Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
Storm & Stress
by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
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First Edition Print V1.0 2014
“The revolutionary is a marked man; he has no personal interests, affairs or feelings, no personal connections, nothing that belongs to him, not even a name. Everything in him is geared to a single and exclusive goal, to a single thought, a single passion: the Revolution.”
Surgey Nechayev (1847-1882)
May the favour of the Lord our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands! Prosper the work of our hands!
Psalm 90:17 (NABRE)
Kaiser Wilhelm II put down the English newspaper. So his childhood friend had accomplished it, the long-planned invasion of England, as it were.
Wilhelm lowered his reading glasses and added the newspaper to a pile by his breakfast plate. He preferred the English newspapers to the German ones. Fluent in English—his mother being Queen Victoria’s eldest child—he had grown up in the shadow of his relatives in England. But now they had lost their position of power thanks to Edward Cornwall and his bloodless revolution. The Tsar—also family—had recently lost his position of power in a not so bloodless revolution.
The divine right of kings remained with Wilhelm and Wilhelm alone. To be sure, his German Empire had always been considered almost a matter for humor among his English and Russian relatives. But now, Germany’s time had come.
Wilhelm’s grandfather had added new territory to Germany, as had his father more recently. But those had been European victories leading to an expanded Germany.
Wilhelm stared thoughtfully at the white marble walls of the New Palace, his mind far away. It would fall to him to conquer lands that his forefathers had never even stepped foot on.
he was in a laudanum-induced dream. More of an intense fantasy. Like many of Queen Victoria’s subjects, substances like cocaine and morphine were part of her life, used to manage pain. But today was the first day Anna had used it to dull the emotional pain.
With the death of her stepfather, she was now an eighteen-year-old doxie.
No, not yet. But soon. Soon, she would have to take to the streets.
It was really her mother’s death that had ended both their dreams that Anna would have a normal life. Her mother had been the second wife of a prominent Toronto alderman. But her mother had died of typhoid fever a year ago and her stepfather had more recently died of a degenerative disease that the doctors had been helpless to diagnose. Although he had been kind to her, he had left nothing to Anna. All his money went to the son from his first marriage. Understandable. Her mother’s had been a short marriage, only three and a half years. And Anna was an illegitimate daughter of a woman who had come from one of the slums surrounding Toronto. She had heard the derogatory words the wives of the other aldermen had used to describe her mother.
But there was one last thing Anna would do before descending into the only life that seemed to be open to her now. She would go to Edward and ask him for help. He wasn’t her brother; he wasn’t even her half-brother. But like his father, he had been kind to her.
She had on her best corset and dress. Like her mother, she had eschewed corsets when she had come of age. It was not a habit of the women of Toronto’s shanty city to constrict themselves for mere fashion. But today, she wanted to look like a lady.
Anna choked on the dust kicked up by a passing horse and cab and received a glare from a lady, a proper lady. She changed it to a delicate cough into her gloved hand.
Somehow, she had to get to Edward’s dorm.
This was a different Toronto from the one she had grown up in. This one had space, trees, even a sense of leisure. Her stepfather had spent his career fighting other men’s visions of Toronto as a London of the North; men who dreamed of something denser, urban, every space developed and turned into cold money.
She crossed Queen’s Park with its solid Romanesque architecture. Where others preferred the clean comforts of the modern, Anna felt safe among the old and in the sense that others had lived their lives—lives made elegant by the passage of time—between dark, wood-paneled walls.
But to her alarm, she quickly realized she was the only female on the University of Toronto campus. Groups of young men watched her with interest, much interest. One don was watching her with wild-eyed disapproval, too shocked to speak.
But she must get to Edward’s room! She had no other place to go in this city of her dreams and now, delusions.
She hurried on and up the stairs of the dormitory.
She had been to Edward’s room on campus once this year, at the beginning of the term, when she and her stepfather had delivered him to the university in their family’s annual solemn ritual—clearly the only day when mothers and sisters were welcomed on campus. Despite that Edward could come home any time he wanted, living only four blocks away, Anna’s stepfather always treated the beginning of a school year as if it portended a year-long separation from his son. They had spent a good hour in Edward’s room saying their goodbyes.
But today, Edward was not in his room. Three young men, unknown to Anna, were lounging about on bed, chair and desk.
And the looks on their faces when Anna opened the door and nearly fell into the room said that they weren’t expecting company.
“I say, a doxie!” one of them burst out after the initial moment of silence.
All of them seemed pleased by this sudden interruption of their collegiate moment.
Anna was speechless. She hadn’t expected this and for a moment, it filled her with dread and shame. Was it true what the aldermen’s wives had said about her mother? That you couldn’t hide who you were and that Anna was doomed to go the way of her mother?
Not that her mother had been a doxie. Only a woman with a child to feed and a heart to do whatever it took to do so.
She wanted to tell them that she was Edward’s sister, but of course, she wasn’t. What was she, exactly, to the alderman and his son?
Or what, for that matter, were women in Victoria’s England? Wives or whores, nurses or actresses. School teacher if one lived north of here in one of the small towns appearing along Yonge Street.
“I’m here to see Edward,” Anna managed to say.
The young men exchanged looks that almost instantly turned to comprehension.
“Edward! She’s here for that lucky Eddie!”
“Wrong bloody room!” agreed one of his friends, nodding intelligently. “Let’s return her and meet him! Maybe they’ll let us show him around town.”
“Edward lives here,” Anna said. “I’m sure of it . . .”
But unbeknown to Anna, she was on the wrong floor and the Edward she sought was at this very moment, quietly studying a law text right above her.
“He could show you a thing or two.” The young men had stopped paying attention to Anna. “He probably knows the city better than you and he’s only been here a day. Look, he’s already gotten himself a doxie . . .”
The young men were disengaging themselves from the chair, the desk, the bed. Anna sensed that to them she was nothing more than a package delivered to the wrong address.
They were putting frock coats on over their white shirts and trousers and reaching for hats.
And then they were hurrying her along the corridor.
I am a danger to these young men, Anna realized. Albeit, one they didn’t mind engaging in, briefly. If it were discovered by anyone in authority that they had anything to do with her being here, they would be reprimanded or worse. But their fellow-students were hooting and laughing as they passed, so they would be heroes if they didn’t encounter that disapproving don she had seen earlier. Then it was down the winding stairs and out into the bright sunlight.
It was a beautiful day. The University of Toronto campus covered 150 acres with plants and shrubs abounding more than buildings.
Comments were being directed at Anna, or the young men, as they headed across the commons toward the identical building opposite. Anna didn’t understand most of the expressions, although they were obviously ribald. The mildest comprehensible comment was “Who’s the ladybird?” and Anna gathered from others that dollymop was also an acceptable alternative for what they thought was her profession.
The young men were appreciating the attention, achieved entirely by serendipity. They seemed to think that Anna had gotten the names of the buildings mixed up and whoever this Eddie was, he would be so grateful to them for the cheerful return of his doxie that the gates of Empire would open up to them.
But first they had to navigate her through some obstacles.
Anna was baffled. This was a university dormitory, and yet, there were two constables guarding the entranceway and no young men passing freely. This was only mildly offsetting to her escorts who circumnavigated the building until out of sight of the constables, where they at once began to test the windows. Finally, they found one that they could slide open with ease, and once again, Anna was the package. One young man scrambled through the window first and then she was lifted and pushed through by the other two in a quick effort to get all of them inside before being spotted. Then they were moving through quiet corridors. The two dormitories were reversed, but in every other way, identical and they were making for the room that corresponded with their own. Except that this room also had a constable guarding the door.
“Distract him!” hissed the young man with the greatest leadership skills to the other two.
After only a moment of hesitation, one of the two called out, “Hullo, blue bottle!”
It was enough to cause the man in the blue uniform to raise his eyebrows.
“My friend, here, is a bit of a dipper,” he continued, nudging the second young man. “I bet him a quid he couldn’t nick something of Eddie’s. But he did!” He reached into a pocket and waved a handkerchief. The two turned and ran.
The constable reacted by chasing them, right past Anna and her now single escort.
Astounding, thought Anna. All for a used handkerchief. Who on earth was Eddie?
Her remaining escort hurried her to the door and opened it without knocking.
The young man standing by the window turned and his eyes widened. Anna’s eyes widened too. He was about Anna’s age, well dressed in a morning coat and trousers, and idly leaning on what looked like an Indian lacrosse stick.
Anna was looking straight at one of the most recognized faces in the world, Victoria’s own son and heir, Edward, Prince of Wales.
When his mother, Queen Victoria, had come to the throne, it had been a short three years since the city had changed its name from York back to the original, native name for meeting place, Toronto. It had still been surrounded by forest, with only intermittent clearings. Three main thoroughfares had made up the city—King Street to take you across the city, Dundas Street to take you west, and Yonge Street to take you all the way north to the glittering waters of Lake Simcoe.
In those days, many visitors arrived not by coach, but by boat. Toronto, built right on the edge of Lake Ontario, didn’t impress every visitor. Anna Jameson, British essayist and wife to the newly appointed Chief Justice in Upper Canada, wrote about her new home, that Toronto, “was, thirty years ago, a wilderness, the haunt of the bear and deer, with a little, ugly, inefficient fort, which however, could not be more ugly or inefficient than the present one.”
Clearly, Victoria’s son agreed with this because he said, “Finally, something interesting in this outpost.” He leaned the lacrosse stick against the window frame and came forward.
“Here we go, sir,” said the university student, bowing deeply. “And a real topper she is.”
“I would say more of a toffer,” said Edward gravely, looking Anna over. His voice was pleasantly English with a slight German accent. His clothing was fastidious, but his eyes were droopy. Not a handsome face. But then he smiled and Anna felt something stir in her heart.
“Well said, sir! Well said!”
“What is your name?” the Prince of Wales asked Anna. He was the first man to directly speak to her.
“Anna, sir,” she said.
“I must be going, sir,” said the student. “The constable will be returning . . .”
Edward nodded, hardly interested, his eyes on Anna. Her escort was forced to back out of the room, bowing the whole way.
So much for a reward, thought Anna.
“Won’t you please have a seat?” said Edward, taking the plush chair where the desk would normally have been and waving for Anna to make herself comfortable on his single, but canopied bed. Anna wondered which rich home in Toronto had been raided for these furnishings.
“I regret I have nothing to offer you,” Edward said, apologetically. “Mamma has instructed my keepers not to let me have alcohol unless at dinner.”
“I don’t mind,” Anna said. “My mother was an actress, but she never drank either.”
Actress. That’s what the alderman had always called his young wife.
“I bet her shows are ripping,” said Edward, not noticing that she had spoken in the past tense. “I wish they’d let me see some of them while I’m here. It’s rather dull fare they have lined up for me. There must be pretty girls in Toronto—well you’re proof aren’t you?—but they have me dancing with people like the wife of the Director of the Welland Canal.”
The photographs in the newspapers were usually of an unsmiling young man with weak features, but here in life, Edward was alive and she felt his vibrant energy.
Though young and a little bit shy, he seemed to be able to cope with suddenly having a young woman arrive in his private room.
He moved closer to her and she realized that he was going to treat her like a doxie, rather than like the daughter of an actress. Or maybe if you came from sophisticated London, it was all more or less the same.
Despite her earlier awareness that a life of offering her body for sex would be the only recourse for her, she still wasn’t ready. At this moment, it felt real. Too real. A doxie shouldn’t care about the man she was required to be used by. And Anna cared.
Already, she was feeling the fumbling awkwardness of it as the prince clumsily tried to figure out the buttons on her dress.
It wasn’t for her to decide either way.
The prince, though not yet a man of the world, was enough of one to know what he wanted. To Anna, it finished almost before it had started. Her corset didn’t even get loosened. She felt nothing. But the prince was pleased.
And he was talkative now.
“They took me to see Niagara Falls. It was quite the show. A chap named Blondin went across on a tightrope and offered to take me over on a wheelbarrow. After that, it was an Agricultural Exhibition. Not quite the same. The people here have been kind. I suppose they love the mater, but I’m told 50,000 came out here to cheer me on. Montreal, not as many, but I say, I’m quite taken by the French. All they seem to do there is eat and dance. No stuffy openings, but some long speeches, I’m afraid. And they do stare. I got to ride a timber slide in Ottawa. That was something. After this, we’re off to the United States. Have you been? I say, would you like to come back to England with me after that?”
Anna hesitated for only a moment before answering.
And in that moment, history changed.
I turn to see Toby.
He is behind me, coming down the stone steps of the Humanities Building.
Toby is a lovely sight. He’s tall and confident. His hair is wavy and dark and his smile is broad. He comes toward me with assurance, putting an arm around me. His other arm has books under it.
His embrace, although undoubtedly sincere, has a casual feel to it. But then he intertwines our hands and I feel more connected as we continue walking.
We are passing the Canadian-German Fellowship Hall, a place neither of us would dream of entering. The students coming down the marble steps are still speaking German to one another. There isn’t a single citizen of Canada who isn’t able to speak at least a few words in German, but amongst the Socialists, you will never hear one of those words pass across our lips.
Toby glances at them before lowering his voice. “I received a telegram. We have a lot to discuss . . .” Then he glances up.
It is a sunny day and many students are out enjoying it, but a large black shadow has filled the sky, ominous and frightening. Then I hear the hum of an engine.
My free hand clutches Toby’s arm. I can hardly believe what is passing above us. A zeppelin. Certainly I have seen them many times from a distance but it’s nothing to prepare a person for actually standing underneath one. The shadow that it casts is enormous. They don’t usually pass right over Toronto. It must be someone important.
Toby continues on, holding my hand, giving everyone the impression that we are a couple. Girls openly look up at him. It’s at moments like these that I long to be just his and not to belong to the cause. Would he even love me if it weren’t for who I am? That’s a thought I always quickly push away.
Strikes. They’re the mainstream of the Socialist movement. The Labour Emancipation Directive and The People’s Will are both known for their work within the factories. Labour has no representation in the King’s Parliament and that means that every factory owner can set the hours and the wages of his employees. The Labour Emancipation Directive and The People’s Will both organize the daily strikes across Canada. Most of them achieve next-to-nothing for the workers and they only last for a few days, but it’s a gradual process. Wages go up by 25 cents an hour, the work day is shortened from 11 hours down to 10 ½ hours.
The Sons of Freedom publish pamphlets and can be seen distributing them outside of factories at quitting time. Their objective is a call for worker unity. Not just one factory striking at a time, but for ALL workers to strike at once.
Other Socialists work quietly to turn the worker’s guilds into viable voices for worker’s rights.
There is another movement, one that supports all of the tenets of Socialism and at the same time, preserves the memories of Edward Cornwall. The Concerned Citizens originated in London but has a small membership here in Canada.
But for Toby, the Party is everything. The (illegal) Communist Party holds all of the groups together, loosely to be sure. We are all opposed to autocratic rule, but Toby says that at this point, the King isn’t the enemy. It’s our inability to create a working manifesto so essential to our unity. When we are able to unite under one declaration, we will at last be able to lead the revolution. But first, ideology must marry organization.
So Toby spends his days and nights organizing, bringing the different guilds and groups together, creating consensus. It sounds vague but it’s actually productive—and it’s necessary. This isn’t coffeehouse Socialism. Toby is creating a Party of professional revolutionaries. The Communist Party will then lead the Socialist movement into battle and then into power.
There is a network throughout Canada that weaves through the schools and factories. Toby and the Party created it. Its members include lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, mechanics, agronomists.
It was created the year I came to the University of Toronto, an organization to bring the message to the people. Soon. America taught the world that sometimes a brutal revolution is needed to break from the King. But we don’t want the harshness of a republic where the strong survive and the weak sink to the bottom. So Toby collaborated with the Sons of Freedom and The People’s Will to take a message to the people. If we all come together, it can be a gentle revolution and those at the bottom will never have to be hungry again.
The people are stirring. Toby only hopes that enough of them will be ready to rise when the time comes.
“It would only take a moment,” he says. “One moment, one unified voice. But in that moment, everything could change.”
I believe him and so does everyone who hears him.
Under the floorboards of his bed is a box filled with the red flags of revolution. When the people finally rise, we will be ready.
“The guildies will come over tonight,” Toby says. “Then we’ll talk. I have to drop these off.” He indicates the books. “Then we’ll get over to the park.”
We are passing a mustard yellow booth with glass and a rotary-dial phone inside.
For some reason, our King thinks it’s less inflammatory to have our phone booths imported from Germany than from England.
The guild members are the closest Toby has to friends. We are all part of the guild of law students. Many Socialists study law and labour issues. Our King allows no trade unions, so the only hope for the workingman is to have a sympathetic—and inexpensive—lawyer on his side in times of dispute.
We go up the steps to our dorm room. Anarchists and Communists are expected to co-habit with one another, but this is still the King’s Toronto. So I have my own room in a nearby building, even if I hardly spend any time there. Toby and I share his narrow single bed, but never in a state of undress. Not really my idea, but I hardly want to be the one who pushes for more.
Toby is distracted by the pile of mail on his desk. I pick up The Globe from the pile.
The Globe is part of Canadian history. One of John A. Macdonald’s opponents, George Brown, founded it and it was the voice of reform and republicanism in its day.
“Check the agony column,” says Toby, sitting down at his desk. “I haven’t had a chance yet.”
I nod. The agony column has been used since Victoria’s day to send out personal messages. The anarchists do it all the time. It could be something simple like, “Jack, call home tonight. Your brother.” And then everyone knows to meet at Jack’s pub that night.
“What am I looking for?” I ask, sitting down on his bed.
“The usual,” he says, without turning around.
I flip through the paper reading the latest news. There’s been a wolf sighting by the nuns of a convent on the outskirts of the city. There are ads for business colleges and a veterinarian college. Most pages have boating-related advertisements. The activities hosted by the Royal Canadian Yacht Club—dinners, dances and a regatta—are listed on one entire page. Aquatic sports occupy the minds of most Torontonians this time of year.
The newspaper reports rather gleefully that despite prohibitive legislation, many college men are swimming in the lake without their bathing trunks, tossing them into a communal boat and hastily dressing only if approached by a member of the constabulary. The Morality Department makes sure that such shenanigans are not equal opportunity events. They will intervene if a female is among the male students.
The Morality Department is also concerned, reports The Globe, about the number of women who have exchanged the houses of ill repute or the streets for simply luring in men by calling out to them from their bedroom windows. Other residences of the boarding house, as well as neighbours along the street, are complaining about this brazen form of prostitution right in their midst.
Several different articles quote a spokesperson from the Morality Department—one about Chinese gambling, which is bad enough, but that it is taking place in backrooms on Sunday of all days. Drunkenness on the streets is also a big concern of this department.
When I finally get to the agony column, I skim through the enormous number of people who are willing to take in boarders. Pages and pages of columns. I note that they are all downtown addresses. It’s a wonder there is any need for student housing on campus with all these rooms available. It’s the only way people can hold onto a house in the city. It’s either that or get a home in the suburbs and take a one-hour streetcar ride into the city everyday, three hours if there’s snow. Still, I shouldn’t speak against the streetcars. They are the transportation of the proletariat.
The Globe reports, hardly bothering to hide its rage, that several citizens have come to them with complaints of being arrested and beaten by the constabulary for no other reason than being on the wrong street at the wrong time. I mention this to Toby.
Toby nods and glances up.
“The more there is of that, the more I feel sure that it’s going to happen soon. The working classes will rise as one against the King. The Globe has always been on our side. And as long as the constabulary in this town consider poverty a crime, the abuses will continue. The King does nothing to stop it and in the end, it will be his undoing. The days of Edward Cornwall will finally come to Canada!”
I agree as I hand the paper, folded to the agony column, to Toby. I haven’t seen anything noteworthy. Toby takes the paper from me and skims it.
“Nothing today,” he agrees.
“That’s what I thought,” I say, going over to his bookshelf to read the titles on the spines. It’s history mixed with law. For us, what else is there? Toby has the best personal library on campus. As he likes to say to anyone who comments on it, “My father’s filthy commerce at least means I can have a decent library.”
Toby only went to university to please his father who owns some kind of a distributing business and wanted his son to have a business degree. But then Toby discovered Socialism and the law—and me. And his father, to his eternal credit, didn’t disown him. It all worked out, anyhow. With my Socialist contacts in England, I gave him the address of a distributor in London who specializes in English biscuits and now Toby’s father makes a fortune importing them and selling them on the black market. Like the phone booths, our King in Ottawa thinks that having German-imported biscuits in the supermarkets is better for our relations with the Kaiser.
I notice a slim volume with Edward Cornwall written on the side.
“You’re crazy,” I say, turning it around so that you can only see the pages, not the title.
“What would I do without you?” He stands and reaches for my hand and then we’re back out in the corridor, hurrying to our next engagement. I don’t know why I worry about a book on his shelf considering where we’re off to now, doing what Toby does best—stirring things up.
hen in Toronto, the King lived in a modest Georgian home with his American wife and their one son. Only one child. His wife, having produced an heir, said any more children would ruin her figure.
His wife was the Queen, but King Albert knew she was not the queen of the hearts of the people. The paparazzi loved to photograph her and she was good copy for the newspapers, but there was an almost imperceptible contempt about anything to do with Queen Donna. She wasn’t one of the people and they knew it. For an American, she was too regal, too haughty. They would have all liked to see her come down a bit, although none of them would have ever dared to admit it.
The King turned away from the window of his study overlooking Queen’s Park. Queen’s Park in Toronto was not named for his queen, of course. It was here long before that day his great-great grandfather arrived in Canada, barely getting out of England before republican voices were calling for his execution.
Being Saturday, the protesters were all out in the park, voicing their opinions to however big a crowd they could attract. The missionaries wanted people to repent of their sins. Some people were selling things; others were putting on a show to earn the coins of the people. Today it was a juggler. Last week it had been a children’s puppet show starring a king and a queen and the queen had continually batted the king on the head with her tiara. The children had loved it and from his window, the King had chosen to ignore it.
Usually it was harmless enough, but the King was keeping his eye open for one particular young Socialist who attracted a much larger gathering than most.
So far, there was no reason to arrest the young man. He did not openly speak of treason. He did not call for any solidarity with other Socialists in the world.
Workers of the world, unite! It was a slogan all monarchs loathed. It had brought down the Romanovs in Russia. It had left England without a King.
And since then, the remaining royal families of the world had learned to monitor all telegrams with assiduity and to keep any scientific innovations that could be used by the Socialists to lead a revolution from ever making it into the public domain.
But King Albert had made sure that his people had trains and roads and movie theatres that played approved films. Beer in the pubs. Food in the markets. For those who could afford it. A niggling thought, he pushed away. His subjects were happy. It was just those occasional ones who had to stir up things . . .
He wasn’t as ignorant as the Socialists of Toronto liked to make him out. He knew rich and poor lived in the city. He had even seen the sad-looking houses all along the streets of Jarvis, Lombard, and Bathurst. He had passed through both west end and east end slums.
But he had also seen the paved thoroughfares in the summer, places like Bloor, Sherbourne and Spadina—where citizens of all classes strolled with their young ones, enjoying the balmy night air. He knew his own son occasionally even joined them, with a friend and a private detective, and had experienced no sense of antagonism.
Overhead, he heard the hum of an engine and glanced up. It was that zeppelin again.
Kaiser Frederick had sent it over, direct from Berlin, as a gift for the King. In a ceremony at the German Embassy, it had been presented to King Albert and been followed by an evening made up of an eight-course dinner and three hours of speeches. But since the zeppelin wasn’t the type of thing the King could just take away with him, the blasted thing was still in the hands of the German Ambassador who had a spacious compound in which to house it.
King Albert would have preferred a dachshund as a gift. Heights made him dizzy. No, that wasn’t entirely true. Anything stressful made him dizzy these days, a fact that disturbed the royal physician, so much so that Albert hadn’t mentioned the mild twinges he’d been having in his chest, nor the numbness in his hands.
Oh if only David would hurry up and marry and have a few children. But the Crown Prince, though always with friends, never seemed to meet anyone who would be suitable for the throne of Canada.
Just the thought of the lack of marriage prospects was enough to bring the twinges on his chest. The King pressed a hand on his heart and tried not to think about it. He turned his mind back to the scene out the window.
Ah, there was the young man, with that rather plain young woman he always seemed to be with. His girlfriend, no doubt. He was about to speak. Already, a crowd was forming. The King wouldn’t be able to hear what he said from the window, but he had intelligence officers in the park for that purpose. And they had a thick file on the young man, Toby something-or-other.
One of his intelligence officers had reported to him that the young man was a Christian, or at the very least, he used scriptures to support his creed. When he had heard that, the King had been strangely comforted. It was the first time he had heard of this third brand of Christianity. There was the Kaiser’s militant Christianity in Germany and the American’s republican Christianity to the south. The King’s own Christianity was so benign he hardly considered it a brand at all. But that there might be this third type of Christianity gave him a vague hope that there was just the faintest possibility that Canada might not get crushed in a battle between the two giants.
It was a battle that had threatened Canada for over a hundred years now.
Back in 1910, shortly after the death of King Edward of England, one of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s loyal barons had declared that Wilhelm was now the most decisive voice in the world. He and the American President, Roosevelt, would be the masters of history from now on. It had remained true to this day—Germany and the United States.
As if to remind him of his place in the world, his personal secretary entered the room and handed him a dossier for the upcoming private visit of the Kaiser and his Kaiserin to Canada. His personal secretary came and went so frequently that greetings weren’t necessary between the two men.
The King opened the red leather binder to read what his staff had assembled for him. Of course, this wouldn’t be his and Queen Donna’s first meeting with the Kaiser and the Kaiserin. Albert, Donna and David had been to Berlin in ’03 and the Kaiser had made an official visit to Canada in ’05. In addition, the Kaiser was a prolific letter writer and Albert rather enjoyed his lively epistles that touched upon a staggering range of topics—everything from politics in London all the way down to the need to train young men in the manly art of outdoor survival.
This dossier was mainly an outline of everything that the Kaiser and Kaiserin had done in the past year.
Donna would be expected to familiarize herself with the Empress of Germany’s activities. Effie, in addition to being a mother of six sons, kept herself busy. With amusement, the King read how she had personally raised funds for and overseen the construction of ten new Protestant churches in the capital alone, as well as acting as advisor to an enormous list of other Protestant charities. Donna wouldn’t have much to say about that, thought Alfred.
In addition, the report informed him not to introduce the Kaiser or the Kaiserin to any Catholics, Jews or divorced people. The Kaiserin, in particular, had a very low view of people who were divorced.
In fact, as he continued to read, the only safe topic seemed to be family. It was widely known in Berlin that the Kaiser’s Chancellor was currently in a state of disgrace and everyone expected a new appointment any day. But family festivities were always happy days for the Imperial family. For the birthdays of the princes, anything wonderful could happen. This year, for a summer birthday, there had been a three-ring circus on the front yard of the New Palace. For a winter birthday, there had been an ice castle fortress and an ice cream sundae buffet. For the Kaiserin’s birthday, there had been a full orchestra performance in the Marble Hall of the palace. The Kaiser’s birthday always involved a military parade.
Albert wondered what cobbled facts the Kaiser was receiving about him and Donna and David. That they had had a quiet roast beef dinner at New Buckingham Palace for David’s birthday? That for the King’s birthday, his subjects had enjoyed a holiday from work and the fireworks display on the lawn of the palace, all probably with no thought of him? Would the Kaiser hear that Donna had spent her birthday on a shopping spree in Montreal?
The Kaiser closed the dossier and turned back to the window. In the distance, he could see the Toronto constabulary moving in on the crowds and the young Socialist, in particular. They had no reason to; no direct order from the King. The Toronto constabulary just didn’t appreciate large crowds and their potential for mischief.
The King was waiting for the very end. He had noticed a peculiar aspect of these particular gatherings.
constabulary approached, there were usually several people in the crowd who
would rally for one final time, not around the Socialist, but around his
girlfriend, patting her on the back or shaking her hand. The King couldn’t see
what they possibly got out of her presence. She didn’t seem to speak or do
anything in particular. He would have to get around to asking his intelligence
officers more about her.
es, it is true that a woman can excel in any field she desires to,” Toby is saying to a crowd that is growing increasingly larger the longer he speaks. “But she will make half as much as a man. Her wages of $300 a week will certainly cover her room and board, but then, if she is to ever—perish the thought—need a new pair of boots, is she then to turn to prostitution in order to obtain them?”
There is clapping. We are in Queen’s Park, within an arrow’s shot of the Romanesque City Hall, as well as the King’s residence when he’s in Toronto. As the crowd grows, I find myself further and further to the side, until I am up against a statue of a horse and rider. It’s supposed to be Edward, Prince of Wales, although I doubt he ever posed for it. A small brass plaque tells me that Prince Edward inaugurated this park when he visited the city in 1860.
“Our biggest rally yet is going to be tomorrow.” Toby is using a megaphone to be heard. Toby is not the only one preaching in the park on this Saturday afternoon, but he is certainly the most popular. Torontonians are out strolling along the footpaths and the older ones just keep on going, but the younger ones stop to listen. “The King’s Own Rifles are going to be marching along Jarvis, Carleton, College and McCaul to the New Richmond Street Anglican Church. That’s where we’ll meet them.”
There is murmuring in the crowd. Toby holds up a hand.
“Some of you will say that a good Socialist should never even let his shadow fall into the interior of a church, but I say to you, a Socialist should never miss a Sunday in church! A Socialist’s first duty is to God, because ours is a just cause, ours is the right cause!” He pauses slightly to allow for agreement from the audience. None of them look like they like the idea of attending a weekly church service, but it is a tribute to Toby’s bold speaking-style that there is some nodding. “And secondly,” continues Toby. “A Socialist must be everywhere that the King’s man is! We must always be in his space. It is our job to make him uncomfortable, to let him know we will not go away!” The audience is nodding more vigorously now and there are some laughs and some cheers. “I expect you all to be there. I do NOT expect you to wear your Sunday best!” There is more laughter. “Our God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance.”
There is some agreement in the crowd. So long as God is the God of Socialism and not the toffs, most of them will stay on Toby’s side.
Toby informs them that he will see them all outside the church the next morning and the crowd starts breaking up. It is just as well. In teams of two, Toronto’s constabulary are moving along the footpaths, sending speakers and listeners along on their way. Toby always has to keep his message short.
But he still lingers in order to meet with admirers who want to shake his hand and exchange a few words. Many people hug me or give me a high five.
If this were winter, we’d have to get back and study. But our final exams were last week and so we can now just stroll along, holding hands, like any other couple.
Except that we aren’t like any other couple. The world’s got to change in a big way if we’re going to be together in every sense.
“Why do you always have to mention God?” I say.
“Not talking about him doesn’t make him go away,” says Toby. Despite him telling the crowd that they should attend church, Toby would never enter an Anglican sanctuary. He and his family are Recusant Catholics, officially enemies of the State, although the laws are rarely enforced. It’s one of the reasons why I think his father took it so well when Toby became a Socialist. I knew next to nothing about Catholics before I met Toby and I still don’t want to know anything about them, but I gather that many of them are sympathetic Socialists. Toby carries a Rosary around in his pocket and says that we are all the Blessed Mother’s children.
“I don’t think Edward Cornwall would have liked it,” I say, now moody because this conversation is a foregone conclusion. Toby always wins. “He always said that King Edward shouldn’t bother going to church.”
“Edward Cornwall would have been fine with it. What he objected to was the fact that King Edward was supposed to be the head of the Church of England but he was a glutton and a womanizer.”
He’s right, of course.
We stroll in silence. Toby will be with me until the end, regardless of my opinions. That’s really the thought that I push away. He stays with me because of my story and my life is really the story of a king.
Actually, it’s really the story of two kings and one king-to-be.
Back, before the revolutions, in Russia, there was Tsar Nicholas II. In Germany, there was Kaiser Wilhelm II. In England, there was the reclusive Queen Victoria, elderly and still in mourning for her beloved Albert who had died thirty years earlier. So the public saw more of her heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, than her. By the late 1800’s, he was a middle-aged man.
Wilhelm II was descended from warrior kings—both his father and his grandfather had been busy in the 1800’s taking land for the Fatherland. But Edward’s wife, Princess Alexandra, was Danish and protested bitterly about Germany taking Schleswig and Holstein from Denmark. Edward for the most part, shared her viewpoint.
Nicholas II’s mother was also a Danish princess, one of Alexandra’s sisters. Both sisters never forgave Germany for what it did to their father, forcing him to make war payments after taking half his kingdom. The two sisters dressed identically when together to suggest English-Russian solidarity. When separated by all of Europe, the two Danish princesses openly snubbed all German nobility that had the misfortune to have to appear at their respective courts. In both cases, the husbands chose to take their wives’ sides, which in Edward’s case, meant going against his mother’s official stand. Victoria was always in favour of Germany since her beloved husband had been German and her daughter was married to the heir to the German throne—the one who had actually participated in the campaign against the Danes. But the British public sided with Prince Edward—the Danes were the victims of German oppression, courageous despite their military weakness and righteous in the face of unprovoked aggression.
When he was young, Wilhlem, the future Kaiser, had great respect for his grandmother, Queen Victoria. But as time progressed and it was clear that there was a plan (or a plot, depending on whose side you took) to turn Germany into a liberal constitutional monarchy, such as there was in England and that it was his own mother behind it, (goaded on by her mother), his “dear Grandmama” gradually became mockingly referred to as “Empress of Hindoustan.” (Not that Wilhelm didn’t aspire to being Emperor of India himself.) Edward, still heir to the throne despite his own advancing age, was “that old peacock.”
Among his mother’s royal family in England, Wilhelm was cheekily referred to as “William the Great” or “William the Fidgety.”
The idea of racial purity came into vogue in Wilhelm’s day. His circle of friends believed in German superiority and soon the Jews were Wilhelm’s scapegoat, the “rabble” of Germany. They were blamed for the rise of Socialism and the demands of the workingman. On the other end of the economic stratum, the successful ones were blamed for hoarding the wealth of Germany. Jews were blamed when the press was critical of Wilhelm. Even Wilhelm’s father’s death from throat cancer was blamed on the Jews.
Jews were also blamed for the degeneracy of Edward’s England, who allowed Jews into his inner circle of friends, particularly the rich financiers who were quick to lend him money when needed to cover his gambling debts. Believing that the Jews were part of an international conspiracy to control Europe, Wilhelm planned to invade England and put it to an end.
But the anarchists were rising in Russia. In 1881 they threw a bomb at the carriage of Tsar Alexander II. He got out and then was killed by another bomb thrown at him. Tsar Alexander III came to the throne. His wife was the sister of Prince Edward’s wife, and as a result, despite political enmity between Russia and Britain over control of Persia and Afghanistan, the two families were close. Alexander III died of kidney problems in 1894, but even there, the kidney problems were probably brought on by an incident six years earlier when anarchists derailed the royal train. The roof of the train fell in on the royal family in the dining car. Alexander III, a bear of a man, held the roof on his shoulders while his wife and five children were able to escape out of the collapsing car, among them, Alexander III’s heir, Nicholas II.
When Nicholas’s father died, Prince Edward went to Russia and was a great comfort to his wife’s sister and her son, now the new Tsar. Edward organized everything and was well-loved by the Tsar and his family. The two conspired against the ambitions of Wilhelm, the seeds of hostility having already been sown when Germany took Schleswig and Holstein from Denmark in its bloody expansionist war.
But choosing Russia over Germany, both politically and personally, was not a wise one for Prince Edward. Despite the autocratic Kaiser and his militarily-minded circle of advisors, a middle class was emerging in Germany not unlike the one in England—one where the average man had a newspaper and his own opinions on the matters of the day, whether the issues affected him or not. By contrast, Russia was populated with illiterate peasants and revolutionaries. There was no Russian equivalent of England’s Lord Northcliffe, who built a newspaper empire that kept people’s minds roving over a gamut of news—trivial and significant.
The Russian people had no hope for reform. It could only come by the will of the Tsar. By contrast, Britain had trade unions and Parliament.
Victoria died in 1901 and Prince Edward came to the throne as Edward VII.
Edward Cornwall. He seemed to come out of nowhere. And, apart from his name, he had one important thing in common with the King. They were both able to create a sense of connection between the English people and the Russian people. But whereas the king did it to spite the Kaiser, Edward Cornwall did it to achieve a revolution.
In 1909, British Prime Minister Lloyd George remarked that it cost the English government the same amount to support a duke as it did to maintain two dreadnoughts, and the dreadnoughts were easier to scrap when you didn’t need them anymore. King Edward was not pleased with this comment that reeked of socialism, but then King Edward died in 1910 . . .
We are back in Toby’s room. Coming down the corridor are three of our guildies.
Toby greets them as they come in, while I brew some coffee.
They mostly ignore me. I’m essential to the movement but inconsequential to the everyday matters. The guildies are eager to share the latest with Toby.
“It’s just come in that the Kaiser purchased a hunting lodge in northern Ontario a few months ago.” Micah is sitting on the edge of Toby’s bed. “You know what this means!”
They all nod. This suggests a place for secret meetings.
“We knew the King was against us,” Matthew continues, “but now with the Kaiser behind him, we could be in trouble if we don’t act soon.”
“Protests in the streets aren’t enough,” says John. “We need to have some real leverage.”
Toby glances at me.
“I think Felicity and I may be able to do something about that.” He opens a desk drawer and hands something to me. I take it. It’s the telegram. But before I have a chance to read it, Toby is telling the others what it says.
“They’re worried in England. The Concerned Comrades see the Kaiser’s influence everywhere on the continent. But what’s even more troubling is that he’s building up his navy at Kiel and that can only mean one thing.”
“The invasion of England,” murmurs Micah.
“But if we follow this to Iraq, it could change everything,” Toby says.
My eyes widen and I look down again at what is in my hand. But I can’t read it. It’s in the code that the Socialists use to send confidential messages. The King James Bible, a book approved of by both King and Kaiser, is the cipher with numbers representing certain words in the scriptures.
According to Toby, the Middle East is simmering. The Germans are heartless and the Arabs don’t like the Turks. The Sanjaks of the Ottoman Empire are on the verge of turning Communist—Mosul, Baghdad, Basra. They sent a message to England for help. They promise that the whole Arab world chaffs under Turkish rule and would rise up as one. The world’s oil would belong to the Socialist cause. Persia and Arabia have only survived as monarchies because of German support, but the Germans are cruel to anyone who isn’t Aryan. Russia is already making claims in Persia. If England is to have any share in the oil supply, she must act now. Only oil can provide the fuel necessary for the type of navy that can fight German naval supremacy. It could tilt any future war in favour of the Socialists.
“Well, you’re the logical one to go and meet with them,” says Micah. “The Socialists will control the oil and the Kaiser’s navy will be useless.”
“We’ll go west,” says Toby. “That’s the whole point. To stay safe. The Concerned Comrades in England can’t risk crossing Europe. There’s a good chance they’d be stopped along the way. But we can go west to the coast and cross the Pacific. It’s an American ocean and the Kaiser has no presence in it.”
“And what do you do when you get there?” says Micah. “You’ll be fine in Japan and China, but once you hit India, the Kaiser’s men will pick you up.”
“We’ll stay on the water until we get to Basra,” says Toby. “Then it’s just a river ride up to Baghdad. No big deal.”
“And what if she dies of malaria in a dhow in the middle of nowhere?” John jerks a thumb towards me.
“We drink a lot of gin-and-tonic along the way,” says Toby grinning, looking over at me. I smile back though I’m a bit stunned.
Baghdad! We’re going to Baghdad! Talk about the ultimate expedition. But it’s disturbing that the Germans control India. When Britain had to abandon India after the brief Great War, Germany went straight in.
“And if we don’t do this,” Toby adds, “There’s a good chance that Yonge Street will become Kaiser Wilhelm Strasse.”
There is general agreement on this point.
“We’ll need you guys to cover for us when we’re gone,” says Toby. “Get one of the girls to be Felicity, and all that. Make sure our names are everywhere. The King’s men can’t know we’ve left Toronto.”
Another pot of coffee is made and the conversation turns to how awful it will be if the King and the Kaiser make an alliance.
It is illegal in Germany to say anything bad about the Kaiser so people there refer to him as “Siegfried Meyer”—since S.M. stands for Seine Majestat—when telling amusing stories about him. The really cautious call him Herr Schmidt when talking about him.
Here in this room, a lot of hilarious other names with the initials S.M. are devised for the Kaiser as the evening goes on. But it’s also sobering. One of the guys reports that he read that people who have openly spoken badly of the Kaiser are serving a collective thirty thousand years in prison.
“It just confirms what we’ve suspected all along though, doesn’t it?” says Micah. “This hunting lodge, I mean. And the Kaiser’s navy. Do you think the King has been promised that he will get his throne back if Germany conquers England?”
“As if the Kaiser would ever let anyone share his power,” says John, shaking his head as he adds more sugar to his coffee.
“The King is used to being ruled,” says Toby.
