Professor Rudolf Steiner took a tentative step onto the metal ladder against the side of the transport plane that brought him to the field west of Rome. A young officer stood at the bottom of the ladder and raised his hand as if trying not to make the Heil convincing. The professor had been told that he would be greeted by a former student but he did not recognize the face, even as he descended the ladder. He had not expected that he would. There had been a great many students in his classes in the years before the war—there were those who hoped that an attention to religion might save them, if not the world, from the conflagration that was about to begin. Nevertheless, the professor was disappointed. It would have been nice to remember the face. It would have made it easier to trust someone.
"Welcome to Rome, Professor Steiner."
"Yes. Welcome professor."
The lieutenant had arranged for a black Mercedes, one of several attached to the mission, and they both sat in the back on the drive to the hotel.
"I am sorry, lieutenant, but I have had so many students that—"
"You would not remember me, professor, even if you remembered half your students. I was too afraid ever to speak after class."
They were quiet until they reached the hotel near the top of the Spanish steps. At dinner that night, Lieutenant Küntz brought a metal case, which remained on one of the empty chairs at their table.
"Did you look at the manuscript?" the professor asked his former student.
"Yes, professor. I encouraged its purchase."
"Where did it come from?"
"It was owned by a Jew who lived on the Janiculum. He wanted to sell it for some new identity papers. I don't know why he came to our mission, but Menshausen wouldn't give him anything but money. He went to the Vatican."
"Was he paid?"
"Yes. He got passage to Lisbon."
The lieutenant could feel that the professor was angry but he was silent for several minutes. He did not look up from his plate when he finally spoke.
"Lieutenant, I must tell you that I am not a member of the party. Yet I am here."
The lieutenant looked at the nearby tables and determined that no one who could understand German was near.
"Professor, I enlisted for my family. For my father."
They were quiet again but the lieutenant could feel that the professor preparing his next statement.
"Lieutenant, suppose this document is what the priest says it is, a gladiator who became a Christian, a gladiator whose crimes make Nero look like a petty thief. Why is Hitler himself interested in it? Why is someone who has already been reprimanded by the authorities sent to Rome to look at it? Do you know why I was arrested?"
"You signed the Marburg letter of conscience. You were removed as an editor of the biblical history journal."
"Yes," the professor said.
"We should walk outside the hotel, professor, after dinner."
Professor Steiner looked at the other tables and determined to respect the lieutenant's concern. Half an hour later they were crossing the ancient bridge to the Tiber Island. They had left the metal case with the concierge.
"Professor, I also worry that Hitler himself has become interested in the document. I do not know why this should be."
They stopped in the center of the bridge and Professor Steiner looked at the quiet water below them.
"I will tell you why Hitler is interested, Lieutenant Küntz—why I think he is interested. Because he is afraid. He is afraid of Christ. He may hold the pope, and he may hold the ministers who are allowed to preach, but he does not hold Christ. Some day he must bring down Christ as he brings down the Jews. He believes this document will help him. It proves the Christians were murderers from the beginning."
"Yes, that is what the ambassador thinks, or something like it. We all know that Hitler cannot do such a thing if you do not believe the document is authentic, professor."
"Then I will not be the one to make it authentic," Professor Steiner said, his eyes drifting up from the water and suddenly locking with those of his former student.
"I understand," the lieutenant said.
"Lieutenant, visit me in the morning, early. I will know by then. At least I will know enough."
"Until morning, Lieutenant Küntz."
* * *
Lieutenant Küntz stood in the lobby waiting for Professor Steiner. The espresso machine in the long alcove where breakfast would be served had a blue gas flame between its silvered eagle legs which the lieutenant stared at for nearly a minute before he was convinced that it was not some peculiar reflection. A waitress was setting the tables with baskets of rolls. The electric clicking that meant the lift was in motion made the lieutenant tum towards it, but the professor had walked down the yellow marble staircase and was already at the foot of the stairs looking at the lieutenant. The professor smiled lightly when he met the eyes of his former student.
"I would like a walk, lieutenant. You lead the way."
"Yes, professor," Lieutenant Küntz said, bowing almost involuntarily, as if he were being admitted to the professor's office.
It was a grey morning and there was a dampness in the air as if it had just rained, though it had not.
"Perhaps this way," Lieutenant Küntz said, turning left outside the hotel, away from the Spanish steps.
They walked down the hill in the general direction of the train station. Women were opening the shutters on the upper floors and calling to neighbors to ask if a daughter was betrothed yet, if a dead uncle's farm had been sold and who got the money, if a letter had been received from a son or brother who was a soldier.
They came to the broad piazza before the baths of Diocletian and found a bench east of the fountain. The lieutenant looked at the famous professor.
"I read it, most of it," the professor said. "I stopped taking notes after an hour. There will be time for that later, I hope."
"Some of it may be genuine. It's not a saint's life. A saint's life starts with a list of the saint's failings before he became a Christian, how he lied, fornicated, stole, sometimes killed, you know. The rest of the account is about the glories of the new life. Why spend time on a life that's over? Besides, you might admit to a crime that some magistrate still thinks is punishable. This one, Dakis—what would the Romans have made it, Dacius?—we'll have to see if there's an unexplained Dacius in any source—this Dakis wants us to know everything about the crime, the greatest crime of the period. Is it possible it's genuine? Not in this form. The dialogue is that of the Byzantine court. The descriptions are almost modern yet they could be written by Lucian as well. Is there a core, or maybe several genuine cores?"
The professor took a silver cigarette case from his jacket pocket. The lieutenant did not smoke but had a lighter to light cigarettes of officials of higher rank, which most in the embassy were.
"I kept thinking," the professor continued, "suppose there was a sort of saint's life underneath it. Say, an account a tenth of this length, listing the major events, the killing, the flight, hiding in the house of Quintus Haterius. That's a real name, I believe, though I don't think he's ever been attested as related to Nero, but it's not impossible, I'm inclined to think likely. Being a gladiator—at some point that would interest the Byzantine novelist and he probably expanded on it. Being an assassin—would anyone admit to this if it weren't true? The small document was built into an early Christian novel, a romance. Then, say five centuries later, it was again expanded into what we have now. It's more intuition than anything else. There are some seams where my hypothesis can be tested. Still, if I read it again I might not think the same thing. I want a year with it, not a night. Perhaps if the war ends."
Two men pulling light carts came up the narrow street that intersected with the thoroughfare from the train station. They were young men and they were laughing as they raced each other around the fountain. One of them waved at the professor and his former student. The professor had finished his cigarette and was now taking out a pipe and putting tobacco in its thin bowl.
"I had a Jewish tailor, Lieutenant Küntz. He had been my tailor for—I have to think—twenty easily, closer to thirty years. I drank beer with him. Ten years ago. After his wife died. I would see her in the back. She never left the store. They lived above it. I wouldn't have known she died except the store was closed for the funeral and when I came the next day he thought he had to explain. Just telling me made him so sad that I wanted to do something. I suggested we go to the corner hall. He was very surprised. I could tell it on his face. I asked him why. Not there, in his store, but at the hall I asked him why this confused expression. He said that he thought I would not want to be seen with a Jew. He knew that I had studied theology and he thought that all Christians hated Jews. He said that he knew some Catholics didn't hate Jews, but he thought all Protestants did. We were friends after that. We had a beer once a year and I would ask him about his daughter. She went to America to live with his sister. He had insisted she go."
The lieutenant was remembering a student he had known at Tübingen, a Jew who was the best Greek scholar in his year. His name was David. Everyone knew he would have a rough time getting an appointment, but he went to America, to Princeton University. The lieutenant wondered if David would be fighting for the Americans in the war.
"They took him away in February," the professor said.
The lieutenant was in his own thoughts and did not understand for several moments what the professor had said.
"Took away your tailor?"
"He was only supposed to serve other Jews but the police knew that many of us refused to go to anyone else and they left him alone. I thought it would go on that way. Of course I wanted to think that. I knew that things were happening. I knew that Jews were disappearing. I kept saying that as long as Herr Kohn was left alone, then something was right. I couldn't say anything against the Nazis, not really, not in a place where anyone who should hear it would hear it, because I might hurt Herr Kohn. Even he told me to stop going to him. I would pretend to get angry with his suggestion every time he made it. Then he was gone one morning. It was Friday. I was going to wish him a good Sabbath. I always did if I visited him on a Friday, which was usually the day I went to him. Saying good Sabbath meant I was not one of them. I honored their customs. There was a lock on the door, but none of the windows were broken so I hoped it was something else. Some relative had died and he had to go to the south, where his wife was from. Something, anything. Of course I knew. I waited three days and went back. Nothing had changed except one of the windows of the store had been broken. I went to the police offices. I asked where he was. At first no one knew anything. Then one of the men told his supervisor that I was important. That brought out the supervisor, and his supervisor. They told me that Mr. Kohn had been relocated. I asked where. They said that his whereabouts was not in their jurisdiction, that enemies of the state had to be placed in work facilities in times of national emergency, that this was necessary so that the war effort would not be compromised. I demanded to know how a Jewish tailor could compromise the war effort. Then another man came in and spoke with one of the officers. I think he told them that I had once been important but that I was regarded as an intellectual of the old order. They ceased being obsequious and told me that they had no more for me."
The professor stopped speaking. One of the men with the carts was coming back on another street. The cart was now filled with loaves of bred. A burlap bag had been placed under the loaves and the lieutenant could see flour had caked it.
"I do have a few friends," Steiner continued. "I went to them but it was the same. People said they would look into it, or that they would have others look into it, or they told me to go to others who would look into it, but always there was a kind of sympathy in their words, like the sympathy for someone who wants to change what cannot be changed, like bringing back someone from the dead. I could do things, but I should realize that it was for something in myself, some unfortunate sentiment, that I would do them, not for the object of my search. He was gone, probably dead or as good as dead."
"I have heard of such things. The Italians say that the Germans will work with the devil. They don't like us when they hear such things."
"The pope?" Professor Steiner asked.
"They call him the sheep who pulls wool over his own eyes."
"Who calls him that?"
"Those in sympathy with —"
The lieutenant did not try to finish the sentence. He did not know how to.
The professor smiled. Then he stood up.
"That is what most of us are. Sheep pulling wool over our own eyes."
They walked further east towards the field with the ruins of the praetorian barracks.
"Are there dungeons underneath them like Dakis says?" Professor Steiner asked. "I never read the excavation reports."
"Yes, though some say the rooms were just for storage. No one's sure."
There was a detachment of Italian soldiers at the end of the field loudly performing morning calisthenics.
"The document will be returned to the Vatican?"
"Yes,' Lieutenant Küntz answered.
"Tell them only of the last part of what I said, if they ask. Tell them it was entirely a creation of the Byzantine court for the titillation of the ladies in their private chambers. Nothing more. It is what I will tell Hitler, or rather tell those who are anxious to tell Hitler. Their faces will drop."
The lieutenant smiled because the professor smiled.
"What about the Vatican? Does anyone know enough to have an opinion?"
"Only one, an archiver of the Greek manuscripts. He studied under you.Silvestri, professor, does it mean anything?"
"Silvestri? There were many Italians. I don't think so."
"He was very handsome. Is. Tall, like a film actor."
"Oh yes. Yes, I remember him. Intense eyes. Very intense."
"That's him. He's with us."
If you can, tell Silvestri to keep it in the Vatican. It must not come to Germany. Others will be willing to say what I will not."
"I understand, professor. The Vatican should keep it, as a Byzantine novel."
"Good, later we can decide what is to be done."
They were nearly back to the professor's hotel. There was some blue in the sky directly above them, and both men wondered if the day would be clear.
Father Andreas Silvestri entered the cardinal's chambers, following a monk who was one of the cardinal's servants. Cardinal Maglione was conducting business, listening to an Alsatian bishop whose Latin was actually better than the cardinal's. The bishop was asking for help in supporting an orphanage that had become more expensive because of the rapid increase in the number of orphans to be cared for. The cardinal assured the bishop that God would provide, but that if he did not, the Germans would provide. Only if God and the Germans failed, apparently, would the Alsatian cathedral's expenses be paid by the Vatican, and perhaps not even then.
