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Fall of giants, p.7
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       Fall of Giants, p.7

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 7

  CHAPTER SEVEN - Early July 1914

  The Church of St. James in Piccadilly had the most expensively dressed congregation in the world. It was the favorite place of worship for London's elite. In theory, ostentation was frowned upon; but a woman had to wear a hat, and these days it was almost impossible to buy one that did not have ostrich feathers, ribbons, bows, and silk flowers. From the back of the nave Walter von Ulrich looked at a jungle of extravagant shapes and colors. The men, by contrast, all looked the same, with their black coats and white stand-up collars, holding their top hats in their laps.

  Most of these people did not understand what had happened in Sarajevo seven days ago, he thought sourly; some of them did not even know where Bosnia was. They were shocked by the murder of the archduke, but they could not work out what it meant for the rest of the world. They were vaguely bewildered.

  Walter was not bewildered. He knew exactly what the assassination portended. It created a serious threat to the security of Germany, and it was up to people such as Walter to protect and defend their country in this moment of danger.

  Today his first task was to find out what the Russian tsar was thinking. This was what everyone wanted to know: the German ambassador, Walter's father, the foreign minister in Berlin, and the kaiser himself. And Walter, like the good intelligence officer he was, had a source of information.

  He scanned the congregation, trying to identify his man among the backs of heads, fearing he might not be there. Anton was a clerk at the Russian embassy. They met in Anglican churches because Anton could be sure there would be no one from his embassy there: most Russians belonged to the Orthodox Church, and those who did not were never employed in the diplomatic service.

  Anton was in charge of the cable office at the Russian embassy, so he saw every incoming and outgoing telegram. His information was priceless. But he was difficult to manage, and caused Walter much anxiety. Espionage frightened Anton, and when he got scared he would fail to show up-often at moments of international tension, like this one, when Walter needed him most.

  Walter was distracted by spotting Maud. He recognized the long, graceful neck rising out of a fashionable man-style wing collar, and his heart missed a beat. He kissed that neck whenever he got the chance.

  When he thought about the danger of war, his mind went first to Maud, then to his country. He felt ashamed of this selfishness, but he could not do anything about it. His greatest fear was that she would be taken from him; the threat to the fatherland came second. For Germany's sake he was willing to die-but not to live without the woman he loved.

  A head in the third row from the back turned, and Walter met the eye of Anton. The man had thinning brown hair and a patchy beard. Relieved, Walter walked to the south aisle, as if looking for a place, and after a moment's hesitation sat down.

  Anton's soul was full of bitterness. Five years ago, a nephew whom he had loved had been accused, by the tsar's secret police, of revolutionary activities, and had been imprisoned in the Fortress of Peter and Paul, across the river from the Winter Palace in the heart of St. Petersburg. The boy had been a theology student, and quite innocent of subversion; but before he could be released he had contracted pneumonia and died. Anton had been wreaking his quiet, deadly revenge against the tsar's government ever since.

  It was a pity the church was so well-lit. The architect, Christopher Wren, had put in long rows of huge round-arched windows. For this kind of work, a gloomy Gothic twilight would have been better. Still, Anton had chosen his position well, at the end of a row, with a child next to him and a massive wooden pillar behind.

  "Good place to sit," Walter murmured.

  "We can still be observed from the gallery," Anton fretted.

  Walter shook his head. "They will all be looking towards the front. "

  Anton was a middle-aged bachelor. A small man, he was neat to the point of fussiness: the tie knotted tightly, every button done up on the jacket, the shoes gleaming. His well-worn suit was shiny from years of brushing and pressing. Walter thought this was a reaction against the grubbiness of espionage. After all, the man was there to betray his country. And I'm here to encourage him, Walter thought grimly.

  Walter said nothing more during the hush before the service, but as soon as the first hymn started he said in a low voice: "What's the mood in St. Petersburg?"

  "Russia does not want war," Anton said.

  "Good. "

  "The tsar fears that war will lead to revolution. " When Anton mentioned the tsar he looked as if he was going to spit. "Half St. Petersburg is on strike already. Of course, it does not occur to him that his own stupid brutality is what makes people want a revolution. "

  "Indeed. " Walter always had to adjust for the fact that Anton's opinions were distorted by hate, but in this case the spy was not entirely wrong. Walter did not hate the tsar, but feared him. He had at his disposal the largest army in the world. Every discussion of Germany's security had to take that army into account. Germany was like a man whose next-door neighbor keeps a giant bear on a chain in the front garden. "What will the tsar do?"

  "It depends on Austria. "

  Walter suppressed an impatient retort. Everyone was waiting to see what the Austrian emperor would do. He had to do something, because the assassinated archduke had been heir to his throne. Walter was hoping to learn about Austrian intentions from his cousin Robert later that day. That branch of the family was Catholic, like all the Austrian elite, and Robert would be at mass in Westminster Cathedral right now, but Walter would see him for lunch. Meanwhile Walter needed to know more about the Russians.

