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Fall of giants, p.37
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       Fall of Giants, p.37

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 37

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN - May and June 1919

  On the first day of May, Walter von Ulrich wrote a letter to Maud and posted it in the town of Versailles.

  He did not know whether she was dead or alive. He had heard no news of her since Stockholm. There was still no postal service between Germany and Britain, so this was his first chance of writing to her in two years.

  Walter and his father had traveled to France the day before, with 180 politicians, diplomats, and foreign ministry officials, as part of the German delegation to the peace conference. The French railway had slowed their special train to walking pace as they crossed the devastated landscape of northeastern France. "As if we were the only ones who fired shells here," Otto said angrily. From Paris they had been bused to the small town of Versailles and dropped off at the Hotel des Reservoirs. Their luggage was unloaded in the courtyard and they were rudely told to carry it themselves. Clearly, Walter thought, the French were not going to be magnanimous in victory.

  "They didn't win, that's their trouble," said Otto. "They may not have actually lost, not quite, because they were saved by the British and Americans-but that's not much to boast about. We beat them, and they know it, and it hurts their pumped-up pride. "

  The hotel was cold and gloomy, but magnolias and apple trees were in blossom outside. The Germans were allowed to walk in the grounds of the great chateau and visit the shops. There was always a small crowd outside the hotel. The ordinary people were not as malign as the officials. Sometimes they booed, but mostly they were just curious to look at the enemy.

  Walter wrote to Maud on the first day. He did not mention their marriage-he was not yet sure it was safe, and anyway the habit of secrecy was hard to break. He told her where he was, described the hotel and its surroundings, and asked her to write to him by return. He walked into the town, bought a stamp, and posted his letter.

  He waited in anxious hope for the reply. If she were alive, did she still love him? He felt almost sure she would. But two years had passed since she had eagerly embraced him in a Stockholm hotel room. The world was full of men who had returned from the war to find that their girlfriends and wives had fallen in love with someone else during the long years of separation.

  A few days later the leaders of the delegations were summoned to the Hotel Trianon Palace, across the park, and ceremonially handed printed copies of the peace treaty drafted by the victorious allies. It was in French. Back at the Hotel des Reservoirs, the copies were given to teams of translators. Walter was head of one such team. He divided his part into sections, passed them out, and sat down to read.

  It was even worse than he expected.

  The French army would occupy the border region of Rhineland for fifteen years. The Saar region of Germany was to become a League of Nations protectorate with the French controlling the coal mines. Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France without a plebiscite: the French government was afraid the population would vote to stay German. The new state of Poland was so large it took in the homes of three million Germans and the coalfields of Silesia. Germany was to lose all her colonies: the Allies had shared them out like thieves dividing the swag. And the Germans had to agree to pay reparations of an unspecified amount-in other words, to sign a blank check.

  Walter wondered what kind of country they wanted Germany to be. Did they have in mind a giant slave camp where everyone lived on iron rations and toiled only so that the overlords could take the produce? If Walter was to be one such slave, how could he contemplate setting up home with Maud and having children?

  But worst of all was the war guilt clause.

  Article 231 of the treaty said: "The Allied and Associated Governments affirm, and Germany accepts, the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies. "

  "It's a lie," Walter said angrily. "A stupid, ignorant, wicked, vicious, damned lie. " Germany was not innocent, he knew, and he had argued as much with his father, time and time again. But he had lived through the diplomatic crises of the summer of 1914, he had known about every small step on the road to war, and no single nation was guilty. Leaders on both sides had been mainly concerned to defend their own countries, and none of them had intended to plunge the world into the greatest war in history: not Asquith, nor Poincare, nor the kaiser, nor the tsar, nor the Austrian emperor. Even Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Sarajevo, had apparently been aghast when he understood what he had started. But even he was not responsible for "all the loss and damage. "

  Walter ran into his father shortly after midnight, when they were both taking a break, drinking coffee to stay awake and continue working. "This is outrageous!" Otto stormed. "We agreed to an armistice based on Wilson's Fourteen Points-but the treaty has nothing to do with the Fourteen Points!"

  For once Walter agreed with his father.

  By morning the translation had been printed and copies had been dispatched by special messenger to Berlin-a classic exercise in German efficiency, Walter thought, seeing his country's virtues more clearly when it was being denigrated. Too exhausted to sleep, he decided to walk until he felt relaxed enough to go to bed.