The cardinal's chamber was said to be one of the most beautiful in the houses in the gardens behind St. Peter's. The ceiling was not painted by a hand Father Silvestri recognized, but it was trompe d'oeil work of the school that had done many of the Vatican ceilings in the late eighteenth century. Though there were lamps along the walls, the candles were lit on each side of the dais on which Cardinal Maglione sat.
The cardinal nodded several more times to the frustrated bishop, but ended each nod with a solemn and definitive shake of his head that could only mean that the request was not granted, and would not be granted in any form that the bishop might rephrase it. The bishop, sensing that the monk was getting closer and closer to his side as if physical force might be used to stop the bishop's entreaties, stepped forward and kneeled to kiss the cardinal's ring.
Then it was Father Silvestri's tum. He was glad that he was not requesting anything as it seemed certain that the cardinal's subtle head gesture of denial would apply to any request. Andreas Silvestri had no idea why he had been asked to attend the cardinal. He kneeled on the second step of the dais and kissed the cardinal's ring, then stood up, keeping his back bent until he was off the dais.
"Thank you for visiting us, father" the cardinal said in Italian.
"I am your servant," Father Silvestri said, bowing slightly again.
"You were taught by the Germans about how to read manuscripts," the cardinal said, "at Tübingen, only a few years ago."
"That is where I received my doctorate," Andreas Silvestri acknowledged.
"You studied under Professor Rudolf Steiner?"
"I attended his lectures, your eminence."
"He recently visited Rome to analyze a document; a manuscript, which we graciously allowed because the request was made by the German ambassador to us."
"Yes, your eminence."
"The manuscript purports to have been written by a Christian in Rome in the first century of our lord?"
"Purports to be, yes, your eminence."
"Would you say that there is any possibility that it is what it purports to be?" the cardinal asked.
"It's not my area of specialization, your eminence, but I'll defer to the opinion of Professor Steiner. He thought, or so I understand, that it is a medieval Byzantine novel, which may have taken some material from earlier sources but probably through a very indirect and now untraceable path."
"That is what he told the German government," the cardinal said. "They seem to think that he was deceiving them, that he thought more of it was genuine. Perhaps it is just that Hitler or Goebbels wants this account of a slave boy to be genuine, I don't know. What do you think, father?"
"As to why they would want it to be genuine? I don't know."
Andreas Silvestri was not quite being honest. He knew from Lieutenant Walter Küntz of the German embassy staff that there was some notion that Hitler might want to use the manuscript as part of an attack on Christianity.
"Neither do I, but I will take a guess if you will permit, father."
Father Silvestri bowed again, not knowing how to respond to the statement.
"The Germans are a little worried about us," the cardinal said. "They are afraid that we might make a forceful criticism of Hitler. If we do, they want something to attack us with. They can't attack directly. It doesn't look good to criticize the pope. They need something else. If this manuscript is genuine, or if some part of it is, they might be able to take advantage of its contents. They can say that Christians were murderers. They can say they are homosexuals. They can belittle a bishop of Cyrene as indicating that the church took criminals into its fold and made them high officials. It gives them something that will confuse the issues."
"Yes, your eminence. I think I understand."
"Hitler may be criticized by us," the cardinal said, "or he may not. He is a tool for us. He has made some very bad decisions. On the other hand, if he loses to Stalin, there will be no more church wherever the Bolsheviks march, wherever the boundaries fall. That will mean no church in Poland, in Hungary, in Germany? Austria? We could lose much if Hitler loses."
"Your eminence, what about the Jews? Can we speak so, well, neutrally about someone who is killing thousands of Jews?"
"He has killed priests as well, thousands of priests. Such excesses are an unfortunate aspect of war. I do not excuse them. Hitler will answer to God for these things, but we must not lose sight of the fact that there will be no church at all if Stalin has his way."
"Yes, your eminence," Father Silvestri said, meeting the cardinal's stare.
"Well, this is not why I asked you to come, father. It seems that though your Professor Steiner said that the manuscript is not genuine, but the German officials in Berlin don't believe he was telling them what he really thinks. They believe he told several of his colleagues that the document is genuine, or partly genuine. In any case, the Germans have requested that we give it to them. They have offered to buy it, or to exchange it. They want it. That can only mean that they think it is genuine, whether Steiner will say so or not. This presents us with a problem."
"We should keep it," Father Silvestri said, then realized that he had spoken too quickly, and with too much interest.
The cardinal looked at the priest. "Do you also think there may be something to this manuscript?"
"I read it, your eminence, and found myself believing that the account described the real anxieties of a man. I thought that it could describe a journey to faith."
The cardinal nodded, but not as he had to the French bishop. There was only agreement in the nod.
"Yes, I showed the plates to Pacelli," the cardinal said, referring to the pope."To my surprise he studied them. He also wanted to believe this might be the first genuine account of a saint in Rome when the fisherman was here."
"And he wants to give the manuscript to the Germans to use against us?" Father Silvestri asked.
The cardinal smiled. "Only if we get something more valuable in return. Besides, Hitler can only use it against us if we criticize his policies in a manner that causes him problems. There are a number of reasons why we may not be able to offer such criticism. Pacelli does not think Hitler will suffer from an attack. He might even become more dangerous if he is criticized. An attack from us will not be any comfort to Hitler’s victims. They will not even hear that the pope has spoken, and Hitler might increase his attacks on the church. That has already happened where bishops have spoken out against the Nazis. Of course, these considerations may change. War makes change inevitable. I do not know what we might do with this manuscript, but I do know that if the Germans make a request through von Kessel, it means that they want the document."
The cardinal looked at Andreas Silvestri for several moments before continuing. "I have brought you here to tell you that this document is not to be treated as just another manuscript in the archives. If that student who works for von Weizsacker asks to see it again, let me know immediately. If anything happens regarding the manuscript, anything at all, let me know. Lock it up. Lock it up securely. Do you have any questions?"
"No, your eminence."
Father Silvestri kneeled at the edge of the dais again and kissed the cardinal's ring.
"The church," the cardinal said while Silvestri was still on his knee, "must not become another victim in this war. Yet it's heart must be with the victims."
"Yes, your eminence."
When the priest stood up, his eyes met those of the cardinal for a moment, then the cardinal motioned to the monk to show the visitor out of the room.
Professor Steiner liked the old church, the purposeful plainness of it, a church built when Luther's fire, or at least the coals of that fire, still burned hot and still drew the retributions of the popes, a church built by men who wanted to found a new Germany, a Germany not dependent on Rome, nearly 300 years ago. Germany, or some part of it, was always trying to find a new Germany, but always trying to do it by finding some essence that the concretions of foreign influences had covered, trying to find past and future at once. Perhaps Hitler had really found the essence, a Gothic tribe that fought off foreign gods, that mutilated those who became too satisfied with the pleasures that came across the southern borders, that extirpated those who had settled peaceably among us. If so, this desire for aboriginal simplicity had something wrong with it. Could Luther have known? No, he had not begun his search with man as the measure, but with God, and he had challenged man to find his soul. Hitler has no soul, only an angry spiteful spirit that rejects any measure greater than itself.
Such thoughts had not taken the form of a sermon as Professor Rudolf Steiner walked up the narrow curved steps that led to the pulpit. It was August and the professor was preaching for a month while his friend Ulrich Lieb, minister of the congregation, vacationed in the Italian Alps. Was Lieb wrestling with his conscience as he had told Steiner he was? Or was he just avoiding the soulless eyes of his congregation, taking silent part in the acquiescence of horrible deeds that were committed in the name of war? The silence was the facade that kept everyone from looking inside the building, particularly those who were the facade. What would they see if they looked inside? There were labor camps where the enemies of the new order were turned into slaves. Would we ever know what such slavery was like? Would it be like the slave boy, Dakis, in Rome— hundreds, thousands of years before the door on a life was opened?
Professor Steiner looked down at the note he had written on the piece of paper and placed on the podium before the service. What does war mean to Christ? Do not plan what to say. Matthew 10:19. Let the words come. You must have a dialogue with your audience. Professor Steiner had never been able to follow this advice, either in lecturing or with his sermons. Had never even tried. The idea was close to mortifying. If he had a thought and an outline of how to develop that thought, he could find that place in his voice where the thought sounded almost like music to him, and to his audience, and they went with him on a journey, in his lectures a journey into the mind of a medieval scribe, and through that man's mind into the minds of kings and archbishops and soldiers and merchants. Professor Steiner did not find his audience. It found him, and those who did not find him had dumb stares and failed the exam.
It was not a good model for a preacher and Rudolf Steiner knew it, had known it from the first time he ever preached. It was why he could not be a good preacher. His sermons were lectures. The congregation learned something, and at least some of those who listened felt good about themselves, being reminded that a good lecture could be like listening to a symphony. Luther, Kant, Hegel. It was a great German tradition and Steiner, though a lesser light, had been recognized as one who fit into it. All he had to do to complete his life in comfort was to accept it and continue to give lectures that transported people to other times and places. All he had to do was to let them look peaceably at the facade of ignorance. Then he could die as he had always imagined, sitting in his study, or walking the dog, or perhaps on a hike in the mountains after everyone had complimented him in the morning on how well he looked. Perhaps in ten years, perhaps in fifteen. It would be the perfect end of his life, the end that all German intellectuals sought. All he had to do was to say nothing that disturbed Hitler.
The professor had no intention of disturbing Hitler. He did not think he could. Neither Hitler nor those who followed him past the facade into the chambers of horror that had become the government and operation of Germany cared in the least what some summer preacher had to say about the Nazis. Others had been critical. Some had been punished, some had been ignored, but none had changed a thing. None could. Not by words. Perhaps by making an official uncomfortable, by asking about a tailor who had disappeared, as Steiner had done on returning from Rome. In the office of the directory of information speaking to some deputy named Voll who assured Steiner that he might as well be speaking to Hitler himself, so interested was the Führer in the manuscript. No, the manuscript is not ancient, not as ancient as might at first have appeared to the untrained eye. There is nothing earlier than the eighth or ninth century in it. Its primary academic value is that it may provide information on the ancient sources available to a Byzantine novelist writing for the court in Constantinople. And even then it was a very untrustworthy secondary source.
There is nothing about early Christianity contained in the document, he had assured Voll. That aspect is totally novelistic. At best it may elucidate some relationships in the imperial household. But, Captain Voll, can you do me a favor? What might that be, professor? I have a friend, Herr Kohn, a tailor whose shop was around the comer from my house. He was taken to a work camp, I believe. Someone thought that sewing the buttons on my coat made him an enemy of the state. I would like his address. I would like to write to him, and to send him some things that would make his existence a little better. I trust, being so close to the Führer, that you could do something about this ridiculous situation. Captain Voll was uncomfortable and crossed his legs behind the desk several times in the remaining minutes of the conversation, now anxious to terminate it. That was the most one could do in dealing with the Nazis, make them uncomfortable, make them cross and uncross their legs. Nothing more.
Professor Steiner was surveying the eyes of the congregation. He had been silent and the faces were all looking up at him. Some were angry with their lives, some were tired, some—those who liked the feeling of being students again—were expectant, even sitting slightly forward. Then he saw Frau Lieb in the third row, married to the absent minister's cousin, whose husband had been killed in Russia only two months before. If that had not happened she would have been with the minister and the rest of the Liebs in Italy. She could have gone anyway, and had been encouraged to do so by everyone in the family, but she insisted that she did not want to leave her house yet. There was some comfort in remaining where she remembered her husband. She wanted to be alone with such thoughts. She wanted to think about why he had died. Professor Steiner had known her for five years or so and was surprised that she was in the church that morning. She had once made a joke about Professor Steiner's sermons, that she remembered why school so often put her to sleep but that she had nice dreams when she listened to him, that she saw ladies with broad shouldered capes sitting on great silver chairs listening to monks read passages from novels filled with sex that made the monks blush and the ladies giggle.
Frau Lieb did not want such a lecture now. She was tired, pale, perhaps even sick, but the sickness began in the heart, not in the body. She was nearly forty, but the paleness of her forehead below hair that had much more grey than even two months ago made her look older. She had been angry, had been crying, screaming, and her soul had frozen in the frustration of not finding answers that would give her peace. She did not expect answers from the sermon. She did not expect comfort from the other parishioners. She was seeking answers only from God and if He could not give them, no one could. She was in the church from some faint hope that the walls would tell her more than the walls of her own house had told her. She was the only one in the congregation who was not looking at Professor Steiner and it was because of her that he knew that he could not give another lecture.
