Old World Diplomacy: Inimical (episode seventeen)
Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?
Sleeping or waking? Mad or well advised?
Known unto these, and to myself disguised!
The Comedy of Errors
April 27, 1937. Kneussl seldom visited his club in Mayfair. The Queen Anne manor now housing the Avignon once had been a fashionable town home…until an error in speculation forced a sale to the government, the owners seizing upon this saving excuse: “The dear old place has grown inadequate to our needs.” At length the government also had deemed Harmswicke House inadequate; like many structures with an attractive façade, its foundation hid troubling flaws. The house, free-standing in its youth, had got attached on one side. Its oriel windows were too closely abutted against the neighboring property; as though a victim of architectural apoplexy, its linear expression declined.
The club had been named for the resting place of its idol, John Stuart Mill. Members felt Free Trade to be a pure doctrine, one not properly adulterated by interests; and if not applied as pure doctrine, why then, the finger of blame could of course be pointed at this or that failure. What did it prove? The adventuresome spirit would never, in that case, have been entered into wholeheartedly.
They spoke to one another with civility and obliquity, the suspicion remaining that some members harbored protectionist leanings; particularly of late, with rearmament exerting its distorting effect on the economy. Now and again, one noticed a certain reserve—
For a handful had fortunes tied to industries relying on imported raw materials. The oldest and most gnomic members practiced so abstruse a British negative as to carry it to the fourth or fifth degree of deniability. Any doubtful member meeting another on the street could, in conscience, greet his fellow as a comrade, none knowing with certainty that his apparent enemy was not, within the interstices of his philosophy, a secret supporter.
In a room reserved for entertaining guests, the conversation was not about trade, but politics. The present speaker, in contrast with the usual membership, and by reputation, was forthright in his views. Today, having lunched well at the expense of a friend, he was feeling expansive. For the greater good, he was willing to set aside a personal grievance. Gaston Feuillat, when at home, stood with the Royalist cause. His logic was dispassionate. Persecution dealt on the order of the French right-wing press he felt undiplomatic; assassination plots most decidedly so. Feuillat deplored the open tactic. But he was proud, rather than discouraged, to be in the French minority.
(2014, 2018, Stephanie Foster)