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Fall of giants, p.32
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       Fall of Giants, p.32

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 32

  CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO - October 1918

  Maud had lunch at the Ritz with her friend Lord Remarc, who was a junior minister in the War Office. Johnny was wearing a new lavender waistcoat. Over the pot-au-feu she asked him: "Is the war really coming to an end?"

  "Everyone thinks so," Johnny said. "The Germans have suffered seven hundred thousand casualties this year. They can't go on. "

  Maud wondered miserably if Walter was one of the seven hundred thousand. He might be dead, she knew; and the thought was like a cold lump inside her where her heart should be. She had had no word from him since their idyllic second honeymoon in Stockholm. She guessed that his work no longer took him to neutral countries from which he could write. The awful truth was that he had probably returned to the battlefield for Germany's last, all-or-nothing offensive.

  Such thoughts were morbid, but realistic. So many women had lost their loved ones: husbands, brothers, sons, fiances. They had all lived through four years during which such tragedies happened daily. It was no longer possible to be too pessimistic. Grief was the norm.

  She pushed her soup dish away. "Is there any other reason to hope for peace?"

  "Yes. Germany has a new chancellor, and he has written to President Wilson, suggesting an armistice based on Wilson's famous Fourteen Points. "

  "That is hopeful! Has Wilson agreed?"

  "No. He said Germany must first withdraw from all conquered territories. "

  "What does our government think?"

  "Lloyd George is hopping mad. The Germans treat the Americans as the senior partners in the alliance-and President Wilson acts as if they could make peace without consulting us. "

  "Does it matter?"

  "I'm afraid it does. Our government doesn't necessarily agree with Wilson's Fourteen Points. "

  Maud nodded. "I suppose we're against point five, about colonial peoples having a say in their own government. "

  "Exactly. What about Rhodesia, and Barbados, and India? We can't be expected to ask the natives' permission before we civilize them. Americans are far too liberal. And we're dead against point two, freedom of the seas in war and peace. British power is based on the navy. We would not have been able to starve Germany into submission if we had not been allowed to blockade their seagoing trade. "

  "How do the French feel about it?"

  Johnny grinned. "Clemenceau said Wilson was trying to outdo the Almighty. 'God himself only came up with ten points,' he said. "

  "I get the impression that most ordinary British people actually like Wilson and his points. "

  Johnny nodded. "And European leaders can hardly tell the American president to stop making peace. "

  Maud was so eager to believe it that she frightened herself. She told herself not to be happy yet. There could be such heavy disappointment in store.

  A waiter brought them sole Waleska and cast an admiring eye at Johnny's waistcoat.

  Maud turned to her other worry. "What do you hear from Fitz?" Her brother's mission in Siberia was secret, but he had confided in her, and Johnny gave her bulletins.

  "That Cossack leader turned out to be a disappointment. Fitz made a pact with him, and we paid him for a while, but he was nothing more than a warlord, really. However, Fitz is staying on, hoping to encourage the Russians to overthrow the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, Lenin has moved his government from Petrograd to Moscow, where he feels safer from invasion. "

  "Even if the Bolsheviks were deposed, would a new regime resume the war against Germany?"

  "Realistically? No. " Johnny took a sip of Chablis. "But a lot of very powerful people in the British government just hate the Bolsheviks. "

  "Why?"

  "Lenin's regime is brutal. "

  "So was the tsar's, but Winston Churchill never plotted to overthrow him. "

  "Underneath, they're frightened that if Bolshevism is a success over there it will come here next. "

  "Well, if it's a success, why not?"

  Johnny shrugged. "You can't expect people such as your brother to see it that way. "

  "No," said Maud. "I wonder how he's getting on?"

  {II}

  "We're in Russia!" Billy Williams said when the ship docked and he heard the voices of the longshoremen. "What are we doing in fucking Russia?"

  "How can we be in Russia?" said Tommy Griffiths. "Russia's in the east. We've been sailing west for weeks. "

  "We've gone halfway round the world and come at it from the other side. "

  Tommy was not convinced. He leaned over the rail, staring. "The people look a bit Chinesey," he said.

  "They're speaking Russian, though. They sound like that pony driver, Peshkov, the one who cheated the Ponti brothers at cards, then scarpered. "

  Tommy listened. "Aye, you're right. Well, I never. "

  "This must be Siberia," Billy said. "No wonder it's fucking cold. "

  A few minutes later they learned they were in Vladivostok.