  He had to wait for another hymn. He tried to be patient. He looked up and studied the extravagant gilding of Wren's barrel vaults.

  The congregation broke into "Rock of Ages. " "Suppose there is fighting in the Balkans," Walter murmured to Anton. "Will the Russians stay out of it?"

  "No. The tsar cannot stand aside if Serbia is attacked. "

  Walter felt a chill. This was exactly the kind of escalation he was afraid of. "It would be madness to go to war over this!"

  "True. But the Russians can't let Austria control the Balkan region-they have to protect the Black Sea route. "

  There was no arguing with that. Most of Russia's exports-grain from the southern cornfields and oil from the wells around Baku-were shipped to the world from Black Sea ports.

  Anton went on: "On the other hand, the tsar is also urging everyone to tread carefully. "

  "In short, he can't make up his mind. "

  "If you call it a mind. "

  Walter nodded. The tsar was not an intelligent man. His dream was to return Russia to the golden age of the seventeenth century, and he was stupid enough to think that was possible. It was as if King George V were to try to re-create the Merrie England of Robin Hood. Since the tsar was barely rational, it was maddeningly difficult to predict what he would do.

  During the last hymn Walter's gaze wandered to Maud, sitting two rows in front on the other side. He watched her profile fondly as she sang with gusto.

  Anton's ambivalent report was unnerving. Walter felt more worried than he had been an hour ago. He said: "From now on, I need to see you every day. "

  Anton looked panicky. "Not possible!" he said. "Too risky. "

  "But the picture is changing hour by hour. "

  "Next Sunday morning, Smith Square. "

  That was the trouble with idealistic spies, Walter thought with frustration: you had no leverage. On the other hand, men who spied for money were never trustworthy. They would tell you what you wanted to hear in the hope of getting a bonus. With Anton, if he said the tsar was dithering, Walter could be confident that the tsar had not made a decision.

  "Meet me once in the middle of the week, then," Walter pleaded as the hymn came to an end.

  Anton did not reply. Instead of sitting down, he slipped away and left the church. "Damn," Walter said quietly, and the ch
ild in the next seat stared at him with disapproval.

  When the service was over he stood in the paved churchyard greeting acquaintances until Maud emerged with Fitz and Bea. Maud looked supernaturally graceful in a stylish gray figured velvet dress with a darker gray crepe overdress. It was not a very feminine color, perhaps, but it heightened her sculptured beauty and seemed to make her skin glow. Walter shook hands all round, wishing desperately for a few minutes alone with her. He exchanged pleasantries with Bea, a confection in candy-pink and cream lace, and agreed with a solemn Fitz that the assassination was a "bad business. " Then the Fitzherberts moved away, and Walter feared he had missed his chance; but, at the last moment, Maud murmured: "I'll be at the duchess's house for tea. "

  Walter smiled at her elegant back. He had seen Maud yesterday and he would see her tomorrow, yet he had been terrified that he might not get another chance to see her today. Was he really incapable of passing twenty-four hours without her? He did not think of himself as a weak man, but she had cast a spell over him. However, he had no wish to escape.

  It was her independent spirit that he found so attractive. Most women of his generation seemed content to play the passive role that society gave them, dressing beautifully and organizing parties and obeying their husbands. Walter was bored by the doormat type. Maud was more like some of the women he had met in the United States, during a stint at the German embassy in Washington. They were elegant and charming but not subservient. To be loved by a woman like that was unbearably exciting.

  He walked with a jaunty step along Piccadilly and stopped at a newsstand. Reading British papers was never pleasant: most were viciously anti-German, especially the rabid Daily Mail. They had the British believing they were surrounded by German spies. How Walter wished it were true! He had a dozen or so agents in coast towns, making notes of comings and goings at the docks, as the British had in German ports, but nothing like the thousands reported by hysterical newspaper editors.

  He bought a copy of the People. The trouble in the Balkans was not big news here: the British were more worried about Ireland. A minority of Protestants had ruled the roost there for hundreds of years, with scant regard for the Catholic majority. If Ireland won independence the boot would be on the other foot. Both sides were heavily armed, and civil war threatened.

  A single paragraph at the bottom of the front page referred to the "Austro-Servian Crisis. " As usual, the newspapers had no idea what was really going on.

  As Walter turned into the Ritz Hotel, Robert jumped out of a motor taxi. He was wearing a black waistcoat and a black tie in mourning for the archduke. Robert had been one of Franz Ferdinand's set-progressive thinkers by the standards of the Viennese court, albeit conservative by any other measure. He had liked and respected the murdered man and his family, Walter knew.

  They left their top hats in the cloakroom and went into the dining room together. Walter felt protective toward Robert. Since they were boys he had known that his cousin was different. People called such men effeminate, but that was too crude: Robert was not a woman in a man's body. However, he had a lot of feminine traits, and this led Walter to treat him with a kind of understated chivalry.

  He looked like Walter, with the same regular features and hazel eyes, but his hair was longer and his mustache waxed and curled. "How are things with Lady M?" he said as they sat down. Walter had confided in him: Robert knew all about forbidden love.

