Fall of Giants / Chapter 22

Chapter 22


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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO  -  January and February 1917

Walter Ulrich dreamed he was in a horse-drawn carriage on his way to meet Maud. The carriage was going downhill, and began to travel dangerously fast, bouncing on the uneven road surface. He shouted, "Slow down! Slow down!" but the driver could not hear him over the drumming of hooves, which sounded oddly like the running of a motorcar engine. Despite this anomaly, Walter was terrified that the runaway carriage would crash and he would never reach Maud. He tried again to order the driver to slow down, and the effort of shouting woke him.

In reality he was in an automobile, a chauffeur-driven Mercedes 37/95 Double Phaeton, traveling at moderate speed along a bumpy road in Silesia. His father sat beside him, smoking a cigar. They had left Berlin in the early hours of the morning, both wrapped in fur coats-it was an open car-and they were on their way to the eastern headquarters of the high command.

The dream was easy to interpret. The Allies had scornfully rejected the peace offer that Walter had worked so hard to promote. The rejection had strengthened the hand of the German military, who wanted to resume unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking every ship in the war zone, military or civilian, passenger or freight, combatant or neutral, in order to starve Britain and France into submission. The politicians, notably the chancellor, feared that was the way to defeat, for it was likely to bring the United States into the war, but the submariners were winning the argument. The kaiser had shown which way he leaned by promoting the aggressive Arthur Zimmermann to foreign minister. And Walter dreamed of charging downhill to disaster.

Walter believed that the greatest danger to Germany was the United States. The aim of German policy should be to keep America out of the war. True, Germany was being starved by the Allied naval blockade. But the Russians could not last much longer, and when they capitulated, Germany would overrun the rich western and southern regions of the Russian empire, with their vast cornfields and bottomless oil wells. And the entire German army would then be able to concentrate on the western front. That was the only hope.

But would the kaiser see that?

The final decision would be made today.

A bleak winter daylight was breaking over countryside patchworked with snow. Walter felt like a shirker, being so far from the fighting. "I should have returned to the front line weeks ago," he said.

"Clearly the army wants you in Germany," said Otto. "You are valued as an intelligence analyst."

"Germany is full of older men who could do the job at least as well as I. Have you pulled strings?"

Otto shrugged. "I think if you were to marry and have a son, you could then be transferred anywhere you like."

Walter said incredulously: "You're keeping me in Berlin to make me marry Monika von der Helbard?"

"I don't have the power to do that. But it may be that there are men in the high command who understand the need to maintain noble bloodlines."

That was disingenuous, and a protest came to Walter's lips, but then the car turned off the road, passed through an ornamental gateway, and started up a long drive flanked by leafless trees and snow-covered lawn. At the end of the drive was a huge house, the largest Walter had ever seen in Germany. "Castle Pless?" he said.

"Correct."

"It's vast."

"Three hundred rooms."

They got out of the car and entered a hall like a railway station. The walls were decorated with boars' heads framed with red silk, and a massive marble staircase led up to the state rooms on the first floor. Walter had spent half his life in splendid buildings, but this was exceptional.

A general approached them, and Walter recognized von Henscher, a crony of his father's. "You've got time to wash and brush up, if you're quick," he said with amiable urgency. "You're expected in the state dining room in forty minutes." He looked at Walter. "This must be your son."

Otto said: "He's in the intelligence department."

Walter gave a brisk salute.

"I know. I put his name on the list." The general addressed Walter. "I believe you know America."

"I spent three years in our embassy in Washington, sir."

"Good. I have never been to the United States. Nor has your father. Nor, indeed, have most of the men here-with the notable exception of our new foreign minister."

Twenty years ago, Arthur Zimmermann had returned to Germany from China via the States, crossing from San Francisco to New York by train, and on the basis of this experience was considered an expert on America. Walter said nothing.

Von Henscher said: "Herr Zimmermann has asked me to consult you both on something." Walter was flattered but puzzled. Why would the new foreign minister want his opinion? "But we will have more time for that later." Von Henscher beckoned to a footman in old-fashioned livery, who showed them to a bedroom.

