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Fall of giants, p.10
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       Fall of Giants, p.10

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
 
Chapter 10

  CHAPTER TEN - August 1-3, 1914

  Maud was frantic with worry. On Saturday morning she sat in the breakfast room at the Mayfair house, eating nothing. The summer sun shone in through the tall windows. The decor was supposed to be restful-Persian rugs, eau-de-Nil paintwork, mid-blue curtains-but nothing could calm her. War was coming and no one seemed able to stop it: not the kaiser, not the tsar, not Sir Edward Grey.

  Bea came in, wearing a filmy summer dress and a lace shawl. Grout, the butler, poured her coffee with gloved hands, and she took a peach from a bowl.

  Maud looked at the newspaper but was unable to read beyond the headlines. She was too anxious to concentrate. She tossed the newspaper aside. Grout picked it up and folded it neatly. "Don't you worry, my lady," he said. "We'll give the Germans a bashing if we have to. "

  She glared at him but said nothing. It was foolish to argue with servants-they always ended up agreeing out of deference.

  Aunt Herm tactfully got rid of him. "I'm sure you're right, Grout," she said. "Bring some more hot rolls, would you?"

  Fitz came in. He asked Bea how she was feeling, and she shrugged. Maud sensed that something in their relationship had changed, but she was too distracted to think about that. She immediately asked Fitz: "What happened last night?" She knew he had been in conference with leading Conservatives at a country house called Wargrave.

  "F. E. arrived with a message from Winston. " F. E. Smith, a Conservative M. P. , was close friends with the Liberal Winston Churchill. "He proposed a Liberal-Conservative coalition government. "

  Maud was shocked. She usually knew what was happening in Liberal circles, but Prime Minister Asquith had kept this secret. "That's outrageous!" she said. "It makes war more likely. "

  With irritating calmness, Fitz took some sausages from the hot buffet on the sideboard. "The left wing of the Liberal Party are little better than pacifists. I imagine that Asquith is afraid they will attempt to tie his hands. But he doesn't have enough support in his own party to overrule them. Who can he turn to for help? Only the Conservatives. Hence the proposal of a coalition. "

  That was what Maud feared. "What did Bonar Law say to the offer?" Andrew Bonar Law was the Conservative leader.

  "He turned it down. "

  "Thank God. "

  "And I supported him. "

  "Why? Don't you want Bonar Law to have a seat in the government?"

  "I'm hoping for more. If Asquith wants war, and Lloyd George leads a left-wing rebellion, the Liberals could be too divided to rule. Then what happens? We Conservatives have to take over-and Bonar Law becomes prime minister. "

  Furiously, Maud said: "You see how everything seems to conspire towards war? Asquith wants a coalition with the Conservatives because they are more aggressive. If Lloyd George leads a rebellion against Asquith, the Conservatives will take over anyway. Everyone is jockeying for position instead of struggling for peace!"

  "What about you?" Fitz said. "Did you go to Halkyn House last night?" The home of the Earl of Beauchamp was the headquarters of the peace faction.

  Maud brightened. There was a ray of hope. "Asquith has called a cabinet meeting this morning. " This was unusual on a Saturday. "Morley and Burns want a declaration that Britain will in no circumstance fight Germany. "

  Fitz shook his head. "They can't prejudge the issue like that. Grey would resign. "

  "Grey is always threatening to resign, but never does. "

  "Still, you can't risk a split in the cabinet now, with my lot waiting in the wings, panting to take over. "

  Maud knew Fitz was right. She could have screamed with frustration.

  Bea dropped her knife and made a strange noise.

  Fitz said: "Are you all right, my dear?"

  She stood up, holding her stomach. Her face was pale. "Excuse me," she said, and she rushed out of the room.

  Maud stood up, concerned. "I'd better go to her. "

  "I'll go," said Fitz, surprising her. "You finish your breakfast. "

  Maud's curiosity would not let her leave it at that. As Fitz went to the door she said: "Is Bea suffering from morning sickness?"

  Fitz paused in the doorway. "Don't tell anyone," he said.

  "Congratulations. I'm very happy for you. "

  "Thanks. "

  "But the child. . . " Maud's voice caught in her throat.

