Read Anna Online

Authors: Norman Collins

Anna (7 page)

“She loves only me,” he repeated. “I have nothing to fear but myself.”

And he grew ashamed of himself for being weak.

It was after Anna and Berthe had passed through into the drawing-room, and the men were left alone together, that he became more than ever conscious of this weakness, of his physical incapacity to defend himself. He relapsed into the awkward, embarrassed silence of someone who is in a sense an inferior. The others recognised the inferiority, Herr Karlin tacitly and politely, the Baron rudely and without concealment. In the result they talked rapidly across him in German: Charles Latourette had the sensation of being the third person at a table at which only two were sitting.

“They imagine that they can dictate the policy of all Europe,” the Baron was saying. “That is what is so intolerable.”

“They will go too far,” said Herr Karlin ominously. “They'll find out their mistake.”

“In Spain they have gone too far already,” the Baron observed. “They have opposed our King's nomination.”

Herr Karlin spread out his hands.

“But what does this opposition amount to?” he asked. “France is in no condition to fight.”

The Baron drank off the remainder of his brandy and took a deep breath.

“Then they should be challenged,” he said. “It's only force that they will understand.”

Herr Karlin shook his head.

“There'll be no need to apply force,” he said. “They haven't forgotten Königgratz. They aren't anxious to face the German army. That's why they've sent their Ambassador to Emms again.”

The Baron leant across and dropped his voice a little as though in some pretence that Charles Latourette would no longer be able to hear.

“Someone told me in Wiesbaden,” he confided, “someone high up in the Chancellery, that they kept the French Ambassador waiting for two hours before they even let him know that the King wasn't there.”

He smiled, rolling his lips right back from the gums at the memory of the incident.

“Kept him waiting,” he added. “Just like a tradesman.”

“That's what I mean,” Herr Karlin answered. “There'll be no war. A country like France cannot risk a war. A major war in Europe would be very different from a skirmish in Algiers.”

The Baron did not reply immediately. He stared in front of him, breathing deeply, as if hesitating whether to reply at all.

“I tell you that they cannot be taught,” he said at last. “They must be shown. They must be trampled down and annihilated before there can be any lasting peace and order on the Continent.”

The last sentence was spoken quite slowly, with the emphasis placed carefully and deliberately. Charles Latourette heard and understood each word as it was uttered. His heart, which seemed momentarily to have stopped, raced suddenly, and a violent trembling took possession of his whole body.

“I can endure no more,” he told himself. “I must challenge him. God grant that I am strong enough not to show that I am afraid.”

Thrusting back his chair, he rose and faced the Baron.

As he did so, he felt a hand laid upon his shoulder, gently pushing him back into his chair: it was Herr Karlin's.

“And what does our visitor think of the chances of war?” he asked, speaking very quietly, almost as one might speak to a child. “It is always so interesting to hear the other side in these differences.”


The house was very quiet now; so quiet that the catch of Anna's door, when she opened it, seemed to sound along the entire landing. It was an hour since the Baron had departed. And from Herr Karlin's room there already came the sound of deep, heavy breathing. Anna paused. Her hair, plaited loosely for the night, fell in a thick rope over her shoulders, and her dressing-gown unbuttoned at the throat showed her white neck. She was wearing little heel-less slippers which made no sound as she moved.

Behind her in the other bed lay Bertha. She was sleeping. Anna had bent over her, holding the candle and screening it carefully with her hand so that the light should not fall across the sleeper's face. But Berthe had not stirred, and Anna snuffed out the candle, leaving herself in the darkness of the silent house.

She went three steps down the soft carpet of the landing, and stopped again. The atmosphere of sleep was so heavy, so muffling, that she felt like an intruder from some other world. Each of the closed doors seemed to challenge her.

cannot be asleep,” she told herself. “He must be as wakeful and tormented as I am.”

The bedroom which had been given to Charles Latourette lay at the end of a little corridor which branched off from the main landing. A glass screen cut it off from the rest of the house.

“I shall be safe,” she promised in her own mind, “once I am behind the screen. Only Charles will hear me then. And he will come to the door of his room and we shall be alone together. He will kiss me again and tell me that he loves me, and then I shall be able to sleep, happy. Soon he will be back here asking if he may marry me. And my father will give his consent. And then every night we shall be together.”

She had reached the screen, which shone transparent in the darkness, and she pushed open the creaking glass door. After she had opened it she was afraid to close it again as the noise in her ears was loud, betraying. But no one in the household had stirred; the thick, enfolding atmosphere of sleep remained unbroken. Very cautiously she closed the door again behind her. She was isolated now from the rest of the still household. In front of her stood only the door of Charles Latourette's room. Her heart was now beating so unbearably that she became fearful for her own safety.

“I must remain calm,” she told herself. “Otherwise I may be discovered. Once he has put his arms round me again, once I have
heard his voice and felt his face to mine, I shall return to my own room, and no one but Charles will know what I have risked to be with him. How
I let him go away without telling him that I would die for him? How could I content myself with a cold farewell before the others?”

She had knocked twice on his door—the first time it had been so soft and furtive that she upbraided herself for her indecision— before she heard a movement inside the room. Then, just as she was about to knock again, the door opened and Charles Latourette stood there.

He had not undressed. All that he had done was to remove his jacket, loosen his cravat, and throw himself down upon the bed, He had lain there, watching the bright moonlight and thinking over his own misery.

“I am not rich enough to marry,” he had told himself a score of times. “I shall never be able to support her.”

His insufficiency humiliated him.

“All that I can do is to wait for the train that is to take me away from her.”

He was still lying stretched out on the bed when he heard Anna's knock upon the door. He started. Then, with heart pounding, he crossed the room and pulled back the catch. For a moment he stood motionless.