  "She's wonderful, but my father can't get over her working in a slum clinic with a Jewish doctor. "

  "Oh, dear-that's harsh," Robert said. "His objection might be understandable if she herself were a Jew. "

  "I've been hoping he would warm to her gradually, meeting her socially now and again, and realizing that she is friendly with the most powerful men in the land; but it's not working. "

  "Unfortunately, the crisis in the Balkans is only going to increase tension in"-Robert smiled-"forgive me, international relations. "

  Walter forced a laugh. "We will work it out, whatever happens. "

  Robert said nothing, but looked as if he was not so confident.

  Over Welsh lamb and potatoes with parsley sauce, Walter gave Robert the inconclusive information he had gleaned from Anton.

  Robert had news of his own. "We have established that the assassins got their guns and bombs from Serbia. "

  "Oh, hell," said Walter.

  Robert let his anger show. "The arms were supplied by the head of Serbian military intelligence. The murderers were given target practise in a park in Belgrade. "

  Walter said: "Intelligence officers sometimes act unilaterally. "

  "Often. And the secrecy of their work means they may get away with it. "

  "So this does not prove that the Serbian government organized the assassination. And, when you think logically about it, a small nation such as Serbia, trying desperately to preserve its independence, would be mad to provoke its powerful neighbor. "

  "It is even possible that Serbian intelligence acted in direct opposition to the wishes of the government," Robert conceded. But then he said firmly: "That makes absolutely no difference at all. Austria must take action against Serbia. "

  This was what Walter feared. The affair could no longer be regarded merely as a crime, to be dealt with by the police and the courts. It had escalated, and now an empire had to punish a small nation. Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria had been a great man in his time, conservative and devoutly religious but a strong leader. However, he was now eighty-four, and age had not made him any less authoritarian and narrow-minded. Such men thought they knew everything just because they were old. Walter's father was the same.

  My fate is in the hands of two monarchs, Walter thought, the tsar and the emperor. One is foolish, the other geriatric; yet they control the destiny of Maud and me and countless millions more Europeans. What an argument against monarchy!

  He thought hard while they ate dessert. When the coffee came he said optimistically: "I assume your aim will be to teach Serbia a sharp lesson without involving any other country. "

  Robert swiftly dashed his hopes. "On the contrary," he said. "My emperor has written a personal letter to your kaiser. "

  Walter was startled. He had heard nothing of this. "When?"

  "It was delivered yesterday. "

  Like all diplomats, Walter hated it when monarchs talked directly to one another, instead of through their ministers. Anything could happen then. "What did he say?"

  "That Serbia must be eliminated as a political power. "

  "No!" This was worse than Walter had feared. Shocked, he said: "Does he mean it?"

  "Everything depends on the reply. "

  Walter frowned. Emperor Franz Joseph was asking for backing from Kaiser Wilhelm-that was the real point of the letter. The two countries were allies, so the kaiser was obliged to sound supportive, but his emphasis might be enthusiastic or reluctant, encouraging or cautious.

  "I trust Germany will back Austria, whatever my emperor decides to do," Robert said severely.

  "You can't possibly want Germany to attack Serbia!" Walter protested.

  Robert was offended. "We want a reassurance that Germany will fulfill her obligations as our ally. "

  Walter controlled his impatience. "The problem with that way of thinking is that it raises the stakes. Like Russia making supportive noises about Serbia, it encourages aggression. What we ought to do is calm everyone down. "

  "I'm not sure I agree," Robert said stiffly. "Austria has suffered a terrible blow. The emperor cannot be seen to take it lightly. He who defies the giant must be crushed. "

  "Let's try to keep this in proportion. "

  Robert raised his voice. "The heir to the throne has been murdered!" A diner at the next table glanced up and frowned to hear German spoken in angry tones. Robert softened his speech but not his expression. "Don't talk to me about proportion. "

  Walter tried to suppress his own feelings. It would
be stupid and dangerous for Germany to get involved in this squabble, but telling Robert that would serve no purpose. It was Walter's job to glean information, not have an argument. "I quite understand," he said. "Is your view shared by everyone in Vienna?"

  "In Vienna, yes," said Robert. "Tisza is opposed. " Istvan Tisza was the prime minister of Hungary, but subordinate to the Austrian emperor. "His alternative proposal is diplomatic encirclement of Serbia. "

  "Less dramatic, perhaps, but also less risky," Walter observed carefully.

  "Too weak. "

  Walter called for the bill. He was deeply unsettled by what he had heard. However, he did not want any ill feeling between himself and Robert. They trusted and helped one another, and he did not want that to change. On the pavement outside, he shook Robert's hand and clasped his elbow in a gesture of firm comradeship. "Whatever happens, we must stick together, cousin," he said. "We are allies, and always will be. " He left it to Robert to decide whether he was talking about the two of them or their countries. They parted friends.

