by W. E. Johns



6.     LOWENHARDT TELLS HIS STORY  (Pages 72 – 86)


“We start last year in Germany, when the war is lost,” began Lowenhardt and he tells how he was Hauptmann Rumey’s unteroffizier.  “We are like brothers”.  One night Rumey says they will go away as the war is lost.  He wants to take Anna Shultz with them.  Rumey does not know of the Stenberg camp but Lowenhardt has heard talk in the barracks.  Lowenhardt is sick that Rumey wants to marry her.  “She was too much a creature of the regime, with too much pride in herself, and ambition”.  Shultz wants to bring Doctor Wolfe with them, saying they will need a doctor, but Rumey refuses to take him.  In due course, they load a plane and fly to Lake Desolation and Rumey is furious to find that Doctor Wolfe has stowed away onboard.  In due course, he calms down and he shows them the gold he found when he was last there, in the sandy bed of an old river.  They mine a lot of gold and store it in a cave near the “Box”.  The Box is what they call the hull of the Kondor.  They cut the wings off it and then surrounded it with stones for protection from the wind in winter.  Rumey is getting jealous of Shultz and Wolfe as he wants to marry her when they are rich on the gold that he, Rumey, found.  Rumey has one trump card.   He has a plan for getting away from Lake Desolation after destroying their aircraft but he is not telling anyone what it is.  One day, Shultz discovers two new men there, Captain Larwood and Mr. Hedin.  Shultz wants to murder them but Rumey is against it.  Wolfe comes up with the idea of befriending the men and showing them the gold, then getting them to help pan it, as that will double output.  Although Rumey and Hedin had met briefly once before, they do not recognise each other.  Larwood tells the others that a plane is due to come for him and Hedin on September 15th.  The night before it is due, Doctor Wolfe drugs the pair of them and they sleep for three days.  When they eventually wake, they think it is the next day and go to meet the plane, but it has already been and gone.  When winter comes they all live in the Box and things go from bad to worse.  Everyone gets on everyone else’s nerves.  “One day I hear that Irma Greese is hung for her crimes at Belsen Murder Camp.  I tell Shultz.  Shultz laughs.  “Serves the fool right, she says”.  (Johns has obviously based the character of Shultz on Irma Grese – Johns got the spelling of her surname wrong – she really was hanged on 13th December 1945, aged only 22, the youngest woman to die judicially under English law in the 20th Century).  Eventually, when Larwood and Hedin are out shooting ducks, things come to a head when Rumey sees Shultz and Wolfe with their arms around each other.  Shultz says Wolfe is her husband.  In temper Rumey says, “I will see that Hanstadt does not take you home”.  “Shultz burst out laughing.  She shouts: So Fritz Hanstadt is coming.  Why, you poor fool, he has been in love with me for years.  He will do anything I say.  It will be you who shall stay here”.  Shultz draws her pistol and shoots Rumey in the stomach.  Schultz and Wolfe then open fire at Lowenhardt and Wolfe hits him in the leg.  He plays dead.  The evil couple then throw both bodies in a small pond.  Lowenhardt manages to get out of the pond and also drag Rumey out.  It is not until the next afternoon that the wounded Rumey dies.  Lowenhardt buries him under stones.  Lowenhardt then crawls to the Box and hears Shultz telling Larwood and Hedin that the two missing me were buried under a great landslide of rocks that fell suddenly.  Lowenhardt then crawls to the far end of the lake, “hoping that one day Larwood and Hedin will come to shoot ducks”.  Then he will tell them the truth.  But Shultz becomes the cook and the men dig the gold.  Lowenhardt has no food, all he has to eat is what the bears and the foxes leave.  He knows there is no hope.  Then a plane comes and he crawls to find food.  The rest the girls know.  “At the end of this tragic recital there was a long silence.  Worrals stared moodily at the floor, busy with her thoughts and keeping them to herself.  Frecks gazed through the open flap of the tent at a sky across which wheeled, like the sails of a gigantic windmill, the unearthly beams of the Northern Lights”.  The girls are convinced of the truth of the tale they have heard.  Worrals says “It only needs Hanstadt to arrive on the scene to put the monkey-wrench into the gears.  Fritz Hanstadt, you remember, was Rumey’s partner on their first trip here.  It was natural, I suppose, that they should arrange to come again when the war was over”.  The girls decide to make Lowenhardt a bed on the floor of the cabin of their plane and give him the useful job of listening to the radio for signals.