He turned over his notes. Do not prepare. Just speak. Whatever comes.
A memory of something he overheard came.
"A woman is walking with her two boys in the country," Steiner began. "It is cold, this past winter. They come to an embankment beyond which there are train tracks. A car is sitting on the tracks. They think it is a car with sheep or swine. The boys start throwing rocks at it, wanting to hear the grunts of the animals. Then one of them sees a hand coming through the boards of the car, a woman's hand, or a child's. Their first thought is that someone was playing with the animals and hid in the train and now needs to be rescued. They go closer. One of the boys, the younger of the two, runs right up to the side of the train. 'What are you doing there?' he asks. The older boy and his mother have held back. The older boy is only ten years old, but already he knows that there are things happening that one is not supposed to know. The mother wants to pull both boys back away from the sight. The younger boy is trying to see into the car and finds a face, then other faces, and hands. These are people. There are no animals, no swine or sheep in the car. Only human beings, women and girls mostly. 'What are you doing there?' he asks again, and a girl has her face between the boards. 'I'm cold,' is all she says but so quietly that he can barely hear. 'What?' he asks her, but it is the last thing that is said. His mother is nervous and runs forward and picks him up. The younger boy is eight years old and she has not been able to carry him for at least a year, but now she finds the strength. She carries him to the top of the ridge before they both fall. The older boy picks up the younger and hits him. 'Why?' the younger boy asks. The older boy does not answer. The mother does not answer, but she is pushing them both forward, away from the train car. Soon they do not see it. They want to forget. Perhaps even the younger boy wants to forget, but he has dreams and he wakes up screaming that night and the next."
Several parishioners in the back rows had gone into the side aisles and were walking quickly towards the door. Some in the front were looking side to side, wondering if there was a way to get out without receiving the disapprobation of others. Germans must listen.
Steiner did not stop.
"Jesus was a Jew, a country boy. He went to the temple in Jerusalem when he became a man, much younger than boys become men nowadays, but at the age that his society recognized such a change to take place. He participated in the rights of the temple, shared in the passover sacrifices, made sin offerings or encouraged others to do so, recognized that it was the spirit in which one made sacrifice, animal sacrifice, that determined the effect on one's soul. When he said that not one iota of the law would pass before he came again, he used the word for law that refers to the commandments of the old testament and probably to the laws of temple service as well. He predicted that before he came again the law would continue to be practiced—the law as still practiced by our Jewish neighbors, or at least those of them who remain observant to their traditions. But the law changed because of him, you say. The temple was destroyed by the Romans and that part of their law had to cease from that time. There was a new covenant, a new law to replace the old. Perhaps. That has been argued. But it is not the only possible meaning. There were Christians who regarded themselves as Jews well into the fourth century, perhaps later, Ebonites in Syria. They held with Matthew that Jesus came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, and they meant the law much as the rabbis talk of it, not a new covenant but the old reinterpreted anew for each generation. Were they wrong? I cannot say so, either as a scholar or as one attempting to feel the will of God for you, here."
Frau Lieb was looking up at the pulpit. Was he offending her? Her husband had died fighting for the new Germany. Yet she was not looking for simple answers, not looking for someone to blame, not looking for enemies of the state. Her husband had served because he could not be sure that he should not serve, though he had had his doubts. It had been less than a year since Steiner had seen Herr Lieb. Ernst Lieb had not expressed those doubts to Steiner, but to Albert Lieb, the minister of the congregation, but Steiner had seen the doubts on his face, just as he could see the doubts on his widow's face now. The same doubts, the doubts of those looking to measure themselves against some absolute rule. If our cause, Germany's cause, does not offend God, does not run counter to His laws, then it can be undertaken.
"One can follow orders," Steiner had heard Ernst Lieb say in some fragment of a conversation at the dinner where they had last seen each other.
"Does on have to follow orders?" Albert Lieb asked.
It was a Sunday dinner at Albert Lieb's house. Frau Lieb sat beside him, the smile on her face that of the wives at the table, not a sure smile, not quite a mask, not quite able to cover the doubts she already had, but it was her husband's doubts that Steiner felt at the time. It had been late 1941 and the talk of the table was about the entry of the Americans into the war. One of the guests had said that the Americans were really fighting the Japanese, that their only interest in Europe would be to help England. If England could be persuaded to accept a new alignment with Germany—many still believed that Germany would be able to convince England that an alliance would be best for both—then the Americans would never fight in Europe. There were rumors that secret negotiations were taking place with various members of British royalty, and with dissident members of Parliament. It was only a matter of time before the whole complexion of the war would be different. Several people at the table were expressing these opinions, convincing each other by their mutual agreement on the issues, and it seemed as if there was really no little about it. The alliances would change. The English would become friendly, the Americans would disappear, and whatever police excesses had been necessary to avoid confusion on the home front would no longer happen. A woman at the table—Steiner was never sure of her name, it might have been Behm—stated this sentiment. "All these sirens will stop, thank the lord, and all these footsteps on stairs in the night."
That was when Frau Lieb spoke. "I wonder if it can ever stop," she said, looking down at her plate, as if thinking aloud. "Oh," Behm or whatever said in a tone more of assurance than disagreement, "it can't go on. It won't be necessary."
"Is it necessary now?" Captain Lieb asked.
Steiner had been watching Lieb and his wife and he was certain that if the husband had not spoken, his wife would have said almost exactly the same thing. There was something very close about them, something that made them very much alike. Steiner was jealous for an instant. He had never had that closeness with his wife. The conversation would not have been over had Frau Lieb posed the question but, with someone about to go to the front having stated it, it was less necessary for Frau Behm to disagree with the unpatriotic sentiment. Besides, having seen the reservation of a soldier, it was not really unpatriotic. "Oh, well," Frau Behm said, "one must hope such things will pass." "Yes," said Albert Lieb, who had drifted into this conversation again from his end of the table, "one must hope, and one must pray."
Looking down from the pulpit at Frau Lieb, Steiner remembered the jealousy he had felt for a couple who shared the same sentiments. They had been one life, and now half of that life had been destroyed. Now she was asking the questions that both had asked. She had to find the strength for the answers because she wanted to tell him. How would she tell him? In the night, in her dreams? Would she store the answers until she joined him in death? Did she believe that much that God would give her the only thing that truly mattered to her?
"We make exceptions for war," Steiner continued the sermon that his soul was making. "Though shalt not kill. Except in a war. It was certainly an exception the Israelites made. Soon after Moses brought the tablets down from Sinai, the wandering people came north into the place God had chosen for them, and they cleansed the land of those who lived there. A people fulfilling their destiny. Even the God of Judaea could be a god of war. Who chooses the destiny? Who determines that a little girl should be in a cattle car on a side track in the snow? Who says that she must be cold, that she must reach out for a little boy who does not understand? How did she get there? Footsteps on the stairs in the night, a door that must be answered, a minute to put on clothes. What humanity is that? A minute to put on clothes. Does the officer say to himself, or to others, 'I'm more human than most. I let them get dressed.' Does he award himself for this great favor he gives those who are about to be put in a cattle car? Does he ask where they are going? Does he care?"
There were more in the aisles and whole rows were standing. Yet Frau Lieb remained in her seat and it was as if her thoughts spread to those around her and these remained seated as well, twenty or thirty people front and center in the congregation.
"I do not question the wisdom of war. I remember the last war. Though I abhored the results of that war, as I abhor the results of any war, I cannot say that those we have chosen to lead are wrong in what they do. They live in a world where other nations are willing to attack if ours is not. Their choices are not easy. I cannot determine the rules of war nor judge those who choose to engage in it. But what logic of war says that a little girl must be put in a cattle car and left on a side track in the winter? What necessity of war says that an old tailor who fixes the buttons on my coats must be sent to a labor camp because he is Jewish?"
Almost half the congregation had left. Some were still in the aisles, but others were sitting down again.
"What spirit is it that makes me speak these words? That lets me speak these words? I do not know. Look inward to find the holy spirit. Look inward in fear and trembling. Look for the face of God. I try, but only you can let the spirit breathe upon your soul. I cannot make that happen. I can only ask why. I can only ask if we have lost sight of the laws of God in our efforts to conform to the laws of war. If that is so, God will not favor us. Even if we defeat those upon whom we make war. I ask again. What necessity of war requires that a little girl freeze in a car full of women and children in the snow? I want to know."
Then the most amazing thing happened. Frau Lieb stood up. She was looking at Professor Steiner. He thought for an instant that he had not been speaking to her at all. Perhaps he had been speaking to no one at all. They were all afraid. They did not want to see what was happening. They did not want to know what was being done in the name of war. They did not want to know because they would have to accept no blame if they were ignorant. Frau Lieb was no different.
But she was not moving toward the aisle as Steiner thought at first she might be. She was going to speak. She opened her mouth.
"I want to know why my husband had to die in order that such things might happen. I know such things are happening. We all know such things are happening. We are all afraid. I want to know why you are the first one to speak of it. Why do we all not speak of it?"
There was a man behind her who now stood. Steiner had some notion that he was a retired teacher.
"I know and have not wanted to know," he said, and sat down quickly, his shoulders shaking.
Others stood and were silent, or said something to themselves. Some were crying.
“Let us pray,” he said, but left his eyes open as a felt a spirit come upon him.
It was the first time he had given a real sermon, and it was almost certain to be his last.
Christmas Day, 1942
The only light in the cell came through a small window high on the door. It was a white light, weakened considerably by the rippled glass, but it gave a dull glow to the ceiling that created shadowy lines beside the ridges on the plaster. The careless sweeps of a trowel had at least produced some interesting patterns. One area looked like the outline of Africa, only there was no Cape, as if the southern part of the mass were fused with some other mass. Some days Rudolph Steiner thought about Africa and imagined sitting under a tree and watching animals come to a watering hole, walking in pairs as if going into the ark, looking up at Europe and its endless war and being glad that they were not men. God provides for all his creatures. Then what is war?
There was a narrow band of light under the door. Steiner looked at it when he heard footsteps in the hallway, which happened several times a day, as it was happening now. He knew it was not for him. He had already been fed. Yet he knew that he would not remain in the cell forever. He was not in a prison. He knew he was in Berlin. He had been brought here in the middle of the night two months before and had been able to see through the canvas that covered the back of the truck in which he had been transported. Coming to Berlin was a disappointment. Steiner had expected to be taken to one of the prison camps and had formed an irrational hope that he would see his tailor again. He imagined sharing a cell with Herr Kohn. Herr Kohn could talk about his wife, and his daughter. They could think about what it was like in America.
The footsteps passed. Steiner went back to Africa. There was a lion at the watering hole. I hunt. I kill, but I am not cruel to the animals I kill. They provide for me. Why are you not content with what God provides for you, the lion asked Steiner? What is cruelty? The desire to defeat, to humiliate. Does it all go back to the mistakes of one's parents, the inability to adapt to a world, to the ways we enshrine our maladaptations in our dreams? Tum outward and conquer. If you destroy what is outside you, you do not need to build up what has been destroyed inside you. That was Naziism. Freud had fled to England. There were those at Tübingen who sought to keep God and the unconscious compatible. Jesus and Freud. God the giant psychoanalyst. It was nearly a movement, though one that was kept out of the curriculum by those who held the power. Karl Jung had found a way to blend the two trends. The collective unconscious. Germany was not ignoring the unconscious, but realizing the collective aspirations of a race. Going inward and going outward were the same thing, provided you shared in that collective unconscious. Hitler had become the giant psychoanalyst, the political version of Karl Jung. Death to others becomes part of the German unconscious.
Am I ready to face it? Steiner asked himself. How does one face death? I have not done all I wanted. Not even most I have wanted to do. The great treatise on the evolution of the church and theology from Theodosius to the collapse of the Byzantine empire will have to be written by someone else. All I have written are a series of footnotes to that treatise. Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato and Aristotle. Christian theology is a series of footnotes to Paul. Paul and Augustine? No, it is enough just to say Paul. Not quite a theologian because the reality of the church was still in question, yet theology is fully realized in him somehow. I have written a footnote or two to the footnotes others have written to Paul. If it is even that close.
