Es Geloybte Aretz - a Finished Germanwank

The timeline is now finished, and can be posted here in a retconned, story-only format.

Departure: Vierkaiserjahr

Potsdam, November 1888

A dreadfully apprehensive quiet had settled over the room, only occasionally broken by the rustle of cloth and the creak of furniture as the assembled courtiers fidgeted nervously. There was nothing that could be done now, of course. The Chancellor was said to be already on his way. His Highness Crown Prince Wilhelm sat in the lap of his nurse, his wide eyes wet with unshed tears as he stifled a quiet sob. Here and there, a glass clinked. Courage was where you found it, faith, pride or a bottle. One of the guards officers present caught his sabre on a side table, causing a vase to wobble dangerously. Nobody laughed or even commented as the luckless lieutenant scrambled to avert disaster. A valet shuffled forward to wordlessly remove the endangered object.

Footsteps in the corridor announced the arrival of the Chancellor, Otto Prince Bismarck. He entered with uncharacteristic quiet, a broad-shouldered, heavy-set man still physically impressive despite his advanced years. His face was ashen, the lively, deep-set eyes nervously darted around the room. They met the gaze of Empress Victoria and he quickly, almost perfunctorily bowed before sitting down across the table. A secretary entered, wordlessly placed a heavy bundle of papers before him, and departed again. Rain began to fall, heavy drops irregularly tapping the windowpanes.

Then, the door opened. A valet entered, hastily bowing to her Majesty before placing a small platter with a slip of paper before her. His voice nearly failed as he whispered, “Your Majesty, it is... from the Professor ... “ Victoria bit her lower lip as she stiffly picked up the notice, blanched, and handed it to Bismarck. She dabbed at her eyes with a silk handkerchief, averting her eyes. The Chancellor rose with uncharacteristic slowness, bowed his head and turned to the infant Crown Prince. “Gentlemen, by God's ineffable will, the Emperor has been taken from us. Long live Emperor Wilhelm III.” Comprehension flashed across the face of the new Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia, and he wailed with helpless tears of rage and despair.

The accidental death of Wilhelm II just months after his accession to the throne created a serious crisis for the young German Empire. Prussia had not faced the prospect of a regency in centuries, and the suggestion of transferring the crown directly to Prince Albert Wilhelm Heinrich was nervously voiced in some quarters. In the end, though, the influence of Bismarck and Empress Victoria prevailed, and while Albert was made Prince Regent, the infant Wilhelm III was crowned emperor.

Prince Albert quickly proved himself a capable and level-headed administrator despite his youth, though he naturally depended on advice from his chancellor and mother to a large degree. Under the tutelage of Bismarck, his political skills grew quickly. As he wrote himself in his diary:

The task that providence has placed upon me is almost too great for a mere man to contemplate, yet I am, resolved to fulfil it to the best of my abilities. I am but grateful that the cup of emperorship has passed from me. My nephew, poor little Wilhelm, will find the burden heavy on his shoulders once he understands its full scope. To me, the task has fallen to preserve his inheritance and to make the people of Prussia and of all Germany as happy, as safe, as mighty and prosperous as I know how. His will be the burden of turning the tools I shall one day place in his hands to good use. Professor Rankes Twelve Books are an invaluable support when my will falters. I will gladly be the Friedrich Wilhelm to his Frederick the Great.

(entry for 14 January 1889)
1889 – 1905 Praeludium

Breslau, autumn 1889

Ludwig Kolaski was not a happy man. It had not been his fate to be happy, born as he was to a proletarian family and raised in the poverty of Breslau's working class neighbourhoods, and his comforts were fewer than most men's. His wage, even as a skilled machinist, did not allow him to overindulge in food or the cheap rotgut potato spirit that the Junkers churned out to keep their subjects complacent, he had found no happiness in his marriage, and as to the opiate of the masses, religion did nothing for him. The sparse, cold satisfaction of standing on the right side of history helped surprisingly little when the realisation came that you might be among its countless victims. Ludwig had not agitated for a strike, but he had willingly accepted when others did so, knowing what this might mean. The Social Democratic Party might provide for his wife and son if he died or went to prison, but that did little to make the prospect more appealing. It had now been fourteen days of flying the red flag, and the town was abuzz with rumour. The police were being reinforced. Bismarck was calling for the army to break the strikers. Cavalry was assembling in Bavaria, not Prussians, not workers, South German men from farming stock who would gleefully sabre their old enemies. He was ready for a fight, if it came to that, but a length of iron piping and a monkey wrench were a poor armament to counter the blade and carbine of a dragoon.

A breath of fresh, cool air wafted into the smoke-filled room as Klaus ran in, stumbling over the threshold. The strike committee had decided that the youth should not be part of the group that blockaded the factory, but he came by regularly with bread or soup, schnaps or papers. His boyish enthusiasm was downright dangerous. Now, he was waving a fresh copy of the Vossische Zeitung. “No soldiers!” he shouted out, “They're not sending in troops. The Prince Regent has declared for us!”

A roar of approval rose from the assembled workers. The paper was torn from young Klaus's hands and a cup of steaming coffee, liberally spiked with schnaps, replaced it. When the article was read out, Ludwig noticed with wry detachment that poor Klaus had definitely gotten carried away. Albert might well have spoken of the pitiful state of the workers and justified grievances, but that was pure rhetoric. It was only natural - he had to side with the Junkers and bourgeois. But the hard fact was that the army would not be called to intervene. The factory owners of Breslau would have to deal with the situation as best they could. Maybe there was hope for this one? And Bismarck would be furious! Ludwig quietly chuckled. That alone might be worth whatever they still had to take from the police and courts. Bismarck's unrelenting policy could crack.

St Petersburg, January 1890

They were all there. Tsar Alexander III, resplendent in his gold-embroidered uniform, orders and medals shining with diamonds, stood in the centre of the group, his massive balding head towering over the legendary pair of shoulders that had help up the collapsing roof of a railcar. To his right, in plain civilian black, stood Nikolay Girs, the foreign minister, and Ivan Durnovo, minister for the interior. On his left, Nikolay Bunge, the formidable chairman of the council of ministers, and Grand prince Nikolay Nikolaevich. Nobody did glamorous receptions like the Russian court. Prince Bismarck himself was not present, and he, despite his age, would have been the only man in the German delegation to rival the sheer physical impressiveness of the Russian emperor. Prince Regent Albert, dressed for the occasion in his favourite naval uniform, seemed small and insignificant by comparison, his youth starkly underlined by the magnificent beards the Russians sported. Observers had noted that he appeared to be reporting to his ruler than meeting an equal. The Berlin style clashed with St Petersburg's opulence.

Nonetheless, among those in the know it was clear that Albert had the upper hand in this encounter. He, or, as most diplomats would tell you in confidence, his Chancellor had negotiated hard to arrive at the new treaty, and while his visit officially was merely social, the fact that a new agreement would be reached was discussed in London clubs and Paris salons. Germany's neutrality in the drive to the Straits came at a price. It was whispered in Berlin that the Empress Mother, Victoria, had strongly opposed the agreement, and that Albert himself found the thought of dealing with Alexander III distasteful, but had agreed out of deference to Bismarck. If that was the case, he certainly played his role well. He had seemed nothing but delighted to meet his Russian relatives and came to this meeting of state – the only overtly political occasion of his entire visit – with a light step and his head held high. Punch had already used the image of the youthful, plainly dressed and quietly spoken German as a powerful contrast to the bearlike – and widely detested – Russian ruler. The new cartoon was awaited eagerly at Friedrichshof.

Sanssouci, 9 June 1891

A gentle breeze wafted across the garden through the open windows, softly rippling the drapes. The Kaiserin Friedrich, as she was known, Viktoria had excellent taste in furniture and the money to make her visions come true. Seated at the elegant Louis Quinze table – this a piece of the original furniture bought by Frederick the Great – she delicately lifted a cup of tea to her lips. It was, after all, five o'clock, and her son made a point of visiting frequently at this hour. She always had tea and cakes ready, and he always shared a cup. He did not really like it but thought she did not know, so he always drank some and she never let him know she knew. Sometimes, she thought, the world was strange like that. Prince Regent Albert sat across the table methodically dissecting a jam-filled pastry. It was the kind of thing she enjoyed, a taste of her English childhood, but it was also, quite simply, good. As always, mother and son were alone together, talking.

“The vote is final, then?” she asked, knowing the answer, but longing to hear it confirmed.

“Yes,” Albert answered after swallowing the last mouthful, “Bismarck has lost his majority on this issue. The Socialist Laws will not be extended. Of course this is not over yet. I will have to tell him that I will allow this to pass, though. It just would not do.”

“What is he planning? Surely, this must be quite a blow. Do you think he might resign?”

“No, certainly not. We've spoken about it. He actually is not very invested in the Socialist Laws. He wanted to repeal them himself – give the Reds enough rope to hang themselves, he thought. It's the loss of his majority that gnaws at him.”

Albert took a sip of tea and helped himself to a second pastry. “We don't get them this good in the navy. Anyways, I think he is still going to fulminate at the Reichstag a bit, but the issue itself is not important enough. He talked about taking a longer holiday, too.”

“Canossa is nice at this time of the year.”

Albert looked up. Not a muscle had moved on his mother's face. Both broke into undignified giggles.

Berlin, 26 January 1892, Vossische Zeitung

Bismarck Retires

The Court of His Imperial and Royal Majesty Wilhelm III has announced today that Reichskanzler Fürst Otto von Bismarck has tendered his resignation to his Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Regent Albert. The Chancellor's long years of loyal and tireless service have thus come to an end. His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Regent Albert will officially release His Grace Prince Bismarck from his post on 30 January. The princes of the Empire have been invited to grace the occasion with their presence. His Grace Otto von Bismarck, who served the Kings of Prussia loyally and excellently from the turbulent days of the revolt to the glorious founding of the Empire, is retiring on grounds of age and ill health. He has refused a position at court and intends to leave Berlin for his estate at Sachsenwald.

The reasons behind Bismarck's retirement are still a matter of dispute. It is an open secret that the aging and increasingly cantankerous politician found it impossible to dominate Prince Regent Albert to the extent he had hoped, and especially resented the influence that Empress Mother Viktoria had over her son. Nonetheless, Albert admired the man and was more than willing to allow him to continue in office. The best explanation is that two years of governing without a solid majority, with defeats on hotly contested issues, simply took too great a toll on the Prince's already weakening constitution. The occasion was magnificent, with orations of gratitude by all present, and even King Otto of Bavaria, who had no reason to love the Iron Chancellor, found eloquent words of praise. The ageing Bismarck rode an open carriage to the railway station through streets lined with jubilant well-wishers and found his journey interrupted by the tributes of a grateful populace at every stop. Even the Punch, not a friend of Bismarck's policies in the past, published a sympathetic cartoon that was to become a classic. “Dropping the Pilot” shows the prince, unmistakable in his heavy moustache and boots, standing by the ladder ready to descend to the waiting boat. Shaking hands with him is the captain, recognisably the likeness of Prince Regent Albert with his trademark navy uniform and seaman's hat. On the horizon, a sunrise beckons better times ahead.
28 September 1893, Paris

It is now certain that the government of the Republic depends on the grudging toleration of a handful of Socialist firebrands. How long it will be able to last in this unhappy state remains to be seen. Yet even the most hostile observer will have to admit that the most organised, most disciplined and most successful force in the National Assembly is not the mauled majority, but the rising Boulangiste Ligue. Its powerful organisational structure, rooted in local committees and subject to the control of a national headquarters, ensures not only that its delegates enjoy the support of a formidable, well-funded and unified machinery of newspapers, travelling speakers and festive events, but also that, once elected, they can be trusted to vote along the lines decided within the Ligue’s leadership committee.

That such an organisation should be devoted to so puerile, so reactionary and obscurantist a belief is an irony that only Clio herself will fully appreciate. To yoke together through sheer force of personality the divergent and competing threads of the right, from legitimist to dictatorial, under the pretence of saving France is a feat worthy of a greater cause than the perpetual yelping of “Jew, Jew, Jew!” that fills the pages of the Libre Parole and its ilk. It remains only to be hoped that the people of France – the people that gave the world Voltaire, the Encyclopédie and the Rights of Men – will soon tire of such transparent nonsense.

(Georges Clemenceau in L’Intransigeant)

23 May 1895, Friedrichsruh

The headlines blared the debacle. “Russia Breaches Treaty!”, “Russia Seizes Chinese Land!” “Russian Annexation! Prince Regent Embarrassed!”. The Berliner Illustrierte even had a picture of Russian soldiers hoisting the flag over what they called Port Arthur. The Hamburgischer Correspondent was slightly more useful and less sensationalist. For one thing, their writers knew where Liaodong peninsula was. They even had a good understanding of Chinese affairs – in fact, though Bismarck would never have admitted as much, he learned a fair bit about the situation on the ground from them. In Berlin, of course, the fate of Chinese inhabitants of Liaodong peninsula mattered very little compared to the diplomatic embarrassment the act had inflicted in the foolish Prince Regent and his snivelling upstart chancellor Caprivi. When the Czar Nicholas had called on his support to prevent the Japanese from encroaching on the borders of his maritime province, Albert had hesitated at first. Both France and Britain had voiced reservations about the move, and he himself saw no reason to spend political capital on a part of the globe he was not invested in. However, when the British signalled that they were not going to block the move, the German government had decided to go support Russia in its intervention. As a result, Liaodong was to remain Chinese, and Japan receive an even heavier financial indemnity from defeated China. All had gone smoothly, the treaty had been signed and sealed, and then the Russians had walked all over it and seized Liaodong for themselves. Bismarck could only guess how badly this embarrassed Emperor Meiji, but he had a very keen understanding of how acutely it was felt in Potsdam. He relished the discomfort of his enemies, certainly of his successor Caprivi, and lately he had begun to even count the Prince Regent among them. In this case – he wondered. Would studied silence leave a better impression, or should he write a letter to the editor? He sensed that Caprivi was wounded, and the publisher of his memoirs had assured the Prince that the coup de grace would be administered soon. Still, better to be thorough. He rose from his armchair and called for stationery and a sandwich.

The Russian seizure of Liaodong against jointly voiced guarantees that it would remain Chinese, and thus open to Western influence and trade, greatly embarrassed Prince Regent Albert who had assumed a higher profile in the joint intervention than his cautious foreign policy usually allowed. Though Germany would join the undignified scramble for Chinese territory to secure its own treaty port in Kiaochow, the perfidy of the move rankled with the Berlin establishment and is often quoted by historians as the beginning of the political rift between Germany and Russia. Though an apology was, of course, unthinkable, a visit by several members of German royal families to Japan in 1897 was widely considered as a conciliatory gesture. Relations with Japan greatly improved as a result, and the German policy of supporting Japanese ambitions would pay handsome dividends soon.

23 June 1895 – Opening of the Kiel Canal.

It was a grand occasion, festive, summery and suitably patriotic. Young Wilhelm III was present in his sailor's suit, awkwardly surrounded by tutors and minders whose strict looks and sometimes harsh admonitions were strongly at odds with the fact that technically, their charge was also their divinely appointed ruler. His mother and Albert both insisted on a thorough education and frowned on coddling the boy. Some Social Democrat papers would dare comment on his schoolboy shyness and awkward demeanour as he laid the final stone of the grand project, but on the whole, coverage was favourable. The German press mawkishly adored their sad-eyed little emperor.

Of course, everything that mattered was said and done, again, by the Prince Regent. Albert had matured beyond everyone's expectations, a gifted politician and abler orator in his severe, modest style. His speech on the opening of the canal that linked Kiel and the Elbe was a masterpiece of polished rhetoric, invoking the spirit of German engineering, the march of progress, flourishing commerce, the strength of the realm and the desire to live peacefully with its neighbours. Of course he had not written it alone, but the spirit, everyone agreed, was his. More Great Elector than Frederick II, some conservative commentators quietly deplored, but widely admired. Albert was an easier man to admire than love.

At the end of the festivities, towards evening, when the Emperor had been packed off to bed and the crowned heads of the empire began drifting towards dinner, the Prince Regent took the opportunity to quietly accost Sir Edward Malet, the British ambassador. “Sir,” he said, in the interestingly accented but fluent English his mother had insisted he be taught, “I realise this is but a poor copy of Suez, but imitation, in the words of the Bard, being the sincerest form of flattery: what do you think of it?”

Malet surveyed the scene pensively for a moment, making sure no unwanted listeners were within earshot. “It is a beautiful piece of work,” he then said, “and one supremely suited to benefit commerce between our countries. And it remains the sincere wish of Her Majesty's government that it be a monument to the continued peace between them. It is admirably placed strategically, though, is it not?”

“Of course it is. Sir Edward, we must think of our defence. But my assurances stand. I seek only peace with Britain. Anything else would break my grandmother's heart.”

Sir Edward smiled.

Berlin, 17 November 1895

The book resting on the desk felt even heavier than its considerable heft suggested. Chancellor Caprivi had brought a copy to the meeting for emphasis, though both men had read it already. Bismarck's political memoirs had exploded into Berlin politics like so much dynamite. The chancellor, of course, had been the prime target of his predecessor's ire, but there was plenty said about others, including Empress Mother Victoria and the Prince Regent, that set tongues wagging. Caprivi had rarely seen Albert so furious.

“A timid schoolboy afraid of the whip...” he quoted a choice piece, allegedly written by Alexander III in a letter. Surely, nobody but Bismarck would have dared to write such things. Nobody but him could have hoped to get away with it. Perversely, during his own tenure, anyone publishing these things would have been prosecuted, jailed, and sued into destitution. Times had changed. Social Democratic papers today routinely printed things that bordered on libel, and the prosecution service mostly passed it over. You couldn't crucify seditious writers any longer like you could in the old days. And you certainly could not make an example of Prince Bismarck.

“It might be possible to do something.” Caprivi tentatively suggested. “Some of the documents he refers to are technically government property. We cannot prosecute him for libel, and the censorship laws do not apply, but if we could get him for betraying secrets...”

“...we would have to execute him.” Albert finished the sentence. “I will not be party to that. Even if it were feasible, I will not attack Bismarck. Good Lord, we owe this man so much, why did he have to go and do THAT to us?”

Gratitude had a breaking point. Albert's was strong, but brittle. “We can go after the publisher. And it would be possible to have libel suits brought by – other parties.”, Caprivi suggested.

“Other parties – who? Who would let his name be dragged through the mud like that?”

“Your Highness, if it has never surprised you that loyal men will readily die for their king, why would it surprise you that some will suffer dishonour? A few can be found, retired officials most likely, or diplomats from other states. There are more men in your realm that hate Bismarck than you may think. And I think Czar Nicholas might also be willing to help.”

Albert began to look interested. “How would he do that? Surely the Russian state will not sue for libel?”

“Not itself. But they can certainly find some official who will. And of course, we can ensure that the loyal press covers this impartially. The former Chancellor has left me a rather impressive apparatus to that end, actually.” Caprivi smiled. Bismarck's slush funds, tame hacks and crooked deals were legendary, and the framework still existed. The Prince had been honest enough to design them to be run from the Chancellor's office, not through his person.

“I still hate to hurt him. But we cannot allow this to continue. Do it.”

