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Fall of giants, p.36
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       Fall of Giants, p.36

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 36

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX - March to April 1919

  When the snow melted, and the iron-hard Russian earth turned to rich wet mud, the White armies made a mighty effort to rid their country of the curse of Bolshevism. Admiral Kolchak's force of one hundred thousand, patchily supplied with British uniforms and guns, came storming out of Siberia and attacked the Reds over a front that stretched seven hundred miles from north to south.

  Fitz followed a few miles behind the Whites. He was leading the Aberowen Pals, plus some Canadians and a few interpreters. His job was to stiffen Kolchak by supervising communications, intelligence, and supply.

  Fitz had high hopes. There might be difficulties, but it was unimaginable that Lenin and Trotsky would be allowed to steal Russia.

  At the beginning of March he was in the city of Ufa on the European side of the Ural Mountains, reading a batch of week-old British newspapers. The news from London was mixed. Fitz was delighted that Lloyd George had appointed Winston Churchill as secretary for war. Of all the leading politicians, Winston was the most vigorous supporter of intervention in Russia. But some of the papers took the opposite side. Fitz was not surprised by the Daily Herald and the New Statesman, which in his view were more or less Bolshevik publications anyway. But even the Conservative Daily Express had a headline reading WITHDRAW FROM RUSSIA.

  Unfortunately, they also had accurate details of what was going on. They even knew that the British had helped Kolchak with the coup that had abolished the directorate and made him supreme ruler. Where were they getting the information? He looked up from the paper. He was quartered in the city's commercial college, and his aide-de-camp sat at the opposite desk. "Murray," he said, "next time there's a batch of mail from the men to be sent home, bring it to me first. "

  This was irregular, and Murray looked dubious. "Sir?"

  Fitz thought he had better explain. "I suspect information may be getting back from here. The censor must be asleep at the wheel. "

  "Perhaps they think they can slacken off now that the war in Europe has ended. "

  "No doubt. Anyway, I want to see whether the leak is in our section of the pipe. "

  The back page of the paper had a photograph of the woman leading the "Hands Off Russia" campaign, and Fitz was startled to see that it was Ethel. She had been a housemaid at Tŷ Gwyn but now, the Express said, she was general secretary of the National Garment Workers Union.

  He had slept with many women since then-most recently, in Omsk, a stunning Russian blonde, the bored mistress of a fat tsarist general who was too drunk and lazy to fuck her himself. But Ethel shone out in his memory. He wondered what her child was like. Fitz probably had half a dozen bastards around the world, but Ethel's was the only one he knew of for sure.

  And she was the one whipping up protest against intervention in Russia. Now Fitz knew where the information was coming from. Her damn brother was a sergeant in the Aberowen Pals. He had always been a troublemaker, and Fitz had no doubt he was briefing Ethel. Well, Fitz thought, I'll catch him out, and then there will be hell to pay.

  Over the next few weeks the Whites raced ahead, driving before them the surprised Reds, who had thought the Siberian government a spent force. If Kolchak's armies could link up with their supporters in Archangel, in the north, and with Denikin's Volunteer Army in the south, they would form a semicircular force, a curved eastern scimitar a thousand miles long that would sweep irresistibly to Moscow.

  Then, at the end of April, the Reds counterattacked.

  By then Fitz was in Buguruslan, a grimly impoverished town in forest country a hundred miles or so east of the Volga River. The few dilapidated stone churches and municipal buildings poked up over the roofs of low-built wooden houses like weeds in a rubbish dump. Fitz sat in a large room in the town hall with the intelligence unit, sifting reports of prisoner interrogations. He did not know anything was wrong until he looked out of the window and saw the ragged soldiers of Kolchak's army streaming along the main road through the town in the wrong direction. He sent an American interpreter, Lev Peshkov, to question the retreating men.

  Peshkov came back with a sorry story. The Reds had attacked in force from the south, striking the overstretched left flank of Kolchak 's advancing army. To avoid his force being cut in two the local White commander, General Belov, had ordered them to retreat and regroup.