  People took little notice of the Aberowen Pals marching through the town. There were already thousands of soldiers in uniform here. Most were Japanese but there were also Americans and Czechs and others. The town had a busy port, trams running along broad boulevards, modern hotels and theaters, and hundreds of shops. It was like Cardiff, Billy thought, but colder.

  When they reached their barracks they met a battalion of elderly Londoners who had been shipped there from Hong Kong. It made sense, Billy thought, to send old codgers to this backwater. But the Pals, though depleted by casualties, had a core of hardened veterans. Who had pulled strings to have them withdrawn from France and sent to the other side of the globe?

  He soon found out. After dinner the brigadier, a comfortable-looking man evidently close to retirement, told them they were to be addressed by Colonel the Earl Fitzherbert.

  Captain Gwyn Evans, the owner of the department stores, brought a wooden crate that had once held cans of lard, and Fitz climbed up on it, not without difficulty on account of his bad leg. Billy watched without sympathy. He reserved his compassion for Stumpy Pugh and the many other crippled ex-miners who had been injured digging the earl's coal. Fitz was smug, arrogant, and a merciless exploiter of ordinary men and women. It was a shame the Germans had not shot him in the heart rather than the leg.

  "Our mission is fourfold," Fitz began, raising his voice to address six hundred men. "First, we're here to protect our property. On your way out of the docks, passing the railway sidings, you may have noticed a large supply dump guarded by troops. That ten-acre site contains six hundred thousand tons of munitions and other military equipment sent here by Britain and the United States when the Russians were our allies. Now that the Bolsheviks have made peace with Germany, we do not want bullets paid for by our people to fall into their hands. "

  "That doesn't make sense," Billy said loud enough for Tommy and the others around him to hear. "Instead of bringing us here, why didn't they ship the stores home?"

  Fitz glanced irritably in the direction of the noise, but continued. "Second, there are many Czech nationalists in this country, some prisoners of war and others who were working here prewar, who have formed themselves into the Czech Legion and are trying to take ship from Vladivostok to join our forces in France. They are being harassed by the Bolsheviks and our job is to help them get away. Local Cossack community leaders will help us in this effort. "

  "Cossack community leaders?" Billy said. "Who is he trying to fool? They're bloody bandits. "

  Once again Fitz heard the dissident muttering. This time Captain Evans looked annoyed and walked down the mess hall to stand near Billy and his group.

  "Here in Siberia there are eight hundred thousand Austrian and German prisoners of war who have been set free since the peace treaty. We must prevent them returning to the European battlefield. Finally, we suspect the Germans of eyeing up the oil fields of Baku, in the south of Russia. They must not be allowed to access that supply. "

 
Billy said: "I've got a feeling Baku is quite a long way from here. "

  The brigadier said amiably: "Do any of you men have any questions?"

  Fitz gave him a glare, but it was too late. Billy said: "I haven't read nothing about this in the papers. "

  Fitz replied: "Like many military missions, it is secret, and you will not be allowed to say where you are in your letters home. "

  "Are we at war with Russia, sir?"

  "No, we are not. " Fitz pointedly looked away from Billy. Perhaps he remembered how Billy had bested him at the peace talks meeting in the Calvary Gospel Hall. "Does anyone other than Sergeant Williams have a question?"

  Billy persisted. "Are we trying to overthrow the Bolshevik government?"

  There was an angry murmur from the troops, many of whom sympathized with the revolution.

  "There is no Bolshevik government," Fitz said with mounting exasperation. "The regime in Moscow has not been recognized by His Majesty the king. "

  "Have our mission been authorized by Parliament?"

  The brigadier looked troubled-he had not been expecting this type of question-and Captain Evans said: "That's enough from you, Sergeant-let the others have a chance. "

  But Fitz was not smart enough to shut up. Apparently it did not occur to him that Billy's debating skills, learned from a radical nonconformist father, might be superior to his own. "Military missions are authorized by the War Office, not by Parliament," Fitz argued.

  "So this have been kept secret from our elected representatives!" Billy said indignantly.

  Tommy murmured anxiously: "Careful, now, butty. "

  "Necessarily," said Fitz.

  Billy ignored Tommy's advice-he was too angry now. He stood up and said in a clear, loud voice: "Sir, is what we're doing legal?"

  Fitz colored, and Billy knew he had scored a hit.

  Fitz began: "Of course it is-"

  "If our mission have not been approved by the British people or the Russian people," Billy interrupted, "how can it be legal?"

