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Fall of giants, p.11
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       Fall of Giants, p.11

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 11

  CHAPTER ELEVEN - August 4, 1914

  At sunrise Maud got up and sat at her dressing table to write a letter. She had a stack of Fitz's blue paper in her drawer, and the silver inkwell was filled every day. My darling, she began, then she stopped to think.

  She caught sight of herself in the oval mirror. Her hair was tousled and her nightdress rumpled. A frown creased her forehead and turned down the corners of her mouth. She picked a fragment of some green vegetable from between her teeth. If he could see me now, she thought, he might not want to marry me. Then she realized that if she went along with his plan he would see her exactly like this tomorrow morning. It was a strange thought, scary and thrilling at the same time.

  She wrote:

  Yes, with all my heart, I want to marry you. But what is your plan? Where would we live?

  She had been thinking about this half the night. The obstacles seemed immense.

  If you stay in Britain they will put you in a prison camp. If we go to Germany I will never see you because you will be away from home, with the army.

  Their relatives might create more trouble than the authorities.

  When are we to tell our families about the marriage? Not beforehand, please, because Fitz will find a way to stop us. Even afterwards there will be difficulties with him and with your father. Tell me what you are thinking.

  I love you dearly.

  She sealed the envelope and addressed it to his flat, which was a quarter of a mile away. She rang the bell and a few minutes later her maid tapped on the door. Sanderson was a plump girl with a big smile. Maud said: "If Mr. Ulrich is out, go to the German embassy in Carlton House Terrace. Either way, wait for his reply. Is that clear?"

  "Yes, my lady. "

  "No need to tell any of the other servants what you're doing. "

  A worried look came over Sanderson's young face. Many maids were party to their mistresses' intrigues, but Maud had never had secret romances, and Sanderson was not used to deception. "What shall I say when Mr. Grout asks me where I'm going?"

  Maud thought for a moment. "Tell him you have to buy me certain feminine articles. " Embarrassment would curb Grout's curiosity.

  "Yes, my lady. "

  Sanderson left and Maud got dressed.

  She was not sure how she was going to maintain a semblance of normality in front of her family. Fitz might not notice her mood-men rarely did-but Aunt Herm was not completely oblivious.

  She went downstairs at breakfast time, although she was too tense to feel hungry. Aunt Herm was eating a kipper and the smell made Maud feel rather ill. She sipped coffee.

  Fitz appeared a minute later. He took a kipper from the sideboard and opened The Times. What do I normally do? Maud asked herself. I talk about politics. Then I must do that now. "Did anything happen last night?" she said.

  "I saw Winston after cabinet," Fitz replied. "We are asking the German government to withdraw its ultimatum to Belgium. " He gave a contemptuous emphasis to the word asking.

  Maud did not dare to feel hope. "Does that mean we have not completely given up working for peace?"

  "We might as well," he said scornfully. "Whatever the Germans may be thinking, they're not likely to change their minds because of a polite request. "

  "A drowning man may clutch at a straw. "

  "We're not clutching at straws. We're going through the ritual preliminaries to a declaration of war. "

  He was right, she thought dismally. All governments would want to say that they had not wanted war, but had been forced into it. Fitz showed no awareness of the danger to himself, no sign that this diplomatic fencing might result in a mortal wound to himself. She longed to protect him and at the same time she wanted to strangle him for his foolish obstinacy.

  To distract herself she looked through The Manchester Guardian. It contained a full-page advertisement placed by the Neutrality League with the slogan "Britons, do your duty and keep your country out of a wicked and stupid war. " Maud was glad to know there were still people who thought as she did. But they had no chance of prevailing.

  Sanderson came in with an envelope on a silver tray. With a shock, Maud recognized Walter's handwriting. She was aghast. What was the maid thinking of? Did she not realize that if the original note was a secret, the reply must be too?

  She could not read Walter's note in front of Fitz. Heart racing, she took it with pretended carelessness and dropped it beside her plate, then asked Grout for more coffee.

  She looked at her newspaper to hide her panic. Fitz did not censor her mail but, as the head of the family, he had the right to read any letter addressed to a female relative living in his house. No respectable woman would object.