  He left the hotel and went into the park. The rhododendrons were in bud. It was a fine morning for France, a grim one for Germany. What effect would the proposals have on Germany's struggling social-democratic government? Would the people despair and turn to Bolshevism?

  He was alone in the great park except for a young woman in a light spring coat sitting on a bench beneath a chestnut tree. Deep in thought, he touched the brim of his trilby hat politely as he passed her.

  "Walter," she said.

  His heart stopped. He knew the voice, but it could not be her. He turned and stared.

  She stood up. "Oh, Walter," she said. "Did you not know me?"

  It was Maud.

  His blood sang in his veins. He took two steps toward her and she threw herself into his arms. He hugged her hard. He buried his face in her neck and inhaled her fragrance, still familiar despite the years. He kissed her forehead and her cheek and then her mouth. He was speaking and kissing at the same time, but neither words nor kisses could say all that was in his heart.

  At last she spoke. "Do you still love me?" she said.

  "More than ever," he answered, and he kissed her again.

  {II}

  Maud ran her hands over Walter's bare chest as they lay on the bed after making love. "You're so thin," she said. His belly was concave, and the bones of his hips jutted out. She wanted to fatten him on buttered croissants and foie gras.

  They were in a bedroom at an auberge a few miles outside Paris. The window was open, and a mild spring breeze fluttered the primrose-yellow curtains. Maud had found out about this place many years ago when Fitz had been using it for assignations with a married woman, the Comtesse de Cagnes. The establishment, little more than a large house in a small village, did not even have a name. Men made a reservation for lunch and took a room for the afternoon. Perhaps there were such places on the outskirts of London but, somehow, the arrangement seemed very French.

  They called themselves Mr. and Mrs. Wooldridge, and Maud wore the wedding ring that had been hidden away for almost five years. No doubt the discreet proprietress assumed they were only pretending to be married. That was all right, as long as she did not suspect Walter was German, which would have caused trouble.

  Maud could not keep her hands off him. She was so grateful that he had come back to her with his body intact. She touched the long scar on his shin with her fingertips.

  "I got that at Chateau-Thierry," he said.

  "Gus Dewar was in that battle. I hope it wasn't he who shot you. "

  "I was lucky that it healed well. A lot of men died of gangrene. "

  It was three weeks since they
had been reunited. During that time Walter had been working around the clock on the German response to the draft treaty, only getting away for half an hour or so each day to walk with her in the park or sit in the back of Fitz's blue Cadillac while the chauffeur drove them around.

  Maud had been as shocked as Walter by the harsh terms offered to the Germans. The object of the Paris conference was to create a just and peaceful new world-not to enable the winners to take revenge on the losers. The new Germany should be democratic and prosperous. She wanted to have children with Walter, and their children would be German. She often thought of the passage in the Book of Ruth that began "Whither thou goest, I will go. " Sooner or later she would have to say that to Walter.

  However, she had been comforted to learn that she was not the only person who disapproved of the treaty proposals. Others on the Allied side thought peace was more important than revenge. Twelve members of the American delegation had resigned in protest. In a British by-election, the candidate advocating a nonvengeful peace had won. The archbishop of Canterbury had said publicly that he was "very uncomfortable" and claimed to speak for a silent body of opinion that was not represented in the Hun-hating newspapers.

  Yesterday the Germans had submitted their counterproposal-more than a hundred closely argued pages based on Wilson's Fourteen Points. This morning the French press was apoplectic. Bursting with indignation, they called the document a monument of impudence and an odious piece of buffoonery. "They accuse us of arrogance-the French!" said Walter. "What is that phrase about a saucepan?"

  "The pot calling the kettle black," said Maud.

  He rolled onto his side and toyed with her pubic hair. It was dark and curly and luxuriant. She had offered to trim it, but he said he liked it the way it was. "What are we going to do?" he said. "It's romantic to meet in a hotel and go to bed in the afternoon, like illicit lovers, but we cannot do this forever. We have to tell the world we are man and wife. "

  Maud agreed. She was also impatient for the time when she could sleep with him every night, though she did not say so: she was a bit embarrassed by how much she liked sex with him. "We could just set up home, and let them draw their own conclusions. "

  "I'm not comfortable with that," he said. "It makes us look ashamed. "