  A few minutes later, a Red deserter was brought in for interrogation. He had been a colonel under the tsar. What he had to say dismayed Fitz. The Reds had been surprised by Kolchak's offensive, he said, but they had quickly regrouped and resupplied. Trotsky had declared that the Red Army must go on the offensive in the east. "Trotsky thinks that if the Reds falter, the Allies will recognize Kolchak as supreme ruler; and once they have done that they will flood Siberia with men and supplies. "

  That was exactly what Fitz was hoping for. In his heavily accented Russian he asked: "So what did Trotsky do?"

  The reply came fast, and Fitz could not understand what was said until he heard Peshkov's translation. "Trotsky drew on special levies of recruits from the Bolshevik Party and the trade unions. The response was amazing. Twenty-two provinces sent detachments. The Novgorod Provincial Committee mobilized half its members!"

  Fitz tried to imagine Kolchak summoning such a response from his supporters. It would never happen.

  He returned to his quarters to pack his kit. He was almost too slow: the Pals got out only just ahead of the Reds, and a handful of men were left behind. By that evening Kolchak's Western Army was in full retreat and Fitz was on a train going back toward the Ural Mountains.

  Two days later he was back in the commercial college at Ufa.

  Over those two days, Fitz's mood turned black. He felt bitter with rage. He had been at war for five years, and he could recognize the turn of the tide-he knew the signs. The Russian civil war was as good as over.

  The Whites were just too weak. The revolutionaries were going to win. Nothing short of an Allied invasion could turn the tables-and that was not going to happen: Churchill was in enough trouble for the little he was doing. Billy Williams and Ethel were making sure the needed reinforcements would never be sent.

  Murray brought him a sack of mail. "You asked to see the men's letters home, sir," he said, with a hint of disapproval in his tone.

  Fitz ignored Murray's scruples and opened the sack. He searched for a letter from Sergeant Williams. Someone, at least, could be punished for this catastrophe.

  He found what he was looking for. Sergeant Williams's letter was addressed to E. Williams, her maiden name: no doubt he feared the use of her married name would call attention to his traitorous letter.

  Fitz read it. Billy's handwriting was large and confident. At first sight the text seemed innocent, if a bit odd. But Fitz had worked in Room 40, and knew about codes. He settled down to crack this one.

  Murray said: "On another matter, sir, have you seen the American interpreter, Peshkov, in the last day or two?"

  "No," Fitz said. "What's happened to him?"

  "We seem to have lost him, sir. "


  Trotsky was immensely weary, but not discouraged. The lines of strain on his face did not diminish the light of hope in his eyes. Grigori thought admiringly that he was sustained by an unshakable belief in what he was doing. They all had that, Grigori suspected; Lenin and Stalin too. Each felt sure he knew the right thing to do, whatever the problem might be, from land reform to military tactics.

  Grigori was not like that. With Trotsky, he tried to work out the best response to the White armies, but he never felt sure they had made the right decision until the results were known. Perhaps that was why Trotsky was world-famous and Grigori was just another commissar.

  As he had many times before, Grigori sat in Trotsky's personal train with a map of Russia on the table. "We hardly need worry about the counterrevolutionaries in the north," Trotsky said.

  Grigori agreed.
"According to our intelligence, there are mutinies among the British soldiers and sailors there. "

  "And they have lost all hope of linking up with Kolchak. His armies are running as fast as they can back to Siberia. We could chase them over the Urals-but I think we have more important business elsewhere. "

  "In the west?"

  "That's bad enough. The Whites are bolstered by reactionary nationalists in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Kolchak has appointed Yudenich commander in chief there, and he's supported by a British navy flotilla that is keeping our fleet bottled up in Kronstadt. But I'm even more worried about the south. "

  "General Denikin. "

  "He has about a hundred and fifty thousand men, supported by French and Italian troops, and supplied by the British. We think he's planning a dash for Moscow. "

  "If I may say so, I think the key to defeating him is political, not military. "

  Trotsky looked intrigued. "Go on. "