  "Oh!" said Aunt Herm, cottoning on. "How lovely!"

  Maud went on with an effort. "Will the child be born into a world at war?"

  "Oh, dear me," said Aunt Herm. "I didn't think of that. "

  Fitz shrugged. "A newborn will not know the difference. "

  Maud felt tears come. "When is the baby due?"

  "January," said Fitz. "Why are you so upset?"

  "Fitz," Maud said, and she was weeping helplessly now. "Fitz, will you still be alive?"

  {II}

  Saturday morning at the German embassy was frenzied. Walter was in the ambassador's room, fielding phone calls, bringing in telegrams, and taking notes. It would have been the most exciting time of his life, had he not been so worried about his future with Maud. But he could not enjoy the thrill of being a player in a great international power game, because he was tortured by the fear that he and the woman he loved would become enemies in war.

  There were no more friendly messages between Willy and Nicky. Yesterday afternoon the German government had sent a cold ultimatum to the Russians, giving them twelve hours to halt the mobilization of their monstrous army.

  The deadline had passed with no reply from St. Petersburg.

  Yet Walter still believed the war could be confined to eastern Europe, so that Germany and Britain might remain friends. Ambassador Lichnowsky shared his optimism. Even Asquith had said that France and Britain could be spectators. After all, neither country was much involved in the future of Serbia and the Balkan region.

  France was the key. Berlin had sent a second ultimatum yesterday afternoon, this one to Paris, asking the French to declare themselves neutral. It was a slender hope, though Walter clung to it desperately. The ultimatum expired at noon. Meanwhile, Chief of Staff Joseph Joffre had demanded immediate mobilization of the French army, and the cabinet was meeting this morning to decide. As in every country, Walter thought gloomily, army officers were pressing their political masters to take the first steps to war.

  It was frustratingly difficult to guess which way the French would jump.

  At a quarter to eleven, with seventy-five minutes to go before time ran out for France, Lichnowsky received a surprise visitor: Sir William Tyrrell. A key official with long experience in foreign affairs, he was private secretary to Sir Edward Grey. Walter showed him into the ambassador's room immediately. Lichnowsky motioned for Walter to stay.

  Tyrrell spoke German. "The foreign secretary has asked me to let you know that a council of ministers taking place just now may result in his being able to make a statement to you. "

  This was obviously a rehearsed speech, and Tyrrell's German was perfectly fluent, but all the same his meaning escaped Walter. He glanced at Lichnowsky and saw that he, too, was baffled.

  Tyrrell went on: "A statement that may, perhaps, prove helpful in preventing the great catastrophe. "

  That was hopeful but vague. Walter wanted to say Get to the point!

  Lichnowsky replied with the same strained diplomatic formality. "What indication can you give me of the subject of the statement, Sir William?"

  For God's sake, Walter thought, we're talking about life and death here!

  The civil servant spoke with careful precision. "It may be that, if Germany were to refrain from attacking France, then both France and Great Britain might consider whether they were truly obliged to intervene in the conflict in eastern Europe. "

  Walter was so shocked that he dropped his pencil. France and Britain staying out of the war-this was what he wanted! He stared at Lichnowsky. The ambassador, too, looke
d startled and delighted. "This is very hopeful," he said.

  Tyrrell held up a cautionary hand. "Please understand that I make no promises. "

  Fine, Walter thought, but you didn't come here for a casual chat.

  Lichnowsky said: "Then let me say quite simply that a proposal to confine the war to the east would be examined with great interest by His Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm and the German government. "

  "Thank you. " Tyrrell stood up. "I shall report back to Sir Edward accordingly. "

  Walter showed Tyrrell out. He was elated. If France and Britain could be kept out of the war there would be nothing to stop him marrying Maud. Was this a pipe dream?

  He returned to the ambassador's room. Before they had a chance to discuss Tyrrell's statement, the phone rang. Walter picked it up and heard a familiar English voice say: "This is Grey. May I speak to His Excellency?"

  "Of course, sir. " Walter handed the phone to the ambassador. "Sir Edward Grey. "

  "Lichnowsky here. Good morning. . . Yes, Sir William has just left. . . "

  Walter stared at the ambassador, listening avidly to his half of the conversation and trying to read his face.