  Captain Evans said: "Sit down, Sergeant. This isn't one of your bloody Labour Party meetings. One more word and you'll be on a charge. "

  Billy sat down, satisfied. He had made his point.

  Fitz said: "We have been invited here by the All-Russia Provisional Government, whose executive arm is a five-man directory based at Omsk, at the western edge of Siberia. And that," Fitz finished, "is where you're going next. "

  {III}

  It was dusk. Lev Peshkov waited, shivering, in a freight yard in Vladivostok, the ass end of the Trans-Siberian Railway. He wore an army greatcoat over his lieutenant's uniform, but Siberia was the coldest place he had ever been.

  He was furious to be in Russia. He had been lucky to escape, four years ago, and even luckier to marry into a wealthy American family. And now he was back-all because of a girl. What's wrong with me? he asked himself. Why can't I be satisfied?

  A gate opened, and a cart drawn by a mule came out of the supply dump. Lev jumped onto the seat beside the British soldier who was driving it. "Aye, aye, Sid," said Lev.

  "Wotcher," said Sid. He was a thin man of about forty with a perpetual cigarette and a prematurely lined face. A Cockney, he spoke English with an accent quite different from that of South Wales or upstate New York. At first Lev had found him hard to understand.

  "Have you got the whisky?"

  "Nah, just tins of cocoa. "

  Lev turned around, leaned into the cart, and pulled back a corner of the tarpaulin. He was almost certain Sid was joking. He saw a cardboard box marked: "Fry's Chocolate and Cocoa. " He said: "Not much demand for that among the Cossacks. "

  "Look underneath. "

  Lev moved the box aside and saw a different legend: "Teacher's Highland Cream-Perfection of Old Scotch Whisky. " He said: "How many?"

  "Twelve cases. "

  He covered the box. "Better than cocoa. "

  He directed Sid away from the city center. He checked behind frequently to see if anyone was following them, and looked with apprehension when he saw a senior U. S. Army officer, but no one questioned them. Vladivostok was crammed with refugees from the Bolsheviks, most of whom had brought a lot of money with them. They were spending it as if there were no tomorrow, which there probably was not for many of them. In consequence the shops were busy and the streets full of carts like this one delivering goods. As everything was scarce in Russia, much of what was on sale had been smuggled in from China or, like Sid's Scotch, stolen from the military.

  Lev saw a woman with a little girl, and thought of Daisy. He missed her. She was walking and talking now, and investigating the world. She had a pout that melted everyone's heart, even Josef Vyalov's. Lev had not seen her for six months. She was two and a half now, and she must have changed in the time he had been away.

  He also missed Marga. She was the one he dreamed about, her naked body wriggling against his in bed. It was because of her that he had got into trouble with his father-in-law and ended up in Siberia, but all the same he longed to see her again.

  "Have you got a weakness, Sid?" said Lev. He felt he needed a closer friendship with the taciturn Sid: partners in crime required trust.

  "Nah," said Sid. "Only money. "

  "Does your love of money lead you to take risks?"

  "Nah, just thieving. "

  "And does thieving ever get you into trouble?"

  "Not really. Prison, once, but that was only for six months. "

  "My weakness is women. "

  "Is it?"

  Lev was used to this British habit of asking the question after the answer had been given. "Yes," he said. "I can't resist them. I have to walk into a nightclub with a pretty girl on my arm. "

  "Do you?"

  "Yes. I can't help myself. "

  The cart entered a dockland neighborhood of dirt roads and sailors' hostels, places that had neither names nor addresses. Sid looked nervous.

  Lev said: "You're armed, yeah?"

  "Nah," said Sid. "I just got this. " He pulled back his coat to reveal a huge pistol with a foot-long barrel stuck into his belt.

  Lev had never seen a gun like it. "What the fuck is that?"

  "Webley-Mars. Most powerful handgun in the world. Very rare. "

  "No need to pull the trigger-just wave it about, it'll scare people to death. "

  In this area no one was paid to clear the streets of snow, and the cart followed the tracks of previous vehicles, or slid on the ice of little-used lanes. Being in Russia made Lev think of his brother. He had not forgotten his promise to send Grigori the fare to America. He was making good money selling stolen military supplies to the Cossacks. With today's deal he would have enough for Grigori's passage.

  He had done a lot of wicked things in his short life, but if he could make amends to his brother he would feel better about himself.