The intrigues that followed Bismarck's indiscretion destroyed the reputation of the Cottasche Verlagsbuchhandlung and almost wrecked the finances of its owner, Adolf Kröner. Though Bismarck himself remained untouchable – and continued to publish damaging material – the drawn-out court battles and negative press coverage increasingly made him a marginal figure. The Vossische Zeitung compared him to a ghost of times past impotently haunting a castle that his descendants had long ago rebuilt. The Times used the rather striking image of the “madman in the attic” in an oblique reference to Jane Eyre.

Perhaps the most important outcome, though, was the near self-destruction of the parliamentary Conservatives as they fragmented into a pro-Bismarck and a pro-Albert faction. It did little harm to their election prospects – the Prussian voting system and rural districts saw to that - but it all but paralysed the efforts of the party at imposing parliamentary discipline and pursuing a unified agenda in the years between 1895 and 1898. The crowning irony saw archconservative Junker delegates defend the principle of press freedom alongside Social Democratic firebrands as Caprivi's minions destroyed Bismarck's publisher.

Potsdam, 14 February 1896

“I understand your intentions, Your Highness,” Admiral von Tirpitz pointed out, visibly straining to maintain an even tone. Emotions had run high in the days prior to the final meeting, and finding himself on the losing side had proved too much for the celebrated officer. Under normal circumstances, the ingrained habit of deference would have asserted themselves much earlier. “I understand your intentions, but surely you must see that we are abdicating from any ambition to be a true power without even having tried! Surrounded by foes on all sides, we must rely on the arms of our fleet as much as our army to safeguard our realm and assert our might. Anything less would betray the trust of our Emperor. He must be given the tools for greatness, or Germany will fade into insignificance come the twentieth century.”

Sensing he had gone too far, Tirpitz stopped abruptly. His oration had been effective – that much was clear from the faces of the men around the table. Caprivi seemed almost amused, Adolf von Bieberstein, the foreign minister, more shocked. The Prince Regent silently looked out of the window for a disconcertingly long time. When he turned to face his critic, his face was unmoved and his voice level. Those acquainted with his ways understood the habit of hiding his anger, but it sometimes gave the untutored a nasty shock.

“Admiral, you may understand my intentions, but I doubt you understand the realities. I have been accused of neglecting, of starving and disrespecting my fleet.“ Albert, as Prince Regent, was scrupulously careful to speak of the army, the government and the treasury, but it was always his fleet. “Mostly, it seems, by those who have read one book. Admiral, that book is wrong. I could spend much time on explaining why it is, but I doubt it would have much of an effect. I love my fleet, Admiral, and because I love it, I will not see it abused or destroyed. You yourself have said it, we are surrounded by foes and must be ready to defend ourselves from the East and West. I will not ever allow our strength to be weakened by giving in to ill-considered demands to invest ourselves in things we do not need and cannot hold. Germany's might and freedom is not defended in the Indian Ocean. If you cannot live with this, you are at liberty to resign your commission. I will wish you every good fortune in civilian life.”

Momentary silence prevailed until the Prince Regent, who was not a cruel man, added, “I am sure you have duties to attend to, Admiral. Let us not keep you.”

The crispness of Tirpitz' parting salute did his sense of dignity credit.

“Your Highness,” Caprivi asked quietly, “was that wise?”

“Oh, don't tell me you haven't wanted to do that for a long time.” Albert retorted. “I am so completely fed up with the windbags I have to deal with these days. The Socialists with their wage schemes, Bismarck's tame conservatives, the Centrum's ridiculous cant and the National Liberals with their colonies and their thrice-damned NAVY! What am I Prince Regent for if I cannot reign sometimes?”

“I don't think you can go on making enemies at this rate, Sire.” the Chancellor pointed out mildly. “I suspect you may be rivalling me for the least liked man in Germany already.”

Albert nodded, returning to his usual sombre mood. “We have already talked about that. I may not be able to support you if we do this. My grandfather did it for Bismarck, but...”

“...we don't want the bad old times back.” Caprivi finished, a bit harsher than the Prince Regent had intended to. Sometimes he and Albert had wondered privately whether the Bismarck the Conservatives extolled in the Reichstag was the same man they had known. “And, your Highness, I am not sure I would want to stay on, even if you could. The Reichstag is a madhouse these days. Without a parliamentary majority, I cannot govern. You will have to call on the Conservatives. Anyway, the rest will do me good.”

Albert's gaze warmed. “Do not leave me entirely, Leo. I will need wise men around me.”

“Fear not. I will always be there if I am needed. And until then, I will stay in Berlin. They cannot yet take my seat from me.”

As Caprivi foresaw, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1896 destroyed his government. He resigned as Chancellor and Minister President of Prussia on 24 April and was replaced by Botho zu Eulenburg, a pro-Bismarck Conservative. The Eulenburg administration would prove brief and luckless, lacking both a stable parliamentary majority and the trust of the Prince regent, but it produced a number of important laws strengthening the hand of the Reichstag against the royal government in efforts to ram through colonial appropriations, agricultural duties and the third attempt at school reform. Meanwhile, the treaty signed on 14 February in Sanssouci proved a diplomatic masterstroke, crafted largely by Caprivi, but later credited to Albert himself. While it placed few constraints on Britain's independence of action – there had been no intention to go to war with Germany in London - its secret corollary offered the Admiralty the best guarantee they could hope for against German efforts to challenge their dominance of the seas. The German navy would remain a defensive force designed to battle Russia's Baltic fleet and thwart a French blockade in the event of a continental war. At the same time, the agreement on the use of territorial waters – strongly supported by the same National Liberals who fiercely opposed ending naval ambitions – offered Britain the promise of friendly trading ports in Europe in the event of a war with France while guaranteeing German shipping passage of the Channel in the same case.

Their Imperial Majesties, Queen Victoria Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India on one side and Emperor Wilhelm III of the German Empire on the other, in their desire for mutual peace and safety, accord in the following treaty regarding their mutual defense and the freedom of their respective territorial waters.

1. The high contracting parties resolve to remain neutral in the event that any Continental power, and in particular France, should attack the other.

2. The high contracting parties resolve not to enter into any alliance against each other with any Continental power.

3. The high contracting parties undertake to guarantee the ships of the other free passage through their territorial waters and use of their ports, observing always the usages of the sea regarding the rights and duties of neutral states. They resolve to ensure the safety and free passage of each other's ships through their territorial waters to the best of their abilities and defend them against any belligerent party.

Signed: Albert von Hohenzollern, Prince Regent of Germany, Sir Frank Cavendish Lascelles, Her Majesty's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Germany

Co-Signed: Leo von Caprivi, German Chancellor, Adolf von Bieberstein, Foreign Minister

Corollary to the Treaty, to be treated in strict confidence: The high contracting parties resolve not to engage each other on the high seas, nor to make preparations for any attacks on each other's coasts or naval defenses.

12 December 1895, Paris

Paul Deroulede looked over the rows of deputies as the vote began: grim, determined miens on the centre left, anger and disappointment on the left. The ligueist bloc stood smug and apprehensive. Everybody had read the articles, the scandal splashed across the front pages of Paris dailies: Prime Minister Delcasse stood accused of betraying secrets to German agents. Not knowingly – at least, nobody had openly claimed such. Yet the trove of documents that had come to the attention of Libre Parole was clear enough. Friends, confidants, some of them with tellingly Jewish names, had corresponded with German government officials, forwarding the content of unguarded conversations to Berlin directly. It was enough to shake the foundations of a government, even if it had been unknowing – indeed, even if it was untrue. Deroulede had seen the original papers, and he was not inclined to enquire too closely into their provenance. They served their purpose better as suggestions of what many suspected than as bald fact. After today, their authenticity would cease to matter except to historians. The vote today concerned an insignificant tax law, but at the end of it, the country would need a new government. Too many men of the hard left would not again support the Republicans. Enough at the centre feared chaos more than dictatorship. They might yet agree on another bloodless compromise candidate, but the Republicaines became weaker with each blow. Today, they had put the axe to the trunk of their ancient enemy. The poisoned fruit of democracy would wither on the vine..

Berlin, 24 January 1896

Brigadier General von der Goltz looked up from his papers. It was not unusual for general staff officers to call on each other in their offices – Berlin was not the place to work in peace and quiet, and sometimes he missed the dictatorial powers over his subordinates he had enjoyed during his service for the Sultan. A Pasha could order silence, and silence there would be. A Prussian brigadier had no such luxury. His mild annoyance dissipated, however, when he saw Helmuth von Moltke enter the room. He rarely disturbed you with trifles. Then his eyes fell on the figure of the Prince Regent, unprepossessing in his plain uniform – army this time, probably not to draw too much attention. Goltz rose to his feet and saluted crisply. “Your Highness, what can I do for you?”

Albert waved him back to his seat and settled himself into one of the chairs by the map table. “Don't stand on formalities, general. I was told that if anyone would know, you would be that person. It is about the scandal in France.”

“The Dreyfus affair?” Goltz shook his head. “I don't think anyone understands it.”

“I mean the story about Monsieur Delcasse, too. The two seem to be related.”

“Only in the sense that they do not reflect too well on France.” Goltz explained. “Delcasse lost his mandate and his freedom over much the same accusations as poor Dreyfus. The French intelligence service seems to have decided he was working for us.”

The Prince Regent looked up questioningly. “Well, was he? Was the money found ours?”

Goltz looked pained. This was not the kind of question you expected. Asking was bad form, answering even more so. He understood why Moltke had brought the august visitor rather than just passing on the request. Saying no in writing would have been possible. Albert had a reputation for being understanding, even supportive of officers who took their duties too seriously. Doing so in person, on the other hand, was ... indefensible.

“No, your Highness. You understand I cannot discuss details, but republics seem quite capable of inflicting this kind of injury on themselves.”

Albert nodded. “I thought so, general. Still, I believe it might be best if we offered Monsieur Delcasse a pension, don't you think?”

Goltz was momentarily puzzled. “Surely he would never...”

“No, I don't think he would. In fact I am quite convinced he would rather live out his life on Devil's Island than in a villa in Teltow, but that is not the point. The man was too intelligent.”

Brigadier general Goltz stood silent for a full three seconds. Then he nodded pensively. He liked having smart superiors.

Freiburg, 15 March 1896

Louis Ullstein had come with distinctly mixed feelings. A man like Bernhard von Simson was not his first choice to further the cause of his people. Son to a convert, ennobled by virtue of his father's career in the judiciary, and long used to the calm, unruffled industriousness of the civil service and professorial comfort, he could hardly be expected to understand the viciousness of the public debate or the harsh reality of discrimination that Jews met with every day. Certainly, the young publisher had not expected him to be willing to do more than dip his toes in the water of the press debate. But, much to his pleasant surprise, Louis Ullstein had been wrong. Von Simson was motivated, eloquent, erudite, respectable, and angry. His supply of anger might well last him a lifetime, Ullstein thought. He was not quite sure what had touched it off, but it had been long in building. The Ullstein family became aware of it after a letter to the editor of the Vossische Zeitung commenting with biting irony on the latest comments Chancellor zu Eulenburg had made about “the Jews”. It was always “the Jews” with that man; he seemed constitutionally unable to see any differences. To him, the dirtiest wheedling peddler from a Russian shtetl was much the same as a German businessman or academic, and he was not inclined to make any exceptions for those who had converted to the Christian faith for the sake of their careers. Ullstein's father Leopold had taken up the gauntlet years ago, of course. But it still came as something of a surprise to find an ally in such an unlikely place. Bernhard von Simson, son of the presiding judge of the Reichsgericht Eduard von Simson, was professor of ancient and medieval history at Freiburg University, a scion of privilege in every sense. No great speaker and shy of the limelight, his public profile was all but nonexistent, but Ullstein was determined to change that. He was still unsure what had lit von Simson – perhaps the sudden intensity of the humiliation that practising Jews were familiar with – but now the man was on fire, and he could write. Oh, he would not rouse the masses, but the Berliner Zeitung was not an organ of the masses. It aimed at the people who had an education, people who would look up to a professor out of habit. Ullstein had long hoped that his side would have its Treitschke, and now he was almost sure he had found him. Even when he had pointed out to the professor that he might risk his position, von Simson had only nodded quietly and remarked that he was not going to starve.

Now, comfortably seated on the train back to Berlin, he was already designing the approach. Much as the heir to the Ullstein press kingdom would have resented being called a scion of privilege himself, he thought like a prince, marshalling his father's armies for the attack. He was not a crusader by nature, but there was money along with virtue to be gained from this campaign. Von Simson's writings belonged in the Berliner Zeitung, or the Vossische. The Berliner Illustrirte would carry other stories, more visceral ones. There was no lack of those, sadly. Many people in the kingdom prided themselves on being reasonable. They might approvingly read the vitriolic speeches of the eminent Professor von Treitschke before the Reichstag, but they would balk at finding themselves on the same side as a pogromchik.
16 July 1897, Berlin

Annual Report

Student: his Imperial and Royal Majesty Wilhelm, German Emperor and King of Prussia etc. p.p.

Conduct: Satisfactory

Effort: Very Good

Religion: Satisfactory

German: Good

Latin: Good

Greek: Satisfactory

French: Good

English: Very Good

Mathematics: Very Good

History: Good

Geography: Very Good

Natural History: Very Good

Art: Satisfactory

Sports: Good

Equitation: Sufficient

Fencing: Satisfactory

Marksmanship: Very Good

Commentary on the Student's Progress in the Humanities and Languages

His Majesty is an able student, of quick mind and capable of retaining facts in memory remarkably well. His ability to understand and translate texts is considerable, though he is not as astute in his own written and oral expression. His oratorical skill still suffers from limitations, though he understands the stylistic figures and can deploy them as requested.

Particular attention must be drawn to His Majesty's facility with modern languages. His love for the English tongue is greater than for any other subject of study, and his French, though lacking somewhat in grammatical structure, is fluent. His weakest subject, Greek, suffers more from want of application than ability, His Majesty showing little interest in Classical languages. His Majesty's interest in reading is commendable, though his choice in literature is often to be deplored and we would recommend His Highness to apply greater discrimination in the choice of reading matter permitted His Majesty. We are particularly concerned over His Majesty's infatuation with utopian literature and technical romances. His progress in History is good, and his understanding especially of recent history surpasses that expected of a boy his age greatly. His commentary on current affairs is often astute, though sometimes unorthodox.

Commentary on the Student's Progress in the Natural Sciences

His Majesty's love for the natural sciences is great, and his abilities show quickness of intellect and readiness to apply himself. Both in mathematics and natural history, his knowledge surpasses expectations for his age, and his geographical education can, for all intents and pureposes, be considered complete. His Majesty has proven considerable aptitude at and affinity towards experimental science and has already requested to take his studies beyond the curriculum approved by His Highness. We would, however, advise caution in order to rein in His Majesty's unbecoming enthusiasm for engineering.

Commentary on the Student's Progress in his Physical Education

His Majesty is able of body and quick of mind, and has mastered all tasks required by the curriculum. His marksmanship is excellent and his fencing fair only through lack of study. We are, however, worried over His Majesty's continuing difficulties in horsemanship and his general lack of enthusiasm in physical pursuits and would recommend a schedule more dedicated towards vigorous physical exertion, especially with a view to his Majesty's glandular health, which is beginning to be a particular concern at his age.

Commentary on the Student's Conduct and Character

His Majesty is strong-willed and enthusiastic, though a strongly developed sense of duty and a powerful rational mind is able mostly to rein in bursts of passion. Modest by nature, he is little inclined towards outward display or formal ceremony, but has been willing to undertake such duties with good grace as they have been imposed upon him. He is, in the best Prussian tradition, desirous to serve the state and the people. His youthful exuberance and strong desire for rational conduct frequently interfere with his exhibiting proper behaviour and decorum.

Signed: Professor H. von Sigmar

Professor A. Dreyling

Dr. S. R. von Smith

Hauptmann der Kavallerie H. von Libow

14 September 1897

To His Majesty's loyal Prussian Landtag

It is with a heavy heart that I take up the pen to write this letter, cognizant of the difficult constitutional situation this places both me and every member of the Landtag, but recent developments in these august bodies leave me no alternative. I have long viewed the activities of numerous organisations dedicated to the furtherance of the German nation and of Germandom with benevolence, but have seen with dismay how recent years have seen an increasing movement towards doing so to the detriment of others, namely our subjects of Polish and Danish descent and those of the Mosaic faith. As a German of oldest German blood, I cannot but be supportive of the cause, but my duties as Prince Regent of Prussia must override any sentimental ties to one or another party in this conflict.

In this, I particularly refer to recent legislative attempts to disadvantage those subjects of Polish blood in the purchase and holding of land at the expense of their German compatriots, and to disadvantages illegally placed in the path of Jewish candidates to the civil service. I must impress upon the members of the Landtag the supreme importance to remember their duty to the kingdom of Prussia, whose subjects all of us likewise are. No difference in the condition of any subject may be permitted on account of their descent, their mother tongue or their faith: this principle must stand ironclad at the heart of our law. How otherwise would I be able to look into the eyes of the many men of Polish blood and of Mosaic faith who are serving under the colours of Prussia, who have shed their blood and whose family members have often made the highest sacrifice for their fatherland? They, too, are Prussians, and I am their prince sovereign as much as I am yours. I implore you, gentlemen, to seek in your souls that sense of iron duty which shall brook no favouritism, and I am certain that you will find yourselves worthy descendants of Frederick the Great, whose words I recall to your memory.

Albert Wilhelm Heinrich, Prince Regent

(Letter leaked by an anonymous Deputy of the Freisinnige Volkspartei to the Vossische Zeitung)

27 September 1897

Le Judenkaiser Revelé

... the letter to the deputies speaks louder than all previous policies, than the shameful betrayal at the heart of our own Republic, than even the personal friendships of this perfidious German ruler to his true allegiance. It is Israel, not Germany, that faces us from across the border, Israel's mercenary legions, not Germany's armies, that threaten the peace and freedom of all of Europe today! No right-thinking Frenchmen can today deny this plain truth, written out in the ogre's own words, whose revelation to the world we must thank an anonymous, brave man for. One day we may hope that Germany in all her rough, coarse virtue will again arise and more men of such mettle will cast off the yoke of Jewish gold and perfidy. Until that day, we must remain doubly watchful, for this Germany is not only a powerful opponent, but a cunning, merciless foe under whose heel we may expect no mercy.

La Libre Parole

Albert's famous “Preußentumsbrief” of 1897 was a document of desperation. He had watched the rise of ultranationalistic and antisemitic parties and organisation for a long time, and while he had long tried to combat their influence in the civil service and the military, he felt constitutionally bound not to interfere with their political activities and legislative agendas. His policy of not interfering with the work of the parliaments of either Prussia or the Reich, as much an artefact of his caretaker role as of his respect for constitutional arrangements that, ironically, had never been intended to function as advertised by their author, Bismarck, had made Albert hesitant to voice any opinions, let alone take any action in the matter until the Enteignungsgesetz of 1897 came across his desk. This law, which proposed the expropriation of land held by non-Germans (in intent Poles, though it could equally have been applied to Danes, Kashubians, Lithuanians or Alsatian French) and its distribution to Germans, represented a clear breach of constitutional principle and Prussian tradition. Despairing over what to do, Albert delayed signing the bill and wrote an imploring letter to the members of the Landtag to clarify his position. Leaked through the machination of his old friend and loyal adviser Caprivi, the letter caused scandal in the political establishment and so embarrassed the Eulenburg cabinet that the Chancellor himself resigned. Albert had not intended to dismiss him, despite personal differences, but accepted his resignation gladly. For the first time, the left-wing press discovered its love for the Crown Prince.

