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Fall of giants, p.30
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       Fall of Giants, p.30

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 30

  CHAPTER THIRTY - Late March and April 1918

  Fitz held a house party at Tŷ Gwyn over the Easter weekend. He had an ulterior motive. The men he invited were as violently opposed as he was to the new regime in Russia.

  His star guest was Winston Churchill.

  Winston was a member of the Liberal Party, and might have been expected to sympathize with the revolutionaries; but he was also the grandson of a duke, and he had an authoritarian streak. Fitz had long thought of him as a traitor to his class, but was now inclined to forgive him because his hatred of the Bolsheviks was passionate.

  Winston arrived on Good Friday. Fitz sent the Rolls-Royce to Aberowen Station to meet him. He came bouncing into the morning room, a small, slight figure with red hair and a pink complexion. There was rain on his boots. He wore a well-cut suit of wheat-colored tweed and a bow tie the same blue as his eyes. He was forty-three, but there was still something boyish about him as he nodded to acquaintances and shook hands with guests he did not know.

  Looking around at the linenfold paneling, the patterned wallpaper, the carved stone fireplace, and the dark oak furniture, he said: "Your house is decorated like the Palace of Westminster, Fitz!"

  He had reason to be ebullient. He was back in the government. Lloyd George had made him minister of munitions. There was much talk about why the prime minister had brought back such a troublesome and unpredictable colleague, and the consensus was that he preferred to have Churchill inside the tent spitting out.

  "Your coal miners support the Bolsheviks," Winston said, half-amused and half-disgusted, as he sat down and stretched his wet boots to the roaring coal fire. "There were red flags flying from half the houses I passed. "

  "They have no idea what they're cheering for," Fitz said with contempt. Beneath his scorn he was deeply anxious.

  Winston accepted a cup of tea from Maud and took a buttered muffin from a plate offered by a footman. "You've suffered a personal loss, I gather. "

  "The peasants killed my brother-in-law, Prince Andrei, and his wife. "

  "I'm very sorry. "

  "Bea and I happened to be there at the time, and escaped by the skin of our teeth. "

  "So I heard!"

  "The villagers have taken over his land-a very large estate which is rightfully the inheritance of my son-and the new regime has endorsed such theft. "

  "I'm afraid so. The first thing Lenin did was to pass his Decree on Land. "

  Maud said: "In fairness, Lenin has also announced an eight-hour day for workers and universal free education for their children. "

  Fitz was annoyed. Maud had no tact. This was not the moment to defend Lenin.

  But Winston was a match for her. "And a Decree on the Press which bans newspapers from opposing the government," he shot back. "So much for socialist freedom. "

  "My son's birthright is not the only reason, or even the main reason, why I'm so concerned," Fitz said. "If the Bolsheviks get away with what they've done in Russia, where next? Welsh miners already believe the coal found deep underground doesn't really belong to the man who owns the land on the surface. You can hear 'The Red Flag' sung in half the pubs in Wales on any given Saturday night. "

  "The Bolshevik regime should be strangled at birth," Winston said. He looked thoughtful. "Strangled at birth," he repeated, pleased with the expression.

  Fitz controlled his impatience. Sometimes Winston imagined he had devised a policy when all he had done was coin a phrase. "But we're doing nothing!" Fitz said in exasperation.

  The gong sounded to tell everyone it was time to change for dinner. Fitz did not persist with the conversation: he had all weekend to make his point.

  On his way to his dressing room it struck him that, contrary to custom, Boy had not been brought down to the morning room at teatime. Before changing, he walked down a long corridor to the nursery wing.

  Boy was now three years and three months old, no longer a baby or even a toddler, but a walking, talking boy with Bea's blue eyes and blond curls. He was sitting near the fire, wrapped in a blanket, and pretty, young Nurse Jones was reading to him. The rightful lord of thousands of acres of Russian farmland was sucking his thumb. He did not jump up and run to Fitz as he normally would. "What's wrong with him?" Fitz said.

  "He's got a bad tummy, my lord. "

  Nurse Jones reminded Fitz a bit of Ethel Williams, but she was not as bright. "Try to be more exact," Fitz said impatiently. "What is wrong with his stomach?"

  "He have got the diarrhea. "

  "How the dickens did he get that?"

  "I don't know. The toilet on the train was not very clean. . . "

  That made it Fitz's fault, for dragging his family down to Wales for this house party. He suppressed a curse. "Have you summoned a doctor?"

  "Dr. Mortimer is on his way. "

  Fitz told himself not to be so fretful. Children suffered minor infections all the time. How often had he himself had a bad tummy as a child? Yet children did, sometimes, die of gastroenteritis.

  He knelt in front of the sofa, bringing himself down to his son's level. "How's my little soldier?"