  They drove into an alley and turned behind a low building. Lev opened a cardboard box and took out one bottle of Scotch. "Stay here and guard the load," he said to Sid. "Otherwise it will be gone when we come out. "

  "Don't worry," said Sid, but he looked apprehensive.

  Lev reached under his greatcoat to touch the holstered Colt. 45 semiautomatic pistol on his belt, then he went in through the back door.

  The place was what passed for a tavern in Siberia. There was a small room with a few chairs and a table. It had no bar, but an open door revealed a dirty kitchen with a shelf of bottles and a barrel. Three men sat near the log fire, dressed in ragged furs. Lev recognized the one in the middle, a man he knew as Sotnik. He wore baggy trousers tucked into riding boots. He had high cheekbones and slanted eyes, and he sported an elaborate mustache and side-whiskers. His skin was reddened and lined by the weather. He might have been any age between twenty-five and fifty-five.

  Lev shook hands all round. He uncorked the bottle, and one of the men-presumably the bar owner-brought four nonmatching glasses. Lev poured gen
erous measures, and they all drank.

  "This is the best whisky in the world," Lev said in Russian. "It comes from a cold country, like Siberia, where the water in the mountain streams is pure melted snow. What a pity it is so expensive. "

  Sotnik's face was expressionless. "How much?"

  Lev was not going to let him reopen the bargaining. "The price you agreed to yesterday," he said. "Payable in gold rubles, nothing else. "

  "How many bottles?"

  "One hundred and forty-four. "

  "Where are they?"

  "Nearby. "

  "You should be careful. There are thieves in the neighborhood. "

  This might have been a warning or a threat: Lev guessed the ambiguity was intentional. "I know about thieves," he said. "I'm one of them. "

  Sotnik looked at his two comrades, then, after a pause, he laughed. They laughed too.

  Lev poured another round. "Don't worry," he said. "Your whisky is safe-behind the barrel of a gun. " That, too, was ambiguous. It might have been a reassurance or a warning.

  "That's good," said Sotnik.

  Lev drank his whisky, then looked at his watch. "A military police patrol is due in this neighborhood soon," he lied. "I have to go. "

  "One more drink," said Sotnik.

  Lev stood up. "Do you want the whisky?" He let his irritation show. "I can easily sell it to someone else. " This was true. You could always sell liquor.

  "I'll take it. "

  "Money on the table. "

  Sotnik picked up a saddlebag from the floor and began counting out five-ruble pieces. The agreed price was sixty rubles a dozen. Sotnik slowly put the coins in piles of twelve until he had twelve stacks. Lev guessed he could not actually count up to 144.

  When Sotnik had finished he looked at Lev. Lev nodded. Sotnik put the coins back in the saddlebag.

  They went outside, Sotnik carrying the bag. Night had fallen, but there was a moon, and they could see clearly. Lev said to Sid in English: "Stay on the cart. Be alert. " In an illegal transaction, this was always the dangerous moment-the buyer's chance to grab the goods and keep the money. Lev was not taking any chances with Grigori's ticket money.

  Lev pulled the cover off the cart, then moved three boxes of cocoa aside to reveal the Scotch. He took a case from the cart and put it on the ground at Sotnik's feet.

  The other Cossack went to the cart and reached for another case.

  "No," said Lev. He looked at Sotnik. "The bag. "

  There was a long pause.

  On the driving seat, Sid pulled back his coat to reveal his weapon.

  Sotnik gave Lev the bag.

  Lev looked inside, but decided not to count the money again. He would have seen if Sotnik had slyly extracted a few coins. He handed the bag to Sid, then helped the others unload the cart.

  He shook hands all round and was about to get up on the cart when Sotnik stopped him. "Look," he said. He pointed at an opened box. "There's a bottle missing. "

  That bottle was on the table in the tavern, and Sotnik knew it. Why was he trying to pick a quarrel at this stage? This was dangerous.

  He said to Sid in English: "Give me one gold piece. "

  Sid opened the bag and handed him a coin.

  Lev balanced it on his closed fist, then threw it in the air, spinning it. The coin flashed in the moonlight. As Sotnik reached out reflexively to catch it, Lev jumped onto the seat of the car.

  Sid cracked the whip.

  "Go with God," Lev called out as the cart jerked into motion. "And let me know when you need more whisky. "

  The mule trotted out of the yard and turned onto the road, and Lev breathed easier.

  "How much did we get?" said Sid.

  "What we asked for. Three hundred and sixty rubles each. Minus five. I'll stand the loss of that last coin. Got a bag?"

