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Fall of giants, p.8
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       Fall of Giants, p.8

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 8

  CHAPTER EIGHT - Mid-July 1914

  There was a cheval glass in Ethel's new bedroom at Tŷ Gwyn. It was old, the woodwork cracked and the glass misted, but she could see herself full-length. She considered it a great luxury.

  She looked at herself in her underwear. She seemed to have become more voluptuous since falling in love. She had put on a little weight around her waist and hips, and her breasts seemed fuller, perhaps because Fitz stroked and squeezed them so much. When she thought about him her nipples hurt.

  Fitz had arrived that morning, with Princess Bea and Lady Maud, and had whispered that he would meet her in the Gardenia Suite after lunch. Ethel had put Maud in the Pink Room, making up an excuse about repairs to the floorboards in Maud's usual apartment.

  Now Ethel had come to her room to wash and put on clean underwear. She loved preparing herself for him like this, anticipating how he would touch her body and kiss her mouth, hearing in advance the way he would groan with desire and pleasure, thinking of the smell of his skin and the voluptuous texture of his clothes.

  She opened a drawer to take out fresh stockings, and her eye fell on a pile of clean strips of white cotton, the rags she used when menstruating. It occurred to her that she had not washed them since she had moved into this room. Suddenly there was a tiny seed of pure dread in her mind. She sat down heavily on the narrow bed. It was now the middle of July. Mrs. Jevons had left at the beginning of May. That was ten weeks ago. In that time Ethel should have used the rags not once but twice. "Oh, no," she said aloud. "Oh, please, no!"

  She forced herself to think calmly and worked it out again. The king's visit had taken place in January. Ethel had been made housekeeper immediately afterward, but Mrs. Jevons had been too ill to move then. Fitz had gone to Russia in February, and had come back in March, which was when they had first made love properly. In April Mrs. Jevons had rallied, and Fitz's man of business, Albert Solman, had come down from London to explain her pension to her. She had left at the beginning of May, and that was when Ethel had moved into this room and put that frightening little pile of white cotton strips into the drawer. It was ten weeks ago. Ethel could not make the arithmetic come out any differently.

  How many times had they met in the Gardenia Suite? At least eight. Each time, Fitz withdrew before the end, but sometimes he left it a bit late, and she felt the first of his spasms while he was still inside her. She had been deliriously happy to be with him that way, and in her ecstasy she had closed her eyes to the risk. Now she had been caught.

  "Oh, God forgive me," she said aloud.

  Her friend Dilys Pugh had fallen for a baby. Dilys was the same age as Ethel. She had been working as a housemaid for Perceval Jones's wife and walking out with Johnny Bevan. Ethel recalled how Dilys's breasts had got larger around the time she realized that you could, in fact, get pregnant from doing it standing up. They were married now.

  What was going to happen to Ethel? She could not marry the father of her child. Apart from anything else, he was already married.

  It was time to go and meet him. There would be no rolling on the bed today. They would have to talk about the future. She put on her housekeeper's black silk dress.

  What would he say? He had no children: would he be pleased, or horrified? Would he cherish his love child, or be embarrassed by it? Would he love Ethel more for conceiving, or would he hate her?

  She left her attic room and went along the narrow corridor and down the back stairs to the west wing. The familiar wallpaper with its pattern of gardenias quickened her desire, in the same way that the sight of her knickers aroused Fitz.

  He was already there, standing by the window, looking over the sunlit garden, smoking a cigar; and when she saw him she was struck again by how beautiful he was. She threw her arms around his neck. His brown tweed suit was soft to the touch because, she had discovered, it was made of cashmere. "Oh, Teddy, my lovely, I'm so happy to see you," she said. She liked being the only person who called him Teddy.

  "And I to see you," he said, but he did not immediately stroke her breasts.

  She kissed his ear. "I got something to say to you," she said solemnly.

  "And I have something to tell you! May I go first?"

  She was about to say no, but he detached himself from her embrace and took a step back, and suddenly her heart filled with foreboding. "What?" she said. "What is it?"

  "Bea is expecting a baby. " He drew on his cigar and blew out smoke like a sigh.

  At first she could make no sense of his words. "What?" she said in a bewildered tone.

  "The princess Bea, my wife, is pregnant. She is going to have a baby. "

  "You mean you've been at it with her at the same time as with me?" Ethel said angrily.

  He looked startled. It seemed he had not expected her to resent that. "I must!" he protested. "I need an heir. "

  "But you said you loved me!"

  "I do, and in a way I always will. "

  "No, Teddy!" she cried. "Don't say it like that-please don't!"

  "Keep your voice down!"

  "Keep my voice down? You're throwing me over! What is it to me now if people know?"

  "It's everything to me. "

  Ethel was distraught. "Teddy, please, I love you. "

  "But it's over now. I have to be a good husband and a father to my child. You must understand. "

  "Understand, hell!" she raged. "How can you say it so easily? I've seen you show more emotion over a dog that had to be shot!"

  "It's not true," he said, and there was a catch in his voice.

  "I gave myself to you, in this room, on that bed by there. "

  "And I shan't-" He stopped. His face, frozen until now in an expression of rigid self-control, suddenly showed anguish. He turned away, hiding from her gaze. "I shan't ever forget that," he whispered.

  She moved closer to him, and saw tears on his cheeks, and her anger evaporated. "Oh, Teddy, I'm so sorry," she said.

  He tried to pull himself together. "I care for you very much, but I must do my duty," he said. The words were cold, but his voice was tormented.

  "Oh, God. " She tried to stop crying. She had not told him her news yet. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, sniffed, and swallowed. "Duty?" she said. "You don't know the half. "

  "What are you talking about?"

  "I'm pregnant, too. "

  "Oh, my good God. " He put his cigar to his lips, mechanically, then lowered it again without puffing on it. "But I always withdrew!"

  "Not soon enough, then. "

  "How long have you known?"

  "I just realized. I looked in my drawer and saw my clean rags. " He winced. Evidently he did not like talk of menstruation. Well, he would have to put up with it. "I worked out that I haven't had the curse since I moved into Mrs. Jevons's old room, and that's ten weeks ago. "

  "Two cycles. That makes it definite. That's what Bea said. Oh, hell. " He touched the cigar to his lips, found that it had gone out, and dropped it on the floor with a grunt of irritation.

  A wry thought occurred to her. "You might have two heirs. "

  "Don't be ridiculous," he said sharply. "A bastard doesn't inherit. "

  "Oh," she said. She had not seriously intended to make a claim for her child. On the other hand, she had not until now thought of it as a bastard. "Poor little thing," she said. "My baby, the bastard. "

  He looked guilty. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean that. Forgive me. "

  She could see that his better nature was at war with his selfish instincts. She touched his arm. "Poor Fitz. "

  "God forbid that Bea should find out about this," he said.

  She felt mortally wounded. Why should his main concern be the other woman? Bea would be all right: she was rich and married, and carrying the loved and honored child of the Fitzherbert clan.

  Fitz went on: "The shock might be too much for her. "

  Ethel recalled a rumor tha
t Bea had suffered a miscarriage last year. All the female servants had discussed it. According to Nina, the Russian maid, the princess blamed the miscarriage on Fitz, who had upset her by canceling a planned trip to Russia.