  "Everywhere he goes, Denikin makes enemies. His Cossacks rob everyone. Whenever he takes a town, he rounds up all the Jews and just shoots them. If the coal mines fail to meet production targets, he kills one in ten miners. And, of course, he executes all deserters from his army. "

  "So do we," said Trotsky. "And we kill villagers who harbor deserters. "

  "And peasants who refuse to give up their grain. " Grigori had had to harden his heart to accept this brutal necessity. "But I know peasants-my father was one. What they care about most is land. A lot of these people gained considerable tracts of land in the revolution, and they want to hold on to it-whatever else happens. "


  "Kolchak has announced that land reform should be based on the principle of private property. "

  "Which means the peasants giving back the fields they have taken from the aristocracy. "

  "And everyone knows that. I'd like to print his proclamation and post it outside every church. No matter what our soldiers do, the peasants will prefer us to the Whites. "

  "Do it," said Trotsky.

  "One more thing. Announce an amnesty for deserters. For seven days, any who return to the ranks will escape punishment. "

  "Another political move. "

  "I don't believe it will encourage desertion, because it's only for a week; but it might bring men back to us-especially when they find out the Whites want to take their land. "

  "Give it a try," said Trotsky.

  An aide came in and saluted. "A strange report, Comrade Peshkov, that I thought you would want to hear. "

  "All right. "

  "It's about one of the prisoners we took at Buguruslan. He was with Kolchak's army, but wearing an American uniform. "

  "The Whites have soldiers from all over the world. The capitalist imperialists support the counterrevolution, naturally. "

  "It's not that, sir. "

  "What, then?"

  "Sir, he says he's your brother. "


  The platform was long, and there was a heavy morning mist, so that Grigori could not see the far end of the train. There was probably some mistake, he thought; a confusion of names or an error of translation. He tried to steel himself for a disappointment, but he was not successful: his heart beat faster and his nerves seemed to tingle. It was almost five years since he had seen his brother. He had often thought Lev must be dead. That could still be the awful truth.

  He walked slowly, peering into the swirling haze. If this really was Lev, he would naturally be different. In the last five years Grigori had lost a front tooth and most of one ear, and had probably changed in other ways he was not aware of. How would Lev have altered?

  After a few moments two figures emerged from the white mist: a Russian soldier, in ragged uniform and homemade shoes; and, beside him, a man who looked American. Was that Lev? He had a short American haircut and no mustache. He had the round-faced look of the well-fed American soldiers, with meaty shoulders under the smart new uniform. It was an officer's uniform, Grigori saw with growing incredulity. Could his brother be an American officer?

  The prisoner was staring back at him, and as Grigori came close he saw that it was, indeed, his brother. He did look different, and it was not just the general air of sleek prosperity. It was the way he stood, the expression on his face, and most of all the look in his eyes. He had lost his boyish cockiness and acquired an air of caution. He had, in fact, grown up.

  As they came within touching distance, Grigori thought of all the ways Lev had let him down, and a host of recriminations sprang to his lips; but he uttered none of them, and instead opened his arms and hugged Lev. They kissed cheeks, slapped each other on the back, and hugged again, and Grigori found that he was weeping.

  After a while he led Lev onto the train and took him to the carriage he used as his office. Grigori told his aide to bring tea. They sat in two faded armchairs. "You're in the army?" Grigori said incredulously.

  "They have conscription in America," Lev said.

  That made sense. Lev would never have joined voluntarily. "And you're an officer!"

  "So are you," said Lev.

  Grigori shook his head. "We've abolished ranks in the Red Army. I'm a military commissar. "

  "But there are still some men who order tea and others who bring it," Lev said as the aide came in with cups. "Wouldn't Ma be proud?"

  "Fit to bust. But why did you never write to me? I thought you were dead!"

  "Aw, hell, I'm sorry," said Lev. "I felt so bad about taking your ticket that I wanted to write and say I can pay for your passage. I kept putting off the letter until I had more money. "

  It was a feeble excuse, but characteristic of Lev. He would not go to a party unless he had a fancy jacket to put on, and he refused to enter a bar if he did not have the money to buy a round of drinks.