There is general laughter. Our King in Ottawa is married to a beautiful, fashionable—and if you believe the rumours, very demanding—American wife.
“If you ask me,” says John, “there’ll be a war between the Kaiser and the United States if the King isn’t careful.”
There is a murmur of interest at this new idea.
“I mean,” John continues, “the King cultivates this idea that the Germans are our cousins and lets them have their naval bases in Halifax in exchange for Canadian sovereignty. But I think the whole thing could backfire on him. The Kaiser’s ego is limitless, as far as everybody knows. With this new navy of his, how do we know he isn’t going to turn on the U.S. too . . . ?”
There isn’t a man in the room who doesn’t have something to say about this theory, but even with the coffee, I’m starting to nod off. I drift off to sleep as the apocalyptic discussion carries on well into the night.
narchists are like insects under a rug,” Kaiser Frederick said to King Albert. “They must be hunted for and destroyed.”
King Albert thought about insects under a rug. Or was it a rock? King Albert’s German was as good as most, but the Kaiser was speaking rapidly and the King was missing some words. He knew his own German was spoken with a heavy English accent. The Queen could hardly speak it at all, although she had had a German tutor since coming to the throne. But then, Queen Donna couldn’t even say a “Bonjour” in Quebec if her life depended on it.
“Now, the Socialists are like sunshine,” the Kaiser continued. “Easy to find but almost impossible to stop . . .”
Kaiser Frederick’s driving philosophy was that kings, big or small, must stand together against all the democratic and republican forces that would threaten their thrones.
King Albert glanced at his wife while the Kaiser advised him on how to hunt down anarchists and diffuse Socialism, none of it particularly practical. His wife hated the hunting lodge, he could tell. She had used it as an excuse to buy a whole new rustic, wardrobe, but then had been annoyed that there were no photographers to present her chic, northern look to the nation.
Not that the visit was a secret. It was impossible to keep a visit from the Kaiser a secret when he arrived in Halifax and then sailed down the St. Lawrence in an imperial yacht the size of an ocean liner and accompanied by a flotilla of Royal Hohenzollern battleships, cruisers and destroyers.
But at least it wasn’t an official visit. If it had been, the Kaiser would have expected a full tour of all the port installations, munitions factories and army bases. He was the type of man who took such an interest in all the details of the military. He would have visited everything from the engine room of the navy’s flagship, H.M.S. Victory, all the way down to the army latrines.
But King Albert had more to think about at the moment than his wife’s peevish attitude toward the Kaiser’s hunting lodge. (Besides, she had no reason not to enjoy herself. It might be a hunting lodge, but it was stocked with the finest German wines, cheeses from all over Europe, chocolates from Switzerland, not to mention the famous sausages and savoury meats from Germany. Their beds were covered in Belgium lace. The Kaiser took pride in always playing the generous and elegant host.)
They had signed the agreement only this morning and already, the Kaiser wanted to commence on rooting out the Socialist elements in Canada. What he didn’t understand was that Canada was a vast, mostly unpatrolled country where a wanted Socialist could flee and never be found. Germany’s access to the sea was limited to her northern border. When she closed the borders, she could then turn inward until she found her man. But people could seep out of Canada any number of ways. Three different oceans could carry a man away before the King’s men were even finished searching Toronto.
He knew the Kaiser wouldn’t have tolerated children’s puppet shows in the park, with their gentle mocking and insinuation that the Queen was the power behind the King. The Kaiser ruled an Iron Kingdom and had court rituals and a dizzying tier system of nobles and officials. By comparison, the King merely had servants—although his wife made sure that the court was an elegant one. The King kept busy with appointing ministers, trying to balance merchants and artisans from the miniscule middle class with the overabundance of lawyers and professional politicians who jostled with one another to fill the government positions.
But the irritating Socialists liked to point out that the lower classes had no representation in the government. An absurd hypocrisy because King Albert knew most of the Socialists came from well-to-do families and continued to live and eat like the best of them, even while they preached Socialism. Many were enrolled in institutions of higher learning—which meant that if they refrained from turning into social agitators, they themselves could actually aspire to government positions.
But King Albert hadn’t invited the Kaiser to Canada to take his advice on internal matters. He had done so because American pressure and German diplomacy demanded it. The Kaiser’s Europe was bookended by Socialist England and Socialist Russia. The Americans were committed to keeping Socialism from spreading any further. If he didn’t stand with the Kaiser and his growing navy, he could easily imagine the Americans moving north and claiming they would defend Canada from the dangers of a Socialist revolution. It would all be a pretense, of course. A simple desire to expand the American Empire.
Because very few men could lead a successful revolution. That was the secret of history. That was why monarchies tended to last for hundreds of years. Even an inept king could keep his throne by the simple momentum created by those who had ruled before him.
Very few men. The King inhaled and then exhaled heavily. There was that one young man in the park . . .
Kaiserin Effi came into the room and invited the Queen to join her on the porch for lemonade. Donna had no choice but to accept the invitation. The Kaiserin didn’t know about mosquitos and black flies. Yet.
“How lovely and slim you look,” said the Queen, on their way out of the room. What German she did know was the conversational kind. But the Queen wouldn’t have wanted to discuss German existentialism so it really didn’t hinder her. “How do you do it?” The Queen, who eschewed meats and cheeses, had already visited the kitchen to tell the Kaiser’s chef that she wanted a small side salad for dinner. No dressing.
The Kaiserin smiled pleasantly, although unused to such familiar comments.
“I do not eat the heavy foods,” she replied.
The truth was, the Kaiserin hardly ate at all. Her husband was insistent that despite her six pregnancies, she should not turn into a German housefrau. Of course, he had only good things to say to any woman of that particular class on those rare occasions when he actually met one, charming them with compliments and telling his ministers that the Germany people were a healthy and robust nation.
But despite the starvation strategy, the Kaiserin found it hard to fight against rosy, round features and big bones.
While soldiers of the Canadian Army patrolled the perimeters of the Kaiser’s 4000-acre property, the Kaiserin and the Queen swatted mosquitos, sipped lemonade and tried to find light topics for conversation.
The Kaiserin asked the Queen about her work with the church.
The Queen replied in her marginal German that she had attended a recent sale organized by a woman’s group. It was a vague answer and the Kaiserin, who surrounded herself with virtuous Christian women dedicated to good works, decided not to pursue the topic.
“Donna, I should very much like to know where you purchased that beautiful blouse,” said the Kaiserin.
The Queen was pleased.
Her shirt was plaid, not the kind worn by lumberjacks, but boxes of grey, brown and soft lilac.
“We will have to go shopping together,” said the Queen, leaning slightly forward and waving away a mosquito.
The Kaiserin listened politely to the list of the exclusive stores that the Queen favoured. Shopping for clothing was something the Kaiserin never did. Her husband chose her outfits for her.
“And your son, the Crown Prince, he is not interested in the Canadian wilderness?” asked the Kaiserin. She had met the tall, pale and thin teenager briefly at the train station when they had arrived in Ottawa. Such a contrast to her large boys, all sturdy in construction and vigorous in play.
“He studies theatre in the capital,” said the Queen, sounding as if she wasn’t sure whether to be proud of it. It was something they kept from the general public, saying that it was for security reasons that people shouldn’t know what and where the Crown Prince studied. When he had entered university, New Buckingham Palace had issued a statement asking that the press respect his privacy so that he could experience university like any other student. “He gets it from my brother,” she added. “He makes films in California.”
“How nice,” said the Kaiserin politely. Her sons were all avid soldiers-to-be, the younger ones playing with toy models of all the regiments in the German Army, the older ones enrolled in military school and interested in all the goings-on of the barracks adjacent to the New Palace in Potsdam where the family lived for most of the year. Like their father, all her sons enjoyed regular dinners with the officers in the mess. She would have loved to have had all her sons with her now. They would have been using their father’s enormous acquisition of Ontario bush to play war games. There had been tears—mostly from the younger ones—when they had been told that the Kaiserin would be accompanying the Kaiser on his brief visit to Canada. Of course, weeping was only permitted in their mother’s boudoir. Each of the boys’ military advisors were expected to take strong action if the royal princes ever cried, tears being considered unmanly for a German officer.
“He is a good boy I am sure,” said the Kaiserin, still thinking of her boys. “He fears God and loves his people, yes?” Every night, before bed, the Kaiserin read the Bible to her sons and then they said their prayers, always making sure to pray for wisdom to govern so great a people as the German nation.
“I’m not so sure I agree with his general outlook,” said the Queen, lapsing for a moment and not realizing that she had spoken in English. She was wishing she hadn’t left her cigarettes in her purse. Maybe the smoke would have driven away the mosquitos. “I’m afraid David is a bit distant from us these days.”
The Kaiserin was quiet, her limited English not withstanding, she didn’t know what to say. She knew all sorts of rumours surrounded the Queen of Canada—that she was the real power behind the throne; that she had only had sex once, the time she had conceived David; that David loved his nanny more than his mother and was known to visit her more than he did New Buckingham Palace. But people always said unkind things. Someone had once remarked to the Kaiser that the Kaiserin was dull and insignificant. The Kaiser had pounded a table so hard it had cracked and said, “Dull, yes. Insignificant, no!” Of course, dull was what the Kaiser expected of her. He didn’t want a wife causing any kind of sensation.
The ladies returned to the sitting room—driven inside by the merciless insects—to find the Kaiser instructing the King in military matters.
In Königliches Schloss in Berlin, their home for ceremonial and state occasions, the Kaiser surrounded himself with military men and while there, his daily luncheon was a long table of men in splendid uniforms between women in silk floor-length gowns. In contrast, Georgian House in Toronto and New Buckingham Palace in Ottawa were generally host to men in suits and women dressed by the same designers as clothed the Queen.
“Sometimes it is enough to put on a good show,” said the Kaiser. “Your military presence must be increased, particularly in Ottawa and the bigger cities . . .”
Ottawa, the nation’s capital, was a political town, hardly in need of a greater military presence. It had been selected by his great-great-great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, for it’s interior position, away from the menacing ambitions of America’s Manifest Destiny.
“Perhaps along the border,” murmured the King, revealing his greater fear. The last time Canadians and Americans had engaged in actual battle against one another was in 1814 and the King wanted to keep it that way. That time, the Canadians had repelled the Americans.
The Kaiser wasn’t listening. Long-used to ferreting out the enemies within, he could hardly imagine the continual threat of being a monarch sharing a nearly 9,000 kilometre-long border with an ambitious republic.
“We are in a battle, Albert! Anarchy wars against religion, order and morality. You need to start with passing some anti-Socialist legislation. Parliament’s a pig sty but they can do some good for you.”
“It’s not that simple,” murmured the King. “You can’t legislate against Socialism because then it opens a can of worms. Suddenly, everyone is talking about wages and working conditions. It creates enormous dissatisfaction.”
“For pity’s sake, man!” The Kaiser leaned forward. “Without legislation, what are you left with to face the strikers? Fire hoses and then cartridges!”
“My Minister of the Interior seems to work it all out, somehow . . .” Mostly by putting strike leaders in prison, legislation or no legislation.
“But you are the King, Albert! Not your Minister of the Interior! Only you can truly know the soul of your people! It is we who carry the responsibility before God!” The Kaiser thumped his own chest.
The King envied his certainty.
“And you must destroy those wretched Nihilists. Show no more mercy! They’re worse than the Socialists. At least the Socialists haven’t entirely thrown away their Christian principles . . .” The King nodded and murmured his agreement. The Anarchists stood against his government, but the Nihilists stood against every established authority, whether ordained by God or men, claiming that everything was meaningless. “Get rid of them all, Albert!” said the Kaiser, firmly. “They are a cancer in your kingdom. Do you want to see New Buckingham Palace turned into an apartment block for Party leaders . . . ?”
The fate of old Buckingham Palace.
But the truth was, Ottawa was not London or Berlin or St. Petersburg.
In Russia, Tsar Nicholas II’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg had been turned into the world-renowned Hermitage museum. His summer retreat at Lavadia was also a museum. Peterhof Palace, styled after Versailles, had been preserved in royal style and was a tourist destination. Stroganov Palace now contained a waxwork collection of the Tsars of Russia. Alexander Palace had been converted into an orphanage, then a naval command centre and was now in the process of being turned into another museum, this one dedicated to the final years of the fallen Romanov dynasty. The Kremlin in Moscow where Nicholas II had had his coronation ceremony, after being stripped of all Tsarist memorabilia, had become the residence for highest Party officials. Enormous country estates belonging to Nicholas II and his family had also been converted to museums shortly after the Communist revolution, their grounds now used for the pleasure of strolling proletariats. The King doubted his modest residences would amount to as much in the event of revolution.
The King couldn’t imagine the Kaiser even for a moment allowing the thought to enter his mind of Stadtschloss in Berlin being converted into Party apartments or a national museum. The King and his small family had visited the Kaiser and Kaiserin back in 2003. Located at the end of Unter den Linden—Under the Linden Trees—the Kaiser’s 650-room palace in Berlin had impressed Donna enormously. She had come home and complained for a year about the shabbiness of Canadian culture by comparison, pointing out to her husband that Canada was enormous by comparison to Germany and should have enormous palaces, not just glorified manor homes. The King had pointed out to her that at least they could eat hot meals in Canada. The kitchen was a mile away from the dining room at Stadtschloss.
And for all his talk about stamping out Socialism, the King knew the Kaiser never believed for a moment that what had happened to the Tsar could happen to him.
Immediately after the revolution and his abdication, Tsar Nicholas II and his family had been moved to Alexander Palace in the idyllic village of Tsarskoe Seloe. The King had a morbid fascination with the story of the fall of the Russian monarchy. At first, they had been allowed to live in peace, under house arrest, but in more or less the same conditions as always. This had irked the people, still in the middle of a war with Germany and suffering hunger and cold, so the Provisional Government had told them they would be relocated further into the Russian countryside. The family was ordered to pack their belongings and be prepared to leave in the night.
Of course, when you’re the richest man on earth, it’s hard to pack all your possessions into one suitcase.
He knew his own wife, Queen Donna, wouldn’t have been able to do it in a single night. She had two rooms dedicated to her wardrobe and a whole walk-in closet for her jewelry. But the former-Tsar of All Russia had left his royal home wearing a Colonel’s field tunic, his wife and daughters wearing simple grey dresses.
From Tsarskoe Seloe just outside of St. Petersburg, they had been taken to Tobolsk in Siberia, and from there, to their final residence in Ekaterinburg where they had ended up being executed by the local soviets before the White Russians could sweep in and restore the Tsar to the throne.
The Kaiser would hardly take an interest in such past events. After all, the Romanovs were a failure. Prussian might had prevailed despite the Socialist upheavals of the early twentieth century.
The King didn’t have an equivalent of Prussia. He had Ontario, of course, the seat of government power. But his military was scattered along the border and his navy had three coasts to patrol. There was no court filled with strutting generals and admirals for the King of Canada to take comfort in like there was in the Kaiser’s Prussia.
Most of the monarchy had had to be reinvented since coming to Canada. The pageantry that had used Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, St. James’s Palace, and Holyrood House in Edinburgh as backdrops had been converted into a more meaningful form of rule—the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove. Real power rather than the trappings of power and the memories of power.
He still had the aristocrats to uphold him even though all of them had lost their land holdings in England and the ancient dynasties that had come to Canada had had to turn wilderness into new ancestral homes. They had lost some of their prestige in the transplant, but they had acquired tenacity from surviving a revolution, a sharper edge and a determination to hold onto power.
There was a deeper, more pervading Canadian aristocracy made up of mainly Scotsmen who had preceded the arrival of the King and his family and had little respect for English rule. They had stubbornly held their ground—and their power. So it was to them that the King made concessions in parliament—they were the merchants and the moneymakers, the kind who built bigger department stores and factories rather than bigger homes.
“Now, what is your Jewish situation?” the Kaiser asked, leaning forward.
“As far as I can tell, the few that there are make money and keep to themselves,” said the King.
“The Semite’s preoccupation with money is a dangerous one . . .” The Kaiser leaned back again to expand on this.
The King hid a smile. Even if most Germans considered the Canadian Intelligence Service to be a bunch of dummkopfs, his agents had uncovered that Jewish bankers in Germany were routinely lending enormous sums of money to both English and Russian Communist governments. Some of it might be ideological sympathy—God knew the governments of both Communists countries were filled with clever Jews—but it was more likely about the millions that such transactions made for them. The Kaiser was said to be incensed by their lack of concern for the Fatherland.
King Albert let the Kaiser ramble on, wondering if he knew that the King’s own banker was a Jew. The King had even been to one of their synagogues and had been impressed by their piety. As far as he could tell, they threatened no one. They were either furtive men in black coats moving back and forth between home and synagogue or well-dressed men in soft grey pin-striped suits who so deftly handled his personal finances.
But even in the wilderness of Canada, the Kaiser seemed to be a man who needed enemies.
he King’s Own Rifles is a lovely site.
I’m not supposed to appreciate it, but I do as they come marching down the crowd-lined College Street in their navy-blue uniforms with red trim, complete with a regimental band and bugle corps.
The people lining the streets are cheering them on, but the Socialists are waiting outside the church. I’m a bit tense. There are at least 650 soldiers in the parade and about the same number of Socialists, but the King’s Own Rifles have, yes, rifles.
Toby isn’t here. He left early, before I was even awake. Micah and Matthew came to get me for the rally and they have been standing right beside me ever since.
The Socialists’ only strategy seems to be to prevent the King’s Own Rifles from entering the church. The pastor is standing at the top of the steps, holding a sheaf of papers and looking nervous. I don’t blame him.
And then, from the other direction, comes Toby.
“Good old Toby!” says Micah. Toby is at the head of an enormous crowd. They are not a robust-looking people, but are thin and poorly dressed, residents of the shantytowns that surround the entire outskirts of the city.
For a moment, the supporters of the King’s Own Rifles turn their attention to these new arrivals. There must be at least a thousand of them. Toby has led crowds of this size before in the workers’ parades. The government grimly tolerates the monthly parades down Yonge Street where each participating guild marches under its own banner.
The massive crowd is moving peaceably forward and all I know is, there is no way we can all fit into that church. My guess is, the King’s Own Rifles would take up the entire main floor of the building and if there’s a balcony, it might hold a couple of hundred more, but that’s it.
As Toby arrives with this new small army, the pastor steps forward and waves for everyone’s attention.
“I have an announcement, good people,” he says, clearing his throat. “This is to be read in all the churches today and for less God-fearing citizens, will be in tomorrow’s newspapers.”
The crowds on both sides are quiet.
“His Royal Majesty, King Albert has announced a favourable alliance with Kaiser Frederick of Germany to rule their spheres of influence in such a way as to bring the greatest benefit to their respective citizens . . .” There is a murmur in the crowd. People are looking at one another, either pleased, or among the Socialists, horrified. The poor seem indifferent and begin to drift away. The news will not improve their lives, but it will probably do little to make it worse.
“All assets of Canada and Germany will be placed at the disposal of this alliance, to bring and maintain peace and order in each nation’s sphere of influence . . .”
“We have to leave for Iraq, now,” says Toby. I am startled. I didn’t notice him. His voice and manner is urgent. I understand. Socialism will not sweep across Canada with an announcement like this. The King will not fall so easily now that the might of the Kaiser’s new navy is behind him.
I nod, thinking that this is the end for today’s rally, but Toby turns away from me to push through the crowds and up the steps of the church. He roars out some questions.
“And who will pay for this new world order? Who will pay for the maintenance of the Kaiser’s navy? For surely you do not think this means peace?”
He has the people’s attention. The pastor wants to continue speaking, but Toby continues.
“This means war! War against England! War against Socialism. War against anything that stands in the way of the King and the Kaiser! And that war will cost . . .” He dramatically surveys the crowd and then points his finger to the drifting poor. “You!”
He takes a step down to be closer to the crowd.
“It will be a beer tax, to be sure. It is always a beer tax when the King wants to add a new regiment or buy some new submarines.”
The poor are returning, nodding, murmuring that this is true.
“The might of the King and Kaiser will rest on the weary shoulders of you who are already over-burdened!”
He has convinced them and now this mass of people who only came to see a show are starting to move menacingly towards the King’s Rifles.
An additional tax on beer. The poor man’s only consolation. This could get ugly. Then Toby is back by my side, grabbing my hand, and we are running. I look back and I see the King’s Rifles holding their ground against the fury of a mob. How long will it take before it becomes necessary to turn their weapons against these outraged people?
But even if it turns into a massacre, it will only be a minor skirmish in a greater war.
Because we are not running away from it. We are running towards something. Rather, we are running back to Toby’s small room to gather what we can, quickly, to take us to the deserts of Iraq where maybe, just maybe, we will be able to start a revolution.
“What do you think the King will do?” I ask, the next day while we sit in our compartment, waiting for the train to depart from Union Station.
Toby has pulled down the blinds of the narrow window.
We are frequent travellers of the train. Every year, there is a Party congress meeting in a different Canadian city. The workers are in the cities and they are the strength of the Party.
We are in a second-class compartment, though if we chose, we could go third-class where it is simply rows of passenger seats. So far, we are alone in this compartment that seats six. Socialist or not, I think Toby is hoping we’ll remain alone. He is reading the paper and the New Richmond Street Anglican Church Riot is the front-page headline.
“If he confers with the Kaiser, he might actually pass some labour legislation,” says Toby, turning a page. Thankfully, no one was killed, but several of the King’s men and even more Socialists ended up in the hospital with more than bruises. “Maybe not right away, but eventually, he’ll have to. That’s the German way. Wilhelm the Second was insane, but he wasn’t crazy. It’s the same thing all over again. Kaiser Frederick knows he has to have the Socialists on his side if there’s going to be a war, and of course, building a navy is preparing for war. Wilhelm the Second knew how to speak to the Socialists, give them what they wanted to hear. He, more or less, learned their language and then in his speeches, created a sense that they lived in a socialized state. I think Frederick will teach our King to do the same.”
The train begins to move and Toby and I both exchange a look of relief, no one has joined us. But then the door is flung open.
“There you are.” The man standing in the doorway is young and grim-looking. He is dark-haired, medium height and dressed as a worker, but with flair—a silk scarf knotted fashionably around his neck and a cap set at an angle.
“Lucian,” says Toby, looking bemused.
“Thought I’d find you in third-class,” says Lucian, looking around as if taking in the ostentatious luxury of the second-class compartment, before sitting down beside me and across from Toby.
“Well,” drawls Toby, still with amusement, “it is a long journey.”
“Old habits die hard,” says Lucian, crossing his legs. “Born into money isn’t easy to get over. Born into poverty is what makes me fit for the struggle. I don’t mind blowing up the buildings you bourgeoisie are so fond of.”
Toby leans forward.
“My friend, it’s the factory-worker who knows real suffering. He doesn’t see the sun for 12 hours a day in the summer and never in the winter. The revolution will begin with him and if you think setting off a bomb or two in the cities makes the slightest difference to the cause, you’re out of your depth. The King’s men love the challenge of ferreting out your kind.”
It’s true. The public devours the entertainment provided by the noble King’s spies hunting down the filthy anarchists and putting a stop to their murderous plots. Even the wretched poor gather around the television sets in the pubs and watch the shows churned out by the CBC
“Your problem is you’re dull.” Lucian is scornful. “Benefits for new mothers. Sick pay. Workers’ rights. How dreary it all is! Every man in his heart is on the side of the anarchist.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” says Toby, leaning back. “It’s not enough to tear down the old. One must be ready to build the new. A revolution comes to nothing if it doesn’t offer people real change.”
Lucian ignores this, instead, turning his scorn on me.
“And you think she will be able to help your cause?”
“Go back to third-class,” says Toby.
“And if I do,” says Lucian. “How will you know that I haven’t set a bomb to go off in second-class?”
“So we’re stuck with you then, are we?”
Lucian pulls a ticket out of his pocket and waves it at Toby.
“Actually, I am travelling first-class today. Not all supporters of anarchy are dirt poor.”
He stands to go.
“Why did you find me?” asks Toby.
“To see for myself that you really are going west,” says Lucian. He smiles. It isn’t pleasant. “Three members of the provincial Parliament will be assassinated . . .” He looks at his wrist. “. . . shortly. My patron suggested we attribute it to you. But since you are clearly nowhere near the city, it would be difficult to make a plausible accusation. Oh well.”
He passes through the doorway of the compartment and is gone.
My mouth has dropped open.
“Oh don’t worry about him,” says Toby, glancing at me before returning to his newspaper. “You should know by now he’s not our enemy.”
You could have fooled me. I’ve never liked Lucian and I fear that if the Socialists did come to power, we’d still have to deal with people like him.
“What kind of patron supports someone like that?” I ask.
“You know how he is,” says Toby, still behind the paper. “He finds some rich old man with enemies and convinces him that the anarchists will do his dirty work for him for a hefty price, so long as they get to take the credit and declare it a political act. The rich old man loves it because it’s hardly likely to be traced back to him and he gets rid of the people who stand in the way of his business or his ambition. And the anarchists get to travel first-class.”
“Silly world,” I say.
“Very,” agrees Toby. “But the truth is, we need people like Lucian. These aren’t the days of Edward Cornwall. The King thinks that if he doesn’t legalize trade unions, the grubby masses will stay loyal to him and not turn to sedition.”
It’s true. King Albert thinks that if there had been no Labour Party in England, the revolution there would have failed, so he’s eliminated all the legal ways of bringing about change. Labour has no representation in Parliament. It’s asking for revolution.
Politically, Canada is not unlike the Tsar’s Russia. In 1906, after some serious scuffles with the anarchists, the Tsar finally allowed an elected assembly to be formed, the Duma. The Duma immediately called for reform—redistribution of land, an end to capital punishment, and equality for all in Russia regardless of class, race or gender. The Tsar almost immediately dissolved the Duma.
Toby is absorbed in the newspaper so I’m left to watch the passing scenery. Boathouses of all sizes line the shore of Lake Ontario and the lake is a colourful scene of sailboats, rowing teams in training, yachts at anchor.
Once out of the city, Ontario scenery is pretty much the same as it’s been for a hundred years—small towns, farmland, lakes, trees. Prince Edward probably looked at the same scenes on his one and only visit in 1860 when he was a young man.
King Edward’s England was a time of elegance for some and poverty for most. In Parliament, the Labour Party called for reform. But what the workingman called fair wages and benefits, the upper classes called a society on the brink of anarchy.
Into this world came Edward Cornwall, a middle-aged man who was said to have a youthful appearance, a booming voice, and very quickly—a loyal following. Primarily, he spoke outdoors in the parks and public places of London.
In 1906, he called for Londoners to join the men marching in the streets of Berlin and St. Petersburg.
In those days, there was a balance of power between King Edward’s England, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany and Tsar Nicholas II’s Russia. Kaiser Wilhelm was Edward’s nephew by his sister Vicky and Tsar Nicholas was married to his niece by another sister, Alice. But when it came to politics, all three rulers put political considerations ahead of family connections and the rivalry to have influence over Europe and Africa and Asia was intense.
The Great War broke out in 1914. But in 1917, when the Russian Revolution erupted, the Russian Communists made a separate peace with Germany. England fought on alone and at the time, it looked like all the pre-war calls for change would get buried under patriotism . . .
Porters are moving up and down the corridor of the train calling out that it is the second seating for dinner. We stand and make our way through swaying corridors to the dining car.
Once seated at a table for two, Toby’s eyes roam over the other diners in the car.
Two men, in particular, are a concern to him, I realize. They are well dressed and out-of-place in the second-class dining car.
“The King’s men?” I whisper.
“Most likely.” He leans forward. “There’s no reason now to take the long route to Iraq. If we’re going to be stopped, it could happen just as easily in Vancouver as it could in Berlin.”
“Although, if we can,” he continues quietly, “I’d just as soon shake those two off. When we get back to our compartment, we’ll carry on as if we’re just preparing for the night. There’s one last stop in Ontario before we cross the border to Manitoba. We’ll get off and hope they think we’re still on the train.”
His rate of eating doesn’t accelerate. The must important thing is to act normal and to seem to be oblivious to being followed.
I always enjoy meals on trains. Tonight, it’s grilled salmon from British Columbia, roasted red potatoes from Prince Edward Island and green beans from our own Ontario, along with a white dinner wine from Germany.
When it comes time for dessert, we linger over the desert cart and drink our coffee slowly. When we exit the dining car, Toby is holding my hand.
But our leisurely pace disappears once we’re out of the dining car. We practically fly through the train, back to our compartment to grab our knapsacks. I can already feel the train slowing down for its final stop before a straight run through the night.
We move out into the corridor. A porter is disappearing into an end compartment to pull down the berths as the train pulls into the station.
Only a few people board the train and no one but us exits onto the now empty platform. We hurry into the small station in order to avoid being seen from the train windows and stay low until the train has resumed its journey and disappeared into the night.
It is a cold and quiet station. There is a small ticket booth but no one mans it and we spend an uncomfortable night shivering on a wooden bench until dawn when a man arrives with keys and opens the kiosk for business.
Toby purchases two tickets on the next train east, a journey that will take us all the way to Halifax.
This is not a luxury train, but one that handles cargo and there is only one passenger car, not with compartments, but rows of seats that only recline slightly as a concession to sleep. But after such an uncomfortable sleep in the station, it is easy to doze off, and by evening we are in Halifax.
Halifax’s entire harbor is given over to naval matters. Before Toronto, I lived in Halifax with my parents, but then the Concerned Comrades in England sent a delegation to insist that I get a proper education, even if it was at a King’s institution. They suggested the University of Toronto. My father went along with it, as he always does with anything the Concerned Comrades put to him, and despite my mother’s tears, I was sent by train to Toronto, all funded by the organization that safeguards the ideals of Socialism and the memory of Edward Cornwall.
Our family has been in the care of the Concerned Comrades long before I was born. We were protected and nurtured by the people who knew that the fervor of the days of Edward Cornwall would sooner or later give way to lethargy and that the ideals of Socialism would need protecting even after it had been legislated into everyday life in England. When my mother was young, there was talk of telling the world the truth about my family, but as she grew older, they found her to be apathetic about her supposed duty to history and the future. Even after she married an ardent Socialist, her only interest was in raising me and keeping us fed with home-cooked meals from her enormous garden. So my education came primarily through my father—my father, who in his day, was so much like Toby and guarded me as if I were a princess. I have been in the care of people all my life.
Battleship after battleship is lined up in the harbour, ready to launch into the Atlantic. In addition, there are freighter ships and rows of enormous passenger ships, all gleaming and proud to be part of the continual flow of goods and people across the ocean.
We book a passage on one of the ocean liners for the next day—destination Calais, France—and then find ourselves a small room in one of the many hotels and rooming houses along King George’s Way that runs parallel to the harbor. We could spend a night at my parent’s home but I don’t want to worry them to death with the news that we are crossing the Kaiser’s Europe and travelling deep into his Eastern Empire.
The next day, we board the RMS Olympia. Again, Toby has us in second-class. We are in a double room with bunk beds and a private bathroom. If we were in third-class, any bathing would have to be done at the end of a narrow hallway in a communal bathroom.
To be honest, I don’t think Toby sees any reason to travel third-class. It’s his desire that first-class and third-class be abolished and replaced with a universal middle class. It’s anarchists like Lucian who thrive on the extremes.
While those in the first-class dining room partake of an eight-course meal that includes consommé, eggs Florentine, grilled mutton, roast beef, veal & ham pie, lobster, apple meringue, and a wide selection of fruits and cheeses served along with hock or claret, we in second-class are offered a modest four-course meal with half the selection and a pot of German coffee with our simple torte. In third-class, they are eating stew made from the leftovers and custard for dessert.
In first-class, they dress-up for dinner and have a full orchestra playing in the background. In third-class, they wear the clothing they boarded in and have a fiddler playing a jig in the corner. Second-class is caught awkwardly in the middle. People like Toby and me don’t dress up because, well, we never do. And there are a lot of people like us. But there are also people who aspire to first-class and make a point of putting on a dinner jacket and tie or a long, shimmering dress. Music is provided by a string quartet. We lack the spontaneity of third-class where they can dance a jig to the fiddler or the elegance of first-class where they can waltz to the orchestra.
But no matter what class you’re in, there are card games after dinner, the air thick with smoke and conversation. Toby and I check out the second-class library.
“Light fiction,” says Toby, scornfully, after surveying the modest selection.
I take his arm.
“Let’s just get some air,” I say. It’s a whole different world, this ship. No one knows who I am. No one cares that Toby is the most effective spokesperson for Socialism in the King’s Toronto. Maybe if we can just stroll the promenade like any other couple, we can find out if we have what it takes to be a real couple . . .
We have five days alone together. Apart from the wireless room, we are cut off from the world. Though the ocean liner can send and receive telegrams 24-hours a day, no one knows that Toby is aboard the Olympia so no one can send him anything.
But I underestimate Toby’s ability to spread Socialism and sunshine wherever he goes.
A lone young man is leaning against the railing. And the next thing I know, Toby is talking with him. The young man is complaining about the toffs who have an unhindered view of the ocean while second-class and third-class have to peer around the lifeboats to see the water. He’s exaggerating. If you squeeze by the lifeboats, you can stand by the railing and watch the ocean. It’s only from the deck chairs that most of it is blocked.
“Have you seen it up there?” he asks Toby. “I had a look around before we set sail. It’s all mahogany and marble. Their smoking room looks like Versailles. Ours looks like a provincial railway station.”
“It may be all hardwood and marble up there. But the souls of men are the same no matter what class they’re in.”
The young man, who later introduces himself as Peter, doesn’t agree, but nonetheless, joins us in our walk around the promenade. And when we part, he and Toby have an agreement to meet again in the dining room in the morning.
Despite the close quarters of our cabin, there is no intimacy in brushing our teeth in the sink and then climbing into our separate bunks.
“. . . But I don’t understand why you can still hold onto religion,” says Peter, the next day, over scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon and biscuits, pouring himself another cup of coffee from the pot on the table. “Didn’t the Russians throw away religion years ago?”
The second-class dining room is humming with conversation, although all I’ve done so far is listen.
“They threw away religion because the Tsar was the head of the church,” says Toby, his plate filled with fruit. A kind porter passed on a tip to us to go with the fresh fruits and vegetables at the beginning of the voyage since by the end, it will be canned goods for the second and third classes. “Do you remember Kaiser Wilhelm II?”
“Vaguely,” says Peter. “Time of the Great War and all that?”
“He called on his people to join him in a battle for religion, order and morality against the powers of revolution. His assumption was always that God was on his side. Now . . .” Toby leans forward. “I don’t mind the idea that God may have allowed him his position of power, but I think it’s like the parable of the talents.”
“The parable of the what?”
Toby has to backtrack and tell him about Jesus’s story that each man receives a number of talents, or coins, and that each man is expected to use them in such a way as to gain the same number more.
“So, again, as Jesus said, to whom much is given, much is required. The same is true of our leaders. And they’re wrong when they call me a Godless anarchist. I want to see justice. I want to see food on every table. The early Church was the same. Every man sold his belongings, if necessary, to share with those who had needs. The King in Canada is like a Herod or a Caesar of the Bible. The truth of the early Church rolled like an ocean through the kingdoms of the world and in the end, social justice prevailed in the hearts of men. May it be so again! . . .”
Peter doesn’t look convinced. But Toby quickly discerns that Peter is gloomy on this voyage, not because he feels sorry for the poor, or feels helpless against the powerful machinations of the rich. He just wants to be one of them.
But by the time our breakfast plates and the coffeepot are empty, Toby has convinced Peter that it is Socialism that is the answer, not lusting after the glittering baubles of the rich. In his convincing way, he makes the case that a redistribution of the wealth of the world is in the best interest of everyone—rich and poor and everyone in between.
Peter is in awe. I’ve seen that look before. Why haven’t I seen this before?! his eyes say. Purpose! A reason to live! A cause to struggle for! And Toby has a new disciple to instruct.
That’s when I know I’ve lost Toby for the duration of the trip.
Honestly. What did I think would happen?
n the deck of the imperial yacht, impishly named Britannia, the Kaiser and Kaiserin were taking in the sea air.
They had remained in their spacious staterooms for the first day at sea, mostly discussing their recent visit to Canada out of earshot of the hundreds of members of Britannia’s crew.
“Albert is a gentleman,” was Effie’s conclusion.
“He is concerned about all the wrong things,” was the Kaiser’s.
Now they were by the railing, watching the endless ocean and discreetly continuing their conversation.
The Kaiser was tugging at his tie. Usually his valet adjusted his tie, but today he had dressed in the Kaiserin’s stateroom and he had put it on too tight. Effie, who always travelled with her personal maid, had her hair done up with diamond hairpins which sparkled in the sun. Despite the luxury that came with being a Kaiserin, Effie still managed to look just like herself, which was never anything too glamorous, but she was always presentable. Not like that Queen of Canada. Frederick hardly knew what to make of her. Exquisite, but not easy to rule. For that matter, the King didn’t even seem to try.
“It’s the son I’m worried about,” said the Kaiser. “Not strong.” He shook his head. “Not strong at all.”
“He studies drama,” said the Kaiserin.
The Kaiser snorted.
“And just one heir. Such foolishness.” He thought of his own six sons back in Berlin. A thought blew in, staying around the edges of his mind. If something were to happen to the King’s son . . .
His mind was already running through the entire scenario. The King’s son is abducted. The King receives a ransom demand from, say, the Socialists. Yes! The Socialists. The King pays, but the insidious Socialists kill the Crown Prince just to be spiteful . . . No more heir. Instability ensues. The Kaiser steps in . . .
He turned away from the ocean, unseeing eyes now on the promenade. He didn’t really like the idea. Plans made in secret had a way of coming out into the open and he would lose his high moral ground when they did. Kaiser Frederick did things openly. He was the Kaiser of a military-nation, one who faced its enemies head on in battle, not a nation of devious undertakings. He ruled by the grace of God. It was his moral obligation to do things honorably. Ridding the world of Socialism was honorable. Abducting a fellow monarch’s son was not.
“He has no military training,” said the Kaiser. “I specifically asked.”
The Kaiserin murmured her agreement that this was unacceptable. At the age of six, each of her sons had received his own military advisor. A program of vigorous physical training commenced. At ten, they received a regiment of their own and were expected to wear its uniform on all formal occasions. At fifteen, they became officers and were given command of twenty-one men. By eighteen, they would be commanding the whole regiment.
Every German uniform, whether it was Army, Navy or Airforce, had “Gott mit uns” sewed onto it. God with us. It was incomprehensible to the Kaiser that the King seemed vaguely uneasy by their military discussions. It could be his wife, the Kaiser thought. Or it could just be that he wasn’t of the caliber of manhood that Germany took pride in.
“Did you know that he gardens?” said the Kaiser.
“The Crown Prince?”
“No, the King,” said the Kaiser. “He talks to plants. He says it helps them to grow.”
The Kaiserin nodded sympathetically. Not a manly activity. She had an enormous flower garden behind the New Palace in Potsdam and oversaw an equally splendid vegetable garden, neither of which her husband had ever stepped foot in, although he enjoyed eating the produce and was kind about commenting on her floral arrangements in their private quarters.
“He doesn’t get outside enough,” said the Kaiser. “Not enough exercise.”
“The King?” said the Kaiserin, puzzled.
“No, the Crown Prince,” said the Kaiser. “That is why he is so pale and thin.”
The Kaiser regularly played tennis and football with his boys. He would also cycle with them around the graveled grounds of the New Palace, although he drew the line at joining them in their circus tricks, since, like all boys, they rarely used things for their intended purpose.
“He used to be such a mischievous child,” said the Kaiserin. “Remember when they visited us in Berlin in ‘03 and he came down the stairs on a tea tray? And how he would continually ring the bell for the servants?” The Crown Prince of Canada had made an enormously positive impression on her sons.
“Yes, he showed such promise then. Did you enjoy your time with the Queen?”
“Yes,” said Effie, slowly. She hadn’t, but she didn’t know what answer her husband wanted.
“She strikes me as a dangerous woman with her American ways. And she is clearly the power behind the throne. That was Nicholas’s problem. His wife ruled,” said the Kaiser, proving that, contrary to what the King of Canada thought, Kaiser Frederick did know the story of Tsar Nicholas II’s fall from autocracy.
“As I understand it,” said the Kaiserin carefully, “Alexandra was desperate for a male child and fell prey to faith teachers of the most dubious kind.”
“Yes, yes,” said the Kaiser impatiently. “And then when she finally got her son, she fell under the influence of that horrible Rasputin thinking he could heal the boy of his hemophilia. It really doesn’t matter what the issue is, the Anarchists use whatever they can to undermine the people’s respect for the King and his right to rule.”
The Kaiserin murmured her agreement. She and her ladies-in-waiting were above reproach—all devoted to good works for the German people. The Kaiserin wouldn’t allow any woman into her inner circle unless she was free of any scandal of impropriety. Even divorced women weren’t permitted at her teas and garden parties.