  Ethel felt terribly rejected. "So your main concern is that the news of our baby might upset your wife. "

  He stared at her. "I don't want her to miscarry-it's important!"

  He had no idea how callous he was being. "Damn you," Ethel said.

  "What do you expect? The child Bea is carrying is one I have been hoping and praying for. Yours is not wanted by you, me, or anyone else. "

  "That's not how I see it," she said in a small voice, and she began to cry again.

  "I've got to think about this," he said. "I need to be alone. " He took her by the shoulders. "We'll talk again tomorrow. In the meantime, tell no one. Do you understand?"

  She nodded.

  "Promise me. "

  "I promise. "

  "Good girl," he said, and he left the room.

  Ethel bent down and picked up the dead cigar.

  {II}

  She told no one, but she was unable to pretend that everything was all right, so she feigned illness and went to bed. As she lay alone, hour after hour, grief slowly gave way to anxiety. How would she and her baby live?

  She would lose her job here at Tŷ Gwyn-that was automatic, even if her baby had not been the earl's. That alone hurt. She had been so proud of herself when she was made housekeeper. Gramper was fond of saying that pride comes before a fall. He was right in this case.

  She was not sure she could return to her parents' house: the disgrace would kill her father. She was almost as upset about that as she was about her own shame. It would wound him more than her, in a way; he was so rigid about this sort of thing.

  Anyway, she did not want to live as an unmarried mother in Aberowen. There were two already: Maisie Owen and Gladys Pritchard. They were sad figures with no proper place in the town's social order. They were single, but no man was interested in them; they were mothers, but they lived with their parents as if they were still children; they were not welcome in any church, pub, shop, or club. How could she, Ethel Williams, who had always considered herself a cut above the rest, sink to the lowest level of all?

  She had to leave Aberowen, then. She was not sorry. She would be glad to turn her back on the rows of grim houses, the prim little chapels, and the endless quarrels between miners and management. But where would she go? And would she be able to see Fitz?

  As darkness fell she lay awake looking through the window at the stars, and at last she made a plan. She would start a new life in a new place. She would wear a wedding ring and tell a story about a dead husband. She would find someone to mind the baby, get a job of some kind, and earn money. She would send her child to school. It would be a girl, she felt, and she would be clever, a writer or a doctor, or perhaps a campaigner like Mrs. Pankhurst, championing women's rights and getting arrested outside Buckingham Palace.

  She had thought she would not sleep, but emotion had drained her, and she drifted off around midnight and fell into a heavy, dreamless slumber.

  The rising sun woke her. She sat upright, looking forward to the new day as always; then she remembered that her old life was over, ruined, and she was in the middle of a tragedy. She almost succumbed to grief again, but fought against it. She could not afford the luxury of tears. She had to start a new life.

  She got dressed and went down to the servants' hall, where she announced that she was fully recovered from yesterday's malady and fit to do her normal work.

  Lady Maud sent for her before breakfast. Ethel made up a coffee tray and took it to the Pink Room. Maud was at her dressing table in a purple silk negligee. She had been crying. Ethel had troubles of her own, but all the same her sympathy quickened. "What's the matter, my lady?"

  "Oh, Williams, I've had to give him up. "

  Ethel assumed she meant Walter von Ulrich. "But why?"

  "His father came to see me. I hadn't really faced the fact that Britain and Germany are enemies, and marriage to me would ruin Walter's career-and possibly his father's, too. "

  "But everyone says there's not going to be a war, Serbia's not important enough. "

  "If not now, it will be later; and even if it never happens, the threat is enough. " There was a frill of pink lace around the dressing table, and Maud was picking at it nervously, tearing the expensive lace. It was going to take hours to mend, Ethel thought. Maud went on: "No one in the German foreign ministry would trust Walter with secrets if he were married to an Englishwoman. "

  Ethel poured the coffee and handed Maud a cup. "Herr von Ulrich will give up his job if he really loves you. "

  "But I don't want him to!" Maud stopped tearing the lace and drank some coffee. "I can't be the person that ended his career. What kind of basis is that for marriage?"

  He could have another career, Ethel thought; and if he really loved you, he would. Then she thought of the man she loved, and how quickly his passion had cooled when it became inconvenient. I'll keep my opinions to myself, she thought; I don't know a bloody thing. She asked: "What did Walter say?"

  "I haven't seen him. I wrote him a letter. I stopped going to all the places where I usually meet him. Then he started to call at the house, and it became embarrassing to keep telling the servants I was not at home, so I came down here with Fitz. "

  "Why won't you talk to him?"

  "Because I know what will happen. He will take me in his arms and kiss me, and I'll give in. "

  I know that feeling, Ethel thought.

  Maud sighed. "You're quiet this morning, Williams. You've probably got worries of your own. Are things very hard with this strike?"

  "Yes, my lady. The whole town is on short rations. "

  "Are you still feeding the miners' children?"

  "Every day. "

  "Good. My brother is very generous. "

  "Yes, my lady. " When it suits him, she thought.

  "Well, you'd better get on with your work. Thank you for the coffee. I expect I'm boring you with my problems. "

  Impulsively, Ethel seized Maud's hand. "Please don't say that. You've always been good to me. I'm very sorry about Walter, and I hope you will always tell me your troubles. "

  "What a kind thing to say. " Fresh tears came to Maud's eyes. "Thank you very much, Williams. " She squeezed Ethel's hand, then released it.

  Ethel picked up the tray and left. When she reached the kitchen Peel, the butler, said: "Have you done something wrong?"

  Little do you know, she thought. "Why do you ask?"

  "His lordship wants to see you in the library at half past ten. "

  So it was to be a formal talk, Ethel thought. Perhaps that was better. They would be separated by a desk, and she would not be tempted to throw herself into his arms. That would help her keep back the tears. She would need to be cool and unemotional. The entire course of the rest of her life would be set by this discussion.

  She went about her household duties. She was going to miss Tŷ Gwyn. In the years she had worked there she had come to love the gracious old furniture. She had picked up the names of the pieces, and learned to recognize a torchere, a buffet, an armoire, or a canterbury. As she dusted and polished she noticed the marquetry, the swags and scrolls, the feet shaped like lions' paws clasping balls. Occasionally, someone like Peel would say: "That's French-Louis Quinze," and she had realized that every room was decorated and furnished consistently in a style, baroque or neoclassical or Gothic. She would never live with such furniture again.

  After an hour she made her way to the library. The books had been collected by Fitz's ancestors. Nowadays the room was not much used: Bea read only French novels, and Fitz did not read at all. Houseguests sometimes came here for peace and quiet, or to use the ivory chess set on the center table. This morning the blinds were pulled halfway down, on Ethel's instructions, to shade the room fro
m the July sun and keep it cool. Consequently the room was gloomy.