Postdam, 12 January 1898

Brigadier General von der Goltz was increasingly unsure that including the Emperor in the discussion had been a good idea. His Majesty's presence had been suggested by the Prince Regent, and both Goltz and his colleague Moltke had agreed readily. The weekly meetings with their ruler were part of the Berlin routine, briefings on the military and political situation in which opinions were exchanged freely and no minutes were kept. They were not usually supposed to turn into debates on strategic philosophy. Especially not with the teenage Emperor holding forth on the virtues of plausible deniability and the Jameson Raid.

“No, it is brilliant. Using such private armies, modern-day landsknechte, allows you to deny any involvement in case of failure. Britain never needed accept any responsibility for the failure, while, had Jameson succeeded, she would have taken the Boer states with nobody able to deny her the prize. Surely anyone can see the virtue!”

“Your Majesty,” Goltz interjected, “war is a complicated business. Those modern-day landsknechts are not easy to control, and though I am not privy to that kind of information,” - a quick smile flashed over Moltke's face - “I would hazard a guess that the British government had very little control over Jameson or Rhodes. Having civilians acting outside of any formal command structure can put a government at the mercy of unscrupulous adventurers of any stripe. What if Jameson had started a war? He may yet – this crisis is not over. No responsible government can risk exposing itself this way. The embarrassment alone will be terrible, and the Boers were quite civilised about the whole business. Imagine some bush niggers had roasted their captives alive instead. The British government would have been obliged to fight, no matter what the plans might have been before. It is far too dangerous.”

“Yes, General, I understand, but the gains can be enormous. I grant that it is dangerous, but in war, anything is dangerous. A strategic genius will be able to foresee when to strike, and strike with any tool at his disposal. Why should we categorically deny us the opportunity?”

“For fear of fear, Your Majesty. We already fear our neighbours, as they fear us. Today, knowing that any French soldier crossing into Elsass-Lothringen means war gives us certainty. We understand which boundaries we cross at what peril. If we give this up, we could easily enough end up in a war we never planned nor knew how to avert.”

“And thereby we deny ourselves opportunities to weaken opponents against the day the war comes? Perhaps I do not yet understand enough, but it strikes me as shortsighted, General. A free column of patriotic men might work miracles in a crisis.”

“Your Majesty,” Albert interjected, “for all that may be true, it will be no comfort when free cossacks ride into Königsberg.”

“Well,” the teenage Emperor replied, clearly wounded in his dignity, “I didn't mean they should do it to us.”

14 January 1898, Algiers

“Seven, by the last count.” Commissaire Beaufils reported. “Most of them native Jews, but one was a citizen, one Gansmann from Alsace. Damned shame, that.”

The prefect nodded. Things had been unstable for a long time. Newspapers from the metropole stoked simmering resentment, and yesterday, it had broken out in an orgy of looting and rioting. A proper pogrom, the leftist papers were calling it: Windows smashed, homes gutted, shops burned, heads broken – some people had ended up in hospitals or the morgue. This was embarrassing, doubly so because it was not just a bunch of howling natives slitting the throats of bournous-clad Jewish merchants. It was Frenchmen armed with walking canes and stones who chased their Jewish victims through the streets, put bricks through their windows and pelted them with ordure. It was nasty. But then, revolutions were not tea parties. If France needed to get the germs of cosmopolitanism and plutocracy out of its system, then it was worth having a few unfortunates suffer. They were not throwing bricks through the windows of the Palais Rothschild, but soon enough, they might.

17 March 1899, Paris

I stand before you today bearing news that war has been averted. It would have been a war that our Republic would have been unable to win, a war that we would have fought in the certain knowledge that our dread ancient enemy would have descended upon our backs as we faced the foe upon the seas, and fighting it would have risked our very existence as a nation. Thus, I must also come before you with the news that our national interest have been compromised and the great achievements of the Marchand Expedition only partly realised. Future generations may well judge us timid in our caution, rather than prudent in securing what gains we could. But it must be impressed upon the mind of the nation that the agreement we signed in Copenhagen was not an amicable settlement among equals, but a treaty formed under duress, and under duress not from Albion's might, but from our continental enemy, Germany, whose dagger poised to strike at our heart obliges us ever to concentrate our forces in our own defense. France may forgive us our caution in safeguarding her present for future greatness, but she must never forgive the Prussian's perfidy in crippling her justified ambitions as a civilising power in Africa.

Foreign Minister Gabriel Hanotaux presenting the Copenhagen Agreement to the National Assembly

The resolution of the Fashoda Crisis at the Danish-mediated Copenhagen Conference was widely regarded as an undeserved British victory over France, especially as Hanotaux, the plenipotentiary French negotiator and foreign minister, saw himself as cornered between the British threat on the seas and the German one on the Rhine. His dispatches to Paris, written in his flamboyant style and more often than not apologetic, were instrumental in preparing government opinion for the far-reaching concessions that would be made, but at the same time poisoned it against Britain, which he presented as a bullying blackmailer. In the Copenhagen Agreement, France ceded the ambition to control an African Empire from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, but received little concrete in return. The concrete value of the concession may have been limited, but the sense of humiliation the agreement created ended up toppling the government and led to Hanotaux, who had tried to use it to paint himself as a prudent and masterful statesman negotiating with overwhelmingly powerful enemies, resigning in disgrace. An article in the ultranationalist Libre Parole compared the Republican government to Louis XV, suffering twin defeats against Prussia and Britain. The fall of the Republican government in May of that year came as no surprise.

19 September 1899, Paris

Hot coffee and fresh, cool milk were a match made in heaven, Prime Minister Cavaignac felt sure. His breakfast, as ever, was a celebratory occasion, something for which he had expectations. The rolls, the coffee, milk and sugar had to be just right, the butter chilled and sweet, the morning papers right off the press, virginal. And on a day like this, the pleasure was amplified by the savour of victory. The Chamber and Senate had passed the law proposed by the Ligue limiting the influence of anonymous organisations on political activities. Most of all, of course, this meant the freemasons. The lodge Grand Orient had far too long got away with its skulduggery, acting as a secret meeting place for all stripes of radical. From now on, all organisations that supported candidates or engaged in electioneering would need to do so up front, with the names of their members visible to the world. If that also meant certain names would draw more attention than others – say, a Meyer or Goldschmidt inviting adverse comment in a way that a Dupont would not – that was fine by him. Men of honour had nothing to be afraid of if they stood up for their beliefs in the light of day.

07 November 1899, Wuchang, Hubei Province

The impression that China had so far made on the small group of German officers now gathered in the courtyard of the barracks had been less than stellar. Major Rückerts, a dog-eared copy of Ferdinand von Richthofen’s travelogue in his hip pocket, had warned them to expect delays and difficulties, but they had still come with expectations of finding something like they had seen in photographs: a modernising army, a country on its way towards joining the civilised world. Something like the British had in the Beiyang force they shepherded. True, the New Army currently stationed in Hubei was not as expensively kitted out or as selective, but initial accounts had sounded encouraging. Hauptmann Mollenhauer, the youngest commissioned man in the group, quietly shook his head as reality sank in.

“I don’t think we can call out the troops to remove these tramps.” He explained what the young man had just said to him in his heavily accented, but just about comprehensible Chinese. “These people are the soldiers we are expected to train.”

Rückerts snorted. “Those?” he gestured contemptuously at the assembly of underfed, ill-clad peasants loafing around the yard. “Where are their officers?”

“Apparently, they are not in town today.” Mollenhauer translated. “They will be back next week.” He shrugged. “It looks like we have work to do, gentlemen.“
Neuhausen, Switzerland, 14 November 1900

The rifle looked decidedly odd. Even for someone used to handling the stranger designs forwarded by creative inventors every year, as Hauptmann Pauernfeindt was, it did little to inspire confidence. But, as the ageing supply officer was quickly learning, the young emperor's boundless fascination with newness took little enough prompting. Wilhelm immediately stepped forward to pick up the strange piece.

“What about this one? What is that for? I've never seen anything like it.”

“Your Majesty,” Hauptmann von Libow, the young Emperor's teacher, interjected unsuccessfully, “I hardly think this is part of the firm's regular production run. It is probably not for sale.”

Given that His Majesty would one day command all the forces of the German Empire, the Prince Regent had ordered him to be given a thorough grounding in all its aspects, including such exciting fields as hospital management, railway scheduling and arms procurement. So far, young Wilhelm had taken to it well, with his usual (if reluctant) resignation to duty and his innate fascination with all things technical. That was how he came to be here – technically incognito, since the headache of a formal state visit would have been appreciated by nobody - at the SIG factory in Switzerland, surveying the goods in the company of Hauptmann Pauernfeindt. The unfortunate man, a thoroughly undistinguished veteran of the Franco-Prussian War, had soon learned that any reflected glory or sense of self-importance that royal company offered was dearly bought – Fähnrich von Hohenzollern was a damned nuisance.

“Well, erm, Sir,” the company representative was visibly uncomfortable with the strained situation and struggled to sort out rank and proper form of address, “they are not ours, but they are available. We can make them in any number you would order, since we have already finished 5,000 for the government of Mexico. That is where the design is from. It is called a Mondragon self-loader, and it replicates the action of a Maxim gun in an infantry rifle.”

Hauptmann von Libow averted his gaze and rolled his eyes in derision, eliciting a knowing smile from Pauernfeindt. They had heard such tales before, usually from people looking for juicy contracts or lavish development grants. Wilhelm's eyes, though, lit up. He caressed the stock of the futuristic weapon and tentatively tried to figure out its action. “Fascinating. How does it work?”

“Your Maj.. er, Fähnrich, this is entirely unbecoming. You are here to learn about the function of arms procurement, not to interfere with the work of Hauptmann Pauernfeindt. Please, recall that your authority does not extend to purchasing weapons for the army.”

“Von Libow, please!” the Emperor half implored, half chided, “imagine what this could do for us! We should at least test it. An infantry platoon armed with such a weapon could face down a regiment without fear. I know you are a horseflesh man, but really, even you must understand that much!”

“Oh, well, if you must. It won't work, though. And even if it did, what good would it do to have a platoon of soldiers with a regiment of mules to carry their ammunition? A good infantryman makes his shots tell.” Von Libow could see that this had been a mistake. Pauernfeindt, of course, was dumbstruck at the audacity, but what was far more important., he had riled the imperial temper. Wilhelm was not aggressive or vengeful, but he had a preachy streak. Stood up in front of the low display table in the factory hall, still balancing the Mondragon precariously in his left, he began:

“That is what you all say, but it is wrong! The next war will look completely different from the last. Completely! How can you not understand the facts that are staring you in the face? Numbers and size are meaningless now that a Maxim gun can carry the firepower of an infantry company and even the greatest battleship fears the sting of the motor torpedo boat? Soon, airships and submersibles will land troops in an enemy's capital city, and land wars be fought by modern knights riding into battle in armoured automobiles! A weapon like this in the hands of a soldier will make him invincible to a conventional fighting man. This is the future, Hauptmann von Libow, and it is electric!”

Von Libow gave a pained smile, trying to remember what being nineteen had felt like. Pauernfeindt's face assumed a calculating look. Perhaps, if he chose his words right, he might end his days as something a little more exalted than Hauptmann?

“Anyway,” Wilhelm continued, slightly winded after his impromptu sermon, “I think we should purchase some for my bodyguard. Surely, even you will see the value in that. The more chances they have taking out anarchist revolvermen, the better”

A shudder ran down von Libow's spine as he imagined loosing a salvo of rifle bullets amid panicked crowds. Nonetheless, he understood his duty well enough. Damage had been mitigated. A few thousand marks were well within acceptable limits. He nodded to Pauernfeindt. “The Fähnrich is correct. I will sign for it from the Civil List.”

“Very well, Sir.” The uncertainty of the sales representative had evaporated. “They come with 8-round magazines and 30-round drums, and we can manufacture them to take regular 7.92mm Mauser bullets. I will have some ammunition sent to the range so His ... Fähnrich von Hohenzollern may test the design. And it would please the directors greatly if the young man would accept the rifle he has inspected as a present.”

Hamburg, 2 February 1901

Albert Ballin was visibly swelling with pride. The director-general of the famous Hamburg-Americanische Packet-Dampfschiffahrts-Actiengesellschaft was used to the company of great luminaries. Indeed, he had often met the Prince Regent and occasionally corresponded with him on matters of economics and trade. However, now that His Majesty himself had deigned to accept the use of the fast steamship Columbia for his round-the-world journey, he was finally admitted into the company of a nascent court that for once seemed to transcend the narrow limits of Berlin's austere circle of officers and civil servants. The emperor was not yet of age, but he enjoyed celebrations and luxuries more than his uncle of famously Spartan tastes. Given the parlous state of the Berlin civil list, he had to do most of his partying at the expense of friends, but he did not want for invitations. Prince Regent Albert had originally been opposed to the idea of a grand tour, but had relented once he had been allowed to veto any visits. Paris, unfortunately, had been right out. Any young man of rank had to see the City of Lights, of course, but the requirements of security would have curtailed any of the usual amusements, and France, of course, had no court. But it had come as something of a surprise when his Majesty had instead sketched a trip around the world, including visits to Germany's colonies, her major allies, and many of the more interesting corners of the globe. Albert, a seasoned navy veteran, had allowed it, but vetoed the use of the royal yacht, a relic of the Bundesmarine. That was where the Ballin and the HAPAG came in. The Columbia was a fast ship, but she was older and, compared to the great vessels of todasy, small. She had also just been purchased back from the Spanish who had outfitted her as an auxiliary cruiser, and still carried some excess coal capacity. The shipping line had happily agreed to outfit an imperial suite and luxury cabins for court officials, and provide the use of vessel and crew for as long as His Majesty saw fit. In return, they had the thanks of His Majesty, several months' worth of positive press coverage, and a cruise ship for which they could charge patriotic premium fares. The Prince Regent had discreetly offered to throw in a “von”, but the civic traditions of the Free City of Hamburg were proud and unyielding. Ballin had declined. The speechifying was enough.

As speeches went, it was a magnificent one. The new quays and warehouses of the freeport, clean and modern, bedecked with the flags of Hamburg and Germany, made a glorious backdrop to the imperial ship, accompanied by the cruisers SMS Cormoran and SMS Condor. The masts of every ship in the great port were festooned with flags, sailors manned the rails and yards, and the people thronged the banks of the Elbe out past Schulau to wave flags as the imperial convoy passed. Ballin himself would stay on till the first recoaling stop at Lisbon, from where he was scheduled to travel home. This was an occasion to tell his grandchildren about.

His Imperial Majesty's Itinerary

Lisbon, visit of state

Cadiz, incognito

Monaco, incognito

Genoa, visit of state to Rome

Constantinople, visit of state

Alexandria, incognito

Togo, official visit

Cameroon, official visit

Lüderitz Bay, official visit

Capetown, official visit

Ostafrika, official visit

Bombay, official visit (journey overland by train)

Gwalior, visit of state

Calcutta, official visit (ship awaits)

Batavia, official visit

Singapore, official visit

Hongkong, incognito

Qiaochow, official visit

Tokyo, visit of state

Santiago de Chile, visit of state

Acapulco, visit of state to Mexico City

San Francisco, official visit (journey overland by rail)

Washington, visit of state

New York, official visit, ship awaits

London, visit of state

Antwerp, visit of state to Brussels

Amsterdam, visit of state to The Hague

Copenhagen, visit of state

Stockholm, visit of state

St. Petersburg, visit of state

Kiel, return via canal to Hamburg. Formal reception by Prince Regent

As a note to those readers less familiar with diplomatic protocol it is pointed out that a visit of state entails a meeting with the head of state, whereas an official visit is one in which the visitor, while in an official capacity, does not meet heads of state, but may nonetheless confer with governors, mayors or dignitaries. A visit incognito does in no way indicate that the person of the visitor remain unrecognised, but merely that the authorities are absolved from the formal and ceremonial duties entailed by said recognition. His Majesty travels incognito by the name of Ensign Wilhelm von Hohenzollern.

Pretoria, 6 April 1901

“No!” Scrawled across the telegram in red grease pencil, the answer was unequivocal. Lord Kitchener had as nearly had conniptions as a man of his stature could come to that distinctly un-lordly and unmartial state. The German Emperor visit the war zone? It was unthinkable. That said...

“Prepare a reception in Capetown, and make sure he gets to see a bit of the pacified areas.”, he ordered. “I think we should detail some officer with sufficient rank and standing. Baden Powell, maybe? Yes, that would be good. So, instructions:”

The dutiful orderly took notes.

To: Major General Robert Baden-Powell


You are requested to personally take charge of the visitor of state His Imperial and Royal Majesty Wilhelm III, German Emperor and King of Prussia. His majesty desires to be given an insight into the conduct of the present war. I impress upon you the paramount importance of His Majesty's safety, especially in view of the continued risk from commandoes operating in the Cape Midlands. You are to take no risk whatsoever. However, his Majesty is to be allowed inspections of troops and be given first-hand accounts of the conduct of war and the tactics employed. In view of his Majesty's age, particular attention should be paid to display and the romance of the entire affair. If you consider it sufficiently safe, a visit to Mafeking and meetings with members of the Cadet Corps may be arranged. Please ensure presence of imperial and native troops at any formal occasion. Expenses within reason are at your discretion, to be submitted to the government of Cape Colony.

Wilhelm III left South Africa with a decidedly mixed impression, but had impressed both his host and his entourage with a surprisingly good, if idiosyncratic grasp of military strategy. The organisation and employment of mobile cavalry columns and raiding forces were of particular interest to him, and the impact of his visit lasted long enough for him to personally interview Boer generals in exile several years later about their experiences. If he had anything to say about the concentration camps at the time, it was not preserved for posterity.

Berlin, 13 April 1901

“Your Highness, it is .. highly inappropriate.” Chancellor Octavio von Zedlitz-Neukirch was still visibly shaking as he laid the newspaper cutting on Prince Regent Albert's desk. “Something must be done. The damage this will do to Germany's standing, to our colonial policies and the diplomatic efforts of our government is considerable.”

The Prince Regent calmly studied the article. It was from the Kreuz Zeitung, of course – Albert had read the original it was referencing in The Times two days before, and he had expected this to happen. He had been bracing himself for impact since the morning. Apparently, a journalist had managed to get a few minutes with Wilhelm while he was staying in Cape Town and had asked him, among other things, about the Congo atrocities. Wilhelm's reaction, to all intents and purposes, had been shocked silence, followed by revulsion as he read the accounts provided by helpful local Liberals. Then the young emperor had gone out on a limb and, at a dinner party, praised the enlightened British manner of raising up the native African in the Cape while expressing his horror over the atrocities in the Congo Free State. He further pointed out that, had this sort of thing happened in a German colony, he would have had the responsible parties tried in court. A number of Social Democratic papers were already pointing out gleefully that such things did in fact happen in Cameroon and Ostafrika, but more importantly, the conservative press was – well, not exactly in uproar. In a state of disoriented agitation. The conservative press could hardly be opposed to their Emperor, but they took a variety of stances deploring his misinformation, his lack of good advisors, or his youth. Zedlitz-Neunkirch, a conservative nonentity on whom the various factions had been able to agree, rarely took strong stances on anything, but on this he did. He had already come to complain when Wilhelm, after being apprised of Albert Ballin's Jewish faith, had rather rudely pointed out to a Social Conservative member of the Reichtag that he chose hios ownn friends. Now he was back.

