Excerpt from The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Welsh Girl

by Peter Ho Davies

The Welsh Girl
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2007, 352 pages
    Jan 2008, 352 pages

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Print Excerpt

“Thank you,” Hess told him. “Und Ihr Deutsch.”

Rotheram looked up and a loop of film slipped off the reel he was removing, swinging loose.

“I only meant you do not seem to need the subtitles, Captain.”

Rotheram recoiled the film tightly.

“But perhaps I should be complimenting you on your English instead.”

Mills barked out a little laugh and then looked puzzled. “I’m not sure I get it.”

“It’s not a joke,” Hess said pleasantly. “I’m asking if Captain Roth-eram” — he drew the name out — “is a German Jew.”

Rotheram felt the others turning to look at him, the major sitting up straighter. He kept his eyes on Hess but felt himself coloring in the gloom.

“Well,” Mills said. “I’d never have guessed.”

“You have to know what to look for,” Hess said nonchalantly, as if it were a parlor trick.

“But Jews can’t be German, Deputy Reichsführer,” Rotheram told him flatly. “Or did you forget that also?”

Hess’s lips twitched, a small moue.

“Besides, you’re wrong.” But even as he said it, Rotheram was conscious of his accent asserting itself, as it did when he was tired or angry.

“My mistake, I’m sure.”

“Captain,” the major called wearily. “Let’s press on, shall we?”

The second reel moved to the evening events of the 1934 Reich Party Day, a grainy sea of flags waving in a torch-lit parade, and finally to footage of Hess himself, starkly pale under the floodlights, rallying the crowd, leading the ovation until his voice cracked with the effort. In the drawing room, Rotheram watched Hess closely, saw him flinch slightly, his nostrils flaring as his younger face stared down at him. His eyes, beneath his bushy brows, widened as he watched, and he seemed to clutch himself, his crossed arms drawing tighter, his leg hitched higher on his thigh. The tip of his cigarette glowed in the dark, and the smoke twisted up through the projector’s beam like a spirit. At the next break, he called for some light and said he needed to stretch his legs. He rose and walked twice around the room quickly, his limp jagged, his head bent.

Mills tried to join him. “Are you cold?” But Hess waved him away, and the doctor approached Rotheram instead.

“How much longer?”

“One more reel.”

“Good. I don’t want him too agitated.”

Rotheram looked up. “Isn’t that the point?”

“It’s your point, my friend. My job’s to keep him healthy. I don’t want him stressed or overtired.”

“I understood —”

“You understood wrong,” Mills hissed. “And don’t be thinking you can go around my back to the old man. He and I have an understanding.”

Rotheram looked up and saw the major watching.

“Do you mind?” he asked Mills steadily. “I’d like to start this.”

Mills turned and motioned curtly for one of the corporals to light a fire. There was a clatter of coal from the scuttle, and for a few seconds they all watched as the flame caught.

The final reel showed Hitler addressing the crowd, and Hess sank against the seat cushions as if he were trying to smother himself in the chair. Rotheram, glancing round, noticed Redgrave and Mills thoroughly engrossed in the film, intent on the younger Hess, the one formed from shadow and light. Turning back, he found Hess studying him. Their eyes met for a moment — Hess’s dark, but shining — before Rotheram had to look away, his heart racing, as if the figure on the screen had met his gaze.

Copyright © 2007 by Peter Ho Davies. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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