  "A most interesting suggestion. . . Permit me to make our position clear. Germany has no quarrel with either France or Great Britain. "

  It sounded as if Grey was going over the same ground as Tyrrell. Clearly the English were very serious about this.

  Lichnowsky said: "The Russian mobilization is a threat that clearly cannot be ignored, but it is a threat to our eastern border, and that of our ally Austria-Hungary. We have asked France for a guarantee of neutrality. If France can give us that-or, alternatively, if Britain can guarantee French neutrality-there will be no reason for war in western Europe. . . Thank you, Foreign Secretary. Perfect-I will call on you at half past three this afternoon. " He hung up.

  He looked at Walter. They both smiled triumphantly. "Well," said Lichnowsky, "I didn't expect that!"

  {III}

  Maud was at Sussex House, where a group of influential Conservative M. P. s and peers had gathered in the duchess's morning room for tea, when Fitz came in boiling with rage. "Asquith and Grey are crumbling!" he said. He pointed to a silver cake stand. "Crumbling like that dashed scone. They're going to betray our friends. I feel ashamed to be British. "

  Maud had feared this. Fitz was no compromiser. He believed that Britain should issue orders and the world should obey. The idea that the government might have to negotiate with others as equals was abhorrent to him. And there were distressingly many who agreed.

  The duchess said: "Calm down, Fitz, dear, and tell us all what's happened. "

  Fitz said: "Asquith sent a letter this morning to Douglas. " Maud presumed he meant General Sir Charles Douglas, chief of the Imperial General Staff. "Our prime minister wanted to put it on record that the government had never promised to send British troops to France in the event of a war with Germany!"

  Maud, as the only Liberal present, felt obliged to defend the government. "But it's true, Fitz. Asquith is only making it clear that all our options are open. "

  "Then what on earth was the point of all the talks we've held with the French military?"

  "To explore possibilities! To make contingency plans! Talks are not contracts-especially in international politics. "

  "Friends are friends. Britain is a world leader. A woman doesn't necessarily understand these things, but people expect us to stand by our neighbors. As gentlemen, we abhor the least hint of deceit, and we should do the same as a country. "

  That was the kind of talk that might yet get Britain embroiled in a war, Maud thought with a shiver of panic. She just could not get her brother to understand the danger. Their love for one another had always been stronger than their political differences, but now they were so angry that they might quarrel gravely. And when Fitz fell out with someone, he never made it up. Yet he was the one who would have to fight and perhaps die, shot or bayoneted or blown to pieces-Fitz, and Walter too. Why could Fitz not see that? It made her want to scream.

  While she struggled to find adequate words, one of the other guests spoke. Maud recognized him as the foreign editor of The Times, a man called Steed. "I can tell you that there is a dirty German-Jewish international financial attempt to bully my paper into advocating neutrality," he said.

  The duchess pursed her lips: she disliked the language of the gutter press.

  "What makes you say so?" Maud said coldly to Steed.

  "Lord Rothschild spoke to our financial editor yesterday," the journalist said. "Wants us to moderate the anti-German tone of our articles in the interests of peace. "

  Maud knew Natty Rothschild, who was a Liberal. She said: "And what does Lord Northcliffe think of Rothschild's request?" Northcliffe was the proprietor of The Times.

  Steed grinned. "He ordered us to print an even stiffer leading article today. " He picked up a copy of the paper from a side table and waved it. "'Peace is not our strongest interest,'" he quoted.

  Maud could not think of anything more contemptible than deliberately encouraging war. She could see that even Fitz was disgusted by the journalist's frivolous attitude. She was about to say something when Fitz, with his unfailing courtesy even to brutes, changed the subject. "I've just seen the French ambassador, Paul Cambon, coming out of the Foreign Office," he said. "He was as white as that tablecloth. He said: 'Ils vont nous lacher. ' 'They're going to let us down. ' He had been with Grey. "

  The duchess asked: "Do you know what Grey had said, to upset Monsieur Cambon so?"