“Please, your excellency.” Albert gestured towards the paper. “These are just words, and surely feelings any reasonable man with his heart in the right place would share.”

“Your Highness! This is about more than just words. Our relationship with Belgium. Our own colonies. How shall our officials keep the negroes in line if they cannot trust that their actions will have the backing of the all-highest government?”

The Prince Regent frowned, made a quick mental calculation, and let fly. The Chancellor had laid himself wide open. “Your Excellency, you are forgetting yourself! The imperial government's dutry and concern is not the support of its subordinate officials. It is the duty of those officials to obey the all-highest government in all matters, not to look to it for their aid and comfort. You may have become entirely too comfortable in your position, so understand this: You have an emperor. As Prince Regent, I allowed the country its will. I called upon you as Chancellor for no other reason than the convenience of a parliamentary majority supporting you, and I was quite willing to put up with most anything you and the Reichstag decided. With Wilhelm, things will be different. It was always my office and duty to preserve his heritage, but it is his to do with as he sees fit. His army, his navy, his loyal Reichtsag, and his whole damned Empire! He will put his stamp on it, and you cannot hope to stand in his way. I will not and cannot condone any steps to silence or quibble with the opinion of His Majesty, and if you could even for a moment contemplate the idea that you could, I expect your resignation by the evening. Good day, Sir!”

The Chancellor left in rather undignified haste.

Hamburg, 21 August 1901

“I wish I could have greeted you with happier news, Wilhelm.” Prince Regent Albert said as he met his nephew coming down the gangway. The death of Victoria, the Kaiserin Friedrich, had not come unexpected, but it had nonetheless been a blow to the young Emperor. In many ways, she had been the centre of an alternative court's gravity, a piece of an older and smaller, more genteel Prussia from an age before the harsh, masculine, technocratic world that modern Berlin had become. To Albert, she had been a constant companion and comfort. To Wilhelm, a certainty in a chaotic world. Neither man had taken the news well. Even a week after the funeral – not an affair of state, not exactly, but a gathering of every great family in the Empire and beyond – no celebrations were laid on to welcome home the young emperor. The crowds wore black ribbons and mostly kept respectful silence after the salute had ended. Emperor and Prince Regent quietly mounted a carriage talking them to their quarters in picturesque Blankenese. Neither spoke for the duration of the ride.

Dinner was solemn, exquisite, but unappreciated. Ballin had had the tact to quietly make all social engagements disappear, and sunset found the two men alone on the balcony, overlooking the Elbe stream glistening red gold.

“It feels like everyone I could trust is dying, uncle.” Wilhelm said after a long silence. “Bismarck is gone, Caprivi is dead, Roon and Moltke, and now grandmama... soon, nobody will be left. Who will I turn to for advice when I must govern?”It sounded almost plaintive.

“You will have to find your own, Wilhelm.” Albert said, soothingly. “I know it is hard. I miss my mother more than I can describe. But you will need to make your own way and find your own advisers, just like Friedrich did before you. You know, Bismarck.” an almost imperceptible nod pointed eastwards, up the Elbe towards Friedrichsruh, where the great man had lived out his curmudgeonly dotage. “I only ever knew him as a great man. You practically never really knew him, did you? You know only the myth they made of him. But even when I was a boy, people fell silent when Bismarck entered the room. He was young and untested, once, too. There was a time when people mocked him for his foolishness and feared him for his impulsiveness. And I do remember Caprivi when he was new to politics. You can find good men to advise you, even in a generation as rotten as yours.” Albert raised his hands placatingly. His humor was rare, but disarming, even in such dark times.

“That is all well, but how can I learn to handle the Reichtsag with nobody to teach me? Who can I study from? Do not take it the wrong way, uncle, but you...”

“I am a Prince Regent and you will be his All-Highest Majesty. I do not hold it against you. You must do things differently. Truth be told, I don't think doing things my way works any longer, anyway. I inherited a kingdom and an Empire in Bismarck's mould that terrible year, and I tried my best to keep it that way for you. As much as I could without turning into Bismarck myself.”

“Would that have been so bad, uncle?”

Albert laughed drily. “You really did not know the man. Wilhelm, Bismarck was a bully, a blackmailer and a choleric. I could not be him if I took acting lessons with Wagner himself. Even Emperor Friedrich feared him. I don't think my valet is afraid of me, though I could be wrong there. I like to think that I reigned by appealing to my subject's sense of duty, but I fear much of the time I got along by bothering people until they humoured me. That is not an option you will have, and, you will forgive my honesty, I don't think you have the makings of a bully.”

“Then how do you think I should reign? How do you reign, for that matter? I thought I could learn it on those state visits along the route, but nobody could tell me anything useful.”

“Then I won't, either. I'm sorry. You have to do it your own way. But I can tell you a lot that doesn't work. You can't do it Bismarck's way any more, for one thing. Or mine. The Reichstag will not be bullied any longer, and I fear that is my fault.”

“Fault?” Wilhelm asked, genuinely curious. His uncle rarely spoke about mistakes.

“Fault. I was complacent. Most of my time was spent letting things run their course. Bismarck went to the Reichstag like a lion-tamer. He could make them sit and beg. But in those days, that was easier. The press did as it was told, and you could have people imprisoned for insulting the majesty of the crown. And he bribed people. Bismarck had a royal treasury set aside to buy votes and journalists. I never did any of that – well, rarely.” Albert was not proud of those episodes, but it had happened. “By now, the Reichstag is used to things running its own way. Laws are passed, and I sign them. I think it was two or three times I vetoed them, but mostly, I signed. They suggest a Chancellor, and I appoint him. They are much more concerned over the fiery dragon of public opinion than they are over the toothless lion of royal displeasure. You will have to live with that.”

“I could just appoint my own Chancellor, couldn't I?

“The law says you can, but I would advise you not to try. There would be an uproar.”

“What could they do?”

“The Reichstag? Very little. You have the army, the police, and the prisons. But doing it this way breaks things that work, and making new arrangements work is hard. You have to take account of what your new partners want, and often, you will find yourself tied to people that are much worse than the ones you got rid of. Take General von der Goltz, for example.” Albert pointed out

“What about him?”

“Would you want to see him in charge of managing Elsass-Lothringen?”

Wilhelm recalled the cheerfuly amoral bloodthirstiness of his intelligence chief and shuddered. “Not really.”

“Well, if you broke the Reichstag, you might have to appoint people like him to these positions. And of course, you would never hear from people like this Ebert fellow. At least until they built you a guilloutine.”

“Never!”The thought of revolution chilled the young Emperor. He hadn't even considered the possibility.

“Well, I concede it is not likely. The people love you, Wilhelm.They respect me, but they love you from their heart. It would take a lot to disappoint that love. But still, it is extremely useful to have an institution that reflects genuine public opinion. And not only because it can be dangerous not to know what your people are thinking.”

“Something like the French Estates-General?” Wilhelm teased.

“Or the English Parliament.” Albert knew his history, too. “If you need to know what your people think. If you allow them to say it freely, you can just ask them. If you don't, you need an Okhrana. Public opinion is usually right, you know?”

“You are kidding me, uncle!”

“No, Wilhelm, I am serious. I didn't believe it myself in the beginning, but it's true. Of course not in the details. No matter what the Social Democrats say, you can't have government run by cobblers and bakers. But in the broad sense, when it comes to the big questions, public opinion gets things right. I mean, look at the Social Democrats. Their ideas of running the country are insane. But you cannot disagree that the lives of the working class in this country are hardly worth living. That is a disgrace, and I don't mind saying so. That is why I stood up to Bismarck over the Silesian strikes back then. When a cavalryman mistreats his animal so much it turns on him, we do not punish the horse, after all.”

“I know. But uncle, the Social Democrats! The idea is distasteful.”

“I always thought so, at least. That will be your task, anyway. Find some way of dealing with them. I had the luxury of ignoring them, but you won't be able to.”

The light of the Prince Regent's favourite pipe glowed gently in the gathering darkness as his nephew absorbed the thought.

Radun, Russian Poland 14 October 1901

Yossel Rabinovitch and Shloimo Ferber were paying rapt attention to the tales of the visiting alumnus. Hershel Kanitzky had travelled far, seen Jewish communities in many places before settling in Gnesen, and was now back to his alma mater, the Radun Yeshiva, to bring a package of books and supplies donated by Jews from Germany. His tales were often lurid and slightly fantastic – especially when he spoke of Berlin, Hamburg and the steamship journey to New York – but he had the authority of a traveller among teenage bokhers.

“See, I told you!” Yossel said. “Go to Germany! The emperor protects our folk, and we can thrive there!” Yossel had long been a proponent of emigration to the German Empire, a place where Jews were free to live where they wanted, succeed in business and society, and, truth be told, follow the most shocking heresies (Kanitzky's tales of the Hamburg Temple made Yossel wonder why G-d would allow such a horror to exist while His loyal followers lived in such squalor). Shloimo, on the other hand, was a fierce advocate of the United States, and had said so repeatedly. He was a bright kid and affected a worldlier air than befitted the son of a shoemaker from someplace near Lublin, and he read an imported collection of the Adventures of Buffalo Bill when he was not studying gemorah. Yossel was contemptuous of his attention-seeking stunt – if you spoke Yiddish and read Polish, reading German was so easy as to almost count as cheating – but he envied him his supply of reading matter. He himself had nothing like it.

“See, Shloimo,” he teased, “the Germans don't send us buffalo tongues and Indian scalps. They have worthwhile things!”

“Bah, you're just jealous. When I make it to Kansas City, I will send you back a postcard and a Sioux feather headdress. And you will still be waiting for your permit to go to Germany!”

That stung. Still, it was true, the German authorities were not readily admitting Russian Jews to the relative freedom and refuge of their borders. Despite the best efforts of Jewish relief organisations, thousands of applicants were rejected, and others, who tried on their own, caught and sent back by the police. Still, it needed a reply. “Stupid, a Yid cannot be a cowboy.”

Shloimo stuck out his tongue. “In America, a Yid can be anything. You just wait. It's not like in Russia.”

Russia, nebbich, was where they were stuck. The youngsters drew their coats tighter around their shoulders and braced for the cold walk back to their dormitory. At least it was too cold for the police to be out.
03 April 1902, Paris

The Chairman of the Council of Ministers Ivan Goremykin listened attentively. Prime Minister Jacques Godefroy Cavaignac was not known for being overly forward with his confidences, but his invitation had made the matter appear weighty enough for the ageing Russian statesman to travel to France in person rather than sending some deputy. The idea presented was - interesting. Worthy of a Fouche, in a way, though Goremykin would never have said so.

“This agreement,” he finally asked, “exists in writing?”

“Indeed, it does. Signed and sealed in 1884 by Leopold of Belgium. It was part of the diplomatic work we did at the Berlin Conference, and I do not think it was ever intended to be anything other than a tool to push Britain into agreeing to the Congo Free State. But it exists. I have the papers here,” Cavaignac drew a heavy, oldfashioned folder from the side table and placed it between the two men, “with the seal and signature of His Majesty Leopold here. The text is quite clear: Should the King ever choose to alienate his African possessions, he will offer France the right of first refusal at whatever price His Majesty sees fit to ask for the purchase.”

“Interesting. And while it could be argued that this was not the intent...”

“ is still binding.” Cavaignac finished the sentence. The slowness of the Russian minister sometimes angered him, though he did his best not to show it. “At least, we can make it binding. And this is where I would ask for an undertaking from His Imperial Majesty's government to support our claim at a future Congo conference.”

“Yes, I understand your interest in the matter. However, I still do not entirely understand how you intend to finesse the matter. Surely, you cannot just force Leopold to sell? The British would never allow it!”

The prime minister sighed inwardly. Sometimes, it was hard to explain how the Western world worked. “We can not use military force, naturally. We are bound by the 1830 treaty jointly guaranteeing Belgian neutrality. But we can use moral suasion. Public opinion about the Congo is already quite vehemently opposed to Leopolds's venture. So far, we have allowed him to suborn journalists in Paris and run his own campaigns against his detractors from here, but that is easy enough to change. Once we engage in our own campaign, the position will fairly quickly become untenable, and Britain and the United States already support the idea that something be done. When London extricates herself from South Africa, she will listen to the call of her people. And I think we can trust Emperor Wilhelm to also sponsor the idea.”

The Russian minister cocked his head. “Why should he?”

“Because he is a naïve young man who does not understand how African colonies are run. Because he is inexperienced, and the German constitution will put him at the head of the government once he attains his majority, ready or not. His uncle is the greatest influence on him, but he is a Continentalist, obsessed with the confrontation between Germany, France and Russia, with no understanding of colonial policy. He will underwrite the Congo conference, and with Germany, France and Russia, and probably Washington, too, behind it, Britain cannot oppose. Then we open the codicil, and Leopold will have to accept our price.”

Goremykin stroked his beard. “It is risky. Britain could still oppose it.”

“We can stand up to Britain, if we have our ally at our side. Look at the showing their vaunted army has given in South Africa. They are full of hot air, one puncture and the whole bugaboo collapses. No, I do not think Britain can effectively negate our claim. We will be willing to make some concessions, of course. Some territories can be ceded, as long as we prevail on the main point.”

“You seem admirably sure, Monsieur. But how does my Emperor 's government come into this? Why should we support this gamble? Certainly we have been good allies, but mutual defense is one thing. Risking war over the Congo is another.”

“Your Excellency, France will find tangible ways of showing gratitude. We are already purchasing large amounts of Russian bonds and supporting your military technologically. And if Britain is taken down a peg, there are other issues that may be addressed afresh. The Straits, for one thing, and London's shameful support for Japan. We can negotiate these matters in detail once we agree in principle.”

“Indeed. It does appear tempting. One small matter remains, though: You understand that His Imperial Majesty's government is dedicated to the pursuit of long-term goals that do not change, and must make its plans and alliances accordingly. A Republican government, subject to the vagaries of the popular will ... can be of concern to us.”

Cavaignac had him. “Your Excellency, please apprise his Majesty of the fact that this is no small or temporary matter. Our dedication to expunging the shame of Fashoda is universal. All respectable parties in the National Assembly are in complete agreement on the matter.” You could never be sure of the Socialists, of course. “This is a generational project supported throughout the nation. The seeds we sow today in Africa's soil will return hundredfold yield for our future generations. All Frenchmen know in their souls that as France's honour lies imprisoned in Alsace-Lorraine, her destiny lies in Africa!”

“Especially with German Ostafrika so near, to build your railroad to the Indian Ocean after the next war, no?” Cavaignac winced. Russians could be frightfully direct. “Very well, then. I will bring the treaty to his Majesty, and I am confident He will agree to it. May the French nation take roots in the virgin soil of Africa as the Russian has thrived in the wide lands of Siberia!”

A smile flickered over the face of the prime minister. The final deal might cost France something, but not too much. The return would be grand. One day, a day he might yet see himself, Africa would be to France as Australia and Canada were to Britain.

05 February 1902, Hamburg, Hotel Louis C. Jacob

The new vessels were exhilarating, especially compared to the ageing Cormoran and Condor that had accompanied the Emperor on his grand tour. SMS Lübeck and Wismar were already at sea, and the launch of SMS Hamburg and Rostock were to follow soon. The Kreuzerflotte was to be the second part of Germany's navy to get its overhaul, after the building programme that had replaced decrepit ships of the line with state-of-the-art ones. Prince Regent Albert had wanted to leave it at that – everyone had agreed that muzzleloading 10-inch guns were not adequate to defending Germany's shores any longer – but the National Liberals had made their support for the appropriations dependent on the new cruiser fleet, and since the Flottenverein had patriotically collected money for the outfitting of the Hansa-class cruisers, the cost had eventually not turned out too prohibitive. Wilhelm loved the sleek, greyhound craft, and even Albert, once he had boarded SMS Lübeck, could not help being thrilled at their power. Disparage them as toys he might, but he was hardly immune from their charm.

In the comfortable armchair of the Hotel Jacob, Admiral von Koester, the erstwhile commander of His Majesty's escort cruisers and now admiral of the cruiser fleet, happily stretched out his feet towards the fire and relished his cigar. Most of his days were spent in Kiel and Hamburg, working at desks, despite the close friendship he had developed with the emperor over the course of their journey together. He rarely took to the sea, so the trial runs of new vessels was an opportunity to be savoured. It also brought him together with Wilhelm, who loved warships (as he did all things technological), and it meant they could talk, rather than have official interviews. A man of plebeian origins – and despite the “von”, Koester was very much not a nobleman – otherwise could find it hard to meet royalty socially. Of course, it also meant he would have to deal with anyone who managed to inveigle themselves into the imperial presence to push their agendas. Recently, the number of such people had greatly increased. Today, a number of representatives from the Flottenverein had come to casually, and entirely coincidentally, speak of the need for a larger navy. Their timing was not even bad.

“...but considering how powerful the French navy is today, will we not have to consider when economic considerations must take second place to the vital interest of the nation? Four more ships of the line are launching this year, against only cruisers of ours!” Mr Hachmann, a Hamburg senator, argued. Wilhelm was stung by the accusation, but seemed unsure how to respoind. Von Koester came to his side.

“The economics do not matter too much, really. You probably know better than I that we have adequate tax receipts and can afford our defense. The key difference lies in strategy. The French fleet is designed differently, and consequently has different needs from ours. France has global commitments we lack, and needs the ability to defend sea lanes we can forgo.”

“'True global commitments?' Hachmann was visibly incensed. “Admiral, are you suggesting that Germany does not? Who will defend our colonies?!”

“First of all, Mister Hachmann,” Koester was not normally an arrogant man, but he resented being told his business by civilians, “I am not at all sure that Germany should be counted among the true colonial powers. Surely no more so that Denmark or Belgium. Who shall defend our colonies? Our army, of course. In the event of a French attack, we cannot hope to hold them for long. What we can and will do is administer such blows to France on land that they must return our colonies, and probably more besides, at the peace conference. A larger navy would not help us in that endeavour – we lack the web of coaling stations and the oceanic ports for it. The money to defend Togo and Südwest is spent on our divisions in Elsass-Lothringen, not on our navy. Trying to rival France at sea would mean starving our land forces of funds they need to defend our borders.”

Wilhelm had fallen silent, sensing that taking either side might be construed as an endorsement. The question he had been meaning to ask was voiced by Mayor Mönckeberg.

“Admiral, then, why do the French need so many ships?”

“The French, Mr Mayor, have essentially the same problem we do. They have a powerful enemy on each side, us and Britain. The French army is designed to threaten us, but their fleet is meant to be a threat to the Royal Navy. Our own fleet probably hardly features in their calculations.”

“The British!” Hachmann was unconvinced. “Admiral, the French navy cannot hope to rival Britain's, not if they kept building ships at the rate they are for two decades. If not Germany, what is their target?”