“Anna!” he said.

She came forward, timidly it seemed, and held out her hand to him.

“I only came to say good-bye,” she said. “I could not bear to have you go without saying good-bye.”

“So you were thinking about me, too?”

“Oh Charles, how can you doubt it?”

He had drawn her to him by now and his arms were round her as she had imagined them.

“I love you, Anna,” he said. “I love you.”

She closed her eyes with bliss at the words that she had wanted to hear spoken again, and her body remained pressed close to his. She felt his hands caressing her, stroking her hair, passing across her bosom, where the loose gown exposed it. And when he drew her back into the room with him it did not seem possible to her that she should resist.

“Anna,” he said—his voice was low and she could feel his heart beating against hers—“don't go away again. Stop here with me.”

“Don't ask me, Charles,” she said. “Don't ask me, my darling. I'm not strong enough to refuse.”

Then as his hands went upwards to the throat of the long bedgown, already pulling it apart, unbuttoning it, she acknowledged at last in her own heart why it was that she had come to him, what it was that had driven her there.

Interlude with the German chancellor

The Dog which lay at count Bismarck's feet had been trained to growl at the approach of visitors; it was as surly and intractable as its master. That the doors of the Chancellery suite were guarded was not enough. Even the sound of voices in the corridor distracted the Chancellor; and he could not afford to be distracted at this moment. There was no one else in Prussia, he had often told himself, who really understood politics; no one else who could guide the Reich to its rightful place among the nations. He worked austerely, sitting upright as though on horseback, in a uniform which was not even a general's, shut away completely from the outside world. Shut away in a room that had suddenly become the very centre of Europe.

The need for his isolation was greater than ever now—the impending events were so much larger. And everything that happened afterwards in history had to happen first in his own lonely mind. It was the future that he was living in. The wars with Denmark and Austria had been trivial field practices in comparison with what was coming: Koniggratz and Sadowa had been no more than scale exercises in the military art. But very useful exercises nevertheless. They had shown that the Prussian Army was at last what he and von Moltke had been striving, one in the Reichstag and the other in the field, to make it: it was a vast, efficient machine in which the officers—even junior officers— could exercise their own discretion. That was the crux of the whole matter—discretion. And so far only one of the Generals, General von Steinmetz, had shown any signs of being likely to abuse it. But even occasional abuses, he reminded himself, were better than the deadening central command of the French. The power of discretion meant that every corps, every unit, every platoon of the German army was a complete, living, sentient thing, not merely an arm or a leg groping blindly for a gap or a foothold.

That war was inevitable he did not question. He had designed the events of the past years so carefully, so thoroughly, that there could really be no doubt now as to the eventual result. And even
if it were not inevitable, if there were still some loophole through which the fat Napoleon could squeeze himself, he could still make it inevitable. He could always in the last resort declare war himself. And, what is more, the judgment of history would justify him, would bless the name of Bismarck for having brought peace and serenity to the troubled continent. Once France had been crushed and trampled on and disposed of, life for the real Europeans, not the Latins, could begin in earnest. The nation of Bonaparte had been too ready to cross her frontiers in the past for any German to sleep soundly at night whilst she was still intact.

And there was another peril which France, corrupt and democratic and decaying, represented: the peril of ideas. Guns and fortresses were no security against these. The soldiers of France might be held back for a lifetime on their own soil, but still the subtle, lingering poison of republicanism would come drifting over the defences, paralysing and invisible, sifting down to rest in men's minds, festering and cankering, destroying everything they touched.

It was, then, Bismarck's duty, his clear duty, to go to war; and it was no more than a diplomatic convenience that he had arranged that his opponent should declare war first. For how could they now fail to declare war, he kept asking himself? A Hohenzollern on the throne of Spain, the enemy on the back-doorstep as well as on the threshold—how could any country, especially a country like France, eaten up with pride and self-glory, endure such a thing? Besides, the King himself had just snubbed the French Ambassador, doing as much in a single stroke to further the war as a military demonstration opposite Metz and Sedan would have done. And the forgery of the Emms telegram was one of those things that history would understand and condone. It had made mobilisation a certainty. The lances and helmets of war—this war in which German blood would be shed to make future generations of Germans, children in the womb and babes yet unconceived, safe in their own heritage—were now visible on the horizon, moving, massing.

Count Bismarck awaited the future, which in his mind was the past already, with the calm and equanimity which is born of the consciousness of perfect preparation.

The wars of the past, the easy destruction of armies caught unawares, had gone forever. It was no longer the tactics of the battlefield, the adroit handling of twenty or thirty thousand men, which mattered. Tactics had given place to strategy, and wars were won or lost even before the first shot was fired. It was the conscription
of everyone in peacetime that now decided the destiny of nations.…

Count Bismarck, who had eaten nothing all day—lit another of his mild cigars and thought contentedly of his evening meal; of his evening meal and of the million men of the
and the
ready and waiting, aware each one of them inside his good German soul, of the sanctity of his mission in this new crusade.
Gott mit Uns
had become the password of a nation.

By the middle of July, Bismarck promised himself, Prussia and France would be at war.

Chapter V

The Station at Rhönberg when Charles and Herr Karlin reached it was as melancholy as a restaurant before the diners have arrived. It was the first train of the day on which Herr Karlin was placing his guest, and the platforms were deserted except for a group of workmen getting into the hard wooden carriages at the back.

Herr Karlin himself was smiling and courteous.

“He looks,” he reflected, as he studied the drawn mouth and heavy eyelids of the young man, “as though he had given himself a sleepless night over the departure. I think that he has fallen a little in love with his cousin.”

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