Half an hour later they were in the dining room, now converted to a conference room. Looking around, Walter was awestruck to see that just about every man who counted for anything in Germany was present, including the chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, his close-cropped hair now almost white at age sixty.

Most of Germany's senior military commanders were sitting around a long table. For lesser men, including Walter, there were rows of hard chairs against the wall. An aide passed around a few copies of a two-hundred-page memorandum. Walter looked over his father's shoulder at the file. He saw charts of tonnage moving in and out of British ports, tables of freight rates and cargo space, the calorific value of British meals, even a calculation of how much wool there was in a lady's skirt.

They waited two hours, then Kaiser Wilhelm came in, wearing a general's uniform. Everyone sprang to their feet. His Majesty looked pale and ill-tempered. He was a few days from his fifty-eighth birthday. As ever, he held his withered left arm motionless at his side, attempting to make it inconspicuous. Walter found it difficult to summon up that emotion of joyous loyalty that had come so easily to him as a boy. He could no longer pretend the kaiser was the wise father of his people. Wilhelm II was too obviously an unexceptional man completely overwhelmed by events. Incompetent, bewildered, and miserably unhappy, he was a standing argument against hereditary monarchy.

The kaiser looked around, nodding to one or two special favorites, including Otto; then he sat down and made a gesture at Henning von Holtzendorff, white-bearded chief of the admiralty staff.

The admiral began to speak, quoting from his memorandum: the number of submarines the navy could maintain at sea at any one time, the tonnage of shipping required to keep the Allies alive, and the speed at which they could replace sunk vessels. "I calculate we can sink six hundred thousand tons of shipping per month," he said. It was an impressive performance, every statement backed up by a number. Walter was skeptical only because the admiral was too precise, too certain: surely war was never that predictable?

Von Holtzendorff pointed to a ribbon-tied document on the table, presumably the imperial order to begin unrestricted submarine warfare. "If Your Majesty approves my plan today, I guarantee the Allies will capitulate in precisely five months." He sat down.

The kaiser looked at the chancellor. Now, Walter thought, we will hear a more realistic assessment. Bethmann had been chancellor for seven years, and unlike the monarch he had a sense of the complexity of international relations.

Bethmann spoke gloomily of American entry into the war and the USA's uncounted resources of manpower, supplies, and money. In his support he quoted the opinions of every senior German who was familiar with the United States. But to Walter's disappointment he looked like a man going through the motions. He must believe the kaiser had already made up his mind. Was this meeting merely to ratify a decision already taken? Was Germany doomed?

The kaiser had a short attention span for people who disagreed with him, and while his chancellor was speaking he fidgeted, grunting impatiently and making disapproving faces. Bethmann began to dither. "If the military authorities consider the U-boat war essential, I am not in a position to contradict them. On the other hand-"

He never got to say what was on the other hand. Von Holtzendorff jumped to his feet and interrupted. "I guarantee on my word as a naval officer that no American will set foot upon the Continent!" he said.

That was absurd, Walter thought. What did his word as a naval officer have to do with anything? But it went down better than all his statistics. The kaiser brightened, and several other men nodded approval.

Bethmann seemed to give up. His body slumped in the chair, the tension went out of his face, and he spoke in a defeated voice. "If success beckons, we must follow," he said.

The kaiser made a gesture, and von Holtzendorff pushed the beribboned document across the table.

No, Walter thought, we can't possibly make this fateful decision on such inadequate grounds!

The kaiser picked up a pen and signed: "Wilhelm I.R."

He put down the pen and stood up.

Everyone in the room jumped to their feet.

This can't be the end, Walter thought.

The kaiser left the room. The tension was broken, and a buzz of talk broke out. Bethmann remained in his seat, staring down at the table. He looked like a man who has met his doom. He was muttering something, and Walter stepped closer to hear. It was a Latin phrase: Finis Germaniae-the end of the Germans.

General von Henscher appeared and said to Otto: "If you would care to come with me, we will have lunch privately. You, too, young man." He led them into a side room where a cold buffet was laid out.