Koester sighed, quietly enough to seem involuntary, but just loudly enough to be audible to everyone. “Nobody can rival the Royal Navy, that is right, Sir. But the French figure they will not need to. If they can muster a fleet large enough to be difficult for the Royal navy to defeat without massive losses, they will be safe from attack. France needs sea lanes to her colonies, and especially across the Mediterranean to Africa. But she can survive without them for a time, even a few years of war. Britain needs the sea like we need air to breathe, and even a few months of being cut off will destroy her. That is why she needs the Royal Navy. If a war with France means Britain will lose a significant number of warships, then she cannot dare it. France, true, will lose her entire fleet in the process, but Britain's will be crippled and spend years rebuilding. Years anyone may use to pick at the British Empire. Even we might.”

“Very well, Admiral,” Mönckeberg interjected pensively, ”but such a powerful strategy could and should be emulated. Why are we not using such a – deterrence – against Britain? Buying safety from the threat of war should be worth a great sum.”

“Mr Mayor, mainly because the strategy is wrong. The French have been launching battleship after battleship mainly because they used to rely on smaller ships in the past and, like us, need to rebuild their main battle fleet. Unlike us, they feel compelled to defends their sea lanes even against Britain, and want to deter her. The problem is that their calculations are based on the Royal Navy as it was in 1895. The British are also building ships, and they can build more. Even as they are, the French war plans depend on luck and skill over numbers. If the British fight as little better, or the French get unlucky early on, they will have lost the war at sea, just like they did a hundred years ago. And it presupposes that the British will be fighting them alone, which they might not be. Even a small fleet, allied to Britain's, can tip the scales decisively if it forces the French to detail ships away from their main force. And on top of all of that, the French government has been spending more money than it can afford. Their army is already suffering. To be frank, we are better off than they. Our army defends us against both Russia and France, but they need an army against us and a navy against England.!”

Mönckeberg nodded. He did not look convinced, but was wise enough to shut up while he still could with dignity. Hachmann seemed fiercely angry, but defeated. Wilhelm sent his Admiral a grateful glance before guiding the conversation towards the Bismarck memorial the city was building.

23 April 1902, Paris

How is it compatible with a law applied equally to all men that the protagonists of liberty and equality, the bearers of the very torch of Enlightenment, should be hindered at every step for no reason other than their membership in a free, voluntary, charitable organisation that chooses to keep secret its roster for the sake of tradition while the servants of ultramontanism, obscurantism and tyranny may enjoy the full support of the church? Does not the Pope reside in the Lateran, citizen of no country by his own choice and yet overlord of the church and commander of his Jesuit soldiery? Is not every centime given to the hierarchy – money taken from poor and humble Frenchmen with threats of hell and damnation, not given liberally by the well-to-do of their own volition – added to the war chest of the Republic’s enemies? And yet these men claim that their victories, votes gained through the fulminations of churchmen threatening their ignorant parishioners and unscrupulous pressmen terrifying the ill-educated with tales of depravity and ritual murder, are a reflection of France’s fundamental decency? In their France, is not dishonesty a sin? For lies, hypocrisy and deceit lie at the very foundation of their vaunted ‘ordre moral’, and once the people come to understand the nature of their purported shepherds, they will skin the wolf and nail his pelt to the door! It remains to be hoped that the people will no longer allow the ‘infame’ to lull them into uneasy sleep. Let the elections to come be a clarion call – Frenchmen, citizens, to the ballot unafraid!


14 July 1902, NAG premises, Berlin Oberschönhausen

“Well, Max, isn't she a beauty?” Walther Rathenau was not known for his gentle sense of humour, but he rarely meant to hurt anyone's feelings. Still, “a beauty” was hardly the word that Max Büdinger would have used to describe his latest creation. The young engineer was proud to be part of his small, but highly prestigious project, but he would have been prouder if it had consisted of something more impressive than putting a gun on a delivery truck. That, at least, was what it had looked like initially. It really wasn't all that easy.

“She doesn't perform as well as we had hoped.” he pointed out preemptively. “It's the suspension again.”This problem had bedevilled them from the start. If you slapped enough armour plate on the vehicle to make it proof against rifle bullets, it became so heavy that it slowed to a crawl. That alone would not have been too much of a problem – the initial plans had envisioned the vehicle racing ahead of a cavalry charge, but even at a walking pace, it would be useful. Once its springs gave out, though, it would just be sitting there doing nothing, and they did that with maddening regularity. An unsprung version worked – for a given value of “worked” - but everyone who had taken the ride around the factory yard had agreed that shooting from it was out of the question.

“Well, in that case I have some good news for you. We have ordered four new truck engines from Daimler that should take care of our power requirement a little better. And we are thinking of using hydraulic suspension. I'd like you to look at a few catalogues and see what parts would fit our requirements best.”

Büdinger was pleasantly shocked. “That will cost .. I don't know. A couple ten thousand marks, if we try it out extensively. Are you sure?”

“The Emperor says he likes the project, so – yes.”

Rathenau could be arrogant, but it was obvious to Büdinger that his boss had not meant it to intimidate him. Still, it was a shocking thing to hear. “You have actually talked to him?” he asked.

“Yes, three times now. I was as surprised as you, really. Never thought he would have time for me, but you must realise, he isn't like most noblemen you meet. He loves technology. Don't be too surprised if he comes here one day, incidentally. He has already said he wants to come and visit the laboratory. Just answer his questions and he won't bite you.”

The young engineer felt a bit dizzy. Being told that His Majesty 'took an interest' in a project was one thing, but for him to actually, personally take an interest was something else.

Büdinger apprehensively asked, “And it won't make a difference that I am... “

“No it won't. Not personally. Someone remarked on it – prig of a guards officer pointed out I was a Jew. The Emperor just looked at him and said 'I don't look at the tip of someone's willy before talking to him.' Just like that. I don't think I was able to say anything for five minutes, I was so mortified.”

Max Büdinger seemed to feel the same way, from the way he gasped for air. “Anyway,” Rathenau continued, “we had better give His Majesty something to look at. This isn't much to write home about, so, get to work!”

09 August 1902, Lublin

Hershel Kanitzky opened the largest of his three suitcases and ceremoniously removed several shirts, underpants, and stockings before gently prying loose the back wall. His host watched quietly.

“Here it is. You have no idea how much I sweated this time. The customs agents were snooping all over, and I think they had my name in advance. We may have to ask someone else next time.”

A flat bundle wrapped in oilcloth and several rolls of coinage changed hands.

“Hershel, are you sure you will be all right?” asked Rabbi Grinberg. “What if the search you again? If they have your name, chances are good they will have the Okhrana looking for you. It may be safer not to travel by train.”

“Rebbe, don't worry. The offer is appreciated, but there is nothing left that could incriminate me now. I always have a bundle of the Jüdische Zeitung and the Vorwärts in my suitcase, of course, but nothing serious.”

“Nothing serious? What, you can go to prison for reading those. They're illegal!”

“That's the point. If they search me and find the papers, they will assume they were what I was smuggling. Then they throw me out of the country, and that is it. You know I am a German and can holler for the consul if they really try to work me over, right?”

“Hershel, you are too cocky by half.” the older man replied. “You will come to a bad end some day. But let us hope it is a long way off. The passports you sent will allow a good number of people to get out, and the money is always useful. Things are getting bad again. Almost as bad as back under Alexander III.”

“That bad? I had no idea.” When he was not risking his freedom carrying papers for Jewish aid organisations, Kanitzky lived a rather sheltered life. His parents had left for Posen before his birth, and even during his brief sojourn at the Radun Yeshiva, he had never known the visceral fear of random violence that blighted the lives of so many Jews since the great pogroms. “Will you be safe?”

Grinberg shrugged. “What's safe? I will do all right, they hardly ever touch the big-city communities. If the Okhrana doesn't get me and no drunk goy takes offense at my existence ... that's is as safe as it gets here.”

Kanitzky shrugged helplessly. Still, it nagged at his conscience. There had to be something you could do. Something more than sending money and visa to get individual families to Germany, Austria-Hungary or the United States. He was going to discuss this with people. There was not much else he knew how to do, for one thing.
6 December 1902, Lhasa

Lieutenant Colonel Antanas Druve was happy. Just two months ago he had entered Lhasa in secret, a man of no status and recognition. Now, he had the Dalai Lama's solemn promise of eternal friendship with Russia in his pocket, and something even more exciting in his mind. The Tibetan ruler was a strange fellow, but he had been born a Russian subject – Agvan Dorzhiev, the name Druve always thought of him by – and he still had a certain fondness for the country, and a healthy respect for its power. Druve had used this to good effect, especially once he had recognised that the unworldly, monkish recluse was a fairly astute and ambitious politician. Poring over maps and explaining possibilities, he had sown the seeds of an ambitious plan that he, duly impressed, accepted later from his Holiness's lips as the man's own stroke of genius. With the assistance of Russia – its potency amply underlined by a demonstration of Druve's pistol and magazine rifle - Tibet could break loose from the suzerainty of the Guangxu Emperor, taking along Lamaist Mongolia, under its spiritual leader. It would be the heart of a Central Asian empire, a realm of true Lamaist religion and the traditional lifestyle of all peoples following its creed.

Of course, it would also, rather sooner than later, bercome a Russian protectorate, and, if it came to it, a wonderful jumping-off point to threaten Calcutta and the Ganges delta. Though Druve was convinced that the British would make peace once the cossacks had taken Darjeeling. Without their favourite tea, they would have no fight in them. This Gorzhiev Dalai Lama fellow was ambitious and politically astute, but not terribly bright, as far as Druve could see. He carefully folded the official letters, placed them in his desk and left for a final tour of the great palace, carefully deploying his easily concealed brownie camera. It was not that he was forbidden from taking pictures, it was not like he had exactly asked, either. Many primitive people were uncomfortable being photographed, and he was not going to risk a confrontation if he could help it. Back in his chambers, Hari Babu, the servant he had acquired in Khokand, began brushing his master's trousers, folding his shirts, and carefully copying out his notes and letters for despatch to Simlah.

6 May 1903, Berlin

Those accustomed to the austere Prussian style of official Berlin will have found occasion to be surprised by the lavish display presented at the celebration for Emperor Wilhelm's 21st birthday. The old Charlottenburg palace had been refitted at considerable expense, equipped with electric lighting throughout its interior and a newly beautified garden in the baroque style. His Majesty Wilhelm III himself took up residence officially on the eve of his majority, as he enters into the responsibilities of his reign. The celebrations, while far from the grandeur that the Russian court offers, were modelled consciously on the more ostentatious style fashionable in other German kingdoms and principalities, whose rulers were all present. With formalities restricted to a parade of guards and cavalry regiments in the morning, the luncheon and an afternoon entertainment passed in a relaxed atmosphere. The Berlin opera performed The Magic Flute at the joint request of His Majesty and His Highness the Prince Regent, and a ball in the great hall of Charlottenburg palace concluded the day's festivities. True to Berlin fashion,. Even on so exalted an occasion, celebrations ended early, with the guests retiring at 11 pm.

It was noted with great approval by guests and especially the visiting princes and kings of Germany that the decoration of the grounds and halls of Charlottenburg on this occasion omitted any reference to Prussia, the emphasis on which during Prince Regent Albert's tenure had led to some discontent especially in Bavaria and Saxony. Banners and bunting in the national colours of Germany dominated the scene, together with a flower tableau showing the head of Emperor Wilhelm I, and a number of allegorical displays on the virtues of the German Empire. Almost no reference was made to more recent history. The luncheon room, newly decorated for the purpose by a group of artists under the leadership of noted Belgian architect and painter Henry van de Velde was duly admired by the younger generation, but drew adverse commentary for its deviation from both the accustomed Berlin convention of naturalism and the more fantaisiste South German manner.

If this day's festivities may be taken as an indication of things to come, Berlin may confidently be expected to acquire considerably greater attraction to those inclined towards the finer things in life. The tastes of His Majesty are reputed to run towards the modern, eschewing all superfluous artifice, and his appreciation of beauty in both nature and art are already praised widely. To what degree the shrunk civil list of Prussia and the parsimonious funds allocated to the imperial court will allow him to act as a patron to his realm's great breadth of artistic genius is the only question that remains to be answered.

(Times, 7 May 1903)

Darkness slowly settled over the Charlottenburg gardens as the last of the guests departed, carriages and motor cars rattling noisily away. Wilhelm III, legally in full possession of his imperial powers, lazily lit a cheeroot and joined his uncle Albert standing by the open garden window.

“It still doesn't quite feel real.” he remarked to the pipe-smoking erstwhile Prince Regent. “What do I do now?”

Albert nodded gravely. “I told you before, you will have to decide that for yourself. I hope I have given you everything you need, but what kind of ruler you become is your choice, not mine or anyone else's. Of course, if you want advice, I will not turn you way, but I cannot make your decisions for you.”

“Uncle!” Wilhelm protested, “nothing has changed as far as I am concerned.”

“Everything has, Wilhelm. It may not feel like that now, but as time goes by and we disagree on more and more things, you will find that my opinion carries less weight. But you are right, of course. You will need people to help you. They made me Prince Regent when I was just 27, and it took me years until I had figured out what I wanted. More importantly, until I had figured out what I had to do. No sane person would expect you to reign at 21, not really. But you can make a start now. And you have my promise: I will do everything I can to help and guide you, but I will not stand in your way. You are the king. I am just Albert.”

Wilhelm swallowed hard. “Thank you, uncle. You have given me everything I could ask for. I really feel bad calling on you so much more.”

Albert laid his hand on his nephew's shoulder, carefully avoiding the epaulet precariously perched there. “I am not Bismarck. I think I've spent too much of my time not being Bismarck, but what I resented most were his tantrums. You won't have me bossing you around. If I try, throw me out of the office. Or make me ambassador to Bulgaria.”

The emperor smiled thinly. “You would probably enjoy that.”

“Good hunting, plenty of forests for walks, better weather, practically no duties that a secretary couldn't manage... you know, I might. Throw in a good library and you've got a deal.”

“Not quite yet, I'm afraid. I need your political mind for a while still. First of all, I want to get a treaty with England. I know you've been trying hard, but if we just put in a little more, I think we can achieve it. I will need your help there.”

Albert shrugged. “I don't know. The British do not make treaties like that. Never have. The maritime agreement is all I could get, and I never allowed any moves that could look threatening. We have a lighthouse on Heligoland, and four policemen, that is it. I hoped it would be enough of a signal, but I wonder if we chose right. It looks like France and Russia remain our problem.”

“No help, then? We have to keep the army strong and hope God figures out something for our ships.” Wilhelm was still easy to disappoint.

“Not quite. Actually, I think that Britain would help us if there really was a war. I am not so sure about Austria, mind you.”

“Austria! But the treaties!”

“I am not telling you much of a secret when I say that keeping your word is what you ought to do, but it is not always what you will do. Countries abide by their treaties if it is in their interest. That is why you must always make treaties that are in both parties' interest, if you can. Bismarck was good at that. Austria has too much to lose and too little to gain in a war with Russia, but Britain would stand to lose little if France were able to defeat us. Of course that is not certain, but a treaty will not make it much surer. The best you can do is see it never comes to that.”

Both men stood quietly for a few seconds, blowing smoke into the cooling air. Servants were busy below, clearing away tables and drapes.

“You mean, no war at all?”Wilhelm asked.

“I guess. No, you could still fight one, but these days the political situation doesn't really allow it. It's a problem of too few, too great powers. A war with France or Russia would be winnable, but ruinous. What would you take? France has no territory we would be able to keep, and Russia – you could get the Baltic shore or Poland, but it would not be worth the price. War with France and Russia would be ruinous. Austria will never go to war with us again, not in a century. England has no reason. And who else would dare? Sweden? The Netherlands? No, the situation forbids it. And to be honest, I think that is a good enough thing. I've never been in battle, and I don't miss it. Maybe we don't need to fight wars any more. How is that for future glory, Wilhelm?”

“Your word in God's ear, uncle. I would make my Germany great in peacetime, if I can. But if war comes, I am resolved to gain glory.”

Albert smiled. “You will do well enough to win it. It seems to be the new way of things – keep ready enough for war, and you will have peace. Augustus more than Alexander, I regret.”

“I'm fine with Augustus, if you can be my Maecenas and Agrippa. But it is late, I must go to bed.”

Wilhelm turned from the window, but his uncle beckoned him stop.

“Not 'must', Majesty. You will never have a fixed bedtime again in your life, unless you want it. Stay up as long as you please.”

Wilhelm smiled. “You're right there. When does an emperor go to bed? When do you?”

“Ten o'clock sharp, if work allows,” Albert retorted, “and up in time for the morning papers hot off the press. Governing a country is hard work, you will find.”

Berlin, 7 May 1903

I saw the Great Emperor in person today. He looks even younger than they described him to me, but his men greatly respect him. He and his uncle met their African vassals in Berlin, and my father greeted him with a present of a prize bull and a royal headdress. The Emperor spoke to all his subjects, and when it was my father's turn,. He also spoke to me and offered to teach me in his school of pages. Tomorrow, I am to bid farewell to my father for many long years and learn the science of the Germans in Berlin’s Lichtenfelde academy, and return home to Hereroland an officer. I am enormously proud and pray God make me equal to this great opportunity.

Diary of Friedrich Maharero, son of Samuel Maharero, ranked as a comital prince at the Berlin court.

21 July 1903, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The fifth week of the International Congo Conference has passed once again without result or even the hint of an agreement. While the representatives of the civilised world are in unanimous accord that recent horrifying reports of governmental practices in the Congo Free State require action to be taken on behalf of common humanity, no unity could be achieved on how to proceed. The representation of the Congo sent by King Leopold of Belgium insists that any demands to relinquish his possession are based on vile calumnies, baseless libel and a foreign intrigue. Meanwhile, both France and Russia have voiced strong support for forcing the divestment of the Congo. A German suggestion, backed by young Emperor Wilhelm III, for a universal charter of colonial government regarding the treatment of native peoples was poorly received by both France and Britain, but met with considerable interest by the American and Russian delegation.


It remains to be hoped that the European powers will have retained enough common decency to ensure that they put a timely stop to the frightful atrocities of King Leopold's Congo in whatever fashion may be required. They are today setting a poor example to the dusky subjects they purport to elevate and seem little distinguishable from the vicious Chinese Boxers their forces have so recently subdued. To date, the glacial progress of negotiation and especially the obstructionist policy of Britain give little reason to be cheerful.

(New York Times commentary)

30 July 1903

“Captain Hintze,” the young emperor addressed his guest, “I have called on you to again congratulate you on your sterling performance. Your resolution to the release of German ships interned in Manila was a masterstroke of diplomacy.”

“Sire.” Whatever else was he supposed to say?

“And we have seen your reports as attache in St Petersburg, a truly difficult posting. Your credentials are impeccable, and I believe that you are ready for a different, more responsible position. This would, however, require a sacrifice on your part.”

The naval officer nodded gravely. He was not quite sure what would come, but the government did not recall you all the way to Berlin for trifles.

“In short, we will require you to leave the naval service. Your employment as naval attache has demonstrated your suitability for the diplomatic service beyond any doubt, and the foreign minister agrees that your appointment to a more senior position is warranted. If you agree, your commission will be resigned effective as of today. You retire with the rank of Commodore.”

“Sire!” delighted surprise spread across the officer's face.

“And, - now comes the hard part – taker up your duties as ambassador to Japan at the court of the Meiji emperor. It seems opportune, in the light of our improving relations with that country, to have a full ambassador in place. You will be instructed as to the details of your appointment in the next few weeks and are scheduled to depart on 12 September. That is, assuming you accept.”

“Of course I do, your Majesty. However, may I ask – why me?”

