By mid-November, the days had grown short, the sky was dark and
brooding, and the temperatures had plummeted. The winter of 1939–1940
would be brutal.
As the war raged around Europe, Denmark remained safe from physical
attack but was on a wartime footing in most other ways. All citizens had
been instructed to sharply curtail water and electricity use. Gasoline
was rationed, and the use of private cars was prohibited. The latter had
no effect on the Christiansens as they didn’t own a car. The rationing
of sugar did hurt them, as Flemming’s mother was unable to create the
endless string of confections that the family loved and that
psychologically helped take the edge off a hard winter.
At home, everyone wore heavy sweaters at all times as the restrictions
on fuel use forced them to keep the house fifteen degrees cooler than it
would normally be. There was always work at the smithy, which meant that
Flemming’s father was warm standing in front of the fires of the forge
every workday. The Christiansens were grateful that Flemming’s father
had a full-time job, as there was a growing number of unemployed, with
the country’s economy continuing to deteriorate.
Few believed the Germans would continue to recognize the nonaggression
pact they had with the Danes. The police had instructed the residents of
Copenhagen on how to evacuate, if necessary, and shelters had been
established in case of air raids. The tension in the air was palpable.
Flemming was at home nearly twenty-four hours a day as there were no
gigs available. Wrapped in warm clothing, he spent hours practicing
either the saxophone or the clarinet every day. In the evenings, the
family gathered around the radio to listen about the progress of the
war. Flemming also tried to pick up some jazz music, but there was
little being transmitted, and all radio broadcasting was terminated at
eleven o’clock as an electricity-saving measure.
The family was seldom up until eleven, given electrical conservation.
The temperature in the house was several degrees colder at night than
during the day, so it was not unusual for the family members to seek the
warmth of their beds by nine.
Going to bed so early meant awakening early, and one morning in late
November, when Flemming was the first to arise, he saw the postman drop
off the daily mail. Retrieving it, he was surprised and embarrassed to
find a letter from Peg. He felt guilty for not having written her once
since she departed for America, even though this was the third letter
from Peg within two months.
Flemming opened the letter in eager anticipation and read.
My dearest Flemming,
Since the letters I posted to you when the Kungsholm arrived in New
York, I have been getting settled in at the home of my aunt, Blanche
Bruckner. I had given you her address before I left Gentofte. My younger
sister, Joan, whom you have not met, is staying with our father, Frank
Lynch, a couple of miles away.
The weather is so gray and cold here, which only intensifies my
melancholy at not being able to see you, hear your voice, be with you.
When I was a thousand miles out in the Atlantic, I could stand at the
rail in the evening and close my eyes, and you were with me. The only
solace I have today is that I can close the door to my bedroom, lie
down, and have you materialize in my mind.
Flemming, how can we ever forget that magical evening together in August
when we made love and, not knowing what would occur less than two months
later, spoke of being together forever? The war is so cruel. Yes, many
die, but many also have their lives turned upside down, dreams rent
So, my darling, here I am, thousands of miles away from you, tortured by
our separation and, now, needing you more than ever, as I have just
learned I am pregnant.
Flemming felt the blood drain from his face. His knees were shaking even
though he was seated. He felt close to fainting as the import of the
words sank in. Peg, pregnant, and he the father. Now what? His
concentration wavering, Flemming made a weak attempt to finish the
I definitely want to have our baby, and Aunt Blanche has been of great
support. I hope against hope that you might be able to book passage to
I know your musical career has been building nicely in Denmark, but New
York is truly one of the world’s major jazz capitals, and I’m
confident you would be able to find work. I’m also aware of the harsh
realities of this war. Newspapers in New York speculate, if not state as
fact, that Churchill has been trying to convince Roosevelt to commit
America to the war. What then? Will that make the war longer, or
And then, I worry for your safety as well as your family’s, and that
of my mother and stepfather. It appears there is no stopping that
madman, Hitler, from taking over all of Europe.
So here we are in total limbo, with perhaps the only bright spot being
our baby. So, Flemming, please, please try to come to me, and write as
soon as you can. I need you and love you so much.
Yours forever, Peg
Flemming was a total wreck as he paced the living-room floor, rereading
the letter three and four times in the dim light of the early morning,
hoping, willing, it to say something different on the next reading.
Yes, he loved Peg. Yes, they had talked of getting married, but they
were not even at the point of getting engaged and telling their parents.
And now—now, he was a father-to-be, with the mother of his child
thousands of miles away.
Flemming was agitated and panicked. He couldn’t even imagine speaking
with his parents about the situation and quickly hid the letter in the
bottom drawer of his bedroom dresser.
He loved Peg, but at the same time, he couldn’t leave Copenhagen, his
family, and his music. He thought that if he could just hang on for a
few weeks, the shock might wear off, and he might be able to suppress
it. That was not to be the case, as the issue was too large to ignore.
On the last day of the year 1939, as twilight approached, closer to
midafternoon, than early evening, Flemming bundled up and took a long
walk in the frigid air. It had been below freezing all day long for
quite a number of days, and the darkness enveloped Gentofte even
earlier, as all outside illumination and lighted advertising had been
forbidden by the government.
Christmastime and the New Year’s holiday had been especially
depressing as everybody put holiday festivities on hold, both for
practical reasons and in reflection of the general malaise felt by the
populace. Flemming had only had a couple of gigs over the past two
months, and while he worried about that, he was most concerned about the
Peg situation. He still had not had the courage to tell his parents
about her letter. Should he try to get to the United States to be with
her? It was, after all, their child, and Peg needed him.
For the moment, the thought of going to the United States seemed to have
some appeal. Life was hard in Denmark. Even tea and coffee was now being
rationed. He had no work. How much worse could it be in New York?
Excerpted from "The Knot of King Gordius" by Peter Bundy and Per Andersen. Copyright © 2016 by Peter Bundy and Per Andersen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.