  Boy's tone was lethargic. "I got the trots. "

  He must have picked up that vulgar expression from the servants-indeed, there was the hint of a Welsh lilt in the way he said it. But Fitz decided not to make a fuss about that now. "The doctor will be here soon," he said. "He'll make you better. "

  "I don't want a bath. "

  "Perhaps you can skip your bath tonight. " Fitz got up. "Send for me when the doctor arrives," he said to Nurse. "I'd like to speak to the fellow myself. "

  "Very good, my lord. "

  He left the nursery and went to his dressing room. His valet had laid out his evening clothes, with the diamond studs in the shirtfront and the matching cuff links in the sleeves, a clean linen handkerchief in the coat pocket, and one silk sock placed inside each patent-leather shoe.

  Before getting changed he went through to Bea's room.

  She was eight months pregnant.

  He had not seen her in this state when she was expecting Boy. He had left for France in August 1914, when she was only four or five months along, and he had not returned until after Boy had been born. He had not previously witnessed this spectacular swelling, nor marveled at the body's shocking ability to change and stretch.

  She was sitting at her dressing table but not looking in the glass. She was leaning back, her legs apart, her hands resting on the bulge. Her eyes were closed and she looked pale. "I just can't get comfortable," she complained. "Standing, sitting, lying down, everything hurts. "

  "You ought to go along to the nursery and take a look at Boy. "

  "I will as soon as I can summon up the energy!" she snapped. "I should never have traveled to the country. It's ridiculous for me to host a house party in this state. "

  Fitz knew she was right. "But we need the support of these men if we're to do anything about the Bolsheviks. "

  "Is Boy's tummy still poorly?"

  "Yes. The doctor is coming. "

  "You'd better send him to me while he's here-not that a country doctor is likely to know much. "

  "I'll tell the staff. I take it you won't be coming down to dinner. "

  "How can I, when I feel like this?"

  "I was just asking. Maud can sit at the head of the table. "

  Fitz returned to his dressing room. Some men had abandoned tailcoats and white ties, and wore short tuxedo jackets and black ties at dinner, citing the war as their excuse. Fitz did not see the connection. Why should war oblige people to dress informally?

  He put on his evening clothes and went downstairs.

  {II}

  After dinner, as coffee was served in the drawing room, Winston said provocatively: "So, Lady Maud, you women have got the vote at last. "

  "Some of us have," she said.

  Fitz knew she was disappointed that the bill had included o
nly women over thirty who were householders or the wives of householders. Fitz himself was angry that it had passed at all.

  Churchill went on mischievously: "You must thank, in part, Lord Curzon here, who surprisingly abstained when the bill went to the House of Lords. "

  Earl Curzon was a brilliant man whose stiffly superior air was made worse by a metal corset he wore for his back. There was a rhyme about him:

  I am George Nathaniel Curzon

  I am a most superior person

  He had been viceroy of India and was now leader of the House of Lords and one of the five members of the War Cabinet. He was also president of the League for Opposing Woman Suffrage, so his abstention had astonished the political world and severely disappointed the opponents of votes for women, not least Fitz.

  "The bill had been passed by the House of Commons," Curzon said. "I felt we could not defy elected members of Parliament. "

  Fitz was still annoyed about this. "But the Lords exist to scrutinize the decisions of the Commons, and to curb their excesses. Surely this was an exemplary case!"

  "If we had voted down the bill, I believe the Commons would have taken umbrage and sent it back to us again. "

  Fitz shrugged. "We've had that kind of dispute before. "

  "But unfortunately the Bryce Committee is sitting. "

  "Oh!" Fitz had not thought of that. The Bryce Committee was considering the reform of the House of Lords. "So that was it?"

  "They're due to report shortly. We can't afford a stand-up fight with the Commons before then. "

  "No. " With great reluctance, Fitz had to concede the point. If the Lords made a serious attempt to defy the Commons, Bryce might recommend curbing the power of the upper chamber. "We might have lost all our influence-permanently. "

  "That is precisely the calculation that led me to abstain. "

  Sometimes Fitz found politics depressing.

  Peel, the butler, brought Curzon a cup of coffee, and murmured to Fitz: "Dr. Mortimer is in the small study, my lord, awaiting your convenience. "

  Fitz had been worrying about Boy's stomachache, and welcomed the interruption. "I'd better see him," said Fitz. He excused himself and went out.

  The small study was furnished with pieces that did not fit anywhere else in the house: an uncomfortable Gothic carved chair, a Scottish landscape no one liked, and the head of a tiger Fitz's father had shot in India.

  Mortimer was a competent local physician who had a rather too confident air, as if he thought his profession made him in some way the equal of an earl. However, he was polite enough. "Good evening, my lord," he said. "Your son has a mild gastric infection which will most likely do him no harm. "

  "Most likely?"