  She had to finish breakfast as fast as possible and take the note away unopened. She tried to eat a piece of toast, forcing the crumbs down her dry throat.

  Fitz looked up from The Times. "Aren't you going to read your letter?" he said. And then, to her horror, he added: "That looks like von Ulrich's handwriting. "

  She had no choice. She slit the envelope with a clean butter knife and tried to fix her face in a neutral expression.

  Nine o'clock a. m.

  My dear love,

  All of us at the embassy have been told to pack our bags, pay our bills, and be ready to leave Britain at a few hours' notice.

  You and I should tell no one of our plan. After tonight I will return to Germany and you will remain here, living with your brother. Everyone agrees this war cannot last more than a few weeks or, at most, months. As soon as it is over, if we are both still alive, we will tell the world our happy tidings and start our new life together.

  And in case we do not survive the war, oh, please, let us have one night of happiness as husband and wife.

  I love you.


  P. S. Germany invaded Belgium an hour ago.

  Maud's mind was in a whirl. Married secretly! No one would know. Walter's superiors would still trust him, not knowing about his marriage to an enemy, and he could fight as his honor demanded, and even work in secret intelligence. Men would continue to court Maud, thinking her single, but she could deal with that: she had been giving suitors the brush-off for years. They would live apart until the end of the war, which would come in a few months at most.

  Fitz interrupted her thoughts. "What does he say?"

  Maud's mind went blank. She could not tell Fitz any of this. How was she to answer his question? She looked down at the sheet of heavy cream-colored paper and the upright handwriting, and her eye fell on the P. S. "He says Germany invaded Belgium at eight o'clock this morning. "

  Fitz put down his fork. "That's it, then. " For once even he looked shocked.

  Aunt Herm said: "Little Belgium! I think those Germans are the most frightful bullies. " Then she looked confused and said: "Except Herr von Ulrich, of course. He's charming. "

  Fitz said: "So much for the British government's polite request. "

  "It's madness," said Maud desolately. "Thousands of men are going to be killed in a war no one wants. "

  "I should have thought you might have supported the war," Fitz said argumentatively. "After all, we will be defending France, which is the only other real democracy in Europe. And our enemies will be Germany and Austria, whose elected parliaments are virtually powerless. "

  "But our ally will be Russia," Maud said bitterly. "So we will be fighting to preserve the most brutal and backward monarchy in Europe. "

  "I see your point. "

  "Everyone at the embassy has been told to pack," she said. "We may not see Walter again. " She casually put the letter down.

  It did not work. Fitz said: "May I see?"

  Maud froze. She could not possibly show it to him. Not only would he lock her up: if he read the sentence about one night of happiness he might take a gun and shoot Walter.

  "May I?" Fitz repeated, holding out his hand.

  "Of co
urse," she said. She hesitated another second, then reached for the letter. At the last moment she was inspired, and she knocked over her cup, spilling coffee on the sheet of paper. "Oh, dash it," she said, noting with relief that the coffee had caused the blue ink to run and the words had already become illegible.

  Grout stepped forward and began to clear up the mess. Pretending to be helpful, Maud picked up the letter and folded it, ensuring that any writing that might so far have escaped the coffee was now soaked. "I'm sorry, Fitz," she said. "But in fact there was no further information. "

  "Never mind," he said, and went back to his newspaper.

  Maud put her hands in her lap to hide their shaking.


  That was only the beginning.

  It was going to be difficult for Maud to get out of the house alone. Like all upper-class ladies, she was not supposed to go anywhere unescorted. Men pretended this was because they were so concerned to protect their women, but in truth it was a means of control. No doubt it would remain until women won the vote.

  Maud had spent half her life finding ways to flout this rule. She would have to sneak out without being seen. This was quite difficult. Although only four family members lived in Fitz's Mayfair mansion, there were at least a dozen servants in the house at any time.

  And then she had to stay out all night without anyone's knowledge.

  She put her plan into place carefully.

  "I have a headache," she said at the end of lunch. "Bea, will you forgive me if I don't come down to dinner tonight?"

  "Of course," said Bea. "Is there anything I can do? Shall I send for Professor Rathbone?"