“I’m amazed no one’s tried to assassinate him,” said the Kaiser, thinking back to King Albert. “His security is horribly lax.”
In Berlin and Potsdam, the Kaiser had a bodyguard of a hundred men under orders to shoot-to-kill any individual who attempted to penetrate the private chambers of the Kaiser and his family. The Kaiser’s military police monitored Nihilists, Anarchists and Socialists from Calais to Constantinople.
“It may just be that no one wants to assassinate him,” the Kaiser decided. “They certainly try to assassinate me,” he said with satisfaction. “At least his navy is in decent shape. Although, he keeps too many ships in the Great Lakes. Now that we have an alliance, he can stop fearing this hypothetical American invasion.”
The Kaiserin nodded. Her husband wasn’t afraid of the Americans. He had already restored a European monarchy to Mexico. Republics vs Monarchies. That was the game her husband had always played. The German Empire covered over a quarter of the world’s land and ruled the same number of its citizens. Beyond that, it was a matter of making favourable alliances with weaker-minded rulers in order to bring their nations into the German sphere of influence.
We must take Germany to every corner of the world. It was something the Kaiser said often to his generals, his military adjutants, his wife, usually emphasized by a pound on the table with his fist.
“I don’t think much of him as a man. He’s a ninny. He whimpers on and on about the Americans.” The Kaiser shook his head. “He frightens far too easily. If you ask me, he’d be fit to live in a country house and raise turnips.”
The Kaiser turned his attention to the sea, some would say, his overbearing attention. It was impossible to say from his stern look whether he approved of the sea or not today.
The Kaiser suddenly clapped his hands together.
“Oh! How good it will be to get home! I wonder how many trenches our boys have dug in our absence?”
The Kaiserin smiled. Her boys had a tendency to turn the palace lawns into fortresses of pounded dirt. Obliging gardeners filled bags with sand to add to their fortifications. Family and close friends knew better than to give gifts to the boys that weren’t military-related, consequently they had a constantly growing collection of toy guns and cannons to defend their installations.
“I do not want Affie in military school,” the Kaiserin blurted out. It was something that had been distressing her for weeks now. “Or Fritz. They’re far too young.”
The nursery was the Kaiserin’s domain and the Kaiser rarely interfered. He had been lax about putting their two youngest into the military academy just because he feared the effect it would have on his wife, justifiably so, as it turned out.
“Not today, Effie!” he said. He knew it came out with a force more appropriate for the barracks than for a marriage. But his wife was becoming tiresome about this topic and since he had no weapon against her tears, he preferred to head off the argument before it started. He should have known better.
“If not today, when?” his wife demanded.
It was true. Within days, they would be back at Potsdam and the Kaiser would be inaccessible to his wife for most of the day. Over the years, he had deliberately encouraged the belief that matters of the state could not be interrupted for matters of the nursery. The truth was, the Kaiser welcomed any interruption that would take him from his ministers with their minds on such numbing issues like grain tariffs. Any interruption, except from his wife.
“I’ll think about it,” he said, his voice softening. It wasn’t true, of course. His mind was already made up.
But for the moment, it seemed to do.
“OK,” said Effie. “Thank you, Frederick.” She took his arm. It suggested trust.
Frederick patted her hand and was glad that at that moment the gong sounded for lunch.
e pass through customs quickly, thus allaying our fears that the King’s men may have telegrammed Europe to try and stop us.
Peter embraces Toby before disappearing into a group of young men and women. He is part of a troupe of University of Ottawa students, all with the Drama Guild and all bilingual, who are doing a tour of the small towns of France. He has told us all about it. In addition to the usual Shakespeare dramas, they are putting on a production of Maria Chapdelaine, the story of a French Canadian woman who loses her true love, a lumberjack, and then must choose between two other potential husbands—a factory-worker who will take her to America or a farm boy who can only offer her a life of hard work. The story, although written a hundred years ago, offers the Drama Guild all sorts of political zest. The factory worker becomes a godless Socialist. The lumberjack is the illusion of love. Maria’s choice, the farm boy, becomes the only right choice. Duty and sacrifice are what make a nation strong.
Except now Peter doesn’t agree with the interpretation that the factory worker is a godless Socialist.
We watch the Drama Guild board a bus that is waiting for them and then Toby turns to me.
“How about we go from here to Berlin by zeppelin?” he says, grinning. He’s turns to look at the airfield with its enormous hangers.
“Can we?” I say. In Canada, only the German nationals and the most loyal of the King’s subjects seem to manage to be able to get tickets for a zeppelin.
“There’s no one around to tell us we can’t,” says Toby.
We are not the only passengers of the Olympia who are heading for the zeppelin that is now rolling out of one of the hangers. Clearly their itinerary is in sync with the ocean liners that land at Calais because within half an hour, we are all on board and the doors are being closed.
The interior of a zeppelin is compartmentalized. Along one side is a strip for a dining area, along another is a strip for a lounge and in the centre are private rooms. We do not pay extra for a private room and take a seat, instead, in the lounge.
“From Berlin, we’ll take the railway to Baghdad,” says Toby, speaking softly.
The Berlin-to-Baghdad railway is famous, finished shortly after the Great War.
“Sounds romantic,” I say.
“Our brothers in Baghdad say there’s only one reason for its existence and that’s to move troops into Iraq to crush the Communists.”
Of course, Toby doesn’t see the romance.
“They claim all of Arabia is ready to rise up now,” he says. “We can finish what T.E. Lawrence started.”
He tells me how in the Great War, the British T.E. Lawrence led the Arabs to independence—at least, partial independence—from the Ottoman Empire. After the British Revolution, the Ottoman Empire, including Iraq, came under German control and Arab independence was never discussed again.
The engines of the zeppelin are humming and soon we are rising in the air. It is unlike the feeling of being in a plane. It is more like floating.
Drinks and snacks are available from flight attendants, but for an additional cost. Toby buys us each a coffee and a croissant.
“That’s one thing the Germans do well,” he says, sipping appreciatively from the white china. “Good coffee.”
I agree. My eyes are on the scenery. Unlike a plane, the windows of a zeppelin passenger compartment are large enough and in fact, seem designed to make it easy to see the ground.
The green fields of France and then Germany suggest a bucolic and peaceful Europe. But it doesn’t prepare me for Berlin. I have never seen Berlin, but immediately, I know, this is the capital city of an empire. Whereas in King Edward’s day, it was London that was the centre of the civilized world, now it is the Kaiser’s Berlin.
And not just the current Kaiser. Even at this height, I can make out a stone likeness of Kaiser Wilhelm II on horseback.
We float at the edge of the gigantic metropolis of monuments, churches, spacious parks, steering well clear of gleaming marble buildings that reach to the clouds. The zeppelin’s landing ground is beside one of the city’s many enormous railway stations.
When we come down and step out onto the crisp, green grass, I feel grubby and unworthy of this civilization that values order, cleanliness and efficiency. Toby must feel the same. He mutters something about the east not being so gleaming white and hurries us straight to the railway station. But even in that short walk, we are not allowed to forget that this is Kaiser Frederick’s Berlin. His photo is in shop windows, his face is on the front pages of most of the newspapers and an enormous sign welcomes us to the Kaiser Frederick Station. (Not that the German people would name it after him while he still lives, but there have been many other Kaiser Fredericks in German history. Interestingly, when Kaiser Wilhelm II was alive, he presided over the construction of innumerable monuments and building projects named after his grandfather, Kaiser Wilhelm I.)
Toby purchases us second-class tickets all the way through to Baghdad, a large expenditure. Our train won’t leave for several hours, but we can board now if we like.
Despite his declaration that we could be arrested as easily in Berlin as in Vancouver, I don’t think Toby wants to be arrested in Berlin, so there is no question about passing time in this bustling city. Our place is on the train.
Every compartment has sleeping berths. This is a journey that will take days.
The train will depart at 5:53 p.m., and Toby leaves the compartment only once, to purchase some sandwiches and coffee. There is a dining car, but the porter has informed us that the first meal will not be served until lunch tomorrow, although we can expect coffee and rolls for breakfast in our compartment.
It is a relief when the train pulls out and there are no men in suits on board keeping an eye on us, at least, as far as we can tell.
The train settles down for the long night, the lights in the corridor dim. After a line of people to use the lavatories, everyone disappears into their compartments.
The next morning, there is a knock at the door and Toby hops off the top berth to answer it. It is the porter with the promised coffee and rolls. Toby accepts the silver tray and shuts the door with his foot while I open the blinds. We are passing through majestic mountains. It is a stunning view to wake up to.
“The Alps,” says Toby, putting the tray down on the wee dressing table and biting into a roll before pouring himself a coffee from the pot.
“Switzerland?” I ask, disoriented.
“Italy,” he replies as we pass through a short tunnel and are temporarily in darkness, causing Toby to overflow his coffee cup.
Over breakfast, I watch the mountains and lakes pass by. There is a stop in Milan in the middle of the morning and by lunch we are in Venice. We appreciate Venice from the dining car as some passengers come aboard and many more disembark. We are back in the dining car for an afternoon cup of tea when we stop at Trieste. This is the final stop before the long run through the Balkans. A train has a dulling effect and after dinner, I am already dozing off in the compartment, only vaguely aware of a stop in Zagreb in the middle of the night. By the time the porter comes to the door with our second breakfast of coffee and rolls, the train is pulling into Belgrade.
By lunch we are in Nish, in Serbia.
That night, there is one more stop at Salonika. The next morning, after our third breakfast aboard this train, we are pulling into Athens. I am starting to feel stir-crazy. Many passengers disembark at Athens. Enviously I watch as they stretch their legs in the morning sunshine and head out followed by porters pushing their luggage on dollies.
It isn’t until the next morning that we arrive in Constantinople.
Constantinople is really a German colonial city, where young blond soldiers patrol the streets and the stations, we learn as we disembark. The train stops just short, on the edge of the Golden Horn where we have to catch a ferry to actually arrive in the city proper. Two of the German soldiers cross over on the ferry with us and whether this is normal, we don’t know. But they continue to follow us to the massive European-style Hyderpasha Terminal where we move with the crowds and try to find our train to Baghdad among the many tracks.
We are thrown off by the fact that the train we are looking for is actually called the Taurus Express. It takes us an hour to figure this out, after talking to porters and station guards, a process involving a lot of questions and unintelligible answers and even more gesturing. Finally, we are pointed to our train. A travelling German who is boarding the same car assures us that it is the train to Baghdad.
The two soldiers from the ferry have been behind us the whole time and as we settle into our compartment—with them two compartments down—Toby remarks that we should have just asked them which train it was to Baghdad.
“They are following us, aren’t they?” I say nervously.
“I think so. If they know we’re going to Baghdad, it’s logical they would try to stop us.”
Our second-class berth can seat and sleep up to four people. As the train begins to move out of the station, we think we have it all to ourselves, but the door to our compartment is opened and a fair-haired, young man drops into the seat beside Toby.
At first, I think he is German. But when he speaks, he is clearly English.
“Sorry to intrude on your love nest, comrades,” he says. “But the only other choice was a pair of potatoes.”
The Germans are called potatoes by the English Socialists.
“No worries, comrade,” says Toby. “We’re happy to have you.” The young Englishman is pleased to find himself among fellow Socialists and he and Toby immediately begin talking of the Socialist movement in the east. Like us, he is going on to Iraq, drawn by the purity of their mission. He introduces himself as Antony.
“We’re soft in the west,” he says. “We’ve lost the fire. The east is about to blaze and I want to be there.”
“Are you going all the way to Baghdad?”
“By train?” Antony says, peeling an orange from his knapsack and offering us some slices. “No, comrade. You couldn’t pay me to take the train all the way to Baghdad. The potatoes made it for the Turkish soldiers. The cars are cramped. There’s no food or water. The sanitation is non-existent. The ruddy thing is always breaking down and passengers sit for hours in the blazing desert sun. The Arab tribes often sabotage the tracks. Then the passengers have to get out and walk to the next station where they load them onto open carts. Even if the tracks are in good shape, sometimes the train can’t make it up a hill and everyone has to get out and walk alongside it until it gets to the top.”
Toby and I are both listening, wide-eyed.
“No, I’m taking the Nairn,” concludes Antony. “Couple of Kiwis started it after the Revolution. The run a clean bus service straight across the desert.”
“That sounds like a good idea, comrade,” says Toby, thoughtfully. “We’ll join you.”
“Glad to have you,” says Anthony, finishing his final piece of orange and wiping his hands on his pants.
“The only problem is, those potatoes two compartments down are following us,” says Toby.
Antony accepts this with hardly a blink of surprise.
“OK,” he says. “When we get to Damascus, you stay on board. You’ll have to do something crazy like jump once the train is moving. But if you can pull it off, the potatoes won’t be able to follow you and once you get to Baghdad, there are a thousand alleys behind every main road. They’ll never find you.”
It’s a slightly risky plan, but Toby agrees that it’s the best we can do under the circumstances.
We share a dinner in the dining compartment before turning in for the night. We will be in Damascus by lunch tomorrow and I want to be well rested. I am nervous about the whole escape from the train, but Toby and Antony are too busy enjoying each other’s company, talking about the glory days of Edward Cornwall and the current situation in Germany.
I sleepily listen in.
Antony talks about how the Jews have been fleeing to England since the days of Wilhelm II. I know from reading that Wilhelm II was an anti-Semite who considered the Jews to be a poisonous mushroom on the German oak tree, as he put it. He blamed them for the Socialist menace in his Reichstag and openly declared to his English cousins, “There are far too many of them in my country. They want stamping out.”
Antony and Toby are discussing this because some of the Jews have returned to ancient Babylon, as Iraq once was, and are now part of the Socialist unrest there.
“The Chief Potato will pay for it, though” says Antony, about Kaiser Frederick. “He’s made it a policy of making Jewish life in Germany difficult and now they’ve moved east. The Jews are great organizers. They were behind the revolution in Russia. They’ll pull it off in Iraq, too.” Antony yawns, as he climbs up into his berth.
“We have to make sure they do,” says Toby, still alert and earnest. “The current Kaiser has a mad brilliance to him and he’s backed by Protestant factions in America. The Kaiser believes himself to serve God and the Americans believe him to be the only thing saving the world from global Socialism.”
“And King Albert is married to an American . . .” says Antony, temporarily reviving at the seriousness of it all. “And he’s made an alliance with the Kaiser . . .”
“Exactly. The Socialists in Canada need a revolution in Iraq and we need it now.”
he Queen had another one of her migraines.
The royal physician had already visited her in her boudoir at New Buckingham Palace to administer the chloroform that would help her sleep through some of it. He had left a small bottle of morphine for her when she awoke.
The King was left to face the official functions of the day alone.
The only time the Queen seemed guaranteed not to have migraines was on the days she was scheduled to meet with her fashion consultants and personal designers.
In the morning, he was doing a tour of a new armaments factory. For lunch, he was hosting the visiting mayors of the province of Alberta. In the afternoon, he was attending a drama production at the University of Ottawa, not one of his son’s, but it was hard to refuse anything from the university and department that the Crown Prince was part of. In the evening, there was a new film, set in the north. Some sort of drama centered on an Inuit community. Not the sort of thing his wife would have enjoyed, but he found it all mildly interesting.
The King would have envied the robust quality of the Kaiserin except that the Kaiser had privately confessed to Albert that his wife would take to her bed for days with the same malady as Queen Donna.
The first Queen of Canada, England’s former Queen Mary, had been a healthy woman and a great support to King George after the family had to flee to Canada in 1918. She had been a popular Queen, known for her good works during the Great War and for her unflagging willingness to meet with people who had suffered deprivation as a result of the conflict. She had organized the women of England to knit socks and sweaters for the troops. St. James Palace had been filled with collection items to aid the morale of the boys at the front. The people had started saying that the King was George the Fifth, but the Queen was Mary the Four-Fifths. The monarchy had fallen despite her.
When she had come to Canada, she had carried on as usual, always looking regal in silk dresses and long strings of pearls, but never failing to meet the people and share their concerns. If they talked about their children, she shared photographs of her own children and commiserated with them on the challenges of motherhood. She had learned everything about her new country—the type of crops that grew well, the type of animals it bred, the subtle differences between the various provinces and territories. Queen Mary was probably the reason the monarchy had stuck in Canada. Though an English rose, she had bloomed like a common dandelion, a necessary quality in a rugged wilderness interspersed with cities.
The Kaiserin seemed to be a good sort, the King thought, as he shaved in his private bathroom, his face and torso surrounded by the gold, ornate frame of the mirror.
A mother to her people.
He knew his wife was glamorous and the press liked that, but that sort of thing was better for a Crown Princess. The Queen should be a mother figure. It made it harder for the revolutionaries to sling mud.
About the only thing his wife had in common with Queen Mary was that they had both been crowned with the same 2200-diamond crown that Mary had thoughtfully managed to bring to Canada with her after the revolution.
He pushed these thoughts aside and after putting on the suit his valet had laid out for him, he went along the short corridor, down a flight of majestic winding stairs and into the state dining room where breakfast waited. The Queen never arose this early even when her head was clear, so the King was used to a meal with just the morning papers for company. After breakfast, he would meet with his private secretary, sign whatever papers had to be signed, discuss any world events that might affect Canada, before heading out to fulfill his schedule.
He and his private secretary were in the middle of an unspoken disagreement over his recent signing of the treaty with the Kaiser. The King’s private secretary considered the Canadian parliament to be the one thing that kept the country from falling into the hands of the revolutionaries, but the Kaiser had frequently referred to the Canadian parliament as “a pack of unmitigated noodles.”
The Queen couldn’t stand his private secretary, considering him to be almost as bad as a revolutionary, but that’s why the King had hired the man. Whereas all the other men around him told him what they thought he wanted to hear, his private secretary always told him what he needed to hear . . . and he knew what the people in the streets were really saying. Today was no exception.
“You wouldn’t kill a cat,” murmured his secretary as he passed the King some white cards gilded with gold trim—congratulations that were sent out to people who had been married for 50 years or who had turned 90 years-old.
“I beg your pardon?” said the King, looking up from his desk. They were now in his private office.
“You wouldn’t kill a cat,” repeated his secretary, continuing to move around his desk, rearranging papers and slipping the signed cards into their matching envelopes already addressed.
“Is that supposed to mean something?” said the King, pulling off his glasses.
“It’s what they were saying this morning, sir,” said the secretary.
His private secretary had his own breakfast in one of the popular eateries where gossip was as plentiful as the English muffins and scrambled eggs. “The King wouldn’t kill a cat, so why would he go to war with the people of England?”
“I’m not going to war with the people of England,” said the King.
“No, but the Kaiser is,” said his secretary, hardly pausing in his paper sorting. “You wouldn’t kill a cat. But the Kaiser will drop bombs from his airships that will kill rosy-cheeked English children. They’re talking about stringing up a cat outside of New Buckingham Palace and torturing it for your benefit.”
“My God!” said the King, shaken for the moment. He felt like he was going to vomit. He liked cats. Cats wandered through New Buckingham Palace and were free to reproduce at will. Even the Queen adored them. They were frequently featured in national news magazines.
“And a cat isn’t made in the image of God,” his secretary continued. “So it would hardly be as immoral as the Kaiser’s bombs on England.”
The King no longer knew whether this was his secretary talking or the people talking. He stood up.
“If they kill a cat, or harm a cat in any way, I will personally decapitate them.”
He looked viciously to a ceremonial sword on the wall that the Kaiser had given him back when they had visited him at Potsdam—something that had belonged to an ancient shogun and came into German hands due to their Far East holdings.
“Well spoken, sir,” said the secretary, almost smiling.
The truth was, the topic of cats had not come up this morning in the Ottawa eatery, only the immorality of a war with England. The people were angry about having to fight the Kaiser’s war and the private secretary was angry in particular about his sister and her children living in a flat just outside of London.
“And after all,” said the private secretary, pushing his point. “Why does the Kaiser need the wealth of England? He already has the wealth of the Romanovs.”
“What?” For a moment, the King forgot all about cats.
The private secretary nodded, his face returning to passive. He had it on good authority. Ever increasing in knowledge, the private secretary had cultivated an amiable relationship with his German counterpart. It was useful for both of them.
He had learned that one of the Kaiser’s plans was to acquire the relics of the monarchy from England if he ever had opportunity. Apart from what George V and Mary and their family had brought with them when they had fled to Canada, no one knew what had happened to the remaining wealth of the English royal family. Priceless jewels, paintings, objets d’art had all evaporated after the country fell to republicanism.
The King’s private secretary had ignored pointing out that any such items would rightfully belong to King Albert and his family and had instead listened, resulting in him learning that back in 1917, Kaiser Wilhelm II had started acquiring everything he could that had belonged to the Russian Tsar—crowns, tiaras, necklaces, Faberge eggs, priceless vases, paintings by Raphael, Rembrandt, Titian, Van Dyke, even a da Vinci. He had purchased several yachts that had been used by the Russian royal family. Successive Kaisers had followed the practice and the palaces at Berlin and Potsdam contained lapis lazuli furniture, solid gold doors and crystal chandeliers from the Tsar’s former homes. Even marquetry flooring, marble pillars and winding granite staircases had been stripped from the Romanov estates and were now part of the Kaiser’s domain.
“You might have observed many of the Russian pieces in his palace when you were there.”
“He never pointed anything out to me . . .” said the King, thinking back to their ’03 visit to Germany.
“No, he probably wouldn’t,” said the secretary, for the first time giving his attention to the King and not to his papers. “If he takes England, he’s hoping to plunder a vault and find the remains of the treasures of your family. He may share a few trinkets with you, sir, but he sees himself as a modern-day Caesar, ruling a new world empire.”
In German, Kaiser meant Caesar, but the King never thought that Frederick took it as seriously as that.
“These are serious allegations,” said the King, looking his private secretary in the eye. The man held the look.
“It’s all true,” said the private secretary. Except for the cat. “We will be fighting a war for the Kaiser, not with the Kaiser.”
“Better than against the Kaiser,” muttered the King. He turned to his private secretary. “The Kaiser thinks I am an appeaser. That I tolerate liberals and the like. I do no such thing! George V was an appeaser. He didn’t rule his parliament and so it ruled him. He should have crushed his opponents. If he had, we’d be in London right now!”
The King had stood and was pacing.
“I am not weak to my people! They know I rule every centimeter of this country and God help the anarchist who takes refuge in any corner of it. I am simply not a military man given to plotting invasions of countries I have no desire to rule over.” The King’s face showed strong emotion. “The man is mad in his desire to increase his military might! He gives me no choice but to join him. If I do not, I would be second on his list of countries to invade!”
“The Americans would never let us fall that deep,” said his all-knowing secretary. “They like you, sir. They would never let you lose a war with the Kaiser. They do not like the Kaiser.”
“They like me because they think I’m ineffective,” said the King, dryly, already almost returned to his normal calm. “Is that it?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “So, did I sign a treaty with the wrong party?” He folded his arms and leaned on his desk. “Should I have signed a treaty with the pernicious Americans instead? I trust them about as much as I trust the Kaiser. Show me a way where a small dog can survive in the middle of two lions!”
It was frighteningly insightful admission of the King’s place in the world of rulers. The private secretary’s thoughts went to his sister and her rosy-cheeked children, still safe for the moment.
“Perhaps the dog should snooze while the lions battle one another.”
The King looked somber and the secretary knew that Albert took it all into consideration. Then the King visibly switched over to more mundane matters and enquired about what his wife had had to cancel for today.
“She had an engagement to open the King Edward VII Hospital, sir.”
Queen Donna hated opening public institutions. Walking down long white corridors made her tired, she said, and she hated hospitals.
The King knew what Queen Mary would have said. “We are the Royal Family. We are never tired and we love hospitals.”
“She also cancelled her hour on the range.”
His wife was training herself to use a pistol in order to repel anarchist intruders, if necessary.
She must really be unwell, thought the King, returning to the other side of his desk and sitting down. He had considered taking to his bed after the departure of the Kaiser.
“My people are a happy people, Albert,” the Kaiser had said, in one of their many long discussions where the Kaiser had talked and the King had mainly listened. “They love their Kaiser, their communities and their families.”
The Kaiser had given him the advice, “But you must keep your people in the villages, Albert.” He had explained how jovial the German villages were—the church provided faith and stability, clubs of all kinds provided amusement. The German people had bowling clubs, musical groups, board game clubs. Every small town had a choir that sang praises to the Kaiser when he made his occasional forays into the countryside.
“There are too many revolutionaries in the city. Too many Jews. And people who come to the city looking for riches end up finding only greedy factory owners.”
King Albert’s eyebrows had gone up at that.
The Kaiser had nodded.
“Be firm, Albert. Be firm with the factory owners. Don’t let their greed give the Socialists a foot in the door.”
It would be nice if the Socialists didn’t seem to have so many legitimate grievances, thought King Albert, as he absently signed a few more cards, handing them to his private secretary before returning the pen to its holder.
“That will be it for now,” he said to his private secretary who nodded and left the room.
“You have two types of Jews,” the Kaiser had informed him. “The greedy factory owner and the revolutionary agitator. You need to concentrate your energies against both.”
The King was fairly certain the Jews were not a major concern in Canada.
The King exited his office and was joined by two discreet bodyguards as they headed for the front door where they were joined by more of his personal staff who would accompany him on the tour of the armament factory. Limousines would convey them all to the north of the city where enterprising entrepreneurs liked to build just beyond the city limits and thus avoid higher taxes, but still be able to take advantage of some of its services, such as well-maintained roads.
It was just unfortunate that they had to pass through the shantytown that encircled Ottawa, as it did Toronto. At least it was summer. In winter, the people seemed to complain more. Cold. Hunger. The King always braced himself for the usual protests—starving children, supposedly, was always the biggest complaint. Last year in February, 150,000 people had marched on Parliament Hill and scared the politicians to death with their anger. Citizens loyal to the King had hidden in their homes, terrified, until police forces had urged the protesters to retreat. With foresight, the people had already cobbled together a delegation that had demanded to meet the King in order to share their concerns with him.
Remembering when the Russians had marched on the Winter Palace in 1905 to present their demands to Nicholas II, last Tsar of Russia, Albert agreed to meet with them. (Nicholas II had not and his troops had fired instead.)
Albert had done his best. He had discussed with the delegation something that he was knowledgeable about, and in fact, quite passionate about—gardening—suggesting that plots be cultivated in the undeveloped areas around Shantytown. He would provide the seeds, as well as the necessary tools.
Surprisingly, the delegation had liked the idea, providing that the might of the King was behind it.
It was proving to be a successful venture. The King had personally supervised the launching of the Garden Plot Project. All of Shantytown was built on Crown Land so it was only a matter of ensuring that adequate portions of unused land could be turned into personal garden plots. The King had stood for several days in the warm spring weather, distributing seed packets and bundles of tools to all the residents. Other major cities had been visited by the King’s representatives in order to launch the project in similar areas.
As they passed through Shantytown today, the King was pleased to note that the garden plots were looking well.
“They’ll have some nice pumpkins,” he observed. “Excellent tomatoes. They’ll have a bumper crop. Perhaps we should look into distributing some mason jars . . . ?” He turned to his personal secretary who nodded and made a note in his ubiquitous daytime planner. His personal secretary was the only one of his staff who shared his interest in garden plots for the poor.
The King hoped it would be enough. It had so alarmed the final Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Charles I, when he had learned of the Tsar’s abdication in 1917, that he had immediately written to his ally, Kaiser Wilhelm II, that they needed to bring a speedy conclusion to the Great War so as to engage in battle with the real enemy that was raging across Europe, international revolution. He had cited “general starvation” as revolution’s strongest ally. Unfortunately, Charles I’s insight had been spot-on. The Great War had led to semi-starvation in Austria and when money had become worthless, desperate people had paralyzed the economy further with debilitating strikes. The red flag of revolution had started appearing in the cities, and even more distressing, on some of his own navy ships. Charles I had lost his throne shortly thereafter when his multicultural kingdom was torn apart by nationalistic factions.
The truth was, the King would have rather puttered among the gardens of the poor than visit the new armaments factory.
For now, armaments were his contribution to the alliance with the Kaiser. God knew, he didn’t want to promise any men in a nation of only thirty million, particularly when most of his ground forces were spread along the Canadian-American border.
But when he was with the Kaiser, he had the gloomy sense that a European war was inevitable. The Kaiser had talked of a pre-emptive strike on the English navy, while at the same time assuring Albert that it was England who wanted war, not him. A German preemptive strike on the English navy would hopefully be a sufficient flexing of Teutonic muscles to deter any of their plans to spread Socialism to the continent, he had explained.
The King could sympathize with the idea of enemies on the border.
The Kaiser was in the middle of the two Socialist powerhouses—England and Russia. Though small, England maintained a formidable navy, along with a modest air force. And Russia boasted an army of over five million men. Her tank forces were kept in top shape and ready to roll at the slightest sign of German aggression. And learning the lessons of the past, Russia was more than capable of engaging an enemy that took her on in the dead of winter. The Kaiser had lamented that his men were outfitted for nothing greater than a drop to zero degrees Celsius. The average Russian infantry division remained comfortable down to minus twenty degrees and there were special winter divisions that could engage in battle down to temperatures of minus forty degrees Celsius without suffering the effects of the cold.
The Kaiser’s interest in King Albert’s Arctic Patrol division of the navy had been disturbing.
In fact, it all made King Albert enormously nervous. Even if the Kaiser offered his people quick victories, both the English and the Russians were stubborn people. They would fight courageously and cunningly. The King could easily imagine a war that would wear down the German people, create food shortages and turn central Europe into another Socialist republic.
The Kaiser did have his Asian empire to draw upon—India alone could provide a million-man standing army to throw at Socialist Russia, but Albert doubted that the Indians would last too long once any winter—Russian or English—settled in. Not to mention that the Kaiser had a notorious habit of sending inferior army equipment and supplies to his brown forces.
The armaments factory had been a bore.
The lunch with the mayors of Alberta had been a little more lively due to an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in that province and each mayor being quick to defend his region as not being the source of it.
In an hour, he had to set out for the drama production at the University of Ottawa. But at the moment, that which he had dreaded had come upon him. His Foreign Secretary had finished reading the full treaty that he had signed with the Kaiser and had shown up at New Buckingham Palace demanding a meeting with Albert. They were now in his private office.
“It’s unworkable,” said his Foreign Secretary, seated across from him, whacking the sheaf of papers in his hand. “Entirely unworkable.” The man’s lips were set in anger and his eyes were flashing.
“Well, it’s done now,” said the King, grumpily.
His Foreign Secretary couldn’t stand the Kaiser and had such a difficult time concealing it that the King had felt it prudent to leave him out of the negotiations.
“You have committed us to a European war, sir,” said his Foreign Secretary.
“Not necessarily,” said the King leaning forward, across his desk. “If you’ll read it more carefully . . .” But he knew the man was right.
“If it were any other man but the Kaiser, I would agree with you, sir. But the Kaiser is an ambitious man and I fear we will be absorbed into his ambitions.”
The King exhaled. He found the whole business of government annoying. Theoretically, he was an autocrat and his word was law, but in reality, the people saw Parliament as the buffer zone against tyranny and for that reason alone, he had to bow to its wishes.
In 1905, the Tsar had had his Duma, but he had dissolved it due to the bloody-mindedness of it all. King Albert didn’t want to repeat the Tsar’s mistake. The Tsar had subsequently retreated to Tsarskoe Selo, his luxurious estate just outside of St. Petersburg, where he had enjoyed his family and his garden and had limited his visitors to those who shared his views. Much as he loathed most of his engagements, the King had tried to do the opposite.
Socialist newspapers were still periodically closed down, but as long as the mercantile and banking families of the East and the large landholding cattle ranchers and wheat-farmers of the West were satisfied, the country kept on.
Queen Donna ensured that there were court balls in both Ottawa and Toronto and that the debutantes were all annually received at New Buckingham Palace. When they had travelled to Germany in ’03, she had scorned the Kaiser’s court in Berlin with its military quadrilles and dowdy women.
“The only other option I can see is that we offend the Kaiser, stand on our own two feet and open Canada up to Socialism or Republicanism,” said the King. “He’s one of our strongest allies. If you want to be ruled over by Godless Bolsheviks, well, by all means, throw away the treaty.”
“Sir, I’m hardly an advocate of being ruled by the Godless Bolsheviks.” His Foreign Secretary was, at least, almost smiling. The secretary stood. “I will see what I can do,” he said, holding up the copy of the treaty. “There has to be a middle road. There always is, if one is willing to be brave and honest.”
King Albert dismissed him with a nod.
Brave and honest. The King liked that as he watched his departing Foreign Secretary. His wife despaired of their son, David, but the truth was, the Crown Prince was brave and honest. If anyone could find a middle road to things, it was David. He had marched right into the midst of his future subjects and had embraced what he loved most—drama. And his faith had remained intact, perhaps even been strengthened by his interaction with his future subjects.
On Sundays, when the Royal Family, worshipped at the New Westminster Abbey, David’s prayers were particularly poignant and sincere. People dabbed their eyes throughout. Only Donna remained rigid and unmoved. A prophet is without honour in his own home . . .
David would make a good king someday. In fact, thought King Albert as he stood up to move on to his next engagement, he would happily give up the throne to his son today, if he could.
e arrive at the Damascus Midan station just after the morning coffee. I’m so nervous I can’t eat and I have to go to the bathroom twice. But as Antony looks out at the crowded station, he declares he knows exactly what to do and says when we see the enormous distraction he is about to create, disembark from the train.
We watch in fascination as he approaches two porters. Some coins are exchanged and Toby turns to me to tell me to be ready.
The two German soldiers are still on the train. Many of our fellow passengers are still milling in the corridor with their luggage. But the porters are moving through the train, hurrying people along so it can depart again.
From our window, we don’t see Antony anymore, but one of the two men he talked to suddenly shrieks, “You son of a monkey!” at the second man. “I curse your mother!” shrieks the other man.
“I curse your father, if your mother knew who he was!” replies the other man.
“This is it!” says Toby, grabbing my hand. We hurry down the corridor to the end door, the one farthest from the compartment with the two soldiers.
The two porters are making such a scene on the platform I doubt the two soldiers will notice us, if they’re even watching the passengers disembark. We did buy tickets all the way through to Baghdad.
“I curse your ancestors, your children and I curse your religion!” I hear as we are hurrying alongside the train.
“I curse your moustache!” is the reply to that.
“I would curse your moustache, if you had one,” is the final thing I hear as we dash out through two columns into the bright streets of Damascus. Both men had full moustaches. That must be a serious insult in the Arab world.
Antony is waiting for us just outside the station.
There is a nearby square, shaded by palm trees, where several enormous silver buses are parked. There is a sign “Cross-Desert First-Class Special Luxury Nairn Connection to Baghdad—Damascus Section.”
“I’ll buy the tickets for all of us,” he says. “In case anyone is looking for a couple travelling together.”
He joins a small line leading to a ticket booth while we linger on the sidewalk.
Tramcars on tracks dominate the busy streets, although bicycles, carts and small lorries also compete for space. On the sidewalk, there is everything from donkeys laden with baskets to women equally weighted down and followed by lines of children. I’ve gotten my appetite back and I’m about to point out to Toby the vendors with bagels on large sticks.
Then I hear gunshots.
“Wallah!” I hear some people say, without pausing.
The city does not stop. The gunshots are steady, but in the distance.
“Has the war started already?” asks Toby when Antony joins us.
Antony shakes his head.
“Those are just the Druze rebels in the hills. The French have had a hopeless time trying to subdue them. The Nairn fellow says we might see some action in the desert because all of the tribes have joined together to fight the French and their cursed taxations. But don’t worry,” Antony adds. “Nairn is used to handling bandits. We’ll get across OK. And Nairn always travels in convoys.”
Antony looks down at his watch. “Anyway, we depart at dawn tomorrow. It means getting up at four. I suggest we rent a room, grab a shower and get a meal.”
“I recommend we head for the Kanawat Station,” says Antony. “It’s close by and it’s the departure point for the Hejaz.”
“The Hejaz?” I ask.
“Mecca and Medina,” Toby explains. “The holy cities of Islam.”
“There are so many pilgrims around the Kanawat Station that we should be able to get lost in the crowds.”
We are already in the crowds, as far as I can tell, as we move along with shoppers and fellow tourists.
Lining the streets are cafés filled with men drinking coffee, smoking the nargileh and playing backgammon. The occasional lorry full of troops goes by, but they’re all French, not German. France has had a mandate over Syria since the Great War.
While the Kanawat Station is busy handling travellers from all over the Muslim world, Antony leads us to a nearby neighbourhood where streets are narrow and windows are covered in lattice. We turn into a courtyard paved with stone and a fountain in the centre that is surrounded by graceful flower pots and shaded by lemon and orange trees.
“As salamu alaykum,” says an older man, hurrying out of a heavy wooden front door that is open now, but closed, would be a formidable deterrent to intruders. I notice iron bars on the windows of the spacious stone building.
“Wa alaykum salam,” Antony replies. “We need some rooms.”
The man waves us into the cool interior of the hotel where there is a small desk and a guest book.
“Don’t use your real name,” says Antony in a low voice.
Toby nods and signs us in as, “Mr. and Mrs. Ed Cornwall from Edmonton.”
We are led to two rooms, side by side, on the second floor. There is a bathroom in each room, tiled and luxurious and accompanied by a feeling that with this ancient city is a collective memory of days when Europe was filled with unwashed barbarians while cultured Arabs bathed regularly.
After a thorough bath, including doing our laundry, we meet in Antony’s room.
“Well, comrades,” he says. “We can do the bazaars, if you like. The Greek Bazaar sells Damascus blades which could be useful in an Iraqi uprising.”
“Or get us thrown into prison,” says Toby, grinning. “No, I think laying low is our best plan.”
Antony reclines on his bed and drawls on about the souks and khans of Damascus, telling us about the silversmiths’ bazaar, tobacco bazaar, booksellers’ bazaar, shoe bazaar, coppersmiths’ bazaar and a whole bazaar devoted to sweets. Finally, he says we will just get something to eat on the Street called Straight, known for Paul’s famous conversion to Christianity.
The short walk to the Street called Straight renews my concern. There are uniformed policemen on patrol. I doubt they would hesitate to arrest us if their fellow Europeans wanted us. But the more we go deeper into the walled old city, the more I’m reassured. It’s filled with natives and tourists and seems to be under the authority of no one, certainly not the nervous French.
We pass by merchants selling everything from brass coffee pots to chessboards to Persian carpets before turning into a small restaurant packed with diners and which has only one food item on the menu, enormous falafel sandwiches.
We order sandwiches and large glasses of mango juice. There is a radio on a shelf in the corner playing Arabic music and around us, the patrons are animatedly talking and gesturing over their meals. Toby and Antony are equally as animated. I’m the quiet one, concentrating on finishing the meal and looking forward to when we can return to our rooms and I can be alone with Toby.
Yawning, we are in the cool morning air, watching as passengers have their luggage loaded into the underside compartments of the bus. Private cars are lined up behind the bus, creating a convoy. Oil company employees and their families, says Antony. All German. But they don’t even look our way. They are too busy supervising the tying of their suitcases and travelling trunks to roof racks.
It is a mixed crowd waiting to board the Nairn bus. To me, they look mostly Eastern, although there are some Westerners. It is Antony who comes along side me and points out the subtle differences—a pair of well-dressed Jewish merchants, an authentic Bedouin sheik with two wives and innumerable children, several Kurds in native dress, some priests in black robes, two German backpackers, a Persian with a wife wearing the burkah, two female residents of Baghdad, a small group of Christian American tourists, an Egyptian wearing a fez and looking like he might be in government.
There are also two Arab drivers for the bus.
We are told in broken French and fluent Arabic that we can board the bus. I get a window seat while Toby and Antony can talk to one another in aisle seats. The sun has hardly risen when the bus is pulling away from the square, followed by its trail of cars. The city is still sleepy and quiet and it is easy to determine that no German soldier has seen us depart. There aren’t even any French soldiers or police patrols in the streets at this hour.
We pick up speed outside the city. I soon realize that Damascus, with its palm trees and greenery, is an oasis, because within thirty minutes we are in the desert. The road is hard and even, but everything beyond is sand with only tufts of greenery. There is the occasional goat herder with his flock, but we are whizzing along too fast to even be able to take in the details of his face or his animals.
The only thing to break the monotony is at around lunch time, when one of the drivers distributes boxed lunches—a cheese sandwich, a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, an orange, some bottled water and a bar of chocolate. Shortly afterwards, the bus rolls to a stop and the driver calls out in French, “Ladies will go to the left and Gentlemen to the right.”
Even the members of the convoy are expected to follow this basic rule and after everyone has finished their business, the journey resumes.
The highlight of the afternoon is passing a herd of gazelle, especially when some of them run alongside the bus for several miles.