  "I use the phrase deliberately. " Mortimer spoke with a Welsh accent that had been moderated by education. "We scientists deal always in probabilities, never certainties. I tell your miners that they go down the pit every morning knowing there will probably be no explosion. "

  "Hmm. " That was not much comfort to Fitz. "Did you see the princess?"

  "I did. She, too, is not seriously ill. In fact she is not ill at all, but she is giving birth. "

  Fitz leaped up. "What?"

  "She thought she was eight months pregnant, but she miscalculated. She is nine months pregnant, and happily will not continue pregnant many more hours. "

  "Who is with her?"

  "Her servants are all around her. I have sent for a competent midwife, and I myself will attend the birth if you so wish. "

  "This is my fault," Fitz said bitterly. "I should not have persuaded her to leave London. "

  "Perfectly healthy babies are born outside London every day. "

  Fitz had a feeling he was being mocked, but he ignored it. "What if something should go wrong?"

  "I know the reputation of your London doctor, Professor Rathbone. He is of course a physician of great distinction, but I think I can safely say that I have delivered more babies than he has. "

  "Miners' babies. "

  "Indeed, most of them; though at the moment of birth there is no apparent difference between them and the little aristocrats. "

  Fitz was being mocked. "I don't like your cheek," he said.

  Mortimer was not intimidated. "I don't like yours," he said. "You've made it clear, without even a semblance of courtesy, that you consider me inadequate to treat your family. I will gladly take my leave. " He picked up his bag.

  Fitz sighed. This was a foolish quarrel. He was angry with the Bolsheviks, not with this touchy middle-class Welshman. "Don't be a fool, man. "

  "I try not to be. " Mortimer went to the door.

  "Aren't you supposed to put the interests of your patients first?"

  Mortimer stopped at the door. "My God, you've got a bloody nerve, Fitzherbert. "

  Few people had ever talked to Fitz that way. But he suppressed the scathing retort that came to mind. It might take hours to find another doctor. Bea would never forgive him if he let Mortimer leave in a huff. "I'll forget you said that," Fitz said. "In fact I'll forget this whole conversation, if you will. "

  "I suppose that's the nearest thing to an apology that I'm likely to get. "

  It was, but Fitz said nothing.

  "I'll go back upstairs," said the doctor.

  {III}

  Princess Bea did not give birth quietly. Her screams could be heard throughout the principal wing of the house, where her room was. Maud played piano rags very loudly, to entertain the guests and drown out the noise, but one piano rag was much like the next, and she gave up after twenty minutes. Some of the guests went to bed, but as midnight struck, most of the men congregated in the billiard room. Peel offered cognac.

  Fitz gave Winston an El Rey del Mundo cigar from Cuba. While Winston was getting it alight, Fitz said: "The government must do something about the Bolsheviks. "

  Winston glanced quickly around the room, as if to make sure that everyone present was completely trustworthy. Then he sat back in his chair and said: "Here is the situation. The British Northern Squadron is already in Russian waters off Murmansk. In theory their task is to make sure Russian ships there don't fall into German hands. We also have a small mission in Archangel. I'm pressing for troops to be landed at Murmansk. Longer-term, this could be the core of a counterrevolutionary force in northern Russia. "

  "It's not enough," Fitz said immediately.

  "I agree. I'd like us to send troops to Baku, on the Caspian Sea, to make sure those vast oil fields are not taken over by the Germans, or indeed the Turks, and to the Black Sea, where there is already the nucleus of an anti-Bolshevik resistance in the Ukraine. Finally, in Siberia, we have thousands of tons of supplies at Vladivostok, worth perhaps a billion pounds, intended to support the Russians when they were our allies. We are entitled to send troops there to protect our property. "

  Fitz spoke half in doubt and half in hope. "Will Lloyd George do any of this?"

  "Not publicly," said Winston. "The problem is those red flags flying from miners' houses. There is in our country a great well of support for the Russian people and their revolution. And I understand why, much as I loathe Lenin and his crew. With all due respect to the family of Princess Bea"-he glanced up at the ceiling as another scream began-"it cannot be denied that the Russian ruling class were slow to deal with their people's discontents. "

  Winston was an odd mix, Fitz thought: aristocrat and man of the people, a brilliant administrator who could never resist meddling in other people's departments, a charmer who was disliked by most of his political colleagues.

  Fitz said: "The Russian revolutionaries are thieves and murderers. "

  "Indeed. But we have to live with the fact that not everyone sees them that way. So our prime minister cannot openly oppose the revolution. "

  "There's not much point in his opposing it in his mind," Fitz said impatiently.

  "A certain amount may be done without his knowing about it,
officially. "

  "I see. " Fitz did not know whether that meant much.