  She felt the same. She wanted to trumpet her happiness, not hide it away. She was proud of Walter: he was handsome and brave and extraordinarily clever. "We could have another wedding," she said. "Get engaged, announce it, have a ceremony, and never tell anyone we've been married almost five years. It's not illegal to marry the same person twice. "

  He looked thoughtful. "My father and your brother would fight us. They could not stop us, but they could make things unpleasant-which would spoil the happiness of the event. "

  "You're right," she said reluctantly. "Fitz would say that some Germans may be jolly good chaps, but all the same you don't want your sister to marry one. "

  "So we must present them with a fait accompli. "

  "Let's tell them, then announce the news in the press," she said. "We'll say it's a symbol of the new world order. An Anglo-German marriage, at the same time as the peace treaty. "

  He looked dubious. "How would we manage that?"

  "I'll speak to the editor of the Tatler magazine. They like me-I've provided them with lots of material. "

  Walter smiled and said: "Lady Maud Fitzherbert is always dressed in the latest fashion. "

  "What are you talking about?"

  He reached for his billfold on the bedside table and extracted a magazine clipping. "My only picture of you," he said.

  She took it from him. It was soft with age and faded to the color of sand. She studied the photo. "This was taken before the war. "

  "And it has been with me ever since. Like me, it survived. "

  Tears came to her eyes, blurring the faded image even more.

  "Don't cry," he said, hugging her.

  She pressed her face to his bare chest and wept. Some women cried at the drop of a hat, but she had never been that sort. Now she sobbed helplessly. She was crying for the lost years, and the millions of boys lying dead, and the pointless, stupid waste of it all. She was shedding all the tears stored up in five years of self-control.

  When it was over, and her tears were dry, she kissed him hungrily, and they made love again.

  {III}

  Fitz's blue Cadillac picked Walter up at the hotel on June 16 and drove him into Paris. Maud had decided that the Tatler magazine would want a photograph of the two of them. Walter wore a tweed suit made in London before the war. It was too wide at the waist, but every German was walking around in clothes too big for him.

  Walter had set up a small intelligence bureau at the Hotel des Reservoirs, monitoring the French, British, American, and Italian newspapers and collating gossip picked up by the German delegation. He knew that there were bad-tempered arguments between the Allies about the German counterproposals. Lloyd George, a politician who was flexible to a fault, was willing to reconsider the draft treaty. But the French prime minister, Clemenceau, said he had already been generous and fumed with outrage at any suggestion of amendments. Surprisingly, Woodrow Wilson was also obdurate. He believed the draft was a just settlement, and whenever he had made up his mind he became deaf to criticism.

  The Allies were also negotiating peace treaties to cover Germany's partners: Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. They were creating new countries such as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and carving up the Middle East into British and French zones. And they were arguing about whether to make peace with Lenin. In every country the people were tired of war, but a few powerful men were still keen to fight against the Bolsheviks. The British Daily Mail had discovered a conspiracy of international Jewish financiers supporting the Moscow regime-one of that newspaper's more implausible fantasies.

  On the German treaty Wilson and Clemenceau overruled Lloyd George, and earlier that day the German team at the Hotel des Reservoirs had received an impatient note giving them three days to accept.

  Walter thought gloomily about his country's future as he sat in the back of Fitz's car. It would be like an African colony, he thought, the primitive inhabitants working only to enrich their foreign masters. He would not want to raise children in such a place.

  Maud was waiting in the photographer's studio, looking wonderful in a filmy summer dress that, she said, was by Paul Poiret, her favorite couturier.

  The photographer had a painted backdrop that showed a garden in full flower, which Maud decided was in bad taste, so they posed in front of his dining room curtains, which were mercifully plain. At first they stood side by side, not touching, like strangers. The photographer proposed that Walter should kneel in front of Maud, but that was too sentimental. In the end they found a position they all liked, with the two of them holding hands and looking at each other rather than the camera.

  Copies of the picture would be ready tomorrow, the photographer promised.

  They went to their auberge for lunch. "The Allies can't just order Germany to sign," Maud said. "That's not negotiation. "

  "It is what they have done. "

  "What happens if you refuse?"

  "They don't say. "

  "What are you going to do?"