  Fitz sat in a green leather armchair. To Ethel's surprise, Albert Solman was there too, in a black suit and a stiff-collared shirt. A lawyer by training, Solman was what Edwardian gentlemen called a man of business. He managed Fitz's money, checking his income from coal royalties and rents, paying the bills, and issuing cash for staff wages. He also dealt with leases and other contracts, and occasionally brought lawsuits against people who tried to cheat Fitz. Ethel had met him before and did not like him. She thought he was a know-all. Perhaps all lawyers were, she did not know: he was the only one she had ever met.

  Fitz stood up, looking embarrassed. "I have taken Mr. Solman into my confidence," he said.

  "Why?" said Ethel. She had had to promise to tell no one. Fitz's telling this lawyer seemed like a betrayal.

  Fitz looked ashamed of himself-a rare sight. "Solman will tell you what I propose," he said.

  "Why?" Ethel said again.

  Fitz gave her a pleading look, as if to beg her not to make this any worse for him.

  But she felt unsympathetic. It was not easy for her-why should it be easy for him? "What is it that you're frightened to tell me yourself?" she said, challenging him.

  He had lost all his arrogant confidence. "I will leave him to explain," he said; and to her astonishment he left the room.

  When the door closed behind him she stared at Solman, thinking: How can I talk about my baby's future with this stranger?

  Solman smiled at her. "So, you've been naughty, have you?"

  That stung her. "Did you say that to the earl?"

  "Of course not!"

  "Because he did the same thing, you know. It takes two people to make a baby. "

  "All right, there's no need to go into all that. "

  "Just don't speak as if I did this all on my own. "

  "Very well. "

  Ethel took a seat, then looked at him again. "You may sit down, if you wish," she said, just as if she were the lady of the house condescending to the butler.

  He reddened. He did not know whether to sit, and look as if he had been waiting for permission, or remain standing, like a servant. In the end he paced up and down. "His lordship has instructed me to make you an offer," he said. Pacing did not really work, so he stopped and stood in front of her. "It is a generous offer, and I advise you to accept it. "

  Ethel said nothing. Fitz's callousness had one useful effect: it made her realize she was in a negotiation. This was familiar territory to her. Her father was always in negotiations, arguing and dealing with the mine management, always trying to get higher wages, shorter hours, and better safety precautions. One of his maxims was "Never speak unless you have to. " So she remained silent.

  Solman looked at her expectantly. When he gathered that she was not going to respond he looked put out. He resumed: "His lordship is willing to give you a pension of twenty-four pounds a year, paid monthly in advance. I think that's very good of him, don't you?"

  The lousy rotten miser, Ethel thought. How could he be so mean to me? Twenty-four pounds was a housemaid's wage. It was half what Ethel was getting as housekeeper, and she would be losing her room and board.

  Why did men think they could get away with this? Probably because they usually could. A woman had no rights. It took two people to make a baby, but only one was obliged to look after it. How had women let themselves get into such a weak position? It made her angry.

  Still she did not speak.

  Solman pulled up a chair and sat close to her. "Now, you must look on the bright side. You'll have ten shillings a week-"

  "Not quite," she said quickly.

  "Well, say we make it twenty-six pounds a year-that's ten shillings a week. What do you say?"

  Ethel said nothing.

  "You can find a nice little room in Cardiff for two or three shillings, and you can spend the rest on yourself. " He patted her knee. "And, who knows, you may find another generous man to make life a little easier for you. . . eh? You're a very attractive girl, you know. "

  She pretended not to take his meaning. The idea of being the lover of a creepy lawyer such as Solman disgusted her. Did he really think he could take the place of Fitz? She did not respond to his innuendo. "Are there conditions?" she said coldly.

  "Conditions?"

  "Attached to the earl's offer. "

  Solman coughed. "The usual ones, of course. "

  "The usual? So you've done this before. "

  "Not for Earl Fitzherbert," he said quickly.

  "But for someone else. "

  "Let us stick to the business at hand, please. "

  "You may go on. "

  "You must not put the earl's name on the child's birth certificate, or in any other way reveal to anyone that he is the father. "

  "And in your experience, Mr. Solman, do women usually accept these conditions of yours?"

  "Yes. "

  Of course they do, she thought bitterly. What choice have they got? They are not entitled to anything, so they take what they can get. Of course they accept the conditions. "Are there any more?"

  "After you leave Tŷ Gwyn, you must not attempt in any way to get in touch with his lordship. "

  So, Ethel thought, he doesn't want to see me or his child. Disappointment surged up inside her like a wave of weakness: if she had not been sitting down she might have fallen. She clenched her jaw to stop the tears. When she had herself under control she said: "Anything else?"

  "I believe that's all. "

  Ethel stood up.

  Solman said: "You must contact me about where the monthly payments should be made. " He took out a small silver box and extracted a card.

  "No," she said when he offered it to her.

  "But you will need to get in touch with me-"

  "No, I won't," she said again.

  "What do you mean?"

  "The offer is not acceptable. "

  "Now, don't be foolish, Miss Williams-"

  "I'll say it again, Mr. Solman, so there can be no doubt in your mind. The offer is not acceptable. My answer is no. I got nothing more to say to you. Good day. " She went out and banged the door.

  She returned to her room, locked her door, and cried her heart out.

  How could Fitz be so cruel? Did he really never want to see her again? Or his baby? Did he think that everything that had happened between them could be wiped out by twenty-four pounds a year?

  Did he really not love her any longer? Had he ever loved her? Was she a fool?

  She had thought he loved her. She had felt sure that meant something. Perhaps he had been playacting all the time, and had deceived her-but she did not think so. A woman could tell when a man was faking.

  So what was he doing now? He must be suppressing his feelings. Perhaps he was a man of shallow emotions. That was possible. He might have loved her, genuinely, but with a love that was easily forgotten when it became inconvenient. Such weakness of character might have escaped her notice in the throes of passion.

  At least his hard-heartedness made it easier for her to bargain. She had no need to think of his feelings. She could concentrate on trying to get the best for herself and the baby. She must always think how Da would have handled things. A woman was not quite powerless, despite the law.

  Fitz would be worried now, she guessed. He must have expected her to take the offer, or at worst hold out for a higher price; then he would have felt his secret was safe. Now he would be baffled as well as anxious.

  She had not given Solman a chance to ask what she did want. Let them flounder around in the dark for a while. Fitz would begin to fear that Ethel intended to get revenge by telling Princess Bea about the baby.

  She looked out of the window at the clock on the roof of the stable. It was a few minutes before twelve. On the front lawn, the staff would be getting ready to serve dinner to the miners' children. Princess Bea usually liked
to see the housekeeper at about twelve. She often had complaints: she did not like the flowers in the hall, the footmen's uniforms were not pressed, the paintwork on the landing was flaking. In her turn the housekeeper had questions to ask about allocating rooms to guests, renewing china and glassware, hiring and firing maids and kitchen girls. Fitz usually came into the morning room at about half past twelve for a glass of sherry before lunch.

  Then Ethel would turn the thumbscrews.

  {III}

  Fitz watched the miners' children queuing up for their lunch-or "dinner," as they called it. Their faces were dirty, their hair was unkempt, and their clothes were ragged, but they looked happy. Children were amazing. These were among the poorest in the land, and their fathers were locked in a bitter dispute, but the children showed no sign of it.