  "Yes, Cambon told me. Apparently, the Germans are willing to leave France alone, if France promises to stay out of the war-and if the French refuse that offer, the British will not feel obliged to help defend France. "

  Maud felt sorry for the French ambassador, but her heart leaped with hope at the suggestion that Britain might stay out of the war.

  "But France must refuse that offer," the duchess said. "She has a treaty with Russia, according to which each must come to the other's aid in war. "

  "Exactly!" said Fitz angrily. "What is the point of international alliances if they are to be broken at the moment of crisis?"

  "Nonsense," Maud said, knowing she was being rude but not caring. "International alliances are broken whenever convenient. That isn't the issue. "

  "And what is, pray?" Fitz said frostily.

  "I think Asquith and Grey are simply trying to frighten the French with a dose of reality. France cannot defeat Germany without our help. If they think they might have to go it alone, perhaps the French will become peacemakers, and pressure their Russian allies to back off from war with Germany. "

  "And what about Serbia?"

  Maud said: "Even at this stage, it's not too late for Russia and Austria to sit down at a table and work out a solution for the Balkans that both can live with. "

  There was a silence that lasted for a few seconds, then Fitz said: "I doubt very much that anything like that will happen. "

  "But surely," said Maud, and even as she spoke she could hear the desperation in her own voice, "surely we must keep hope alive?"

  {IV}

  Maud sat in her room and could not summon the energy to change her clothes for dinner. Her maid had laid out a gown and some jewelry, but Maud just stared at them.

  She went to parties almost every night during the London season, because much of the politics and diplomacy that fascinated her was done at social occasions. But tonight she felt she could not do it-could not be glamorous and charming, could not entice powerful men to tell her what they were thinking, could not play the game of changing their minds without their even suspecting that they were being persuaded.

  Walter was going to war. He would put on a uniform and carry a gun, and enemy troops would fire shells and mortars and machine-gun rounds at him and try to kill him, or wound him so badly that he was no longer able to stand up. She found it hard to think about anything els
e, and she was constantly on the edge of tears. She had even had harsh words with her beloved brother.

  There was a tap at the door. Grout stood outside. "Herr von Ulrich is here, my lady," he said.

  Maud was shocked. She had not been expecting Walter. Why had he come?

  Noticing her surprise, Grout added: "When I said my master was not at home, he asked for you. "

  "Thank you," said Maud, and she pushed past Grout and headed down the stairs.

  Grout called after her: "Herr von Ulrich is in the drawing room. I will ask Lady Hermia to join you. " Even Grout knew that Maud was not supposed to be left alone with a young man. But Aunt Herm did not move fast, and it would be several minutes before she arrived.

  Maud rushed into the drawing room and threw herself into Walter's arms. "What are we going to do?" she wailed. "Walter, what are we going to do?"

  He hugged her hard, then gazed at her gravely. His face was gray and drawn. He looked as if he had been told of a death. He said: "France has not replied to the German ultimatum. "

  "Have they said nothing at all?" she cried.

  "Our ambassador in Paris insisted on a response. The message from Premier Viviani was: 'France will have regard to her own interests. ' They will not promise neutrality. "

  "But there may still be time-"

  "No. They have decided to mobilize. Joffre won the argument-as the military have in every country. The telegrams were sent at four o'clock this afternoon, Paris time. "

  "There must be something you can do!"

  "Germany has run out of choices," he said. "We cannot fight Russia with a hostile France at our backs, armed and eager to win back Alsace-Lorraine. So we must attack France. The Schlieffen Plan has already been set in motion. In Berlin, the crowds are singing the 'Kaiserhymne' in the streets. "

  "You'll have to join your regiment," she said, and she could not hold back the tears.

  "Of course. "

  She wiped her face. Her handkerchief was too small, a stupid scrap of embroidered lawn. She used her sleeve instead. "When?" she said. "When will you have to leave London?"

  "Not for a few days. " He was fighting back tears himself, she saw. He said: "Is there any chance at all that Britain can be kept out of the war? Then at least I wouldn't be fighting against your country. "

  "I don't know," she said. "Tomorrow will tell. " She pulled him close. "Please hold me tight. " She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.