  Grigori recalled another betrayal. "You didn't tell me Katerina was pregnant when you left. "

  "Pregnant! I didn't know. "

  "Yes, you did. You told her not to tell me. "

  "Oh. I guess I forgot. " Lev looked foolish, caught in a lie, but it did not take him long to recover and come up with his own counteraccusation. "That ship you sent me on didn't even go to New York! It put us all ashore at a dump called Cardiff. I had to work for months to save up for another ticket. "

  Grigori even felt guilty for a moment, then recalled how Lev had begged for the ticket. "Maybe I shouldn't have helped you escape from the police," he said crisply.

  "I suppose you did your best for me," Lev said reluctantly. Then he gave the warm smile that always caused Grigori to forgive him. "As you always have," he added. "Ever since Ma died. "

  Grigori felt a lump in his throat. "All the same," he said, concentrating to make his voice steady, "we ought to punish the Vyalov family for cheating us. "

  "I got my revenge," Lev said. "There's a Josef Vyalov in Buffalo. I fucked his daughter and made her pregnant, and he had to let me marry her. "

  "My God! You're part of the Vyalov family now?"

  "He regretted it, which is why he arranged for me to be conscripted. He's hoping I'll be killed in battle. "

  "Hell, do you still go wherever your dick leads you?"

  Lev shrugged. "I guess. "

  Grigori had some revelations of his own, and he was nervous about making them. He began by saying carefully: "Katerina had a baby boy, your son. She called him Vladimir. "

  Lev looked pleased. "Is that so? I've got a son!"

  Grigori did not have the courage to say that Vladimir knew nothing of Lev, and called Grigori "Daddy. " Instead he said: "I've taken good care of him. "

  "I knew you would. "

  Grigori felt a familiar stab of indignation at how Lev assumed that others would pick up the responsibilities he dropped. "Lev," he said, "I married Katerina. " He waited for the outraged reaction.

  But Lev remained calm. "I knew you'd do that, too. "

  Grigori was astonished. "What?"

sp; Lev nodded. "You were crazy for her, and she needed a solid dependable type to raise the child. It was in the cards. "

  "I went through agonies!" Grigori said. Had all that been for nothing? "I was tortured by the thought that I was being disloyal to you. "

  "Hell, no. I left her in the lurch. Good luck to you both. "

  Grigori was maddened by how casual Lev was about the whole thing. "Did you worry about us at all?" he asked pointedly.

  "You know me, Grishka. "

  Of course Lev had not worried about them. "You hardly thought about us. "

  "Sure I thought about you. Don't be so holy. You wanted her; you held off for a while, maybe for years; but in the end you fucked her. "

  It was the crude truth. Lev had an annoying way of bringing everyone else down to his level. "You're right," Grigori said. "Anyway, we have another child now, a daughter, Anna. She's a year and a half old. "

  "Two adults and two children. It doesn't matter. I've got enough. "

  "What are you talking about?"

  "I've been making money, selling whisky from British army stores to the Cossacks for gold. I've accumulated a small fortune. " Lev reached inside his uniform shirt, unfastened a buckle, and pulled out a money belt. "There's enough here to pay for all four of you to come to America!" He gave the belt to Grigori.

  Grigori was astonished and moved. Lev had not forgotten his family after all. He had saved up for a ticket. Naturally the handing over of the money had to be a flamboyant gesture-that was Lev's character. But he had kept his promise.

  What a shame it was all for nothing.

  "Thank you," Grigori said. "I'm proud of you for doing what you said you'd do. But, of course, it's not necessary now. I can get you released and help you return to normal Russian life. " He handed the money belt back.

  Lev took it and held it in his hands, staring at it. "What do you mean?"

  Grigori saw that Lev looked hurt, and understood that he was wounded by the refusal of his gift. But there was a greater worry on Grigori's mind. What would happen when Lev and Katerina were reunited? Would she fall for the more attractive brother all over again? Grigori's heart was chilled by the thought that he could lose her, after all they had been through together. "We live in Moscow now," he said. "We have an apartment in the Kremlin, Katerina and Vladimir and Anna and me. I can get an apartment for you easily enough-"

  "Wait a minute," said Lev, and there was a look of incredulity on his face. "You think I want to come back to Russia?"