Castle Pless served as a residence for the kaiser, so the food was good. Walter was angry and depressed, but like everyone else in Germany he was hungry, and he piled his plate high with cold chicken, potato salad, and white bread.

"Today's decision was anticipated by Foreign Minister Zimmermann," said von Henscher. "He wants to know what we can do to discourage the Americans."

Small chance of that, Walter thought. If we sink American ships and drown American citizens there's not much we can do to soften the blow.

The general went on: "Can we, for example, foment a protest movement among the one point three million Americans who were born here in Germany?"

Walter groaned inwardly. "Absolutely not," he said. "It's a stupid fairy tale."

His father snapped: "Careful how you speak to your superiors."

Von Henscher made a calming gesture. "Let the boy speak his mind, Otto. I might as well have his frank opinion. Why do you say that, Major?"

Walter said: "They don't love the fatherland. Why do you think they left? They may eat wurst and drink beer, but they're Americans and they'll fight for America."

"What about the Irish-born?"

"Same thing. They hate the British, of course, but when our submarines kill Americans they'll hate us more."

Otto said irritably: "How can President Wilson declare war on us? He has just won reelection as the man who kept America out of war!"

Walter shrugged. "In some ways that makes it easier. People will believe he had no option."

Von Henscher said: "What might hold him back?"

"Protection for ships of neutral countries-"

"Out of the question," his father interrupted. "Unrestricted means unrestricted. That's what the navy wanted, and that's what His Majesty has given them."

Von Henscher said: "If domestic issues aren't likely to trouble Wilson, is there any chance he may be distracted by foreign affairs in his own hemisphere?" He turned to Otto. "Mexico, for example?"

Otto smiled, looking pleased. "You're remembering the Ypiranga. I must admit, that was a small triumph of aggressive diplomacy."

Walter had never shared his father's glee over the incident of the shipload of arms sent by Germany to Mexico. Otto and his cronies had made President Wilson look foolish, and they could yet come to regret it.

"And now?" said von Henscher.

"Most of the U.S. Army is either in Mexico or stationed on the border," said Walter. "Ostensibly they're chasing a bandit called Pancho Villa, who raids across the border. President Carranza is bursting with indignation at the violation of his sovereign territory, but there isn't much he can do."

"If he had help from us, would that change anything?"

Walter considered. This kind of diplomatic mischief-making struck him as risky, but it was his duty to answer the questions as accurately as he could. "The Mexicans feel they were robbed of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. They have a dream of winning those territories back, much like the French pipe dream of winning back Alsace and Lorraine. President Carranza may be stupid enough to believe it could be done."

Otto said eagerly: "In any event, the attempt would certainly take American attention away from Europe!"

"For a while," Walter agreed reluctantly. "In the long-term our interference might strengthen those Americans who would like to join in the war on the Allied side."

"The short term is what interests us. You heard von Holtzendorff-our submarines are going to bring the Allies to their knees in five months. All we want is to keep the Americans busy that long."

Von Henscher said: "What about Japan? Is there any chance the Japs might be persuaded to attack the Panama Canal, or even California?"

"Realistically, no," Walter said firmly. The discussion was venturing farther into the land of fantasy.

But von Henscher persisted. "Nevertheless, the mere threat might tie up more American troops on the West Coast."

"I suppose it could, yes."

Otto patted his lips with his napkin. "This is all most interesting, but I must see whether His Majesty needs me."

They all stood up. Walter said: "If I may say so, General... "

His father sighed, but von Henscher said: "Please."

"I believe all this is very dangerous, sir. If word got out that German leaders were even talking about fomenting strife in Mexico, and encouraging Japanese aggression in California, American public opinion would be so outraged that the declaration of war could come much sooner, if not immediately. Forgive me if I am stating the obvious, but this conversation should remain highly secret."

"Quite all right," said von Henscher. He smiled at Otto. "Your father and I are the older generation, of course, but we still know a thing or two. You may rely on our discretion."

{II}

Fitz was pleased that the German peace proposal had been spurned, and proud of his part in the process, but when it was over he had doubts.