  {V}

  Fitz was angered to see an antiwar demonstration in Trafalgar Square on Sunday afternoon. Keir Hardie, the Labour M. P. , was speaking, dressed in a tweed suit-like a gamekeeper, Fitz thought. He stood on the plinth of Nelson's Column, shouting hoarsely in his Scots accent, desecrating the memory of the hero who died for Britain at the Battle of Trafalgar.

  Hardie said that the coming war would be the greatest catastrophe the world had ever seen. He represented a mining constituency-Merthyr, near Aberowen. He was the illegitimate son of a maidservant, and had been a coal miner until he went into politics. What did he know about war?

  Fitz stalked off in disgust and went to the duchess's for tea. In the grand hall he came upon Maud deep in conversation with Walter. The crisis was driving him away from both of them, to his profound regret. He loved his sister and he was fond of Walter, but Maud was a Liberal and Walter a German, and in times like these it was hard even to speak to them. However, he did his best to seem amiable as he said to Maud: "I hear this morning's cabinet was stormy. "

  She nodded. "Churchill mobilized the fleet last night without asking anyone. John Burns resigned this morning in protest. "

  "I can't pretend to be sorry. " Burns was an old radical, the most fervently antiwar cabinet minister. "So the rest must have endorsed Winston's action. "

  "Reluctantly. "

  "We must be grateful for small mercies. " It was appalling, Fitz felt, that at this time of national danger the government should be in the hands of these leftist ditherers.

  Maud said: "But they refused Grey's request for a commitment to defend France. "

  "Still acting like cowards, then," Fitz said. He knew he was being rude to his sister, but he felt too bitter to hold back.

  "Not quite," Maud said evenly. "They agreed to prevent the German navy passing through the English Channel to attack France. "

  Fitz brightened a little. "Well, that's something. "

  Walter put in: "The German government has responded by saying we have no intention of sending ships into the English Channel. "

  Fitz said to Maud: "You see what happens when you stand firm?"

  "Don't be so smug, Fitz," she said. "If we do go to war it will be because people such as you have not tried hard enough to prevent it. "

  "Oh, really?" He was offended. "Well, let me tell you something. I spoke to Sir Edward Grey last night at Brooks's club. He has asked both the French and the Germans to respect the neutrality of Belgium. The French agreed immediately. " Fitz looked challengingly at Walter. "The Germans have not responded. "

  "It's true. " Walter gave an apologetic shrug. "My dear Fitz, you as a soldier will see that we couldn't answer that question, one way or the other, without giving away our war plans. "

  "I do see, but in the light of that I want to know why my sister thinks I am a warmonger and you are a peacemaker. "

  Maud avoided the question. "Lloyd George thinks Britain should intervene only if the German army violates Belgian territory substantially. He may suggest it at tonight's cabinet. "

  Fitz knew what that meant. Furiously he said: "So we will give Germany permission to attack France via the southern corner of Belgium?"

  "I suppose that is exactly what it means. "

  "I knew it," Fitz said. "The traitors. They're planning to wriggle out of their duty. They will do anything to avoid war!"

  "I wish you were right," said Maud.

  {VI}

  Maud had to go to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon to hear Sir Edward Grey address members of Parliament. The speech would be a turning point, everyone agreed. Aunt Herm went with her. For once, Maud was glad of an old lady's reassuring company.

  Maud's fate would be decided this afternoon, as well as the fate of thousands of men of fighting age. Depending on what Grey said, and how Parliament reacted, women all over Europe could become widows, their children orphans.

  Maud had stopped being angry-worn out with it, perhaps. Now she was just frightened. War or peace, marriage or loneliness, life or death: her destiny.

  It was a holiday, so the city's huge population of bank clerks, civil servants, lawyers, stockbrokers, and merchants all had the day off. Most of them seemed to have gathered near the great departments of government in Westminster, hoping to be the first to hear news. The chauffeur steered Fitz's seven-passenger Cadillac limousine slowly through the vast crowds in Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, and Parliament Square. The weather was cloudy but warm, and the more fashionable young men wore straw boaters. Maud glimpsed a placard for the Evening Standard that read: ON THE BRINK OF CATASTROPHE.

  The crowd cheered as the car drew up outside the Palace of Westminster, then there was a little groan of disappointment when it disgorged nothing more interesting than two ladies. The onlookers wanted to see their heroes, men such as Lloyd George and Keir Hardie.