  He walked briskly across Green Park. Londoners were enjoying the sunshine, but there was a cloud of gloom over Walter's head. He had hoped that Germany and Russia would stay out of the Balkan crisis, but what he had learned so far today ominously suggested the opposite. Reaching Buckingham Palace, he turned left and walked along the Mall to the back entrance of the German embassy.

  His father had an office in the embassy: he spent about one week in three there. There was a painting of Kaiser Wilhelm on the wall and a framed photograph of Walter in lieutenant's uniform on the desk. Otto held in his hand a piece of pottery. He collected English ceramics, and loved to go hunting for unusual items. Looking more closely, Walter saw that this was a creamware fruit bowl, the edges delicately pierced and molded to mimic basketwork. Knowing his father's taste, he guessed it was eighteenth century.

  With Otto was Gottfried von Kessel, a cultural attache whom Walter disliked. Gottfried had thick dark hair combed with a side parting, and wore spectacles with thick lenses. He was the same age as Walter and also had a father in the diplomatic service, but despite having that much in common, they were not friends. Walter thought Gottfried was a toady.

  He nodded to Gottfried and sat down. "The Austrian emperor has written to our kaiser. "

  "We know that," Gottfried said quickly.

  Walter ignored him. Gottfried was always trying to start a pissing contest. "No doubt the kaiser's reply will be amicable," he said to his father. "But a lot may depend upon nuance. "

  "His Majesty has not yet confided in me. "

  "But he will. "

  Otto nodded. "It is the kind of thing he sometimes asks me about. "

  "And if he urges caution, he might persuade the Austrians to be less belligerent. "

  Gottfried said: "Why should he do that?"

  "To avoid Germany's being dragged into a war over such a worthless piece of territory as Serbia!"

  "What are you afraid of?" Gottfried said scornfully. "The Serbian army?"

  "I am afraid of the Russian army, and so should you be," Walter replied. "It is the largest in history-"

  "I know that," said Gottfried.

  Walter ignored the interruption. "In theory, the tsar can put six million men into the field within a few weeks-"

  "I know-"

  "-and that is more than the total population of Serbia. "

  "I know. "

  Walter sighed. "You seem to know everything, von Kessel. Do you know where the assassins got their guns and bombs?"

  "From Slav nationalists, I presume. "

  "Any particular Slav nationalists, do you presume?"

  "Who knows?"

  "The Austrians know, I gather. They believe the arms came from the head of Serbian intelligence. "

  Otto grunted in surprise. "That would make the Austrians vengeful. "

  Gottfried said: "Austria is still ruled by its emperor. In the end, the decision for war can be made only by him. "

  Walter nodded. "Not that a Habsburg emperor has ever needed much of an excuse to be ruthless and brutal. "

  "What other way is there to rule an empire?"

  Walter did not rise to the bait. "Other than the Hungarian prime minister, who does not carry much weight, there seems to be no one urging caution. That role must fall to us. " Walter stood up. He had reported his findings, and he did not want to stay any longer in the same room as the irritating Gottfried. "If you will excuse me, Father, I'll go to tea at the Duchess of Sussex's house and see what else is being said around town. "

  Gottfried said: "The English don't pay calls on Sundays. "

  "I have an invitation," Walter replied, and went out before he lost his temper.

  He threaded his way through Mayfair to Park Lane, where the Duke of Sussex had his palace. The duke played no role in the British government, but the duchess held a political salon. When Walter had arrived in London in December Fitz had introduced him to the duchess, who had made sure he was invited everywhere.

  He entered her drawing room, bowed, shook her plump hand, and said: "Everyone in London wants to know what will happen in Serbia, so, even though it is Sunday, I have come here to ask you, Your Grace. "

  "There will be no war," she said, showing no awareness that he was joking. "Sit down and have a cup of tea. Of course it is tragic about the poor archduke and his wife, and no doubt the culprits will be punished, but how silly to think that great nations such as Germany and Britain would go to war over Serbia. "

  Walter wished he could feel so confident. He took a chair near Maud, who smiled happily, and Lady Hermia, who nodded. There were a dozen people in the room, including the first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill. The decor was grandly out of date: too much heavy carved furniture, rich fabrics of a dozen different patterns, and every surface covered with ornaments, framed photographs, and vases of dried grasses. A footman handed Walter a cup of tea and offered milk and sugar.

  Walter was happy to be near Maud but, as always, he wanted more, and he immediately began to wonder whether there was any way they could contrive to be alone, even if only for a minute or two.

  The duchess said: "The problem, of course, is the weakness of the Turk. "

  The pompous old bat was right, Walter thought. The Ottoman Empire was in decline, held back from modernization by a conservative Muslim priesthood. For centuries the Turkish sultan had kept order in the Balkan peninsula, from the Mediterranean coast of Greece as far north as Hungary, but now, decade by decade, it was pulling back. The nearest Great Powers, Austria and Russia, were trying to fill the vacuum. Between Austria and the Black Sea were Bosnia, Serbia, and Bulgaria in a line. Five years ago Austria had taken control of Bosnia. Now Austria was in a quarrel with Serbia, the middle one. The Russians looked at the map and saw that Bulgaria was the next domino, and that the Austrians could end up controlling the west coast of the Black Sea, threatening Russia's international trade.