Yet I have done something. I gave Frau Lieb reason to have faith. And in doing so I gave myself reason to have faith. Or rather, we gave each other reason to have faith. We knew that being Christian meant that we could not tum away from man to God and expect God to reward us for wearing blinders. If we are to live we must see. We must see the pain that we cause. We must stop the pain that we can stop. Then we are alive. Then we are not cruel. Then I can look the lion at the water hole in the eyes and say, yes, men have found cruelty that even animals cannot understand, but I am not cruel because I see pain and I do not say that it is my destiny to inflict it. Having realized that is enough. Having realized it with someone else is a great gift. Frau Lieb gave me life. There was something gained by the death of her husband. Her husband was a sacrifice, her last supper, my last supper. We had wine across a broad table and were lovers with our hearts, and perhaps just barely with our eyes, but not with our bodies, but it did not matter. It was not a time to sleep together, though it would not have been wrong and for two other people would have perhaps been necessary.
The only woman I ever loved. Is that true? Perhaps not, perhaps it is just that the world is too close to its end for me to remember easier times. Two natives are following the animals to the watering hole, negroes, naked except for wastebands which hold knives made of animal horn. Yes, we are civilized and we kill on scales that you cannot understand. No, there is nothing right about it, not even in our philosophies. Does it mean our god is a destroyer? Are the great gods destroyers? Zeus, god of thunder. Yahweh, a god of creation, but a god willing to destroy his creation, a god of the floods, of the plagues, who visits endless misery on the enemies of Israel. Jesus tried to make this god into a god of healing and feeding, but those who would not listen would reap destruction. Dear God, bring destruction on the Nazis. Protect Herr Kohn. I'll sacrifice for you a lamb if you will save Herr Kohn. Two lambs. Hitler had brought back human sacrifice, sacrifice for the German archetype.
Will Frau Lieb be safe? She does not want to be. Why do I want her to be safe? There is something selfish about it. I want to be the only sacrifice that is made to atone for my afront to the German archetype. We do not sacrifice in public because we have created institutions for sickness and death, hospitals, so that we do not see the ends of life. Even in a time of war I have seen almost no death. I know it is there. In the back of a car going through the streets of Munich two years ago I sense a sudden coldness in the air, the fact that everyone is hurrying more than they were a few moments before, with eyes looking one way while the head is kept firmly forward. Except for the children. There are men in uniform, but not police. SA. And there is a body in the middle of them. They are waiting for a hearse, or an ambulance. The men in uniform stand without concern, without attention to the dead human being that is in the middle of them. I can only see the legs, of a man wearing a grey suit, with one of his pants legs risen to his knee exposing six inches of flesh, and the only movement of the men in uniform is that one of them pulls the pant leg down. It strikes me as oddly caring, not letting the deceased be uncomfortable, poorly dressed. But then I wake up that night and see the same gesture and I know that it was not caring at all. It was an attempt to hide the victim's humanity. We did not kill a man, we killed a Jew. His leg is too much the leg of any other man. If it is covered we will not have killed a man. How do I know such are the thoughts of the men in uniform? Because I remember their backs. It is not that they are concerned about the dead man lying in their midst. They are talking as if there is nothing near them but the kiosk that is five feet away from the dead man. They are not concerned about what is in their midst. They are concerned about their backs. They must have everyone look away in fear. None must stop and stare at them. What have you done? You killed a man. Not a Jew, not a Christian, not an enemy of National Socialism. A man. Not a sacrifice, not a matter of defending other men. Murder. But it is not what it really is if no one stops and sees what it really is. And I do not tell the driver to stop. No one stops. No one looks. No one says anything to the murderers. Everyone is afraid. I am afraid. There is no murder. Nothing has happened. Death is invisible.
That was two years ago. I have seen no death since. Except some in a hospital who might have been dead, who were at least close to it, but that was the death of sickness or old age. I face death alone. I have to. If others were to watch it would not be invisible. It is more important to hide death than it is to teach any lesson by letting others see it. Rome saw the deaths of the Christians so that Rome could know that it should not see any power in the new god, so that those who might think of destroying the old gods could realize that the old gods still held power. The Christians were sacrifices to the old gods. To Nero as well, himself something of a god, though that theology was more developed in coming centuries. Nero was not Hitler. He would not have understood Hitler, at least he would not have understood Hitler's shame about death. Rome watched the deaths in an arena.
There were steps in the hallway. It cannot be for me. I have been fed. But the shadow is before my door. I never see the shadow unless it is for me. Perhaps I am to die. Please God, let it be that. I do not want another move, another cell, more questions about those professors who might be a threat to the small minds of those who work behind small desks and write reports peeking into the lives of those who still live.
The door opens. There are two figures against the light. One of them is the jailer, but the other is important. The jailer is afraid of the man. I can tell because he is afraid to stand straight, as if he must make himself shorter than the man. I cannot see anything but their figures. My eyes are blinded by the white light of the hallway. They have no faces. The one who is important steps to the entrance to the cell.
"Is there a light?"
"No, Minister, not here."
"Then leave the door open. Bring me a chair." The jailer shuffles down the hallway.
"Professor Steiner," the man says with a click of his heals. He comes into the room and stands before the professor, who has to tell himself not to stand up. This is a Nazi.
"I am sorry for your discomfort. I would like you to give me the opportunity to ... improve your situation. It is a time of war but I do not think that war justifies everything. It does not justify keeping one of Germany's great theologians in a small cell with no light. That is my opinion. Not everyone's. Not Hitler's, certainly. I even think you should have been allowed to criticize Hitler, or the war, if you disagree with it. Hitler should expect criticism from the clergy. He should get used to it."
The jailer is shuffling back towards them. Steiner's eyes have adjusted and he can see the man's face. It is a powerful man, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Information. The jailer brings the chair in, holding it before his chest with two hands, and waits for Goebbels to direct him.
"Anywhere," Goebbels says.
The jailer puts the chair down where he is standing. "Leave us," Goebbels says.
The Minister moves the chair closer to the cot on which the professor is sitting.
"If it were up to me, I would let you go," Goebbels says. "You have done nothing. But it is not up to me, so I would like to know what would make you more comfortable. Some things I can do. Would you like pen and paper, and a light to write by, of course?"
I have not spoken yet but perhaps he reads my mind. Should I refuse to speak? He wants something—what? I have nothing. I know nothing. It could not be that they are trying to build a case against Frau Lieb, but I am not sure of that. Perhaps she has done something. If I insist on not speaking, I may make it look as though we were a conspiracy. Besides, I could never refuse a game of chess.
"Thank you, Minister, but I have no one left to write to."
"Perhaps to the world. If you are critical of the regime I doubt your thoughts would be published soon, but they would be published eventually. This war will end, other generations will follow ours. You could even write to me. Hitler would not deny me possession of material written directly to me. I would not put it in his face, but the material would be discovered after his power has diminished, and then it would be published, to influence future generations perhaps not to commit the mistakes of this generation. After all, we are so committed to the course we are on that even if what you said were published now, I doubt it would change that course. I am sure it would not change that course. Nothing I say seems to change that course, so why should what you say do so either? Not that we speak to the same audiences. I assume we speak to different audiences, don't you?"
"I don't think I have an audience," Steiner said. "Assuming I would not be allowed to preach again."
"Precisely, which is why I told Hitler he should let you go. German theologians would not be German theologians if they did not see the spiritual weakness of Germany's leaders, and everyone's leaders. Look at Luther. Who more than the greatest of our theologians is needed to prove that German theologians must speak, and must speak dangerous words, dangerous to our leaders. But locking them up makes them even more dangerous. Luther again, don't you agree?"
"About Luther, yes. About myself, no. Most of the parishioners who heard my sermons left when they began to hear words that were not comforting. The few who remained were probably too feeble to leave."
"Ulriche Lieb?" Goebbels asked.
So it was Frau Lieb that was the reason for this visit, or was it? Do not hesitate too long, Steiner said to himself.
"She is distraught over the loss of her husband. She wants someone to blame. Perhaps I gave her someone to blame."
"At least she blames the right person, Hitler," Goebbels said. "To blame the Russians when they are defending themselves is to make oneself powerless. She blamed her own government, her own leader, those who sent her husband forward to the front. It is a natural reaction. You mean something like that—yes?"
"She is not under arrest," Goebbels said. "That is what you're thinking, isn't it?"
"No, she is not under arrest. I can assure you. I only know about her because of the informant's report. I have not met her. I understand she is a handsome woman, very tall. I like tall women. Do you?"
"The reason Hitler will not let you go, at least not for a little while, is that he thinks you are dangerous. I mean Hitler himself, though of course it gets filtered through a chain of subordinates. It is because he is Catholic. He has always been afraid of the pope. Did you know that?"
"No," Steiner said.
Goebbels laughed. "Very afraid. Last year he wanted to take the pope from the Vatican. It was all planned. Another Babylonian captivity. Not in Avignon, but in Switzerland. There were other ideas, all of them idiotic. Wolff and I persuaded him against this. He was so afraid that Pius would speak out against us that he thought it would lead to a general uprising. So when he hears that a theologian, a theologian who has already caused trouble by signing a piece of paper, and already been arrested once, has again stood up in front of a congregation and railed against the party, then he gets upset because he thinks that others will follow you. He thinks it more than you do. He thinks this because he thinks the pope could lead Catholics to oppose him, so he assumes that you could lead to a Lutheran opposition. He doesn't even know that Lutherans don't listen to each other, not nearly as much as Catholics listen to the pope in any case. He is not the student of history he imagines."
Goebbels stands up. Why has he visited me? I have not seen the reason. He sought nothing about Frau Lieb. Is it that he is trying to convince me that there is a good Germany inside the Nazi regime, that if I trust in him there will be a new Germany which will permit criticism. It is as if he is laying the groundwork for a future Germany that he and I can both appreciate. Is that possible? No, not with the Nazis. Yet, he looks into the future. I don't know why he has come. Perhaps I'm too tired to see it.
"I will bid you a good day," Goebbels says. "By the way, I have been asked to convey the regards of Lieutenant Küntz, you remember him?"
"Yes, he wants you to know that the manuscript is safe. I have seen the plates. When we persuaded Hitler not to take the pope, he still wanted us to get certain manuscripts for safekeeping. The negotiations were delicate. For the manuscript of Dakis the gladiator we accepted plates. I have the only set in Germany in my possession now. I believe it is the only set there is. Would you like to look at them in your cell? That might be something to write about. After all, you do think there is ancient, first century material embedded in that manuscript, don't you. Lieutenant Küntz does."
This is it. This is the reason. I haven't lost my wits.
"No, I don't," Steiner said. "It is a Byzantine novel. It would be useful to analyze what sources the novelist had. It would help fill in the gap of what the libraries in Constantinople preserved in approximately the tenth century. Other than that, no. It is a good thesis exercise for a graduate student."
"I could see that you have anything you want," Goebbels said. "You would not have to show your work. Why not do something useful while you're here. I mean while you're restricted. I'll make sure your accommodations are more comfortable."
"It's not a project for me," Steiner said. Yes, this is why he came, the only reason, but has Lieutenant Küntz betrayed my confidence? It seems he has.
"Would it be a project for Lieutenant Küntz, if he returned to the university?"
"He would not be my first choice," Steiner said. "He was not the best of my students. Detecting when a source underlies of fictional text is not always easy, particularly if the novelist is good at reworking his material, as was often the case with the Byzantine novelists."
"Would there be Christian sources beneath the text?"
We are at the heart of it, Steiner realized. This is the real question. Be careful.
"No, this is very doubtful. I had only a night with the manuscript, as Lieutenant Küntz must have told you. Yet, I have spent a lifetime with the medieval Greek traditions. We know a great many early Christian sources. What we don't know directly we can often reconstruct fairly well. The church preserved anything that was not heretical, at least by the time of Constantine. Nothing we have leads towards that manuscript, I mean nothing Christian. It relies on Tacitus, Suetonius even more, and may allow us to say something about Cluvius Rufus, which we do not have. That is its value. Nothing more. I even question whether the novelist had Cluvius Rufus. I think he made up his own Cluvius Rufus because he knew the book had disappeared. But was there a memory of its contents, an abstraction of some sort, still in existence? That could have some value, for medievalists."
Goebbels' eyes were less focused. Some taughtness in his jaw was gone. Have I deceived him?
