austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Missed the Saturday dance, heard they crowded the floor

A little epistolary piece of alternate-history donated to International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day's project for 2009, ipstp:

20 May 1940 - We'd been hearing how the war is back on but suppose now they have to mean it. The RAF has noticed the fellow they'd lodged in the circle and called him back to do whatever it was he does with my automobile but, I presume, to an airplane instead. Good for them I suppose. The last advice given was to get out of Le Touquet, and that seems the way to go.

22 May - Ethel spotted the first Germans. I'd always thought invasions carried a lot of noise and alarm with them but this was just soldiers marching in, riding bicycles, some driving in. They commandeered our automobile. Proud we might do so much to halt the German advance.

26 May - The rumor is British subjects are being sent somewhere. Our soldier kept urging us to hurry up packing; I don't imagine we had more than two hours. Had to abandon the manuscript. Took Shakespeare; might be my last chance to read the Complete Works. Soldier pointed out 60-year-olds shouldn't be interned, or interned long, and suggested I look 60 easily. Beloved suggests this was a favor and hint; it's an odd sense of nice. Still Arthur and Jeff and Max and Algy and Alfred are coming.

3 June - Presented to the Loos Kommandant again who explained men of sixty and older were being released and sent home. I figured to join them and had to explain pretty hastily why my documents call me only 58 and 3/4s. I put it to them that A & C Black made a mistake in my vital facts early on and it seemed easier to go with the error than waste the energy fighting it. The Kommandant seems to have doubts but finds this possible. Already suspect in their eyes for forgetting my passport and this makes it worse.

6 June - They've agreed that I'm 60 and 3/4s and should go home at once. Hugged Algy and Mr Cartmell and it looks as if I won't have to read Henry VI after all. Just as well; Mr Cartmell's getting anxious with the shortage of pianos to tune here.

10 June - Arrived home to learn I'm going back as they're none too sure about my age. Worst part of being sent places is not knowing where you're being sent or for how long. Might not even be Loos.

11 June - Stopped while changing trains at Lille to be sent back home as too old for camp life. Stopped again back at Le Touquet to be told they want to investigate my age further. The efficient German state now seems to have about one-fifth its manpower dedicated to determining whether I am 60 years old. Told for now to stay home except for daily checkings-in at town hall.

16 June - When this war ends if I have any money left I am going to hire a German to stand in the yard and count him every morning and evening. Book approaching conclusion; wonder if Herbert Jenkins has given me up for lost. Inquired about state of the mails to the soldier posted next door who does speak English; he seemed excited. Hope they don't think I'm spying.

17 June - Pair of soldiers delivered a telegram: I'm asked to take a trip to another unnamed place for an unknown time except this is supposed to be as voluntary as possible for a telegram delivered by men with machine guns. Supposed not to be internment camp; Ethel thinks it may be better than being sent off and back every two days.

2 July - Kept thinking I was being told I was going to Doom. They meant Doorn, or were joking: I turn out to have been sent as a kind of souvenir to Kaiser Wilhelm II, who I didn't even remember was still around. Fellow Brit on the train said I'd recognize him as Bertie Wooster; I find that wrong but when we met he was having high tea somehow and pumped my arm to talk eagerly about Code of the Woosters. And he wants to see my new manuscript the moment it's finished.

8 July - Wilhelm is determined (1) I should stay with him (2) I should listen to him as he describes all the things he thinks would be just great to see in a novel of mine and (3) something about the imminent United States of Europe. I understand before the War he had many visitors and I'd like more of those. I can usually get a couple hours to myself by pointing out the need to write; I fear he's waiting outside the door for the moment my typewriter stops.

9 July - I think he has the idea that since I write about such things I go around all day pushing unpleasant nephews into ponds. I suspect he would if he had any nephews who'd admit to the relation.

13 July - Have convinced Wilhelm that long walks in woods are essential to writing process; I can make much of an afternoon away from determined attention now. But he's suggesting he could smooth publication rights on the Continent and rush Money In The Bank into print in languages I can't read. I've got to think up a new plot soon and plunge into another book or he's liable to ask we collaborate.

18 July - Catastrophe: I can't delay the last pages more however I try, and I haven't got even the start of a notion what to write after this. He's not letting me finish breakfast before asking when he can get in on things, and he joined my afternoon walk to share his idea. Apparently he's to describe how the world shall be reorganized under his monarchy and I'll add in bunches of words that make the prospect so appealing that everyone will embrace the perfect sense of it. I don't know what happens in internment camps but I'm starting to wish I'd learned.

Trivia: The pay rate for a finished play's script in Shakespeare's day was something around £ 6, rising to perhaps £ 10 for first-rate work. Source: Shakespeare: The World As Stage, Bill Bryson.

Currently Reading: Ford: The Men And The Machine, Robert Lacey.


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