  Meanwhile the subject peoples of the Austrian empire were starting to think they might rule themselves-which was why the Bosnian nationalist Gavrilo Princip had shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

  Walter said: "It's a tragedy for Serbia. I should think their prime minister is ready to throw himself into the Danube. "

  Maud said: "You mean the Volga. "

  Walter looked at her, glad of the excuse to drink in her appearance. She had changed her clothes, and was wearing a royal blue tea gown over a pale pink lace blouse and a pink felt hat with a blue pompom. "I most certainly do not, Lady Maud," he said.

  She said: "The Volga runs through Belgrade, which is the capital of Serbia. "

  Walter was about to protest again, then he hesitated. She knew perfectly well that the Volga hardly came within a thousand miles of Belgrade. What was she up to? "I am reluctant to contradict someone as well-informed as you, Lady Maud," he said. "All the same-"

  "We will look it up," she said. "My
uncle, the duke, has one of the greatest libraries in London. " She stood. "Come with me, and I shall prove you wrong. "

  This was bold behavior for a well-bred young woman, and the duchess pursed her lips.

  Walter mimed a helpless shrug and followed Maud to the door.

  For a moment, Lady Hermia looked as if she might go too, but she was comfortably sunk in deep velvet upholstery, with a cup and saucer in her hand and a plate in her lap, and it was too much effort to move. "Don't be long," she said quietly, and ate some more cake. Then they were out of the room.

  Maud preceded Walter across the hall, where a couple of footmen stood like sentries. She stopped in front of a door and waited for Walter to open it. They went inside.

  The big room was silent. They were alone. Maud threw herself into Walter's arms. He hugged her hard, pressing her body against his. She turned her face up. "I love you," she said, and kissed him hungrily.

  After a minute she broke away, breathless. Walter looked at her adoringly. "You're outrageous," he said. "Saying the Volga runs through Belgrade!"

  "It worked, didn't it?"

  He shook his head in admiration. "I would never have thought of it. You're so clever. "

  "We need an atlas," she said. "In case anyone comes in. "

  Walter scanned the shelves. This was the library of a collector rather than a reader. All the books were in fine bindings, most looking as if they had never been opened. A few reference books lurked in a corner, and he pulled out an atlas and found a map of the Balkans.

  "This crisis," Maud said anxiously. "In the long run. . . it's not going to split us up, is it?"

  "Not if I can help it," Walter said.

  He drew her behind a bookcase, so that they could not be seen immediately by someone coming in, and kissed her again. She was deliciously needy today, rubbing her hands over his shoulders and arms and back as she kissed him. She broke the kiss to whisper: "Lift my skirt. "

  He swallowed. He had daydreamed of this. He grasped the material and drew it up.

  "And the petticoats," she said. He took a bunch of fabric in each hand. "Don't crease it," she said. He tried to raise the garments without crushing the silk, but everything slipped through his hands. Impatient, she bent down, grasped skirt and petticoats by the hems, and lifted everything to her waist. "Feel me," she said, looking him in the eye.

  He was nervous that someone would come in, but too overwhelmed with love and desire to restrain himself. He put his right hand on the fork of her thighs-and gasped with shock: she was naked there. The realization that she must have planned to give him this pleasure inflamed him further. He stroked her gently, but she thrust her hips forward against his hand, and he pressed harder. "That's right," she said. He closed his eyes, but she said: "Look at me, my darling, please, look at me while you're doing it," and he opened them again. Her face was flushed and she was breathing hard through open lips. She gripped his hand and guided him, as he had guided her in the opera box. She whispered: "Put your finger in. " She leaned against his shoulder. He could feel the heat of her breath through his clothes. She thrust against him again and again. Then she made a small sound in the back of her throat, like the muted cry of someone dreaming; and at last she slumped against him.

  He heard the door open, and then Lady Hermia's voice. "Come along, Maud, dear, we must take our leave. "

  Walter withdrew his hand and Maud hastily smoothed her skirt. In a shaky voice she said: "I'm afraid I was wrong, Aunt Herm, and Herr von Ulrich was right-it's the Danube, not the Volga, that runs through Belgrade. We've just found it in the atlas. "

  They bent over the book as Lady Hermia came around the end of the bookcase. "I never doubted it," she said. "Men are generally right about these things, and Herr von Ulrich is a diplomat, who has to know a great many facts with which women do not need to trouble themselves. You shouldn't argue, Maud. "

  "I expect you're right," said Maud with breathtaking insincerity.

  They all left the library and crossed the hall. Walter opened the door to the drawing room. Lady Hermia went in first. As Maud followed, she met his eye. He raised his right hand, put the tip of his finger into his mouth, and sucked it.

  {II}

  This could not go on, Walter thought as he made his way back to the embassy. It was like being a schoolboy. Maud was twenty-three years old and he was twenty-eight, yet they had to resort to absurd subterfuges in order to spend five minutes alone together. It was time they got married.