  "Some of the delegation are returning to Berlin tonight for consultations with our government. " He sighed. "I'm afraid I have been chosen to go with them. "

  "Then this is the time to make our announcement. I'll go to London tomorrow after I've picked up the photographs. "

  "All right," he said. "I'll tell my mother as soon as I get to Berlin. She'll be nice about it. Then I'll tell Father. He won't. "

  "I'll speak to Aunt Herm and Princess Bea, and write to Fitz in Russia. "

  "So this will be the last time we meet for a while. "

  "Eat up, then, and let's go to bed. "

  {IV}

  Gus and Rosa met in the Tuileri
es Gardens. Paris was beginning to get back to normal, Gus thought happily. The sun was shining, the trees were in leaf, and men with carnations in their buttonholes sat smoking cigars and watching the best-dressed women in the world walk by. On one side of the park, the rue de Rivoli was busy with cars, trucks, and horse-drawn carts; on the other, freight barges plied the river Seine. Perhaps the world would recover, after all.

  Rosa was ravishing in a red dress of light cotton and a wide-brimmed hat. If I could paint, Gus thought when he saw her, I'd paint her like this.

  He had a blue blazer and a fashionable straw boater. When she saw him, she laughed.

  "What is it?" he said.

  "Nothing. You look nice. "

  "It's the hat, isn't it?"

  She suppressed another giggle. "You're adorable. "

  "It looks stupid. I can't help it. Hats do that to me. It's because I'm shaped like a ball-peen hammer. "

  She kissed him lightly on the lips. "You're the most attractive man in Paris. "

  The amazing thing was that she meant it. Gus thought: How did I get so lucky?

  He took her arm. "Let's walk. " They strolled toward the Louvre.

  She said: "Have you seen the Tatler?"

  "The London magazine? No, why?"

  "It seems that your intimate friend Lady Maud is married to a German. "

  "Oh!" he said. "How did they find out?"

  "You mean you knew about this?"

  "I guessed. I saw Walter in Berlin in 1916 and he asked me to carry a letter to Maud. I figured that meant they were either engaged or married. "

  "How discreet you are! You never said a word. "

  "It was a dangerous secret. "

  "It may still be dangerous. The Tatler is nice about them, but other papers may take a different line. "

  "Maud has been attacked by the press before now. She's pretty tough. "

  Rosa looked abashed. "I suppose this is what you were talking about that night I saw you tete-a-tete with her. "

  "Exactly. She was asking me if I had heard any news about Walter. "

  "I feel foolish for suspecting you of flirting. "

  "I forgive you, but reserve the right to recall the matter next time you criticize me unreasonably. Can I ask you something?"

  "Anything you like, Gus. "

  "Three questions, in fact. "

  "How ominous. Like a folktale. If I get the answers wrong, will I be banished?"

  "Are you still an anarchist?"

  "Would it bother you?"

  "I guess I'm asking myself if politics might divide us. "

  "Anarchism is the belief that no one has the right to rule. All political philosophies, from the divine right of kings to Rousseau's social contract, try to justify authority. Anarchists believe that all those theories fail, therefore no form of authority is legitimate. "

  "Irrefutable, in theory. Impossible to put into practise. "

  "You're quick on the uptake. In effect, all anarchists are antiestablishment, but they differ widely in their vision of how society should work. "

  "And what is your vision?"

  "I don't see it as clearly as I used to. Covering the White House has given me a different slant on politics. But I still believe that authority needs to justify itself. "

  "I don't think we'll ever quarrel about that. "

  "Good. Next question?"

  "Tell me about your eye. "

  "I was born like this. I could have an operation to open it. Behind my eyelid is nothing but a mass of useless tissue, but I could wear a glass eye. However, it would never shut. I figure this is the lesser evil. Does it bother you?"

  He stopped walking and turned to face her directly. "May I kiss it?"

  She hesitated. "All right. "

  He bent down and kissed her closed eyelid. There was nothing unusual about how it felt to his lips. It was just like kissing her cheek. "Thank you," he said.

  She said quietly: "No one has ever done that before. "

  He nodded. He had guessed it might be some kind of taboo.

  She said: "Why did you want to do it?"

  "Because I love everything about you, and I want to make sure you know it. "

  "Oh. " She was silent for a minute, in the grip of emotion; but then she grinned and reverted to the flip tone she preferred. "Well, if there's anything else weird you want to kiss, just let me know. "

  He was not sure how to respond to that vaguely exciting offer, so he filed it away for future consideration. "I have one more question. "

  "Shoot. "

  "Four months ago, I told you that I love you. "

  "I haven't forgotten. "

  "But you haven't said how you feel about me. "

  "Isn't it obvious?"