Just before sunset, we arrive at a place called Wadi Harun. It is several miles wide with stony ground and high walls. A rest station called Rutba Wells has been established at Wadi Harun, protected by rolls of barbed wire and a wall made of petrol cans filled with sand. Mud huts are scattered around the compound. One of the buildings has uniformed men going in and out. Some Bedouin with camels are lounging, using their saddlebags as cushions. Those on our bus who have done this trip before disembark with assurance and head for the main building.
Soldiers are on patrol, but their eyes are on the menacing desert, not the arriving passengers.
We go inside to find a flurry of activity. Waiters are bringing lemonade to the tables that are filling up. A cook, snoozing on a chair, is being roused to action by a shouting Arab supervisor.
The oil officials all want beer in addition to the lemonade. After a few minutes, the two tired Arab drivers come in and sit at a separate table and are served Turkish coffee.
After a meal of lamb kebabs and rice and salad, we return outside to where the bus and the cars are now parked like circled wagons.
Some people choose to sleep in the reclining seats of the bus. Others have come prepared with camp beds and are going to sleep outside. The male passengers, we learn, are expected to take turns on guard duty so that the drivers can sleep. There are two-hour stints and Toby and Antony get on the same shift, the first one, while I return to the bus. The bus is unheated and I pull out every piece of clothing to layer on as protection against the now cold desert.
I don’t sleep soundly, but I’m beyond noticing when Toby and Antony return to the bus.
It is another early morning start. At four a.m., all the passengers are up and tea is being brewed outside over an open fire. After some bread and fruit, we are off again, for another long, dull drive. Eight hours on the same, straight road is interrupted only by a stop for the ladies to go to the left and the gentleman to the right. Lunch is another boxed affair and instead of gazelles, today it is a convoy of German officials, the flags on their cars waving the proud logo of the Royal Hohenzollern Air Force.
By 1:00, we are at the border of Iraq. Passports are hardly glanced at by an Arab customs official who comes aboard and he shows no special interest in Toby’s or mine. The suitcases of the Jewish merchants, however, are examined closely. They contain nothing more than rows and rows of Palestinian apricot jam, but it seems to take awhile to establish that they are not contraband jam.
“If the road to Baghdad isn’t flooded,” says Antony. “We’ll be there by sunset.”
It’s hard to imagine anything flooding around here, but soon the dusty desert gives way to fertility. There are mud villages surrounded by date groves. While I see huts that look dank and uninviting and inhabitants who live in barebones poverty and disease, Toby—for the first time in his life—doesn’t see the human suffering and enthuses about this being the land of Abraham. Antony, who shares my apathy about all things biblical, murmurs something about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and lost glory.
But even the muddy Euphrates looks inviting after the barren Syrian desert.
At Lake Habbaniyah we see the base of the Royal Hohenzollern Air Force. Toby and Antony are leaning across me to get a closer look at the airfields lined with fighter jets and at all the seaplanes in the water.
The villages get closer and closer together until we are in Khadhmain, home of a golden mosque, and then it is Baghdad itself. The tourists are snapping photos through the windows.
Baghdad is on the Tigris River and as we cross the river on a wide bridge, there is a collection of river vehicles moving lazily along—barges, steamers, sailboats, round basketwork boats filled with fruits and vegetables. Along the river are homes of the wealthy where they can watch the river traffic from their balconies.
The Nairn bus stops in front of an upscale establishment, the Tigris Palace Hotel. The driver of the bus points out several other similar buildings along the street and says they are also hotels.
The natives of the east disembark from the bus, and after claiming their luggage, are calling for rickshaw-style transportation to take them either to the Baghdad West, Baghdad East or Baghdad North train station.
The visitors mill around, trying to decide which hotel will be the best and what they want to do first now that they have arrived.
Antony tells us that we are on Rashid Street, the main road running through Baghdad. It runs parallel to the Tigris River. My first observation is that camels loaded with dates are sharing the road with cars and trolleys.
Hungry, we all agree that food should be our next step. It is getting dark, but the city is still alive. Kebab sellers operate small stands. We pass elderly ladies stirring big pots of what looks like string beans. Natives purchase a chunk of bread on a piece of string that they can then dip into the soup. Other sellers have a soup that smells like lamb and offers the same service.
Sellers of sherbet are doing a brisk business. The sherbets of Baghdad come in a delightful variety of flavours—rose petal, orange blossom, apricot, peach, pomegranate and almond. We each get one. Antony recommends that we also grab a pickled mango in pita bread.
From Rashid Street, there are several roads down to the water. I see women carrying goatskins or earthenware pots coming up from the river. I hope it’s just for bathing, otherwise, I anticipate we could have collywobbles in our stomach while we’re here if that’s the source of drinking water.
While we eat and walk, Antony asks if we have a place to stay.
Toby nods as he swallows.
“Probably. I have my contact name and an address. You can join us if you want, but I should warn you, it won’t be safe.” He reaches into a pocket his knapsack and pulls out a piece of paper, handing it to Antony.
“I didn’t come here for safe,” says Antony. He reads the address. “Ra's al-Qaryah. It’s the Christian district. I know because that’s the only place where you can buy wine in Baghdad. We’ll have to cross back over the river.”
He leads us down one of the side roads that he says is Shariat al-Nawab. It runs down to the river where we can catch a river taxi, which as it turns out is a rowboat with an awning and cushions to sit on.
It only takes ten minutes to cross the river, but the smiling Arab makes me feel welcome to Baghdad and I can tell from his effusive thanks that Antony is a generous tipper.
On the other side, we follow Antony through narrow streets of brick walls. People here have only one access into their home—a heavy wooden door that requires a huge key to open, and Antony tells us, sometimes takes two people to turn it.
“It keeps them safe,” he says. “There are spacious courtyards behind these walls, but it would be like taking a castle to get inside.”
“How do you know so much about Baghdad?” I ask.
“Well, Felicity,” says Antony. “I’m ashamed to say it, but my sister married a German diplomat and they were posted out here for several years. I came out to join them at the time. You see, my parents are high up with the Socialist Party in England and were horrified when my sister married a potato. They told me I should live out here and see first-hand what the Germans are capable of.” Antony shakes his head. “And it’s true. Anyone with brown skin is treated like a dog by the Germans. No, that’s not true. Dogs are treated with affection. It’s no wonder the east is ready to rise. The Germans are cruel masters and I want to see the end of it.”
The neighbourhood is becoming poorer as we move deeper into it.
“A lot of the railway workers live in this area,” says Antony.
The houses are less protected now, but there is laughter coming from behind curtained windows and I can hear gramophones playing music.
A policeman passes us, whistling, giving me the sense that the poverty doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in criminal activity.
Donkeys with baskets are being led through the streets.
“They pick up the rubbish at night,” says Antony. “Ah, here we are. It’s a club.” We stop. From the outside, it appears to be a café, of sorts.
“Men only, I’m afraid,” says Antony, glancing at me.
“They won’t mind Felicity,” says Toby. “She’s the one they want to meet.”
Antony looks at me with respect—and curiosity.
We open the flimsy wooden door and enter into a room of men drinking coffee, smoking pipes, laughing and talking.
We are noticed immediately. One of the young men stands and comes over to us.
“Welcome to the Association for Combating Illiteracy,” he says.
“Thank you,” says Toby. “I’m Toby. This is Felicity. We’re with the Concerned Citizens and we’ve come from Toronto. I was told to come to this address and ask for Yusuf.”
The young man nods, turns and speaks some words in Arabic to the rest of the group. We are waved to join several of them at a table where we are immediately given steaming cups of Turkish coffee.
“Yusuf has been sent for,” says the young man who welcomed us. “He will be here soon.” We are introduced to some of the men—Samuel, Botros, Abdullah, Daud, Ibrahim, Asher, Malaach. They are a mix of Arab and Jewish, although they speak Arabic to one another and broken English to us. It is a matter of honour, they tell us, to speak no German in their club.
Yusuf arrives with energy and the room becomes charged.
He embraces us and calls out to everyone in the room that we are friends who have journeyed so far to be here and tonight, the union between the Socialists of East and West is a reality.
He joins us at the table and immediately the conversation is alive with ideas. Like Toby, Yusuf is all about Socialism. We have come halfway around the world, but there is no enquiry about our travels or even whether we had difficulty finding the address. Yusuf and Toby jump right into it with Toby asking about the state of the Communist Party in Iraq.
“The Teacher's Training College and the Engineering College, as well as some of the other public schools, are now being run by the Communists,” says Yusuf. “Up until now, our only objective and option has been penetration as teachers in the schools or in the lower levels of government. Of course, in turn, the government has tried to penetrate us.”
“Some people think we should continue to just focus on education and work politically through other parties. Others think we should have only one distinctive Communist Party. But it is all academic. Though the government is filled with Arab ministers, it is the German advisors who really run the country.”
Toby nods again.
“We don’t even have that charade of self-government in Canada,” he says. “The truth is Yusuf, without an uprising in the East, there will be no Socialism to speak of in Canada. And England desperately needs the Socialists of Iraq to control the oil supply in order to offset the ambitions of the Kaiser.”
“The time has come. I sense it, too. And that is why I am of the belief that we need to take more decisive action. At this point, we are just beginning to carry out acts of sabotage against the Germans.”
“How exciting,” I say.
“It feels good to take action, although we are also being careful. We cannot afford to have our men in prison. So we use simple items—string, rocks, children's marbles, just anything on hand that the enemy wouldn't regard as being unusual. Even our trash can be used to, say, for example, start a fire somewhere that would be a nuisance for the Germans.”
I think of the little donkey out in the street with his baskets of refuse. Is he an agent of Socialism?
“I’m up for it,” says Antony.
“Me too,” I say.
“No, you’re not,” says Toby. “You’re needed for morale.”
“I think I’d be good at it.”
“That’s not the point,” says Toby and Yusuf nods. “Your time will come, Felicity. The people will rally around you.” He turns back to Yusuf.
“It goes beyond acts of sabotage,” Yusuf continues. “It's the whole environment. The Germans should start finding the meat rancid, the wine bitter, the workers surly. Men commandeered to do skilled labour should arrive with rusty tools. Men asked to do manual labour should quarrel frequently and act like absolute morons when given instructions.”
“It sounds like it will frustrate them no end,” he says. “Definitely count me in.”
“We are in the process of creating an informal army of saboteurs who can ruin the effectiveness of German rule here.”
“I like it,” says Antony, nodding.
“The best acts are those that cannot be attributed to any one person,” says Yusuf. “So we tell our ladies, if you do poisoned tea cakes, make sure you only do it once. And if you get caught, make sure that you blame it on bad eggs or sour milk, or something you had no control over.”
“Sounds like everyone can do their bit,” says Toby.
“Yes, they can. I have already begun giving basic training to some of the street children on how to effectively start fires. And for those higher up on the social scale, those who come into contact with the Germans socially, we are giving them lessons on how to clog the toilets.”
“But how do you clog the toilet without them knowing it was you?” I ask.
“It's really quite ingenious,” explains Yusuf. “An English diplomat told me how to do it. You take a sponge and soak it in a starch solution. Then you squeeze it tightly into a ball, wrap it with string and let it dry. You remove the string once it's dry.”
“So it's sort of a small ball?” I say.
“A lady could put this ball in her purse and when she uses the facilities at a German party she simply flushes it down. The sponge gradually expands to its regular size and then the system is plugged up. At a party it would be hard to determine who was at fault.”
“We could do that,” I say, turning to Toby. “We could buy some sponges in the market and if we go into government buildings . . .”
“Do not purchase too many sponges at once,” Yusuf warns. “You don't want to be found with a large supply of sponges. The real key is that everything has to seem normal on the surface, but underneath, everything is designed to drive them mad.”
“Slashing tires is always good,” says Antony. “So is draining the fuel tank. But the best thing to do is to replace the fuel with salt water because it causes corrosion and will do permanent damage.”
“Excellent,” says Yusuf. “We will most certainly enjoy working with you.” He stands. “But you must be tired after your long journey. Come. I have a place for you to stay.” He leads us out into the night.
We are led back to the river, but this time we cross over on the bridge that takes us past the Tigris Palace. But the hotel is not our destination. We cross Rashid Street, still busy even at this hour, and carry on to what Yusuf tells us is a Chaldean church.
“You will be safe here,” he says. “They offer hospitality to travellers and take no interest in politics.”
We are led to a small inn on the church compound that is run by members of the convent.
Yusuf leaves us to our two rooms and promises to come back tomorrow to show us around Baghdad and to talk more. I think the original idea was that Toby and I would have separate rooms, but obviously, we give one of the rooms to Antony.
We leave Antony at his door and enter into our small room with its stone walls, simple furniture and dim lighting.
“Do you think Antony could be one of the King’s men?” I ask Toby, now that we are finally alone. “He has a good cover, but you would expect him to.”
Toby shakes his head as he pulls out the contents of his knapsack and spreads it out on the bed.
“I thought it was a possibility at first. It would be clever to have him appear in our compartment like that, posing as a Socialist but really keeping an eye on us. But did you see his passport when we crossed into Iraq? It has the J on it. And when we were doing guard duty, he told me how his grandmother is Jewish. She was the daughter of a prominent Socialist, but she herself went Orthodox. Antony’s mother is a strong Socialist and she married a Gentile, but since descent is from the mother, Antony is considered a Jew by German standards. The English don’t affix a J to your passport. It happened when he was visiting his sister in Germany last summer He’s serious about fighting against the Kaiser and his kind, Felicity.”
“OK, I’m convinced.” I stretch out on the bed, intending to get back up to at least brush my teeth. But before I realize it, I’ve dropped off to sleep.
rown Prince David stepped out of his tent, pausing to breathe in the cool, refreshing morning air. They were living like gypsies, taking their drama productions to the squares of small towns in Europe and surviving on the generosity of the locals for a field to stay in and food to eat. He loved it.
Last night, dinner had been a strange mix of mustard greens from the farmer whose field they were in, rhubarb pies from a housewife who had enjoyed their production of Romeo & Juliet, and grapes from a vineyard owner who had said they could help themselves.
None of them were just actors. Each of them helped with the setting up and taking down of the backdrops and when the show was over, all of them helped with erecting tents, manning the fire, stirring the stew, making the morning coffee, whatever was needed to keep the whole thing going. Exhausting, but rewarding.
David’s best friend was Peter McCrae. Peter and the Crown Prince of Canada had a friendly rivalry for the leading parts in their plays. Last night, Peter had been Romeo while the Crown Prince had been Tybalt. They had dueled with such skill that the maidens of the village had tossed roses at their feet when they had taken their final bows. It was amusing and exhilarating, and while some of the actors took advantage of the maidens who fawned over the troupe, the Crown Prince and Peter had merely laughed and waved the women away, instead, returning to their tent with a bottle of apple cider to talk the night away. Peter was a recent convert to Socialism and that had opened a whole new world of discussion—about God and social justice and the current state of the world. Peter was passionate about his new faith. David was listening to his new ideas, delivered with such fervor, intrigued by the change in his friend.
“Telegram, sir.” There was only one man in the company who called David sir. He was the son of the director and was responsible for all the paperwork that went along with outdoor performances. He had to secure permission from local authorities to use town squares and other public places for their performances. He handed David a telegram.
Already holding his shaving kit with one hand, David took it and glanced down. He expected it to be from his father, although he had no idea how his father knew where to send it. They had no fixed route or itinerary, just following the sun and performing where they were welcome.
The telegram was from the Kaiser. How had the Kaiser found him in France? David shook his head, ruefully. Trust the Kaiser’s military intelligence to find out that the Crown Prince of Canada was in a neighbouring country.
It was an invitation to the Kaiser’s hunting lodge at Rominten, not exactly on the troupe’s route. The Kaiser tended to be wordy, not feeling any need to conserve his thoughts just because it was a telegram, and assured the Crown Prince, it would be “men only” and that the forest around the estate was teeming with evergreens, deer and other wildlife. Several of his older sons would be there and would be thrilled to see their English cousin again. The Kaiser wrote with the confidence that the Crown Prince’s reply would be “yes.” After all, his hunting parties were legendary. On one occasion, he and his party had brought down over four thousand pheasant.
The director’s son was still standing there, perhaps expecting that the Crown Prince would want to reply. The telegram hadn’t been in an envelope so David knew that the young man was aware of its message.
The Crown Prince crumpled the message, handing it back to the director’s son.
“Sir!” The young man was shocked. “It’s the Kaiser, sir!”
“I know,” said David. “And the Kaiser knows that neither I nor my father enjoy hunting.” He walked toward the benches that had been set up with some washbasins for those who liked to shave in the morning.
“Sir, don’t you want to reply?” The director’s son was running along beside him.
“Certainly,” said David. “You can do it for me. Thank him kindly and tell him that my schedule does not permit me to join him at this time. Perhaps some other time.”
He smiled his thanks to the director’s son.
“I could fill it out a bit more . . .” murmured the young man as he returned to the tent that served as their office.
If the director’s son was the most ardent monarchist in the troupe, he met the least ardent one at the washbasins.
Guy was shaving and paused to say, “Well, look who it is! His Royal Highness. We missed you last night.”
David nodded. From what he had overheard, it had been a near orgy in the young republican’s tent.
“Not my thing,” he said.
“What is your thing, exactly?” Guy still sounded drunk.
“God, nature, acting.” David wasn’t apologetic about any of the things he loved.
“What? The girls of this town not good enough for you? Don’t want to make any of them your Queen?”
David was lathering up and only half listening. It hardly ever turned nasty and it wasn’t worth answering.
They were joined by other members of the troupe who wanted to wash up or shave. There was a camaraderie that transcended political views and David rarely felt that awkward silence that descended on a room when the monarch walked in, when people felt that they could no longer be their true selves in the presence of royalty. The Kaiser, on the other hand, was known to exile people to Silesia when they shared their candid thoughts with him.
Two days later, there was another telegram from the Kaiser. He said he quite understood that the Crown Prince was unable to make it to Rominten, but there was an upcoming festival in Berlin at the Royal Opera House featuring the works of several notable German playwrights. The Kaiser expected that that would be more to the liking of Crown Prince David.
The tone was still that of a summons, but David didn’t crumple the telegram this time.
The director’s son waited, almost breathless, for what the Crown Prince would say to this telegram.
“Tell him I will be glad to attend the festival,” said David, giving him back the telegram. “I’ll arrange my own transportation.”
The director’s son hurried off, not only to do the bidding of the Canadian Crown Prince, but of the great Kaiser Frederick of Imperial Germany.
David returned to his tent and lay down. The Kaiser would understand the implications of David making his own travel arrangements. No royal welcome at the Berlin train station. No guard of honour. No pomp of the Kaiser arriving in a carriage to escort his young distant cousin back to Stadtschloss.
David would arrive at the guarded gates of Stadtschloss with a knapsack on his back. It went against protocol.
Protocol would also have him contact his father back in Ottawa and tell him of the Kaiser’s invitation, but David decided not to bother. He hadn’t bothered to contact his father about the telegram that had come two days earlier.
The truth was, David felt that as a sovereign, his father didn’t need to worry about the Americans or the Germans. If God had put him on the throne of Canada, God would take care of its borders. All he needed to do was be the guardian of his people. An enormous Bible gilded the altar at New Westminster Abbey in Ottawa. But in New Buckingham Palace, there was only one Bible, and it was on the bedside table beside the Crown Prince’s bed. And in it there was a parable, spoken by the greatest sovereign of all, Jesus. He had given his servants talents—increments of money—to use wisely until a time of accounting. In the story, the man who had five talents had made five more, the man who had two talents had made two more, but the man who had one had buried it and been reprimanded for not investing it in the bank where he, at least, would have gotten interest.
By David’s way of thinking, his father had fulfilled the lowest level of increase—he had invested his talent in the bank rather than burying it, metaphorically speaking.
But it wasn’t David’s intent to follow his father’s example. Canada was a nation of thirty million people and by David’s way of thinking, that meant thirty million talents would someday be given to him. He wanted each and every one of his subjects to experience increase in their lives, but he didn’t see how they could if the King of Canada received his orders from the Kaiser.
David said a prayer for inspiration. The Kaiser had been willing to meet him halfway, but David knew that once he was in Berlin, the Kaiser would dominate the Crown Prince with his usual forcefulness.
Like God spoke ages ago to a young King Solomon, today God spoke to Crown Prince David.
Take them all.
The idea was brilliant. Simple and brilliant. David sat straight up.
“Thank you, Father,” he said out loud, and laughed. He stood up.
He exited his tent and began moving through the camp.
“The Kaiser has invited us to a festival in Berlin! We’re all invited to Stadtschloss in Berlin . . . !”
here is a knock at our door. It is morning. I’m still drowsy as Toby answers and lets Yusuf into the room. We learn that Yusuf has just been with Antony and now Antony has left the Chaldean complex to return to the other side of the river. He is keen to engage in sabotage and doesn’t need a guide to help him find the club where the so-called Association for Combating Illiteracy meets.
“Dear Felicity,” says Yusuf, sitting down on a chair beside the bed. “I regret we were not able to give you a more fitting welcome to Baghdad. Even now, I would prefer to keep the news of your arrival to simply the comrades we trust. For it would do no good to have the Germans know that such friends are here in Baghdad.”
Toby sits down beside me on the bed and says, “I agree. The Concerned Citizens sent us because we wanted you to know how committed we are to seeing a Socialist Iraq. But we are not here to send a message to the German overlords.”
That out of the way, the two men turn to matters in Baghdad.
“I would like you to see the city for yourselves,” says Yusuf. “First, we will get breakfast. Then I can show you the Baghdad that I love. But after that, you will see the reasons why Baghdad teeters on the edge of revolt.”
He stands and says he will wait in the hall, allowing us to wash up and change clothes.
From the Chaldean church, it is a short walk back to Rashid Street.
A lorry convey of Arab soldiers is passing through the crowded street, forcing all other vehicles and animals to move to the side.
“Where are the Germans?” says Toby. “All I see are Arab soldiers.”
“We have a few German soldiers, too. They are mostly the officers. But it is Arabs in the ranks. I believe it is a punishment for a German to be posted to Iraq.”
We all smile.
From Rashid Street, Yusuf leads us through a maze of narrow streets for about fifteen minutes until we come to a covered marketplace.
“This is the Shorjah,” says Yusuf. “The sort of thing you show people who want to see the real Baghdad, not the fancy dress parties thrown by the Germans.”
There are fruit sellers, carpet sellers, silverware sellers, along with all sorts of other items—cups and saucers, tea-pots, embroidered scarves, second-hand coats and sweaters, hand-made woven bedspreads, candles, clay pots, sheepskin coats, inlaid mother of pearl trays and copper coffee sets. Spices, beans, and rice can be purchased from enormous baskets. Everything edible is covered in flies.
Older Arabs in long robes of striped cotton sit on stools by trays of bootlaces or combs or bananas or towels or razors and blades, their fingers slipping over amber prayer beads. Younger Arabs in European suits move along at a quick pace.
A man with a cart of watermelons passes by. A woman with small children, two on foot, one in her arms, stops him and he pulls out a knife to cut open one so she can examine the colour. Satisfied that it is red, not pink, she purchases it and walks away, now loaded down even more.
Beyond the central market of the Shorjah are other roads. We pass a stationary shop, a seller of sweets, a shop filled with woodcarvings. We pass through another smaller market area devoted entirely to clothes.
Men carry large handkerchiefs, bundled up to carry purchases. Barbers work on the sidewalk, offering haircuts and shaves.
“It is nice to come back at night,” says Yusuf. “You can buy ice cream and watch a magic-lantern show with pictures of places around the world.” He points. Right now, the spot he points to has a man with a monkey who plays a miniature tambourine. “And this is Souq al Khubz,” he says, waving his hand. “The market of bread.” We turn. Shops with ovens in the back and piles of bread out front line the street. We purchase some of the fresh, flat bread and eat as we turn again and walk down the Souq al Safafiir where the sellers of brass and copper supply the people of Baghdad with their cookware.
Yusuf turns into a small establishment that sells the strong, sweet coffee of Arabia and we join the other patrons who are sipping their drinks, playing backgammon or dominoes and listening to the radio that is playing in a corner. At first, the music is distinctly Eastern and then it turns to the sound of a German marching band. There is booing until the proprietor turns the dial to a station that is speaking in Arabic.
The room settles as people listen to the soothing cadences of Arabic and the steady clink of dominoes and backgammon pieces.
“It is the Qur’an,” Yusuf says to us. “It is the only Arabic-language broadcast they will allow. For our news, we are forced to rely on their German Broadcasting System.”
We finish our coffee and return through a neighborhood of narrow streets of brick walls back to Rashid Street where commerce continues to be the chief activity.
“Baksheesh! Baksheesh!” one young boy calls out, running alongside some of the wealthier-looking shoppers. He is waved away with a sharp “Imshee!”
Porters carry heavy loads on their back, calling out in Arabic for people to watch out as they pass.
Water sellers are everywhere. I presume the water we had in our coffee came from the Tigris, but I’d rather not drink it directly. There are also sellers of juice. Kebabs are being cooked over open fires.
Toby asks about the fuel they’re using.
“Sheep dung,” replies Yusuf, glancing down. “It doesn’t create a lot of smoke. But the best is to cook over hawthorn plants. It smells nice.”
Funny, in the land of oil.
A young woman leads a cow. Cows are big, I realize, as I move to allow her to pass.
“A cow?” says Toby, who is looking around, curious about everything.
“Yes,” says Yusuf, glancing back at the young woman. “She goes from door-to-door and sells fresh milk.”
“She milks the cow right at the doorway?”
He points out Bank Street in case we need to do anything financial. It runs off of Rashid Street. Rashid Street itself seems to go on for miles.
Toby says he would like to exchange some money and we turn into the closest bank, the Deutsche Orient Bank. Inside is like being in Europe. It is euphoric to feel the air-conditioning and less euphoric to hear the German being spoken between the blond, blue-eyed tellers.
For a fee, Toby exchanges Canadian dollars for the currency of Baghdad—rupees and annas.
“The Germans brought the currency into alignment with that of India’s,” Yusuf says when I ask him if that’s an ancient type of money. “Iraq is actually a subsidiary of their Indian administration.” He shakes his head at the insult of it all.
Unlike the Deutsche Orient Building, the other buildings on Bank Street have shabby doors with peeling paint. Back on Rashid Street, we step into a telegram office so that Yusuf can send a message off to a Bedouin friend in a rural village. The interior of the building is dark and musty, but it’s still cooler inside with the electric fans overhead.
“I don’t see too many Germans,” says Toby looking around, when we come out again.
“A German woman rarely does her own marketing,” says Yusuf. “Each German household has an Arab to make the purchases.”
A double-decker tram passes in the crowded, uneven street, competing with urban residents in cars and large lorries full of Arabs. The noise is overwhelming. Motor cars continually honk. A policeman directing traffic whistles. People without horns simply shout at one another. Vendors call out as we pass. Even the way people converse with one another seems confrontational, with a lot of gesturing and animation. I’ve seen several men clear their throats with force and then spit out on the sidewalk. Though, in all fairness, the dust is the chief cause of this need to expectorate.
Yusuf says the tram takes Muslims worshippers out to the golden mosque at Khadmain. We keep going until we come to one of the bridges that cross the river.
Everything is dusty brown—the Tigris, the banks of the Tigris, the buildings—with only the palm trees to add a touch of gracefulness to the scene. Women are washing their clothing in the brown muddy water. Toby points at the only non-dusty structure. It is a gleaming white. Yusuf says it is the German Embassy.
We do not return to the neighbourhood where we first met Yusuf but enter a totally different world.
It is hot now, and the only good thing on this side is the breeze from the river. But as we move further in from the edge of the Tigris, even that is lost in the labyrinth of mud homes that we are now passing through. Yusuf tells us that this neighbourhood is a mix of Jews and Muslims.
We have left behind indoor plumbing, electricity, outdoor lighting, paved streets. A man with a load of kindling on his back is going from door-to-door.
“They live pretty much on salted yoghurt and fruit,” says Yusuf. “It is the only way to survive the heat. Sometimes they catch fish from the river.”
“Is that why they need the twigs?” Toby asks. “For the fish?”
“The small fire they make will be for their only luxury, tea with sugar,” Yusuf explains. “It is their only comfort amidst the poverty. A man works all day, 14 hours, and it is what he comes home to.”
Although there are people in the streets, eyes are kept low and bodies are emaciated. It doesn’t feel like life. Here, in this neighborhood, there is a tangible sense of approaching death.
A little boy comes down the narrow road, a tray slung around his neck with a small assortment of combs and hair elastics on it. I tell Yusuf I would like to buy something from him. Toby pulls a handful of coins out of his pocket and shows them to Yusuf. Yusuf nods and selects a couple of them, while telling me to select whatever I like. I take an elastic for my hair that will be useful in this heat. The boy nods and says “shukran” several times. I think Yusuf was generous and I am glad.
With all the turns we’ve taken, we’re now near the river again. A small alleyway leads to a khan, or courtyard.
A pair of older men are playing a game of chess under the shade of an almond tree. Weeds are poking up between the courtyard stones.
The men greet Yusuf with a wave but the Arab servant at the door looks at me with disapproval until Yusuf speaks a few words in Arabic and we are allowed inside. Although the interior of the house is spacious, there are damp patches on the wall and the plaster is flaking off. We are shown into a large room furnished with cushions lining the walls.
“This is the salamlik, the room reserved for the male visitors. Normally, Felicity would not be permitted here and would have to visit with the ladies of the home in the haramlik,” Yusuf explains as we take a seat.
In the corner of the room, another servant has begun the process of preparing the coffee. He is grinding beans with a mortar and pestle. Then he takes the grinds and pours them into a large pot to which he adds boiled water that has been sitting on a kerosene stove.
The room is gradually filling with men. To avoid making eye contact with them, I continue to watch the coffee-maker. After a time, he strains the coffee from the larger pot into a smaller pot. More coffee grounds are added and the process is repeated twice until the coffee is in the smallest serving pot, like the ones I saw in the marketplace today.
A slight man enters the room and we all stand. Yusuf embraces him and then introduces us.
“Uncle, these are our friends from the west. Felicity, of whom who have heard a great deal, and her protector, Toby.”
The older man nods and welcomes us in Arabic. Toby is prompted by Yusuf to give the suitable Arabic replies and it is evident that there is a certain ceremony to this series of salutations.
We sit down to the coffee, now sweetened and being served in tiny cups. The method used by the servant to pour the coffee is extraordinary. We sit and hold our cup while he stands and pours a long, thin stream into it, knowing exactly at what point he must stop in order to keep it from overflowing.
The older man turns to us, now speaking in English.
“It is important,” he says, “to greet you like an Arab. But now I talk to you as a comrade.”
“All of Iraq suffers under German tyranny,” the older man continues. “I know my history. The Jews of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany were called unpatriotic, red apes. But the contempt of the German people extends to all of the Semitic peoples. The colour of our skin determines our place in the Aryan nation and we are as dirt underneath their feet.”
Sitting beside Toby, Yusuf murmurs his agreement.
“Yet, we are not entirely unlike. There was a time,” the man continues, “when Germany was a rural nation. Two-thirds of her children lived in villages and only one-third in the cities. And Socialism has always started in the cities. When the Industrial Revolution came to Germany and the people made their way to the cities, Socialism flourished and soon it was two-thirds of the people who lived in the cities and only one-third back in the villages. And Germany teetered on the edge of Socialism.”
The older man has a slow way of speaking, but it is mesmerizing.
“But Wilhelm II led his nation into war and once again, the Germans reverted to old ways. No longer hearing the universal call of all workingmen, but returning to her Aryan notions of superiority. All of the East laments as a result.”
As he has been speaking, there have been even more young men drifting into the room and taking spots on the cushions to listen to him. He is clearly a leader and his home is open to them.
“It is true, Uncle,” he says. “But it is now time to talk strategy. With your approval and those of the comrades . . .” He acknowledges the young men scattered around the room. “We must concentrate on Basra. It is our most oil-rich region and it has access to the sea . . .”
“I don’t think we should ignore the north,” someone interrupts. “The pipelines from the north also run right to a sea.”
“True,” says the older man, nodding. “Basra may be our ocean port, but the pipelines of the north run to the Mediterranean and that is just as important.”
“We hardly use our own oil,” someone else says. “What good is it to us? We should just destroy the pipelines in the north and blow up the wells in Basra and let no one have it!”
A couple of men nod and one says, “We will just be handing it over to the English.”
“That is not true!” says Yusuf. “The oil will belong to the Iraqi Socialists! And we cannot just blow up the oil wells. We will need the revenue!”
Toby leans forward.
“I am here as a student,” he says. “Not a tutor. Felicity is here to show you that we hold you as brothers in our cause. We ourselves owe our Socialism to Edward Cornwall, who led his people to equality. We hope the same for you.”
“The comrades of the West fear the Germans, as do we.”
The older man speaks again.
“Of course, it will all come about as a result of the clerics in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.”
There is general nodding.
“Najaf and Karbala are the holy cities of the Shiite Muslims. My uncle and I are Christian and we have among us today, Sunni Muslims and Jews. But Iraq has more Shiite Muslims than any other religion, so if they are with us, we cannot fail. Ultimately, the clerics must decide that infidel rule is against true religion.”
“Was religion a force in the days of Edward Cornwall?” one of the young men asks Toby.
“Not in the same way,” replies Toby. “There were many Christians on either side of the great divide between rich and poor, and to be honest, I think there were good Christians to be found in both groups. But we had come to a point in history where it wasn’t enough to just be rich and offer some comfort to the poor in the form of soup and improved housing.”
“That is when it is time to assassinate the king!” someone else calls out.
“There were many assassination attempts against King Edward.”
Toby has the attention of the room.
“The king’s loyal supporters attributed the assassination attempts on their sovereign as being anarchist in nature, and thus, something to be dismissed as senseless violence. Even the king dismissed any man who pointed a pistol at him as being mad. But the facts told a different story.” Toby leans forward. “An assassin who attempted to kill the king did so not because he was mad, but because he was an Irish Fenian and the king’s supporters occupied his country. Anther assassin attempted to take the life of the king because his sympathies were with the Boers. But this wasn’t madness. These weren’t the forces of anarchy. They were just the longings of people to live in a just world.”
“Well spoken,” murmurs Yusuf’s uncle. He turns to Yusuf and says, “You must take them to meet Sheik Habibi.”
“But Uncle, they have come to Baghdad to join us in revolution, not to meet the people who will abstain from it.”
Yusuf’s uncle shakes his head.
“He speaks as a prophet. If he is against our ideas, perhaps our friends from the West should hear why.”
“That sounds like wise advice,” he says. “I would very much like to meet Sheik Habibi.”
he men surrounding the Kaiser always carried little notebooks to jot down his many ideas—whatever was of current importance to him, ranging from his political foes all the way down to the buttons on the new naval uniforms.
The men present today were the court favourites, the ministers who he was not at odds with. Right now, he was at war with his Chancellor over the Kaiser’s recent announcement to the press that the Reichstag would be passing a law that would protect any striking workers who wanted to return to work. His Chancellor had the imbecilic idea that they needed the support of the left-wing sympathizers in order to pass this year’s naval budget, but Frederick’s frequent strategy for handling political opposition was to announce to the press his intentions before actually consulting his ministers.
But today, his agile mind quickly lost interest in labour issues and went instead, to wine. While in Canada, he had noted that he had been offered hock or claret to drink.
“Why do we not supply the world with red wine, too?” he demanded now. “Why do we leave that to the French?” Naturally, in Canada he had accepted the hock and been pleased by the quality of the fine German white wine that had been served to him. “The Canadians didn’t have a single claret that wasn’t from France.”
No one mentioned the obvious point that by definition, a claret would always be a red wine from the Bordeaux region of France.
Someone murmured something about Canada having French people in Quebec, which the Kaiser ignored. No one else spoke up. Ministerial purges were all too frequent.
“Well, that’s it for today, gentlemen,” said Frederick, walking towards the door of his office, forcing the others to move along with him. The newest member of the clique, a young Minister of Agrarian Affairs, was startled by the abrupt dismissal. The others were used to it. Although these personal meetings with the Kaiser were meant to touch upon matters of current debate in the Reichstag, the Kaiser only brought up the things that interested him.
The small group watched the Kaiser’s back as he disappeared through a doorway into the interior of Stadtschloss, leaving his ministers standing in the anteroom of his office.
While his ministers speculated about whether he was going hunting or riding, Frederick hurried to his next meeting, one that was not in his personal secretary’s day planner, one with the Admiral of the German Imperial Navy. There were battleship plans to look at and Kaiser Frederick was like a young boy on Christmas Eve. Each new battleship was a shiny present. With his Admiral, he could talk openly. Together, they no longer even pretended that the Kaiserliche Marine existed to defend the coast. They could speak freely about its offensive purposes. They were in the process of expanding their submarine fleet and Frederick could already imagine his submarines stealthily navigating the Thames and emerging in the heart of London much to the terror of its Socialist citizens. It was an enormously pleasing thought, although, his Admiral had a more prosaic plan for the submarine fleet—to disrupt British trade in the Channel and the Atlantic.
In his pocket, he had a redesigned war ensign for his navy featuring the Imperial eagle, a symbol that went back to the days of Charlemagne, who took it from an even earlier Empire, the Romans. It was no great feat for Frederick’s imagination to believe that very soon, he would rule a landmass the same size as that of the mighty Romans. The other symbol on his new war ensign was the iron cross and that went back to the days of Teutonic Knights in Jerusalem.
Frederick entered the office of his Admiral, hardly bothering to knock, already rubbing his hands in anticipation of the new battleship plans they would view together.
His Admiral, a small slim man with grey hair and matching Van Dyke beard, looked up and gave him a slight smile. Despite their outward differences and his Admiral’s complete lack of sense of humour, Frederick felt that they were really two parts of the same soul. He could speak his mind with this man and receive no irritating protestations. His ministers always looked pained when he spoke his mind. But, of course, politicians were not men of action.
The Admiral handed him the blueprints and he unrolled them on the enormous table in the centre of the office. He studied them for some time, his Admiral at his side.
“Yes, yes,” he finally said, approvingly. “This will give the English something to think about. Of course, it would be marvelous if the first time they met the SMS Wilhelm that it would be on the high seas. But I don’t suppose their spies can be stopped from reporting back to London.”
The Admiral murmured his agreement. No amount of Imperial Naval Intelligence could keep the activities of the Kiel dockyards a secret.
The Kaiser left the plans on the table, moving restlessly around the room, his eyes eventually turning to a memo on the Admiral’s desk about creating another torpedo division.
“How many divisions do we have now?” he asked the Admiral.
“About thirty,” said the Admiral. Frederick nodded his approval. The Admiral came forward with some papers for the Kaiser to sign, which Frederick did without even glancing at them first. The trust between the two men was too complete.
The Admiral poured them each a coffee from a silver pot on a side bureau, which they drank while talking, before turning to a bottle of schnapps in a cupboard below.
They continued to talk for a pleasant hour until the Kaiser refused a last drink and stood, saying, “The Kaiserin will be expecting me for lunch. And you know how she doesn’t like me to arrive in a tipsy state.”
The two men laughed.
The Kaiserin was a model of womanhood and disapproved of any drinking before the midday meal.
With six lively sons, the luncheon table was never quiet, but it could be dull. Frederick did not encourage his wife to take an interest in political affairs and her charities, though worthwhile, did not interest him.
Today, the matter on his wife’s mind was the one she’d been going on about for weeks now. Their youngest two, Affie and Fritz, had a private tutor but Frederick had pointed out repeatedly to his wife that the Crown Prince had been attending the military academy just outside of Potsdam when he had been a year younger than Fritz and that they really must go. But the Kaiserin just flatly refused to let go of her two last children.
“You can have an officer train them here,” she said today, after the Kaiser had asked a blessing over the sauerbraten, roasted potatoes and dumplings.
“No, I cannot,” he said with exasperation, reaching for a jar of spicy mustard and wishing that his wife allowed beer at the family table. “A man cannot learn to be an officer if he doesn’t have men underneath him.”
“They are not men. They are boys.”
As if to demonstrate the truth of this, at that moment, Crown Prince Wilhelm tossed a hard bread roll across the table at Oskar, something that the Kaiserin would normally have corrected him on, but today she was fighting a hopeless war and her nerves were too shattered to concern herself with bread battles.
“Boys must become men.”
“You have enough men in your army. You have enough officers. Why can you not just allow some of your boys to be what they wish to be?”
“But the boys want to be officers, don’t you, boys?” said the Kaiser, turning to his two youngest.
The two nodded and nobody could say whether it was because they genuinely did or because they didn’t think they really had a choice.
“So what should they be?” the Kaiser asked, turning back to his wife. “Painters? Tram drivers? Chicken farmers? Really, Effie, there is only one profession for a prince and that is to be an army officer.”
More bread rolls flew across the table, which both parents ignored. The Kaiserin’s food was going cold and the Kaiser was speeding up his eating in order to move on to a productive afternoon with his private secretary replying to and sending telegrams to whoever he impulsively decided needed to hear from their Kaiser.