"Well, in any case, I am pleased to have met you, professor. Ask the jailer for paper if you wish to write to me for anything. If you do write, I will respond. Again, thank you for your time."
"Thank you for yours," Steiner said, and somewhat against his will he stood up.
Goebbels did not extend his hand. Steiner would not have refused to take it but perhaps Goebbels did not know that.
The minister left the room, leaving the chair, which the jailer shuffled in and took away. The door was closed.
I gave nothing away, Steiner thought, going over the conversation again and again. But what did Lieutenant Küntz give away? That I cannot tell, because I also said more than I should have to several people. If Küntz had confirmed to Goebbels what Goebbels said, would the minister not have been more aggressive? I can't tell. I can't tell.
The two men felt the cool morning air against their faces as they held to the side of the bus, the engine's roar a mechanical protest against the steepness of the Appian Way. When the roar began to subside the priest, Andreas Silvestri, turned to Walter Küntz and nodded. They dropped off the sideboard onto the roadbed, waving at the young woman who had taken their tickets. The trail began about twenty feet towards the crest and led up a steep incline for fifty feet, then almost disappeared at the edge of a vineyard.
"There," the priest said, pointing towards a patch of brush that interrupted several rows of support stakes.
Beyond the brush were the excavation poles the Webern-Spinelli team had left. There was a grey canvas spread across the floor, which the two men folded back to one end. The black and white mosaic pattern on the floor was quite clear, and with some repair could have even seemed modem. It was the figure of a god with a snake entwining one arm.
"It's as Spinelli described," the priest said, "Aesculapius."
"Dakis doesn't mention a design of the god on the floor," Walter Küntz said. "He probably looked at the ceiling most of the time while he was in a bed."
Lieutenant Küntz had read the excavation reports as well. Spinelli had found the floor of a building with a row of rooms of equal size on each side of a hallway. The entrance was no longer certain, but perhaps indicated by the base of a pillar on the south side at one end of the platform. Spinelli had supposed it was a building for the overseers of a large farm. He acknowledged that the floor plan was similar to the hospital at Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, which would explain the healing god, but a hospital of this sort had not been attested on a farm before and there was no indication, archeological or literary, of a spring on this side of the lake that might suggest a healing spa had been here. A personal devotion to Aesculapius on the part of the landowner seemed the best explanation to the archeologist.
"There are no other buildings?" Lieutenant Küntz asked.
"None that were found," the priest said. "But Spinelli didn't have the manuscript. It never occurred to him he might have found the hospital of a gladiatorial school. He had no reason to think there would be other buildings near it."
"Farm buildings aren't usually isolated," the lieutenant said.
"But they might be wooden. I don't think he looked very hard. Besides, cultivation has raised the level of the ground. This just happens to be the highest building."
"Will you tell Spinelli?" the lieutenant asked.
"Will you tell Webern?" the priest countered.
"No," Lieutenant Küntz said. "You can let Spinelli decide whether they're still partners."
There had been some rancor when the excavation reports were published in Frankfurt as the Webern-Spinelli reports. The Italians felt that Webern was tolerated by the Spinelli team, yet Webern had put his name first on the publication.
"Can we see the lake from the ridge?" the lieutenant asked.
They walked towards the east edge of the field, which led to the crest above Lake Nemi. The villa was to the north.
"It belongs to a contessa, I think," the priest said.
A boulder below the edge of the field was in the shade of two plane trees. They sat on the boulder and Silvestri opened the pack in which he had a loaf of bread, a hunk of grana and a bottle of wine. The descent from where they sat to the lake was steep. The forest was on the north edge of the lake. Spinelli had found no evidence of the golden bough or the slave kings. The remains of a church on the edge of the wood towards the lake may have indicated a desire by one of the popes to eradicate a pagan and particularly primitive ritual.
"Did Spinelli consider that the church may have been built on the house of the king of the wood?" the lieutenant asked.
"Yes, but the only inscription was late. A dedication, not even part of the original church."
The priest passed the bottle of wine to the lieutenant. The dull hum of airplane engines made both of them look north. Lieutenant Küntz was the first to see the bombers and he pointed towards them.
"Going south, to Africa," the lieutenant said.
The lieutenant took a drink from the bottle, then passed it back to the priest. "Did Spinelli date the structure?" the lieutenant asked.
"Not in the reports."
"What would you guess?"
"If I hadn't read your Dakis? Mid-first to mid-second."
"Having read my Dakis?" the lieutenant asked.
"Mid-first to mid-second. It could have been operational into the fourth century, maybe the fifth. If it had become a prison or a leprosarium the church would know, and there's nothing."
They passed the bottle back and forth again.
"Steiner's been arrested," the lieutenant said.
"Signing the petition?"
"No, he gave a sermon against the regime. It was reported by someone who heard it."
"How do you know?"
"Menshausen. He says that Weizsacker thinks they'll let him go, maybe after six months. But Menshausen isn't sure. The Gestapo is getting more serious, more nervous, I suppose."
They were silent for a long time. Two black birds were circling high above them, looking for prey.
"Do you think it was any different back then, being a Christian?" Father Silvestri asked.
"For Dakis? Yes. Why do you ask?"
"I was thinking that it was different. No one knew who they were, until Nero had to blame someone for the fire. Then they were arrested and burned just because of who they were. They didn't know it was about to happen to them. But their deaths were a call to faith. We know that from Tacitus and now, perhaps, from Dakis. But isn't it the same now? We're ignored, assuming I'm a real Christian, Steiner is ignored, then he speaks out, probably influencing only one or two people but frightening others, and he's arrested. It's his arrest that's the call to faith. So somehow it's the same."
"Don't you think you're a Christian?" Lieutenant Küntz asked.
"I said a real Christian. Have I done anything to speak out?"
Their eyes met.
"I haven't either," the lieutenant said. "I've just been sitting here, hoping that the war passes by without hurting me, hoping that I can go back to Tiibingen and resume a life I left off. No, I'm not a real Christian."
"There's still time," the priest said. "Look at Dakis. He couldn't even be a martyr when he wanted to."
"Maybe he wasn't a real Christian. Maybe that's why the manuscript was kept secret. It doesn't set a particularly good example."
"No," Father Silvestri agreed, "but neither have I."
"Neither have I," Lieutenant Küntz said so much later that Father Silvestri had to think about what they'd been saying.
They two blackbirds circled lower until they descended, floating sideways, into the wood beyond the lake.
Father Andreas Silvestri had not returned to Cardinal Maglione's chambers since the cardinal had described the diplomatic value of the narrative of Dakis. Though it was inappropriate for a priest to call on the Vatican Secretary of State without an invitation, Father Silvestri felt that he had come into information that justified a variation in standard protocol. Even a variation that justified a visit late at night. Besides, he had heard that Maglione slept very little and was used to receiving ambassadors at all hours. So Andreas Silvestri entered the hall below the cardinal's chambers at nearly eleven and asked one of the Swiss guards to relay to the cardinal that the archivist of the ancient manuscript of the Roman gladiator had information that would be of use to the cardinal.
One of two guards took the message up the stairs at the end of the hall. In several minutes a monsignor appeared.
"You wish to speak to the cardinal about a manuscript, at this hour?" the monsignor demanded.
"Not about a manuscript. That is how the cardinal will know who I am. He spoke to me once because of the manuscript, but it is not about the manuscript that I come. The cardinal said that there might be an occasion to use the manuscript, diplomatically, to give it to the Germans in exchange for something. A reason for such an action may exist. I must explain to the cardinal."
"You want to explain to the cardinal that this may be the time to exchange a manuscript, an ancient manuscript, with the Germans. Cannot this wait until tomorrow?"
"No, I don't think so. I am not a fool, monsignor. Information has come to me, information about the Germans, about something they are going to do. Something horrible, something they may have already begun doing, something ... I must speak to the cardinal."
The information was that the Gestapo was about to implement a plan to arrest all the Jews living in the Trastevere and deport them to Poland. Father Silvestri had learned of the plan from Lieutenant Küntz an hour before. The lieutenant had said that Weizsacker had himself only learned of Obersturmbannführer Kappler's orders that day, and had tried to dissuade the head of the Gestapo from carrying out an act that could only push the pope beyond the limit of his tolerance. The pope had not protested actions taken against Jews in northern Italy for fear that Hitler would annex Venice, but to do something in Rome itself, Weizsacker had told Kappler, would surely bring a papal condemnation. Administration of Rome, with a population turned hostile by the words of the pope, would be nearly impossible. Weizsacker had told Walter Küntz that Kappler had an easy answer for Weizsacker's objection to rounding up the Jews. The pope would not protest. How could Kappler make such a statement? Weizsacker had demanded. Because Kappler had already anticipated such a problem, but Hitler had assured him that the pope would keep quiet, and if he didn't, then Hitler would remove Pacelli from Rome and take him to a castle in Saxony. The castle had already been prepared for an extended papal visit.
What neither Weizsacker nor Lieutenant Küntz nor Father Silvestri knew was whether the pope knew of Hitler's threat to have the pope taken from Rome in a modem Babylonian captivity where any political pronouncements he might make could be carefully regulated by Hitler himself. To Father Silvestri, it could not matter. There came a time when the heir to Saint Peter would have to accept the fate of Saint Peter and all the other popes who had died for their devotion.
The monsignor had been waiting for Father Silvestri to say more. Finally, he assumed that the priest had nothing more to say.
"Something terrible is going to happen and it may be time to use the manuscript in some way that you and the cardinal have discussed. I will tell him that this is your message. He will call you tomorrow if he finds this appropriate. You are an archivist?"
Father Silvestri was angry and raised his hands to his head.
"The Jews of Rome are going to be arrested, thousands of them, thousands and thousands. They are going to be sent to work camps, where most of them will die. If we need to offer something to the Germans to stop this, perhaps it is time to give them the manuscript in exchange for them leaving the Jews alone."
The monsignor shook his head, even laughing slightly.
"Assuming that you have accurate information about a treacherous plan that will take many Jews from Rome, which I personally doubt—but it is up to the cardinal to determine whether such information has any value—I will relay it to him in any case but assuming it has some basis in truth, do you really believe that the Germans would give up such a crazy plan—I don't believe it, as I say—in exchange for a manuscript of doubtful authenticity? Do you really believe that such things are done in the world of diplomacy and politics?"
Putting the matter this way made Father Silvestri feel like a fool. What he did not think about until later was the monsignor's reference to a manuscript of doubtful authenticity. It meant the monsignor knew about the manuscript and likely knew of the cardinal's opinion of its political value.
"I suppose not, but someone should tell the pope about what is going to happen. If it does happen, it should be condemned."
The cardinal looked into Father Silvestri's eyes.
"How do you know about such a plan, assuming that you do know? Who told you?"
"A friend," Father Silvestri said nervously. "A friend who knows much about the German activities in Rome."
"I must have his name if the cardinal is to give any credence to this story at all."
"I cannot tell it," Andreas Silvestri said, feeling the weakness of his position. "I will tell the cardinal if I can speak to him."
"If it is von Weizsacker, he has access on genial terms to the cardinal and such information would already be known to the cardinal. Ernst von Weizsacker even has visits with the pope, which you may not know, but at which he could surely relay any such information. If there were anything to be done, we would not act by offering to exchange an old manuscript in exchange for the lives of thousands of Jews. You are behaving like a boy, father. It's like a child offering to give one of his toys so that the police don't take his father off to prison. Wasn't that in a film recently? Do you think we're children here?"
"No, I just thought it would be one thing ..."
"You didn't think too well. Please, father, your information will be related to the cardinal, by me, in every detail. I will tell him you must keep the confidence of your informant. I will tell him that it is not von Weizsacker, but that you believe it is reliable information in any case. If he wishes to know more, we will send for you. Please go home now."
The priest bowed to the monsignor and walked slowly from the hall. Outside the building he was on the edge of the Vatican gardens. There was no one in sight, no one anywhere. Father Silvestri sat on a bench that was nearly covered by the branches of a sculptured shrub.