  Sid produced a large leather purse. Lev counted seventy-two coins into it.

  He said good-bye to Sid and jumped off the cart near the U. S. officers' accommodation. As he was making his way to his room, he was accosted by Captain Hammond. "Peshkov! Where have you been?"

  Lev wished he were not carrying 355 rubles in a Cossack saddlebag. "A little sightseeing, sir. "

  "It's dark!"

  "That's why I came back. "

  "We've been looking for you. The colonel wants you. "

  "Right away, sir. " Lev headed for his room, to drop off the saddlebag, but Hammond said: "The colonel's office is the other way. "

  "Yes, sir. " Lev turned around.

  Colonel Markham did not like Lev. The colonel was a career soldier, not a wartime recruit. He felt Lev did not share his commitment to excellence in the United States Army, and he was right-110 percent, as the colonel himself might have put it.

  Lev considered parking the saddlebag on the floor outside the colonel's office door, but it was too much money to leave lying around.

  "Where the hell were you?" said Markham as soon as Lev walked in.

  "Taking a look around town, sir. "

  "I'm reassigning you. Our British allies need interpreters and they've asked me to second you to them. "

  It sounded like a soft option. "Yes, sir. "

  "You'll be going with them to Omsk. "

  That was not so soft. Omsk was four thousand miles away in the barbaric heartland of Russia. "What for, sir?"

  "They will brief you. "

  Lev did not want to go. It was too far from home. "Are you asking me to volunteer, sir?"

  The colonel hesitated, and Lev realized the assignment was voluntary, insofar as anything was in the army. "Are you refusing the assignment?" said Markham threateningly.

  "Only if it's voluntary, sir, of course. "

  "I'll tell you the situation, Lieutenant," said the colonel. "If you volunteer, I won't ask you to open that bag and show me what's inside. "

  Lev cursed under his breath. There was nothing he could do. The colonel was too damn sharp. And Grigori's fare to America was in the saddlebag.

  Omsk, he thought. Hell.

  "I'd be glad to go, sir," he said.

  {IV}

  Ethel went upstairs to Mildred's apartment. The place was clean but not tidy, with toys on the floor, a cigarette burning in an ashtray, and knickers drying in front of the fire. "Can you keep an eye on Lloyd tonight?" Ethel asked. She and Bernie were going to a Labour Party meeting. Lloyd was nearly four now and quite capable of getting out of bed and going for a walk on his own if not watched.

  "Of course," said Mildred. They frequently watched each other's children in the evenings. "I've got a letter from Billy," Mildred said.

  "Is he all right?"

  "Yes. But I don't think he's in France. He doesn't say anything about the trenches. "

  "He must be in the Middle East, then. I wonder if he's seen Jerusalem. " The Holy City had been taken by British forces at the end of last year. "Our da will be pleased if he has. "

  "There's a message for you. He says he'll write later, but to tell you. . . " She reached into the pocket of her apron. "Let me get it right. 'Believe me, I feel I am badly informed here about events in politics in Russia. ' Funny bloody message, really. "

  "It's in code," Ethel said. "Every third word counts. The message says I am here in Russia. What's he doing there?"

  "I didn't know our army was in Russia. "

  "Nor did I. Does he mention a song, or a book title?"

  "Yeah-how did you know?"

  "That's code, too. "

  "He says to remind you of a song you used to sing called 'I'm with Freddie in the Zoo. ' I've never heard of it. "

  "Nor have I. It's the initials. 'Freddie in the Zoo' means. . . Fitz. "

  Bernie came in wearing a red tie. "He's fast asleep," he said, meaning Lloyd.

  Ethel said: "Mildred's got a letter from Billy. He seems to be in Russia with Earl Fitzherbert. "

  "Aha!" said Bernie. "I wondere
d how long it would take them. "

  "What do you mean?"

  "We've sent troops to fight the Bolsheviks. I knew it would happen. "

  "We're at war with the new Russian government?"

  "Not officially, of course. " Bernie looked at his watch. "We need to go. " He hated to be late.

  On the bus, Ethel said: "We can't be unofficially at war. Either we are or we aren't. "

  "Churchill and that crowd know the British people won't support a war against the Bolsheviks, so they're trying to do it secretly. "

  Ethel said thoughtfully: "I'm disappointed in Lenin-"

  "He's just doing what he's got to do!" Bernie interrupted. He was a passionate supporter of the Bolsheviks.