He risked a glimpse at his wife. Effie, normally so placid and agreeable to anything he offered her, was red-cheeked and thin-lipped. He could almost see the dark cloud over her head, complete with bolts of lightening.
What could he do? Throw away the future of his two youngest sons so that she could have company in the nursery? Perhaps he should provide her with another child . . .
“A holiday,” he said out loud. “You need a holiday.”
“I most certainly do not need a holiday,” said the Kaiserin. She knew where this was heading. He would say she was tired. He would say she was overwrought. Anything but the issue, the issue of losing her two youngest to the military.
But the Kaiser’s mind was already made up. His wife needed a holiday. He was already planning out the yacht he would purchase for her. It would be outfitted with all the comforts a woman needed. Of course, to be worthy of a Kaiserin, it would have to be only slightly smaller than his. Perhaps something the navy didn’t need anymore? Or perhaps his wife would like to design something herself . . .
The Kaiser was pleased with this new idea. It gave him a new hope for the impossible situation that his wife had gotten them into, an argument that she seemed determined to win when she knew she could only lose.
Of course, a cruise along the coast of France would be ideal, but he simply couldn’t say when that wouldn’t be a sensible option. History would provide him with the right moment and when it did, he didn’t want his wife’s yacht caught in a naval battle. Of course, the Baltic Sea was always safe. The Russians were smart enough keep their navy in the Gulf of Finland . . . It was all coming together.
The Kaiser stood and pushed back his chair, leaving his wife to her untouched coffee. Perhaps a cruise through the northern seas could be an annual event for his wife.
Effie, through years of quiet observation, knew where her husband’s thoughts were going. Whether she liked it or not, her husband would plan a holiday for her. And today, it enraged her. She also stood, pushing her chair back into the table with such force that all the china shook. The boys were instantly quiet, exchanging concerned looks. It was all very fine and well for them to hurl bread rolls across the table at one another, but when their mother was angry, the world was disconcertingly turned upside down.
She followed her husband—who thought he had made a clean break—for one final showdown.
o one can prepare you for the heat of Iraq. We are out in the open sun today, drifting down the Tigris in a guffah—an enormous round wicker basket coated with bitumen. We are seated on the bottom while the owner of the guffah moves us gently along with a long pole, like a gondolier. No self-respecting German overlord travels this way. They have safinahs—hundred-ton boats with shaded decks and iced drinks to quaff.
The Tigris is the main route to the south because roads are primitive. When it rains, they turn to mud and I am told that it is actually quite cold here during the rainy season.
We are continually being passed by larger ships transporting goods—long narrow fifty-ton balams, as well as baghalahs which are deep-sea dhows that can sail along the Gulf coast. Bellums with white awnings carry passengers, manned by muscular men pushing poles. Small black canoes maneuver around all the bigger boats.
But the guffah is the most popular form of travel for people and goods. Many are filled with melons and are heading in the opposite direction, back to Baghdad.
It takes a full seven or eight days to get to Basra, but we will be going ashore a day’s journey north of the port city. The sheik we are going to visit commands a great tribe that takes pride in answering to no man, particular the Germans. Sheik Habibi is said to fear only the word of Allah. Yusuf tells us that the sheik has already led one revolt against the Germans a few years ago. He and his men cut the telephone lines, destroyed bridges on the Euphrates between Fasaliyah and Abu-Sukhayr and blocked the road between Diwaniyah and Najaf.
“They did this for Islam?” Toby asks.
“Sheikh Habibi did it because in the earliest days of the Germans in Iraq, the Germans created the Kulaib Canal which resulted in his grandfather’s crops being covered in water. Beware of the Arab,” says Yusuf, still smiling. “He has a long memory. Since the southern uprising, the Germans have made some reforms to our government. At least, that is what they call them. In power are the Arabs that the Germans can trust and each Minister has his own German advisor. They promise that they will not interfere with the formation of political parties. It fools no one. But there are some among the Socialists who say that we should try to work within this new parliament, that in their fear of revolt, the Germans may finally be willing to work with us.”
“But you don’t agree?”
Yusuf shakes his head.
“The Germans have no respect for us. They do not fear us. They are the ones who want to be feared. That is all. And government reforms will not stop a jihad,” he adds. “That is why I say the time is now. That is why I initially contacted you. Things were stirred up in both the towns and the tribes. Since we contacted our brothers and sisters in the west, the Diwaniyyah tribe has also risen up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the sheik had something to do with that, too.”
“Your uncle clearly respects Sheik Habibi,” says Toby.
Yusuf nods. “He was educated at Oxford, yet he holds to the old ways. He will freely speak his mind. He may not fight with us, but he will not fight against us.”
The day is not only hellishly hot, but everything is a brown haze and today we are choking on a yellow dust in the air.
There is nothing to do but sit, listen to Toby and Yusuf and watch the shoreline. I have realized that in this culture, a man isn’t generally interested in what a woman has to say. There were no women among the Socialists here and when I asked him about his family, our guffah owner told us that he has “two children and two girls,” a clear indicator that girls don’t really count.
So I continue to watch the scenery and the other boats out on the water.
Despite the haze, there is the scent of oranges in the air. Barley fields and fruit trees grow close to the river. Beyond the fruit trees, I can see tamarisks.
People are harvesting almonds from trees in fields. Our journey is at such a lazy pace that I can see the whole process as we pass the villages. The nuts are taken out of their green outer shells and spread on the flat roofs to dry.
I envy the gardens we pass, with their leafy vineyards and the shade produced by apricot, apple, almond, olive, fig, pomegranate and mulberry trees. (I wouldn’t know any of the names of the trees except that the owner of the guffah also considers himself a bit of a guide and points these things out.)
Now Yusuf is telling Toby about the German “kultur” in Iraq. Apparently, the Germans have fancy dress parties where they all come in costumes and their front porches—sometimes even their entire homes—are turned into things like jungles or ships. They have their At Homes where they receive visitors every Monday, or every second and fourth Wednesday. Tea is served on brass trays. Yusuf knows all this because his sister works in the home of the High Commissioner. The High Commissioner is referred to as “His Excellency.” His wife is a dragon, but most German women in Iraq are. They are intensely cliquish, guarding their husbands from the temptations of Arab women and ostracizing any of their own that venture out into the souks to meet a real Iraqi.
“Are Arabs ever invited to these German get-togethers?” Toby asks.
“The ones in government often are. They are the shields the Germans use, to make us think we have some measure of say in our country’s administration. Only a few are in top positions. Most are low-level clerks. However, I know of very few Arabs who are willing to socialize with our German oppressors.”
“What do the Germans do if you refuse to attend a soiree?”
“No Arab will ever tell you he doesn’t want to come. He’ll tell you he has a headache or a broken motor wheel.”
We all smile.
For our meals, we dock at a village and purchase a lunch or dinner that has been cooked outside in an enormous pot over an open fire, usually rice with some chicken or other stewed meat. We sit under arbors with woven roofs of branches. Then we buy a handful of dates and some strained pomegranate juice to take with us.
I know the East is getting to me when I start to lose all sense of time or even a sense of purpose.
When we do finally arrive at the sheik’s camp by the Tigris, it is midday and since we are special guests, there is a special meal prepared that evening. Toby says to Yusuf that it reminds him of Abraham entertaining the angels. Yusuf nods knowledgably and says that here, all life is Biblical. I have no idea what they’re talking about, only that we have another dinner cooked in the open air—rice and roasted calf, along with fresh bread and the ubiquitous strained pomegranate juice to drink.
The Bedouins don’t quite know what to do with me. Thankfully, I’m allowed to move around freely the next day.
Life among the Bedouin is simple, I quickly realize. Their flour comes from the seed of a desert plant which is then baked in the ashes of the fire. Animals are only killed for celebrations. Rice, dates, buttermilk and cheese fill out the rest of their diet. Around the fire, the men talk about past glories—raids and feuds. And at night, the desert turns cold and the wind bitter. If you don’t have a tent and a bed partner, you can sleep tucked away in your kneeling camel for warmth. (Thankfully I have both Toby and a tent to stay warm.)
These days, I have a rather reckless sense of being a traveller rather than a tourist. But for Toby, who never forgets that he’s a Socialist, there is only one reason for being here, and that is to meet and talk with the sheik. I am allowed to accompany him, but only if I stay quiet.
But Sheik Habibi is polite enough, embracing both Toby and me and thanking us for journeying so far to his camp to share coffee and ideas. And despite the Eastern penchant for long preliminaries, he and Toby are soon engaged in intense conversation.
“It was pointed out to me by Socialists in England that the monarchy in Germany has used Christianity to justify their rule. Hence, all opposed to the monarchy, Socialists in particular, are atheists. They see the king as being the strong man who has survived, nothing more.”
“But how does matter make itself?” says the sheik, with a gesture of his hand. “This is the problem. This is the question I cannot answer. This is the question I put to everyone who tells me he is an atheist. How does matter make itself? For if matter does not make itself, then I should not be here. On the other hand, if Allah created man, well then, wallah!” The sheik laughs. “I am here!”
Toby and Yusuf both smile. This is exactly the sort of philosophy Toby loves.
“So when it comes to kings and revolutions to overthrow kings . . .” The sheik shrugs. “I will it leave it in the hands of Allah who has made and who will judge all men.”
Toby is still nodding, more vigorously.
“You agree?” The sheik is surprised. “I though all Socialists were materialists, atheists.”
“Toby is a Christian Socialist,” I say, speaking for the first time in this world of men.
“A Christian Socialist,” the sheik repeats, turning back to Toby.
“Yes,” says Toby. “As was Edward Cornwall. He believed, as do I, that Christian charity is at the heart of Socialism and that the purest example of it was the first-century Church’s willingness to sell what they had to share with anyone in need.”
“I, too, believe that religion teaches us this,” says the sheik, nodding. “With or without Socialism, this is how we must live . . .”
And once again, I am left behind in the conversation as Toby and the sheik are revealed to be kindred spirits—eyes shining as they share their mutual philosophies of religion.
But after awhile, they have to come down from the clouds and back to the world of men.
“You have come here to convince us that we will succeed if we join with you and that you will succeed if you join with us,” says Sheik Habibi.
And then the sheik asks Toby a question no one has ever thought to ask.
“But tell me,” says the sheik. “Why will you fail?”
The background murmurings stop and everyone leans in to listen to the answer.
Toby hesitates and then answers honestly.
“Because we are divided.” And then it comes out like a flood. “There are enough of us, but we are all in different groups. The Canadian branch of the Concerned Citizens. The Order of the Canadian Knights. Union for the Welfare of the People. Union of Salvation. I could go on. And that’s just the Socialists. The Anarchists could have hundreds of organizations for all I know. People meeting in basements all over the country, plotting to overthrow the king and all for different reasons. No. That’s not true.” Toby corrects himself. “We all want the same thing. We all want a power shift, a chance for the ones on the bottom to try to make it to the top, or at least a little higher up. What we can’t agree on is, who will lead us.”
“And who will lead?” asks the sheik, quietly. “Is it to be you?”
Toby shakes his head.
“No, it’s not. And the army would have to be on our side . . .”
A rifle shot is fired just outside the tent. And then there are shouts. “Almaan! Almaan!” And then more rifle shots.
Almaan is Arabic for German I quickly realize as men jump to their feet, excitement on their faces.
The sheik is calm, but moves fast. We are rapidly invited to follow him, ducking out of the back of the tent where there are some horses and servants already untying them from their tether.
At first, I think the sheik is going to ride out with us, but he is handing the reins of a horse to Toby.
“I hope we haven’t caused you too much trouble . . .” says Toby.
“This isn’t about you,” says the sheik, as another servant hands him a rifle. His eyes are sparkling. “This is sport. We Bedouin do not believe in paying taxes.” And then, in a moment of intensity, he says to Toby, “Believe in Allah. Follow his direction. He will give you your leader.” And then he turns and is gone, around the other side of the tent, to join the increasing pandemonium now in the camp.
he Kaiser was used to showing up at the castles of his aristocratic subjects with an entourage of eighty or so attendants for a weekend of recreation. Whatever enormous trouble in cost and convenience this brought to his realm’s dukes and counts, they never told him. So when the King of Canada’s son arrived at the Berlin Palace of Stadtschloss with thirty fellow actors, the Kaiser was an amiable host.
His servants were ordered to escort them to rooms in one of the palace’s many wings and they were told that breakfast was at six. Of course, the Kaiser privately took his repast with the Kaiserin, but the Royal Princes and their attendants would be there to amuse the visitors. David hid a smile and thought of his fellow actors getting up at four in the morning to wash up and dress and then walk the mile to the dining hall. He doubted any of them would miss it despite the inconvenience; the opportunity to eat in such an opulent environment with princes other than himself was just too great.
For his own part, David could acknowledge that Stadtschloss was far superior to New Buckingham Palace. But as a boy he had enjoyed reading Biblical descriptions of God’s throne—a sapphire throne flaming with fire on a sea of crystal with thousands upon thousands attending him and ten thousands standing before him. After that, any earthly king’s symbols of power had seemed like trinkets by comparison.
“Come with me, my son,” said the Kaiser, jovially, putting his arm around the Crown Prince’s and noting the thin shoulders. He was used to the solid sturdiness of his own boys. But regardless, the Kaiser loved fellow royals. It was one of the few times he could treat someone as an equal.
“Will you be accompanying us to the theatre tonight, sir?” asked David, allowing a footman to take his knapsack.
“Much as I’d love to, matters of state to attend to,” said the Kaiser. “And call me Uncle.” His arm still around David’s shoulders, he led him down an enormous, red-carpeted hallway lined with portraits of Hohenzollern ancestors. Many of them were of Wilhelm II in various military costumes. “But I won’t miss tomorrow’s performance. I wrote it, you know.”
David looked surprised.
The Kaiser nodded, pleased.
“You didn’t know I could do such a thing? But I can. A Wagnerian production. Good solid German morals. I’m afraid my kingdom is full of people who don’t appreciate that it is our morals that have carried us this far.”
“Fear God. Love your people,” said David.
“That’s it!” said the Kaiser, giving his shoulder a hard squeeze, delighted with the young man’s insight. “That’s it exactly! Art should elevate. Too many artists depress our spirits with their dreary depictions of sordid life. We don’t need that. We need grandeur and purpose . . .”
David nodded. Unlike his parents, he really didn’t mind the Kaiser, knowing that a lot of what he said was born of the simple creed that he had a divine right to his throne. It was something every ruler believed, more or less.
“But the Kaiserin will be there tonight with her group of ladies,” said the Kaiser, already bored of the topic. “Come!” The Kaiser let go of David’s shoulder to push open some solid oak doors.
Inside was a room with a glossy parquet floor and military men milling around, hands on swords.
“My dearest cousin from Canada is here,” said the Kaiser, to the general room. All had turned as soon as he entered.
The Kaiser was heading for a dais that had a plush-velvet throne-like chair at the summit. He waved at a footman and almost instantaneously, another lesser chair appeared and was positioned one step below the Kaiser’s. All of the other men remained standing and David observed that despite their uniforms, some of them were quite elderly.
“What news?” the Kaiser said to a man standing at the foot of the dais.
“It’s not getting any better, sir,” said the man. “It’s spreading, in fact. Aachen, the Saar basin, Saxony and Silesia . . .”
The Kaiser turned to David.
“The coal miners in the Ruhr district are rioting. It’s the damned Socialists. They put ideas in people’s minds.”
“You must send in the army, sir,” said the man. There was general nodding. “At the rate it’s going, it could spread to Berlin if you don’t.”
“Yes, of course,” said the Kaiser, waving a hand. He turned to David. “You see what must be done to maintain order?” The Kaiser was grateful for this chance to show the future King of Canada what a strong leader looked like. He certainly wasn’t going to get it from his father.”
“Uncle,” said David, boldly. “I do see. But if you permit me an opinion, I would say that some of your most loyal subjects might be Socialists.”
There was a singular gasp of shock from the military men.
For a moment, the Kaiser’s eyes blazed, but then changed to amused. No one had ever suggested such a thing in his presence. “Explain,” he said.
David nodded. “Socialists aren’t always republicans. Socialists don’t always oppose German values, they simple want the benefits of the German nation to be distributed in a way that is more fair.”
“More fair?” demanded the Kaiser, now serious.
“The Bible says that if we have food and clothing we will be content,” David continued. “Sovereigns have loyal subjects when they have full stomachs and warm clothing.”
The Kaiser was quiet for a moment and the whole room collectively held its breath.
“The lad is right,” the Kaiser said, after a pause. “Out of the mouths of babes.” He beamed at the room as the collective breath was released.
“So if they were rioting in your country, what would you do? I’ll leave this one up to you, David,” said the Kaiser surveying his followers with a smile that said we’re-having-enormous-fun. He called out to the throng of officers. “Let’s see what the young pup suggests!”
They all laughed. David got the feeling that they always laughed at what the Kaiser said, but today, most of it sounded genuine.
“Your subjects love you,” said David carefully. He had had only had a moment to pray for direction. “Rich and poor, they love you. But you are the defender of the poor. The rich can look out for themselves.”
The room went silent. Everyone was watching Frederick for his reaction. Again, he looked serious. Then he laughed.
“I’d by lynched if I took your advice, my boy!” He thumped David on the back and the room broke out in general agreement.
David was not entirely disappointed. For one moment, he had seen the recognition of truth in the Kaiser’s eyes.
David’s love of drama had been born of his love for the Bible. Unlike many mothers in royal Canada, his had not read the Bible to him at night. Instead, she had flipped through fashion magazines to keep her company while he fell asleep. Though more often, she was out at “an opening.” Queens always seemed to attend openings.
So he read his Bible until he was sleepy—discovering blood and gore and sex. Kings and harlots. Judges and farmers. Prisoners and prophets. A blind man receiving his sight. A dead man coming to life. A Saviour crying out against the religious leaders of his day. Earthly armies. Heavenly armies. The stories were so panoramic, the stage so vast that the Bible played out in David’s mind like drama.
This evening’s production seemed banal compared to the Bible—a sordid little story about peasants and the paternity of one particular village child. His fellow actors seemed to be enjoying it, as did most of the audience. David and his troupe had seats on the main floor of the Royal Opera House, but right now, his eyes were on the Royal box where the Kaiserin and her entourage were looking visibly upset about the production. When two of the actors disappeared into an onstage haystack, the Kaiserin stood up and the rest of the women in her box followed. It didn’t go unnoticed by some in the audience and even a few people on the stage had a passing look of concern on their faces.
David grinned and turned back to the production. This show would only run once.
When they returned to the palace, they were informed that the Kaiserin had come home early from the Opera House to spend time with her sons who hated to miss an evening with her. They had her apologies for the vulgar production that they had been subjected to and her assurances that the Kaiser’s play the next night would be devoid of such immorality.
David sensed the amusement around him. The troupe would have been openly guffawing if they had been in a pub and not in the presence of the Kaiserin’s footman. David was sure they would retreat to their rooms and have an outright laugh at Effie’s expense over private flasks of gin or vodka.
“Would I be permitted to say a quick goodnight to the Kaiserin and the Imperial princes?” David asked the footman, while his party dispersed.
The footman hesitated.
“They do not normally allow anyone into their private quarters,” he said. “However, I will see if they are willing to make an exception for you.”
David was led through chambers of the sumptuously decorated palace. That was the advantage of not losing your throne. You inherited hundreds of years worth of family acquisitions. New Buckingham Palace had a distinctly Canadiana quality about it, with its paucity of accumulated European treasures.
David was made to wait outside a massive pair of golden doors that led to the Kaiser and his family’s private apartment, two guards keeping a careful eye on him while the doors closed behind the footman. David didn’t know anything about German regiments, but the uniforms were smart and the bayonets looked sharp.
The footman returned five minutes later to say that the Kaiserin would love to see her cousin from Canada and to personally apologize for the depraved production.
Beyond the golden doors, David was surprised by the homey quality of the Imperial family’s living quarters. Clearly it was not for show and was similar to an English country home in the days of King George V, the final king to rule England. David recalled that Kaiser Wilhelm II had ruled at the same time and wondered how much of the English style had been a result of him being Queen Victoria’s eldest grandchild.
The footman opened another door to a delicately decorated, lilac-scented sitting room where Effie stood.
“Dear David,” she said, coming forward and taking both of his hands. “I do apologize for that dreadful show. I hope you and your troupe were not offended.”
David was solemn.
“Very few of us are lovers of the Bible, your Majesty,” he said. “I say it with great regret.”
“Call me Aunt, dear,” said Effie, sitting down in a chintz armchair and signaling him to take a seat on a matching loveseat. “What you say is true. The Kaiser pours his soul into his people and yet I’m afraid many of them do not share his love of God. We are the great nation of Luther and should be a light to the world.”
“I’m afraid Canada does not offer anything in the way of the great tradition of Luther,” said the David. “But we have the wilderness to the north of us and that in itself is a testimony to God’s grandeur.”
“Amen,” said Effie, simply.
“I came to personally thank you for taking a stand tonight,” said David.
“As God’s servants, we must be ever faithful.”
“So true,” said David.
Effie was thinking how agreeable the young prince was now that she had had a chance to get to know him. His mother’s disagreeable qualities had overshadowed her son’s piety.
They made pleasant small talk until David said that he would leave the Kaiserin to her sons and they both stood, wishing each other a good night before David returned to his room on the other side of the palace.
The next night, there was a marked change in the Royal Opera House. The Kaiser’s play was on a vast, epic scale and one could feel the energy in the air.
All of the notables of Berlin were in the audience and while the Canadian troupe of actors had their seats on the main floor among them, David had been invited to sit in the Imperial Box with the Kaiser, Kaiserin and their six sons. The younger boys were fidgety but the Kaiserin passed them her opera glasses to keep them amused. David was sure one of them was going to drop the glasses on one of the heads of the dignitaries below.
The setting was medieval and the play was about a battle. The stage was filled with actors and swords and smoke and even live horses.
“It’s an allegory,” the Kaiser said to David, happy to have someone to explain things to. Effie and his sons had long since tired of hearing about his production. “Between good and evil. We must be ever vigilant. In this case, the historical setting is the Prussian conquest of Europe in the late 1800’s.”
David nodded although he didn’t necessarily agree that Prussia warring against France was part of the epic battle between good and evil.
David couldn’t help but notice that among the audience members, it was those in the cheap seats who enjoyed the lively show. The ministers of state that the Kaiser had pointed out to David all looked as fidgety as the Kaiser’s younger sons. A few of them even failed to return to their seats after the intermission, something that did not go unnoticed by the Kaiser.
“Today our battle is against Socialism,” said the Kaiser, who didn’t bother to lower his voice. The noise on the stage didn’t really require him to.
David said, “You yourself have a Christian Socialist Party in the Reichstag.”
“A misnomer,” grumbled the Kaiser. “It’s not possible to be a Christian and a Socialist.”
“On the contrary,” said David, whose quick mind had absorbed all the salient points of Peter’s arguments over the last few weeks. “I think it’s quite possible for a Christian to be a Socialist, particularly a Christian king.”
The Kaiser’s eyebrows went up and David was glad they were with the family and not with the military entourage.
“Explain,” said the Kaiser.
“Our very Saviour was a Socialist with a passionate interest in the poor.”
“No,” said the Kaiser, shaking his head. “He said we would always have the poor among us. That is different.”
“He said the rich have had their comfort in this life and that it would be the poor beggar Lazarus’s turn in the life to come.” David’s eyes roamed around the opulent theatre.
The Kaiser shrugged but was quiet. David pushed the point.
“It is for the King to be a Socialist, not his subjects. It is for the King to ensure that all his subjects have their needs met and that there is an equality of resources. Each King is given talents of gold by his King, our Father in heaven. So we alone are in a position to bring about justice and equality.”
The Kaiser snorted but didn’t say anything to contradict him.
A King should not fear Socialism,” said David, as he pushed to make his final point. “A King should be the greatest Socialist of all.”
Now the Kaiser laughed, a full hearty belly laugh.
“If I talked that way, my own Admiral of the Fleet would have me locked up!”
But David knew that he had made his point.
The rest of his troupe, including Peter, went back to France while David stayed on at Stadtschloss. From what he gathered, the food of Stadtschloss had generated more discussion than the drama productions of the festival. Despite the enormous wealth of the Hohenzollern’s, the Kaiser’s chef used the same ingredients over and over—pork, potatoes and cabbage. David had pointed out that that wasn’t entirely true. One night they had had turnip as a side dish. Nonetheless, the drama troupe was unanimous in wanting to return to the land of crepes, croissants and café au laits.
But Jesus had said that his meat was to do the will of him who sent him, so in that spirit, David remained.
The Kaiser’s sons were too militarily minded to be of interest to him and the Kaiser was busy with matters of state, but the Kaiserin welcomed him into her lilac-scented sitting room for long conversations about the Bible and the writings of the Moravian Brethren. David had the impression that for all his piety, the Kaiser didn’t enjoy conversations with his wife about religious matters.
David didn’t just stay indoors. There were woods outside of Berlin he could walk through. And the Kaiser’s stables were open to him. Several times, he took an afternoon ride through the Tiergarten.
One night, after a lively dinner with the family where the Kaiser’s sons threw brussel sprouts at one another, Frederick invited David to his library for a personal chat.
While the Kaiser lit a cigar, David browsed the shelves. The Kaiser had an abundance of German books in library binding, but what he really seemed to read, judging by the worn out spines, were classic English adventure novels—Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling, Frederick Marryat. A whole shelf was devoted to P.G. Wodehouse. Bret Harte and Mark Twain represented American literature.
History was another interest of the Kaiser’s, particularly books about monarchies, the military and especially, the Hohenzollerns.
David was just beginning to browse a whole case of promising theological works when the Kaiser spoke.
“I want to know what your intentions are,” said the Kaiser, as he exhaled smoke. He spoke abruptly, man-to-man.
David was startled as he turned from the shelves to face the Kaiser.
“Will you lead your country into some form of degenerative Socialism after your father has passed on?”
“No, sir,” said David, for the moment forgetting that he was permitted to call the Kaiser uncle. “I will not choose anything that will degenerate my people. But with regards to a form of Socialism, I do believe I will.”
“And how am I to respond to this?”
“It is my belief that you do not have to respond at all,” said David, taking one of the leather chairs across from the Kaiser. “Canada is a sovereign nation and free to follow her own destiny.”
“Fine words. Not rooted in reality. I have the power to crush you.” The Kaiser didn’t sound malevolent. It was the simple truth.
“I believe you do, sir,” said David. “But God help me if I don’t, at least, give it a try. The Psalmist wrote that God does not delight in the strength of the horse, nor the legs of the warrior, but favours those who fear him and put their hope in his steadfast love.”
There was silence before the Kaiser laughed.
“If you side yourself with God, how can I oppose you?” The Kaiser crossed his legs. “But your father and I have made a treaty. How would you handle that?”
“I would revoke the treaty,” said David honestly. “It’s not in the best interest of Canada. We are not a strong nation and our navy is primarily a defensive one, not meant for offensive maneuvers.”
“Then why did your father sign this treaty with me?”
“Because he’s afraid of you.”
“He seems to be afraid of many things.”
“I don’t think I dishonor him to agree with you. He has much reason to be afraid. We have a republican nation to the south of us who talks about their Manifest Destiny to push north and take all of North America . . .”
“I wouldn’t let them,” interrupted the Kaiser. “The king of Mexico is my cousin. They wouldn’t be allowed to step a foot across his border or yours.”
“But then my father really isn’t the king if he needs another stronger king to defend his sovereignty.”
The Kaiser smiled.
“They named you well. If you keep talking that way, you’ll be David of old facing new Goliaths. The Americans. Maybe even me.”
“And we all know how it turned out for David,” said the Crown Prince smiling.
The Kaiser laughed.
At this point, it was still a friendly conversation. The Kaiser was in the position of strength and the Crown Prince, in his opinion, was an inexperienced idealist.
“Let me steer you on the straight path, son,” said the Kaiser, leaning forward. “Strength comes from God and right now, I have that strength. Your father knows that, and no matter what you say, that treaty we signed is in the best interest of Canada.”
“I believe that the straight path is Jesus Christ himself, sir,” said David.
“I won’t argue that one,” said the Kaiser. “Theology is clearly a gift with you and the Kaiserin is as proud of you as she is of her own sons. We consider you family, as indeed you are. But in terms of politics and world affairs, your father is wiser than you.”
David nodded as a tribute to his father.
“As indeed all fathers are,” David said. He did not feel moved to share his belief that the best antidote to radicalism was for the King to claim its central tenets for himself.
The Kaiser settled back in his chair.
“All this fuss over a few more dreadnoughts in my navy,” he said, shaking his head, sounding bemused.
David didn’t say anything. The whole civilized world knew that the German naval build-up was about far more than a few extra ships. It represented a threat to the current balance of power.
“I must take you out on my yacht,” said the Kaiser, still smiling. “It’s the finest in its class.”
David nodded. It would be awhile before Canada forgot the Kaiser’s yacht, the size of a battleship and equipped with the furnishings of a palace. All the Toronto newsmen had rushed down to the docks to obtain tours of its luxury, which the Kaiser had granted despite the semi-secret nature of his visit.
“I would like that very much, Uncle.”
he violent uprising of coal miners and other industrial labourers in the Ruhr region has caused a stir in Iraq.
In the cities of Germany, there is unrest, marches in the street. The European newspapers are reporting that Kaiser Frederick has sent an uncoded telegram from his Potsdam palace to his army in Berlin to shoot at the workers who have dared to strike in the capital.
Meanwhile, the unrest continues to spead through Aachen, the Saar basin, Saxony and Silesia with violence between workers and the army sent out to suppress them.
“He’ll crush them,” Toby predicts, an opinion supported by the German chancellor who announces to the press that the workers who continue to create discord will be punished. He assures the newsmen of Europe that while the Socialists call for shorter work hours, the majority of workers in Germany don’t want the Socialists telling them they can only work so many hours.
In the meantime, we are having our own Socialist uprising.
With Toby here to inspire him, Yusuf is on fire. The Communist Party of Iraq is being turned into an effective instrument and the coffeehouse Communists are being left behind. Like Lenin, Yusuf has realized that sometimes a smaller band of dedicated brothers is better than a whole crowd of people sitting around offering their left-wing opinions.
With Toby’s gentle guidance, Yusuf is weeding out those who have a tolerance for compromise.
The premise is simple. When Socialism comes to Iraq, the Party must be ready to assume power. Therefore, at the top are the ones who are truly committed. Below them are the sympathizers. They are the ones who may run when the tanks come out, but are useful for filling out the marches and creating the sense of this being a huge movement.
And now that the leadership positions are held by the strongest of the Communists, the Communist Party is becoming more effective in winning new converts. Street preaching on the college campuses has resulted in many of the students embracing it. It is a new kind of faith and they are following it with devotion.
The government has always been seen as an oppressor of the people. In Iraq, the Germans have chosen to work with the Sunni Muslims in a land where the Shia are the majority. So Yusuf hopes that the Shia will turn this into a holy war, an extension of their existing faith. When the tanks do come out and the people flee, the Shia, he believes, will be willing to shelter the Communists in their homes until the soldiers pass.
The Communist Party now has its own printing press. Toby insisted on it. Previously, all newspapers and tracts were printed on a government stenciling machine by Ash-Shararah, the Spark, Yusuf’s second-in-command. He is supervisor of the Typewriter Division of the Directorate General of Land Registry.
Tracts, filled with quotes from the Quran and calling for a constitution, are now distributed at every outreach and every march.
We even organize the first Communist Party conference in Iraq. It is, of course, a secret meeting and is held in a home in the ash-Shaikh Umar district, a working class neighbourhood in Baghdad. Most of the men who attend are urban Arabs.
It is an important meeting, creating a four-member Central Committee, four leadership posts for different districts, as well as dividing up the different responsibilities. Most members come from Baghdad, but there are a small number of representatives from Najaf and Muntafiq and Basrah and Amarah. I’m rapidly learning the geography of Iraq.
Yusuf presides, reading a report on Communism internationally and updating everyone on matters locally. He tells us of the recent successes of the Soviet army and what is going on in Moscow, the extent of German influence in Iraq, foreign exploitation in general, lack of freedom and how the government is not working for the people.
“Allah forgive me!” I hear one of the delegates mutter. He has just yawned. I hide a smile. I’m at the front with Toby and Yusuf, facing the delegates. Yusuf speaks in a slow, steady voice and the room is hot, but I have learned that the Muslims discourage yawning because the Prophet Muhammad discouraged yawning. A sneeze is better, apparently.
After Yusuf, a Comrade Hazim speaks. He starts his speech with “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate” before speaking about the youth and how important they are. Comrade Sarim also begins his speech with “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate” and then speaks about education and how important it is. It is a Muslim thing, I soon realize. Then matters turn to immediate business, a constitution. The constitution of the Communist Party will in effect be the future constitution of Iraq.
I, too, have to stifle a yawn at this point because I’ve heard all this before in Canada. But the delegates are leaning forward, eager to have their say about the contents of this vital document.
“It must be a call for real independence, of course. Democratic government. The basic necessities of life at an affordable price.”
Toby is nodding as he takes notes. He never seems tired of this.
“Deliverance from monopolistic hold of foreign companies,” someone else says.
Something about a free market. Reasonable rent for the peasants instead of outrageous extortion. Better Labor laws. Tax reductions for the poor. Education. Equal rights . . .
“Better treatment for soldiers,” says one young comrade in a uniform. “No more floggings.”
“Open relations with all democratic peoples. Diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.”
It never sounds too unreasonable, until one tries to present it to the ruling authorities and they make it seem like high treason.
Any Communist Party meeting—whether in Canada or Iraq—generally ends the same way, with everyone agreeing that we want a Free Homeland and a Happy People before everyone drinks coffee and then goes home.
The next day, there begins a boycott of the Baghdad Electric Light and Power Company (owned by the Germans) that lasts for a week. The sale of generators skyrockets and the boycott is successful. It is organized by the trade union leaders, with the support of the Communist Party.
The government's response is to ban trade unions.
The day after the boycott ends, 5,000 workers at the Iraq Petroleum Company in Kirkuk go on strike. They want higher wages and since the trade unions are now banned, their only option is to strike. Eight days of Communist Party outdoor meetings accompany the strikes where the workers gather to listen to speeches and poems, as well as messages from international Socialists. Telegrams of support have been coming in from England and Russia in support of the strikers.
Toby and Yusuf and I are on a rough podium made of mud bricks when I see a cloud of dust coming along a road that threads to the German-controlled Iraq Petroleum Company in isolated Kirkuk. We have travelled days to be in this northern city and to take part in this strike. And as I watch with ominous dread, the approaching police jeeps, I know it is all going to come to an abrupt and violent end.
The police are firing almost as soon as the vehicles have come to a stop. People are fleeing. Toby and Yusuf and I have jumped down to ground level and we join the running hordes. The only other option is to stand still and get shot.
There are no friendly Shiite homes to hide in this time; everything in this area is controlled by the petroleum company. Our best hope is to make it to the town itself and disappear somewhere in the souk, which seems to be everyone’s general plan. It only works because the police are reluctant to fire into a busy commercial area. The strikers and their supporters are soon mingling in with shoppers, fooling no one, but protected by the fact that the police cannot gun down an entire souk.
We find out the next day that, despite that, at least ten people died and another 27 were injured.
And everyone is angry in Kirkuk. It is clear that the government values its oil more than its people. The word in the souk is that Kirkuk doesn’t think the government is worth supporting.
Alas, we cannot stay and take advantage of this highly-favourable environment. Yusuf and Toby will be wanted by the police and so we say goodbye to our hosts, the local Communist leaders, and leave further ferment to them.
y now, all of Europe knew that the Crown Prince of Canada was sailing the Mediterranean with his distant cousin, the Kaiser. For one thing, just their simple departure from Stadtschloss had been in an open horse-drawn carriage down Unter den Linden, through the Brandenburg Gate, surrounded by the elite Gardes-du-Corps regiment. From there, they had boarded the Imperial train to Kiel.
The Kaiser had pointed out towns of interest all along the way—many of them mining towns, one particular one produced salt, all of them picturesque in their valleys or by their rivers, with wooden framed homes, cobble-stoned market squares and churches older than Canada. Only Canada’s mountains and forests could outdo Germany’s that came and went long enough to acknowledge their beauty but did not last long enough to inspire awe in David like the time he had taken the royal train out west to British Columbia on a whistle-stop tour with his father.
To David’s eye, all of Kiel had turned out to see the Kaiser and the Canadian Crown Prince board the royal yacht.
Once at sea, the Kaiser had taken David on a complete tour of the ship—Promenade deck; Bridge deck; Upper, Middle and Lower decks; engine room; galley, even the crews’ quarters. There had been gunwale gunnery drills to view, followed by a sumptuous lunch in the Kaiser’s dining room that didn’t include a single item with ham or potatoes, but rather, a conglomerate of edible imports that came to Kiel from the world’s cargo ships.
After a few days of sailing, what had started as a simple desire to show-off his yacht to his young cousin had turned into an entire tour of all the ancient ruins in his empire. The Kaiser was an avid amateur archaeologist and found David to be an intelligent audience, particularly when the ruins were of a Biblical or Roman site. Though at home, the Kaiser was famous for announcing at the opening of a secondary school, “We ought to educate young Germans, not young Greeks or Romans . . .” he still greatly appreciated the classical quality of the Canadian Crown Prince’s education.
Of course, David’s parents now knew that he wasn’t touring France anymore and the King’s telegram to his son aboard the royal yacht revealed a concern that his son might be a semi-hostage, meant to keep the King of Canada in line with the recently-signed treaty.
David had replied with assurances that he and the Kaiser shared a genuine interest in ancient relics and that, in fact, he was having an enormously enjoyable time with “Uncle Frederick.” He had no way of knowing if his father was convinced.
He and Frederick had already toured the ruins of Rome and Pompeii, where the Kaiser was received as a returning Caesar, for that was what Kaiser meant in German. Italy was only a sovereign nation in name. The Kaiser considered it part of his personal sphere.
Now they were steaming to the island of Corfu where the Kaiser owned a villa that had been in his family since the days of Wilhelm II. He generally visited once a year and while there, would supervise a nearby expedition digging for Roman relics. When the Kaiser was out of earshot, David heard one of his travelling party sarcastically remark how the locals always refilled the site with “relics” for the Kaiser to find each year.
David gathered that the Kaiser deliberately left Effie behind on these trips, preferring the masculine company aboard the ship and the freedom that came with not having to be on his best behavior. David soon found that the Kaiser was a lover of practical jokes and one evening, when he returned to his stateroom, he was welcomed with a bucket of water held in place by string that unloaded on his head as he entered. The Kaiser’s roar of laughter left no question as to who was behind it.
David took it in stride.
Mostly, though, the Kaiser enjoyed leaning on the railing of his yacht, while they steamed across the Ionian Sea, discussing the birth of Christianity and the teachings of Christ and the spread of the message by Paul throughout the Roman world.
“The apostle Paul’s eyes probably saw the same things we’re looking at,” said the Kaiser, animated by the idea. “How many times did he pass this way?”
One thing was certain, the eyes of the apostle Paul didn’t see all the little motor boats that zipped out to—most likely—wave at the Kaiser and get a better look at his yacht. But the Kaiser’s Imperial security detail treated each one like a threat and fired shots to deter them from coming any closer.
“I am the number one target of the anarchists,” said the Kaiser, proudly, to David.
Every night, the Kaiser expected as much of the crew as could and all of his attendants to be present for an evening reading of the Bible in the dining room. In light of their travels, the Kaiser was reading selected passages from the Acts of the Apostles or from the letters of Paul. Though the Kaiser’s travelling party tolerated his enthusiasms when talking directly to him, David observed that they were contemptuous of his faith behind him.
The world of German politics still intruded and the Kaiser was often in the telegram room of his ship, sending messages back to Berlin. Often, David was at his side. The Kaiser still believed that David was appallingly under-trained by his father for his future kingly duties and that it was, therefore, his responsible to show the young lad how a true autocrat ruled his people.
But the visits to the telegram room stopped as soon as they arrived at Corfu.
As the yacht approached the harbour, David could see that the whole quayside was alive with people. The Kaiser disembarked first and with David at his side, greeted many of the people personally before climbing into a carriage provided for him, complete with two horses and a Corfu driver.
“I would have preferred a car,” said the Kaiser to David, as they rode away, the Kaiser smiling and waving at the crowds. “But these are a rustic, simple people and I treasure their little gestures.”
David had found that the peasants of both Canada and France displayed more cunning than most city-dwellers and he assumed the same was probably true of the people of this island. In fact, the way the driver had his head slightly tilted, David was certain the man could understand German and wasn’t as simple as he looked.