  Every since marrying Bea he had longed for a child. She had miscarried once, and he was terrified she might do so again. Last time she had thrown a tantrum simply because he had canceled their trip to Russia. If she found out that he had made their housekeeper pregnant, her rage would be uncontrollable.

  And the dreadful secret was in the hands of a servant girl.

  He was tortured by worry. It was a terrible punishment for his sin. In other circumstances he might have taken some joy in having a child with Ethel. He could have put mother and baby into a little house in Chelsea and visited them once a week. He felt another stab of regret and longing at the poignancy of that daydream. He did not want to treat Ethel harshly. Her love had been sweet to him: her yearning kisses, her eager touch, the heat of her young passion. Even while he was telling her the bad news, he had wished he could run his hands over her lithe body and feel her kissing his neck in that hungry way that he found so exhilarating. But he had to harden his heart.

  As well as being the most exciting woman he had ever kissed, she was intelligent and well-informed and funny. Her father always talked about current affairs, she had told him. And the housekeeper at Tŷ Gwyn was entitled to read the earl's newspapers after the butler had finished with them-a below-stairs rule that he had not known about. Ethel asked him unexpected questions that he could not always answer, such as "Who ruled Hungary before the Austrians?" He was going to miss that, he thought sadly.

  But she would not behave the way a discarded mistress was supposed to. Solman had been shaken by his conversation with her. Fitz had asked him: "What does she want?" but Solman did not know. Fitz harbored a dreadful suspicion that Ethel might tell Bea the whole story, just out of some twisted moral desire to let the truth come out. God help me keep her away from my wife, he prayed.

  He was surprised to see the small round form of Perceval Jones, strutting across the lawn in green plus fours and walking boots. "Good morning, my lord," said the mayor, doffing his brown felt hat.

  "Morning, Jones. " As chairman of Celtic Minerals Jones was the source of a great deal of Fitz's wealth, but all the same he did not like the man.

  "The news is not good," Jones said.

  "You mean from Vienna? I understand the Austrian emperor is still working on the wording of his ultimatum to Serbia. "

  "No, I mean from Ireland. The Ulstermen won't accept home rule, you know. It will make them a minority under a Roman Catholic government. The army is already mutinous. "

  Fitz frowned. He did not like to hear talk of mutiny in the British army. He said stiffly: "No matter what the newspapers may say, I don't believe that British officers will disobey the orders of their sovereign government. "

  "They already have!" said Jones. "What about the Curragh Mutiny?"

  "No one disobeyed orders. "

  "Fifty-seven officers resigned when ordered to march on the Ulster Volunteers. You may not call that mutiny, my lord, but everyone else does. "

  Fitz grunted. Jones was unfortunately right. The truth was that English officers would not attack their fellow men in the defense of a mob of Irish Catholics. "Ireland should never have been promised independence," he said.

  "I agree with you there," said Jones. "But I really came to talk to you about this. " He indicated the children, seated on benches at trestle tables, eating boiled cod with cabbage. "I wish you'd put an end to it. "

  Fitz did not like to be told what to do by his social inferiors. "I don't care to let the children of Aberowen starve, even if it's the fault of their fathers. "

  "You're just prolonging the strike. "

  The fact that Fitz received a royalty on every ton of coal did not mean, in his view, that he was obliged to take the side of the mine owners against the men. Offended, he said: "The strike is your concern, not mine. "

  "You take the money quick enough. "

  Fitz was outraged. "I have no more to say to you. " He turned away.

  Jones was instantly contrite. "I beg your pardon, my lord, do forgive me-an overhasty remark, most ill-judged, but the matter is extremely tiresome. "

  It was hard for Fitz to refuse an apology. He was not mollified, but all the same he turned back and spoke to Jones courteously. "All right, but I shall continue to give the children dinner. "

  "You see, my lord, a coal miner may be stubborn on his own account, and suffer a good deal of hardship through foolish pride; but what breaks him, in the end, is to see his children go hungry. "

  "You're working the pit anyway. "

  "With third-rate foreign labor. Most of the men are not trained miners, and their output is small. Mainly we're using them to maintain the tunnels and keep the horses alive. We're not bringing up much coal. "

  "For the life of me I can't think why you evicted those wretched widows from their homes. There were only eight of them, and after all they had lost their husbands in the damn pit. "

  "It's a dangerous principle. The house goes with the collier. Once we depart from that, we'll end up as nothing better than slum landlords. "

  Perhaps you should not have built slums, then, Fitz thought, but he held his tongue. He did not want to prolong the conversation with this pompous little tyrant. He looked at his watch. It was half past twelve: time for a glass of sherry. "It's no good, Jones," he said. "I shan't fight your battles for you. Good day. " He walked briskly to the house.

  Jones was the least of his worries. What was he going to do about Ethel? He had to make sure Bea was not upset. Apart from the danger to the unborn baby, he felt the pregnancy might be a new start for their marriage. The child might bring them together and re-create the warmth and intimacy they had had when they were first together. But that hope would be dashed if Bea learned he had been dallying with the housekeeper. She would be incandescent.

  He was grateful for the cool of the hall, with its flagstones underfoot and hammer-beam ceiling. His father had chosen this feudal decor. The only book Papa had ever read, apart from the Bible, was Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He believed that the even greater British Empire would go the same way unless noblemen fought to preserve its institutions, especially the Royal Navy, the Church of England, and the Conservative Party.

  He was right, Fitz had no doubt.

  A glass of dry sherry was just the thing before lunch. It perked him up and sharpened his appetite. With a pleasant feeling of anticipation, he entered the morning room. There he was horrified to see Ethel talking to Bea. He stopped in the doorway and stared in consternation. What was she saying? Was he too late? "What's going on here?" he said sharply.

  Bea looked at him in surprise and said coolly: "I am discussing pillowcases with my housekeeper. Did you expect something more dramatic?" Her Russian accent rolled the letter r in "dramatic. "

  For a moment he did not know what to say. He realized he was staring at his wife and his mistress. The thought of how intimate he had been with both these women was unsettling. "I don't know, I'm sure," he muttered, and he sat down at a writing desk with his back to them.

  The two women carried on with their conversation. It was indeed about pillowcases: how long they lasted, how worn on
es could be patched and used by servants, and whether it was best to buy them embroidered or get plain ones and have the housemaids do the embroidery. But Fitz was still shaken. The little tableau, mistress and servant in quiet conversation, reminded him of how terrifyingly easy it would be for Ethel to tell Bea the truth. This could not go on. He had to take action.

  He took a sheet of blue crested writing paper from the drawer, dipped a pen in the inkwell, and wrote: "Meet me after lunch. " He blotted the note and slipped it into a matching envelope.

  After a couple of minutes, Bea dismissed Ethel. As she was leaving, Fitz spoke without turning his head. "Come here, please, Williams. "

  She came to his side. He noticed the light fragrance of scented soap-she had admitted stealing it from Bea. Despite his anger, he was uncomfortably aware of the closeness of her slim, strong thighs under the black silk of the housekeeper's dress. Without looking at her he handed her the envelope. "Send someone to the veterinary surgery in town to get a bottle of these dog pills. They're for kennel cough. "

  "Very good, my lord. " She went out.