  Ethel went on: "Lenin could become just as much of a tyrant as the tsar-"

  "That's ridiculous!"

  "-but even so, he should be given a chance to show what he can do for Russia. "

  "Well, we're in agreement about that, at least. "

  "I'm not sure what we can do about it, though. "

  "We need more information. "

  "Billy will write to me soon. He'll give me the details. "

  Ethel felt indignant about the government's secret war-if that was what it was-but she was in an agony of worry about Billy. He would not keep his mouth shut. If he thought the army was doing wrong he would say so, and might get into trouble.

  The Calvary Gospel Hall was full: the Labour Party had gained popularity during the war. This was partly because the Labour leader, Arthur Henderson, had been in Lloyd George's War Cabinet. Henderson had started work in a locomotive factory at the age of twelve, and his performance as a cabinet minister had killed off the Conservative argument that workers could not be trusted in government.

  Ethel and Bernie sat next to Jock Reid, a red-faced Glaswegian who had been Bernie's best friend when he was single. The chairman of the meeting was Dr. Greenward. The main item on the agenda was the next general election. There were rumors that Lloyd George would call a national election as soon as the war ended. Aldgate needed a Labour candidate, and Bernie was the front runner.

  He was proposed and seconded. Someone suggested Dr. Greenward as an alternative, but the doctor said he felt he should stick to medicine.

  Then Jayne McCulley stood up. She had been a party member ever since Ethel and Maud had protested against the withdrawal of her separation allowance, and Maud had been carried off to jail in the arms of a policeman. Now Jayne said: "I read in the paper that women can stand in the next election, and I propose that Ethel Williams should be our candidate. "

  There was a moment of stunned silence, then everyone tried to speak at the same time.

  Ethel was taken aback. She had not thought about this. Ever since she had known Bernie, he had wanted to be the local M. P. She had accepted that. Besides, it had never been possible for women to be elected. She was not sure it was possible now. Her first inclination was to refuse immediately.

  Jayne had not finished. She was a pretty young woman, but the softness of her appearance was deceptive, and she could be formidable. "I respect Bernie, but he is an organizer and a meetings man," she said. "Aldgate has a Liberal M. P. who is quite well-liked and may be hard to defeat. We need a candidate who can win this seat for Labour, someone who can say to the people of the East End: 'Follow me to victory!' and they will. We need Ethel. "

  All the women cheered, and so did some of the men, though others muttered darkly. Ethel realized she would have a lot of support if she ran.

  And Jayne was right: Bernie was probably the cleverest man in the room, but he was not an inspirational leader. He could explain how revolutions happened and why companies went bust, but Ethel could inspire people to join a crusade.

  Jock Reid stood up. "Comrade Chairman, I believe the legislation does not permit women to stand. "

  Dr. Greenward said: "I can answer that question. The law that was passed earlier this year, giving the vote to certain women over thirty, did not provide for women to stand for election. But the government has admitted that this is an anomaly, and a further bill has been drafted. "

  Jock persisted. "But the law as it stands today forbids the election of women, so we can't nominate one. " Ethel gave a wry smile: it was odd how men who called for world revolution could insist on following the letter of the law.

  Dr. Greenward said: "The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Bill is clearly intended to become law before the next general election, so it seems perfectly in order for this branch to nominate a woman. "

  "But Ethel is under thirty. "

  "Apparently this new bill applies to women over twenty-one. "

  "Apparently?" said Jock. "How can we nominate a candidate if we don't know the rules?"

  Dr. Greenward said: "Perhaps we should postpone nomination until the new legislation has been passed. "

  Bernie whispered something in Jock's ear, and Jock said: "Let's ask Ethel if she's willing to stand. If not, then there's no need to postpone the decision. "

  Bernie turned to Ethel with a confident smile.

  "All right," said Dr. Greenward. "Ethel, if you were nominated, would you accept?"

  Everyone looked at her.

  Ethel hesitated.

  This was Bernie's dream, and Bernie was her husband. But which of them would be the better choice for Labour?

  As the seconds passed, a look of incredulity came over Bernie's face. He had expected her to decline the nomination instantly.

  That hardened her resolve.

  "I. . . I've never considered it," she said. "And, um, as the chairman said, it's not even a legal possibility yet. So it's a hard question to answer. I believe Bernie would be a good candidate. . . but all the same I'd like time to think about it. So perhaps we should accept the chairman's suggestion of a postponement. "

  She turned to Bernie.

  He looked as if he could kill her.

 
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