The Kaiser’s villa, Achilleion, was sumptuous, having previously belonged to an Austro-Hungarian empress. The villa was built in a classical Greek style and the gardens were scattered with life-size replicas of Greek gods and goddesses, the showcase piece being one of Achilles—for whom the villa was named—stretched out and appealing upwards to the heavens, or more likely, to Mount Olympus. All this had been part of the original construction and David doubted the Kaiser would have ordered the construction of this outdoor pantheon of pagan mythology.
But David soon found out that despite the outward luxury, it was Spartan living. The Kaiser, who normally had a six o’clock breakfast with Effie back in Berlin, was now up at four a.m., presiding over a meal of boiled eggs, bread and coffee. Then carts from the village arrived and all his attendants were expected to be at the dig-site, actually digging, as it turned out.
The only break they were all permitted was a morning cigarette along with Turkish coffee. Then they were expected to work until mid-afternoon where they all then returned to the villa for a lunch of salads and grains, prepared by the middle-aged cook who was the only female in the house. Even maids weren’t moving about in the villa—everyone was expected to make their own beds and other chores were divided.
“It’s like being in the bleedin’ military,” moaned one particularly plump German, smoking on the terrace. Today, after lunch, the entourage could talk freely since the Kaiser had been invited to a nearby village to unveil a statue of his father.
“Kaiser Freddie’s always fancied himself a military man,” said another.
David was above them, on his balcony, hidden by several enormous potted plants. He doubted they would be speaking so freely if they knew he could hear them. He had come out to survey the magnificent view of the entire south of the island.
“Dull as dishwater, it all is,” said the first. “Just a lot of dirt and old Greek pots.”
David didn’t agree. The dig-site was an authentic archaeological site that was unearthing and restoring a temple of Artemis. The Kaiser’s keen knowledge of history kept the whole thing interesting for David since the Kaiser freely shared all his knowledge about the site with him. Kaiser Frederick’s interest in archaeology went back to his days as a student when he had attended lectures about Greek architecture at the University of Bonn.
For his own part, David could see that the Kaiser was guilty of only one thing, assuming that his passion was everyone else’s. On the dig-site, he didn’t just supervise, he dug along with everyone else. And when it came to chores, the Kaiser had put himself in charge of dusting, not minding that he had a pink feather duster and doing it cheerfully, even standing on a chair to get the tops of painting frames.
The Kaiser returned to Achilleion after an hour and everyone was back on their best behavior. He presided over a dinner of lettuce, field herbs and some broiled chicken before convening everyone to the large drawing room for a small sermon on not giving in to fleshly lusts, no doubt inspired by the peculiar combination of opulence and austerity that he fostered at his Corfu villa. Then everyone was sent to bed.
The Kaiser himself went into the library and David followed. The shelves were well stocked for such an out-of-the-way residence. Or perhaps libraries mattered even more in such outposts of Empire.
Frederick, already standing with a book, turned to him with a smile. David moved closer and saw that he was holding a biography about his great grandfather, Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser had a page open and he whacked it when David came in.
“He had it all planned out,” he said, with no preamble. “His military was prepared for war on two fronts. The idea was to move in quickly and take France before she had time to mobilize and then turn on Russia while she was still mobilizing.”
David nodded. It was the Great War he was talking about. At that time, Russia was still under the Tsar and the military was not the fine-tuned machine it was today.
“Paris for lunch, he used to say,” said Frederick, almost wistfully. “And St. Petersburg for dinner.”
David smiled at the wit, but not the sentiment. Frederick left the room with his book. David was left to muse. Was an invasion of France really still part of a German military plan? Would France, a republic that had only a marginal Socialist element, be occupied simply because she was on the way to England? It was disturbing.
David continued to browse and found a book about the history of Corfu, which he selected for his bedtime reading.
He was going up the grand staircase with his book when the whole ground shook underneath him and he fell several steps down to the marble floor in the entranceway.
Stunned, lying on the ground, David wasn’t sure whether the explosion had come from somewhere in the villa or somewhere outside on the grounds.
There was silence and then chaos and confusion. People were running down the enormous staircase, all around David, as he sat up and reached for the book that had been thrown from his hand. Reaching for the book was an automatic reflex. In the general rush, he would be crushed if he didn’t stand up. Slowly, David got to his feet. Though his head hurt, he explored it with his hand but felt no blood.
“Where’s the Kaiser?” he murmured, but no one was listening. It was a stampede to get out the front door.
He went up the stairs, now emptied of people, and saw a scene of devastation. The door that had once led to the Kaiser’s suite was hanging on a single hinge and beyond that, there was just open air. No wonder the whole house had shook. And if the Kaiser had been in his bed or at his wash basin at the time that it had gone off . . .
David turned and ran back downstairs.
It was still light out, due to the early bedtime, so David could easily take in the scene of confusion. People milled around and looked either shocked or else were talking animatedly. But there was no Kaiser and none of his personal bodyguard.
The cook was also missing, the only person who wasn’t part of the Kaiser’s entourage. She had a small room off of the kitchen, and though it was on the other side of the house, it was impossible to think that she would have missed all the tumult. Others around him had come to the same conclusion.
“She could have run away as soon as she heard the noise.”
Someone in the know shook his head and said, “Years ago, the Kaiser had the door for the tradesmen boarded up for security.”
“So that’s why they always come through the main hallway . . .”
David had noticed the same thing, local farmers bringing baskets of their produce through the marble entranceway, down the long hallway to the kitchen.
“But what about the Kaiser?” said David.
“If he didn’t die, he’s long gone,” said the one who was in the know. He waved a hand in the direction of the hills. “He has so many hiding places. Everywhere we go, they build a tunnel and there’s a bunker or a retreat of some sort so that he and his bodyguard can barricade themselves in and hold out for months if they have to. We can’t lose the leader of the free world!” There was general laughter at this.
Tunnels and bunkers weren’t something that David and his father had. At best, they could hope that a courageous bodyguard would take a bullet for them, but if anyone chose to blow up New Buckingham Palace, the Royal Family had no place to retreat to if they survived, only to the goodwill of their people.
“Who saw the Kaiser last?” someone called out.
“He was in the drawing room when I left,” said someone else. “And I’m pretty sure I was the last to leave.”
“No, I was,” said David. “He went to the library and I did too. But he left ahead of me. I didn’t see the Kaiser go upstairs, though.”
“Well, the fact that his bodyguard is gone is a good sign. They’d be searching for his body if they weren’t protecting it.”
There was general agreement. David found it disturbing that all around, the Kaiser’s possible death was only a matter for discussion, not tears.
“Thank God we won’t have young Willy ruling over us for awhile,” said another. More agreement. And then they all returned to the villa and despite the lateness of the hour and the absence of the cook, convened in the kitchen where one of the footmen made scrambled eggs on the griddle while the butler buttered toast. A pot of coffee was brewed. The lack of the Kaiser and his personal bodyguard had lightened the atmosphere. They were seated around an enormous kitchen table and despite the recent explosion, the conversation was on the gossip of the day. The Kaiser wanted his youngest and still unmarried sister to wed a Danish cousin and prince. She, on the other hand, was having a scandalous love affair with an untitled U-boat Captain.
Listening, David learned that the Kaiser had arranged marriages for all of his sisters, sometimes over the objections of his mother, the Dowager Empress. With the help of his prime minister, Frederick had evaluated all possible suitors and those at the table roared with laughter as the butler did an imitation of the Kaiser’s prime minister who would always look concerned and murmur about “unpredictable consequences and unpredictable trouble” when discussing any of the men in question.
“So, does Your Highness have any sisters?” the butler asked David, filling David’s mug with more coffee.
The staff of European royalty seemed to know very little about North American royalty, David thought.
“No,” he replied. He didn’t tell him that his mother had been so turned off by childbirth that she had refused to provide any spare heirs for the throne.
Instead, he asked the butler whether any of the locals, apart from merchants, ever visited Achillieon. David was still pondering the bomb and who might have planted it. The cook had seemed rather innocuous, in his opinion.
“No, thank God,” said the butler. Then he relayed for their general amusement how one local fishmonger had recently entered the villa with a basket of his wares and ended up encountering the Kaiser in the front foyer. The fishmonger had dropped to his knees and proclaimed with great seriousness, “May Your Majesty live forever. And may all of Your Majesty’s enemies be sent to the scaffold.”
“I do believe the All-Highest was quite pleased with the man and his remarks,” said the butler. “All of his enemies are in the Reichstag,” he explained to David. “Only the army and the navy have his ear. One must put on a uniform to be heard by him.”
It was a telling conversation. To those closest to him, the Kaiser was someone to be humored, hardly the view he held of himself as that of the man wearing the most powerful crown in the world.
And then the conversation turned to the Kaiserin.
David’s impression of the Kaiserin was of a mild-mannered consort, the Mutter of her people. But one of the footmen delighted in telling the rest of the group about a moment of abandon to emotion when the Kaiserin had run through the corridors of the New Palace in Potsdam in pursuit of the fleeing Kaiser.
The image hardly fit the stately lady he had met at the railway station with his parents and the Aunt he loved to talk theology with. But her main grievance seemed to center on the education of their boys. The Kaiser wanted all his sons in military school, not just the older ones. The Kaiserin refused to allow the younger boys out of her sight, if the footman was to be believed, an obvious falsity since she had come all the way to Canada without them.
In addition, the Kaiserin’s nerves were said to be fragile. The Kaiser’s entourage was ruthless in mocking her for her incessant need to be with the Kaiser or to have him participate in “nursery activities,” as they called them. To David, Effie didn’t sound neurotic, just a woman who loved her husband and family. His own mother was the other extreme. She had borne one male child because it was expected of her and then had moved on to other things.
The party concluded their criticism of Effie with some discussion about her outfits, said to be chosen by the Kaiser for their ostentatiousness rather than their fashion sense. One man remarked that her sapphire necklace and matching earrings always made him think of over-ripe blueberries.
And then, since night had turned to morning, chairs were scrapped back and everyone returned to their rooms, or what was left of them. There was some doubling-up in order to accommodate those who had lost walls or had dust and debris scattered all over their rooms.
David was left to himself. He found his room, more or less, as he had left it. Still concerned about the Kaiser, but now exhausted, he fell onto his bed and was asleep within minutes.
The Kaiser returned to his villa the next day, invigorated by outwitting his enemies once again and refreshed by a night’s sleep in an unknown hideout, rubbing his hands together at the prospect of archaeological work and ferreting out terrorists.
The entourage and the servants returned to their demure servitude and a simple breakfast of oatmeal, boiled eggs and toast prepared by two footmen. The same two footmen were dispatched to the village to hire locals to begin work on repairs to the villa while everyone else was expected to be at the dig-site.
In the afternoon, a royal battleship arrived at the island, having been summoned after the explosion from some hidden bunker. Frederick and David were driven to the docks and went aboard to have a full repast, catch up on telegrams and commandeer a new cook for Achilleion. (Some of the Kaiser’s bodyguard was already scouring the island for the original cook, presuming her to be the chief suspect in the bombing. “A Communist, no doubt,” Frederick had concluded when she didn’t show up to cook their morning meal.)
“Read this,” said Frederick, tossing down a telegram for David to read. They were in the officer’s mess, with a silver coffee pot between them and delicate white mugs with the Hohenzollern family crest on them. The table had been cleared of its other dishes.
David read the German prime minister’s report of the worker unrest in Germany. The Prime Minister begged his Kaiser to return and crush it.
“I’ll crush it,” said the Kaiser, when David handed him back the telegram. “But you’ve got me thinking, lad. Sometimes one has to stoop to conquer.”
With this enigmatic remark, he added the telegram to a stack of others that he wanted to reply to while still aboard the battleship. Effie and the boys had all sent him personal telegrams. David was working on a telegram for his parents.
When they took their telegrams to the Marconi Room for the telegram officer to send, the Kaiser’s first reply was to his prime minister.
With a strong, stately voice, the Kaiser instructed his prime minister to take action and then with great detail, instructed him on exactly what kind of action to take. David listened with amazement.
Despite his rapidly moving fingers, the telegram officer’s eyes briefly met David’s. His eyes were as wide as David’s and he knew what the man was thinking.
They were in the presence of a miracle.
ur participation in the Kirkuk Riots, as the government is now calling them, put us and Yusuf and the Communist Party in a dangerous position.
All the usual meeting places have to be abandoned and now the Communist Party of Baghdad meets in a home in the Bab ash-Shaikh district in Baghdad, where we gather to put together leaflets to protest the arrest and deportation of the trade union leaders. We see Antony now and then—he still prefers to be on the sabotage team—and he warns us that there must be a spy in our midst because the police have started arresting some of the people in his small circle.
Although the house in Bab ash-Shaikh doesn’t get raided, the same thing starts happening to us—Communist Party members are being arrested and deported from Baghdad to the smaller towns in Iraq. In order to avoid arrest, the top leaders just disappear and even Yusuf can’t find them.
“It’s normal,” says Toby, running a weary hand across his forehead. Our home in Baghdad is still the convent and I feel relatively safe here. “It could be anyone, one of the students, who knows?”
I agree. It’s happened in Canada enough. As soon as an official Communist Party is organized, the police send in supposed sympathizers to spy on it. Even if there aren’t any arrests, one has to always assume there are spies for the police present at meetings.
Toby looks tired the next day. It could be from effort, it could be from the dogs that seem to howl all night in this city. He hardly eats the lentils and eggs and bread left for us outside our door by the nuns. I run a hand through his wavy, damp hair. He feels feverish, obviously worn out, but he’s not discouraged.
I’m enraged that he was up at some ungodly hour to pray with the nuns. He needs his rest. But I can’t say anything about his religion. That’s one thing he’s stuck on and these nuns seem to understand him better than I do. They also have those Rosary beads and this place is decorated with gaudy pictures of a mother and child.
“It’s all on track,” he says, a few times, almost to himself, while I fix my hair up to keep it from sticking to the back of my neck. At least the weather is cooling down a bit.
But on our way to the Bab ash-Shaikh district, there are dramatic headlines in all the newspapers—Arabic and German. The Kaiser has come out with a startling statement regarding the unrest in the Ruhr region and the striking workers. He blames the mine-owners. Productivity is up. The export of German products is up. The workers just want to share in the prosperity created by their labour. The owners aren’t generous toward their workers.
The news has literally stopped Toby in his tracks. After buying a German-language newspaper from a young boy, he is reading it in the middle of the busy sidewalk, ignoring the people and animals that have to move around him.
“The Kaiser has ordered an increase in wages,” he says, translating as he reads it out loud. “If the owners do not comply, the Kaiser will order the immediate withdrawal of government troops and allow the workers the freedom to express their frustrations.”
My eyes widen.
“He has announced to his cabinet that if necessary, the workers can burn down the villas of the wealthy owners if that’s what it takes to make them give in. He has issued a message to the workers that all Germans are under his care and he will not allow the workers to be ruthlessly exploited.”
Toby is too stunned to continue reading or walking. I take the newspaper from him and finish the article. In addition to all of this shocking news, the Kaiser has announced an end to child labour and a reduction in the number of hours in the work week.
When we finally do arrive at the house of meeting, all the Communists are in a stir.
We come into the room to find them discussing how it has just been broadcast on the radio that the Kaiser has called for a European conference in Berlin to discuss labour unrest and to settle the differences between owners and labourers.
Toby is pale.
“It’s a play for power, nothing more,” he says, joining Yusuf who is already sitting at the front on a wooden chair. “But will the people see it? And if it does work, and the Kaiser becomes the champion of Socialism, then there’s no hope that it will truly represent our interests . . .”
Yusuf nods. The whole room is buzzing.
“If power comes to the people through the Kaiser, what does it matter as long as it comes?” calls out one man.
“But it won’t,” says Toby, waving the paper. “Don’t you see? The Kaiser is not a Socialist and never will be. He’ll work with the moderate elements, that is to say, the working men who support the Kaiser. The Kaiser will never turn his power over to the people . . .”
But the room is not convinced.
“If we could bring the Kaiser to Iraq to see what we suffer every day . . .”
The suggestion that the concerns of Iraq be brought to the Kaiser’s attention gains in popularity and soon it is only Yusuf and Toby who do not agree.
“Brothers! Brothers!” Yusuf holds up his hands. “We cannot entrust our freedom to the Kaiser in Germany! We must gain our freedom right here in Iraq!” He continues to expound on the idea, switching back and forth between Arabic and English to make his point that even if the Kaiser were to intervene on behalf of the workers of Iraq, the fact that the German Kaiser has any say at all on the conditions of the Iraqi workingman is an insult to all Arabs.
Slowly, his appeal wins them back to their commitment to the revolt.
If the Communists in Iraq are stirred up, we learn over the next few days that the Social Democrats in Germany are even more so.
While the Kaiser issues orders from his villa in Corfu, the anti-Socialist laws stay in place in Germany. These laws allow for agitators to be relocated and for Socialist publications to be suppressed.
“But at least there is a Social Democrat party in Germany,” says Yusuf. The events in Germany are still the main topic of discussion in the midst of the usual Party work in Iraq.
“But have you noticed what’s happening?” says Toby, to the few members who are present at the meeting today. Even in Iraq, he has managed to get a copy of The Daily Worker. It’s the only newspaper Toby trusts because they print the speeches of the Socialists and their enemies verbatim, rather than editing and misrepresenting any of the speakers. “The Daily Worker points out that despite recent developments, for years, the Kaiser has watered down the Social Democrats to the point of near-ineffectiveness. It says here . . .” he hits the paper, “that there has been a gradual replacement of the educated urban Socialists with the uneducated workers from the rural areas.”
“How does that help the Kaiser?” one of the Arabs asks.
“Because the Kaiser is a master at manipulation,” says Toby. “He lives with the overweening belief that the true German is the man in the field. The man who truly loves his king. He wants to recreate Socialism in Germany but with him as its benefactor. He’ll win over the workingman with his paternalistic goodwill but nothing important will be achieved. No laws will be passed that really benefit or protect the workers.”
“He never did pass any legislation, did he?” I say.
“Exactly!” says Toby. “He just ordered an end to child labour and an increase in wages. But if he changes his mind in the future, there’s nothing to protect the child labourer from being sent back into the mines or the wages from dropping again.”
But the dwindling numbers at the Communist Party meetings suggest that a lot of people would rather trust the Kaiser than put their own lives out into the fray.
And three days later, the warning from Antony about a spy in our midst is confirmed.
The Iraqi government has just announced a new conscription plan. The idea isn’t that unusual for this part of the world. But the money that will fund the new uniforms and the additional weapons was originally in the budget for the creation of a dam that would have improved agriculture in the south. Already, the tribes are spontaneously revolting at the idea of losing their dam and having to give their sons to the government’s army.
However, over a dinner of falafels, Toby points out to Yusuf that in the long run, conscription will bring together sons of sheiks with sons of merchants and workers, all of them trained and armed. With some gentle nudging from the Communist conscripts, a military coup would become not only possible, but probable.
“You’ll have to convince the Party,” says Yusuf, shaking his head and wiping some tahini sauce off his face with a napkin. We are in a very busy, very crowded little restaurant on Rashid Street. “Most of them see it as a way for the Kaiser to build up his Brown Army, as the Germans call it. They want the dam.” He glances at his watch. We had to stand in a long line for a table and now we are running late.
But that line turns out to be fortuitous because as we turn the final corner to our meeting place, the Iraqi army is escorting all the familiar faces of the Communist Party into a waiting truck.
Yusuf gasps and would remain standing there, mouth agape, if Toby didn’t yank him back around the corner. I’m already hiding behind a large potted flowering bush that someone has outside a door.
We return to the convent taking Yusuf, now a fugitive, with us.
“Can you hide among the tribes?” Toby asks, as soon as we are behind our closed door.
Yusuf shakes his head.
“Desert etiquette works against us. The Germans send out a mounted section to the district they think you’re hiding in. They stay at the headman's house until he gets tired of being hospitable to them and you are then summoned to appear at his house and give yourself up.”
I expect Yusuf to be the one who needs consoling, but at this moment, it is Toby who collapses on the bed.
“Do not worry,” says Yusuf. “I will be fine.”
“That’s good,” says Toby from the bed. “But how do we go forward without a Party?” he asks, wearily.
I can tell the continual work and heat is getting to him. His face is pale despite the tan he’s gotten since coming to this sun-scorched country.
“Simple,” says Yusuf, pulling a chair over to sit down beside Toby. “We go to the imams!”
The next day, we are in line with all of the pilgrims who are waiting for the double-decker tram to Khadmain. It is another hot day and I am fanning myself with a hand fan Yusuf purchased for me. He and Toby are arguing about conscription.
Regardless of Toby seeing the long-term benefits of it for the furtherance of Communism, Yusuf is telling him that the Imams of Islam see it as being a work of infidels, creating an army to fight for German imperialism rather than for Allah.
All around us, native Iraqis are talking in Arabic. The only other language anyone here bothers to learn is German. Only the Socialists or Communists learn English or Russian.
“It is a fortuitous time for the Socialists,” Yusuf continues. “The Shiites in Iraq have always stayed close to the Shiites in Persia. The Germans have never been able to get more than a foothold in Persia, so they are afraid of the Persians. And lately, the Imam of Persia has been calling for the tribes to rise up in the name of Islam. It is an affront to Islam to be ruled by infidels.”
“Sounds promising,” says Toby. I’m glad that Toby seems back to normal this morning.
Yusuf nods. “And the tribes are the ones with the weapons.” Yusuf lowers his voice slightly. “Both in the north and the south. And the Germans have never been able to entirely control the guns held by the tribes although lately they have been more ruthless about guns coming in from Persia. This angers the tribes. When we overthrow the Germans together, we will go our separate ways. Those who conquer for Islam will take back the mosques but the Socialists will have control of the oil installations.”
“Who will have control of the government?”
“This remains to be worked out,” says Yusuf, smiling. “But it is safe to assume the tribes will stay out of the cites. And it is only in the south that they are motivated by Shiite unity. The north is our true strength because they are connected to our Socialist brothers in Syria and Kurdistan.”
The tram comes and the line that formed turns into a jostling mass. No one wants to have to wait another hour in the hot sun for the next one. The Khadmain mosque is only two and a half miles away, but it would be an uncomfortable walk in this heat.
Most of the seats are filled and the only remaining three together are on the top deck, out in the sun.
I soon discover it isn’t just the sun, it’s the dust too.
Outside the city, it is bumpy and the amount of dust increases, but rose trees line the road and give off an exquisite scent. In the distance are palm groves.
“I still don’t see how we can lead the tribes . . .” says Toby.
“We don’t,” says Yusuf. He nods his head toward a young man reading an Arabic paper and tells us that right now the front page is devoted to the story in the south that has all of Baghdad enthralled, the ongoing saga of the sheik we met, Sheik Habibi.
“Of course, the German newspapers don’t portray him in such a positive manner,” said Yusuf, smiling.
“I’m still concerned by the opposing forces of Islam and Socialism,” says Toby.
“Do not be, brother,” says Yusuf. “They are not as incompatible as you might think. One of our poets, Ma'ruf ar-Rasafi, stood up at the inauguration of our new House of Deputies and said, ‘I am a Communist...but my communism is Islamic for it is written in the Sacred Book, “And in their wealth there is a right for the beggar and the deprived.” And it was the Prophet that said, “Take it from their wealthy and return it to their poor.” Was that not communism? Who would then but out of ignorance resist this principle?’”
“Wow!” says Toby. “How did the Germans take that?”
“Not too well. But what could they do? He is a popular poet and if harm were to come to him, every man in the street would take up arms against the government.”
“Then why doesn’t he lead the revolution?”
“It is enough that he speaks with beauty and candour. Come,” says Yusuf, motioning for us to stand. “We are almost there . . .”
The Imams of Khadmain have no regard for my place in the world of Socialism, only noting that I am a female. And so I am left to myself.
The ornate and enormous mosque with its four golden minarets dominates the town of Khadmain. I wander around the souk by myself for awhile, tolerating the stares of the mostly male population.
The aroma of spices and food is heavenly. With a lot of pointing and holding out coins, I manage to purchase a kebab sold in a little shop—meat, tomato and onion broiled on a spike and then transferred to bread.
There is plenty to explore in the roofed bazaar with its narrow streets, but eventually, it is the pale and sunburnt German soldiers patrolling who drive me back to the mosque, with their leering and calling out obscenities in German that wouldn’t be tolerated by any fraulein in Berlin.
“Kartoffel!” I want to yell at them. German potatoes! Instead, I increase my pace to get back to the holy site, which appears blessedly free of German patrols.
I try to enter the mosque but am told by a near-frantic attendant, “Bab al-Fatima!” as he shoos me away. After circling the mosque in bewilderment, I figure out that Bab al-Fatima is the entrance for women.
At this door, I follow the example around me and remove my shoes, giving them to a female attendant who puts them in a cubbyhole. Silently, she hands me a headscarf to put on and I do my best to arrange it like the other women entering to pray.
I find myself in a spacious courtyard, with people moving about on a polished floor, all knowing exactly where they want to go. It’s white and ornate and full of light, beautiful, but intimidating. I don’t want to accidently wander into the wrong room. Toby is here somewhere, in one of the smaller rooms. We are going to meet in a small, nearby coffeehouse, but when I passed it on my way to the souk, it was full of men.
I follow some of the women until I come to a carpeted portion of the mosque dedicated to prayer.
I can fake it, I decide, since this is probably the safest place in Khadmain.
But I soon become aware that someone is watching me. Most of the other women in the mosque are focused on their devotions or their young children. This one is a young woman without any children clustered around her and though she is wearing the indistinguishable black abaya of Islam, I recall that she was on the tram with us.
Though she is going through the motions of prayer, she most definitely had her eyes on me at one point.
Well, that’s normal, I decide. I do stand out. Even wearing a kaftan from the souk that Yusuf suggested I purchase, I am obviously not from around here. And my hijab is slipping from my head. I don’t know what technique the women here use to keep it in place. It is not necessary to wear a head covering when one is with Communists or Christians so this my first time with one on.
One loses touch with time in a mosque, but Yusuf warned me that the meeting with the imams could take awhile. It’s better to be here than waiting in the coffeehouse. After all, Toby and Yusuf can sit for hours drinking coffee without anyone even glancing at them. I would stand out even more there than I do here. And the heat of Iraq seems less severe in this room with white walls and pillars and high ceilings.
I’m trying to follow the movements of the people around me. I don’t know how they do it, pray and bow and look to the left and the right. I don’t understand any of it, but in all fairness, they don’t understand my creed. I don’t see the point of religion.
It’s the only point of contention between Toby and me. He has his religion, his Socialism driven by an ethereal idea that God wants him to bring justice to the poor, food to the hungry. He has a bunch of scriptures that he likes to quote every now and then. But not to me. Only to fellow believers, as he calls them. At some level, I can see that he’s a Christian first and a Communist second, although to anyone else, his two creeds are seamless and indistinguishable from one another.
I wish I had his faith. No, that’s not true. His faith is foolishness. What I really wish is that he didn’t have it.
Exhausted by trying to look like a real Muslim, I move to the perimeters of the hall of prayer and just sit and try to look like I’m meditating.
While women and children come and go, the young woman from the tram remains. And she glances back at me, periodically, though in the guise of bending over to do her prayers.
Now I’m really sure she has more than a casual curiosity about me, particularly since when I stand up and exit back to the courtyard, she follows me.
It’s not the first time I’ve been followed by a government agent. The King’s men are often sitting a table or two away from Toby and I when we eat out at a restaurant or hovering around when Toby is preaching in the park.
Even in the Communist Party back home, we have government agents. I remember the day we discovered one of them. He had a small camera in his palm and he was taking photos of each person present at the meeting. He had been a fairly recent convert to Communism, but had seemed sincere.
He had been smart enough to only take photos when everyone was arguing—a common occurrence at Party meetings. But his finger must have quivered and he accidently took a photo when there was one of those rare moments of silence. The person beside him heard the click and tore the camera out of his hand while another brawny Party member pinned him down.
Most were ready to lynch him, but Toby stepped in and suggested a better plan. A double agent. But first he wanted to know why the young man had betrayed us.
It wasn’t that shocking. He had become a Communist in the first place because he lived in one of the shantytowns with his mother and older sister. The mother cleaned homes for the rich, the sister was a prostitute, although, in their family, they never called it that. She was a “companion” or “a friend to lonely people.”
In the King’s Canada, prostitution is illegal so the King’s men had used that against the young man, saying that they would no longer turn a blind eye to his sister’s source of income. It hardly seemed a point of leverage since a King’s prison is probably about equal to a life working the streets. But for the young man and his mother, it would have meant starvation. He couldn’t work because he had a partially crippled back and his mother didn’t make enough for both of them. The sister had an alderman who she regularly “visited” with and who was more than generous with not only his money, but also letting the sister help herself to teacakes and crumpets to bring home to her kinfolk.
Toby said that it was all morally dubious. Would the sister be interested in a career change?
No, the young man said. She liked the alderman well enough.
Then Toby had sat down and explained to the young man why Communism was not only a possible solution to the world’s problems, but the only solution. The young man was in tears, nodding and saying he had known that when he had joined, but somewhere along the way he had lost that when the King’s men had interrogated him.
But he was all too happy to share what he had learned in his interrogations.
He had been asked if he had enough of a following to create a counterfeit Communist organization. Of course, the crippled young man had no confidence in his ability to compete with Toby in that regard.
He had been asked to return to the Party and to report back to the King’s men on a weekly basis. Furthermore, it had been promised to him that as soon as they had sufficient grounds for arresting all present, he too would be arrested and tried, so that no one would ever know he was the infiltrator. He would serve his short time in prison and then return to the Party to continue his spy career and not a single person would ever imagine that he wasn’t a true Party man.
In fact, the King’s men assured him that his arrest would only add to his reputation and they were confident that someday, he may even end up in a position of Party leadership. The benefit to the King’s men if that happened was obvious.
So that day, the young man became a double agent. He meets with the King’s men and feeds them semi-truths. Toby says that a semi-truth is harder to detect than an outright falsehood.
He isn’t Toby’s only source as to what is going on in the inner rooms of the King’s authorities. There are a few double agents among the constabulary, particularly the ones who patrol the shantytowns and have soft hearts that are sickened by the poverty they see.
As annoying as it is to be followed, it gives me the courage to go see if Toby and Yusuf are in the coffeehouse. And it turns out that Toby and Yusuf have seats in the wicker chairs that line the coffeehouse where the men can watch passersby in the souk while they smoke hookah pipes. Toby moves so that I can be between them. And the young woman passes by, but eventually lingers in front of a colourful display of hijabs.
“I was followed,” I murmur. “She’s over there looking at a turquoise scarf.”
Yusuf looks concerned. So does Toby.
“Well, that’s no surprise,” Yusuf then says. “With all the arrests, someone has told the Germans that you’re here.” He’s scanning the souk, as if looking for other agents and other dangers. “I think it’s time that you take Felicity back to Canada.”
Reluctantly, Toby nods.
“I’d like to stay a little longer. I don’t feel we made progress today.”
“We don’t know that,” says Yusuf. “The imams will discuss it among themselves. It is out of our hands now.”
“I understand,” says Toby, although he looks disappointed. “But what will you do?”
Yusuf looks thoughtful.
“Something I probably should have done a long time ago. Go back to Sheik Habibi. I’ve been too busy thinking about worker’s unions that I’ve failed to see what is right in front of me.”
he holiday at Corfu ended and David returned to Kiel with the Kaiser.
The Kaiser had to immediately board the royal train to take him back to Berlin. But David remained in the port town—once again, the nomadic backpacker. The Kaiser had been scandalized by his desire to travel without an escort and had insisted that at the very least, a pair of detectives would follow him at a discreet distance until he was aboard the ocean liner for home. David’s acting troupe had long since returned to Canada.
Now, in a seaside café filled with international sailors drinking German ale and with his two detectives at a table beside him, David was sipping an excellent African coffee and perusing all of the European newspapers. A port town always had news that was up-to-date.
Since the Kaiser’s shocking proclamation, things had settled down in the Ruhr region. Mine owners had decided to increase wages and shorten hours rather than have their villas burned to the ground by irate workers.
David smiled with satisfaction. That was the advantage of an autocrat—change came quickly when he so desired.
The newspapers touched on events around the world. It was said that the sun never set on the German Empire so anything that affected German interests was newsworthy.
There was an ongoing tribal revolt in Iraq. David read the lengthy story with interest. Canada had no Middle Eastern concerns and very few Muslims, so it wasn’t something he knew much about.
A main German pipeline had been sabotaged, set on fire by Arab tribes in southern Iraq. David read with fascination about the desert warriors who blackened their faces with charcoal—Bedouin war paint that meant they were ready to kill.
Town Communists had collaborated with tribesmen to mine roads going into Baghdad and in the past few days, the uprising had made it to some of the smaller towns as tribesmen with guns rode in the streets. Government troops had fought back and the rebels had been forced to retreat to the mosques, knowing that German troops were under orders not to desecrate the sacred precincts. This time, the Germans had decided that crushing the rebels was more important than offending religious sensibilities.
Like a story with a happy ending, the newspaper article reported that in two days, 9 Arabs were killed, and no Germans were even injured. All men whose shoulders showed the bruises of rifle butts, 300 in total, were now in a concentration camp and Baghdad was currently under a 24-hour curfew.
David kept turning the pages of the newspaper. Africa. Australia. Asia. Even obscure Pacific islands had German newsmen covering events there. Canada wasn’t even mentioned.
He didn’t like that. Germany was always in Canadian papers. This indifference to his nation suggested to him that the average German didn’t consider Canada important.
David left the newspapers behind for another patron and exited the café. He was booked on the Empress Augusta, first-class (the Kaiser had insisted) and would be on it in two days. Strolling down to the enormous dockside where most of the Kaiser’s navy was on display, David mused about his prestigious uncle.
He had seen power while he was in Germany. Real power. It wasn’t just in these enormous battleships, because Canada had an impressive fleet too. It was in the Kaiser himself. He was power. He, too, had a Reichstag, as his father back in Canada had a Parliament, but the Kaiser hardly paid attention to it. He simply barked out orders to his ministers and expected them to carry them out. While David’s father seemed to carry leadership like a burden, the Kaiser enjoyed his position.
Most born into leadership could feel the draw, the lust to enjoy power for the sake of power. And David was no exception. Which is why he deliberately surrounded himself with ordinary people, students mostly. For the first part of his life, he had been brought up by flattering servants, people giving him (in retrospect) baseless compliments about how great he was. But going to university and spending time with his peers, he knew he was no more and no less talented than anyone else.
And he had his Bible and Jesus to remind him that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven was the greatest servant. And it had made sense in a way that all the royal court around him didn’t. It spoke to his soul and his sense of what was right rather than just to his passing desires.
He was aware of his solitary position.
The Kaiser had six sons and was already arranging future marriages for them to prominent German princesses from military families. Alliances were everything to the Kaiser. His sisters were scattered throughout Europe in marriages that were meant to secure Germany’s borders. The Kaiserin’s brothers were his generals.
David had none of that and never would. Even if he did get married and his wife was willing to produce six children, who would he marry them to in order to strengthen Canadian interests? His borders were the oceans and the Americans.
David strolled the endless quays. Ocean liners, barges and pleasure crafts mixed with the Kaiser’s Imperial Navy. Goods from the Empire were carried ashore on backs and carts and moved onto trucks to carry them further inland.
As David took one last look at the busy scene and began his return to his hotel, he continued to think about his own position. Crown Prince to a nation. Responsible for its safety. As long as it was in his power to do so, he would use the strength of his navy and army to defend the weak and helpless. And yet, his personal conviction was that a Christian did not take offence and that if someone were to slap him on one cheek even now, David would let him slap the other cheek.
But the Kaiser’s Christian morality seemed only to be applied to matters of the bedroom. Any sexual impropriety meant that you lost your position in the German court.
One of the matters they had discussed on the sea journey back to Kiel was the Poison Letter Scandal of the 1890’s. It was a sordid story from the days of the reign of Wilhelm II and one David had never heard about.
German aristocrats of the day had started receiving letters detailing all sorts of sexual sins—mostly adulterous affairs, but some of them quite sensational involving spouses taking both male and female lovers.
“Now, some of the accusations probably weren’t true,” said the Kaiser, as they had sat on the deck. “But some of them most certainly were.”
Hundreds of letters were received over the next few years.
Wilhelm II’s Master of Ceremonies had been arrested—and later acquitted—for supposedly writing them. But the trial itself did as much damage as the letters because then the press could gleefully follow it. But the newspapers less gleefully asked, why “the men in the immediate entourage of the Kaiser” were permitted to “flout all the laws of the land, all the prohibitions of the church?” Afterwards, a dual had been fought by the Master of Ceremonies to defend his honour, causing him to kill a man. Friendships had been destroyed as a result of the contents of the letters.
“The letters would have had no power had there not been truth in some of them,” said Frederick. “Wilhelm knew that. Unfortunately, in the end, it came out that it was his Kaiserin’s brother writing the letters and he was powerless to bring him to justice without bringing shame to the whole royal family.”
The lesson for Frederick had been clear—no impropriety in his court meant that he could live without fear of scandal.
“We must never give the anarchists fuel for their irreverent and godless fires.”
But for David, it was a deeper matter. Were the teachings of Christ for laypeople only and not for kings? Should he be like the Kaiser and talk about the Prince of Peace all the while turning his nation into a war machine? Was it sufficient to merely abstain from sexual impropriety and exclude all those who didn’t?
Besides, he had had a glimpse of the incredible conniving that went on in the Kaiser’s court. It led everyone to work for his own interests and not the interests of the Kaiser’s subjects. To gain favour with the Kaiser was the objective of most of His entourage and in his desire to be flattered, the Kaiser was blind to the ineffectiveness of his ministers to really achieve any good for the nation.
Now David was back in his hotel room with the two detectives standing guard outside the door.
The Germans had a mania for cleanliness and he found his bedding hanging outside on the balcony to air out, the maid not expecting him to return to his room so soon.
He decided not to unsettle her and went back down the grand staircase of the Victorian Hotel, a fairly recently-built structure in this town of Gothic architecture.
There was a wine festival going on in the city centre. Tents had been erected all around the enormous cobblestone square and samplers were enjoying themselves at tables and chairs. Every country in the German Empire had sent samples for this festival, though clearly, it was German wine that dominated.
Recalling a proverb in the Bible about it not being for kings to drink wine, nor for rulers to crave beer, David passed through it all. He wasn’t hungry, having finished off a seafood platter back at the café, but he couldn’t resist one of the vendor’s enormous pretzels, which he ate as he walked, enjoying the atmosphere.
Like most of Germany, Kiel was a town full of picturesque scenes. Timbered homes had window boxes full of blooming flowers. Even beyond the square, the road remained cobblestone. German homeowners and storekeepers didn’t limit themselves to neutral colours. Houses could be any colour in the pastel palette and doors and window shutters could be as bright as the owner wanted. Overhanging signs didn’t just advertise what a store sold, but were decorated with pictures of the items themselves, or even scenes of people using their products.
He paused, still with half a pretzel, to glance through enormous wooden doors that led into a quiet cathedral. No worshippers today and no sign to indicate that a service was held on any kind of a regular basis.
Above the door, cut into the stone was a cross and the German words, “In this sign, Conquer.”
The cathedral was a testimony to German medieval grandeur and her place in Christian history, a reminder that both Constantine and Charlemagne had tarried in Germany. But in this land of Luther, it was expected that the chapels should be filled with the nation’s worshippers while the cathedrals stood silent and cold. In fact, from talking to the Kaiser, David had gotten the impression that his uncle regarded Catholics with grim toleration and even considered his Muslims subjects to be closer to the truth than the German Catholics.
Continuing down the street lined with shops, he came to another smaller square where there was an outdoor produce market and young people hanging around an enormous stone fountain. He paused to take in the vibrant colours of vegetables and large bouquets of fresh flowers.
The young people around the fountain reminded him of his own friends. Knowing it would cause his detectives consternation, David nevertheless decided to join them.
At first, he was ignored. But since his appearance matched theirs, soon one of the young men nodded at him and began talking in German.
David had learned German from such a young age that it was natural for him to reply with ease.
“I’m from Canada,” he answered to the man’s question. “On vacation.”
The man nodded, like that’s all he really wanted to know.
“Do you hear much about Canada here in Germany?” David asked, aware that the detectives were close by but that the water gushing from the fountain and the noise of the crowds out shopping would prevent them from hearing anything he said.
The young man laughed.
“Sorry, no,” he said. “The newspapers are too full of Kaiser Freddie to bother with much else.”
David knew that that wasn’t entirely true. The newspapers covered the entire German Empire.
“He seems like a strong leader,” said David, cautiously. “We have a king in Canada, too.”
“Well, good luck to him,” said the young man, still grinning. “Because Kaiser Freddie wants to rule the world.”
David smiled pleasantly, glancing at the detectives. They were in the process of being shooed away by a large farmer’s wife who didn’t want them lingering unnecessarily in front of her display of eggs in baskets.