  He would have to ask Fitz's permission. Maud's father was dead, so her brother was the head of the family. Fitz would undoubtedly have preferred her to marry an Englishman. However, he would probably come around: he must be worrying that he might never get his feisty sister married off.

  No, the major problem was Otto. He wanted Walter to marry a well-behaved Prussian maiden who would be happy to spend the rest of her life breeding heirs. And when Otto wanted something he did all he could to get it, crushing opposition remorselessly-which was what had made him a good army officer. It would never occur to him that his son had a right to choose his own bride, without interference or pressure. Walter would have preferred to have his father's encouragement and support: he certainly did not look forward to the inevitable stand-up confrontation. However, his love was a force more powerful by far than filial deference.

  It was Sunday evening, but London was not quiet. Although Parliament was not sitting, and the mandarins of Whitehall had gone to their suburban homes, politics continued in the palaces of Mayfair, the gentlemen's clubs of St. James's, and the embassies. On the streets Walter recognized several members of Parliament, a couple of junior ministers from Britain's Foreign Office, and some European diplomats. He wondered whether Britain's bird-watching foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, had stayed in town this weekend instead of going to his beloved country cottage in Hampshire.

  Walter found his father at his desk, reading decoded telegrams. "This may not be the best time to tell you my news," Walter began.

  Otto grunted and carried on reading.

  Walter plunged on. "I'm in love with Lady Maud. "

  Otto looked up. "Fitzherbert's sister? I suspected as much. You have my profound sympathy. "

  "Be serious, please, Father. "

  "No, you be serious. " Otto threw down the papers he was reading. "Maud Fitzherbert is a feminist, a suffragette, and a social maverick. She's not a fit wife for anyone, let alone a German diplomat from a good family. So let's hear no more of it. "

  Hot words came to Walter's lips, but he clenched his teeth and kept his temper. "She's a wonderful woman, and I love her, so you'd better speak politely of her, whatever your opinions. "

  "I'll say what I think," Otto said carelessly. "She's dreadful. " He looked down at his telegrams.

  Walter's eye fell on the creamware fruit bowl his father had bought. "No," he said. He picked up the bowl. "You will not say what you think. "

  "Be careful with that. "

  Walter had his father's full attention now. "I feel protective of Lady Maud, the way you feel protective of this trinket. "

  "Trinket? Let me tell you, it's worth-"

  "Except, of course, that love is stronger than the collector's greed. " Walter tossed the delicate object into the air and caught it one-handed. His father let out an anguished cry of inarticulate protest. Walter went on heedlessly: "So when you speak insultingly of her, I feel as you do when you think I'm going to drop this-only more so. "

  "Insolent pup-"

  Walter raised his voice over his father's. "And if you continue to trample all over my sensibilities, I will crush this stupid piece of pottery beneath my heel. "

  "All right, you've made your point, put it down, for God's sake. "

  Walter took that for acquiescence, and replaced the ornament on a side table.

  Otto said maliciously: "But there is something else you need to take into account. . . if I may mention it without t
reading on your sensibilities. "

  "All right. "

  "She is English. "

  "For God's sake!" Walter cried. "Well-born Germans have been marrying English aristocrats for years. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha married Queen Victoria-his grandson is now king of England. And the queen of England was born a Wurttemberg princess!"

  Ottoraised his voice. "Things have changed! The English are determined to keep us a second-rate power. They befriend our adversaries, Russia and France. You would be marrying an enemy of your fatherland. "

  Walter knew this was how the old guard thought, but it was irrational. "We should not be enemies," he said in exasperation. "There's no reason for it. "

  "They will never allow us to compete on equal terms. "

  "That's just not true!" Walter heard himself shouting, and tried to be calmer. "The English believe in free trade-they allow us to sell our manufactures throughout the British Empire. "

  "Read that, then. " Otto threw across the desk the telegram he had been reading. "His Majesty the kaiser has asked for my comments. "

  Walter picked it up. It was a draft reply to the Austrian emperor's personal letter. Walter read it with mounting alarm. It ended: "The Emperor Franz Joseph may, however, rest assured that His Majesty will faithfully stand by Austria-Hungary, as is required by the obligations of his alliance and of his ancient friendship. "

  Walter was horrified. "But this gives Austria carte blanche!" he said. "They can do anything they like and we will support them!"

  "There are some qualifications. "

  "Not many. Has this been sent?"

  "No, but it has been agreed. It will be sent tomorrow. "

  "Can we stop it?"

  "No, and I would not want to. "

  "But it commits us to support Austria in a war against Serbia. "

  "No bad thing. "

  "We don't want war!" Walter protested. "We need science, and manufacturing, and commerce. Germany must modernize and become liberal and grow. We want peace and prosperity. " And, he added silently, we want a world in which a man can marry the woman he loves without being accused of treason.