  "You already have," Grigori said.

  "But not to stay!"

  "You can't possibly want to return to America. "

  "Of course I do! And you should come with me. "

  "But there's no need! Russia's not like it used to be. The tsar is gone!"

  "I like America," Lev said. "You'll like it too, all of you, especially Katerina. "

  "But we're making history here! We've invented a new form of government, the soviet. This is the new Russia, the new world. You're missing everything!"

  "You're the one who doesn't understand," Lev said. "In America I have my own car. There's more food than you can eat. All the booze I want, all the cigarettes I can smoke. I have five suits!"

  "What's the point in having five suits?" Grigori said in frustration. "It's like having five beds. You can only use one at a time!"

  "That's not how I see it. "

  What made the conversation so aggravating was that Lev clearly thought Grigori was the one who was missing the point. Grigori did not know what more he could say to change his brother's mind. "Is that really what you want? Cigarettes and too many clothes and a car?"

  "It's what everyone wants. You Bolsheviks better remember that. "

  Grigori was not going to take lessons in politics from Lev. "Russians want bread, peace, and land. "

  "Anyway, I have a daughter in America. Her name is Daisy. She's three. "

  Grigori frowned doubtfully.

  "I know what you're thinking," Lev said. "I didn't care about Katerina's child-what's his name?"

  "Vladimir. "

  "I didn't care about him, you think, so why should I care about Daisy? But it's different. I never met Vladimir. He was just a speck when I left Petrograd. But I love Daisy, and what's more, she loves me. "

  Grigori could at least understand that. He was glad Lev had a good enough heart to feel attached to his daughter. And although he was bewildered by Lev's preference for America, in his heart he would be hugely relieved if Lev did not come home. For Lev would surely want to get to know Vladimir, and then how long would it be before Vladimir learned that Lev was his real father? And if Katerina decided to leave Grigori for Lev, and take Vladimir with her, what would happen to Anna? Would Grigori lose her too? For himself, he thought guiltily, it was much better if Lev went back to America alone. "I believe you're making the wrong choice, but I'm not going to force you," he said.

  Lev grinned. "You're afraid I'll take Katerina back, aren't you? I know you too well, brother. "

  Grigori winced. "Yes," he said. "Take her back, then discard her all over again, and leave me to pick up the pieces a second time. I know you, too. "

  "But you'll help me get back to America. "

  "No. " Grigori could not help feeling a twitch of gratification at the look of fear that passed across Lev's face. But he did not prolong the agony. "I'll help you get back to the White army. They can take you to America. "

  "What'll we do?"

  "We'll drive to the front line, and a little beyond it. Then I'll release you into no-man's-land. After that you're on your own. "

  "I might get shot. "

  "We both might get shot. It's a war. "

  "I guess I'll have to take my chances. "

  "You'll be okay, Lev," said Grigori. "You always are. "


  Billy Williams was marched from the Ufa city jail, through the dusty streets of the city, to the commercial college being used as temporary accommodation by the British army.

  The court-martial took place in a classroom. Fitz sat at the teacher's desk, with his aide-de-camp, Captain Murray, beside him. Captain Gwyn Evans was there with a notebook and pencil.

  Billy was dirty and unshaven, and he had slept badly with the drunks and prostitutes of the town. Fitz wore a perfectly pressed uniform, as always. Billy knew he was in bad trouble. The verdict was a foregone conclusion: the evidence was clear. He had revealed military secrets in coded letters to his sister. But he was determined not to let his fear show. He was going to give a good account of himself.

  Fitz said: "This is a field general court-martial, permitted when the accused is on active service or overseas and it is not possible to hold the more regular general court-martial. Only three officers are required to sit as judges, or two if no more are available. It may try a soldier of any rank on any offense, and has the power to impose the death penalty. "

  Billy's only chance was to influence the sentence. The possible punishments included penal servitude, hard labor, and death. No doubt Fitz would like to put Billy in front of a firing squad, or at least give him several years in prison. Billy's aim was to plant in the minds of Murray and Evans sufficient doubts about the fairness of the trial to make them plump for a short term in prison.