He thought it over, walking-or, rather, limping-along Piccadilly on the morning of Wednesday, January 17, on his way to his office in the Admiralty. Peace talks would have been a sneaky way for the Germans to consolidate their gains, legitimizing their hold over Belgium, northeastern France, and parts of Russia. For Britain to take part in such talks would have amounted to an admission of defeat. But Britain still had not won.

Lloyd George's talk of a knockout went down well in the newspapers, but all sensible people knew it was a daydream. The war would go on, perhaps for a year, perhaps longer. And, if the Americans continued to remain neutral, it might end in peace talks after all. What if no one could win this war? Another million men would be killed for no purpose. The thought that haunted Fitz was that Ethel might have been right after all.

And what if Britain lost? There would be a financial crisis, unemployment, and destitution. Working-class men would take up Ethel's father's cry and say that they had never been allowed to vote for the war. The people's rage against their rulers would be boundless. Protests and marches would turn into riots. It was only a little over a century ago that Parisians had executed their king and much of the nobility. Would Londoners do the same? Fitz imagined himself, bound hand and foot, carried on a cart to the place of execution, spat upon and jeered at by the crowd. Worse, he saw the same happening to Maud, and Aunt Herm, and Bea, and Boy. He pushed the nightmare out of his mind.

What a little spitfire Ethel was, he thought with mingled admiration and regret. He had been mortified with embarrassment when his guest was ejected from the gallery during Lloyd George's speech, but at the same time he found himself even more attracted to her.

Unfortunately, she had turned against him. He had followed her out and caught up with her in the Central Lobby, and she had berated him, blaming him and his kind for prolonging the war. From the way she talked you would think every soldier who died in France had been killed by Fitz personally.

That was the end of his Chelsea scheme. He had sent her a couple of notes but she had not replied. The disappointment hit him hard. When he thought of the delightful afternoons they might have spent in that love nest he felt the loss like an ache in his chest.

However, he had some consolation. Bea had taken his reprimand to heart. She now welcomed him to her bedroom, dressed in pretty nightwear, offering him her scented body as she had when they were first married. In the end she was a well-brought-up aristocratic woman and she knew what a wife was for.

Musing on the compliant princess and the irresistible activist, he entered the Old Admiralty Building to find a partly decoded German telegram on his desk.

It was headed:

Berlin zu Washingon. W.158. 16 January 1917.

Fitz looked automatically at the foot of the decrypt to see who it was from. The name at the end was:

Zimmermann.

His interest was piqued. This was a message from the German foreign minister to his ambassador in the United States. With a pencil Fitz wrote a translation, putting squiggles and question marks where code groups had not been decrypted.

Most secret for Your Excellency's personal information and to be handed on to the imperial minister in (?Mexico?) with xxxx by a safe route.

The question marks indicated a code group whose meaning was not certain. The decoders were guessing. If they were right, this message was for the German ambassador in Mexico. It was simply being sent via the Washington embassy.

Mexico, Fitz thought. How odd.

The next sentence was completely decoded.

We propose to begin on 1 February unrestricted submarine warfare.

"My God!" Fitz said aloud. It was fearfully expected, but this was firm confirmation-and with a date! The news would be a coup for Room 40.

In doing so however we shall endeavor to keep America neutral xxxx. If we should not we propose to (?Mexico?) an alliance upon the following basis: conduct of war, conclusion of peace.

"An alliance with Mexico?" Fitz said to himself. "This is strong stuff. The Americans are going to be hopping mad!"

Your Excellency should for the present inform the president secretly war with the USA xxxx and at the same time to negotiate between us and Japan xxxx our submarines will compel England to peace within a few months. Acknowledge receipt.

Fit looked up and caught the eye of young Carver, who-he now saw-was bursting with excitement. "You must be reading the Zimmermann intercept," the sublieutenant said.

"Such as it is," Fitz said calmly. He was just as euphoric as Carver, but better at concealing it. "Why is the decrypt so scrappy?"