  "No, thank you, it's nothing serious. " A headache that was not serious was the usual euphemism for a menstrual period, and everyone accepted this without further comment.

  So far, so good.

  She went up to her room and rang for her maid. "I'm going to bed, Sanderson," she said, beginning a speech she had worked out carefully. "I'll probably stay there for the rest of the day. Please tell the other servants that I'm not to be disturbed for any reason. I may ring for a dinner tray, but I doubt it: I feel as if I could sleep the clock round. "

  That should ensure that her absence was not noticed for the rest of the day.

  "Are you sick, my lady?" Sanderson asked, looking concerned. Some ladies took to their beds frequently, but it was rare for Maud.

  "It's the normal female affliction, just worse than usual. "

  Sanderson did not believe her, Maud could tell. Already today the maid had been sent out with a secret message, something that had never happened before. Sanderson knew something unusual was going on. But maids were not permitted to cross-examine their mistresses. Sanderson would just have to wonder.

  "And don't wake me in the morning," Maud added. She did not know what time she would get back, or how she would sneak unobserved into the house.

  Sanderson left. It was a quarter past three. Maud undressed quickly, then looked in her wardrobe.

  She was not used to getting her own clothes out-normally Sanderson did it. Her black walking dress had a hat with a veil, but she could not wear black for her wedding.

  She looked at the clock above the fireplace: twenty past three. There was no time to dither.

  She chose a stylish French outfit. She put on a tight-fitting white lace blouse with a high collar, to emphasize her long neck. Over it she wore a dress of a sky blue so pale it was almost white. In the latest daring fashion it ended an inch or two above her ankles. She added a broad-brimmed straw hat in dark blue with a veil the same color, and a gay blue parasol with a white lining. She had a blue velvet drawstring bag that matched the outfit. Into it she put a comb, a small vial of perfume, and a clean pair of drawers.

  The clock struck half past three. Walter would be outside now, waiting. She felt her heart beating hard.

  She pulled down the veil and examined herself in a full-length mirror. It was not quite a wedding dress, but it would look just right, she imagined, in a register office. She had never been to a civil wedding so she was not sure.

  She took the key from the lock and stood by the closed door, listening. She did not want to meet anyone who might question her. It might not matter if she were seen by a footman or a boot boy, who would not care what she did, but all the maids would know by now that she was supposed to be unwell, and if she ran into one of the family her deception would be exposed instantly. She hardly cared about the embarrassment, but she was afraid they would try to stop her.

  She was about to open the door when she heard heavy footsteps and caught a whiff of smoke. It must be Fitz, still finishing his after-lunch cigar, leaving for the House of Lords or perhaps White's club. She waited impatiently.

  After a few moments of silence she looked out. The broad corridor was deserted. She stepped out, closed the door, locked it, and dropped the key into her velvet bag. Now anyone trying the door would assume she was asleep inside.

  She walked silently along the carpeted corridor to the top of the stairs and looked down. There was no one in the hall below. She went quickly down the steps. As she reached the half landing she heard a noise and froze. The door to the basement swung open and Grout emerged. Maud held her breath. She looked down at the bald dome of Grout's head as he crossed the hall carrying two decanters of port. He had his back to the stairs, and he entered the dining room without looking up.

  As the door closed behind him, she ran down the last flight, throwing caution to the wind. She opened the front door, stepped out, and slammed it behind her. Too late, she wished she had thought to close it quietly.

  The quiet Mayfair street baked in the August sun. She looked up and down and saw a horse-drawn fishmonger's cart, a nanny with a perambulator, and a cabbie changing the wheel of a motor taxi. A hundred yards along, on the opposite side of the road, stood a white car with a blue canvas canopy. Maud liked cars, and she recognized this as a Benz 10/30 belonging to Walter's cousin Robert.

  As she crossed the road, Walter got out, and her heart filled with joy. He was wearing a light gray morning suit with a white carnation. He met her eye and she saw, from his expression, that until this moment he had not been sure she would come. The thought brought a tear to her eye.

  Now, though, his face lit up with delight. How strange and wonderful it was, she thought, to be able to bring such happiness to another person.