  The palace epitomized the Victorian mania for decoration, Maud thought. The stone was elaborately carved, there was linenfold paneling everywhere, the floor tiles were multicolored, the glass was stained, and the carpets were patterned.

  Although it was a holiday, the House was sitting and the place was crowded with members and peers, most of them in the parliamentary uniform of black morning coat and black silk top hat. Only the Labour members defied the dress code by wearing tweeds or lounge suits.

  The peace faction was still a majority in cabinet, Maud knew. Lloyd George had won his point last night, and the government would stand asid
e if Germany committed a merely technical violation of Belgian territory.

  Helpfully, the Italians had declared neutrality, saying their treaty with Austria obliged them to join only in a defensive war, whereas Austria's action in Serbia was clearly aggressive. So far, Maud thought, Italy was the only country to have shown common sense.

  Fitz and Walter were waiting in the octagonal Central Lobby. Maud immediately said: "I haven't heard what happened at this morning's cabinet-have you?"

  "Three more resignations," Fitz said. "Morley, Simon, and Beauchamp. "

  All three were antiwar. Maud was discouraged, and also puzzled. "Not Lloyd George?"

  "No. "

  "Strange. " Maud felt a chill of foreboding. Was there a split in the peace faction? "What is Lloyd George up to?"

  Walter said: "I don't know, but I can guess. " He looked solemn. "Last night, Germany demanded free passage through Belgium for our troops. "

  Maud gasped.

  Walter went on: "The Belgian cabinet sat from nine o'clock yesterday evening until four this morning, then rejected the demand and said they would fight. "

  This was dreadful.

  Fitz said: "So Lloyd George was wrong-the German army is not going to commit a merely technical violation. "

  Walter said nothing, but spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.

  Maud feared that the brutal German ultimatum, and the Belgian government's foolhardy defiance, might have undermined the peace faction in the cabinet. Belgium and Germany looked too much like David and Goliath. Lloyd George had a nose for public opinion: had he sensed that the mood was about to change?

  "We must take our places," said Fitz.

  Full of apprehension, Maud passed through a small door and climbed a long staircase to emerge in the Strangers' Gallery overlooking the chamber of the House of Commons. Here sat the sovereign government of the British empire. In this room, matters of life and death were decided for the 444 million people who lived under some form of British rule. Every time she came here Maud was struck by how small it was, with less room than the average London church.

  Government and opposition faced each other on tiered rows of benches, separated by a gap that-according to legend-was two sword lengths, so that opponents could not fight. For most debates the chamber was almost empty, with no more than a dozen or so members sprawled comfortably on the green leather upholstery. Today, however, the benches were packed, and M. P. s who could not find seats were standing at the entrance. Only the front rows were vacant, those places being reserved by tradition for cabinet ministers, on the government side, and opposition leaders on the other.

  It was significant, Maud thought, that today's debate was to take place in this chamber, not in the House of Lords. In fact many of the peers were, like Fitz, here in the gallery, watching. The House of Commons had the authority that came from being elected by the people-even though not much more than half of adult men had the vote, and no women. Much of Asquith's time as prime minister had been spent fighting the Lords, especially over Lloyd George's plan to give all old people a small pension. The battles had been fierce but, each time, the Commons had won. The underlying reason, Maud believed, was that the English aristocracy were terrified that the French revolution would be repeated here, so in the end they always accepted a compromise.

  The front-benchers came in, and Maud was immediately struck by the atmosphere among the Liberals. The prime minister, Asquith, was smiling at something said by the Quaker Joseph Pease, and Lloyd George was talking to Sir Edward Grey. "Oh, God," Maud muttered.

  Walter, sitting next to her, said: "What?"

  "Look at them," she said. "They're all pals together. They've made up their differences. "

  "You can't tell that just by looking. "

  "Yes, I can. "

  The speaker entered in an old-fashioned wig and sat on the raised throne. He called on the foreign secretary, and Grey stood up, his gaunt face pale and careworn.

  He had no skill as a speaker. He was wordy and ponderous. Nevertheless, the members squeezed along the benches, and the visitors in the packed gallery listened in attentive silence, waiting patiently for the important part.