  "Perhaps, but I'd like you to tell me. Do you love me?"

  "Oh, Gus, don't you understand?" Her face changed and she looked anguished. "I'm not good enough for you. You were the most eligible bachelor in Buffalo, and I was the one-eyed anarchist. You're supposed to love someone elegant and beautiful and rich. I'm a doctor's daughter-my mother was a housemaid. I'm not the right person for you to love. "

  "Do you love me?" he said with quiet persistence.

  She began to cry. "Of course I do, you dope, I love you with all my heart. "

  He put his arms around her. "Then that's all that matters," he said.

  {V}

  Aunt Herm put down the Tatler. "It was very bad of you to get married secretly," she said to Maud. Then she smiled conspiratorially. "But so romantic!"

  They were in the drawing room of Fitz's Mayfair house. Bea had redecorated after the end of the war, in the new art deco style, with utilitarian-looking chairs and modernistic silver gewgaws from Asprey. With Maud and Herm were Fitz's roguish friend Bing Westhampton and Bing's wife. The London season was in full swing, and they were going to the opera as soon as Bea was ready. She was saying good night to Boy, now three and a half, and Andrew, eighteen months.

  Maud picked up the magazine and looked again at the article. The picture did not greatly please her. She had imagined that it would show two people in love. Unfortunately it looked like a scene from a moving picture show. Walter appeared predatory, holding her hand and gazing into her eyes like a wicked Lothario, and she seemed like the ingenue about to fall for his wiles.

  However, the text was just what she had hoped for. The writer reminded readers that Lady Maud had been "the fashionable suffragette" before the war, she had started The Soldier's Wife newspaper to campaign for the rights of the women left at home, and she had gone to jail for her protest on behalf of Jayne McCulley. It said that she and Walter had intended to announce their engagement in the normal way, and had been prevented by the outbreak of war. Their hasty secret marriage was portrayed as a desperate attempt to do the right thing in abnormal circumstances.

  Maud had insisted on being quoted exactly, and the magazine had kept its promise. "I know that some British people hate the Germans," she had said. "But I also know that Walter and many other Germans did all they could to prevent the war. Now that it is over, we must create peace and friendship between the former enemies, and I truly hope people will see our union as a symbol of the new world. "

  Maud had learned, in her years of political campaigning, that you could sometimes win support from a publication by giving it a good story exclusively.

  Walter had returned to Berlin as planned. The Germans had been jeered by crowds as they drove to the railway station on their way home. A female secretary had been knocked out by a thrown rock. The French comment had been: "Remember what they did to Belgium. " The secretary was still in hospital. Meanwhile, the German people were angrily against signing the treaty.

  Bing sat next to Maud on the sofa. For once he was not flirtatious. "I wish your brother were here to advise you about this," he said with a nod at the magazine.

  Maud had written to Fitz to break the news of her marriage
, and had enclosed the clipping from the Tatler, to show him that what she had done was being accepted by London society. She had no idea how long it would take for her letter to get to wherever Fitz was, and she did not expect a reply for months. By then it would be too late for Fitz to protest. He would just have to smile and congratulate her.

  Now Maud bristled at the implication that she needed a man to tell her what to do. "What could Fitz possibly say?"

  "For the foreseeable future, the life of a German wife is going to be hard. "

  "I don't need a man to tell me that. "

  "In Fitz's absence I feel a degree of responsibility. "

  "Please don't. " Maud tried not to be offended. What advice could Bing possibly offer anyone, other than how to gamble and drink in the world's nightspots?

  He lowered his voice. "I hesitate to say this, but. . . " He glanced at Aunt Herm, who took the hint and went to pour herself a little more coffee. "If you were able to say that the marriage had never been consummated, then there might be an annulment. "

  Maud thought of the room with the primrose-yellow curtains, and had to suppress a happy smile. "But I cannot-"

  "Please don't tell me anything about it. I only want to make sure you understand your options. "

  Maud suppressed a growing indignation. "I know this is kindly meant, Bing-"

  "There is also the possibility of divorce. There is always a way, you know, for a man to provide a wife with grounds. "

  Maud could no longer contain her outrage. "Please drop the subject instantly," she said in a raised voice. "I have not the slightest wish for either an annulment or a divorce. I love Walter. "