  She glanced anxiously back to the house. Grout was in the doorway, looking up and down the road with a puzzled frown. He had heard the door slam, she guessed. She turned her face resolutely forward, and the thought that came into her head was: Free at last!

  Walter kissed her hand. She wanted to kiss him properly, but her veil was in the way. Besides, it was inappropriate before the wedding. There was no need to throw all the proprieties out of the window.

  Robert was at the wheel, she saw. He touched his gray top hat to her. Walter trusted him. He would be one of the witnesses.

  Walter opened the door and Maud got into the backseat. Someone was already there, and Maud recognized the housekeeper from Tŷ Gwyn. "Williams!" she cried.

  Williams smiled. "You'd better call me Ethel now," she said. "I'm to be a witness at your wedding. "

  "Of course-I'm sorry. " Impulsively, Maud hugged her. "Thank you for coming. "

  The car pulled away.

  Maud leaned forward and spoke to Walter. "How did you find Ethel?"

  "You told me she had come to your clinic. I got her address from Dr. Greenward. I knew you trusted her because you chose her to chaperone us at Tŷ Gwyn. "

  Ethel handed Maud a small posy of flowers. "Your bouquet. "

  They were roses, coral-pink-the flower of passion. Did Walter know the language of flowers? "Who chose them?"

  "It was my suggestion," said Ethel. "And Walter liked it when I explained the meaning. " Ethel blushed.

  Ethel knew how passionate they were because she had
seen them kiss, Maud realized. "They're perfect," she said.

  Ethel was wearing a pale pink dress that looked new and a hat decorated with more pink roses. Walter must have paid for that. How thoughtful he was.

  They drove down Park Lane and headed for Chelsea. I'm getting married, Maud thought. In the past, whenever she had imagined her wedding, she had assumed it would be like those of all her friends, a long day of tedious ceremony. This was a better way to do things. There had been no planning, no guest list, and no caterer. There would be no hymns, no speeches, and no drunk relations trying to kiss her: just the bride and groom and two people they liked and trusted.

  She thrust from her mind all thoughts about the future. Europe was at war, and anything might happen. She was just going to enjoy the day-and night.

  They drove down King's Road and suddenly she felt nervous. She took Ethel's hand for courage. She had a nightmare vision of Fitz following behind in his Cadillac, shouting: "Stop that woman!" She glanced back. Of course neither Fitz nor his car was in sight.

  They pulled up outside the classical façade of the Chelsea town hall. Robert took Maud's arm and led her up the steps to the entrance, and Walter followed with Ethel. Passersby stopped to watch: everyone loved a wedding.

  Inside, the building was extravagantly decorated in the Victorian manner, with colored floor tiles and plaster moldings on the walls. It felt like the right sort of place to get married.

  They had to wait in the lobby: another wedding had taken place at half past three and had not yet finished. The four of them stood in a little circle and no one could think of anything to say. Maud inhaled the scent of her roses, and the perfume went to her head, making her feel as if she had gulped a glass of champagne.

  After a few minutes the earlier wedding party emerged, the bride wearing an everyday dress and the groom in the uniform of an army sergeant. Perhaps they, too, had made a sudden decision because of the war.

  Maud and her party went in. The registrar sat at a plain table, wearing a morning coat and a silver tie. He had a carnation in his buttonhole, which was a nice touch, Maud thought. Beside him was a clerk in a lounge suit. They gave their names as Mr. von Ulrich and Miss Maud Fitzherbert. Maud raised her veil.

  The registrar said: "Miss Fitzherbert, can you provide evidence of identity?"

  She did not know what he was talking about.

  Seeing her blank look, he said: "Your birth certificate, perhaps?"

  She did not have her birth certificate. She had not known it was required, and even if she had she would not have been able to get hold of it, for Fitz kept it in the safe, along with other family documents such as his will. Panic seized her.

  Then Walter said: "I think this will serve. " He took from his pocket a stamped and franked envelope addressed to Miss Maud Fitzherbert at the street address of the baby clinic. He must have picked it up when he went to see Dr. Greenward. How clever of him.

  The registrar handed the envelope back without comment. He said: "It is my duty to remind you of the solemn and binding nature of the vows you are about to take. "

  Maud felt mildly offended at the suggestion that she might not know what she was doing, then she realized that was something he had to say to everyone.