“Are people very political here?” he asked.
Some of the young people glanced at one another and the young man who had talked to him suddenly looked cold.
“Your German’s awfully good for a Canadian,” he said, almost accusingly.
They think I’m a government spy, David realized.
“In Canada, we all learn German,” he said. But it was too late. He had lost them. They talked amongst themselves, ignoring him.
It was a lesson learned too late. There was nothing left for David to do but return to his hotel room.
On the first-class deck, David was going through all the newspapers he had purchased before boarding the ocean liner. The detectives were mercifully left behind on shore.
There was another article about the situation in Iraq.
Although some Communist leaders were in prison, the ones who were still free were in the streets, said to be stirring up people in favour of a coup. They were marching down the main artery of Baghdad, Rashid Street, leading the workers of the city.
Amongst the pilgrims to Najaf and Kerbala, there were said to be Communist agitators.
Strikes were breaking out all over the country. Some of the strikes would merely be an inconvenience to the Iraqis themselves, the article reported. That of the workers at the National Cigarette Company in Baghdad, for example. But the striking workers at the Iraqi Petroleum Company in Kirkuk were of concern to German interests.
David guessed that the workers must be doing it for good reasons. He had seen poverty in Toronto and Ottawa and he imagined it must be even worse amongst the colonial peoples of the German Empire.
Impulsively, he stood and walked the length of the ship, descending down a flight of iron stairs and walking down a corridor that took him to the Marconi Room. He stood behind a man in safari wear who was sending a sharp and short telegram to a brother in Canada, heralding his return and his expectation that he would be met at the quay as he had “quantities of skins and furs.” He nearly bumped David as he made a quick exit.
David moved forward and caused the eyebrows of the telegram officer to go up when he requested to send a wire to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa. But the message was transmitted. By evening, a steward was knocking on his door with the reply.
David read it gravely.
His father’s Minister of Foreign Affairs sent his warmest regards to the Crown Prince and his wishes for a safe passage. In response to his question, although the Germans were not often open about such things, he had talked directly to an instructor in Eastern Affairs at the University of Toronto who had informed him that in Iraq, a typical field labourer worked a 14-hour day for 45 fils. A skilled factory worker had to put in a 10-hour day for between 40-60 fils. Child laborers could receive anywhere between 10-40 fils.
“Pennies,” said David out loud.
He folded the telegram and put it into his Bible. He had been in the process of dressing for dinner. But the thought of enduring a meal with matrons in lace dresses discussing their poodles and young men in evening wear who didn’t know one end of a shovel from another, didn’t appeal to him.
He sat back down on his bed. How to use a shovel was about the only thing his father had taught him. Every year, they worked in the gardens behind New Buckingham Palace and David developed callouses on his hands from overturning the dirt. One thing he had learned was that labour was exhausting. And a 14-hour day was ridiculous.
He knew his uncle couldn’t be expected to know every detail about the German Empire he ruled over. David lingered over this thought. Did the vastness of the German Empire excuse the Kaiser from being responsible for everything that went on under his rule and in his name?
He sat still, pondering, as the waning sun slowly caused his stateroom to go from shadowy to dark.
No, it didn’t, he finally decided.
Yesterday, he had returned to the water, this time to visit the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal. The canal ran from the Baltic Sea at Kiel to the North Sea at Brunsbuttel, saving German ships from having to circumvent the Jutland Peninsula. Completed in 1895, Kaiser Wilhelm II had planned the enormous celebrations that accompanied its opening, including a procession of Imperial boats through the canal. When it looked like the engineers would not be able to complete the canal for the opening, Kaiser Wilhelm II had simply issued a royal edict that they would complete it.
And, of course, as history had shown, they had. And the celebrations themselves had been a complete success. Granted, the canal had suffered damage as a result of the Kaiser’s insistence that his deep-sea vessels all pass through for the opening ceremonies. But the damage had been repaired afterwards and the canal stood testament to the power of an imperial edict.
And if a canal could be built by imperial order, then how much easier was it to demand that a worker have less hours and greater wages?
His uncle’s final words to him at the train station before boarding the royal car to Berlin, were, “People want to be led, David.”
All very true, thought David, providing you have a good place to lead them to.
he Imam of Persia has issued a fatwa! Listen to this!” Toby comes rushing into the room, waving a copy of The Daily Worker. We are in Damascus, staying in one of the back alley boarding houses. When we went to say goodbye to Antony in Baghdad, he wanted to stay despite the arrests. He had spent a night in prison having been rounded up the day we saw the Party meeting raided, but being able to speak German, he had convinced them that he was a newsman under cover.
Since arriving in Syria, we have watched the newspapers and been disheartened by the recent crushing of Sheik Habibi’s revolt. For several days, we really thought it was going to succeed.
"’In the name of Allah, the Merciful!’” Toby reads. “’Allah said in His Holy Quran, “Let those emerge as a nation who evoke goodness and refrain from evil!” Allah also said, “Harken unto Allah, ye faithful, and to His messenger when he calls upon you!” Know ye, all ye Moslems, that a jihad is your sacred duty for the glory of the word of Allah and the salvation of others. Hear ye, the Mosques of Iraq have been suffering at the hands of imperialism expressed in terms of atrocities, destruction, robbery and ruin. A Moslem cannot let himself be insulted or disgraced. Consequently a jihad has become imperative, the duty falling on every Moslem to sacrifice either himself or money. The jihad is intended to save holy Moslem Iraq from people who are playing with its destiny. Remember, ye Moslems. Allah said in His Holy Quran, “I will lead you to an occupation that is profitable.” The jihad will save you from purgatory and its tortures.’"
Toby looks up with an enormous grin.
“That’s what those potatoes get for firing on a mosque.”
Over the next few days, it’s not just The Daily Worker that reports on the happenings in Iraq. Anything that affects Iraq affects the Syrians and their newspapers are full of the happenings next door.
Many Iraqi towns are marching in support of the fatwa. In Basrah, the local Communists are leading the demonstrations. In Baghdad, Rashid Street is filled with poor workers playing the same drums that are used in Shia processions to commemorate the death of Husain, Mohammad’s grandson. Many of them, it is reported, are carrying thick sticks.
Toby doesn’t want to move onto Beirut where we were planning on boarding a Mediterranean cruiser to begin the long journey home. The revolution in Iraq could happen any day and he wants to be close by in order to return to support the new Communist Party.
In the meantime, we eat falafel sandwiches and sip coffee in a café run by a Christian family who naturally, have warmed to Toby to such an extent that he is now considered an honorary son in their family.
All throughout the week, strikes break out in Iraq. Workers at the oil pumping stations, the drilling areas, the Kut barrage. The Baghdad Railway workshops. Najaf weaving factories. Even the menial workers at the Habbaniyyah military base are on strike.
By the end of the week, port, water and electrical installations at Basra are all at a standstill due to the strikes inspired by the fatwa and the Communist leadership.
But then, things turn ugly.
During one of the workers’ demonstrations in Baghdad, police fire shots, killing three and injuring 29.
The workers retaliate by storming the radio station and forcing German technicians to run for their lives. For the first time, the Left holds the airwaves. They announce, with great optimism and boldness, a new era for Iraq, one where there will be tremendous reforms. There will be land distribution to individual fellahin, amnesties granted to political prisoners, freedom of the press, free elections, prison reforms, a fairer tax collection.
Thanks to German engineering, the broadcast signal makes it all the way to Damascus where all the cafés tune in.
Toby listens, half-chagrinned, half-thrilled by the announcements. It is declared that all workers now have rights and the rights include an 8-hour workday and a fifty percent increase in wages, effective immediately.
While men in the café cheer on behalf of their fellow Arabs, Toby and I exchange glances. Who is going to enforce it? The Kaiser?
“I’ll say this,” murmurs Toby. “If Kaiser Frederick speaks up on behalf of these people, he could in one proclamation decimate the Iraqi Communist Party.”
I nod. As much as we’d like to see these people receive immediate support, it’s only if the Communist Party takes power that the changes will be for the long term.
In addition to these exciting announcements, Radio Iraq has various imams calling on believers to rise up against all foreign forces in Iraq. Ominously for the Germans, one imam calls for the tribes not to fire their ammunition in the air in vain.
The Communists then issue their manifesto. I recognize it from the hours I spent sitting in a hot, stuffy room while Toby and Yusuf worked it all out with the other Party members.
“The Manifesto of the Association Against Imperialism. To the Workers and Peasants, to the Soldiers and Students, to All the Oppressed! From our class comes the agonies, the sacrifices, the tens of thousands of victims . . . The benefits go to the financiers, the feudalists, and the higher officials . . . To our lot has fallen only hunger, cold and ruthless disease . . . and a horde of tax-gatherers without a touch of mercy or humanity . . . Today, the Germans and the ruling class are partners in a compact that aims at perpetuating the oppression and exploitation from which we suffer . . . The oil and other raw materials of the country have become a preserve for the German and Iraq has been turned into an outlet for their goods and surplus capital and into a war base directed against neighboring peoples . . .”
Many people in the café nod at this.
“ . . . and against any aspiration for freedom that the Arab countries may entertain.”
There is more agreement.
“The ruling class, for its part, plunders the proceeds of taxes, misappropriates lands and builds palaces on the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates. The millions of peasants and workers, in the meantime, continue to starve and bleed, and writhe in anguish . . . We must put an end to conditions grown so unjust and intolerable. We demand a change to the very foundations of life, a momentous change to the advantage of all the productive classes . . . Let us raise our voice again in the land and let it thunder forth, striking terror into the hearts of our oppressors . . .”
The café patrons love this line, nodding their approval.
“Let townsman and villager, worker and peasant, undivided by sect or race and supported by revolutionary thinkers, march side by side to bring about the first phase of the struggle . . .”
Then there is the long list of practical changes that the Communist Party demands for the laboring man. Debt cancellation for peasants, workers rights and freedoms . . . I know from experience how long the list can be.
But even if the café patrons tune out all these demands, they come to life for the final stirring words.
“Down with German imperialism! Down with all enslaving treaties! Long live the united front against imperialism and against the oppressors of the peasants and workers!”
But then the Germans regain control of the airwaves and it’s back to readings from the Quran.
It has only taken Toby a week here to discover that if you want to meet the local Socialists in Damascus, you have to attend meetings of The Association of Arab Accord. They operate openly without harassment, but it’s men-only so I’m left to sit in our room in the boarding house playing Solitaire while Toby goes out to their meetings. He doesn’t even need to go. It’s not like they’ve called upon him to help organize a Communist Party. He just likes the atmosphere and the company. They’re meeting four nights a week now that so much is happening in next-door Iraq.
He is so accepted by them that he is also invited to the more secret meetings of The Association Against Imperialism and then I lose him for the other nights as well.
But one night, he returns to our shared room and almost collapses in my arms. I recognize the emotion on his face. Despair. And then I remember why we work so well together. It’s because I’m always here. I always understand the struggle.
“What is it?” I murmur, running my fingers through his damp hair. “News from Iraq?”
He nods, as he sinks down, his head in my lap.
“The Kaiser’s orders are to shoot any man who does not return to his job.”
avid read the papers with more than growing concern. Although he hardly knew the workers of Iraq, he did know the Kaiser of Germany. And he knew that Kaiser Frederick had chosen economic expediency over being a champion of the oppressed.
The workers of Iraq were being crushed. Their leaders were being thrown into prison.
And Kaiser Frederick didn’t care if the world knew it. David now took The Daily Worker with his morning coffee and bagel. It wasn’t just The Daily Worker, but the European newspapers were also reporting that the Communist leaders were being held in filthy latrines with only 15 minutes a day access to outside air.
David had always lived with a sense that unlike most people, he had been born into a position where he could really do something; really make decisions that impacted lives.
He picked up The Daily Worker and went down several flights of stairs, mostly used by the servants, to a narrow corridor where the telegram room was, along with the palace switchboard, several storage rooms and all the offices of the household staff.
He entered the small telegram room where the one operator straightened up and greeted him courteously.
He nodded. His mind was far from this room, already in Berlin, knowing that at best his telegram would be received as a pesky fly, at worst as an obnoxious interferer. But he knew that it was quite possible that he was the only person in the world who could help the oppressed workers of Iraq and God help him if he kept silent. It was like being Esther of the Old Testament—you knew God could do things without you, but woe to you if you were the person God would use to bring change and yet you chose to be apathetic.
He started by greeting his Uncle, the Kaiser, and his beloved Aunt, the Kaiserin, sending them and their family warmest wishes from cool Canada. He thanked them once again for their generous hospitality and all the wonderful memories he had of his time spent with them. The Kaiser would appreciate the loquaciousness, he knew. There could be no sense of being stingy despite that every word cost money and New Buckingham Palace ran on a budget. In fact, it would be insulting to the most powerful man in the world to scrimp with his words. So David carried on. He mentioned that he had read with interest about the German Empire’s Eastern holdings while in Kiel and he continued to follow the stories out of Baghdad. “I’m wondering if it would be magnanimous to apply the same solution as in Ruhr to Iraq, in essence, making you the champion of the situation. I feel strongly that what is occurring in Iraq right now suggests to some that the Kaiser is oblivious to the situation. I know that no one would foolishly suggest that he is uninformed, but they might interpret a lack of intervention as . . .” David paused. He wanted to say heartless. The telegram operator’s eyes were already enormous. He had never sent such a telegram in his entire career. “. . . Indifferent.” David stood silent for a moment, hovering between thought and prayer. “I hope you do not mind my interest in the matter. I learned much in our many conversations and remain your student and nephew, David.”
The telegram officer exhaled. He had been holding his breath and now his fingers rapidly pulsated on the wireless key while David mentally reviewed the message in his mind, praying that it would be well-received. David thanked the operator who nodded and then returned back upstairs.
He had his reply by the afternoon. David was in the library when it arrived. He put down his book —an illustrated history of the German Navy presented to his father by the Kaiser when they had signed their treaty—and accepted the telegram from the butler who then discreetly withdrew when David indicated that there would be no reply.
The telegram had the same rambling quality of all of the Kaiser’s telegrams. He asked about David’s health and that of his parents. He thanked him for his kind interest in German holdings in the East. He reminded David that he had done a full tour of the Holy Land a few years back and gently insinuated that the result of it had been an understanding of the region that David lacked.
“We are currently in deadlock with Bavaria and Austria—Catholics, of course—who would love to see our Protestant values swallowed up with papacy nonsense,” he continued. “I remain forever a knight of the realm slaying fire-breathing dragons in my own Reichstag. Keep me in your prayers.” David recognized the brush off. The Kaiser had more immediate problems to think of than the labour situation in far-off Iraq.
David didn’t feel like returning to his book. For one thing, he was hungry. He had gotten used to the German custom of having an enormous meal at lunch and now he was back to the light salads that his mother insisted upon for her family.
He was dividing his time between Ottawa University and New Buckingham Palace, though hardly attending classes anymore. The visits to the university were more a way of staying connected to the people he had grown close to over the years, particularly Peter. Peter was his closest friend and his friend’s conversion to Socialism had touched something so deep in the Crown Prince that he knew with certainty that he and his friend were now bound together in a pact of brotherhood—comradeship—that would change Canada. David had been testing his new belief system on the Kaiser and he liked the way it felt even if he knew it was the most foolish choice in the world of realpolitik.
It didn’t matter, because it was right. And David could thank a fortuitous meeting on a ship-crossing for seeing what he should have known all along—that God wanted him to be a different kind of king. As Crown Prince, David had been invited one night to dine with the ship’s Captain on their crossing over to France. Peter had gone off in a sulk that his best friend was dining in first-class and had ended up encountering a young Socialist who had spoken wonderful things to him, things he had not thought about before—that there was a God, a God who loved the poor and that those people who committed themselves to helping the ever-present poor would have a far more rewarding life than if they pursued riches.
When Peter relayed it all to David afterwards, David knew it was exactly what had been missing from his life and that God was speaking to him through his best friend.
Upon returning home, David had tried to talk to his father about his vision for Canada—a Canada where all citizens had their basic needs met. His father’s reply was that the Americans would never allow it. Then the King had thought about it and decided that the Kaiser wouldn’t allow it either.
David had been left with a choice. If the impoverished Canadians were to have their basic needs met, it would not be through his father. In time, David would take the throne. Then he could do all he wanted to in order to bring a certain economic equity to the country. But his father was so fearful, always looking to the republican yet anti-Socialist south or across the sea to the Kaiser that David felt that he might not have a throne to sit on if he left things to his father. Fears had a way of coming to pass. That which I have feared has come upon me.
It really wasn’t a choice. David knew he would have to proceed regardless of his father. Too many lives, too many people, needed him right now. Not a lifetime from now.
e are torn.
Stay or go? Damascus or back to Canada?
The Daily Worker reports that anyone with a Communist Party membership or involvement in any kind of Socialist organization in Iraq has been arrested. The outcome is that anyone with a casual involvement in Socialism has lost all interest in the whole thing. Even most of the leaders sign an agreement not to engage in any further political activity.
“You can imagine that those who haven’t signed are being persuaded to even as we sit here in comfort,” says Toby, grim, eyes shadowed from lack of sleep.
I nod. The Germans are brutes with the Semitic people, hardly even seeming to regard them as human and certainly not on a par with Europeans.
And the reason we are still here in Damascus is because we have received indirect news of Yusuf. Toby is desperate to help him. One of the members of The Association Against Imperialism in Damascus has a second cousin who works for the government in Baghdad and keeps his Socialist sympathies to himself. He has been sending messages to his cousin in Iraq about the true state of things. He reports that the prisoners are being regularly caned in between their interrogations. But Yusuf is increasingly becoming a hero to the officers assigned to convey him to and from the interrogations.
The Investigating Officer asked Yusuf who participated with him in reorganizing the Iraqi Communist Party after the initial arrests?
Yusuf’s brave reply was that, “Party discipline prohibits me from divulging the name of any of its members or laying bare any of its organizations.”
The Investigating Officer then asked if he was aware that the propagation of Communist ideas was liable to punishment under the Penal Code?
Yusuf replied, “The Iraqi Penal Code is based on the German Constitution which has conceded the freedom of belief to every German citizen . . .” And that was all he could say before being dragged away, once again, to be caned.
Hearing all this, Toby naturally doesn’t want to go home no matter how bleak it seems for the Communists of Iraq. That we might be in danger ourselves doesn’t seem relevant to him.
Personally, I think I’m in greater danger of dying of boredom. I can’t wander the streets by myself when Toby’s out at meetings—which take up his days as well as his nights now. There are Arabic women out in the streets but there’s always been this understanding between Toby and I that I won’t do anything foolish to endanger my life or wellbeing. So I can only watch life go on outside the boarding house window.
Down in the narrow street below, young boys play marbles. In the late afternoon, there are older Arab schoolboys playing football. They like to call out what I can only imagine to be rude remarks at any passing European man, including French soldiers.
There is a well at the end of the street and Arab women pass by carrying petrol tins or earthen jugs. I have observed that a donkey will carry two petrol cans strapped on its back.
Even food, which has the potential to keep life interesting, becomes irritating. All Toby seems to come back with is flat bread, goat’s cheese, figs and mulberry juice. To him, one doesn’t need a varied diet to keep life from being dull.
My only measurement of time becomes the Muslim call to prayer, five times a day. From my window, looking up, I can see the tiled minaret with its golden cupola.
Finally, a week later, we learn that the Communists are being transferred to Abu Ghraib military prison, which will be their home until they stand trial.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do now,” I say, when Toby returns shortly after midnight. “And it sounds like the interrogation stage is over.”
“I dunno,” says Toby, wearily, pulling off his sandals. He’s long since abandoned Western footwear. “Everyone says the cells there are dark, damp and narrow. In the past, other Communist members have gone insane confined in them.”
I groan and stretch out on the bed.
Toby looks at me.
“I’m going insane here,” I say.
He looks around the narrow room, maybe not damp, but certainly dark. He nods.
“OK, Felicity,” he says. “I get it. You’re a prisoner here too, aren’t you?”
I nod, trying not to cry.
He curls up on the bed with me and just before he drifts off, he says, “We’ll stay for the trial and then we’ll go back. I promise.”
He’s asleep before I can even reply.
In the week leading up to the trial, Toby almost returns to normal. It’s all out of his hands and he knows it, so we walk through the tree-lined streets of Damascus, visit the Umayyad Mosque and the tomb of Saladin, watch children play in a park, drink coffee in the café run by the Christian family, and of course, read all the newspapers.
The Daily Worker reports that Yusuf and the Communist Party members are receiving the “right sort of” books and newspapers, according to what the authorities deem to be right, as well as light to read them by. Fairly unsensational stuff.
The trial comes and is a major event in Baghdad as well as in Damascus. The telegraph lines between the two cities must be smoking with activity.
Yusuf and nine other Party leaders are appearing before the High Criminal Court and have each been assigned lawyers. On the first day, one of the lawyers makes such an effective plea on behalf of his client that he is immediately arrested for being a Communist.
Toby groans as he reads this. No surprise, the other nine lawyers do not show up in court the next day.
In any case, this gives Yusuf and his fellow Party leaders the chance to speak freely and they do, The Daily Worker reports with admiration.
After two days of this, they are charged with having “foreign sources of income.”
Toby snorts as we sit and listen to this. Today, I am in a café with about twenty men, listening to trial highlights on the radio.
“Relying on Germany is obviously acceptable, but relying on Britain or Russia isn’t,” he says.
Most of the news reports are in Arabic so we return to our room and read the rest of it in the German-language newspapers.
In any case, it is Yusuf who points out that no one outside of Iraq is supporting them financially. I squeeze Toby’s hand and he sees the concern.
“Don’t worry, Felicity,” he says. “They know we were there but we made no financial contributions. And I don’t think it would help their cause to mention us . . .”
I’m not sure if he’s talking about the Communists or the German prosecutors.
It is pointed out that producing newspapers and tracts is expensive so they must have a source of money from somewhere. Yusuf replies that they sell their newspapers and rely on the goodwill of supporters.
In fact, as the days go on, that’s the whole nature of the trial.
Yusuf is accused of something. He either denies it or has a reasonable explanation.
The German judge accuses the Communist Party of spreading sedition and encouraging armed revolt. Yusuf replies that he has never done or said anything against the Kaiser and he points out that had he been encouraging an armed revolt, he would have supplied his men with arms, something he never did.
But reasonableness does not win the trial and in the end, all ten men are found guilty and sentenced to hang. Even the man who sheltered the Communists in his home when they were arrested is sentenced to hang despite not being present at the trial.
Baghdad’s response to it is subdued compared to that of Damascus where it is the French, not the Germans, who are the foreign advisors. The leading newspaper, not even a Socialist publication, says on its front page that you can’t hang a man for being a Communist.
“Their only hope now is a world outcry,” says Toby. We’re in our room and true to his word, now that the trial is over, he’s stuffing his few items of clothing into his knapsack. At least, at first, I think that’s what it is, keeping a promise to me. But the more he talks, the more I realize, we’re returning home to lead a Canadian cry against injustice in Iraq.
It’s a fool’s errand, I think, watching him. I’m already packed. We’ll hardly be past Cyprus before those men are hanged. But it’s what drives him, the passion, the continual action toward that end.
But from my perspective, we’re going home and that’s good news. At home, people know me and I’m somebody. Here, the fact that I’m female is three strikes against me. It disqualifies me from any participation in these male-only societies. In Toronto, I’ve probably sat through a thousand meetings, but I’m always with Toby, not waiting in a dark room for him to return.
It is a short and uneventful ride by bus from Damascus to Beirut and I’m longing to be aboard the ship, feeling the Mediterranean breeze, hoping Toby will encounter no potential disciples to Communism on the way home.
But just as we’re going up the gangplank, a French newspaper headline catches Toby’s eye. The outcry in the Arab world alone has been enough to have the death sentences commuted to penal servitude for life.
Toby makes an abrupt turn and we’re back on the quay.
I’m feeling edgy. We were late anyway and there’s a horn blast to let all know that this is the final call to board.
Toby has purchased the newspaper from one of the young newsboys and is reading the high points of the article out loud to me.
“It doesn’t sound so bad,” I say. They will be serving their sentence at Kut, which is a town about 180 kilometres outside of Baghdad.
“I’m not so sure,” says Toby, looking up and staring in the distance with unseeing eyes. “It’s a desert. It’s probably pretty harsh. The guards are probably sadists . . .”
And I know at this point that we’re not getting on that ship. By evening, we’re back in Damascus and Toby is out at a meeting. I groan and hurl myself on the bed. I’m too tired of everything to even cry.
Toby returns in high spirits.
“It’s all going to be OK,” he says, sitting down on my bed where I’ve fallen asleep out of absolute boredom.
“But they’re still in prison,” I say, groggy.
“I found out that Kut is the Garden of Eden compared to Abu Ghraib,” says Toby, pulling out our ship’s passage tickets from his knapack, shrugging and tearing them up. “Doubt they’ll give us a refund. Believe me, this is the best thing for Yusuf. He's no longer in a lonely cell, but out and about with all the other men.”
“How did you find all this out?” I ask.
“One of the men has a . . .”
“Let me guess, a cousin?”
“No, uncle actually. He’s a prison guard at Kut. It’s far more relaxed than Abu Ghraib. The guards there are too annoyed that they’re so far from the pleasures of Baghdad to care what the men talk about. We all figure that with Yusuf and the other Communists in prison, before long, Kut will be an institute of higher learning for Socialist dialectics.” Toby laughs at the thought.
I smile. I’m starting to wake up and I’m also hoping that this means we’ll be heading back to Beirut sometime tomorrow.
“Furthermore,” Toby continues. “I think it will give them a chance to rethink Party strategy. With time to spare, they can analyze past failures and come up with strategies that will work better next time.”
He yawns and moves off of my bed to his. This room, which we checked into late last night, is in a real hotel in a more luxurious part of Damascus and we each have a double bed.
I sigh. I’m just starting to feel normal. I would love to go downstairs to the hotel bar and sip wine from Galilee or beer from Egypt.
I get up and use the bathroom. The best thing about staying in a luxury hotel is you don’t have to go down the hall to use the toilet.
Then I return to bed. Toby is already asleep. That’s how he is. He pushes himself to his limit, comes home exhausted and is asleep within minutes. Not me. I’m staring at the ceiling.
Finally, after an hour of telling myself to go to sleep, I give up and tell myself to stay up all night for all I care. I can always sleep on the bus. Then I fall asleep.
I awake to an empty room.
But Toby is soon back with a bag of oranges and all the European-language newspapers. I grab one to see which ships are departing from Beirut either today or tomorrow. Toby is peeling an orange and reading a paper but then I see him freeze as he turns a page. Wordlessly, he hands it to me and points to the article.
Tax increase in sugar and tea leads to disturbances in Baghdad reads the headline.
“What do they mean by disturbances?” I say.
“It’s the German euphemism for riots,” he says. “But look, Felicity. Sugar and tea. Remember how Yusuf told us that the only luxury of the poor man in Iraq is tea and sugar? It’s what he drinks when he gets home from his 14-hour day. It’s all he has to look forward to, his only consolation. Felicity, this could be it . . .”
I groan internally. Toby would never leave a potential revolution behind.
Toby’s intuitions are correct.
By evening, the events in Baghdad are on all the news stations. The lobby of our hotel has a television set on a European broadcast and there are reports in German and French, so we can pick up most of it.
Over a meal of stuffed grape leaves and a bottle of white wine that we brought out into the lobby, we watch the familiar Rashid Street in Baghdad, filled to capacity with marching protestors. It’s hard to believe there isn’t a Communist leading them, the slogans they are calling out are so Socialist. The German broadcaster translates some of them for us.
Apparently, the day’s march started small, at one of the city gates. There were no placards or signs because those assembled were the poor and illiterate workingmen who just wanted to protest the sugar and tea tax increase.
But once the students got involved, it became more political.
They assembled in front of the School of Medicine, about seventy of them, many with signs and headed for al-Muadhdham Gate. There they began inciting the people to demonstrate, shouting, “Down with the Government!” “Down with Foreign Oppression!” “We are for a People's Revolution!”
As workers joined the students, they also began to shout, “Long live the unity of the workers and the students!”
By the time they reached the brass founder’s market, one of the students addressed them and stirred them up to even greater passion. Next, they halted before the Headquarters of Investigations, and shouted, “Provide Bread to the People!” “Down with the Investigations!” “Send the Chief of Investigations to the Gallows!” When they arrived at the next Square, another student leapt to the roof of a coffeehouse and made a speech that included pointing at the throng and crying out, “We want a people's government representing these classes!” After that the procession moved on and made for the Eastern Gate, pausing in front of a petrol station to listen to another inflammatory speech by another inspired student. After that they shouted, “Long live the People's struggle!”
The tall blond male broadcaster is reporting the summary of the day’s events with the tone of an adult discussing an errant child. But at least the footage is clear and he is thorough in his translations of the shouting Arabs.
The broadcast continues, showing the crowd rolling forward and shouting, “Release the lions of Kut!”
Toby nods at this homage to the Communist leaders in prison, although the news correspondent reports this with the sense that it’s not going to happen.
“I think that time we spent with the imams really paid off,” says Toby.
The footage goes back to earlier today when the people ended up outside the government buildings demanding the death of the Prime Minister. The German Broadcasting Corporation news anchor back in Berlin is a slim blonde woman and she concludes with the interesting tidbit that the Iraqi Prime Minister resigned and retired shortly thereafter.
“In other words, he fled for his life,” says Toby, as there is subdued celebration in the hotel. I know if we were in a coffeehouse in the Old City, there would be open cheering.
We are down early the next day for breakfast in the lobby and more news.
Everyone in the hotel seems to be doing the same, wrapping their eggs in pita bread and leaving the dining room to stand around in the lobby while holding cups of coffee, all eyes on the television.
The rioting continued into the night.
The crowds destroyed the German Information Service Building using crowbars and battering rams before dowsing the interior with oil and setting it ablaze. As well as typewriters and filing cabinets, thousands of books, magazines, and files were destroyed. A German-language newspaper office was also set ablaze despite a nearby police station that was showering demonstrators with automatic fire from their rooftop. The mob then turned on the police station, setting it on fire and tearing apart three policemen as they tried to make a run for it, beheading one just for good measure.
The blond GBC correspondent in Baghdad looks a little more shaken today.
“Baghdad is a battle zone,” he reports, from his hotel balcony. (Yesterday he was down at street level.) “Students continue to come in bus convoys from other towns and fieldworkers continue to pour into the city . . .”
We see footage of police openly firing on crowds from the roofs of buildings. The crowds retaliate by setting one of their armoured cars on fire. The police then have to retreat across one of the many bridges that span the Tigris.
Most in the crowds are armed only with heavy sticks, but they are angry and that makes them terrifying.
There is a murmur among the people in the hotel lobby as we see footage of the police taking positions on rooftops and in the minaret of the al-Muradiyyah mosque.
“This is live, Felicity,” says Toby, his face pale and serious. He takes my hand.
I hadn’t realized that the newscaster had gotten us all up-to-date and that we were now looking at a live broadcast.
I gasp as the police fire down on protesters. The number of people is so enormous that I have a hard time picking out who is hit. But as the firing continues, here and there, people drop.
But the crowd just keeps getting bigger and angrier.
And today there are way more signs. They’re in Arabic, so we ask one of the waiters to translate some of them for us.
“Death to all Enemies,” he read. “Free Land for All.” He glances at us before reading another one and moving on. “Destruction to all Foreigners.”
I’m so glad we’re here and not there.
But despite the gunfire, protesters are pushing in from all directions. The news cameras are on the roofs of buildings so we see it all. They are pouring across the bridges. At the same time, they are being fired upon. I see bodies falling into the Tigris and floating away. Some get caught in an iron bridge. I’m so glad the cameras do not zoom in any further but maintain only an overview.
Armoured cars and machine guns continue to meet the protestors.
I hear a gasp from someone in the lobby. And then we see why. From one side street is coming a whole school of young children, led by their teachers. Within minutes, they will be on the front lines, facing armoured cars and machine guns.
We all wait, hardly breathing, because, of course, we can see what the crowds can’t. But then the protestors of Baghdad realize that there are children in the midst, their very own children in some cases. And then the police realize it, too.
And in that moment, the police hesitate. They stop firing. And it is just enough time for the people to move. The crowds push forward and the policemen who can, flee, scattering in every direction.
“They’ve won,” says Toby. His palm is sweating in mine. Then he turns and hugs me with a passion I’ve never felt from him before.
“The people have won!” he says. His arms are still around me and in his embrace, I forget everything, Baghdad, Damascus, even Ottawa. And then he lets me go. “But what a gamble! I don’t think I would have had the guts to do it.”
avid’s father was pale. His son’s words were shocking. Almost unbelievable. But King Albert couldn’t deny that an enormous burden had been lifted from his own shoulders.
His son was ready to step forth and take his place in the world of men, and not just the world of men, but the world of rulers.
There was no wavering in David’s tone. He spoke in certainties. King Albert remembered the days—not in his own lifetime, of course—when kings of England spoke in certainties. It reminded him of the way the Kaiser spoke, but in this scenario, David was, well, David, and the Kaiser was Goliath.
Could his son bring down Goliath with a single stone? He certainly spoke with the confidence of a young David facing the enemy of Israel, and there was something so compelling about his determination to do what was right rather than what was expedient.
Will the people appreciate what their Crown Prince is willing to do for them? King Albert wondered. Then he sighed. It didn’t matter. David stood before his God. There would be rewards here on earth for David and greater rewards in heaven. Albert wasn’t sure he could say the same for himself.
“Your mother won’t like it,” he murmured.
“Mother doesn’t have a say in it,” said David, in a matter-of-fact tone. It was true. She was a side point in all of this. Albert had an awareness that for most of his reign, he had been making major issues of minor issues and vice versa.
“When I am strong enough,” said David. “I will speak out on behalf of all of the oppressed in the world. And Canada will aid them in their struggle.”
King Albert almost smiled. It was the statement of a child, a child who wants to right wrongs and put an end to injustice. But didn’t Jesus say something about, let the little children come to me? And something along the lines of unless you become like one of these little ones, you will not even enter the kingdom of heaven? King Albert exhaled. If Jesus took an interest in temporal kingdoms, King Albert was certain he was watching the Kingdom of Canada right now.
“Can the meek truly inherit the earth, though, David?” he asked.
David didn’t waver in his answer.
“If you believe, yes. If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can say to a mountain, be cast into the sea.”
“The Kaiser moves his own mountains.”
“And that will be his downfall,” said David.
King Albert felt a chill run down his spine. And in that moment, he understood. David believed. David had discovered a power greater than the Kaiser, greater than the Americans. And for that illuminating moment, the King felt sorry for them both.
David returned to the library, relieved.
The conversation he dreaded most was over and he had discerned that his father, in his own quiet way, supported him.
In his spare time, David had been reading about the Socialist revolution in Russia and the Socialist revolution in England. Of the two, he preferred the English one. It had been bloodless and though the monarchy hadn’t survived, it had not suffered the cruel end of the Romanovs, held under house arrest before being executed by Bolsheviks in a basement in Siberia.
As far as he could tell, the main difference between the two revolutions had been in the characters of the men who had led them. Vladimer Lenin had insisted on the royal family being executed. Edward Cornwall had led a people’s revolution that had held onto their parliament and established safeguards against social inequality.
Edward Cornwall. His name came up time and time again.
He was a source of fascination to both the Crown Prince and to Peter. Together, they were trying to find out as much as they could about him. Peter was scouring seedy bookstores and David was scouring royal archives to try to understand the man who had led the revolution. Rare book rooms of all the universities had received requests from New Buckingham Palace to send anything they had on Edward Cornwall. From a telegram he received back from the head librarian at the University of Toronto, David gathered that anything about Edward Cornwall was a forbidden text only kept for its historical value and that the university would rather its students sign out works from their collection of Victoriana pornography than read anything by or about Edward Cornwall.
It didn’t matter. David and Peter now spent their evenings reading the forbidden speeches of Edward Cornwall, relating passages to one another, eyes bright with passion at the way the words jumped off the pages and filled the quiet New Buckingham Palace library, words being spoken again after nearly a hundred years. As drama students, both of them recognized the oratorical quality of Cornwall.
“What has your king done for the poor?” asked Cornwall, the first time he spoke. He had waved a sheet of paper at his audience in Hyde Park. “I have here in my hand the sum total of his achievements for the poor. When he was Prince of Wales, he served on two Royal Commissions, the first to study housing improvements for the impoverished, the second to provide care for the aged. Served on a committee, mind you. And when he travelled to India, he requested that the British overlords not refer to the natives as ‘niggers.’ While I am grateful that our king is not a bigot, I doubt very much it helps those same men. A nigger by any other name still stinks to a British officer.”
He had gone on to say, “I do not doubt that our king’s heart was moved by the plight of the homeless, the impoverished aged and the natives in India. Edward is said to be famously generous with gifts for his friends. Would that he were as generous toward his subjects.”
On another occasion, Edward Cornwall had informed his attentive audience that, “If you want to drive King Edward into a mad rage, show up at a levee wearing mixed uniforms. The man’s devoted his entire life to pleasure, yet he has every uniform from England all the way to Russia in his closet. He knows every medal of honour from here to Japan, and yet has done nothing to merit a single one, although the upper echelons of this civilized world bestow all sorts of useless medals on one another so that they can go to their glittering balls wearing the Order of this or the Garter of that on their breasts, while good women and children go to bed hungry and in rags. . . ”
“Have you ever seen the King eat?” Edward Cornwall had asked them another time. “I have it on good authority that he takes his breakfast in bed. It is a modest repast of coffee and toast if he is to stay indoors. But if he is to go hunting, well! He adds to that bacon, eggs, both chicken and fish. Then, a mere few hours later, he strengthens himself with turtle soup. For lunch, he devours a few more platefuls to tide him over until a tea of eggs, rolls, shortbread and five kinds of cake. Then there is dinner. Ah, dinner! The king’s ability to eat astounds all, even the Queen. At least twelve courses are served at his dinners and the king eats a plateful of each. Think of the number of children that could eat well tonight on just the king’s dinner alone. Then, as if that isn’t enough, it is said the king takes a whole roasted chicken to bed.”
The audience of his day had loved it.
“What we have is a pseudo science,” said Edward Cornwall, when once invited to participate in an open-air debate with a loyal monarchist who claimed that the king was a great promoter of scientific achievement. “We see the role of science in our society as a counter-revolutionary tool, used to make small improvements to the lives of the poor that will offset Socialism, but at the same time, make the rich even richer. Which, in effect, just strengthens the position of the rich. It is no wonder that our monarch supports science. So while the rich and the learned have their science clubs, let the king think upon this. There are at least fifty clubs devoted to Republicanism in this country. And I hope there are even more in the colonies, for they of all people should certainly know that one does not need a king in order to have good government.”
On only one occasion had King Edward replied to one of Edward Cornwall’s diatribes against him. And even then, it was indirectly. In a speech delivered with passion in Hyde Park and joyfully recorded by the newspapers who preferred sensational stories, Edward Cornwall had brought out a list of all the people accompanying the king on his forthcoming trip abroad, and not an official visit of one head of state to another, mind you, but a simple pleasure jaunt. His entourage would be enough to fill half a hotel.
King Edward was said to have replied to the comment the next day at a dinner party when he dryly noted to his guests that in his mother’s day, the monarch’s entourage would have filled the entire hotel.
Occasionally, the attacks had gotten even nastier and more personal. Edward Cornwall assured his listeners that although the king monopolized the British papers and bullied them into not printing all of his exploits, that the French papers had no such scruples and for anyone willing to take a trip across the Channel to read one, he would quickly learn that his sovereign’s trips to Paris were entirely devoted to his pleasure and that in addition to stuffing himself in the city’s finest restaurants, he also partook of the city’s most notable beauties who gladly gave themselves to him.
“Look at this,” said David, leaning forward. He held up the book he was reading, a small paperback biography of Edward Cornwall published in England that Peter had found in a box in a second-hand bookstore on Queen Street. “It says here that Cornwall spent his younger years in Germany. His mother was a servant at Potsdam!”
“No way!” said Peter. “Potsdam as in the Kaiser’s palace?”
David nodded and stood.
“I’m going to telegram my uncle and ask that he send me everything he can about Edward Cornwall.” David, who had started walking, stopped. “No, that’s not good. He’ll be suspicious and he won’t send me anything that might corrupt me.” He thought for a moment. “I’ll send a telegram to the royal archivist. He’ll assume I’ve already mentioned it to the Kaiser and that the Kaiser referred me to him.”
“Smart,” said Peter nodding, returning his eyes to a book from the University of Toronto’s Rare Book room that included both speeches and photos of Edward Cornwall speaking in Hyde Park.