  He would resolve the situation in a couple of hours' time.

  He poured his sherry. He offered a glass to Bea but she declined. The wine warmed his stomach and eased his tension. He sat next to his wife, and she gave him a friendly smile. "How do you feel?" he said.

  "Revolting, in the mornings," she said. "But that passes. I'm fine now. "

  His thoughts quickly returned to Ethel. She had him over a barrel. She had said nothing, but implicitly she was threatening to tell Bea everything. It was surprisingly crafty of her. He fretted impotently. He would have liked to settle the matter even sooner than this afternoon.

  They had lunch in the small dining room, sitting at a square-legged oak table that might have come from a medieval monastery. Bea told him she had discovered there were some Russians in Aberowen. "More than a hundred, Nina tells me. "

  With an effort, Fitz put Ethel from his mind. "They will be among the strikebreakers brought in by Perceval Jones. "

  "Apparently they are being ostracized. They can't get service in the shops and cafes. "

  "I must get Reverend Jenkins to preach a sermon on loving your neighbor, even if he is a strikebreaker. "

  "Can't you just order the shopkeepers to serve them?"

  Fitz smiled. "No, my dear, not in this country. "

  "Well, I feel sorry for them and I would like to do something for them. "

  He was pleased. "That's a kindly impulse. What do you have in mind?"

  "I believe there is a Russian Orthodox church in Cardiff. I will get a priest up here to perform a service for them one Sunday. "

  Fitz frowned. Bea had converted to the Church of England when they married, but he knew that she hankered for the church of her childhood, and he saw it as a sign that she was unhappy in her adopted country. But he did not want to cross her. "Very well," he said.

  "Then we could give them dinner in the servants' hall. "

  "It's a nice thought, my dear, but they might be a rough crowd. "

  "We'll feed only those who come to the service. That way we will exclude the Jews and the worst of the troublemakers. "

  "Shrewd. Of course, the townspeople may not like you for it. "

  "But that is of no concern to me or you. "

  He nodded. "Very well. Jones has been complaining that I am supporting the strike by feeding the children. If you entertain the strikebreakers, at least no one can say that we're taking sides. "

  "Thank you," she said.

  The pregnancy had already improved their relationship, Fitz thought.

  He had two glasses of hock with his lunch, but his anxiety came back when he left the dining room and made his way to the Gardenia Suite. Ethel held his fate in her hands. She had all of a woman's soft, emotional nature, but nevertheless she would not be told what to do. He could not control her, and that scared him.

  But she was not there. He looked at his watch. It was a quarter past two. He had said "after lunch. " Ethel would have known when coffee had been served and she should have been waiting for him. He had not specified the location, but surely she could work that out.

  He began to feel apprehensive.

  After five minutes he was tempted to leave. No one kept him waiting like this. But he did not want to leave the issue unresolved for another day, or even another hour, so he stayed.

  She came in at half past two.

  He said angrily: "What are you trying to do to me?"

  She ignored the question. "What the hell were you thinking of, to make me talk to a lawyer from London?"

  "I thought it would be less emotional. "

  "Don't be bloody daft. " Fitz was shocked. No one had talked to him like this since he was a schoolboy. She went on: "I'm having your baby. How can it be unemotional?"

  She was right, he had been foolish, and her words stung, but at the same time he could not help loving the music of her accent-the word "unemotional" having a different note for each of its five syllables, so that it sounded like a melody. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'll pay you double-"

  "Don't make it worse, Teddy," she said, but her tone was softer. "Don't bargain with me, as if this was a matter of the right price. "

  He pointed an accusing finger. "You are not to speak to my wife, do you hear me? I won't have it!"

  "Don't give me orders, Teddy. I've got no reason to obey you. "

  "How dare you speak to me like that?"

  "Shut up and listen, and I'll tell you. "

  He was infuriated by her tone, but he remembered that he could not afford to antagonize her. "Go on, then," he said.

  "You've behaved to me in a very unloving way. "

  He knew that was true, and he felt a stab of guilt. He was wretchedly sorry to have hurt her. But he tried not to show it.

  She went on: "I still love you too much to want to spoil your happiness. "

  He felt even worse.

  "I don't want to hurt you," she said. She swallowed and turned away, and he saw tears in her eyes. He began to speak, but she held up her hand to silence him. "You are asking me to leave my job and my home, so you must help me start a new life. "

  "Of course," he said. "If that's what you wish. " Talking in more practical terms helped them both suppress their feelings.

  "I'm going to London. "

  "Good idea. " He could not help being pleased: no one in Aberowen would know she had a baby, let alone whose it was.

  "You're going to buy me a little house. Nothing fancy-a working-class neighborhood will suit me very well. But I want six rooms, so that I can live on the ground floor and take in a lodger. The rent will pay for repairs and maintenance. I will still have to work. "

  "You've thought about this carefully. "

  "You're wondering how much it will cost, I expect, but you don't want to ask me, because a gentleman doesn't like to ask the price of things. "

  It was true.

  "I looked in the newspaper," she said. "A house like that is about three hundred pounds. Probably cheaper than paying me two pounds a month for the rest of my life. "

  Three hundred pounds was nothing to Fitz. Bea could spend that much on clothes in one afternoon at the Maison Paquin in Paris. He said: "But you would promise to keep the secret?"

  "And I promise to love and care for your child, and raise her-or him-to be happy and healthy and well-educated, even though you don't show any sign of being concerned about that. "

  He felt indignant, but she was right. He had hardly given a thought to the child. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm too worried about Bea. "

  "I know," she said, her tone softening as it always did when he allowed his anxiety to show.

  "When will you leave?"

  "Tomorrow morning. I'm in just as much of a hurry as you. I'll get the train to London, and start looking for a house right away. When I've found the right place, I'll write to Solman
. "

  "You'll have to stay in lodgings while you look for a house. " He took his wallet from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed her two white five-pound notes.

  She smiled. "You have no idea how much things cost, do you, Teddy?" She gave back one of the notes. "Five pounds is plenty. "

  He looked offended. "I don't want you to feel that I'm short-changing you. "

  Her manner changed, and he caught a glimpse of underlying rage. "Oh, you are, Teddy, you are," she said sourly. "But not in money. "

  "We both did it," he said defensively, glancing at the bed.

  "But only one of us is going to have a baby. "

  "Well, let's not argue. I'll tell Solman to do what you have suggested. "

  She held out her hand. "Good-bye, Teddy. I know you'll keep your word. " Her voice was even, but he could tell that she was struggling to maintain her composure.

  He shook hands, even though it seemed odd for two people who had made passionate love. "I will," he said.

  "Please leave now, quickly," she said, and she turned aside.

  He hesitated a moment longer, then left the room.

  As he walked away, he was surprised and ashamed to feel unmanly tears come to his eyes. "Good-bye, Ethel," he whispered to the empty corridor. "May God bless and keep you. "

  {IV}

  She went to the luggage store in the attic and stole a small suitcase, old and battered. No one would ever miss it. It had belonged to Fitz's father, and had his crest stamped in the leather: the gilding had worn off long ago, but the impression could still be made out. She packed stockings and underwear and some of the princess's scented soap.