  Walter stood more upright. This is it, Maud thought; no turning back. She felt quite sure she wanted to marry Walter-but, more than that, she was acutely aware that she had reached the age of twenty-three without meeting anyone else she would remotely have considered as a husband. Every other man she had ever met had treated her and all women like overgrown children. Only Walter was different. It was him or no one.

  The registrar was speaking words for Walter to repeat. "I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I, Walter von Ulrich, may not be joined in matrimony to Maud Elizabeth Fitzherbert. " Walter pronounced his own name the English way, "Wall-ter," rather than the correct German "Val-ter. "

  Maud watched his face as he spoke. His voice was firm and clear.

  In his turn he watched her solemnly as she made her declaration. She loved his seriousness. Most men, even quite clever ones, became silly when they talked to women. Walter spoke to her just as intelligently as he spoke to Robert or Fitz, and-even more unusually-he listened to her answers.

  Next came the vows. Walter looked her in the eye as he took her for his wife, and this time she heard a little shake of emotion in his voice. That was the other thing she loved: she knew she could undermine his seriousness. She could make him tremble with love or happiness or desire.

  She made the same vow. "I call upon these persons here present to witness that I, Maud Elizabeth Fitzherbert, do take thee, Walter von Ulrich, to be my lawful wedded husband. " There was no unsteadiness in her voice, and she felt a little embarrassed that she was not visibly moved-but that was not her style. She preferred to appear cool even when she was not. Walter understood that, and he more than anyone knew about the storms of unseen passion that blew through her heart.

  "Do you have a ring?" said the registrar. Maud had not even thought about it-but Walter had. He drew a plain gold wedding band from his waistcoat pocket, took her hand, and slipped it onto her finger. He must have guessed the size, but it was a near fit, perhaps just one size too big. As their marriage was to be secret, she would not be wearing it for a while after today.

  "I now pronounce you man and wife," said the registrar. "You may kiss the bride. "

  Walter kissed her lips softly. She put her arm around his waist and drew him closer. "I love you," she whispered.

  The registrar said: "And now for the marriage certificate. Perhaps you would like to sit down. . . Mrs. Ulrich. "

  Walter smiled, Robert giggled, and Ethel gave a little cheer. Maud guessed the registrar enjoyed being the first person to call the bride by her married name. They all sat down, and the registrar's clerk began to fill out the certificate. Walter gave his father's occupation as army officer and his place of birth as Danzig. Maud put her father down as George Fitzherbert, farmer-there was, in fact, a small flock of sheep at Tŷ Gwyn, so the description was not actually false-and her place of birth as London. Robert and Ethel signed as witnesses.

  Suddenly it was over, and they were walking out of the room and through the lobby-where another pretty bride was waiting with a nervous groom to make a lifelong commitment. As they walked arm in arm down the steps to the car parked at the curb, Ethel threw a handful of confetti over them. Among the bystanders, Maud noticed a middle-class woman of her own age carrying a parcel from a shop. The woman looked hard at Walter, then turned her gaze on Maud, and what Maud saw in her eyes was envy. Yes, Maud thought, I'm a lucky girl.

  Walter and Maud sat in the back of the car, and Robert and Ethel rode up front. As they drove away, Walter took Maud's hand and kissed it. They looked into one another's eyes and laughed. Maud had seen couples do that, and had always thought it was stupid and sentimental, but now it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

  In a few minutes they arrived at the Hyde Hotel. Maud dropped her veil. Walter took her arm and they walked through the lobby to the stairs. Robert said: "I'll order the champagne. "

  Walter had taken the best suite and filled it with flowers. There must have been a hundred coral-pink roses. Tears came to Maud's eyes, and Ethel gasped in awe. On a sideboard was a big bowl of fruit and a box of chocolates. The afternoon sun shone through large windows onto chairs and sofas upholstered in gay fabrics.

  "Let's make ourselves comfortable!" Walter said jovially.

  While Maud and Ethel were inspecting the suite, Robert came in, followed by a waiter with champagne and glasses on a tray. Walter popped the cork and poured. When they each had a glass, Robert said: "I would like to propose a toast. " He cleared his throat, and Maud realized with amusement that he was going to make a speech.