When David returned, Peter said, “Listen to this. It’s his final speech.” He began to read. “We compete for the attention of the people. The daily newspapers fill our minds with the trivial, a constant river of unending facts to make us feel like there is change, that there is progress. Change for whom? Progress for whom? For the comfortable readers already ensconced in homes of middle-class sensibility? But who will dare walk the streets of East London with me? Who will dare board the train with me to go see the coal-mining communities? But I need you to! I need you to see the real, great needs of the workingman and to appeal to you to take a risk, yes, a real risk, for I ask you to risk your very comfort. Do not fill your minds with the tales of the idle rich. Ask not, how do they live? How do they dress? How do they eat? Instead, turn your eyes to the bitter and desperate poor and ask, how do they live? How do they dress? How do they eat? And when you have satisfied yourself that I am correct, that something must be done, then rise with me, rise with me now and we will take to the streets and we will change this nation, starting with the king and his kind, until every man, woman and child in this land has a decent outfit on his or her back and a decent meal on his or her plate.”
Peter looked up.
“That was the one. That was the one that did it,” he said.
David nodded. He had read about that day, that day when Edward Cornwall had delivered the speech Peter had read to a crowd of listeners in Hyde Park. But instead of marching with him to London’s East End or to one of the many mining communities, that speech had begun the march, the now famous march of people that had grown in strength as they moved through the streets of London like a wave, that had made its forceful way to Buckingham Palace where King George, son of Edward, had been hosting a luncheon for the Mayor of London and other city notables, a force that had fallen upon the gates and been too irresistible for the guards they met along the way, until it had culminated in the very dining hall itself, with the King and all his men fleeing for their very lives. And thus England had turned from a monarchy to a workingman’s republic.
An hour later, a footman came in with a telegram from Germany saying that a copy of all the materials on Edward Cornwall housed in the Potsdam archives would be sent to New Buckingham Palace post haste.
David and Peter put away the books they were reading and stood up.
“My mother’s out at a film opening,” said David. “My father and I can order pizza for dinner. Want to stay?”
“As long as it’s not salad,” said Peter, grinning. “Count me in.”
When the materials arrived from the Imperial archivist in Potsdam, David called Peter to come help him go through it all. None of it was in book format, it was all loose paper and there was a lot to go through.
There were many copies of letters. It turned out that Kaiser Wilhelm II and Edward Cornwall had been so close in age that they had formed a strong friendship and had written many letters to one another. They were mostly bantering back and forth, the talk of young men interested in the world, in military matters, in the girls of Potsdam.
The library was silent as they read, the material absorbing. Both men were gifted writers and the letters ranged from amusing to soaring with the elevated ideas of youth.
“This . . . is . . . amazing,” said Peter, slowly “Really,” he said. “You are not going to believe this . . .”
“What is it?” said David looking up.
“It’s the German military dossier on Cornwall and it says here on the front, ‘compiled with the assistance of Kaiser Wilhelm II.’”
“I guess they put it together after the revolution,” said David.
“It’s more than that . . .” said Peter, his eyes rapidly skimming the document. “It tells everything. His whole life.”
“Really?” said David. One thing that had struck him about all of their reading on Cornwall was how little of it was about the man’s life. Biographies were more a compilation of his speeches.
“He was attacking the father who rejected him.”
“What do you mean, attacking the father who rejected him?”
“That’s what it says here,” said Peter. “It’s what Wilhelm II said.” He leaned forward. “Listen to this. It says, ‘Only his closest friends know that Edward Cornwall is the son of Edward VII and his first love, a Toronto orphan named Anna.’”
David’s eyes widened and Peter nodded.
“Basically, it says here that no one knew her last name. Duke of Cornwall was one of the Prince of Wales’s many titles and she took the name for her son. It says here, Anna lived in a small home in London, purchased for her by the Prince, and those who knew them both, jokingly called her the Princess of Wales. Of course, it was a doomed love. The Prince of Wales was expected to marry a European princess and when Alexandra, his future wife, was introduced to him, he agreeably went along with his family’s obvious intentions that he should marry the beautiful Danish princess. The fact that he had a child already was something he chose to conveniently forget.”
David sat still, speechless.
“No one knew how Anna felt about it or why she chose to keep the Prince’s secret,” Peter continued, his eyes on the dossier. “The only known certainty was that she wanted a royal upbringing for her son even if it wasn’t in the English court. She sold her house in London and took young Edward Cornwall to Germany. It’s possible her mother or father was German.”
David nodded, now getting used to the idea. Queen Victoria’s eldest son was a well-known womanizer.
“In Germany, she found a post as part of the kitchen staff at Neues Palais—New Palace—Potsdam,” said Peter.
A relatively easy accomplishment, David knew, since of all the royal houses in Europe, the German palaces had always been over-inflated with staff.
Peter kept reading.
The bastard child of Edward VII had grown up in endless corridors, a palace of two hundred rooms filled with marble, silver and silk. The German Crown Princess was Queen Victoria’s daughter, Vicky. So Edward Cornwall had lived under the same roof as his royal aunt, although it was doubtful that she knew he was her nephew.
“A lot of this is from the perspective of Wilhelm II,” said Peter. “He talks about how Edward was only a year and a half younger than him and how they became friends.”
The two boys played war games on the adjoining military parade ground and Wilhelm II was one of the few people who knew that Edward Cornwall was his cousin. In fact, one of his boyhood promises was that that they would invade England together and that Edward Cornwall would be King of England instead of the Godless Edward.
As they grew to manhood, Edward Cornwall stayed in university while Wilhelm built an inner circle of military advisors. When Edward’s mother died, he went back to England to accept a teaching post at Oxford. At some point back in England, he had become the champion of Socialism.
David reached for the intelligence report and read it more carefully for himself.
It seemed that Edward Cornwall was everything that his father wasn’t. He was a man of words and ideas and convictions. He had many enemies and yet, not one of them had come forward with slanderous reports about doxies or drink or debauchery. He lived simply and surrounded by people, and from all accounts, he had a steady habit of putting their needs ahead of his own. Even on paper, one could still feel the devotion that those around him felt towards him. David felt it himself. A longing, an aching for the ideals he stood for and the embodiment of them in a single man.
And he lived in extraordinary times, times that were in his favour. The report included details about the revolution in England. Miners and railway workers were striking and Edward’s son, King George, had no sympathy for strikers, suggesting to his Prime Minister that a law be passed against picketing. Throughout the years leading up to the war, England had often come to a standstill due to general strikes. Protesters had thrown rocks at the windows of Windsor Castle and women were leaving their homes to join the suffragettes marching in the streets.
But things really started to go against King George when the Russian Revolution erupted. The Great War with Germany was still raging and England had to come to the aid of her ally, Russia, who was also in the middle of a revolt against the monarchy. History summed it up by saying that the workers of England rose up rather than lose even more men just to crush a worker’s revolution in Russia. When England became a republican state, they had immediately made peace with Germany. The Germans considered themselves the winners of the war and had put into practice a policy of dominating continental Europe, devouring the former British Empire and crushing any Socialist leanings that rose in their midst.
But in England, it had been a bloodless revolution and that was something Edward Cornwall considered his greatest achievement, although he spoke very little about it afterwards. Forces were already in place to lead the people to a Labour government committed to correcting the inequalities they saw in England. The revolution wasn’t a one-man effort, by anyone’s evaluation, but everyone agreed that it wouldn’t have happened without Edward Cornwall.
“Edward’s England will be remembered for being the time when we began to make changes,” Edward Cornwall had said only the day before. He could have just as well been talking about himself instead of the king. “George’s England will be remembered for when we finished making them. We are a dissatisfied people—dissatisfied with starvation in East London, with oppression in Dublin, with wealth in the hands of the few and the lot of the workingman to not even his daily bread. We are the generation of revolution. America had hers, France had hers, now we will have ours. Will we continue to give our sweat so that the aristocracy can hold onto her properties? Will we continue to give our blood so that the king can hold onto Ireland? Today our leaders offer us only one thing—a resistance to change. They want a world where their sons can inherit all and our sons can continue to be their slaves.”
Shortly after, Edward Cornwall, his wife and all but one of their children had died in a house fire. Sparking wires in the early days of electricity. David read the report right through to the end and then stood up.
“This is the story we will tell Canada,” he said, the report still in his hand. “And Edward Cornwall’s speeches will be heard again.”
resign myself to a return to Baghdad.
We played only the slightest, if at all, role in the recent events, but Toby has to go back to see if Yusuf is OK.
As it turns out, it really wasn’t the children who saved the day, although they did save the hour. It was army. The army had been ordered to fire on the people that day, but they didn’t. Instead, they stood back and let events unfold. Now the government is in the hands of the army. German nationals have fled or been dismembered by the people. Literally dismembered The Arabs don’t seem to think in terms of middle ground—like imprisonment for former oppressors.
And all political prisoners have been released. So we take the first Nairn bus heading east and are back in Baghdad two days later.
We spend the first few days trying to find Yusuf, going around to the different houses we met in. But on the third day, we find Antony reading a newspaper in a coffeehouse on Rashid Street, having somehow managed to survive both the Communist purge and the Foreigners purge.
“How on earth did you do it?” asks Toby, pulling a couple of chairs over so we can join him at his table.
Personally, I feel terrified. I think the three of us are the only Europeans left in the city except for the news people who aren’t leaving their hotels. Even as we sit here, abandoned businesses and banks are being looted.
Antony explains how after the Communist Party members were rounded up, he decided to go straight into the heart of the German world to hide, moving into the Majestic Hotel on Rashid Street.
“One thing I noticed right away was how the Germans lived in a completely different world than the average Arab,” he says. It’s good to see him again, confident and carefree. “It was a world of wide terraces and carpeted stairs and potted palm plants. They had their own clubs and places where they wouldn’t let an Arab anywhere near unless it was his job to clean the latrine.” Antony leans forward, talkative, and I think he’s happy to see us again, too. “There was this one place on the left bank, a bit of paradise, a garden with lots of trees and a fountain and little tables and lights and an orchestra. All the potatoes hung out there, so I did too. All European music. Everyone sat around quaffing ginger beer. I imagine the Arabs have turned it into rubble by now.”
“Then why weren’t you lynched when they all fled?”
“It’s simple. To the Arabs, an Arab is anyone who can speak Arabic,” says Antony. He grins. “I speak Arabic, so I was fine.” He grabs my hand for a moment and squeezes. “You should have been here. They didn’t see it coming, the potatoes. They were out on the Tigris, sitting in restaurant boats in their summer suits or dining in their garden cafés under tamarisk trees, filling themselves up with lamb and chicken and grilled pigeon. I did eat well when I was with them, I do admit. Grape leaves stuffed with saffron rice, tahini salad, bread and butter pudding, baklava, ten kinds of fruit. Antony shakes his head. “All while the poor man on the other bank lived on falafel and black tea.”
Then he takes us to a new Communist Party headquarters where Yusuf and the other “lions of Kut” are laying low until they know where they stand with the new military regime. It is an enormous home by the Tigris, emptied of furniture, but obviously once the home of a wealthy family.
After hugs and tears, Toby and Yusuf sit down for a good long talk. All the horrors of prison life are part of the past. It is the future they are both thinking of.
“The military will want to do things their own way,” says Yusuf. “They will not want the Communist Party interfering. But, the good thing is, they may not interfere with the Communist Party.”
Toby nods at this wisdom.
“The main thing is,” says Toby, “You needed the army to drive out the Germans. You couldn’t have done it without them. So this is the new reality.”
“And the oil will stay in Iraq,” he says. “As long as the Arab world stands together to defend it. But I regret to say, it probably won’t benefit the Socialists in the West in their struggles.”
“That’s OK,” says Toby. “It is as it should be. The oil was always yours to begin with. In a way, you’ve had your revolution. Mabrook! Mazzeltov!”
And there is a feeling of celebration in the streets of Baghdad. I think the looting is just part of that. It’s only fair that Toby should stay and enjoy it with the comrades. I don’t begrudge him this small victory. The less oil that the Kaiser can use for his navy means a stronger Socialist England.
The Arab way to celebrate is to be in the streets. But we remain indoors with our comrades, with only an occasional visit to Rashid Street for food and bottled water. Toby doesn’t mind. He and Yusuf talk for hours while sipping mint tea or Arabic coffee, both of which are starting to make my stomach queasy. Antony is made of different stuff—he is out in the streets, enjoying the festive atmosphere and even returning with some loot—a few Western-style men’s hats from a German department store. For one brief and treacherous moment, I wish I were Antony’s girlfriend. He seems like a lot of fun. But then I repent and feel ashamed. Toby could have any girl he wanted. He has me because of who I am. Or more accurately, because of who he is. Without his commitment to Socialism in Canada, I fear he wouldn’t want or need me.
A small printing press is brought to our dilapidated hideout by some of the comrades. Toby and Yusuf have been working out a strategy for living under the new military regime.
“We must support them,” says Yusuf. “They are our only hope for keeping out the Germans. But we must speak out and continue to uphold the needs of the people.”
Toby agrees and with this in mind, they design and publish the first post-revolution pamphlet. It thanks the army for safeguarding the rights of the workers and calls on all Arabs to protect Arab interests. It is not a radical pamphlet in any way, but it will be risky just to go out in the streets and start distributing Communist literature again.
But all the comrades are getting restless and the general feeling is action, any action, is better than sitting around.
As usual, I will be left behind. At first, it is Toby who (reluctantly, I think) says he will stay and keep me company. But then, to my surprise, Antony announces he will stay with me. He’s been out enough, he says.
I hate the way my heart speeds up at being alone with Antony. It’s not just that he’s attractive, but I’ve never gotten over my feeling that he could also be dangerous. Though at this point, I have no idea who he would be betraying us to. The Germans have fled. I doubt he has any association with the Iraqi military elite. Maybe it’s just that he seems like such an adventurer, like a mercenary for hire.
While the others head out with handfuls and pocketfuls of pamphlets—I observe that Toby does not even glance back at me—Antony moves a chair closer to me and settles in for a long chinwag. The only furniture we have in this home is some lightweight folding wooden chairs. And the only food we have is a large mesh bag of oranges. Antony is holding one. I hope that Toby remembers to bring me back a falafel or something more substantial to eat.
“What’s the story with this place?” I ask, already nervous that we’re alone.
Antony looks around as if seeing it for the first time.
“I think it belonged to an Arab family that supported the Occupation and fled as soon as the uprising started. Naturally, the Arabs looted it. Mind you, there may not have been too much to loot. The Arab way is to have beautiful carpets, and then line the walls with mattresses to sit on. In any case, it took our comrades a few days to make it back from Kut and by the time they moved in, the place was empty.”
I look down at our chairs.
“I think these chairs came from some government building, German Transport Office, or something. To be honest, it was all a muddle. The Iraqis were supposed to be independent and yet, everywhere you turned, it was the German-this or the German-that.”
“So . . . back to Canada for you two?” he asks, tilting his chair back and starting to peel his orange.
“Soon, I guess,” I say.
“So . . . what’s the deal with you two?” Antony asks. He doesn’t have to elaborate. Why is Toby with me? I can’t tell Antony the real answer. I can’t tell him that it really isn’t about me, it’s about who I am.
“We’re Socialists,” I say. “We’ve struggled together for years.”
“Yeah, but you don’t struggle,” says Antony, grinning. “You sit.”
“Yeah, there’s a lot of sitting,” I agree. But he’s right. I accompany Toby, I don’t really do anything. It’s Toby who does all the work. But I still like to think of us as Lenin and Nadya.
“Do you love him?” Antony asks. I think he’s just asking because he’s the type of person who will do anything to keep things from getting boring.
“Who doesn’t love Toby?” I say.
“Yeah,” Antony says, nodding and offering me a slice of orange. I’m sick of oranges but I take it anyway. “I can see what you mean.”
“If Communism is going to come to Canada,” I say, “It needs Toby.”
“I noticed you didn’t say, men like Toby.”
“No, it needs Toby,” I say. Of this I’m certain.
“Life has a way of throwing curve balls.”
“Baseball is a stupid sport. Too American.”
“Canadians don’t have to hate everything American, you know.”
“Toby would agree with you. He says that to hate something is to give it more power than it deserves.”
“He’s right. America is pretty self-absorbed. They insult Canada by seeing it as a source of raw materials and a market for their manufacturing.” He reaches into his leather satchel and pulls something out. He hands it to me.
“European chocolates!” I say, examining the box. “Where on earth did you get these?”
“Looting. German Jews ran a department store here. I forget what its real name was but everyone just called it Prix Fixe because they didn’t barter. Anyway, the Jews are back in Germany and all their fine china is being used in the mud hovels of the Iraqi peasants.”
I open the box and eat a slightly melted chocolate, then offer the box to Antony. He takes one. After dates and figs and apricots, it’s almost heavenly to eat a box of chocolates. I hate that Toby and I have never done anything like this—just something indulgent in the midst of the Socialist struggle.
“I don’t understand why it couldn’t work,” I say. “Why can’t a country have chocolates and dates?”
“Because they never did it like that. They always kept separate, the potatoes. Instead of drinking coffee with the Arabs in their coffeehouses, they brought their own coffee from Europe and built their own European-style cafés that they didn’t let the Arabs into. They built their own shops and boutiques instead of going into the souk. And now their shops and boutiques have all been looted and most of the goods will eventually make it to the souk anyhow.”
I picture the souk suddenly filling up with all these German imports.
“Posts and Telegraphs have fled, too,” Antony says. “It’s hilarious. Some Arab took over and is sending out all sorts of gibberish around the world—complete nonsense.” He shakes his head in amusement. I laugh.
“There’s no more Baghdad Symphony Orchestra, either. They were all German Jews. I saw an Arab walking around with a tuba today and asked him where he got it. He told me to hurry if I wanted to get an instrument. They were going fast.”
“I think the Arabs should start their own symphony,” I say.
“I think the same thing,” Antony says. “It’s stupid to think only the Europeans can do something like make acceptable music. Personally, I like Arabic music.”
“Sound like you’re going to miss it here.”
“But I’m not going back,” he says. “There’s still going to be a struggle. The Communist Party can’t just pop its head up and say, ‘here we are!’ They’re going to have to lay low and if it all doesn’t work out, they’re going have to carry on as if they’re fighting the Germans.”
“You’re good at this, aren’t you?” I say.
And then he shows me some of the stuff he’s been learning while he’s been here. He pulls a notebook out of his knapsack and we move to the floor so we can lean up against the wall. Inside the notebook are all sorts of doodles.
“These just look like flowers or vines to the European,” he explains. “The Quran forbids human representation so it’s the typical Arabic ornamentation. But the Jews and Arabs here use it to communicate with one another.”
He shows me how the Arabic lettering is embedded in a grape vine.
“That’s pretty cool,” I say. “When did the Arabs start doing this?”
“Actually, it was the Jewish Revolutionaries fighting against Rome under Bar Kochba who came up with it first,” says Antony. “Of course, they used Hebrew lettering. But we Semites have to stick together.”
He teaches me some Arabic letters. Despite his energy, he has an unhurried way about him, as if what’s he doing right now is exactly where he wants to be. And I hate the way it makes me feel—desperate for more of that kind of attention.
“You see,” he says, his hand on mine as he helps me do a particularly difficult letter. “If you don’t learn Arabic here, you’ll never make it. If you don’t learn Arabic, you’ll always be a Franjy.”
“It’s the word for all Europeans, comes from the Crusader days when most of the Crusaders were Frenchies. So France, or Frankistan, as they say, became the word for all foreign countries.”
With Antony, I actually want to learn Arabic and stay here with him in this relaxed war of his, where someone can struggle against oppression and eat chocolates at the same time.
“It’s a bit dangerous to be here, don’t you think?” I say, hoping for some kind of an assurance from Antony that the sooner I leave here, the better. I’ve never felt this kind of disloyalty to Toby and it’s ripping me up inside.
“That’s funny coming from you.”
At first, I think he’s found out who I am. But then I realize, he just means being the girlfriend of a revolutionary.
“Not if you know Baghdad, though” he says, his hand still guiding mine across the paper to spell out all sorts of words in this beautiful and bewildering script. “This whole town is full of obscure lanes and narrow passageways. The district behind Clock Square is entirely lawless, rarely patrolled. Full of wanted men, each of them perfectly willing to murder a man for turning him in.”
As if sensing that his assurance might be a little severe for me, he says, “But this is the perfect place for a European with just a bit of money. You wake up to the call of the muezzin and a breakfast of Arab bread served with fresh butter and sugared apples before heading out to a coffeehouse and a game of backgammon with the old guys who like to talk about the days when their grandfathers almost overthrew the Germans in the desert . . .”
“It sounds too easy,” I whisper. All my life, it has been about Canada and Canada’s future and my place in it. And for the first time in my life, I can picture myself somewhere else. Here.
“Some say this used to be the Garden of Eden,” says Antony. Our hands have stopped writing but his is still on mine.
I look down at our hands, hating how much his words are going straight to the loneliest part of my soul.
“Toby says the whole world was swept away by Noah’s flood,” I say.
“And you believe everything he says.” It’s more of a comment than a question. But he removes his hand from mine. The mention of Toby has brought this conversation to an end.
But as the night wears on and darkness falls on this big, abandoned home, Antony and I end up lying back and looking up at a chandelier that for some reason survived the looting and is now glittering in the candlelight. And we talk about nothing to do with Socialism and when I finally start to get tired, Antony puts his arm around me and I fall asleep with my head on his shoulder.
I will never know if Antony was just being nice or maybe, if for some impossible reason, he wanted to get a bit closer and was testing to see whether I’d stay loyal to Toby. Because Toby comes in the next morning with astounding news that changes everything.
“The Crown Prince of Canada has just announced that he’s a Socialist,” says Toby. He is holding a German language newspaper and he looks as if he is in shock. The story is on the front page.
There is disbelief all around.
I stand, grabbing the paper from Toby and start reading. The article is unbelievable.
Our anemic prince is hardly worth the attention of the world’s press. It’s rumoured that he studies drama or art or something like that in the capital’s university.
“What will happen?” asks someone. For the moment, all the recent events in Iraq are of secondary importance.
“The King will have to choose someone else to take his place,” says Toby.
“There isn’t anyone else,” I say. Since coming to Canada, the kings and queens have done a poor job of providing heirs. There are no close cousins to step in and take the Crown Prince’s place in line.
Toby glances at me.
This is so unexpected. What should we do? His eyes tell me to keep quiet. It is for the Concerned Comrades to decide.
“The Kaiser will crush Canada,” says Yusuf suddenly.
He’s right. The Kaiser will not allow a Socialist Crown Prince.
“We have to support him, then,” says Toby. The shock has passed. He is back to being himself, man of action. “We have to go home, take to the streets and show him we’ll stand behind him all the way.”
So this is it.
It’s too much all at once. My legs feel weak and I just want to curl up and die somewhere. But Toby is grabbing my hand and heading out the door, as if it’s just another challenge. As if this doesn’t change everything.
And as if hurrying at this moment will make a difference. It is not just a quick bus ride back to Canada.
Believe in Allah. Follow his direction. He will give you your leader.
The words of a Bedouin sheik in the Iraqi desert come back to me.
And now I know. Concerned Citizens or not, Toby will support the best man to bring Socialism to Canada.
avid inhaled deeply.
The inevitable telegram had arrived. Peter had been by his side while he read it in the New Buckingham Palace office that had formerly been used by King Albert.
There was no rambling in this telegram. The Kaiser brusquely assured him that he would deal with him as soon as he was done with England. Until then, he suggested that the Crown Prince occupy himself with something more fitting than politics. The Kaiser suggested fishing or sailing. Instead of the familiar “Your Uncle,” the telegram ended with his full title of Kaiser Frederick IV, King of Prussia.
“So,” David said, feeling almost euphoric. There was something so refreshing, so pure, about making the right decision and accepting any subsequent consequences. He felt no fear, only a certainty that God approved and that every promise to uphold righteousness had now descended upon Canada from the throne room in heaven itself. “That’s that,” he said to Peter. He walked across the room and put the telegram into a folder marked “Kaiser” and put the folder into the K drawer of a filing cabinet.
“Now we won’t think of it anymore,” he said turning back. “We have more important things to do.”
hree weeks later, we walk down the gangplank, back on Canadian ground.
Everywhere, we see the red flag of revolution. Evidently, they didn’t need the ones under Toby’s bed.
Newsboys are at the end of gangplanks selling newspapers to disembarking travellers eager for news. One particular boy holding up a newspaper catches my eye. The headline of The Globe says, Days of Edward Cornwall Come to Canada.
We are back in Toby’s room. The guildies are all here, crowded into his room, eager to share everything we missed.
The Crown Prince, thanks to all his drama, is a magnificent orator. The press loves him. He’s pale and thin, like the hungriest of his subjects, and talks of crushing all who oppose the sovereignty of Canada.
“But it’s all talk!” I say. “He can’t defend Canada against the Americans and the Germans!”
“But that’s the whole point,” says Toby. “He’s talking and the people are listening.”
“They can’t get enough of him,” agrees Micah. “Canada isn’t apathetic anymore. The nation was practically in ecstasy when he tore up the agreement his father made with the Kaiser. I’ve never seen anything like it. He was magnificent.”
Even I have to admit that Canada is a changed nation. It’s electric. You can feel it in the air. The Crown Prince seems to be the man the nation has longed for—lean, and intense. A Hamlet whose father is still alive. The poor love him because he talks about a redistribution of Canada’s wealth. The rich are terrified. They want to flee but know that their assets, particularly their vast land holdings, will all be seized by the crown if they do.
While all around me, there is euphoria, I feel an emotion I’ve never experienced before, a complete emptiness. There is no longer any purpose for my existence.
You see, The Globe’s headline was wrong. It should have read, the Days of Edward Cornwall are Over. It is George’s descendants who will continue to rule.
My mother and I are the only living descendants of Edward Cornwall.
When England fell to Socialism, a whole bunch of laws were passed aimed at reducing the power of the wealthy, including passing one that said a man’s eldest child was always his heir, whether it was a boy or a girl, legitimate or illegitimate. They didn’t realize it, but by doing so, they made George’s reign illegal.
Only family and closest friends knew who Edward Cornwall really was, King Edward VII’s eldest son. Although England no longer had a King at the time the law was passed, the law still stands and was accepted in Canada.
The Concerned Comrades knew that if there was ever a time when Canada teetered on the edge of embracing Socialism, they could present the one legitimate heir to the throne, the one who would uphold the legacy of Edward Cornwall.
At the end of all this, Toby was supposed to present the descendant of Edward Cornwall to Canada as their true Queen. Not that I was planning on putting on robes and diamonds and riding around in a golden carriage pulled by four white horses. It was supposed to be for the cause of Socialism. And there was always this understanding, unspoken, that Toby would be by my side, the Prince Consort of Socialism.
And I am bitter not just for myself, but for Toby as well.
This is Toby’s victory! He’s worked years for this! The only reason the Crown Prince could persuade the people so easily is because Toby, and those like him, have prepared the way.
And Toby will be left out of this new world order.
Actors, artists and authors surround the Prince. Plays, painting, and poems now all support the Prince and his gentle revolution. They’re all winning the hearts of the people. Entertainment. It’s the one thing Toby never considered. He always spoke to people’s minds, persuaded them with the righteousness of his cause. Now the artists are persuading them with emotion.
And Toby isn’t even upset. He says it’s Socialism’s moment. And it only takes a moment for everything to change.
The guildies are heading out. Everyone seems to be in the streets these days. I hang back. I just want to sleep and not wake up. Toby is right in the middle of the group but then he turns back and sees me, still on his bed.
“Catch up with you guys!” he calls out. They hardly hear him.
He comes and joins me on the bed, holding my hand. He knows. I know he does.
“Felicity, try to see it for what it is!” He squeezes my hand. “It’s come upon us! Everything we dreamed of!”
My dreams were a bit different.
“It’s not his rightful throne,” I say, knowing how I must sound to Toby.
“It’s a non-issue at this point,” says Toby. “The King has abdicated in favour of the Crown Prince and the Crown Prince is renouncing his position. He’ll be the first Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Canada.”
“How did that come about?” I demand. “The Socialist Republic of Canada? Did anyone vote on it?”
Toby smiles. “He announced it and everyone’s going along with it.”
“Then he’s still talking like a king’s son!”
“You see the irony. I see the irony. But it’s happening! That’s the important thing! Don’t you see, Felicity?” He stands up.
I do, but I don’t want to admit it and Toby is forced to sit down again.
“But why? Why should you stand by the great poet Prince?”
“Because the Party stands behind him,” says Toby simply.
“You are the Party,” I say.
Toby shakes his head.
“The Party exists to serve the people. Personal ambition has no place in it. Power corrupts the ideals of Socialism. That was the lesson of Russia. We built in safeguards to keep anyone from doing anything but serve the Party. I modeled it after the teachings of Jesus. The greatest among you must be the greatest servant,” he says.
I shake my head in disgust.
Toby moves closer, putting his arm around me.
“Besides, the Crown Prince has the support of the Army generals. They never wanted to fight for the Kaiser and they didn’t want to participate in an invasion against England.” He squeezes my hand again. “That’s always been a weakness. I didn’t want to discourage people, but I knew a revolution could never take place without the support of the army.”
I nod. It’s all old news to me. Just like in Iraq, the Russian Revolution didn’t occur until the army sided with the proletariat. The police of St. Petersburg were sent out to put down the hungry, cold rioting workers. The army, in one of those moments of history, took sides with the people and rather than join the police in firing on the strikers, fired on the police instead. History now remembers it as the February Revolution.
“You have to be a part of it.” Toby stands and pulls me up. “It’s one of those things that only happens once a century, if that. Everyone is out there.” He practically drags me outside into the bright autumn afternoon.
He’s right. These days, the streets of Toronto are filled with people. The cars and the streetcars have just come to a standstill in the middle of it all. I’ve never seen anything like it, not even in Iraq. It’s not just the poor. Workers from every industry are marching under guild banners. Peasant farmers have arrived in the city to carry placards and let the new regime know how it can serve them. And mixing with them all are students, junior clerks, women pushing prams . . .
“They’ve become political,” says Toby to me. He’s surveying the whole scene with a beaming smile. “They’ve finally gotten out of the rut of just surviving and now they realize they can make demands. They can change things. C’mon! Let’s walk!”
We join the crowds—Toby, who could have changed the world, and me, descendant of a great man. Now we’re just citizens along with everyone else. If Toby’s dreams come true, we’ll soon live in a country without privilege and everyone will be comrades.
“And if the Americans invade?” I look up at him. “What then?”
“Presuming they win?” He looks down at me.
“Of course presuming they win!”
“Then we start over,” he says, unperturbed. “We plan, organize and work for revolution. No matter how long it takes. Russia had to do it in 1905. We’ll keep fighting against any system that is an impediment to Socialism.”
That’s Toby. I doubt the Drama Prince is a true Revolutionary. While the Prince holds onto power, Toby will continue to move every boulder from his path and the Prince may never know about this knight who cleared the way for him.
Toby pulls me close and grins. Like this is our victory. But it isn’t.
Some cheerful blokes are knocking over a yellow German-style telephone booth. I mean, I’ve never liked the Germanization of our culture—hated it, in fact. But those lads now standing on the toppled telephone booth are not a part of us. They’re just ordinary Canadians on a holiday from being law-abiding and well behaved. It’s not political . . .
And yet, Toby says everything is political.
I glance up at him. We’re still holding hands. For now. But I think we were just political too.
Five years later
he Second Great War, as it was being called now, was drawing to a close.
Frederick ran a weary hand across his forward. He was alone in the ballroom of Stadtschloss. It had long since been converted into a War Room with a gallery of maps and an enormous table in the centre where war strategies had been planned out, often using the toy soldiers of the young princes.
His people had never seen him like this, broken, uncertain. From what his generals told him, out in the streets of Berlin, his people were in the middle of a civil war—republicans versus monarchists. And it was a similar story in all the other German cities. The republican elements were calling for his abdication. After four years of war, they were sick of suffering deprivation.
His initial conquests had been successful. His forces had moved through France like a greyhound across a field.
The English coast had fallen to the German Imperial Navy, and for over a year, the Germans had held Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Eastbourne, Hastings, Dover, Margate and Southend-on-Sea.
North Africa had fallen with a satisfying thud, adding to the Kaiser’s holdings in the Dark Continent.
But in the second year of occupation, the British had retaliated with a vicious brutality that had taken the occupiers by surprise, the Germans having been lulled into a sense of security by the seemingly docile residents of the coastal towns. It had been a ruse. Their rage was unleashed against their occupiers as soon as the Industrial North had organized and arisen with iron in their hands and fire in their bellies. One German private who had survived the retaliation said it was like the rebirth of the ancient Celts.
At first, North America had stayed out of the war, although there had been incidents. The Atlantic Ocean had become a pond for the Imperial German Navy and although the Canadian Navy had never moved beyond her territorial waters, she had had some occasional skirmishes when German U-boats came too close.
But Canada might not have been able to remain neutral if the Admiral of the Kaiser’s fleet hadn’t gotten arrogant. The Americans didn’t appreciate German dominance in the Atlantic and had begun to patrol waters far beyond her territorial limits. The Admiral had given the order to fire on any ship that threatened the Imperial Navy. The Americans had responded in kind and had even mobilized their standing army to assist the English, even though they detested their Socialist cousins.
But the Kaiser’s real downfall had been Russia. Moscow and Leningrad had beckoned to him, like they had to all European rulers looking for more living space, and his Eastern Army had been ordered into the territory of the great slumbering bear. It was a gamble that the Kaiser expected to win. The Russians had been keeping a wary eye on events in Europe with typical Slavic indifference.
When things turned against him in England, the Kaiser knew he needed a victory for the sake of German morale.
Initially, he had kept his eastern border deliberately immobilized to throw off the Russians, hoping to catch them unawares at some point. With his troops fleeing England by any boat—small or big—that was available, the Kaiser had taken his remaining forces and practically hurled them toward Russia.
The army had marched in spring, hoping to win an easy victory before winter set in.
They hadn’t and it did.
Now there was nothing left. And today, mothers were standing outside of Stadtschloss holding up hungry children and demanding that he do something about it.
For one moment, the Kaiser thought about Nicholas II, last Tsar of Russia, who had allowed his Imperial guards to fire upon the same sort of people when they had marched on the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg back in 1905. For a fraction of a moment, the Kaiser was tempted to do the same.
And then he thought of his young cousin in Canada, an insignificant nation of some thirty million souls, who were not marching on New Buckingham Palace, but were instead, still in their first love for their Socialist King. Even the ex-King Albert had received a measure of public affection for his unrelenting goal of bringing a kitchen garden to every Canadian’s backyard.
And the Kaiser still owned a hunting lodge in Canada, although, it had been years since he had visited it. In fact, he had only visited it once, but it was still there, in the wilderness, waiting . . . Maybe he could abdicate, leave the throne to his son, Wilhelm, and start a new life in Canada . . .
But there was no chance that they would accept his son in his place. The Crown Prince of Germany had been given several regiments to lead and in every campaign he had engaged in, his losses had been greater than his gains. One person said you would rather be in the French army than be in the Crown Prince’s regiment.
And the truth was, living under King David would be insufferable. He was so loved by his people that they had refused to allow him to abdicate. His lack of progeny suggested that the royal family would not continue past him, but for now, he was as much their hero as the King David of old. And when the war had started, the German Kaiser had sent a telegram to his young cousin announcing that he expected Canadian naval support in his battle to regain supremacy for the monarchs of the world. The little twerp had sent back a message, a single scripture from the Proverbs of Solomon that read, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with Yahweh.”
At the time, it had been ambiguous. Which side did David think Yahweh would grant victory to?
But now it was clear. Even then, David had not believed that having the most magnificent navy and land army in the entire world was enough.
No, the Kaiser would not suffer the humiliation of an exile in Canada.
His greatest grief in this whole war had been the effect that it had had on Effie. The nation loved her all the more for being the nation’s Mother in its time of grief. On many occasions, she had worked eighteen-hour days visiting wounded soldiers and organizing drives to collect comforts for the troops. In any spare time she had, she was knitting socks for the troops or blankets for needy widows.
But now the war had drained her and she was a grey-haired woman. She, too, had paid the ultimate price. Not in the sacrifice of their sons, thank God, because the five younger ones weren’t old enough to command a battalion, but in her own health. The Kaiserin had exerted herself to such an extent that she had suffered a minor heart attack and the court physician had assured the Kaiser that the next one would not be minor.
The thought of losing Effie was almost as bad as the thought of losing Germany. Maybe worse. Not because she inspired him or caused his feelings to soar, but because, she believed in him, believed in them, and never questioned their God-given right to rule.
By contrast, Canada’s Queen Donna had abandoned her adopted country as soon as her husband had abdicated his throne. Donna was now married to a film producer in California who had built her a brand new limestone palace in the foothills of Los Angeles. At least she didn’t have to share it with the Socialist rabble. New Buckingham Palace had been converted into an apartment for homeless families. David and his father remained there in one of the apartments. A contemptuous family. For one moment, the Kaiser had the satisfaction of having taken the moral high ground. And then he came back down to the reality of his current situation and an awareness of distant voices—shouts coming from right outside of Statschloss.
His beloved Admiral had suffered a heart attack in the first months of the war and now his current Admiral of the German Imperial Navy came into the enormous, echoing room, hurrying with news. He wasn’t a bad sort, but the Kaiser found he couldn’t talk to his army or navy anymore. Early on in the war, they had taken charge, treating him as a figurehead rather than a true leader. It had been a mutiny of sorts that the Kaiser had been helpless to oppose. He had found himself quite alone in the war and that was one of the many reasons why Effie’s poor health was so alarming. She had become the only person who had truly remained his. Even his sons were more likely to quote a general these days than to listen to him.
“Sir, it is imperative that you leave right now,” said the Admiral. No deference, the Kaiser noted. “The palace is in danger of being stormed and unless you want them rioting in the corridors we must take you from here immediately.”
“But the Kaiserin is visiting a hospital . . .” For one weary moment, Frederick couldn’t remember the name of Berlin’s biggest hospital.
“The Kaiserin is not in danger,” said his Admiral, already turning, with the expectation that Frederick would follow. “A car has been arranged for you and right now, the only country willing to host you is Holland. Please follow me, sir,” he said, glancing back slightly to observe that the Kaiser hadn’t moved.
“I most certainly will not abdicate,” said Frederick, while at the same time, knowing deep in his being, he would. He was neither loved, respected nor feared. He had lost his people.
His Admiral knew it too.
“Please, sir,” he said. “We can have you at the border by nightfall, but you have to leave right now.”
Somewhere, Frederick heard the sound of breaking glass.
“Leave without Effie?” he said, following the man.
“The Kaiserin is in no danger,” the man repeated.
The Kaiser understood. The people still loved Effie. She would not be blamed for this war.
“All safe,” the man said, hurrying as the sound of breaking glass intensified.
The Admiral could have been lying just to get the Kaiser out of Stadtschloss. It didn’t matter at this point. For once in his life, he was in the hands of other people, being ordered rather than giving the orders.
They exited through a servant’s entrance and Frederick noted that the white car he was climbing into had had the Hohenzollern emblem scrapped off of it, leaving an abrasive-looking patch of exposed metal.
No luggage. No entourage.
Even the Admiral who had accompanied him to this point wasn’t joining him, but was already turning back into the palace.
He had a driver and his personal secretary.
“Effie?” he said, once again.
“She is fine,” said his personal secretary, who had been with him for twenty years and could be trusted. “She will be safe. Your personal guard will repel the intruders and she will return here. She can pack your belongings.”
Pack your belongings. As if they were just an ordinary German couple who could fit a lifetime into two suitcases. Frederick had accumulated thousands of lifetimes in Stadtschloss. Would Effie even know what to pack and what to leave to the looters?
No, not the looters. The Germans were good people. To the museum. To the museum that would be established once he and his family had vacated the palace. He hated the thought, but he could see it already. Stadtschloss would be the museum dedicated to the memory of the Hohenzollern dynasty. Troops of young students would pass through and look in his family’s private rooms and listen to the tour guide who would somehow manage to make it all seem dull and insignificant.
Grey-haired gentlewomen would pass through and say, “I remember the days when the Kaiser ruled Germany. . .” before returning to the tearoom and a plate of apple strudel.
The car was already pulling away. There was time for one last look and then the Kaiser had to duck his head not to be seen by the hordes. His face was in his hands. It was over. He left Stadtschloss to the school children and the old ladies.
Other novels by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
The Society for the Betterment of Mankind
Revolution in C Minor
Somewhere between Longview and Miami
Last king of Damascus
The Unlikely Association of Meg and Harry
Death Among the Dinosaurs
A Good Man
Among the Sons of Seth
Sami’s Special Blend
Spying on Gran
The Kent family adventures
The Treasure of Tadmor
The Strange sketch of Sutton
The Hunt for the cave of Moravia
The Search for the sword of Goliath
The Buried gold of Shechem
The Cache of Baghdad
The Walls of Jerusalem
The Missionary’s Diary
Non-fiction by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
Some of my Best Friends are Going to Hell
(And it makes me Weep)