  Lying in bed that night, she decided she did not want to go to London after all. She was too frightened to go through this alone. She wanted to be with her family. She needed to ask her mother questions about pregnancy. She should be in a familiar place when the baby came. Her child would need its grandparents and its uncle Billy.

  In the morning she put on her own clothing, left her housekeeper's dress hanging from its nail, and crept out of Tŷ Gwyn early. At the end of the drive she looked back at the house, its stones black with coal dust, its long rows of windows reflecting the rising sun, and she thought how much she had learned since she first came here to work as a thirteen-year-old fresh from school. Now she knew how the elite lived. They had strange food, prepared in complicated ways, and they wasted more than they ate. They all spoke with the same strangled accent, even some of the foreigners. She had handled rich women's beautiful underwear, fine cotton and slippery silk, hand-sewn and embroidered and trimmed with lace, twelve of everything piled in their chests of drawers. She could look at a sideboard and tell at a glance in what century it had been made. Most of all, she thought bitterly, she had learned that love is not to be trusted.

  She walked down the mountainside into Aberowen and made her way to Wellington Row. The door of her parents' house was unlocked, as always. She went inside. The main room, the kitchen, was smaller than the Vase Room at Tŷ Gwyn, used only for arranging flowers.

  Mam was kneading dough for bread, but when she saw the suitcase she stopped and said: "What's gone wrong?"

  "I've come home," Ethel said. She put down the case and sat at the square kitchen table. She felt too ashamed to say what had happened.

  However, Mam guessed. "You've been sacked!"

  Ethel could not look at her mother. "Aye. I'm sorry, Mam. "

  Mam wiped her hands on a rag. "What have you done?" she said angrily. "Out with it, now!"

  Ethel sighed. Why was she holding back? "I fell for a baby," she said.

  "Oh, no-you wicked girl!"

  Ethel fought back tears. She had hoped for sympathy, not condemnation. "I am a wicked girl," she said. She took off her hat, trying to keep her composure.

  "It have all gone to your head-working at the big house, and meeting the king and queen. It have made you forget how you were raised. "

  "I expect you're right. "

  "It will kill your father. "

  "He doesn't have to give birth," Ethel said sarcastically. "I expect he'll be all right. "

  "Don't be cheeky. It's going to break his heart. "

  "Where is he?"

  "Gone to another strike meeting. Think of his position in the town: elder of the chapel, miners' agent, secretary of the Independent Labour Party-how will he hold up his head at meetings, with everyone thinking his daughter's a slut?"

  Ethel's control failed. "I'm very sorry to cause him shame," she said, and she began to cry.

  Mam's expression changed. "Oh, well," she said. "It's the oldest story in the world. " She came around the table and pressed Ethel's head to her breast. "Never mind, never mind," she said, just as she had when Ethel was a child and grazed her knees.

  After a while, Ethel's sobs eased.

  Mam released her and said: "We'd better have a cup of tea. " There was a kettle kept permanently on the hob. She put tea leaves into a pot and poured boiling water in, then stirred the mixture with a wooden spoon. "When's the baby due?"

  "February. "

  "Oh, my goodness. " Mam turned from the fire to look at Ethel. "I'm going to be a grandmother!"

  They both laughed. Mam set out cups and poured the tea. Ethel drank some and felt better. "Did you have easy births, or difficult?" she asked.

  "There are no easy births, but mine were better than most, my mother said. I've had a bad back ever since Billy, all the same. "

  Billy came downstairs, saying: "Who's talking about me?" He could sleep late, Ethel realized, because he was on strike. Every time she saw him he seemed taller and broader. "Hello, Eth," he said, and kissed her with a bristly mustache. "Why the suitcase?" He sat down, and Mam poured him tea.

  "I've done something stupid, Billy," said Ethel. "I'm having a baby. "

  He stared at her, too shocked to speak. Then he blushed, no doubt thinking of what she had done to get pregnant. He looked down, embarrassed. Then he drank some tea. At last he said: "Who's the father?"

  "No one you know. " She had thought about this and worked out a story of sorts. "He was a valet who came to Tŷ Gwyn with one of the guests, but he's gone in the army now. "

  "But he'll stand by you. "

  "I don't even know where he is. "

  "I'll find the beggar. "

  Ethel put a hand on his arm. "Don't get angry, my lovely. If I need your help, I'll ask for it. "

  Billy evidently did not know what to say. Threatening revenge was clearly no good, but he had no other response. He looked bewildered. He was still only sixteen.

  Ethel remembered him as a baby. She had been only five years old when he arrived, but she had been completely fascinated by him, his perfection and his vulnerability. Soon I'll have a beautiful, helpless infant, she thought; and she did not know whether to feel happy or terrified.

  Billy said: "Da's going to have something to say about it, I expect. "

  "That's what I'm worried about," said Ethel. "I wish there was something I could do to make it right for him. "

  Gramper came down. "Sacked, is it?" he said when he saw the suitcase. "Too cheeky, were you?"

  Mam said: "Don't be cruel, now, Papa. She's expecting a baby. "

  "Oh, jowch," he said. "One of the toffs up there at the big house, was it? The earl himself, I wouldn't be surprised. "

  "Don't talk daft, Gramper," said Ethel, dismayed that he had guessed the truth so quickly.

  Billy said: "It was a valet who came with a houseguest. Gone in the army now, he is. She doesn't want us to go after him. "

  "Oh, aye?" said Gramper. Ethel could tell he was not convinced, but he did not persist. Instead he said: "It's the Italian in you, my girl. Your grandmother was hot-blooded. She would have got into trouble if I hadn't married her. As it was she didn't want to wait for the wedding. In fact-"

  Mam interrupted: "Papa! Not in front of the children. "

 
"What's going to shock them, after this?" he said. "I'm too old for fairy tales. Young women want to lie with young men, and they want it so badly they'll do it, married or not. Anyone who pretends otherwise is a fool-and that includes your husband, Cara my girl. "

  "You be careful what you say," Mam said.

  "Aye, all right," said Gramper, and he subsided into silence and drank his tea.

  A minute later Da came in. Mam looked at him in surprise. "You're back early!" she said.

  He heard the displeasure in her voice. "You make it sound as if I'm not welcome. "

  She got up from the table, making a space for him. "I'll brew a fresh pot of tea. "

  Da did not sit down. "The meeting was canceled. " His eye fell on Ethel's suitcase. "What's this?"

  They all looked at Ethel. She saw fear on Mam's face, defiance on Billy's, and a kind of resignation on Gramper's. It was up to her to answer the question. "I've got something to tell you, Da," she said. "You're going to be cross about it, and all I can say is that I'm sorry. "

  His face darkened. "What have you done?"

  "I've left my job at Tŷ Gwyn. "

  "That's nothing to be sorry for. I never liked you bowing and scraping to those parasites. "

  "I left for a reason. "

  He moved closer and stood over her. "Good or bad?"

  "I'm in trouble. "

  He looked thunderous. "I hope you don't mean what girls sometimes mean when they say that. "

  She stared down at the table and nodded.