  Maud came into the room. The men stood up, a bit startled. In a country house women did not usually enter the billiard room. Maud ignored rules that did not suit her convenience. She came up to Fitz and kissed his cheek. "Congratulations, dear Fitz," she said. "You have another son. "

  The men cheered and clapped and gathered around Fitz, slapping him on the back and shaking his hand. "Is my wife all right?" he asked Maud.

  "Exhausted but proud. "

  "Thank God. "

  "Dr. Mortimer has left, but the midwife says you may go and see the baby now. "

  Fitz went to the door.

  Winston said: "I'll walk up with you. "

  As they left the room, Fitz heard Maud say: "Pour me some brandy, please, Peel. "

  In a lowered voice, Winston said: "You've been to Russia, of course, and you speak the language. " Fitz wondered where this was leading. "A bit," he said. "Nothing to boast about, but I can make myself understood. "

  "Have you come across a chap called Mansfield Smith-Cumming?"

  "As it happens, I have. He runs. . . " Fitz hesitated to mention the Secret Intelligence Service out loud. "He runs a special department. I've written a couple of reports for him. "

  "Ah, good. When you get back to town, you might have a word with him. "

  Now that was interesting. "I'll see him at any time, of course," said Fitz, trying not to show his eagerness.

  "I'll ask him to get in touch. He may have another mission for you. "

  They were at the door to Bea's rooms. From inside, there came the distinctive cry of a newborn baby. Fitz was ashamed to feel tears come to his eyes. "I'd better go in," he said. "Good night. "

  "Congratulations, and a good night to you, too. "

  {IV}

  They named him Andrew Alexander Murray Fitzherbert. He was a tiny scrap of life with a shock of hair as black as Fitz's. They took him to London wrapped in blankets, traveling in the Rolls-Royce with two other cars following in case of breakdowns. They stopped for breakfast in Chepstow and lunch in Oxford, and reached their home in Mayfair in time for dinner.

  A few days later, on a mild April afternoon, Fitz walked along the Embankment, looking at the muddy water of the river Thames, heading for a meeting with Mansfield Smith-Cumming.

  The Secret Service had outgrown its flat in Victoria. The man called "C" had moved his expanding organization into a swanky Victorian building called Whitehall Court, on the river within sight of Big Ben. A private lift took Fitz to the top floor, where the spymaster occupied two apartments linked by a walkway on the roof.

  "We've been watching Lenin for years," said C. "If we fail to depose him, he will be one of the worst tyrants the world has ever known. "

  "I believe you're right. " Fitz was relieved that C felt the same as he did about the Bolsheviks. "But what can we do?"

  "Let's talk about what you might do. " C took from his desk a pair of steel dividers such as were used for measuring distances on maps. As if absentmindedly, he thrust the point into his left leg.

  Fitz was able to check the cry of shock that came to his lips. This was a test, of course. He recalled that C had a wooden leg as a result of a car crash. He smiled. "A good trick," he said. "I almost fell for it. "

  C put down the dividers and looked hard at Fitz through his monocle. "There is a Cossack leader in Siberia who has overthrown the local Bolshevik regime," he said. "I need to know if it's worth our while to support him. "

  Fitz was startled. "Openly?"

  "Of course not. But I have secret funds. If we can sustain a kernel of counterrevolutionary government in the east, it will merit the expenditure of, say, ten thousand pounds a month. "

  "Name?"

  "Captain Semenov, twenty-eight years old. He's based in Manchuli, which lies astride the Chinese Eastern Railway near its junction with the Trans-Siberian Express. "

  "So this Captain Semenov controls one railway line and could control another. "

  "Exactly. And he hates the Bolsheviks. "

  "So we need to find out more about him. "

  "Which is where you come in. "

  Fitz was delighted at the chance of helping to overthrow Lenin. He thought of many questions: How was he to find Semenov? The man was a Cossack, and they were notorious for shooting first and asking questions later: would he talk to Fitz, or kill him? Of course Semenov would claim he could defeat the Bolsheviks, but would Fitz be able to assess the reality? Was there any way to ensure he would be spending British money to good effect?

  The question he asked was: "Am I the right choice? Forgive me, but I'm a conspicuous figure, hardly anonymous even in Russia. . . "

  "Frankly, we don't have a wide choice. We need someone fairly high-level in case you get to the stage of negotiating with Semenov. And there aren't many thoroughly trustworthy men who speak Russian. Believe me, you're the best available. "

  "I see. "

  "It will be dangerous, of course. "

  Fitz recalled the crowd of peasants battering Andrei to death. That could be him. He repressed a fearful shudder. "I understand the danger," he said in a level voice.

  "So tell me: will you go to Vladivostok?"

  "Of course," said Fitz.

 
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