Wilhelm smiled eagerly. Albert, standing by his desk unobtrusively, looked on indulgently. The strange man on the other side seemed pleased, though he was more unreadable than anything else. Orientals did not puzzle Hintze as much as they did your average German, but he still found them hard to read.

“My government has been considering Germany's relationship to Japan for a long time, and we have recently concluded that a full ambassadorship would be appropriate. A suitable candidate will need to have a sound understanding of naval matters, a grasp of politics, and calm under pressure. You have shown all these qualities. And, as Envoy Katsunosuke has assured us, the appointment of a naval officer will be viewed positively. Also, I believe that extraordinary performance requires extraordinary rewards.”

Hintze came to attention. “Sire, I am deeply honoured.”

“And I am grateful, Commodore.”

“There is one more thing...” Prince Albert interjected. “Commodore, you must understand that the Japanese court is extremely rank-conscious. Much as it embarrasses me to say, the appointment of a non-noble to an ambassadorial position would be entirely inappropriate.”

“Yes, “Wilhelm added with a grin that was nothing short of malicious. “We will have to take care of that.”

23 November 1903

Junior Secretary Jean Devray was feeling apprehensive. Apprising Prime Minister Cavaignac of any kind of bad news was not considered a wise thing to do, generally. The man had a legendary temper.

“Monsieur, I am sorry. We have had a telegram from Brussels. King Leopold is trying to sell the Congo to his parliament. Apparently, he has contacted the foreign minister in the matter.”

The prime minister looked at the young aide calmly for a second. He could see the fear in his eyes, and smiled.

“Devray, don't worry. I know you think this is very bad news, but he cannot. We have his undertaking of right of first refusal, and I'm afraid that is binding. I will instruct our ambassador to inform His Majesty accordingly.”

A few moments passed in silence.

“You may go. Leave the telegram on my desk here.”

12 November 1903, St Petersburg

St Petersburg was always at its best in winter, when the sludge of late autumn gave way to a gleaming blanket of snow and the spare, harsh winter light gave the pale pastel facades of the great government buildings and palaces an unworldly, almost gemstonelike glow. Ambassador Bouvier often had his coachman take lengthy detours to enjoy the sight, so it was no surprise to the man that he would be asked once more to circulate in the streets. Bouvier and his companion seated themselves in the leather seats of the carriage, wrapped the blankets around their legs and settled in for the ride.

“Prince Orlov,” the French ambassador asked, ”you asked to see me. I have to say, circumstances are rather unusual. What is the occasion of this – assignation?”

The Russian minister gave him a conspiratorial look. “Monsieur,” he said in his flawless French, “we must only make sure that we are not overheard. The matter I am intent on discussing with you is of the greatest importance and sensitivity.”

Bouvier nodded. He was personally convinced that the existence of their secret police made the Russians see sapies under every bed, but security consciousness was not something he disagreed with. Not after the Dreyfus debacle.

“I am all ears, Highness.”

“You recall the discussions over Russian support for the French acquisition of the Congo, and our agreement that we could count on your country's aid in future disputes, I trust?”

The ambassador nodded again. Smart of the Russians to call in their debt before the negotiations had gone through. “Of course, Highness. The gratitude of the French nation towards His Majesty the Czar is beyond doubt.”

“Well, we have resolved to enforce our rights to the province of Manchuria, and request your support in the matter. You understand that this is somewhat delicate, politically speaking.”

The understatement was striking. Russia's outright annexation of a piece of China would not be viewed with equanimity in London, and was fiercely opposed by Japan. On the other hand, if it was successful, France could perhaps hope for its own gains in Guangdong and Yunnan.

“Support, your Highness?” Bouvier probed.

“Diplomatic and political, Monsieur. We must be sure that we can pursue our claims without extreme opposition, and if there is a war with Japan, that we will be allowed to deal with the country undisturbed. Your aid in keeping Britain and Germany out of the war will be quite sufficient to our end.”

“I understand.” That was fair. The Russians had done much the same for Paris over the Congo question, making intimidating moves towards London and torpedoing concerted action by other powers. “This will not be a problem, your Highness. The French government does not forget its allies. Count on us.”

19 November 1903, Berlin

The fire in the grand chimney was slowly dying down, sending a soft glow over the slightly worn carpets. Unlike the imperial apartments, Prince Albert's suite did not boast electric light or central heating. Though he appreciated modern technology, he was quite happy with what had served him for most of his adult life. Sir Frank Lascelles appreciated the sentiment. Albert was very much a man he could be friendly with, and the two had often met in similarly intimate surroundings. This kind of thing could be enjoyable, as long as you recalled that the former prince regent of Prussia was never really off duty.

“Port?” he offered. Albert's tastes were plain, but unlike Bismarck, there was little unpolished or rustic about the man. Lascelles gratefully accepted and settled into his armchair.

“Sir Frank, I am sorry, but there is one thing I need to discuss with you, and it is nothing to do with politics at all. It concerns your niece.”

Lascelles was genuinely surprised. “Gertrude?” he asked.

“Yes. Please, understand I am not criticising the young lady. Her achievements are admirable. But during her last visit to Berlin she socially met Wilhelm and he has developed a certain infatuation with her.”

Puppy love was probably a more accurate description. Gertrude Bell was a fascinating person by all accounts, striking, if not beautiful, smart, self-assured, and relentlessly adventurous. She had travelled the Middle East alone, lived among the Druze and Kurds, and carried out archaeological and ethnological studies. Wilhelm, tied by iron duty into an unloved corset of ceremony and drudgery, envied her enormously. And he was basically still a boy. Albert needed to be proactive.

“I see.” For once, the ambassador was caught flat-footed. “I do not think anything could come of it. I mean, no offense, but Gertrude would not be inclined to act on any such emotion. But I will ensure no correspondence takes place. Will that be adequate?”

“Perfectly so, Sir Frank. Thank you for being so understanding. Now, I understand you had a question for me, too? Before we pass on to the pleasant part of the evening, I suppose.”

You could take the Prussian out of the military, but you couldn't take the military out of the Prussian. Albert just did not understand small talk. Conversation, but never without a point. Lascelles smiled.

“Yes, in fact,. A question that is not for public release, you understand. We are looking at resolutions to the Manchurian and Tibetan situation, and there is a question of how the German government will respond to a conflict in that part of the world. We assure you no threat to Kiautschou is implied, but in the event Japan were to go to war with Russia, what stance would His Majesty's government adopt?”

Albert sipped his port. “It's good, Sir Frank., You should try it.” Lascelles did so. It was.

“As to your question: You know that His Majesty's government desires peace and will make every effort to preserve it. Now, this is not to be shared with anyone, in writing or words, but if anyone was able to take Russia down a peg, My Majesty would be ecstatic. Our relations with Japan are excellent, and I am sure if it came to this, a number of patriotic investors could be motivated to purchase Japanese bonds and underwrite munitions purchases. But you understand that we can do nothing that risks involving us in a direct war with Russia.”

Lascelles nodded. “I understand. Neither can we, to be honest. And Russia, we understand, enjoys the backing of France. But if we can count on your support for Japan, we can make our own commitments with greater surety. We, too, do not relish the thought of being caught in a war with Paris and St Petersburg alone.”

Albert gave this some thought. He was making progress.

14 March 1904, Simlah


Message from John Claude White, Political Officer for Sikkim, on the 1904 expedition to Tibet


Reply by Viceroy Lord Curzon

Berlin, 09 April 1904

“It CANNOT go on! The rumours are unacceptable!”

The ageing Haushofmeister was not given to outbursts, but tempers were running high around the table. Prince Albert had called them together to discuss the Emperor's close friendship with Walther Rathenau, the son of AEG's chairman and a Jew. He had never considered the possibility of him also being a homosexual.

“Please, Herr von Damendorff. We know that His Majesty is not inclined this way.” Albert knew this very well, having shepherded the young ruler through his teenage years. “And frankly, I do not think Mr Rathenau does, either.”

“He is not.” Kommissar Berthold, an officer of the state police, interjected. “We have looked into the matter intensively. Our police has informers among the unnaturally inclined, and we know for a fact that Mr Rathenau does not move in these circles.”

“That is all very well,” von Damendorff was not to be pacified, “but we cannot well publicise that our faggot spies tell us the Emperor's closest friend is not a poofter, can we?”

“You are right, of course.” Albert said soothingly. “And I think something should be done, in fact. Understand, we cannot separate his Majesty and his friend.”

“More's the pity.” said Rittmeister von Libow. The old cavalry officer had been retained at court after his duty educating the Emperor had ended, and still enjoyed the confidence of both Wilhelm and Albert. “It's unbecoming, the emperor and his kike!”

Albert shook his head. “Rittmeister, I'm afraid you will have to get used to the new realities. His Majesty does not care. Now, you all realise His Majesty will soon wed, one way or the other.”

The search for a suitable bride was ongoing, in fact.

“Please! You know this means nothing. All poofters marry, and all ruling nobles must. If we want to squelch the rumours,...”

“...we must make Mr Rathenau marry. I actually do realise this.” Albert interrupted von Libow. “The problem is, how do we convince him to do that? These are not the bad old days, you don't give a man an imperial command to marry.”

“A rich bride should be good enough, even if he is a poofter.” von Libow pointed out.

“It would, but – this is Rathenau.” Albert said. “He is quite wealthy and powerful on his own, thank you very much. He cannot marry a noblewoman, of course, not as a commoner and a Jew. But I think there is something.”

“What, the Czar's daughter?”von Damendorrff suggested sarcastically.

“Almost as good, in the circles he moves in. Bertha Krupp is still looking for a suitable husband. She is a ward of the Emperor, as an orphan, and her personal status does not make marrying a Jew impossible. Of course we had considered having her marry a nobleman to reward the family, but I think this would be better. Also in the interest of Germany's economic future, when you think of it.”

Von Damendorff shook his head. “The poor girl.”

Albert was sanguine about arranged marriages. “She will do fine, if what I hear is correct. Rathenau is a kindly man, gentle, and very smart. And he can run a big business. She could do a lot worse.”

“What about her social expectations?” von Libow, always a practical fellow, pointed out.

Albert shrugged. “Jews have been ennobled before. And in all seriousness, the Krupp family doesn't need to do any social climbing. They are at the top of any heap you care to name. So, I will have to talk to Wilhelm about this, I suppose.”

14 June 1904, Qingdao

Major Schwartz was a man much in demand socially. Tsingtau was dull at the best of times, and as times went, these were particularly dreary. The war in Manchuria had dented commerce, and with ship traffic just about the only thing that ever happened in the sleepy German quarter, that made for boring months ahead. A man just returned from the front as a military observer was a prize for any dinner party. Nonetheless, the port's commander, Captain Waldseemüller, had seen fit to impose on the officer's time. He and his army counterpart, Colonel von Resslingen, were eager to hear the stories.

“Was Nanshan really that bad?” the colonel asked.

“Rather, yes.” Schwartz still appeared shaken at the recollection. “The Russian defense was not what I would call skilfully managed, but they were tenacious. There were times when I thought the Japanese army would give up, or just collapse, A veritable Thermopylae, the hills running red with blood. I hope to God I'll never have to command a battle like it, I don't know if I could answer for my soul..”

“War is terrible business, Major.” Captain Waldseemüller interjected. “Especially when two Asiatic armies clash. It is a specific of the warfare in this part of the world that life is cheap. It makes for a different type of generalship.”The captain had fought in the Boxer war and was fond of dispensing wisdom on Asia.

“That's exactly it, Sir.” Major Schwartz explained. “The Japanese did everything right. By the book. I do not know how I could have done anything differently. And the Russian defense was not even very ably led. It was just – dense, I think is the word. Especially the machine guns were terrible. As I said, the Japanese did things exactly as you learn it at the staff college, used flanking attacks and probing maneuvers, but in the end they had to pay in blood for every metre of ground. General Nogi lost his own son. If I had to fight the same battle, I wouldn't know how to do it better.” The staff officer shook his head.

“I wondered about that myself.” Colonel von Resslingen said. “Since we've had Maxim guns, we all thought they were wonderful things to see savages charging at. But nobody has every explained to me how a civilised army is to deal with a machine gun. The British did it at Alexandria by overrunning the position, but, no offense meant, they were fighting Arabs. I can tell you the French won't run like that when we charge them.”

The men were silent for a while. Captain Waldseemüller ventured an opinion. “Courage should not be disparaged as a factor. A spirited charge or a tenacious attack...”

“...bayonet against bayonet.” Schwartz ended the sentence impatiently. “That's how the Japanese did it in the end. Actual bayonet fighting in the trenches on Nanshan hill. It sounded like something right out of the Napoleonic era. I cannot believe that this is all it boils down to.”

“When we were fighting in China, we had the greatest problems with Boxer attacks in small groups.” Waldseemüller pointed out. “A properly organised defense could take almost any charge, but often, the yellow bastards would just trickle in, often at night. You could easily miss them until it was too late.”

“That sounds a lot like siege tactics.” Von Resslingen noted. “And here was me thinking we didn't do sieges any more. Major, you werre an artilleryman, weren't you? This should be right up your alley.”

“In theory yes.” Schwartz was thinking hard. “With enough guns, breaking down a field defense should be possible. It's awfully Vauban, though. But it might do us all good to study siege warfare some more if the future of modern war really looks like this.”

“Well,” the amiable Waldseemüller concluded, “Falkenhayn will have to figure it out, won't he? We can chatter all we like, but while you are here, let us drink something. You have little enough time till your ship leaves.”

Major Schwartz did not answer immediately.

06 July 1904, Berlin

Ambassador Katsunosuke was still not quite sure what to make of the German emperor, but he had come to appreciate the young man's candidness in personal interviews. That was why he had ultimately decided to put his government's idea to the monarch personally, despite his great misgivings. It was, he had personally decided, something the Germans could only agree to at great risk. Nonetheless, if it were successful, the potential gain for Japan was great and he had enough confidence in his tact and young Wilhelm's mental acuity to fear no lasting damage to the relationship. The plans now on the table were tentative, but clear enough.

“Poland!?” Prince Albert was less than thrilled, though even he, old-school Prussian though he was, seemed not entirely adverse.

“Yes, Your Highness.” Katsunosuke explained, stepping gingerly. “The population of Russian Poland is quite restive and we have already been approached by the Polish government in exile as well as several groups inside Russia. If we were able to utilise this sentiment to oblige the Russian government to divert troops temporarily, this could be of great value to us. Your permission, as one of the partitioning powers and neighbour of Russian Poland, is absolutely vital for this undertaking, though. The Imperial government has instructed me to advise you no steps will be taken that Your Majesty does not agree with.”

Germany was valuable enough as an ally for this concession. German shipyards had produced Japanese ships, and German bond buyers had underwritten a significant part of the war effort, and were likely to underwrite new issues. And Germany's relationship with Polish nationalism was a tricky one. Albert was visibly worried.

“It could work, uncle.” Emperor Wilhelm pointed out. “I don't think the risk is too great. Our own Poles are not likely to raise the red flag just because someone in Russia is making troubvle. Tzhey have too much to lose.”

Albert pondered the idea. He was not convinced, but it was true that living ion Prussian Posen was a very different matter from Russian Poland. He himself had had a good deal to do with blunting a fair number of thrusts to outlaw the use of the Polish language, settle ethnic Germans in Posen, and disadvantage Poles. Still, he had few illusions about the treatment many of them received at the hands of German officials and neighbours. National pride was rarely content with having it better than other sufferers. It called for mastery in its own realm. Playing with matches in a powder store was not wise. Nonetheless – the Japanese plan was well considered.

“General von der Goltz,” the Emperor turned to his military intelligence adviser, “what do you think?”

The notoriously devious general cocked his head and gave a lopsided grin. “This will work. It will work just fine, and would work against us just as well. Still, I think we should do it. If we ever go to war, the Russians will arm every Slav they can find, and the French will be handing out guns like candy to everybody with a grievance. It's not like we would be breaking some taboo here.”

Albert's pained expression showed that that was not quite true. The unspoken agreement between the partitioning powers had held for almost a century. Breaking it was not exactly a declaration of war, but it was certainly stirring a pot that had long been left untouched. Bismarck would be spinning in his grave. He shot a glance at his young nephew. “Your Majesty?”

Wilhelm hesitated for just a fraction of a second. “Yes. Ambassador, we will allow you to run your operation. What is more, we will support you. You can discuss the details with General von der Goltz.”

Katsunosuke felt relief and triumph flood through his mind. He bowed deeply. “Your Majesty, the Imperial government of Japan will not forget this generous deed. Thank you.”

“Needless to say, ambassador, none of this is to be discussed or transmitted via telegraph.” von der Goltz cautioned. “Now, I have some ideas we should be talking over. You should visit me over at the general staff. Or at the Kempinski Hotel, if you prefer.”

13 August 1904, St Petersburg

The contract was unusual. Minister Stolypin had negotiated hard, and the French government had caved in on almost everything. Ambassador Bouvier was more worried than usual. Supplying coal to the Russian fleet that Emperor Nicholas was putting together to beat the Japanese was an acceptable idea, almost a commercial deal if you looked at it in the right light. Allowing them the use of anchorages in the French colonies could be considered a good turn among friends. Of course, the Russians would need all the help they could get of Bouvier was any judge. They had suffered spectacular reverses at Port Arthur, with the Japanese sinking or blockading almost their entire Far East fleet. The idea of sending the Baltic fleet halfway around the world was a desperate gamble if he had ever seen one. But the way Stolypin had drawn the French into it was masterful The French ambassador could admire sound statecraft even if he was on the losing side of it. The sale of fast merchant hulls as auxiliary cruisers was already questionable, and any power desirous for a casus belli could interpret the the “lease” of four French heavy cruisers now crewed by Russian sailors as hostile. And the idea that the French squadron should accompany the Russian ships as far as Cam Ranh in French Indochina was plainly an insane risk. Bouvier understood the purpose. It advertised to the world that anyone attacking the so-called Second Pacific Squadron on its way was effectively declaring war on France. “Anyone” here being code for Germany. Bouvier felt fairly sure Britain was not interested enough to risk the confrontation, but both Russian and French intelligence agreed that young emperor Wilhelm was a bit of a loose cannon.

“Your Excellency,” Bouvier extended his hand, “you have the full agreement of the president. I must admit, it has surprised me. Use it well.”

Stolypin smiled. “Thank you, your excellency. And rest assured, there is no danger at all. Your government will find its helpfulness amply rewarded when the next China conference dispenses with the silly notion of Peking's sovereignty. Now, we shall teach these yellow monkeys a lesson.”
22 August 1904, Washington DC


Telegram from Secretary von Bernstorff at the German embassy to the United States to the Foreign Office in Berlin.

4 September 1904, Lake Goplo near Hohensalza

Hauptmann von Lowtzow shivered in his unfamiliarly light civilian coat. It was not too late in the year, but already chilly and misty. The men who had led him here stood waiting a few paces away – Polizeimeister Schildthauer from the Hohensalza station looked uncomfortable, that Polish Wazlawik fellow seemed unhappy to be around so man armed Germans, and Mr Schmidt from the foreign office was as quiet as he always was. The pale, calm, seemingly bloodless man scared von Lowtzow, and he did not scare easily.