  Now he said: "Where is my lawyer?"

  "It is not possible to offer you legal representation," Fitz said.

  "You're sure of that, are you, sir?"

  "Speak when you're spoken to, Sergeant. "

  Billy said: "Let the record show that I was denied access to a lawyer. " He stared at Gwyn Evans, the only one with a notebook. When Evans did nothing, Billy said: "Or will the record of this trial be a lie?" He put heavy emphasis on the word lie, knowing it would offend Fitz. It was part of the code of the English gentleman always to tell the truth.

  Fitz nodded to Evans, who made a note.

  First point to me, Billy thought, and he cheer
ed up a bit.

  Fitz said: "William Williams, you stand accused under part one of the Army Act. The charge is that you knowingly, while on active service, committed an act calculated to imperil the success of His Majesty's forces. The penalty is death, or such lesser punishment as the court shall impose. "

  The repeated emphasis on the death penalty chilled Billy, but he kept his face stiff.

  "How do you plead?"

  Billy took a deep breath. He spoke in a clear voice, and put into his tone as much scorn and contempt as he could muster. "I plead how dare you," he said. "How dare you pretend to be an objective judge? How dare you act as if our presence in Russia is a legitimate operation? And how dare you make an accusation of treason against a man who has fought alongside you for three years? That's how I plead. "

  Gwyn Evans said: "Don't be insolent, Billy boy. You'll only make it worse for yourself. "

  Billy was not going to let Evans pretend to be benevolent. He said: "And my advice to you is to leave now and have nothing more to do with this kangaroo court. When the news gets out-and believe you me, this is going to be on the front page of the Daily Mirror-you will find that you're the one in disgrace, not me. " He looked at Murray. "Every man who had anything to do with this farce is going to be disgraced. "

  Evans looked troubled. Clearly he had not thought there might be publicity.

  "Enough!" said Fitz loudly and angrily.

  Good, Billy thought; I've got his goat already.

  Fitz went on: "Let's have the evidence, please, Captain Murray. "

  Murray opened a folder and took out a sheet of paper. Billy recognized his own handwriting. It was, as he expected, a letter to Ethel.

  Murray showed it to him and said: "Did you write this letter?"

  Billy said: "How did it come to your attention, Captain Murray?"

  Fitz barked: "Answer the question!"

  Billy said. "You went to Eton school, didn't you, Captain? A gentleman would never read someone else's mail, or so we're told. But as I understand it, only the official censor has the right to examine soldiers' letters. So I assume this was brought to your attention by the censor. " He paused. As he expected, Murray was unwilling to answer. He went on: "Or was the letter obtained illegally?"

  Murray repeated: "Did you write this letter?"

  "If it was obtained illegally, then it can't be used in a trial. I think that's what a lawyer would say. But there are no lawyers here. That's what makes this a kangaroo court. "

  "Did you write this letter?"

  "I will answer that question when you have explained how it came into your possession. "

  Fitz said: "You can be punished for contempt of court, you know. "

  I'm already facing the death penalty, Billy thought; how stupid of Fitz to think he can threaten me! But he said: "I am defending myself by pointing out the irregularity of the court and the illegality of the prosecution. Are you going to forbid that. . . sir?"

  Murray gave up. "The envelope is marked with a return address and the name of Sergeant Billy Williams. If the accused wishes to claim he did not write it, he should say so now. "

  Billy said nothing.

  "The letter is a coded message," Murray went on. "It may be decoded by reading every third word, and the initial capital letters of titles of songs and films. " Murray handed the letter to Evans. "When so decoded, it reads as follows. "

  Billy's letter described the incompetence of the Kolchak regime, saying that despite all their gold they had failed to pay the staff of the Trans-Siberian Railway, and so were continuing to have supply and transport problems. It also detailed the help the British army was trying to give. The information had been kept secret from the British public, who were paying for the army and whose sons were risking their lives.