He should have never mentioned the manuscript. The only important thing was the information. It was true, what the monsignor had said. If von Weizsacker were the source of the information, and he was, since Walter Küntz had received the information from him, there were other channels to get the information to the pope. Was it possible that it was not true, that it was just a means of finding out whether Lieutenant Küntz was a spy for the Vatican? That could explain everything. He had better warn Küntz. Though he had not given his friend's name to the monsignor, he might have compromised him in some other way. Father Silvestri was about to stand up when the door to the cardinal's palace opened. The priest quickly moved to the side of the bench closest to the door, where he was hidden from the view of the two men who were walking down the steps of the palace.
"Where does he live?"
"On the Via del Mascherino, near here, but that's not what we're after. We want to see if he visits his friend. He can't be far."
The men were walking quickly and Father Silvestri could hear no more. But it had been enough. He lived on the Via del Mascherino. Two men had been sent to follow him and to see if he tried to visit "his friend," and they may have known this was Lieutenant Küntz. If he had been such a fool as the monsignor had made him feel he was, would he be worth following?
Three hours later Lieutenant Küntz stood at the end of the platform and watched the families being taken from the trucks that had brought them to the station. That part of the station had been closed to travelers and a priority had been given to the trains that would carry away the Jews. The Gestapo was hiding its activities. At the same time it would have been hard for an uninformed observer to tell that there was anything unusual about the passengers who were being taken off the trucks and herded towards the cars. They looked like families caught in the inconvenience of movement during a war. The young and strong helped the old and feeble. They hugged as if they were being separated, yet they were all going together. In order not to create more difficulties in controlling them, the Gestapo was not trying to separate members of families. It was like sending cattle to a slaughterhouse.
Lieutenant Küntz, who had no official capacity in the action, but who had been allowed beyond the barriers because he was a German officer, found himself trying to avoid thinking about what was happening by focusing on the normality he saw among the families. A little girl stopping to pick up a toy bear, the kind that is made in America. Were they American Jews who had returned to Italy for a visit? He was angry at them for returning to Italy. If they had not they would have been safe. He hated them for making his guilt greater, but he.hated himself more because he realized that he could not step forward and shout that taking a girl with a toy bear to a concentration camp was an outrage to God. This should not be happening, but it was and there was something horribly easy and normal about it. They were moving along the platforms towards the cars, far more of them than there were soldiers to guide them, and they were looking for the car to get into as if trying to find the right seats. Some of the cars were passenger cars. It always helped, von Kessel had said. The others are told that there will be more of the comfortable cars at the next stop.
A soldier walking past saluted Lieutenant Küntz then pivoted and stood beside him.
"It was easy," the soldier said. "It was not like in the east where many of them try to hide. Of course the church hides some, but they will come out like rats when the priests stop feeding them."
"They look like rats to you?" Lieutenant Küntz asked.
The soldier shrugged. "They're less important here. We could leave them alone. It wouldn't bother me. The Italians won't let their saints be polluted by the thoughts of their kind."
"You mean Marx?" Lieutenant Küntz asked.
"Marx and Judas," the soldier said.
"Jesus was a Jew as well," the lieutenant said.
"When Jesus changed they all should have changed," the soldier explained. "He saw they were traitors and killers and he told them to change. They had the chance and laughed at him."
"So we should round up women and children in the night and take them to Poland so that they can be killed by the thousands."
The soldier finally realized he was not being received in a friendly manner and stepped back from the lieutenant.
"It gets all of us in the stomach some time or other, lieutenant. You have to cinch up and forget that. It's the only way."
The soldier saluted quickly and walked away from the lieutenant.
Professor Steiner had spent nearly two months in the second cell. He did not know where it was located, though he knew that there were no other prisoners nearby. It was in a basement, as the first cell had been, but it was not underneath a government building. It was even darker than the first cell. He could see nothing but the thin line of light at the bottom of the door. It may have been a school, perhaps a school that had been closed, though he had only seen the outside of the building for the briefest moment two months before, and only in the night, two spires outlined against a moonless sky.
There were other scholars who could be told what to say to make Hitler happy. Perhaps the Vatican wasn't cooperating. But it shouldn't be insurmountable. Something could be given the Vatican in exchange for another opportunity to view the manuscript. If the scholar was sufficiently frightened at the prospect of coming to the wrong conclusion, he would be sure to say what was needed. It wouldn't matter that his stature was not that of Steiner's. The public wouldn't know the difference. The qualms of a few academics could always be ignored.
Or was it that for once the Nazis wanted to be sure they were right? It was as though they were trying to authenticate their own religion, even though the document was seen by them as an attack on Christianity. Were they losing the war? Perhaps they felt a need to leave some kind of mark on the world, some slash across the face of Europe's church, some proof that their demonic strength could not pass without scarring the world's soul. The world could not recover, even if it found a way to extirpate the Nazi horror. It was almost as though the horror that they could inflict was more important to them than winning the war. They had sent the Jews off to work camps and then killed them before they could work in service of the war effort. That criticism was not even particularly uncommon. Steiner had heard some variation of it expressed by an economist at a dinner party a year before. The Nazis are too absorbed in a social agenda, the economist had said. This was a mistake. Even Stalin knew that practicalities had to come before ideology. But then someone else at the table had said the Nazis are Germans, and Germans must make ideology paramount. It is as if there can be no political action without an ideology. Nonsense, another person argued, the Germans can be as practical as anyone. They wave the banner, but it is only to disguise the fact that they are no longer going in a straight line to the objective. The conversation at the dinner had descended into some silly dispute. The same was now happening in Rudolph Steiner's mind. He did not know why he was imprisoned. If it were the sermons, why not just order him not to speak publicly again. That had happened to others. The churches could be told not to let him speak. It did not matter. Others would speak on occasion, and they could be silenced. No, it had to be because of the manuscript.
Was it worse to die a slow death than a quick one? There are stages of death when it comes slowly. One begins to live in another world.
I go to Frau Lieb's house many times a day though I have only actually been there once. I study her dining room, the table that is meant to seat eight, where she eats alone most nights. She had been concerned about the seating arrangement and then laughed at herself. "I always sit here, but I cannot stand the idea of you sitting at the other end. My husband did. It was how his parents had sat at an even longer table. So sit beside me, even if it feels as though we're waiting for others to arrive, as if we're the first ones in from the drawing room."
Frau Lieb's China closet was an heirloom, and had been rescued by her great-great-grandmother from soldiers who were taking it to Napoleon. The plates were simple, the kind that could still be purchased.
"I don't want to eat off my husband's dishes, not yet, probably not ever. It's as if l am saving them for him. He died quickly, but for me there are parts of him that are still alive." Rudolph Steiner was jealous as he remembered the widow's remark. He had wanted to supplant Herr Lieb. It would not have bothered him that he would have been a poor imitation of his predecessor, that the closeness he had recalled between the husband and the wife would not be so evident to others. It would have been as if there were three of him, almost as if Herr Lieb would be in the shadows of the house, looking after his widow. Rudolph Steiner felt like a schoolboy thinking about the three of them in bed together, as if sex were still some sort of game for him, some childhood peek and giggle.
The worst was that he could not know that Frau Lieb had been left alone. What if she had made a nuisance of herself trying to talk to Rudolph Steiner? She would have had to be very offensive for them to take any action, but if they were losing the war they might be more nervous and smaller treasons might become more dangerous to those who committed them.
What about Lieutenant Küntz? Would he commit a treason? Yes, but not quickly. It would grow inside him, slowly maturing as the young man became more aware of the horrors. He would hold onto the image of a rational Germany, a place of universities and churches and enchanted forests, as long as possible. He would make small concessions to his Nazi superiors in order not to lose his ideal of a Germany he could live in, but his soul would gradually darken with the stains of Nazi blood. Something would make him tum against them and cry out for justice. But what? Perhaps he would have to come back to Germany before that would happen. They would not arrest and torture someone like Herr Küntz. He was too much like what the Nazis all wanted to look like, though not quite blond enough. It was a great advantage. They would try to use persuasion before they used force, and Küntz would see what they were doing in time to lead them astray. Yes, God was at work in selecting the lieutenant to be the ward of the manuscript. What was the Italian priest's name, the other former student, the one Küntz said was now in the Vatican? Silvestri? Yes. Küntz had only needed to refer to the man's eyes for the image of the student to come back to the professor. He seemed to have fire in his eyes, fires of righteousness, but such eyes could be deceiving. Even some Nazis had such fire in their eyes, and only after one spoke to them did one realize that it was the fires of hell that one saw in them. Steiner could only hope that the priest had the right fire. He saw the two young men walking with the manuscript, walking through a cavern, as if taking the path to the next world that the ancients envisioned, that Dakis had imagined himself upon so many times. Yes, I can see them. Boys, save the manuscript for the righteous, or destroy it.
I should pray, Steiner thought several times that day, several times the next and the next after that. I should pray. I have not prayed in years. Why should god concern himself with my opinions? God does not need my interpretation of existence, I have always said. God does not need to alter the plan so that my wishes should be accommodated. But I am alone now. My place in the plan is fixed, until I am released or killed. If the war is not going well I will have to be killed.
Perhaps one can pray once. When was the last time. Not the times I bowed my head in church and recited the wishes of the community. Lead us not into temptation. How many of them could seriously be led into temptation? Deliver us from evil. How many wished for that? There would be no Nazis if many wished for that. The last time was probably in the last war when I wished that my uncle Otto would return from the battle from which he did not return. He died in France. I had asked that he come back to me, that he sit in my room again as he had the night before he took the train. That I had wanted. God had not given it to me. I did not blame Him. Even then I already knew that individual wishes for comfort have no place in communications with Him, that God is not an icon of a saint that cries when women ask for sons. Dear God, save the world. What does that mean? Take the lice off me. How can one avoid being a fool even hearing one's voice in the mind talking to what cannot be known, what cannot be understood, what is not part of existence but somehow above it, surrounds it, infuses it, inevitably something we cannot imagine without our poor measures? Dear God, if the manuscript should be saved, save the manuscript. That is not a request. Save Frau Lieb. That is a request. But perhaps not what she wants. She will feel guilty if she survives and Germany pretends that the horrors never happened. Could that be? Would the enemies allow Hitler to remain in power, to be the leader of a reduced Germany, taking away everything back to the Weimar borders? Perhaps even less than that. The Russians will have to be appeased.
The French might take another bite. Could Germany pretend that so many Jews had not been killed, thousands and thousands? Frau Lieb would not want to live in that world. So I should not pray for her survival. Take the lice from me. That is the only thing that I can ask that will not defeat the larger plan, and it is a joke. Save the Jews, the gypsies, the sick and humble. Give them their world, but in your time as your son promised you would. Take away the misery. Does misery teach? Not the miserable, not those who die. There is such a thing as giving up hope. There will be so many with hope after the war. It will be like the shades of the dead on the battlefields, in the cities that are burned, in the camps when they are closed. The living and the dead will not be different for a time, until more are born and these things become part of a memory. Then there will be moments of joy. Are there ever anything more than moments to joy? Probably not. The rest is the denial of the terror.
He was roaming through the underworld of his soul and he no longer worried about the food that was put through the door. For two days he did not eat, then the smell made him sick. He drank the water, which was cold. The pipes must be cold. It must be winter. Was there snow on the ground? He smelled the water and thought he could smell the rubber of boots somewhere. Yes, there was snow on the world. Did it feel cleaner for the snow? Was there a little girl in a cattle car sticking her hand out to a boy standing beside the car on the tracks, wondering why a girl was in a cattle car?
Why is this? It was better to join the dead who were going to the river. I do not want to be a martyr. I just do not want to live. The dead are clean, cleansed of the rotting flesh, free of the smells that make me choke now.
There were more days. How long since he had eaten? Five days, six. Please
God, I will not raise my hand against my flesh, the flesh which was a gift, but I no longer want it. Is there a soul underneath the flesh, separate from it but tied into it? A college question. The physical relationship of the soul to the flesh has been more a topic for the gnostics. Why did it concern heretics more than the orthodox? Were the heretics the ones who had seen too many wars, seen too much death, smelled too much the end of time when it was not the end of time? Am I a heretic?