  Bing looked sulky. "I was just trying to say what I think Fitz, as the head of your family, might tell you if he were here. " He stood up and spoke to his wife. "We'll go on, shall we? No need for all of us to be late. "

  A few minutes later, Bea came in wearing a new dress of pink silk. "I'm ready," she said, as if she had been waiting for them rather than the other way around. Her glance went to Maud's left hand and registered the wedding ring, but she did not comment. When Maud told her the news her response had been carefully neutral. "I hope you will be happy," she had said without warmth. "And I hope Fitz will be able to accept the fact that you did not get his permission. "

  They went out and got into the car. It was the black Cadillac Fitz had bought after his blue one got stranded in France. Everything was provided by Fitz, Maud reflected: the house the three women lived in, the fabulously expensive gowns they were wearing, the car, and the box at the opera. Her bills at the Ritz in Paris had been sent to Albert Solman, Fitz's man of business here in London, and paid without question. Fitz never complained. Walter would never be able to keep her in such style, she knew. Perhaps Bing was right, and she would find it hard to do without her accustomed luxury. But she would be with the man she loved.

  They reached Covent Garden at the last minute, because of Bea's tardiness. The audience had already taken their seats. The three women hurried up the red-carpeted staircase and made their way to the box. Maud suddenly remembered what she had done to Walter in this box during Don Giovanni. She felt embarrassed: what had possessed her to take such a risk?

  Bing Westhampton was already there with his wife, and he stood up and held a chair for Bea. The auditorium was silent: the show was about to begin. People-watching was one of the attractions of the opera, and many heads turned to look as the princess took her seat. Aunt Herm sat in the second row, but Bing held a front-row seat for Maud. A murmur of comment rose from the stalls: most of the crowd would have seen the photograph and read the article in the Tatler. Many of them knew Maud personally: this was London society, the aristocrats and the politicians, the judges and the bishops, the successful artists and the wealthy businessmen-and their wives. Maud stood for a moment to let them get a good look at her, and see how pleased and proud she was.

  That was a mistake.

  The sound from the audience changed. The murmur became louder. No words could be made out, but all the same the voices took on a note of disapproval, like the change in the buzz of a fly when it encounters a closed window. Maud was taken aback. Then she heard another noise, and it sounded dreadfully like a hiss. Confused and dismayed, she sat down.

  That made no difference. Everyone was staring at her now. The hissing spread through the stalls in seconds, then began in the circle, too. "I say," said Bing in feeble protest.

  Maud had never encountered such hatred, even at the height of the suffragette demonstrations. There was a pain in her stomach like a cramp. She wished the music would start, but the conductor, too, was staring at her, his baton held at his side.

  She tried to stare proudly back at them all, but tears came to her eyes and blurred her vision. This nightmare would not end of its own accord. She had to do something.

  She stood up, and the hissing grew louder.

  Tears ran down her face. Almost blind, she turned around. Knocking her chair over, she stumbled toward the door at the back of the box. Aunt Herm got up, saying: "Oh, dear, dear, dear. "

  Bing leaped up and opened the door. Maud went out, with Aunt Herm close behind. Bing followed them out. Behind her, Maud heard the hissing die away amid a few ripples of laughter, then, to her horror, the audience began to clap, congratulating themselves on having got rid of her; and their jeering applause followed her along the corridor, down the stairs, and out of the theater.

  {VI}

  The drive from the park gate to the Palace of Versailles was a mile long. Today it was lined with hundreds of mounted French cavalrymen in blue uniforms. The summer sun glinted off their steel helmets. They held lances with red and white pennants that rippled in the warm breeze.

  Johnny Remarc had been able to get Maud an invitation to the signing of the peace treaty, despite her disgrace at the opera; but she had to travel on the back of an open lorry, packed in with all the female secretaries from the British delegation, like sheep going to market.

  At one moment it had looked as if the Germans would refuse to sign. The war hero Field Marshal von Hindenburg had said he would prefer honorable defeat to a disgraceful peace. The entire German cabinet had resigned rather than agree to the treaty. So had the head of their delegation to Paris. At last the National Assembly had voted for signing everything except the notorious war guilt clause. Even that was unacceptable, the Allies had said immediately.

  "What will the Allies do if the Germans refuse?" Maud had said to Walter in their auberge, where they were now discreetly living together.