"It's in a new code that we haven't completely cracked. All the same, the message is hot stuff, isn't it?"

Fitz looked again at his translation. Carver was not exaggerating. This appeared very much like an attempt to get Mexico to ally with Germany against the United States. It was sensational.

It might even make the American president angry enough to declare war on Germany.

Fitz's pulse quickened. "I agree," he said. "And I'm going to take this straight to Blinker Hall." Captain William Reginald Hall, the director of naval intelligence, had a chronic facial tic, hence the nickname; but there was nothing wrong with his brain. "He will ask questions, and I need to have some answers ready. What are the prospects for getting a complete decrypt?"

"It's going to take us several weeks to master the new code."

Fitz gave a grunt of exasperation. The reconstruction of new codes from first principles was a painstaking business that could not be hurried.

Carver went on: "But I notice that the message is to be forwarded from Washington to Mexico. On that route, they're still using an old diplomatic code we broke more than a year ago. Perhaps we could get a copy of the forwarded cable?"

"Perhaps we could!" Fitz said eagerly. "We have an agent in the telegraph office in Mexico City." He thought ahead. "When we reveal this to the world... "

Carver said anxiously: "We can't do that."

"Why not?"

"The Germans would know we're reading their traffic."

Fitz saw that he was right. It was the perennial problem of secret intelligence: how to use it without compromising the source. He said: "But this is so important we might want to take the risk."

"I doubt it. This department has provided too much reliable information. They won't put that in jeopardy."

"Damn! Surely we can't come across something like this and then be powerless to use it?"

Carver shrugged. "It happens in this line of work."

Fitz was not prepared to accept that. The entry of America could win the war. That was surely worth any sacrifice. But he knew enough about the army to realize that some men would show more courage and resourcefulness defending a department than a redoubt. Carver's objection had to be taken seriously. "We need a cover story," he said.

"Let's say the Americans intercepted the cable," Carver said.

Fitz nodded. "It is to be forwarded from Washington to Mexico, so we could say the U.S. government got it from Western Union."

"Western Union may not like it... "

"To hell with them. Now: how, exactly, do we use this information to the maximum effect? Does our government make the announcement? Do we give it to the Americans? Do we get some third party to challenge the Germans?"

Carver put up both hands in a gesture of surrender. "I'm out of my depth."

"I'm not," said Fitz, suddenly inspired. "And I know just the person to help."

{III}

Fitz met Gus Dewar at a south London pub called the Ring.

To Fitz's surprise, Dewar was a lover of boxing. As a teenager he had attended a waterfront arena in Buffalo, and in his travels across Europe, back in 1914, he had watched prizefights in every capital city. He kept his enthusiasm quiet, Fitz thought wryly: boxing was not a popular topic of conversation at teatime in Mayfair.

However, all classes were represented at the Ring. Gentlemen in evening dress mingled with dockers in torn coats. Illegal bookmakers took bets in every corner while waiters brought loaded trays of beer in pint glasses. The air was thick with the smoke of cigars, pipes, and cigarettes. There were no seats and no women.

Fitz found Gus deep in conversation with a broken-nosed Londoner, arguing about the American fighter Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight champion, whose marriage to a white woman had caused Christian ministers to call for him to be lynched. The Londoner had riled Gus by agreeing with the clergymen.

Fitz nourished a secret hope that Gus might fall for Maud. It would be a good match. They were both intellectuals, both liberals, both frightfully serious about everything, always reading books. The Dewars came from what Americans called Old Money, the nearest thing they had to an aristocracy.

In addition, both Gus and Maud were in favor of peace. Maud had always been strangely passionate about ending the war; Fitz had no idea why. And Gus revered his boss, Woodrow Wilson, who had made a speech a month ago calling for "peace without victory," a phrase that had infuriated Fitz and most of the British and French leadership.

But the compatibility Fitz had seen between Gus and Maud had not led anywhere. Fitz loved his sister, but he wondered what was wrong with her. Did she want to be an old maid?

When Fitz had detached Gus from the man with the broken nose, he raised the subject of Mexico.