  He spoke for three-quarters of an hour before mentioning Belgium. Then, at last, he revealed the details of the German ultimatum that Walter had told Maud about an hour earlier. The M. P. s were electrified. Maud saw that, as she had feared, this changed everything. Both sides of the Liberal Party-the right-wing imperialists and the left-wing defenders of the rights of small nations-were outraged.

  Grey quoted Gladstone, asking "whether, under the circumstances of the case, this country, endowed as it is with influence and power, would quietly stand by and witness the perpetration of the direst crime that ever stained the pages of history, and thus become participators in the sin?"

  This was rubbish, Maud thought. An invasion of Belgium would not be the direst crime in history-what about the Cawnpore Massacre? What about the slave trade? Britain did not intervene every time a country was invaded. It was ludicrous to say that such inaction made the British people participants in the sin.

  But few present saw things her way. Members on both sides cheered. Maud stared in consternation at the government front bench. All the ministers who had been fervently against war yesterday were now nodding agreement: young Herbert Samuel; Lewis "Lulu" Harcourt; the Quaker Joseph Pease, who was president of the Peace Society; and, worst of all, Lloyd George himself. The fact that Lloyd George was supporting Grey meant that the political battle was over, Maud realized in despair. The German threat to Belgium had united the opposing factions.

  Grey could not play on his audience's emotions, as Lloyd George did, nor could he sound like an Old Testament prophet, as Churchill did; but today he did not need such skills, Maud reflected: the facts were doing all the work. She turned to Walter and said in a fierce whisper: "Why? Why has Germany done this?"

  His face twisted in an agonized expression, but he answered with his usual calm logic. "South of Belgium, the border between Germany and France is heavily fortified. If we attacked there, we would win, but it would take too long-Russia would have time to mobilize and attack us from behind. The only way for us to be sure of a quick victory is to go through Belgium. "

  "But it also ensures that Britain will go to war against you!"

  Walter nodded. "But the British army is small. You rely on your navy, and this is not a sea war. Our generals think Britain will make little difference. "

  "Do you agree?"

  "I believe it's never smart to make an enemy of a rich and powerful neighbor. But I lost that argument. "

  And that was what had happened repeatedly over the last two weeks, Maud thought despairingly. In every country, those who were against war had been overruled. The Austrians had attacked Serbia when they might have held back; the Russians had mobilized instead of negotiating; the Germans had refused to attend an international conference to settle the issue; the French had been offered the chance to remain neutral and had spurned it; and now the British were about to join in when they might easily have remained on the sidelines.

  Grey had reached his peroration. "I have put the vital facts before the House, and if, as seems not improbable, we are forced, and rapidly forced, to take our stand upon these issues, then I believe, when the country realizes what is at stake, what the real issues are, the magnitude of the impending dangers in the west of Europe, which I have endeavored to describe to the House, we shall be supported throughout, not only by the House of Commons, but by the determination, the resolution, the courage, and the endurance of the whole country. "

  He sat down to cheers from all sides. There had been no vote, and Grey had not even proposed anything; but it was clear from the reaction that the M. P. s were ready for war.

  The leader of the opposition, Andrew Bonar Law, got up to say that the government could rely on the support of the Conservatives. Maud was not surprised:
they were always more warlike than the Liberals. But she was amazed, as was everyone else, when the Irish Nationalist leader said the same thing. Maud felt as if she was living in a madhouse. Was she the only person in the world who wanted peace?

  Only the Labour Party leader dissented. "I think he is wrong," said Ramsay MacDonald, speaking of Grey. "I think the government which he represents and for which he speaks is wrong. I think the verdict of history will be that they are wrong. "

  But no one was listening. Some M. P. s were already leaving the chamber. The gallery was also emptying. Fitz stood up, and the rest of his group followed suit. Maud went along listlessly. Down in the chamber, MacDonald was saying: "If the right honorable gentleman had come here today and told us that our country is in danger, I do not care what party he appealed to, or to what class he appealed, we would be with him. . . What is the use of talking about coming to the aid of Belgium, when, as a matter of fact, you are engaging in a whole European war?" Maud passed out of the gallery and heard no more.