  Murray said to Billy: "Do you deny sending this message?"

  "I cannot comment on evidence that has been obtained illegally. "

  "The addressee, E. Williams, is in fact Mrs. Ethel Leckwith, leader of the 'Hands Off Russia' campaign, is she not?"

  "I cannot comment on evidence that has been obtained illegally. "

  "Have you written previous coded letters to her?"

  Billy said nothing.

  "And she has used the information you gave her to generate hostile newspaper stories bringing discredit on the British army and imperiling the success of our actions here. "

  "Certainly not," said Billy. "The army has been discredited by the men who sent us on a secret and illegal mission without the knowledge or consent of Parliament. The 'Hands Off Russia' campaign is the necessary first step in returning us to our proper role as the defenders of Great Britain, rather than the private army of a little conspiracy of right-wing generals and politicians. "

  Fitz's chiseled face was red with anger, Billy saw to his great satisfaction. "I think we've heard enough," Fitz said. "The court will now consider its verdict. " Murray murmured something, and Fitz said: "Oh, yes. Does the accused have anything to say?"

  Billy stood up. "I call as my first witness Colonel the Earl Fitzherbert. "

  "Don't be ridiculous," said Fitz.

  "Let the record show that the court refused to allow me to question a witness even though he was present at the trial. "

  "Get on with it. "

  "If I had not been denied my right to call a witness, I would have asked the colonel what was his relationship with my family. Did he not bear a personal grudge against me because of my father's role as a miners' leader? What was his relationship with my sister? Did he not employ her as his housekeeper, then mysteriously sack her?" Billy was tempted to say more about Ethel, but it would have been dragging her name through the mud, and besides, the hint was probably enough. "I would ask him about his personal interest in this illegal war against the Bolshevik government. Is his wife a Russian princess? Is his son heir to property here? Is the colonel in fact here to defend his personal financial interest? And are all these matters the real explanation of why he has convened this sham of a court? And does that not completely disqualify him from being a judge in this case?"

  Fitz stared stony-faced, but both Murray and Evans looked startled. They had not known all this personal stuff.

  Billy said: "I have one more point to make. The German kaiser stands accused of war crimes. It is argued that he declared war, with the encouragement of his generals, against the will of the German people, as clearly expressed by their representatives in the Reichstag, the German parliament. By contrast, it is argued, Britain declared war on Germany only after a debate in the House of Commons. "

  Fitz pretended to be bored, but Murray and Evans were attentive.

  Billy went on: "Now consider this war in Russia. It has never been debated in the British Parliament. The facts are hidden from the British people on the pretense of operational security-always the excuse for the army's guilty secrets. We are fighting, but war has never been declared. The British prime minister and his colleagues are in exactly the same position as the kaiser and his generals. They are the ones acting illegally-not me. " Billy sat down.

  The two captains went into a huddle with Fitz. Billy wondered if he had gone too far. He had felt the need to be trenchant, but he might have offended the captains instead of winning their support.

  However, there seemed to be dissent among the judges. Fitz was speaking emphatically and Evans was shaking his head in negation. Murray looked awkward. That was probably a good sign, Billy thought. All the same he was as scared as he had ever been. When he had faced machine guns at the Somme and experienced an explosion down the pit, he had not been as frightened as he was now, with his life in the hands of malevolent officers.

  At last they seemed to reach agreement. Fitz looked at Billy and said: "Stand up. "

  Billy stood.

  "Sergeant William Williams, this court finds you guilty as charged. " Fitz stared at Billy, as if hoping to see on his face the mortification of defeat. But Bil
ly had been expecting a guilty verdict. It was the sentence he feared.

  Fitz said: "You are sentenced to ten years penal servitude. "

  Billy could no longer keep his face expressionless. It was not the death penalty-but ten years! When he came out he would be thirty. It would be 1929. Mildred would be thirty-five. Half their lives would be over. His façade of defiance crumbled, and tears came to his eyes.

  A look of profound satisfaction came over Fitz's face. "Dismissed," he said.

  Billy was marched away to begin his prison sentence.

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