  "My cousin Walter is an unusual man," he began. "He has always seemed older than me, although in fact we are the sa
me age. When we were students together in Vienna, he never got drunk. If a group of us went out in the evening, to visit certain houses in the city, he would stay home and study. I thought perhaps he was the type of man who does not love women. " Robert gave a wry smile. "In fact it was I who was made that way-but that's another story, as the English say. Walter loves his family and his work, and he loves Germany, but he has never loved a woman-until now. He has changed. " Robert grinned mischievously. "He buys new ties. He asks me questions-when do you kiss a girl, should men wear cologne, what colors flatter him-as if I knew anything about what women like. And-most terrible of all, in my view. . . " Robert paused dramatically. "He plays ragtime!"

  The others laughed. Robert raised his glass. "Let us toast the woman who has wrought such changes-the bride!"

  They drank and then, to Maud's surprise, Ethel spoke. "It falls to me to propose the toast to the groom," she said as if she had been making speeches all her life. How had a servant from Wales acquired such confidence? Then Maud remembered that her father was a preacher and a political activist, so she had an example to follow.

  "Lady Maud is different from every other woman of her class I have ever met," Ethel began. "When I started work as a maid at Tŷ Gwyn, she was the only member of the family who even noticed me. Here in London, when young unmarried women have babies, most respectable ladies grumble about moral decay-but Maud offers them real practical help. In the East End of London, she is regarded as a saint. However, she has her faults, and they are grave. "

  Maud thought: What now?

  "She is too serious to attract a normal man," Ethel went on. "All the most eligible men in London have been drawn to her by her striking good looks and vivacious personality, only to be frightened away by her brains and her tough political realism. Some time ago I realized it would take a rare man to win her. He would have to be clever, but open-minded; strictly moral, but not orthodox; strong, but not domineering. " Ethel smiled. "I thought it was impossible. And then, January, he came up the hill from Aberowen in the station taxi and walked into Tŷ Gwyn, and the wait was over. " She raised her glass. "To the groom!"

  They all drank again, then Ethel took Robert's arm. "Now you can take me to the Ritz for dinner, Robert," she said.

  Walter seemed surprised. "I assumed we would all have dinner together here," he said.

  Ethel gave him an arch look. "Don't be daft, man," she said. She walked to the door, drawing Robert with her.

  "Good night," Robert said, though it was only six o'clock. The two of them went out and closed the door.

  Maud laughed. Walter said: "That housekeeper is extremely intelligent. "

  "She understands me," Maud said. She went to the door and turned the key. "Now," she said. "The bedroom. "

  "Would you prefer to undress in private?" Walter said, looking worried.

  "Not really," Maud said. "Wouldn't you like to watch?"

  He swallowed, and when he spoke he sounded a little hoarse. "Yes, please," he said. "I would. " He held the bedroom door open and she passed through.

  Despite her show of boldness, she felt nervous as she sat on the edge of the bed and took off her shoes. No one had seen her naked since she was eight years old. She did not know whether her body was beautiful because she had never seen anyone else's. By comparison with the nudes in museums, she had small breasts and wide hips. And there was a growth of hair between her legs that paintings never showed. Would Walter think her body was ugly?

  He took off his coat and waistcoat and hung them up in a matter-of-fact way. She supposed they would get used to this one day. Everyone did it all the time. But somehow it felt strange, more intimidating than exciting.

  She pulled down her stockings and took off her hat. She had nothing else superfluous. The next step was the big one. She stood up.

  Walter stopped undoing his tie.

  Quickly, Maud unfastened her dress and let it fall to the floor. Then she dropped her petticoat and pulled her lace blouse over her head. She stood in front of him in her underwear and watched his face.

  "You are so beautiful," he said in a half whisper.

  She smiled. He always said the right thing.

  He took her in his arms and kissed her. She began to feel less nervous, almost relaxed. She savored the touch of his mouth on hers, the gentle lips and the bristles of the mustache. She stroked his cheek, squeezed his earlobe between her fingertips, and ran her hand around the column of his neck, feeling everything with heightened awareness, thinking: All this is mine now.