"It's a mess," Gus said. "Wilson has withdrawn General Pershing and his troops, in an attempt to please President Carranza, but it hasn't worked-Carranza won't even discuss policing the border. Why do you ask?"

"I'll tell you later," Fitz said. "The next bout is starting."

As they watched a fighter called Benny the Yid pounding the brains out of Bald Albert Collins, Fitz resolved to avoid the topic of the German peace offer. He knew that Gus was heartbroken at the failure of Wilson's initiative. Gus asked himself constantly whether he could have handled matters better, or done something further to support the president's plan. Fitz thought the plan had been doomed from the start because neither side really wanted peace.

In the third round Bald Albert went down and stayed down.

"You caught me just in time," Gus said. "I'm about to head for home."

"Looking forward to it?"

"If I get there. I might be sunk by a U-boat on the way."

The Germans had resumed unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, exactly as foretold in the Zimmermann intercept. This had angered the Americans, but not as much as Fitz had hoped. "President Wilson's reaction to the submarine announcement was surprisingly mild," he said.

"He broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. That's not mild."

"But he did not declare war." Fitz had been devastated by this. He had fought hard against peace talks, but Maud and Ethel and their pacifist friends were right to say there was no hope of victory in the foreseeable future-without extra help from somewhere. Fitz had felt sure that unrestricted submarine warfare would bring the Americans in. So far it had not.

Gus said: "Frankly, I think President Wilson was infuriated by the submarine decision, and is now ready to declare war. He's tried everything else, for goodness' sake. But he won reelection as the man who kept us out. The only way he can switch is if he is swept into war on a tide of public enthusiasm."

"In that case," said Fitz, "I believe I have something that might help him."

Gus raised an eyebrow.

"Since I was wounded, I've been working in a unit that decodes intercepted German wireless messages." Fitz took from his pocket a sheet of paper covered with his own handwriting. "Your government will be given this officially in the next few days. I'm showing it to you now because we need advice on how to handle it." He gave it to Gus.

The British spy in Mexico City had got hold of the relayed message in the old code, and the paper Fitz handed to Gus was a complete decrypt of the Zimmermann intercept. In full, it read:

Washington to Mexico, 19 January 1917

We intend to begin on 1 February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavour in spite of this to keep the USA neutral. In the event of this not succeeding we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following terms:

Make war together.

Make peace together.

Generous financial support and an undertaking on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you.

You will inform the president of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the USA is certain, and add the suggestion that he should on his own initiative invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves.

Please call the president's attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.

Gus read a few lines, holding the sheet close to his eyes in the low light of the boxing arena, and said: "Alliance? My God!"

Fitz glanced around. A new bout had begun, and the noise of the crowd was too loud for people nearby to overhear Gus.

Gus read on. "Reconquer Texas?" he said with incredulity. And then, angrily: "Invite Japan?" He looked up from the paper. "This is outrageous!"

This was the reaction Fitz had been hoping for, and he had to quell his elation. "Outrageous is the word," he said with forced solemnity.

"The Germans are offering to pay Mexico to invade the United States!"

"Yes."

"And they're asking Mexico to try to get Japan to join in!"

"Yes."

"Wait till this gets out!"

"That's what I want to talk to you about. We want to make sure it's publicized in a manner favorable to your president."

"Why doesn't the British government simply reveal it to the world?"

Gus was not thinking this through. "Two reasons," Fitz said. "One, we don't want the Germans to know we're reading their cables. Two, we may be accused of forging this intercept."

Gus nodded. "Pardon me. I was too angry to think. Let's look at this coolly."

"If possible, we would like you to say that the United States government obtained a copy of the cable from Western Union."

"Wilson won't tell a lie."

"Then get a copy from Western Union, and it won't be a lie."

Gus nodded. "That should be possible. As for the second problem, who could release the telegram without being suspected of forgery?"

"The president himself, I presume."

"That's one possibility."

"But you have a better idea?"

"Yes," Gus said thoughtfully. "I believe I do."

{IV}

Ethel and Bernie got married in the Calvary Gospel Hall. Neither of them had strong views about religion, and they both liked the pastor.