  "They say they will invade Germany. "

  Maud shook her head. "Our soldiers would not fight. "

  "Nor would ours. "

  "So it would be a stalemate. "

  "Except that the British navy has not lifted the blockade, so Germany still cannot get supplies. The Allies would just wait until food riots broke out in every German city, then they would walk in unopposed. "

  "So you have to sign. "

  "Sign or starve," said Walter bitterly.

  Today was June 28, five years to the day since the archduke had been killed in Sarajevo.

  The lorry took the secretaries into the courtyard, and they got down as gracefully as they could. Maud entered the palace and went up the grand staircase, flanked by more overdressed French soldiers, this time the Garde Republicaine in silver helmets with horsehair plumes.

  Finally she entered the Hall of Mirrors. This was one of the most grandiose rooms in the world. It was the size of three tennis courts in a line. Along one side, seventeen long windows overlooked the garden; on the opposite wall, the windows were reflected by seventeen mirrored arches. More importantly, this was the room where in 1871, at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, the victorious Germans had crowned their first emperor and forced the French to sign away Alsace and Lorraine. Now the Germans were to be humiliated under the same barrel-vaulted ceiling. And no doubt some among them would be dream
ing of the time in the future when they in turn would take their revenge. The degradation to which you subject others comes back, sooner or later, to haunt you, Maud thought. Would that reflection occur to men on either side at today's ceremony? Probably not.

  She found her place on one of the red plush benches. There were dozens of reporters and photographers, and a film crew with huge movie cameras to record the event. The bigwigs entered in ones and twos and sat at a long table: Clemenceau relaxed and irreverent, Wilson stiffly formal, Lloyd George like an aging bantam cock. Gus Dewar appeared and spoke in Wilson's ear, then went over to the press section and spoke to a pretty young reporter with one eye. Maud remembered seeing her before. Gus was in love with her, Maud could tell.

  At three o'clock someone called for silence, and a reverent hush fell. Clemenceau said something, a door opened, and the two German signatories came in. Maud knew from Walter that no one in Berlin had wanted to put his name to the treaty, and in the end they had sent the foreign minister and the postal minister. The two men looked pale and ashamed.

  Clemenceau made a short speech, then beckoned the Germans forward. Both men took fountain pens from their pockets and signed the paper on the table. A moment later, at a hidden signal, guns boomed outside, telling the world that the peace treaty had been signed.

  The other delegates came up to sign, not just from the major powers but from all the countries who were party to the treaty. It took a long time, and conversation broke out among the spectators. The Germans sat stiffly frozen until at last it was over and they were escorted out.

  Maud was sick with disgust. We preached a sermon of peace, she thought, but all the time we were plotting revenge. She left the palace. Outside, Wilson and Lloyd George were being mobbed by rejoicing spectators. She skirted the crowd, made her way into the town, and went to the Germans' hotel.

  She hoped Walter was not too cast down: it had been a dreadful day for him.

  She found him packing. "We're going home tonight," he said. "The whole delegation. "

  "So soon!" She had hardly thought about what would happen after the signing. It was an event of such huge dramatic significance that she had been unable to look beyond it.

  By contrast, Walter had thought about it, and he had a plan. "Come with me," he said simply.

  "I can't get permission to go to Germany. "

  "Whose permission do you need? I've got you a German passport in the name of Frau Maud von Ulrich. "

  She felt bewildered. "How did you manage that?" she said, though that was hardly the most important question in her mind.

  "It was not difficult. You are the wife of a German citizen. You are entitled to a passport. I used my special influence only to shorten the process to a matter of hours. "

  She stared at him. It was so sudden.

  "Will you come?" he said.

  She saw in his eyes a terrible fear. He thought she might back out at the last minute. His terror of losing her made her want to cry. She felt very fortunate to be loved so passionately. "Yes," she said. "Yes, I will come. Of course I will come. "

  He was not convinced. "Are you sure this is what you want?"

  She nodded. "Do you remember the story of Ruth, in the Bible?"

  "Of course. Why. . . ?"

  Maud had read it several times in the last few weeks, and now she quoted the words that had so moved her. "Whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest. . . " She stopped, unable to speak for the constriction in her throat; then, after a moment, she swallowed hard and resumed. "Where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried. "

  He smiled, but there were tears in his eyes. "Thank you," he said.

  "I love you," she said. "What time is the train?"

 
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