  "Let's lie down," he said.

  "No," she said. "Not yet. " She stepped away from him. "Wait. " She took off her chemise, revealing that she was wearing one of the newfangled brassieres. She reached behind her back, unfastened the clasp, and threw it to the floor. She looked at him defiantly, daring him not to like her breasts.

  He said: "They are beautiful-may I kiss them?"

  "You may do anything you like," she said, feeling deliciously wanton.

  He bent his head to her chest and kissed one, then the other, letting his lips brush delicately across her nipples, which stood up suddenly as if the air had turned cold. She had a sudden yen to do the same to him, and wondered if he would think it odd.

  He might have kissed her breasts forever. She pushed him away gently. "Take off the rest of your clothes," she said. "Quickly. "

  He pulled off shoes, socks, tie, shirt, undershirt, and trousers; then he hesitated. "I feel shy," he said, laughing. "I don't know why. "

  "I'll go first," she said. She untied the string of her drawers and pulled them off. When she looked up he was naked too, and she saw with a shock that his penis was sticking up from the thatch of fair hair at his groin. She remembered grasping it through his clothes at the opera, and now she wanted to touch it again.

  He said: "May we now lie down?"

  He sounded so correct that she laughed. A hurt look crossed his face, and she was immediately apologetic. "I love you," she said, and his expression cleared. "Please let us lie down. " She was so excited she felt she might burst.

  At first they lay side by side, kissing and touching. "I love you," she said again. "How soon will you get bored with my saying that?"

  "Never," he said gallantly.

  She believed him.

  After a while he said: "Now?" and she nodded.

  She parted her legs. He lay on top of her, resting his weight on his elbows. She was taut with anticipation. Shifting his weight to his left arm, he reached between her thighs, and she felt his fingers opening her moist lips, then something larger. He pushed, and suddenly she felt a pain. She cried out.

  "I'm sorry!" he said. "I hurt you. I'm so terribly sorry. "

  "Just wait a moment," she said. The pain was not very bad. She was more shocked than anything else. "Try again," she said. "Just gently. "

  She felt the head of his penis touch her lips again, and she knew that it would not go inside: it was too big, or the hole was too small, or both. But she let him push, hoping for the best. It hurt, but this time she gritted her teeth and stopped herself crying out. Her stoicism did no good. After a few moments he stopped. "It won't go in," he said.

  "What's wrong?" she said miserably. "I thought this was supposed to happen naturally. "

  "I don't understand it," he said. "I have no experience. "

  "And I certainly have none. " She reached down and grasped his penis. She loved the feel of it in her hand, stiff but silky. She tried to maneuver it inside her, raising her hips to make it easier; but after a moment he pulled away, saying: "Ah! Sorry! It hurts me, too. "

  "Do you think you're bigger than usual?" she said tentatively.

  "No. When I was in the army I saw many men naked. Some fellows have extra-large ones, and they are very proud, but I am average, and anyway I never heard even one of them complain of this difficulty. "

  Maud nodded. The only other penis she had ever seen was Fitz's, and
as far as she could remember it was about the same size as Walter's. "Perhaps I'm too small. "

  He shook his head. "When I was sixteen, I went to stay in Robert's family castle in Hungary. There was a maid there, Greta, who was very. . . vivacious. We did not have sexual intercourse, but we did experiment. I touched her the way I touched you in the library at Sussex House. I hope I am not making you angry by telling you this. "

  She kissed his chin. "Not in the least. "

  "Greta was not very different from you in that area. "

  "Then what is wrong?"

  He sighed and rolled off her. He put his arm under her head and pulled her to him, kissing her forehead. "I have heard that newly married couples may have difficulties. Sometimes the man is so nervous that he does not become erect. I have also heard of men who become overexcited and ejaculate even before intercourse takes place. I think we must be patient and love one another and see what happens. "

  "But we have only one night!" Maud began to cry.

  Walter patted her and said: "There, there," but it did no good. She felt a complete failure. I believed I was so clever, she thought, escaping from my brother and marrying Walter secretly, and now it has all turned into a disaster. She was disappointed for herself but even more for Walter. How terrible for him to wait until the age of twenty-eight, then marry a woman who could not satisfy him!