Ethel had not communicated with Fitz since the day of Lloyd George's speech. Fitz's public opposition to peace had reminded her harshly of his true nature. He stood for everything she hated: tradition, conservatism, exploitation of the working class, unearned wealth. She could not be the lover of such a man, and she felt ashamed of herself for even being tempted by the house in Chelsea. Her true soul mate was Bernie.

Ethel wore the pink silk dress and flowered hat that Walter von Ulrich had bought her for Maud Fitzherbert's wedding. There were no bridesmaids, but Mildred and Maud served as matrons of honor. Ethel's parents came up from Aberowen on the train. Sadly, Billy was in France and could not get leave. Little Lloyd wore a pageboy outfit specially made for him by Mildred, sky blue with brass buttons and a cap.

Bernie surprised Ethel by producing a family no one knew about. His elderly mother spoke nothing but Yiddish and muttered under her breath all through the service. She lived with Bernie's prosperous older brother, Theo, who-Mildred discovered, flirting with him-owned a bicycle factory in Birmingham.

Afterward tea and cake were served in the hall. There were no alcoholic drinks, which suited Da and Mam, and smokers had to go outside. Mam kissed Ethel and said: "I'm glad to see you settled at last, anyway." That word anyway carried a lot of baggage, Ethel thought. It meant: "Congratulations, even though you're a fallen woman, and you've got an illegitimate child whose father no one knows, and you're marrying a Jew, and living in London, which is the same as Sodom and Gomorrah." But Ethel accepted Mam's qualified blessing and vowed never to say such things to her own child.

Mam and Da had bought cheap day-return tickets, and they left to catch their train. When the majority of guests had gone, the remainder went to the Dog and Duck for a few drinks.

Ethel and Bernie went home when it was Lloyd's bedtime. That morning, Bernie had put his few clothes and many books into a handcart and wheeled it from his rented lodgings to Ethel's house.

To give themselves one night alone, they put Lloyd to bed upstairs with Mildred's children, which Lloyd regarded as a special treat. Then Ethel and Bernie had cocoa in the kitchen and went to bed.

Ethel had a new nightdress. Bernie put on clean pajamas. When he got into bed beside her, he broke into a nervous sweat. Ethel stroked his cheek. "Although I'm a scarlet woman, I haven't got much experience," she said. "Just my first husband, and that was only for a few weeks before he went away." She had not told Bernie about Fitz and never would. Only Billy and the lawyer Albert Solman knew the truth.

"You're better off than me," Bernie said, but already she could feel him beginning to relax. "Just a few fumbles."

"What were their names?"

"Oh, you don't want to know."

She grinned. "Yes, I do. How many women? Six? Ten? Twenty?"

"Good God, no. Three. The first was Rachel Wright, in school. Afterward she said we would have to get married, and I believed her. I was so worried."

Ethel giggled. "What happened?"

"The next week she did it with Micky Armstrong, and I was off the hook."

"Was it nice with her?"

"I suppose it was. I was only sixteen. Mainly I just wanted to be able to say I had done it."

She kissed him gently, then said: "Who was next?"

"Carol McAllister. She was a neighbor. I paid her a shilling. It was a bit brief-I think she knew what to do and say to get it over quickly. The part she liked was taking the money."

Ethel frowned disapprovingly, then recalled the house in Chelsea, and realized she had contemplated doing the same as Carol McAllister. Feeling uncomfortable, she said: "Who was the other one?"

"An older woman. She was my landlady. She came to my bed at night when her husband was away."

"Was it nice with her?"

"Lovely. It was a happy time for me."

"What went wrong?"

"Her husband got suspicious and I had to leave."

"And then?"

"Then I met you, and I lost all interest in other women."

They began to kiss. Soon he pushed up the skirt of her nightdress and got on top of her. He was gentle, worried about hurting her, but he entered her easily. She felt a surge of affection for him, for his kindness and intelligence and devotion to her and her child. She put her arms around him and hugged his body to hers. Quite soon, his climax came. Then they both lay back, content, and went to sleep.