More days. And then the door opened. He could not see for the light, but someone had his arm and pulled him up. His clothes almost fell off. The soldier had the rubber boots he had smelled and was telling him to hold his pants. The soldier did not want to touch him, though he had to. It meant that he was going to die. They were going down a corridor, then another. There were others, sometimes against the walls, their eyes. not alive, soldiers in uniform and parts of uniforms. This was a forsaken place. They did not want to be here. The deaths were not clean, heroic. Then another door opened and it was a cavern between two buildings, two brick buildings, windows high on the walls, a chain fence at the end and another building beyond this. It could have been a school, but it was now a place of interrogations and death. It was a place of the Gestapo. There was snow on the ground. Steiner was glad of that. It was the white ash of death that he wanted his soul to cross over as it found its way to the next world. There was a chair against the wall.
"Sit here," the soldier said.
"Yes, it is right," Steiner said.
"Right? What do you mean? Don't talk."
"Where you should kill me, where I will sleep."
"Don't talk. Sit up. I must put this on you."
It was a black strip of cloth, to cover his eyes.
"Let me look at the snow," Steiner said, but the cloth went around his eyes. He realized that he could see through it. He could see the snow very clearly.
"He doesn't have to have it," someone said.
Steiner looked across the yard. There was someone sitting on a chair, just as he was sitting on a chair, but the man was in an officer's uniform.
"Otto?" Steiner said.
It was his uncle. So he had not died in the great war. He had not even aged. His hair was as dark as it had been in Rudolph Steiner's room the night before he took the train to the front and died.
"I came to lead you to where we will be."
"I thought you would," Steiner said. "I thought you would show me the way. Everyone else died, but pretended not to as long as possible. You were the only one who saw it, and touched it before it touched you."
"Just as you have," Otto said.
"Just as I have. I am thankful to them. If it were not for them, I would not have prepared. Not that I prepared in any way, really, other than to realize that my thoughts were never organized for anything. I was always creating more disorganization in my thoughts than organization."
"It is why you are a scholar. Just as I was."
"Why are they waiting?" Steiner asked.
He could see the soldiers with the rifles, three of them. He could even tell that one of them would miss, intentionally, that one of the other two wanted to miss but was afraid because he had already done that once and knew that if he did it again he would himself be shot. The third would enjoy it.
"He is the face of death," Steiner said.
"Death is not always to be feared, as you have learned," his uncle said.
"Do they see you, Otto?"
"No, not yet. In their dreams, sometimes, they see us, but not now."
"No, not now. Why are they so slow?"
"They're not. They're just living in another time from where you are walking."
"Yes, I am walking," Steiner said. "I can feel my legs."
The men were lifting their rifles. Someone was giving them orders, someone standing behind a door.
"They're not trying to frighten me, are they?" Steiner asked.
"No, they don't even know you can't be frightened. It is too far from them. They cling to life because there is nothing left to cling to. Their souls are wounded and dying and they're staying alive because they cannot walk after death."
"Where will we be walking to, Otto?"
"Across the fields. Across the snow. Like we did when you were a child. It's nice now, with the snow. You will feel it without being cold."
There was a blackness against the wall, and then there was a sound.
"Please, God, save Frau Lieb."
"Come with me."
Lieutenant Küntz found the letter on his desk several days before Christmas. His name was on the outside of the envelope. The well-bred German script, clearly a woman's, made the lieutenant wonder if it might be from the ambassador's wife, probably inviting him to an embassy party. When he opened it up and saw the sheets, for an instant he thought it might have been from his sister, despite the unfamiliar handwriting, and he went to the end to find the signature. Ulriche Lieb. He did not know her. He read.
"Lieutenant Walter Küntz, Rome
I am writing to you because Rudolf Steiner will not be able to do so. He has been arrested. My husband, who died in Russia last year, was sufficiently connected with certain members of the foreign office that I was able to have this letter delivered without risk of the censorship it would have received had I used the post. Please do not make any attempt to find out how it reached you. The extent of my influence was to obtain its delivery. Should you return to Germany and wish to visit me, I can be found at —.
I got to know Rudolf Steiner well only in the last few months. Over dinner he described the document which is in Rome and which he examined last year. He had hoped to provide a commentary and publish the manuscript after the war. I believe he hoped that you would contribute to the research. He found you a kindred light in the darkness that surrounds us. If there is anything good that can come from this war, it seems to me to be the way that some people, and often not the ones you'd expect, are willing to fight the horrible viciousness of our leaders. I realize that these words condemn me and I thank Rudolf Steiner for giving me the courage to say them. Courage may be too strong a word. Having lost Rudolf Steiner, I no longer have anyone to talk with concerning what is happening in Germany. I no longer care about living. I pray that I will be able to speak as Rudolf Steiner spoke, defying those who bring the darkness on us to show their faces in the light. God has not seen fit to take me. I live in the hope that I will have some opportunity to speak this way when it matters to someone else, as Rudolf Steiner spoke when it mattered to me. Because of him I knew that my soul had not died with my husband, though my heart had.
I am rambling and leaving what I have written because I know that I will not be able to say these things any better a second time. I am speaking more to myself than to you. Now I will try to speak to you. Professor Steiner was arrested six months ago at his house. I had visited him there a number of times, knowing as he knew that he would be arrested. The sermon he gave frightened many, and brought a few of us closer to the light that our lord gave us to find our way. It was inevitable that someone would describe it to the authorities, though it is possible that no one did. So direct was his sermon to every soul, so clearly pure was his message, that none but a coward could have asked for Satan's help. I began to believe that Germans have not lost themselves entirely in this venture the Nazis have given us.
I was with Rudolf Steiner the night before he was arrested. I prepared dinner for him at his house, since his housekeeper had left him. I was happy that I could do something for him. Also, I imagined that I might even be at his house if the police came for him. I knew that I could defy them to think about what they were doing. I hoped they would arrest me as well. They probably won't. First, I am a woman and easily ignored. Second, my husband was made something of a hero for his sacrifice in Russia. Third, without Rudolf Steiner, they will assume that I am not a threat to them on my own. I shall do my best to make this a lie. If l am still alive when you return to Germany, it will probably mean that I have not succeeded.
Now I come to why I am writing to you. Rudolf Steiner had described the manuscript by the slave boy in ancient Rome. Though I am not interested in history, it was good that he talked about this old manuscript because it made him happy and reminded him of his youth. He looked like an explorer as he described reading the manuscript in his hotel the night you gave it to him. He said that he believed much of it to be genuine. At first he thought that the parts of it that described the Christians had been added by someone later, by a Byzantine writer I think. He told me that last night we had dinner that he now thought that the Christian sections were not interpolations. He said Christianity does not neatly fit into anyone's life, that he had learned this when he gave his last sermons. He said that he wanted to tell you that he would not be able to work on the manuscript after the war, but that he hoped you would. He said that he would try to send a letter to Cambridge to a professor named Charles Dodd, and that
you should try to get the manuscript to Professor Dodd. Rudolf Steiner believed that Hitler had lost interest in the manuscript for a time, but that if Germany should appear to be losing the war, Hitler might get interested again. Hitler might tum on the Christians as he had turned on the Jews. I believe that had he not been arrested so quickly after the second sermon, Rudolf Steiner would have tried to reach you and tell you that it would be best to hide the manuscript until after the war, then take it to Professor Dodd. Rudolf believed that this man would accept you as a graduate student if this were your desire as well.
I have taken too long to say so little. For the protection of the person who delivered this letter to you, please destroy it now. Though I do not know you, I pray as if your soul and mine were part of the body of Christ.
Your servant, Ulriche Lieb
It has taken some time to arrange the delivery of this letter to you. Yesterday, I learned through friends of my husband that Professor Rudolf Steiner has been executed. There has been no official announcement, and no funeral, but I am sure that this abomination is true. I curse his killers. Please forgive my anger.-U.L.
Lieutenant Küntz had not seen his father in almost two years. An architect, Otto Küntz had been assigned to an engineering unit and had spent most of his time building bridges in Russia. He had lost most of his right arm below the elbow near Moscow and had been sent back to Germany with several decorations and a temporary discharge. He had written to his son and arranged a trip to Rome to visit him. Walter Küntz did not know what to expect from his father's visit. He had never been close to his father and the letter his father had sent announcing his intention of coming to Rome did not explain the reason for the visit.
Otto Küntz came in August and stayed in the same hotel atop the Spanish steps that Rudolf Steiner had used nearly a year before. Somehow this irritated the lieutenant, though he didn't let himself think about it too much. He insisted at least on taking his father to a different restaurant.
"When were you last in Rome?" he asked his father.
"1926. It was the only time. Every student of architecture has to visit Rome once. Actually I was through with school."
"Is there anything you want to visit now?"
"The Vatican. Other than that, no," Walter Küntz said. "Fortunately, I'm left handed," he added, for no particular reason.
The lieutenant had not asked his father about the loss of part of his arm and it was the first acknowledgment between them that such a horrible thing had even happened.
"I know," the lieutenant said, meaning that he knew his father was left handed. "So you can still work?"
"Yes. There will be plenty of work after the war. Hübner and Küntz have no choice but to take me back, no matter what I look like. Not that they would object."
The Küntz of Hübner and Küntz was not related to them, something that the lieutenant had known as long as he had known that there was such a thing as work that his father did, and it had always meant that his father was not quite what he should be.
"Plenty of work?" the lieutenant asked.
"There will be more than just repairs. There will be a lot to build as well."
"Whether Germany wins or loses?"
"Germany will win," Otto Küntz said with some added tension in his jaw. "Do Germans in Italy think we will lose?"
The lieutenant knew that the insistence in his father's attitude would not have been there had they been friends, but ultimately they were a father and a son.
"This is virtually an occupied country. Mussolini only has the power we give him. Italians in the south are welcoming Americans. Yes, most think Germany will lose."
The lieutenant had gone too far, and he knew it was because he was speaking to his father. He was wondering again why his father had come.
"We always choose the wrong allies," the father said, avoiding the argument to his son's surprise.
They were silent. The lieutenant could tell that his father was nervous again, but not over a political issue.
"I heard that one of your professors visited you."
His father could only be referring to Rudolf Steiner.
"Visit me? No."
"A theologian, Steiner."
"He didn't come to visit me. He came to look at a manuscript."
"An old manuscript?"
"Yes, very old, Byzantine."
"Some say older than that," the father said.
Lieutenat Küntz was angry. It was all clear to him now. His father had been sent to ask whether Steiner had said something about the manuscript, something inconsistent with the official report he had filed. His father would not have understood the nuances of the debate, but some of the issues had been explained to him so that he could ask if the manuscript was an authentic first century document. The lieutenant could even imagine the conversation. "Here's a ticket to visit your son. We do such things for war heroes, even bridge building war heroes. While you're there, ask him about a manuscript .."
The lieutenant hated his father and wished he could say so. "When did you take up an interest in ancient texts?" he asked.
"I haven't," his father said. "I got a visit from ... someone who asked if you'd written about this. Apparently your professor was arrested and they said you could help him. They were trying to find if he'd lied about a manuscript, lied about it so he could get it and sell it later."
Yes, the lieutenant thought, they would make it seem as though Steiner needed help, and as though I needed help as well. "Your son may have abetted in a deception, but we're not sure. Find out if he's willing to cooperate. If he is, then he won't get in any trouble." It also meant that someone had told the authorities that Steiner had lied about the provenance of the manuscript. But it wasn't Frau Lieb because they hadn't told his father that Steiner had been executed. Steiner must have told others. He might have trusted too many of his colleagues.
"It's not his property. How could he sell it?" the lieutenant asked rhetorically. "It belongs to the Vatican, and the Vatican won't agree to its removal to Germany. I know the priest who's in charge of the research."
His father would know that, or at least those who had sent him on this mission would.
"Steiner told someone in Germany that it was an older text, or part of it was," Otto Küntz said. "He told some people that, and he told others that it was Byzantine."
"And they sent you to find out what he told me?" the lieutenant asked, rather almost demanded.
"It was an old friend. He said you might get something on your record if you lied as well."
The lieutenant wanted to say everything, that he hated his father, that Germany would lose, that Hitler couldn't make the Christians into criminals because he himself was the greatest criminal, and most of all he wanted to say that he and the priest who held the manuscript were waiting for the allies to move north and that they would try to take it out of the evil sphere of German power. But he he could say none of these things to his father.
"The professor likes to play games, I guess," the lieutenant said, carefully, even trying to put some humor in his tone.