  She wished she could talk to someone about this, another woman-but who? The thought of discussing it with Aunt Herm was ludicrous. Some women shared secrets with their maids, but Maud had never had that kind of relationship with Sanderson. Perhaps she could talk to Ethel. Now that she came to think of it, it was Ethel who had told her it was normal to have hair between your legs. But Ethel had gone off with Robert.

  Walter sat upright. "Let us order supper, and perhaps a bottle of wine," he said. "We will sit down together as man and wife, and talk of this and that for a while. Then, later, we will try again. "

  Maud had no appetite and could not imagine having a conversation about "this and that," but she did not have a better idea, so she consented. Miserably, she put her clothes back on. Walter dressed quickly, went to the next room, and rang the bell for a waiter. She heard him ordering cold meats, smoked fish, salads, and a bottle of hock.

  She sat by an open window and looked down at the street below. A newspaper placard said BRITISH ULTIMATUM TO GERMANY. Walter might be killed in this war. She did not want him to die a virgin.

  Walter called her when the food had arrived and she joined him in the next room. The waiter had spread a white cloth and laid out smoked salmon, sliced ham, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and sliced white bread. She did not feel hungry, but sipped the white wine he poured, and nibbled some salmon to show she was willing.

  In the end, they did talk of this and that. Walter reminisced about his childhood, his mother, and his time at Eton. Maud spoke about house parties at Tŷ Gwyn when her father was alive. The most powerful men in the land were guests, and her mother would have to arrange the allocation of bedrooms so that men could be near their mistresses.

  At first, Maud found herself consciously making conversation, as if they were two people who hardly knew one another; but soon they relaxed into their normal intimacy, and she just said whatever came into her mind. The waiter cleared away the supper and they moved to the couch, where they continued to talk, holding hands. They speculated about other people's sex lives: their parents, Fitz, Robert, Ethel, even the duchess. Maud was fascinated to learn about men such as Robert: where they met, how they recognized one another, and what they did. They kissed each other just as men kissed women, Walter told her, and they did what she had done to him at the opera, and other things. . . He said he was not sure of the details, but she thought he did know and just felt embarrassed to say.

  She was surprised when the clock on the mantelpiece struck midnight. "Let's go to bed," she said. "I want to lie in your arms, even if things don't happen the way they're supposed to. "

  "All right. " He stood up. "Do you mind if I do something first? There is a telephone in the lobby for the use of guests. I'd like to phone the embassy. "

  "Of course. "

  He went out. Maud went to the bathroom along the corridor, then returned to the suite. She took off her clothes and got into bed naked. She almost felt she did not care what happened now. They loved one another, and they were together, and if that was all it would be enough.

  Walter returned a few minutes later. His face was grim and she knew immediately that the news was bad. "Britain has declared war on Germany," he said.

  "Oh, Walter, I'm so sorry!"

  "The note was received at the embassy an hour ago. Young Nicolson brought it round from the Foreign Office and got Prince Lichnowsky out of bed. "

  They had known it was almost certain to happen, but even so the reality struck Maud like a blow. She could see that Walter was upset too.

  He took off his clothes automatically, as if he had been undressing in front of her for years. "We leave tomorrow," he said. He took off his underpants, and she saw that his penis in its normal state was small and wrinkled. "I must be at Liverpool Street station, with my bags packed, by ten o'clock. " He turned off the electric light and got into bed with her.

  They lay side by side, not touching, and for an awful moment Maud thought he was going to go to sleep like that; then he turned to her and took her in his arms and kissed her mouth. Despite everything she was flooded with desire for him; indeed, it was almost as if their troubles had made her love him more urgently and desperately. She felt his penis grow and harden against her soft belly. After a moment he got on top of her. As before, he leaned on his left arm and touched her with his right hand. As before, she felt the hard penis pressing her lips. As before, it hurt-but only for a moment. This time, it slipped inside her.

  There was another moment of resistance, then she lost her virginity; and suddenly he was all the way in and they were locked together in the oldest embrace of all.

  "Oh, thank heaven," she said; then relief gave way to delight, and she began to move in happy rhythm with him; and, at last, they made love.

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