{V}

Women's skirts had changed, Gus Dewar realized. They now showed the ankles. Ten years ago, a glimpse of ankle had been arousing; now it was mundane. Perhaps women covered their nakedness to make themselves more alluring, not less.

Rosa Hellman was wearing a dark-red coat that fell in pleats from the yoke at the back, rather fashionable. It was trimmed with black fur, which he guessed was welcome in Washington in February. Her gray hat was small and round with a red hatband and a feather, not very practical, but when was the last time American women's hats had been designed for practical purposes? "I'm honored by this invitation," she said. He could not be sure whether she was mocking him. "You're only just back from Europe, aren't you?"

They were having lunch in the dining room of the Willard Hotel, two blocks east of the White House. Gus had invited her for a specific purpose. "I've got a story for you," he said as soon as they had ordered.

"Oh, good! Let me guess. The president is going to divorce Edith and marry Mary Peck?"

Gus frowned. Wilson had had a dalliance with Mary Peck while he was married to his first wife. Gus doubted whether they had actually committed adultery, but Wilson had been foolish enough to write letters that showed more affection than was seemly. Washington gossips knew all about it, but nothing had been printed. "I'm talking about something serious," Gus said sternly.

"Oh, sorry," said Rosa. She composed her face in a solemn expression that made Gus want to laugh.

"The only condition is going to be that you can't say you got the information from the White House."

"Agreed."

"I'm going to show you a telegram from the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, to the German ambassador in Mexico."

She looked astonished. "Where did you get that?"

"From Western Union," he lied.

"Isn't it in code?"

"Codes can be broken." He handed her a typewritten copy of the full English translation.

"Is this off the record?" she said.

"No. The only thing I want you to keep to yourself is where you got it."

"Okay." She began to read. After a moment, her mouth dropped open. She looked up. "Gus," she said. "Is this real?"

"When did you know me to play a practical joke?"

"The last time was never." She read on. "The Germans are going to pay Mexico to invade Texas?"

"That's what Herr Zimmermann says."

"This isn't a story, Gus-this is the scoop of the century!"

He allowed himself a small smile, trying not to appear as triumphant as he felt. "That's what I thought you'd say."

"Are you acting independently, or on behalf of the president?"

"Rosa, do you imagine I would do a thing like this without approval from the very top?"

"I guess not. Wow. So this comes to me from President Wilson."

"Not officially."

"But how do I know it's true? I don't think I can write the story based only on a scrap of paper and your word."

Gus had anticipated this snag. "Secretary of State Lansing will personally confirm the authenticity of the telegram to your boss, provided the conversation is confidential."

"Good enough." She looked down at the sheet of paper again. "This changes everything. Can you imagine what the American people will say when they read it?"

"I think it will make them more inclined to join in the war and fight against Germany."

"Inclined?" she said. "They're going to be foaming at the mouth! Wilson will have to declare war."

Gus said nothing.

After a moment, Rosa interpreted his silence. "Oh, I see. That's why you're releasing the telegram. The president wants to declare war."

She was dead right. He smiled, enjoying this dance of wits with a bright woman. "I'm not saying that."

"But this telegram will anger the American people so much that they will demand war. And Wilson will be able to say he did not renege on his election promises-he was forced by public opinion to change his policy."

She was in fact a bit too bright for his purposes. He said anxiously: "That's not the story you'll write, is it?"

She smiled. "Oh, no. That's just me refusing to take anything at face value. I was an anarchist once, you know."

"And now?"

"Now I'm a reporter. And there's only one way to write this story."

He felt relieved.

The waiter brought their food: poached salmon for her, steak and mashed potatoes for him. Rosa stood up. "I have to get back to the office."

Gus was startled. "What about your lunch?"

"Are you serious?" she said. "I can't eat. Don't you understand what you've done?"

He thought he did, but he said: "Tell me."

"You've just sent America to war."

Gus nodded. "I know," he said. "Go write the story."

"Hey," she said. "Thanks for picking me."

A moment later she was gone.


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