  "Have you-" He paused, searching for appropriate words. "Have you been overtaken in moral transgression?"

  "Aye. "

  "You wicked girl!"

  It was what Mam had said. Ethel cringed away from him, although she did not really expect him to strike her.

  "Look at me!" he said.

  She looked up at him through a blur of tears.

  "So you are telling me you have committed the sin of fornication. "

  "I'm sorry, Da. "

  "Who with?" he shouted.

  "A valet. "

  "What's his name?"

  "Teddy. " It came out before she could think.

  "Teddy what?"

  "It doesn't matter. "

  "Doesn't matter? What on earth do you mean?"

  "He came to the house on a visit with his master. By the time I found out my condition, he'd gone in the army. I've lost touch with him. "

  "On a visit? Lost touch?" Da's voice rose to an enraged roar. "You mean you're not even engaged to him? You committed this sin. . . " He spluttered, hardly able to get the disgusting words out. "You committed this foul sin casually?"

  Mam said: "Don't get angry, now, Da. "

  "Don't get angry? When else should a man get angry?"

  Gramper tried to calm him. "Take it easy, now, Dai boy. It does no good to shout. "

  "I'm sorry to have to remind you, Gramper, that this is my house, and I will be the judge of what does no good. "

  "Aye, all right," said Gramper pacifically. "Have it your way. "

  Mam was not ready to give in. "Don't say anything you might regret, now, Da. "

  These attempts to calm Da's wrath were only making him angrier. "I will not be ruled by women or old men!" he shouted. He pointed his finger at Ethel. "And I will not have a fornicator in my house! Get out!"

  Mam began to cry. "No, please don't say that!"

  "Out!" he shouted. "And never come back!"

  Mam said: "But your grandchild!"

  Billy spoke. "Will you be ruled by the Word of God, Da? Jesus said: 'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. ' Gospel of Luke, chapter five, verse thirty-two. "

  Da rounded on him. "Let me tell you something, you ignorant boy. My grandparents were never married. No one knows who my grandfather was. My grandmother sank as low as a woman can go. "

  Mam gasped. Ethel was shocked, and she could see that Billy was flabbergasted. Gramper seemed as if he already knew.

  "Oh, yes," Da said, lowering his voice. "My father was brought up in a house of ill fame, if you know what that is; a place where sailors went, down the docks in Cardiff. Then one day, when his mother was in a drunken stupor, God led his childish footsteps into a chapel Sunday school, where he met Jesus. In the same place he learned to read and write and, eventually, to bring up his own children in the paths of righteousness. "

  Mam said softly: "You never told me this, David. " She seldom called him by his Christian name.

  "I hoped never to think of it again. " Da's face was twisted into a mask of shame and rage. He leaned on the table and stared Ethel in the eye, and his voice sank to a whisper. "When I courted your mother, we held hands, and I kissed her cheek every evening until the wedding day. " He banged his fist on the table, making the cups shake. "By the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, my family dragged itself up out of the stinking gutter. " His voice rose again to a shout. "We are not going back there! Never! Never! Never!"

  There was a long moment of stunned silence.

  Da looked at Mam. "Get Ethel out of here," he said.

  Ethel stood up. "My case is packed and I've got some money. I'll get the train to London. " She looked hard at her father. "I won't drag the family into the gutter. "

  Billy picked up her suitcase.

  Da said: "Where are you going to, boy?"

  "I'll walk her to the station," Billy said, looking frightened.

  "Let her carry her own case. "

  Billy stooped to put it down, then changed his mind. An obstinate look came over his face. "I'll walk her to the station," he repeated.

  "You'll do what you're told!" Da shouted.

  Billy still looked scared, but now he was defiant too. "What are you going to do, Da-throw me out of the house and all?"

  "I'll put you across my knee and thrash you," Da said. "You're not too old. "

  Billy was white-faced, but he looked Da in the eye. "Yes, I am," he said. "I am too old. " He shifted the case to his left hand and clenched his right fist.

  Da took a step forward. "I'll teach you to make a fist at me, boy. "

  "No!" Mam screamed. She stood between them and pushed at Da's chest. "That's enough! I will not have a fight in my kitchen. " She pointed her finger at Da's face. "David Williams, you keep your hands to yourself. Remember that you're an elder of Bethesda Chapel. What would people think?"

  That calmed him.

  Mam turned to Ethel. "You'd better go. Billy will go with you. Quick, now. "

  Da sat down at the table.

  Ethel kissed her mother. "Good-bye, Mam. "

  "Write me a letter," Mam said.

  Da said: "Don't you dare write to anyone in this house! The letters will be burned unopened!"

  Mam turned away, weeping. Ethel went out and Billy followed.

  They walked down the steep streets to the town center. Ethel kept her eyes on the ground, not wanting to speak to people she knew and be asked where she was off to.

  At the station she bought a ticket to Paddington.

  "Well," said Billy, as they stood on the platform, "two shocks in one day. First you, then Da. "

  "He have kept that bottled up inside him all these years," Ethel said. "No wonder he's so strict. I can almost forgive him for throwing me out. "

  "I can't," said Billy. "Our faith is about redemption and mercy, not about bottling things up and punishing people. "

  A train from Cardiff came in, and Ethel saw Walter von Ulrich get off. He touched his hat to her, which was nice of him: gentlemen did not do that to servants, normally. Lady Maud had said she had thrown him over. Perhaps he had come to win her back. She silently wished him luck.

  "Do you want me to buy you a newspaper?" Billy said.

  "No, thank you, my lovely," she said. "I don't think I could concentrate on it. "

  Waiting for her train she said: "Do you remember our code?" In childhood they had dev
ised a simple way to write notes that their parents could not understand.

  For a moment Billy looked puzzled, then his face cleared. "Oh, aye. "

  "I'll write to you in code, so Da can't read it. "

  "Right," he said. "And send the letter via Tommy Griffiths. "

  The train puffed into the station in clouds of steam. Billy hugged Ethel. She could see he was trying not to cry.

  "Look after yourself," she said. "And take care of our mam. "

  "Aye," he said, and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "We'll be all right. You be careful up there in London, now. "

  "I will. "

  Ethel boarded the train and sat by the window. A minute later it pulled out. As it picked up speed, she watched the pithead winding gear recede into the distance, and wondered if she would ever see Aberowen again.

  {V}

  Maud had breakfast late with Princess Bea in the small dining room at Tŷ Gwyn. The princess was in high spirits. Normally she complained a lot about living in Britain-although Maud recalled, from her time as a child in the British embassy, that life in Russia was much more uncomfortable: the houses cold, the people surly, services unreliable, and government disorganized. But Bea had no complaints today. She was happy that she had at last conceived.

  She even spoke generously of Fitz. "He saved my family, you know," she said to Maud. "He paid off the mortgages on our estate. But until now there has been no one to inherit it-my brother has no children. It would seem such a tragedy if all Andrei's land and Fitz's went to some distant cousin. "

  Maud could not see this as a tragedy. The distant cousin in question might well be a son of hers. But she had never expected to inherit a fortune and she gave little thought to such things.

