his curiosity reluctantly piqued for a moment.

“And there we are, then.”

“It was in the colonies,” Nightingale said hurriedly, as David bristled at the dismissive tone. “In India.”

“Oh, the rebellion in India – yes, it was in the papers.”

“That wasn’t all it was, David.” Nightingale had been in India, years before, meeting briefly with the genii locorum of the Ganges. That meeting had been cordial enough, and Gandhi had been nothing but a name in the local papers then, but in hindsight, that gentle little man’s rebellion now seemed all apiece with the ominous rumblings facing the Empire.

“Did you read Webb Miller’s report?” Jacob demanded. “What he witnessed at Dharasana.”

“No, I did not.” In David’s disdainful look were the words I’m surprised you did, and it was all Nightingale could do not to groan aloud. Jacob’s not a fool, or stupid, he wanted to say to David, even if he doesn’t think or talk like you, don’t you see? But that wouldn’t be fair. David had been kind to the gawky older boy who’d arrived at Casterbrook all those long summers ago, and had never been inclined to lord it over the others, even if his father was Viscount Lydgate.

“You should,” Jacob answered shortly, and drained his pint dry with three quick swigs. To Nightingale, with his tone restored to softness: “I’ll see you back at the forge tomorrow, little bird. Dennings’ll want to work out that sixth-order formae for the Japanese pattern.”

“Yes, tomorrow, then. Goodnight, Jacob,” Nightingale answered.

As he left there was a vague moment of silence. Nightingale watched as David marshaled his thoughts and considered a plan of attack.  

“Why do you let him call you that?” David launched the first sally.

“When I first got here they used to call me ‘Oi, London!’” Nightingale took a sip of his own beer, hoping to convey nonchalance as he resisted the urge to drum nervous fingers on the table. “Compared to that, this is an improvement.”

“Surely you must know what it sounds like.”

“And what does it sound like, David?” Nightingale snapped, his temper suddenly surprisingly close to fraying. Tonight of all nights he was in no mood for sparring with David. It made him suddenly sick with sadness and rage all snarled together: he’d looked forward to this so much when David had written a month ago, he’d looked forward to seeing David again and hearing about the Folly and its inhabitants and that quiet, English corner of the world, after the upheavals of Burma and India and all the other places where English civility seemed so remote and so tenuous…

“Like an endearment!”

“It’s not like that, for God’s sake!” Even as he lied, though, David was already shaking his head. “I wonder how the Foreign Office ever managed to use you, Thomas. God knows you’re an awful liar.”

Only to you, David, Nightingale thought helplessly. God help me, it’s always been you.

They sat in silence for a while longer. Then: “I’ll be off, then,” David said.

“Aren’t you staying with me tonight?” Nightingale asked, then immediately wished he could take it back, for how plaintive it sounded. A man past thirty had no right to sound like a woman pleading for a lover to stay, and both of them knew it.

“I’ll just find a room at an inn somewhere,” David answered, and was kind enough not to mention Nightingale’s lapse in control. “I’ll write you when I’m in Edinburgh, Thomas.”

And then what else was there to say but “Yes, of course,” and “Goodbye, goodnight”?

*

14 April 1961

It was his last day in Jerusalem – tomorrow Nightingale’s place in the audience would give way to some envoy dispatched by the British embassy, and Nightingale would return quietly to the safe haven of the Folly.

Next to him sat a woman with stern, iron-gray hair, bent over her notebook and taking notes in a crabbed, angry shorthand. Nightingale felt a sudden surge of kinship with her, both of them having seen so much, and with so much more to witness yet, as Adolf Eichmann pleaded “In the sense of the indictment, not guilty.” And what sense could that be, for this man who had sent so many to their deaths?

In the early days Nightingale had tried to confront the Schwarze Bibliothek’s contents. He had wanted to know the enemy. It was always how his mind had worked, and he had wanted to know how they had sent David to his final, violent surrender. He had fancied himself strong enough then, and indeed here he still was, when so many others had covered their faces – eyes dazzled – died young. But with more than twenty years distance between him and Ettersberg now, Nightingale knew that he had merely read it, but not made sense of its dark secrets – the how, but not the why.

He had sealed it in the basement of the Folly. Why had he not destroyed it?

Perhaps if it didn’t already exist in the world somewhere, someone, somehow, would begin to originate it again. Nightingale preferred to think of it as something that he could guard, something pinned down in ledgers and documents and sealed away between battleship steel, hardened with the techniques that Jacob and Dennings and the smiths of Weyland had taught him – a rather good use of their legacy to him, he felt. The thought of those ideas free-floating in the mind of the world was too much to bear. Better that they be written down and sealed away, or put in the dock and judged.  

Beside him, the woman wrote several words in a determined longhand, and drew her pencil emphatically back and forth several times.

E. so normal. Banality of evil?!

Not banality, Nightingale thought, faintly exhausted, thinking of David, as he had for so many years now, and the joy with which he had approached his work. Not banality, but innocence. Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do, and despite the warmth of the day and the pleasant ambient temperatures of Beit Ha’am, this house of the people, Nightingale shivered softly.

 

References:

Arendt, Hannah. (1963). Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York: Penguin Books.

Note: Arendt’s accounts of the trial of Adolf Eichmann were originally written for and published in The New Yorker: her original articles can be found here.)

Kurlanksy, Mark. (2003). Salt: A World History. New York: Penguin Books.

Miller, Webb. (2011). I Found No Peace: A Journey Through the Age of Extremes. United Kingdom: deCoubertin Books. (First published 1935).

YouTube. (2010). Hitler Election Speech: 1932. [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqBEJweLV5s