"No one here doubts that it was a novel. Steiner did not doubt that it was a novel. If he changed his mind he didn't tell me. I read it. If anyone thinks it's the kind of thing a first century Christian could have written, then that person is a real second rater when it comes to historical theology. There are some second raters like that around, fortunately none of them ever studied under Steiner, but he may have wanted to play with them a bit."
The father looked at him. Does he read me as I read him? No. That is the worst of it, that is why I hate him. It's working.
"Do you like Rome?"
"I'd rather be here, father, than where you were."
"I would have rather been here as well."
Then it was completely different. He wanted to comfort his father. He regretted the hatred that had taken over his heart for the last few minutes. His father had suffered. His father had been used by someone in one of the ministries. He had wantedto see his son and could not pass up the opportunity, even if it meant doing a little dirty work. The lieutenant wanted to cry, somewhere behind his eyes, but like any German male who feels like crying it was far from happening.
Otto Küntz returned to Germany two days later.
Andreas Silvestri awoke, sure that he had heard something that was not normal for the night, but everything was quiet. Then there was a knock. His own door? It could not be, unless it was Walter Küntz. That would mean something had happened. He put on the robe that he had draped over the end of the bed to keep his feet warm and walked as quietly as he could through the small sitting room, stopping when a board squeaked beneath his foot. He could hear the shuffling of someone on the carpet in the hallway. It was not the way Küntz would sound, the priest somehow sensed. Küntz would be pacing, if something were so wrong for him to come in the middle of the night. Perhaps it was the police. Andreas Silvestri convinced himself it was. It has to be about my cousin, Pascalino. He has been caught with his partisans.
Andreas Silvestri stopped before the door.
"Yes," he said. "I must speak to you."
He did not recognize the voice, but it was not German, and not young.
He opened the door. It was a man in a suit, with wire framed glasses and a hat.
"May I come in?"
"Yes," Silvestri said, though only because the man seemed distinguished, like a doctor delivering bad news. Who had died?
Andreas Silvestri stepped aside for the man, but did not shut the door.The man removed his hat, and took a cigarette case from his coat. It was a good suit, better than a doctor would have.
"I don't think you want others to hear me. At least I don't."
It was s only then that Silvestri recognized the cardinal. He shut the door, then hurried to the top of a cabinet where he had some matches. Not finding them, he saw that the cardinal was holding a box of matches made in America. Silvestri took the box, took out a match and lit the cardinal's cigarette. He motioned that the cardinal should be seated, but Maglione ignored the offer.
"Hitler has requested it," the cardinal said. "The manuscript?"
The cardinal did need to answer and asked his own question. "Your friend, Herr Küntz did not tell you?"
"Perhaps they did not tell him. Do not assume that, though."
"In exchange for what?"
"Nothing," the cardinal answered. "As a spoil of war, I suppose. Of course, Pacelli considered asking for something in return. The release of thousands, hundreds of thousands of ltalian soldiers in Germany. But if they were released they might be made to fight again. Hitler is desperate. He is losing the war."
"Yes, what about the release of the Jews?"
"As you had previously suggested," the cardinal said. Now he sat down, but at the front of the chair. It almost stunned Silvestri how much the cardinal looked like a businessman. Of course, as Secretary of State he had to be one, but in the suit he could have been a distinguished Italian official.
"There are thousands of ltalian Jews who have been taken away."
"And many we have saved. If we bargain for them, Hitler will take more of them away."
"Not if the pope spoke about it."
The cardinal ignored the comment, but drew deeply from the cigarette as if thinking of another topic.
"They have executed Steiner."
"I know," Silvestri said.
"I know that you know, actually. What I wanted to say about it is that he spoke about the manuscript before he died. Spoke to colleagues at Tübingen. It got back to Hitler. Even though no one who was of any importance spoke about it, there were several reports. Hitler wants to attack the church with it. It is better not to let him have it, than to bargain for something else in exchange for it. Then at least no damage can be done to us."
"Much damage has been done to the whole world," Silvestri said.
The cardinal looked at the priest. Silvestri could not tell if there was any anger in the man's eyes. That seemed to be part of being what a cardinal was. Never show anger.
"Silvestri, it will no doubt be the case that in a few years you and others will look back on these days and find many mistakes in how we acted. But we were faced with a madman, a madman who made a country mad, who spread his madness without hardly any protest for many years. It was not an easy situation to deal with. We could not lose what control we had, and we did not."
"I believe more could have been said by the pope."
"Yes, I believe that now also, but I wanted him to say less when he did speak, and I am someone he listened too."
The priest could not think of what to say.
"We must move the manuscript out of Rome," the cardinal said, "out of our control, to the Americans. It is known that Steiner wanted it to go to the English theologians, to Cambridge."
"Yes," Silvestri agreed. Küntz had told him that much.
"Will you take charge of that?"
The cardinal's steady eyes seemed like they were reading Silvestri's soul. He did not know if he loved or hated this man.
"How will I do that? It would not be good to carry Vatican papers to German lines."
"No. You have a cousin."
"He is moving north in the mountains, shadowing the Americans. You can get word to him where to find you."
"Do you really want me to know that? Choose your place, choose your time. Get the manuscript out of the Vatican now."
"Walk me back to the garden. I will admit you."
"I must get dressed."
"Yes," the cardinal said, letting only a brief smile onto the sides of his mouth. "Yes, you must."
* * *
For four days Lieutenant Walter Küntz and Father Andreas Silvestri had been hiding in the unexcavated cavity under what the archeologists had, for lack of a better designation, labeled a warehouse. They were near Tivoli, at Hadrian's villa, waiting for the Germans to leave and for the resistance to arrive. The resistance would be informed of their presence but, in case the Americans reached the area ahead of the partisans, Father Silvestri was to show himself first. He spoke English, not much, but well enough to explain who he was and that with him was a German officer who was defecting.
They left the underground room, which they called a bunker, only at dawn and at dusk to relieve themselves. There was one more loaf of bread, which could last another day at most. They had eaten the last of the salami that morning. A German patrol had passed in the field to the east in the morning. Father Silvestri had seen the truck when he was in the stand of trees that they used as a toilet. He had almost run back to the bunker, convinced that the resistance was finally spreading out over the area searching for any Germans or fascists who had lost their units. Only seconds before revealing himself, Father Silvestri had seen the glint of a helmet, and dropped into the tall grass at the edge of the trees. Lieutenant Küntz had also heard the truck, but even before he crawled into the narrow space that led out from under the brick ruins he recognized the German tones in the voices that were only occasionally louder than the sound of the truck. He had gone no further and had not seen the members of the army he was deserting.
Lieutenant Küntz wore a suit, the only clothing he had that was not of military issue. He also had an official German case. Father Silvestri had tried to convince the lieutenant to use a leather case, but the lieutenant explained that if they were captured, he would argue that he was on a secret mission, taking coded messages to fighters in the hills near Bcnvenutum. Inside the case, besides a few supplies, was a metal container that he had stolen from the information office in Rome. Inside the container was the Dakis manuscript.
They usually discussed the manuscript in Italian, though the lieutenant would sometimes shift to German, at which they were both also fluent, if he felt that the priest was playing with him. The lieutenant tried several times to explain his own interpretation, that the original document was a brief account of the life of a bishop. It was expanded in antiquity into a novel, perhaps as early as the third or fourth century, and it may have been reworked in Constantinople as late as the ninth century. Father Silvestri looked upon such discussions as a game, no different from any of the others that they used to keep from getting bored as they spent their days sitting against the dusty brick wall, looking at the narrow band of light coming through the crawl space that led to the surface of the emperor's villa.
"Maybe it is just what it says it is, an account of a gladiator who saw two of the apostles," the priest had suggested in various ways on several occasions. "Even so, what does it say about our lord? Nothing."
"It tells how Peter and Paul died."
"I thought that Steiner thought the Christian passages were interpolations," Father Silvestri said.
"That's what Steiner thought when he was here, but according to the letter I got from Steiner's friend, she said he had changed his mind. The seams are difficult to find."
"You Germans find seams in everything," Father Silvestri said. "Every time Luke's words, or Mark's, or Matthew's sentences don't seem logical to you, you say there's a seam. Then you make up a new source. The New Testament is a collection of abstracts from an apostles' library."
"Not a new source for every seam. Some of the sources were used hundreds of times. There arc seams, you must admit."
"No, I must not admit," Father Silvestri disagreed, only the slightest edge to his voice, an edge that Lieutenant Küntz did not think meant anger. They had shifted to German again and the priest's use of the language was a bit stiff. "I do not admit seams in the texts, or not many. Maybe Matthew and Mark were just bad writers and it looks to you as though there were different writers on each page. My sermons always sound as though there are three people speaking, the monsignor once said."
"But here we know there was an earlier version and a later version," the lieutenant said.
"You don't even know that," the priest disagreed.
It was evening, time for them to take turns relieving themselves.
They both crawled into the wide tunnel that led towards the light. As they got closer to the light the room for crawling got narrower, the result of the sedimentation. They were actually crawling under the arched ceiling of the entrance hall of the structure. The floor was about twelve feet below them. The notes of the excavation reports said that the crawl space looked so dark that even the archeologists wouldn't go into it for several months, being convinced that some dangerous animal had made it into a lair. It had been used by animals. Both the priest and the lieutenant had expected to crawl over fresh droppings, though this had never happened.
At the entrance to the tunnel they looked out onto the ruins of the hospital and beyond it the grass field. Fifty yards from the edge of the ruins was the stand of trees that was their latrine.
"Ready?" Father Silvestri asked.
"Yes," the lieutenant answered. "No," he said when the priest had crawled into the light. "Come back."
The lieutenant's hearing was better and the priest knew it. He crawled backwards until he was beside the lieutenant.
There were voices. A woman's voice. Both of them thought it was coming from behind them, perhaps some women from the farm beyond the trees.
Then they saw them. There were four gypsies, a woman and three children.
The oldest child was a girl with breasts, nearly the height of her mother. There were two younger ones, a boy and a girl. The soldiers were behind them, two Germans, an officer and a corporal. The corporal limped but moved faster than his superior.
"There!" the officer yelled at the gypsies.
The gypsies did not understand the German order. Neither did Lieutenant Küntz. Apparently the officer was ordering the gypsies to walk towards the ruins.
The corporal hopped forward and put his arms out wide to make himself into a wall so the gypsies stood still. Even as the corporal walked towards them the captain had raised his pistol and shot the gypsy mother. Her older daughter was kneeling beside her.
The two soldiers had seen the priest, but the corporal shot the older girl before the priest had reached the low wall at the edge of the ruins. The girl had been thrown back against the wall by the bullet and the priest kneeled beside her, raising his hand.
"We are Germans! " the lieutenant was yelling.
"No!" the Lieutenant Küntz, yelled, reaching the low wall and falling forward.
The pistol fired this time, and the priest fell forward, just beyond the lieutenant's feet as he stepped onto the field. The corporal raised his rifle. He was only fifteen feet from the lieutenant and he saw his eyes. He did not fire.
"Shoot!" the captain yelled when he saw the corporal's hesitation. The captain was walking forward.
"No bullets," the corporal said, lowering the rifle.
"I have documents. He's a priest," Lieutenant Küntz said, not knowing which reason would allow him to step forward and see if his friend was still alive.
"Fire!" the captain yelled, walking forward and standing beside the corporal.
The corporal shook his head. The captain lifted the revolver and shot the lieutenant. The lieutenant fell to his knees, the bullet underneath his heart sending blood in waves against the loose frock.
"Why?" the corporal finally demanded.
"Because he saw!" the captain said, then raised the revolver to kill the two gypsy children who had moved from their dead mother and sister. The revolver jammed again. The corporal turned and looked at the soldier.
"He was a priest," the lieutenant said, still on his knees, but feeling the life drain from his heart.
"Give me that, The captain said, pointing towards the corporal's rifle.
The corporal lifted the rifle and shot the captain: he had hated with every ounce of his being for the last three days. The captain's eyes remained open as he flew back against the gypsy mother and rolled to her side.
"There's a book," the lieutenant said, his eyes meeting those of the corporal before he fell forward and died.
The corporal turned and walked with his stiff leg away from the dead and dying. The gypsy children had not moved. He threw down his rifle and walked several more steps. He turned and looked at the children. They looked at him and crouched to their knees.
Somebody would have to save them, the corporal thought. Somebody had to do something right. They had killed a priest.