  Maud was not good company this morning, she realized as she drank coffee and toyed with toast. In fact she was miserable. She felt oppressed by the wallpaper, a Victorian riot of foliage that covered the ceiling as well as the walls, even though she had lived with it all her life.

  She had not told her family about her romance with Walter, so now she could not tell them that it was over, and that meant she had no one to sympathize with her. Only the sparky little housekeeper, Williams, knew the story, and she seemed to have disappeared.

  Maud read The Times's report of Lloyd George's speech last night at the Mansion House dinner. He had been optimistic about the Balkan crisis, saying it could be resolved peacefully. She hoped he was right. Even though she had given Walter up, she was still horrified by the thought that he might have to put on a uniform and be killed or maimed in a war.

  She read a short report in The Times datelined Vienna and headed THE SERVIAN SCARE. She asked Bea if Russia would defend Serbia against the Austrians. "I hope not!" Bea said, alarmed. "I don't want my brother to go to war. "

  They were in the small dining room. Maud could remember having breakfast here with Fitz and Walter in the school holidays, when she was twelve and they were seventeen. The boys had had enormous appetites, she recalled, consuming eggs and sausages and great piles of buttered toast every morning before going off to ride horses or swim in the lake. Walter had been such a glamorous figure, handsome and foreign. He had treated her as courteously as if she were his age, which was flattering to a young girl-and, she could now see, a subtle way of flirting.

  While she was reminiscing the butler, Peel, came in and shocked her by saying to Bea: "Herr von Ulrich is here, Your Highness. "

  Walter could not possibly be here, Maud thought bewilderedly. Could it be Robert? Equally unlikely.

  A moment later, Walter walked in.

  Maud was too stupefied to speak. Bea said: "What a pleasant surprise, Herr von Ulrich. "

  Walter was wearing a lightweight summer suit of pale blue-gray tweed. His blue satin tie was the same color as his eyes. Maud wished she had put on something other than the plain cream-colored peg-top dress that had seemed perfectly adequate for breakfast with her sister-in-law.

  "Forgive this intrusion, Princess," Walter said to Bea. "I had to visit our consulate in Cardiff-a tiresome business about German sailors who got into trouble with the local police. "

  That was rubbish. Walter was a military attache: his job did not involve getting sailors out of jail.

  "Good morning, Lady Maud," he said, shaking her hand. "What a delightful surprise to find you here. "

  More rubbish, she thought. He was here to see her. She had left London so that he could not badger her, but deep in her heart she could not help being pleased by his persistence in following her all this way. Flustered, she just said: "Hello, how are you?"

  Bea said: "Do have some coffee, Herr von Ulrich. The earl is out riding, but he'll be back soon. " She naturally assumed Walter was there to see Fitz.

  "How kind you are. " Walter sat down.

  "Will you stay for lunch?"

  "I would love to. Then I must catch a train back to London. "

  Bea stood up. "I should speak to the cook. "

  Walter jumped to his feet and pulled out her chair.

  "Talk to Lady Maud," Bea said as she left the room. "Cheer her up. She's worried about the international situation. "

  Walter raised his eyebrows at the note of mockery in Bea's voice. "All sensible people are worried about the international situation," he said.

  Maud felt awkward. Desperate for something to say, she pointed to The Times. "Do you think it's true that Serbia has called up seventy thousand reservists?"

  "I doubt if they have seventy thousand reservists," Walter said gravely. "But they are trying to raise the stakes. They hope that the danger of a wider war will make Austria cautious. "

  "Why is it taking the Austrians so long to send their demands to the Serbian government?"

  "Officially, they want to get the harvest in before doing anything which might require them to call men to the army. Unofficially, they know that the president of France and his foreign minister happen to be in Russia, which makes it dangerously easy for the two allies to agree on a concerted response. There will be no Austrian note until President Poincare leaves St. Petersburg. "

  He was such a clear thinker, Maud reflected. She loved that about him.

  His reserve failed him suddenly. His mask of formal courtesy fell away, and his face looked anguished. Abruptly, he said: "Please come back to me. "

  She opened her mouth to speak, but her throat seemed choked with emotion, and no words came out.

  He said miserably: "I know you threw me over for my own sake, but it won't work. I love you too much. "

  Maud found words. "But your father. . . "

  "He must work out his own destiny. I cannot obey him, not in this. " His voice sank to a whisper. "I cannot bear to lose you. "

  "He might be right: perhaps a German diplomat can't have an English wife, at least not now. "

  "Then I'll follow another career. But I could never find another you. "

  Her resolve melted and her eyes flooded.

  He reached across the table and took her hand. "May I speak to your brother?"

  She bunched up her white linen napkin and blotted her tears. "Don't talk to Fitz yet," she said. "Wait a few days, until the Serbian crisis blows over. "

  "That may take more than a few days. "

  "In that case, we'll think again. "

  "I shall do as you wish, of course. "

  "I love you, Walter. Whatever happens, I want to be your wife. "

  He kissed her hand. "Thank you," he said solemnly. "You have made me very happy. "

  {VI}

  A strained silence descended on the house in Wellington Row. Mam made dinner, and Da and Billy and Gramper ate it, but no one said much. Billy was eaten up with a rage he could not express. In the afternoon he climbed the mountainside and walked for miles on his own.

  Next morning he found his mind returning again and again to the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery. Sitting in the kitchen in his Sunda
y clothes, waiting to go with his parents and Gramper to the Bethesda Chapel for the service of the breaking of bread, he opened his Bible at the Gospel According to John and found chapter 8. He read the story over and over. It seemed to be about exactly the kind of crisis that had struck his family.

  He continued to think of it in chapel. He looked around the room at his friends and neighbors: Mrs. Dai Ponies, John Jones the Shop, Mrs. Ponti and her two big sons, Suet Hewitt. . . They all knew that Ethel had left Tŷ Gwyn yesterday and bought a train ticket to Paddington; and although they did not know why, they could guess. In their minds, they were already judging her. But Jesus was not.

  During the hymns and extempore prayers, he decided that the Holy Spirit was leading him to read those verses out. Toward the end of the hour he stood up and opened his Bible.

  There was a little murmur of surprise. He was a bit young to be leading the congregation. Still, there was no age limit: the Holy Spirit could move anyone.

  "A few verses from John's Gospel," he said. There was a slight shake in his voice, and he tried to steady it.

  "'They say unto him: Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. '"

  Bethesda Chapel went suddenly quiet: no one fidgeted, whispered, or coughed.

  Billy read on: "'Now Moses in the Law commanded us that such should be stoned, but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as if he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted himself up, and said unto them-'"

  Here Billy paused and looked up.

  With careful emphasis he said: "'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. '"

  Every face in the room stared back at him. No one moved.

  Billy resumed: "'And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her: Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said: No man, Lord. '"

  Billy looked up from the book. He did not need to read the last verse: he knew it by heart. He looked at his father's stony face and spoke very slowly. "'And Jesus said unto her: Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more. '"

  After a long moment he closed the Bible with a clap that sounded like thunder in the silence. "This is the Word of God," he said.

  He did not sit down. Instead he walked to the exit. The congregation stared, rapt. He opened the big wooden door and walked out.

  He never went back.

 
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