  This was the worst day of her life. Her country was going to fight an unnecessary war; her brother and the man she loved were going to risk their lives; and she was going to be separated from her fiance, perhaps forever. All hope was lost and she was in total despair.

  They went down the stairs, Fitz leading the way. "Most interesting, Fitz dear," said Aunt Herm politely, as if she had been taken to an art exhibition that had turned out better than expected.

  Walter grasped Maud's arm and held her back. She let three or four other people get ahead of them, so that Fitz was out of earshot. But she was not prepared for what came next.

  "Marry me," Walter said quietly.

  Her heart raced. "What?" she whispered. "How?"

  "Marry me, please, tomorrow. "

  "It can't be done-"

  "I have a special license. " He tapped the breast pocket of his coat. "I went to Chelsea Register Office on Friday. "

  Her mind was in a whirl. All she could think of to say was: "We agreed to wait. " As soon as it was out, she wanted to take it back.

  But he was already speaking. "We have waited. The crisis is over. Your country and mine will be at war tomorrow or the day after. I will have to leave Britain. I want to marry you before I go. "

  "We don't know what's going to happen!" she said.

  "Indeed we don't. But, however the future turns out, I want you to be my wife. "

  "But-" Maud stopped speaking. Why was she voicing objections? He was right. No one knew what was going to happen, but that made no difference now. She wanted to be his wife, and no future that she could imagine would change that.

  Before she could say more they reached the foot of the stairs and emerged into the Central Lobby, where a crowd was abuzz with excited conversation. Maud desperately wanted to ask Walter more questions, but Fitz gallantly insisted on escorting her and Aunt Herm out, because of the crowds. In Parliament Square Fitz handed the two women into the car. The chauffeur activated the automatic crank, the engine rumbled, and the car pulled smoothly away, leaving Fitz and Walter standing on the pavement, with the crowd of bystanders waiting to hear their fate.

  {VII}

  Maud wanted to be Walter's wife. It was the only thing she was sure of. She held on to that thought while questions and speculations buzzed around her head. Should she fall in with Walter's plan, or would it be better to wait? If she agreed to marry him tomorrow, whom would she tell? Where would they go after the ceremony? Would they live together? If so, where?

  That evening before dinner her maid brought her an envelope on a silver tray. It contained a single sheet of heavy cream-colored paper covered with Walter's precise, upright handwriting in blue ink.

  Six o'clock p. m.

  My dearest love,

  At half past three tomorrow I will wait for you in a car across the road from Fitz's house. I will bring with me the requisite two witnesses. The registrar is booked for four o'clock. I have a suite at the Hyde Hotel. I have checked in already, so that we can go to our room without delaying in the lobby. We are to be Mr. and Mrs. Woolridge. Wear a veil.

  I love you, Maud.

  Your betrothed,

  W.

  With a shaky hand, she put the sheet of paper down on the polished mahogany top of her dressing table. Her breath was coming fast. She stared at the floral wallpaper and tried to think calmly.

  He had chosen the time well: midafternoon was a quiet moment when Maud might be able to slip out of the house unnoticed. Aunt Herm took a nap after lunch, and Fitz would be at the House of Lords.

  Fitz must not know in advance, for he would try to stop her. He might simply lock her in her room. He could even get her committed to a lunatic asylum. A wealthy upper-class man could have a female relative put away without much difficulty. All Fitz would have to do was to find two doctors willing to agree with him that she must be mad to want to marry a German.

  She would not tell anyone.

  The false name and the veil indicated that Walter meant to be clandestine. The Hyde was a discreet hotel in Knightsbridge, where they were unlikely to meet anyone they knew. She shivered with a thrill of anticipation when she thought of spending the night with Walter.

  But what would they do the next day? A marriage could not be secret forever. Walter would be leaving Britain in two or three days. Would she go with him? She was afraid she would blight his career. How could he be trusted to fight for his country if he was married to an Englishwoman? And if he did fight, he would be away from home-so what was the point of her going to Germany?

  Despite all the unknowns, she was full of delicious excitement. "Mrs. Woolridge," she said to the bedroom, and she hugged herself with joy.

 
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