  "Listen to me," Otto said. "We have powerful enemies on both sides, France to the west and Russia to the east-and they are hand in glove. We can't fight a war on two fronts. "

  Walter knew this. "That's why we have the Schlieffen Plan," he said. "If we are forced to go to war, we first invade France with an overwhelming force, achieve victory within a few weeks, and then, with the west secure, we turn east to face Russia. "

  "Our only hope," Otto said. "But when that plan was adopted by the German army nine years ago, our intelligence told us it would take the Russian army forty days to mobilize. That gave us almost six weeks in which to conquer France. Ever since then, the Russians have been improving their railways-with money loaned by France!" Otto banged the desk, as if he could squash France under his fist. "As the Russians' mobilization time gets shorter, so the Schlieffen Plan becomes more risky. Which means"-he pointed his finger dramatically at Walter-"the sooner we have this war, the better for Germany!"

  "No!" Why could the old man not see how dangerous this thinking was? "It means we should be seeking peaceful solutions to petty disputes. "

  "Peaceful solutions?" Otto shook his head knowingly. "You're a young idealist. You think there is an answer to every question. "

  "You actually want war," Walter said incredulously. "You really do. "

  "No one wants war," said Otto. "But sometimes it's better than the alternative. "

  {III}

  Maud had inherited a pittance from her father-three hundred pounds a year, barely enough to buy gowns for the season. Fitz got the title, the lands, the houses, and nearly all the money. That was the English system. But it was not what angered Maud. Money meant little to her: she did not really need her three hundred. Fitz paid for anything she wanted without question: he thought it ungentlemanly to be careful with money.

  Her great resentment was that she had had no education. When she was seventeen, she had announced that she was going to university-whereupon everyone had laughed at her. It turned out that you had to come from a good school, and pass examinations, before they would let you in. Maud had never been to school, and even though she could discuss politics with the great men of the land, a succession of governesses and tutors had completely failed to equip her to pass any sort of exam. She had cried and raged for days, and even now thinking about it could still put her in a foul mood. This was what made her a suffragette: she knew girls would never get a decent education until women had the vote.

  She had often wondered why women married. They contracted themselves to a lifetime of slavery and, she had asked, what did they get in return? Now, however, she knew the answer. She had never felt anything as intensely as her love for Walter. And the things they did to express that love gave her the most exquisite pleasure. To be able to touch one another that way any time you liked would be heaven. She would have enslaved herself three times over, if that were the price.

  But slavery was not the price, at least not with Walter. She had asked him whether he thought a wife should obey her husband in all things, and he had answered: "Certainly not. I don't see that obedience comes into it. Two adults who love one another should be able to make decisions together, without one having to obey the other. "

  She spent a lot of time thinking about their life together. For a few years he would probably be posted from one embassy to another, and they would travel the world: Paris, Rome, Budapest, perhaps even farther afield to Addis Ababa, Tokyo, Buenos Aires. She thought of the story of Ruth in the Bible: "Whither thou goest, I will go. " Their sons would be taught to treat women as equals, and their daughters would grow up independent and strong-willed. Perhaps they would eventually settle in a town house in Berlin, so that their children could go to good German schools. At some point, no doubt, Walter would inherit Zumwald, his father's country house in East Prussia. When they were old, and their children were adults, they would spend more time in the country, walking hand in hand around the estate, reading side by side in the evenings, and reflecting on how the world had changed since they were young.

  Maud had trouble thinking about anything else. She sat in her office at the Calvary Gospel Hall, staring at a price list of medical supplies, and remembered how Walter had sucked his fingertip at the door to the duchess's drawing room. People were beginning to notice her absentmindedness: Dr. Greenward had asked if she was feeling all right, and Aunt Herm had told her to wake up.

  She tried again to concentrate on the order form, and this time she was interrupted by a tap at the door. Aunt Herm looked in and said: "Someone to see you. " She seemed a bit awestruck, and handed Maud a card.

  General Otto von Wrich

  ATTACHe

  EMBASSY OF THE EMPIRE OF GERMANY

  CARLTON HOUSE TERRACE, LONDON

  "Walter's father!" said Maud. "What on earth. . . ?"

  "What shall I say?" whispered Aunt Herm.

  "Ask him if he would like tea or sherry, and show him in. "

  Von Ulrich was formally dressed in a black frock coat with satin lapels, a white pique waistcoat, and striped trousers. His red face was perspiring in the summer heat. He was rounder than Walter, and not as handsome, but they had the same straight-backed, chin-up military stance.

  Maud summoned her habitual insouciance. "My dear Herr von Ulrich, is this a formal visit?"

  "I want to talk to you about my son," he said. His English was almost as good as Walter's, though he had an accent where Walter did not.

  "It's kind of you to come to the point so quickly," Maud replied with a touch of sarcasm that went right over his head. "Please sit down. Lady Hermia will order some refreshment. "

  "Walter comes from an old aristocratic family. "

  "As do I," said Maud.

  "We are traditional, conservative, devoutly religious. . . perhaps a little old-f
ashioned. "

  "Just like my family," Maud said.