The sound of oars drifted from the mists almost a minute before the boats came into view. Two rowboats and a large flat cargo barge landed, and a group of Polish peasants debarked. No, von Lowtzow noted, two groups. The men from one boat eyed those from the other with wary caurtion, as though they hal exprected a fight to break out. Both parties were armed with rifles, and some also carried big knives, clubs, or even revolvers.

“The ones on the right are Pilsudski's gang.” Schmidt whispered to von Lowtzow. “The others are White Poles, who used to work for the Paris government in exile.” Lowtzow recalled his briefings. Pilsudski was a Socialist, at least technically he was supposed to be one, but Poland was complicated. The White Poles were traditionalists, and very Catholic, and apparently they had tried to raise a Polish legion for the Czar to fight the Japanese in return for greater autonomy. Of course Nicholas only had use for a Polish legion to fight Poles. The Hauptmann had been to Russian Poland incognito twice – life in the army could be interesting when your commanding officer was General von der Goltz – and he could barely imagine what it must be like now. And the trouble was only starting, or at least that was what Pilsudski had promised the Japanese.

Silently and surprisingly efficiently, the Polis boatmen manhandled heavy crates from the truck that had brought von Lowtzow here into the barge. Mostly, it was rifles and ammunition, but von der Goltz's office had added a few crates of dynamite sticks, fuses, and the silly-looking small-caliber pocket revolvers that some Ruhr industrialists made for export to America. The leadser of what Lowtzow thought of as the larboard party approached him. “You are the German adviser, Lotzow?” he asked.

“I am.” Von Lowtzow spoke Polish, though badly accented. He might have a small chance of passing for an ethnic German if he was questioned, but realistically, not being questioned was the way to go.

“I am Colonel Stanislaw Briansky of the Polish Home Army. Welcome to free Poland!”

Though his handshake was cordial, von Lowtzow was somewhat contemptuous. Colonel indeed! Still, this ragtag band of insurgents had spirit and tolerable discipline. And he would not even need an interpreter to teach them one end of a rifle from another.

22 October 1904, North Sea

Capitaine de vaisseau Theophile Lernier was out of his cot and halfway into his trousers before the sirens started. His instincts as a sea fighter rarely let him down, and even in his well-earned sleep, the finely tuned ears of a navy man of thirty years' service could distinguish the blast of naval gunfire from the howling of the wind and the thump of the engines. Ensign Jardine knocked on his cabin door just in time to find the cap' buttoning up his fly and throwing his jacket on. So far, the rumble of heavy guns was distant, and no impacts had rocked the Gaulois. Lernier could feel the engines powering up even as he turned to the young officer.


“The lookout spotted gunfire to the west, Sir.” the ensign reported. “Lieutenant Grammont ordered all hands to battle stations. So far, no signal from the Russian ships. We have not identified any enemy vessels, and have not been attacked.”

“Very well. Come along, and bring my coat. I think the sword will not be required” You did not make it to capitaine de vaisseau without a certain amount of style. Lernier liked to affect an air of clinical detachment from the possibility of his impending death. His mind was racing as he stepped along the corridor to Gaulois's bridge.

“Reports of gunfire, Sir.” Lieutenant Grammont, the officer of the watch, informed him immediately. “All hands are being called to battle stations. From the direction, it's more likely the British.”

An attack from the Northwest would have had to come from Britain's shores. Either that, or the German fleet had swept round behind them and placed themselves on the right flank of the Russians. Grammont was calm, as befitted a proper officer, but the idea of facing the Royal Navy in battle was unnerving all the same.

“Forward turret reporting ready for action, Sir!” Lernier acknowledged with a nod. That had been quick. The crew had certainly shown spirit.

“Starboard secondaries report ready for action!” “Aft turret reporting ready for action.” The messages came in fast now. Gaulois was a tight ship, and Capitaine Lernier had always been keen on battle drill. Today, it might well pay off.

“Signal ready for action.” An ensign immediately began flashing the message to Charles Martel. Three French battleships might be a valuable addition to the Russian squadron, but they were woefully inadequate to facing the enemy on their own.

“Admiral's orders, Sir.” the lookout read out the signal as it flashed across through the night. “Go to three-quarters steam ahead, turn to starboard and join the Russian line. Engage any enemy ships as found.”

The bulk of the Gaulois turned ponderously and picked up speed as its mighty triple screws churned the North Sea. Searchlights were now piercing the darkness ahead, momentarily outlining the silhouettes of Russian warships. Flashes of gunnery tore through the night. Jardine brought the captain's coat.

“Thank you, ensign.” Lernier adjusted his buttons and epaulette before turning his eyes back towards the pandemonium ahead. He was straining to make out the enemy, but came up empty. The Russian guns were flashing almost incessantly, making it nearly impossible to see beyond their battle line. Still...

“Capitaine, Russian signals. Oslyabya is signalling they are engaging enemy torpedo boats.”

“Torpedo boats?” Lernier was confused for a moment. Some of those flashes were from 30-cm guns, not secondary armament. Still, he caught himself. Poor fire discipline in the Russian navy should not surprise him.

“Signal to Oslyabya: Moving into line to assist. Where is the enemy?”

The signalling light clacked out the message. Halfway through, the lookout sang out a second signal. “Japanese torpedo boats spotted due north!”

“Japanese torpedo boats?” Lernier's incredulousness returned. It was one thing for the Germans, sneaky bastards they were, to send in torpedo boats under cover of night before engaging a superior fleet. But Japanese?

“Searchlights!” he ordered. Time to find out. With his secondary 138mm turrets ready, he could afford to give away his position. “Search for torpedo boats at 2 kilometres and closer, starboard and forward. Report all sightings before firing. There are Russian escorts between us and their line!”

“Searchlights are up!”

“More gunfire due northwest!”

The reports came in almost simultaneously as the Gaulois seemed to stop dead in the water. The steel deck hit Lernier's feet like a hammer and launched him into the air. White-hot shards of metal screamed past him as the brightest flash he had ever seen temporarily blotted out the world.

Capitaine Lernier picked himself up after what seemed like minutes. Lieutenant Grammont was bleeding. A visibly shaken ensign rushed in to report. “A direct hit starboard, Sir. One secondary turret appears to be out of action. No leaks or power loss, as far as we can tell. The crew of #2 searchlight is dead.”

The captain stared out at the darkness, helpless rage rising. It had taken him too long to understand. Precious minutes too long. “Aft searchlight, concentrate all beams on our flag. Have the tricolore run up at the maintop and forward flagstaff, and illuminate it. Grammont, we need full position lights! I will be damned if I'll have my ship sunk because the Russians are afraid of the dark.”

He turned to his senior gunnery officer, now arriving at his post and clearly bruised from the encounter. “Capitaine Bazogette, order the main guns to return fire only if attacked, but if any ship fires on us, I want it sunk! Is that clear?”

“Perfectly, Sir!”

“Grammont, lay in a course due south! One third speed ahead.”

As the bridge officers broke into frenzied activity, Capitaine Lernier turned to the starboard vision slit. Occasional gunfire still flashed, painting silhouettes of a Russian fleet in growing disorder.

They were now close enough to see machine guns opening up into the darkness.

“They are insane.” Lernier whispered despairingly. “Completely insane.”


25 October 1904, Washington DC

“John, what in perdition is happening in Europe?” President Roosevelt was visibly angry, angry the way incompetent subordinates sometimes made him. Or situations that a fool should have avoided and said fool was now expecting him to resolve. Secretary of State John Hay had been called to the White House for a crisis meeting and had arrived with an armful of telegrams and two aides bearing maps and copies of Jane's All the World's Fighting Ships. He sat down and briefed the President.

“The latest information we have is not encouraging. It probably doesn't help much if I said that things could have been worse. The Russian fleet is anchored in Vigo Bay, with the Royal Navy bottling up the exit. The British admiral is offering the French ships to leave at any time they choose, but the Russian commander wants them to stay. It seems half a miracle Britain isn't at war with Russia yet, from what we hear from London, and the French public is also quite riled.”

“The French, too.” Roosevelt looked despairing. “If they have a go at the British, would have another Napoleonic War. A conflict like that in Europe would be utterly disastrous.”

Hay smiled crookedly. “Well, that is the good side of the story. The French admiral – Lahaye or something - got very angry when the Russians blasted away at one of his battleships. He wirelessed a report in the clear, which meant his side of the story was in the Paris morning papers, and at least half the country wants war with Russia. Not that that would be any help.”

“Bah!” Roosevelt nearly exploded. “This must be the first fleet in the history of mankind to inflict a defeat on itself without ever encountering the enemy! How much damage was there? I hear they sunk a British trawler.”

“Two of them. They Russians also seriously damaged one of their own destroyers and scored hits on two of their capital ships,” Hay shuffled through his papers, “Alexander III and Retvisan. But the worst damage was to the French battleship Gaulois. Twenty-odd Russian sailors, nine French and thirteen British fishermen are dead. Scuttlebutt has it that the Charlemagne actually fired across the bow of a Russian battleship to stop it from shooting at the Gaulois.”

The President shook his head despairingly. “Damnation. I would take the Russian admiral out behind the woodshed and let King Edward watch the thrashing, if I had any say in the matter. That might ease things. Now the Royal Navy is holding them up and WHAT do they hope to gain from that nonsense?”

“Their diplomatic pound of flesh, I think. They can't very well let this slide and hope to survive in government. With the French public firmly in the Russian camp, they might have pushed harder, but as things are I think there is a chance of resolving this.”

“What if they do fight? Does the fleet stand a chance?” Roosevelt asked, mostly for curiosity.

“Not a good one. If the French come out of Brest and Le Havre, they can match the Home Fleet gun for gun. More than that, a little. But the French won't, even assuming they could do it without suffering losses to the British out of Portsmouth. They still have some ships there. And they would have to do it – today, pretty much. Before the Mediterranean fleet arrives. It is reported to be heading for a rendezvous at Gibraltar. On their own, the Russians wouldn't stand a chance if they had a competent fleet. As things are...”

“What about the Spanish? It's in their waters. Any chance of them moderating a peace?”

“Not really.” Hay went through his sheaf of telegrams. “The Spanish are mortified, angry, and helpless. They feel put upon and mostly want all of this to end, but they cannot take sides and aren't strong enough to credibly step up as brokers. Russia would not consider Austria, and France won't have Germany do it, but I have it on good authority that Cavaignac is desperate for some way out.”

“It looks like we will have to do it, then. Let's draft some messages to London, Paris and St Petersburg. We can offer to negotiate compensation in good faith and leave the whole thing standing as an unfortunate accident.”

“Fair enough.” Hay agreed. “I think Cavaignac will take it, and London will thank us. But that doesn't resolve the situation in Europe. The place is a powderkeg with the Franco-Russian alliance. Germany is terrified and Britain feels it cannot maintain the traditional balance of power.”

“This should do for now.” Roosevelt said. “You have an idea though, I guess?”

“Yes, I do, as a matter of fact. I think the reason behind the French sticking so close to the Russians is the Congo. If we can resolve that matter, France will happily drop its ally like a hot potato.”

Roosevelt snorted. “Everything is about the Congo these days, isn't it? But I think that deserves trying out. We can call another conference, but we'll need someone else to do it. I'd suggest Portugal, do you think they would be amenable?”

“I'm almost certain.”

“All right, let's try it. The worst that can happen is we have to listen to Emperor Wilhelm holding a speech again.”

26 October 1904, Elysee Palace, Paris

Ambassador Nelidov's dignity had suffered much under the onslaught of the Paris public's fury. For the last three days, he had barely ventured out of the embassy, and his trip to the Elysee today had been unpleasant. Nothing worse than mud had been thrown at the carriage, but the hostility was palpable. Of course it did not help that he was in for a dressing-down by Prime Minister Cavaignac. He had to admit that, had the situation been reversed, his French counterpart would not have suffered less, but it was nonetheless disconcerting. The president was livid, and presented a punishing list of conditions. France would be compensated for the damage to her ships. The dead sailors' families were to receive Russian pensions. Russia was to apologise and indemnify France against all claims by third nations arising from the debacle. And the lease on the French cruisers was to end, effective 1 November. That was the worst part.

“Monsieur, if we lose the cruisers, we cannot hope to defeat the Japanese fleet. They are an integral part of the Second Pacific Squadron. If the Imperial Government were to offer to purchase them...”

“Out of the question.” Cavaignac's rages were cold, but forceful. “Your Excellency, we have been most understanding. Under normal circumstances, if the battleships of one nation fire upon those of another, the inevitable result is war. Very well, we are allies, cast together by the tides of history, but some things I cannot, the French people cannot bear! You have brought us to the precipice of war with Britain. Our navy is unready, and we have only agreed to part with capital ships on the understanding that they would be returned against this eventuality. I must insist.”

Nelidov bowed his head. He had experience weathering imperial rages. A generous offer of purchase might yet move the French, once their anger had cooled. But the delay would be painful, the cost considerable. He had already cabled to st Petersburg that he had little hope for French support in the crisis, after the damage stupidly done to their ship. The Second Pacific Squadron would return to Kronstadt for the winter. Heads would roll, and His Majesty would suffer another nervous breakdown. Russia would go on. Somehow. Ambassador Nelidov had long ago learned that Russia survived despite her government.

11 November 1904, Berlin

“I suppose I should have figured it out.” Emperor Wilhelm sighed. “From Russia.”

The book, bound in cheap yellow manila paper and printed in dense, rough typeface, rested on breakfast table beside the butter dish and jam pot. Wilhelm liked his breakfasts light, in the modern fashion, and was not above treating himself to sweets.

“That is what our agents tell us, anyway. And it figures. It is right in line with their policies.” Prince Albert pointed out. Wilhelm had been fascinated and appalled by the new publication submitted to his consideration by the Völkischer Verbund zur Wahrung von Rasse und Heimat. He did not rate the organisation highly – surely, standards even on the right fringe had slipped since the days of Adolf Stoeckel – but the emperor had decided to look through the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion'. The accompanying letter had breathlessly hinted at grave danger to the realm and its ruler, and truth be told, Albert had been worried. But Wilhelm was just a bit too clever to take this entirely seriously.

Walther Krupp von Rathenau reached across to pick up the volume.Manners were relaxed around the imperial breakfast table. Wilhelm hated protocol.

“A Jewish conspiracy,”he mused. “what a crock. You'd think anyone would have bothered to see how organised Jews really are.”

“Well,“Wilhelm pointed out, “there is that association. Zentralverband der deutschen Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens. And there are mutual aid organisations. And the Ullsteins. And you, if I may be so free. If you look at it the right way...”

Rathenau grinned. “If you look at it the right way, your Majesty, it might not be such a bad idea. It might help us get treated better.”

“Now, Walther, that's not fair!” Wilhelm protested. “The law is clear, and we have always made an effort to make it stick. Even when the Conservatives ran the Reichstag. What more do you want?”

“A few more officers' commissions would be a start.” Rathenau quipped.Wilhelm blushed.

“Walther, I've signed every last one to come across my desk. I'd do more, but I don't think I can. Not without giving the appearance of favouritism.” It seemed to be a genuinely painful subject to him. Suddenly, the relaxed atmosphere dissipated.

Prince Albert spoke up, gently. “It's true, Mr von Rathenau.” He respected the brilliant manager, but he had never made it as far as first-name terms. “The army has its own way of doing things. Intervening would be counterproductive. And you know that we have had a bunch of Jewish officers through the latest expansions. True, they're mostly in the artillery and engineers, and the navy. But you have to make a start somewhere. That is how non-noble officers began, and today they're an everyday thing.”

Rathenau shrugged. He was not an activist, and personally completely uninterested in military life, but he was aware of the public discourse on Jews and the supposed threat they posed to the state. It hurt his feelings, and he was not above using his influence to let people in power know.

“An imperial letter to the general staff, just a circular could...”

“No!” Wilhelm was adamant. “Walther, you must understand. The army is a finely honed instrument, and it is very, very good at doing one thing: fighting and winning wars. It has to be. My throne, our country and everybody's safety depend on it. We have done enough damage to it in the last rounds of reorganisation, with expanding the officer corps and opening positions for bourgeois and Catholics. Like it or not, the Prussian nobles and their peasants are the backbone of our military might, and in return, I have to let them have their own way on some things. Change will come, with time. But I cannot risk to force it. The disruption it might cause...”

“ have an Itzig riding with the guards Uhlans. I know.”

The three men smiled at the mental image.

12 November 1904, Lhasa

The Sikkim Highlands Protection Force – innocuous enough a name – had finally reached its goal. Exotic, alien, squalid and dreamlike, Lhasa clung to its mountainous ridges like a city built for bird-men. John Claude White looked out over the crowds of cowed and curious natives watching his arrival. He did not have to fight his way in. General Yi's men had made their own way across the plateau – lined it with the corpses of his men, if the accounts were to be believed, and White did. Logistics in Tibet was nightmarish even for the Indian Army's commissariat. How the Chinese army coped with it was a mystery. But Yi had promised to come, and he did. His men were remarkable, White had found. Disciplined, well-armed and tenacious, a hardy breed of fighting man. Mostly Muslims, he was told. They had met and destroyed the main body of the Tibetan forces sent against them a fortnight ago, just as White's men, after their long wait, had climbed up onto the plateau and cut to ribbons the pitiful militia trying to block their path.

Out in front, a messenger pushed and jostled through the crowds. Harendra Chander Mukerjee Babu, agent of the Survey of India, sent his regards to general White. The letter was written in Urdu, a brief note detailing that the Dalai Lama had fled, but several members of his government had gone to ground. The Russian agents had gone north with him. Overlooking the neat ranks of his Gurkha rifles and European infantry filing through the gate, White considered the option of pursuit. It was already bitterly cold. Soon, the passes would become completely impassable. No, there was no point wasting good men on such a fool's errand.

15 November 1904, Spreewald outside Berlin

Friedrich Lesche was shivering with cold and fear. He had never thought that his election to the Reichstag would lead him to this. Just returned from a journey to Ostafrika, the young Social Democrat had written articles about his experiences and gained a degree of national notoriety challenging Emperor Wilhelm's colonial naivety and accusing him of condoning terrible abuses in Africa under the cloak of Germany's chartered companies. It had also drawn the ire of powerful opponents, who had funded a lavish – if unsuccessful – campaign against him in his district of Lauenburg, and now it had earned him the dubious distinction of being the first Social Democrat to be challenged to a duel by a Conservative.

“Courage, Fritz!” His second, Karl Frohme, laid a calming hand on his shoulder. “You both fire, you both miss, and honour is satisfied. That's how they do this.”

On the other side, Rittmeister Hans von Gersdorf was talking to his own second. Both men had checked the pistols and now the duelists were taking position. Lesche was still not sure whether he should not have ignored the challenge, brushed it off for the reactionary nonsense it was. But in the end, the pressure had been too great. Frohme was stepping aside, and von Gersdorf raised his pistol in mocking salute. The bull-necked bastard was enjoying this. Of course, he had much more experience, for one thing. A fair number of the Conservatives had duelled, some even during their term of office. Lesche had hardly even seen a pistol, let alone fired one. A few hours of cursory instruction with friends did nothing to bridge the gap.