  This was not going the way Otto had planned. "We are Prussians," he said with a touch of exasperation.

  "Ah," said Maud as if trumped. "Whereas we, of course, are Anglo-Saxons. "

  She was fencing with him, as if this were nothing more than a battle of wits, but underneath she was frightened. Why was he here? What was his aim? She felt it could not be benign. He was against her. He would try to come between her and Walter, she felt bleakly certain.

  Anyway, he was not to be put off by facetiousness. "Germany and Great Britain are at odds. Britain makes friends with our enemies, Russia and France. This makes Britain our adversary. "

  "I'm sorry to hear that you think that way. Many do not. "

  "The truth is not arrived at by majority vote. " Again she heard a note of asperity in his voice. He was used to being heard uncritically, especially by women.

  Dr. Greenward's nurse brought in tea on a tray and poured. Otto remained silent until she left. Then he said: "We may go to war in the next few weeks. If we do not fight over Serbia, there will be some other casus belli. Sooner or later, Britain and Germany must do battle for mastery of Europe. "

  "I'm sorry you feel so pessimistic. "

  "Many others think the same. "

  "But the truth is not arrived at by majority vote. "

  Otto looked annoyed. He evidently expected her to sit and listen to his pomposity in silence. He did not like to be mocked. He said angrily: "You should pay attention to me. I'm telling you something that affects you. Most Germans regard Britain as their enemy. If Walter were to marry an Englishwoman, think of the consequences. "

  "I have, of course. Walter and I have talked at length about this. "

  "First, he would suffer my disapproval. I could not welcome an English daughter-in-law into my family. "

  "Walter feels that your love for your son would help you get over your revulsion for me, in the end. Is there really no chance of that?"

  "Second," he said, ignoring her question, "he would be regarded as disloyal to the kaiser. Men of his own class would no longer be his friends. He and his wife would not be received in the best houses. "

  Maud was becoming angry. "I find that hard to credit. Surely not all Germans are so narrow-minded?"

  He appeared not to notice her rudeness. "Third, and finally, Walter's career is with the foreign ministry. He will distinguish himself. I sent him to schools and universities in different countries. He speaks perfect English and passable Russian. Despite his immature idealistic views, he is well thought of by his superiors, and the kaiser has spoken kindly to him more than once. He could be foreign minister one day. "

  "He's brilliant," Maud said.

  "But if he marries you, his career is over. "

  "That's ridiculous," she said, shocked.

  "My dear young lady, is it not obvious? A man who is married to one of the enemy cannot be trusted. "

  "We have talked about this. His loyalty would naturally lie with Germany. I love him enough to accept that. "

  "He might be too concerned about his wife's family to give total loyalty to his own country. Even if he ruthlessly ignored the connection, men would still ask the question. "

  "You're exaggerating," she said, but she was beginning to lose confidence.

  "He certainly could not work in any area that required secrecy. Men would not speak of confidential matters in his presence. He would be finished. "

  "He doesn't have to be in military intelligence. He can switch to other areas of diplomacy. "

  "All diplomacy requires secrecy. And then there is my own position. "

  Maud was surprised by this. She and Walter had not considered Otto's career.

  "I am a close confidant of the kaiser's. Would he continue to place absolute trust in me if my son were married to an enemy alien?"

  "He ought to. "

  "He would, perhaps, if I took firm, positive action, and disowned my son. "

  Maud gasped. "You would not do that. "

  Otto raised his voice. "I would be obliged to!"

  She shook her head. "You would have a choice," she said desperately. "A man always has a choice. "

  "I will not sacrifice everything I have earned-my position, my career, the respect of my countrymen-for a girl," he said contemptuously.

  Maud felt as if she had been slapped.

  Otto went on: "But Walter will, of course. "

  "What are you saying?"

  "If Walter were to marry you he would lose his family, his country, and his career. But he will do it. He has declared his love for you without fully thinking through the consequences, and sooner or later he will understand what a catastrophic mistake he has made. But he undoubtedly considers himself unofficially engaged to you, and he will not back out of a commitment. He is too much of a gentleman. 'Go ahead, disown me,' he will say to me. He would consider himself a coward otherwise. "

  "That's true," Maud said. She felt bewildered. This horrible old man saw the truth more clearly than she did.

  Otto went on: "So you must break off the engagement. "

  She felt stabbed. "No!"

  "It is the only way to save him. You must give him up. "

  Maud opened her mouth to object again, but Otto was right, and she could not think of anything to say.

  Otto leaned forward and spoke with pressing intensity. "Will you break with him?"

  Tears ran down Maud's face. She knew what she had to do. She could not ruin Walter's life, even out of love. "Yes," she sobbed. Her dignity was gone, and she did not care; the pain was too much. "Yes, I will break with him. "

  "Do you promise?"

  "Yes, I promise. "

  Otto stood up. "Thank you for your courtesy in listening to me. " He bowed. "I bid you good afternoon. " He went out.

  Maud buried her face in her hands.

 
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