The handkerchief fell. Lesche did as instructed – raise the pistol on the outstretched arm, point above his opponent's head, and pull the trigger in one smooth motion. The blast seemed oddly quiet. During his practice sessions, it had sounded like the world ending. As his eyes focused on von Gernsdorf, he found, to his relief, that he had missed. But his opponent had not fired yet. He was still taking aim. Careful aim. Friedrich Lesche momentarily considered a protest. This was not how you duelled! You were not supposed to mean to kill your opponent! When the bullet took him in the chest, he was just taking a breath to voice his indignation. His voice failed, his legs buckled and he fell to the ground, Frohme rushing to his side. Just before his vision faded, he could see von Gernsdorf's second clapping him on the shoulder.

15 November 1904, Charlottenburg Palace

“It was murder, Wilhelm.” Prince Albert could barely contain his rage. “I know duelling. Some of my friends still did it, in my youth. This is against every rule. Lesche was a fool when he accepted the challenge, but what was he supposed to do? Gernsdorf murdered him in cold blood!”

“All of this over a few negroes?” Wilhelm asked incredulously.

“It is going to be all over the press tomorrow, Sire.” his private secretary, Karl zu Ammersleben, pointed out. “We already have reports coming up in the Berliner Abendzeitung. I cannot see any way it could be kept quiet.”

Wilhelm was furious. “Quiet is the last thing this should be! I will not have my deputies shooting each other! Dammit, we have immunity so that they can be sure what is said in the chamber goes witrhout repercussions. I cannot prosecute any of the lot for what they say, what makes Gernsdorf think he can just go and shoot someone for it?”

“You can have his commission for it.” Albert advised. “And if the Reichstag consents, he can be tried. I'm sure they will.”

“That's not enough. The Social Democrats will be baying for blood over this, and for once I think they are right. I want him out of the Reichstag. I want Gernsdorf to lose his mandate. There will be two by-elections, or there will be new elections altogether!”

“Dissolve the Reichstag? Wilhelm, they have only just started being able to get things done!” The elections of 1903 had returned large gains for the Zentrum and Social Democrats, and the National Liberals and Conservatives only held on to their majority with the help of the fringe parties, including the Poles and Antisemites. It had made for tense politics and a fair amount of drama, and Reichskanzler Philipp Graf zu Eulenburg had stayed on with his interim cabinet for over a year while agreement on a new candidate stalled. Just when the National Liberals had finally been amenable to supporting the Conservative von Bülow, things had seemed like there would be a replay of Caprivi's tense, but productive years of juggling shifting majorities.

“Yes, uncle. If I must, I will dissolve the Reichstag. It can hardly get worse, can it? This is not America! I will not have people shooting each other in my parliament!”

Albert shrugged. “Will you think about it, though? Please!”

“Yes, yes, I will, I won't go off and order the dissolution today. But if anything goes wrong, I will. Damn, this is going to be a huge scandal, and the Conservatives will be furious with me. Me!? But I will strip this idiot of his commission, and I will do it today. Ammersleben!”

“Sire?” The secretary was quietly efficient. “You require the miscreant's papers?”

“Yes. And I wish to talk to Moltke. We have to make it clear to our esteemed reserve officers that they cannot go killing people they disagree with.”

19 November 1904, Kronstadt

The fleet returned quietly, with nobody to greet them though their banners flew proudly as they did every day. Admiral Rosjestvensky stood stiffly on the bridge of Alexander III, grasping the handrail tightly. Tears were brimming in his eyes. Never had he heard, never dreamed, of so ignominious a defeat. He had been ready to brave the mines and torpedoes of the cold North Pacific, or even to face the shells of the British navy and die in the blaze of his flagship's wreck for the honour of Russia. He had not been ready for the abject humiliation of his recall home. The government was no longer sure the Second Pacific Squadron was strong enough to face the Japanese battlefleet, negotiations with the French over the purchase of their cruisers were still ongoing, and new vessels – what new vessels? - were to be outfitted for the journey. But behind all these empty shells of excuses, defeat stared him in the face. The fortress of Kronstadt would have a cold welcome for his men.

In the great cabin of his flagship, the armoured cruiser Aurora, Rear Admiral Oskar Enkvist finished writing his letter of resignation. On the long and dark journey home, he had taken the time to reflect on his errors and every precaution not taken, and he had found himself wanting. The Czar had deserved better, he had decided. And he needed men who could serve him better. It would not do for the navy to be robbed of such leaders. Enkvist called for his coxswain.

“Sir?” The servant entered, quietly and efficiently as ever. Tears rose in the admiral's eyes.

“Here.” he said quickly, passing three envelopes to his longtime loyal companion. “The first letter must be delivered to Admiral Rosjestvenskiy, privately and in person. The second goes to the navy ministry in St Petersburg, via the admiral's office in Kronstadt. The third is for you.”

The coxswain nodded. Understanding dawned in him. The envelope felt heavy.

“Just a little money.” Enkvist said. “You can use it to settle down, maybe buy an inn or a boat. You will probably want to leave the service, anyway. I wrote you a commendation. Do not worry.”He rested his hand briefly on the young man's shoulder. “Now, take away the tea tray, and bring me my pistol. Then you can go.”

The coxswain expertly balanced tray and letters on his way out and gently closed the door on his commander. It would not do for the men to see him crying.

22 November 1904, St Petersburg

Chief Minister Goremykin was still in shock. Emperor Nicholas II wept openly. On the desk in the lavishly appointed Winter Palace office lay the message that had precipitated the crisis. Generals Stessel was dead, killed by a Japanese mine along with his second-in-command, General Kondratenko. General Fok, now in command of Port Arthur, had surrendered not only the fortress, but also the remains of the Pacific Fleet. Poltava and Peresvyat, accompanied by Pallada, had tried a night run for Vladivostok. Bayan and Sevastopol had been scuttled, but were in Japanese hands. Goremykin, ageing and fatalistic, was willing to take the message in his stride, but his Emperor was in a deep funk.

“Your Majesty,” Konstantin Pobedonostsev soothingly said. “God tries us in many ways. If it pleases the Almighty to punish Russia for her sins, then we must bear the punishment contritely and proudly. Never doubt that by the will of God, the arms of the Russian nation and her ruler will prevail.”

Nicholas sobbed. “My fleet. The cowards! I was going to send them the entire Baltic fleet! I spent a fortune on French cruisers to strengthen them! How could Fok consider such base treason? Why was I not informed? I would have forbidden it!”

“Your Majesty.” Goremykin pointed out. “Cables from the war office categorically forbade a surrender. Fok acted on his own initiative. It is suspected that he was overcome by the burdens of command. We must now look forward.”

“Forward. How can we look forward? Poland is in revolution, Port Arthur is lost, Vladivostok defenseless. My own people are rebelling against me! I cannot make peace with honour or fight the war with hope of victory! All I can do is trust to a miracle.”

“A miracle!” Pobedonostsev's voice was contemptuous. “A miracle you must make, Nicholas! MAKE! Your people are rebelling against their rightful ruler, and you ask why Russia's armies are defeated in the field? Look at our enemies! The Japanese are monkeys, but they will joyfully die for their Mikado. That is the wellspring of victory. Nikolay Nikolaevich, remember your ancestry! Remember Czar Ivan! If your people do not obey you, they endanger all that is right and holy. You must not show weakness to them, you cannot! You are the autocrat of Russia! God will ask you for a reckoning!”

“I am, but Konstantin Petrovich, how? How can I make them obey me, if they will not?”

“Look to Czar Ivan! The people love whom they fear, Emperor Nicholas! Be strong!”

Goremykin felt his heart raised. Prokurator Pobedonostsev was a masterful orator. Finally, Emperor Nicholas stood.

“Yes!” he resolved. “We will crush the Japanese yet. We must order the army to send more reinforcements and take back Port Arthur by land. Order General Kaulbars to report to me! He will lead the drive to retake the fortress.”

25 November 1904

General von der Goltz stood by the chart table, drawing troop movements and positions in grease pencil. Emperor Wilhelm and his Chief of Staff, Graf Schlieffen, looked on. Prince Albert stood by the side of the desk, thumbing through a file of reports.

“The situation is dire for Russia, I agree, but the risk is still too great.” Schlieffen opined.

“Quite the contrary, Sir.” von der Goltz was adamant. “The risk is doing nothing. You have studied Russia as well as I have, general. You know that if they continue to develop their army and industry as they have for another ten years, they will be our equals. In twenty, our masters. If we continue as we did, doing nothing, reacting, we will be crushed between the might of France and the bulk of Russia. Now, we have the opportunity to do something, and I say we take it!”

Wilhelm pondered the options. “You are sure about this, General von der Goltz?”

“Sure? We are never entirely sure.” The intelligence officer cautioned. “But we are fairly certain. We know that Poland is already a witches' cauldron. The Japanese have suborned Finnish and Lithuanian rebels, too. Now, I admit we have been helping them a little, but it was all trivial stuff. A few thousand rifles, some dynamite. Nothing we wouldn't have done for any Ottoman tribe. More aid would go a long way. Russia itself is also looking increasingly wobbly. We could probably encourage things to go wronger there. With the Japanese dismantling the eastern defenses and the British thwarting her ambitions to the south, now is as good a time as we will see in our lifetime. Her government is weak and run by a crazy inquisitor. A few bold blows put in now, and we can delay the eventual rise of Russia's power by a decade or more, and gain valuable defensible territory on our borders.”

“All of this without a war.” Albert was unconvinced. “General von der Goltz, how do you propose to avert exactly that outcome?”

“We must trust to the genius of the situation, Your highness.”, the general replied. If a war were to come, it would be on better terms today than it will be in the future. And I believe it can be averted. The French government cannot risk going too far in assisting Russia, or it will lose public support. Russia herself cannot well afford another war. Her bonds sell poorly, now that the patriotic fervour is out of the Paris bourse. Nicholas will need hundreds of thousands of troops just to keep himself in control. There are already 200,000 Russian soldiers in Poland. In the event, St Petersburg would be unable to afford the escalation. They will have to accept a negotiated independence, just as the Ottomans had to in Greece.”

“Never mind the battle of Navarino.”Schlieffen interjected.

Wilhelm remarked pensively: “I would take a naval battle as the price of Russia losing Poland. But how do we do it?”

“Look to America.” von der Goltz explained. “That is the way of the future. Private individuals outfitting military units with the covert support of the state, like the Fenians did in Michigan, or supporting rebel factions like they do in Mexico. A private company, funded adequately and with access to bond markets, can fund a rebellion more effectively than a government constrained by annual parliamentary budgets can.”

“But the Fenians lost.” Wilhelm noted.

“Yes. If they had won, Washington would not have hesitated to grab Canada. Not officially, of course. They would just have ensured a friendly government, and given what they were owed, that wouldn't have been hard.”

Albert turned to his nephew. “Wilhelm, I would advise you to be extremely careful. All of this is irregular. Consider what to do if you lose. A war can be ended with a peace treaty, but how do you negotiate the end to such a non-war?”

But Wilhelm had made up his mind. “General von der Goltz, I think we will try your ideas. Peace with Russia is illusory at this point, and if we can hurt her while avoiding war, I am all for it.”

30 November 1904, Radun

Yossel Rabinovitch was rapidly running out of arguments. Rabbi Landauer was a clever debate and incredibly knowledgeable, and he was pouring his heart into this exchange.

“Rebbeleben, how shall we live if we let ourselves be driven to the slaughter like lambs? How shall we live in the Poland of the rebels if we do not stand up with them to make it our country? The Russians cannot treat us worse than they do already, or worse than they will the Poles if they lose.”

Landauer shook his head. “Yossele, you are wrong. They could treat us worse, indeed, they do. Think of the poor Litvaks that came here from the pogroms. We have it good in Poland, not great, but good for a Yid. It's not Germany, it's not America, but it's living. And that is always better than dying. And you are also wrong about the fighting. If you go off to kill cossacks, the cossacks will come here and kill you. And if they don't find you here, they'll take us. Fighting is a young man's game, Yossele, nothing for families and old men.”

“The young men are all it takes, Rebbe!” the bokher protested. “Enough of us can carry a rifle. I'm not talking of throwing bombs and gunning down governors. This is going to be real fighting, and we have a chance at real liberty!”

“A chance, Yossele., how good a chance? You said, how much worse can the Russians get. They can be plenty worse, Yossel, but I ask you: How much worse can the Poles get, if they get their new freedom? The Yids have been in Poland for a long time, and there will be Yids in Poland till the Messiah comes. We will live. Our Poles are not beasts, they will let us live like we have. Will you risk all of that for just a small chance of a life a little better?”

“It's not just 'a little better', Rebbe! It's a life in freedom, as men among men! You can speak about the Messiah all you want, but he's not coming in our lifetimes. And there is no law that says we have to live like dogs until he comes. In America, in England, in Germany and Austria, a Yid can live like a man. He can be anything he wants, rich, powerful, a politician, an adventurer, a soldier, an official. We can have that, too, if we will just stand up for it! And if it fails, well, better to have stood up and failed than to have lain down all the time.”

Rabbi Landauer shook his head. “Yossel Rabinovich, you are a fool. You are a brave fool, a good hearted fool, but a fool. Now, I will forbid you from fighting, do you hear? You will not take up a rifle or you will be expelled from this school!”

Yossel Rabinovich nodded. Landauer was unhappy. He did not normally use authority to win arguments, but really, what argument was there to win? Young men would be young men, dreaming the same nonsense the world over. If it wasn't love and women, it was daring and honour. He was not sure whether he ever should have Rabinovich read the Maccabees. The young man had too much of a following among the bokhers already, with his foolish delusions. For a moment, the rabbi considered a letter to the authorities, but he dismissed the thought. That was unworthy of a teacher. Keeping his students under control was the task of his learning and authority, not some cossack sergeant with a whip.

9 December 1904, Essen

The great hall of the Villa Hügel was designed to receive visitors of rank. It positively dazzled many of the guests invited to the grand banquet today. Laid with meticulously ironed and folded napery and crowned with centrepieces that looked to have cost hundreds of marks each, the long rows of tables shone in the light of hundreds of electric bulbs. The finest wines glittered in crystal goblets, and Walther Krupp von Rathenau had brought in a chef from London to lay on the finest kosher fare that money could buy. Fish fresh from the ocean, veal out of season, exotic fruit from greenhouses and the best Paris confectionery had been turned into a meal to remember. Even the richest amongst the guests only rarely dined in such style, and most of them were far from that rich. Even the owner of the palatial residence rarely enjoyed such luxury. Cutlery clattered and glasses clinked over the drone of animated conversation – no music had been ordered. The attending luminaries, the cream of Jewish thinkers, activists, journalists and politicians in the German world, preferred not to be distracted. Their often spirited prandial debates - a continuation of what had been a day of meetings and exchanges already, sometimes between men who had read each other's works for years without coming face to face – almost made the host hesitate to rise and address the company, but in the end, he felt he had to. Walther Krupp von Rathenau had a Canossa to go to, and he wanted to do it in style.

“Esteemed guests, my friends and those I hope to call such in the future! I thank you for coming here, though I am certain many of you have felt a degree of apprehension and even mistrust about my person. Let me assure you that I have asked you here not to antagonise or convince you, but to thank you. For too long I have not seen what was before my very eyes. I thought that all you represented, all that Judaism was, did not apply to me. I assumed that whether I was a Jew or not depended on whether I wanted to be one. Today, I know that I was wrong.”

A murmur rose among the audience. Whatever they had come expecting to hear from the richest and most famous among their German co-religionists, this had not been it. Rathenau continued.

“You are all well aware what company I keep. I make no secret of my social ties. And do not expect me to say anything bad about his Majesty, or his Highness Albert. You may have heard that Prince Albert does not care for Jews, but the truth is, he does not care about Jews. He genuinely does not care if you are a Jew or not. I wish I could say as much about the people who serve him. In my first week in Potsdam, I heard the word 'Judenbengel' more often than I cared to. At first, I ignored it. I tried to correct them, too. After all, I am hardly a boy, especially compared to his Majesty. But in the end, I pretended not to hear. It was my conviction, my form belief, that if I could prove myself as a true friend and valued companion, this would cease. It did not, and I am very likely the oinly person in this room who was surprised by it.”

He nodded to Professor von Simson, the noted columnist, who had written an insightful piece about the precarious social standing of men like Ballin and Rathenau, whom he had called the 'Kaiserjuden'.

“In the end, I had to accept that I was wrong and they were right. Not right in their contempt or their suspicion, but right in their view of what, not who, I am. In the eyes of the world, I can stop wearing a beard and a kippah, I can stop going to shul and speak proper German, I can even become a member of the highest circles, but I cannot stop being a Jew. Nothing I can do, say, or believe will ever make me anything other than a Jew. I used to think – and say, loudly – that if I but worked hard enough at becoming like everybody else, I could be like everybody else. Maybe, in a distant future, when men think like the Emperor does, that will be true. Today, now, here, it is not. And because that is so, I can only conclude that I must accept what I am and stand with my brothers. Here stands Judenbengel Rathenau, Geheimer Rat Doktor von Rathenau, but Judenbengel nonetheless.”

He paused. Unsure what to do, the audience sat in silence for a moment. Hesitant applause rippled through the hall, and died off quickly. Rathenau spoke again.

“For as long as I remember, I was conscious of being a Jew, and for a long time, I was conscious of it in the same way I was conscious of being dark-haired. Today I understand that being Jewish matters, not because of what it makes us, but because of what it makes the rest of the world think of us. I cannot stop being Jewish, which means I cannot escape the commonality with the lowest Kaftanjude from Russia hawking rags in the backyards of Berlin. I cannot escape sharing the same hatred, the same contempt and the same danger. Such a bond of brotherhood, involuntary and resented, is nonetheless strong and true. He is my brother. All the nameless thousands crushed under the hooves of the cossacks are my brothers. They are who they are and I am who I am, but what we are is the same, and no denial, no contempt from my side can alter one iota of that. That is why I called you here. I wanted you to know, all of you, that I wish to help you as my brothers. I do not care how much we disagree with each other on what being Jewish means to us, or what our political differences may be,”

A quick series of glances: Theodor Herzl was struck with emotion, Maximilian Horwitz – the chairman of the Central-Verein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens strategically placed near his seat – seemed awed. Some listeners were in tears.

“we must help each other. Where Jews are held in contempt, where they are threatened, tyrannised and killed, we must step in not only because of our fellow humanity, but because every blow against any Jew makes it easier to conceive striking the blow at each and every one of us.”

Rathenau lifted up a dog-eared copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, much annotated in pencil and bearing the traces oif many a frustration-borne launch across the reading room.

“I learned much from this book, which most of you probably already know. It purports to be a protocol of a grand Jewish conspiracy to rule the governments of the world. I can only wish we were anywhere nears as powerful as the writers make us out to be – I would have some suggestions to make on policy, you can believe that. But the idea behind it is not without merit. If we are all the same in the eyes of the outside world, then yes, we must and we should stick together. If we must be forever suspected of conspiracies, then let us have one to help and uplift each other. I do not propose to tell you how or where to live a Jewish life. I propose to help you live it. And I ask you to suggest to me how best to do this. You know I am a man of some means,” - the understatement drew laughter - “but so are other Jews longer committed to the struggle than I. Money may help in many things, but not every problem can be resolved by gold. Still, if you can think of any that can, feel free to contact me. For those that cannot, we can at least speak to each other. Coordination in a battle is as valuable as armaments, and make no mistake, a battle this is. A battle in which I hope to join you. Will you come to be part of this conspiracy?”

This time, the applause raised the roofbeams.
13 December 1904, Moscow

Sergey Witte was still not sure coming here had been a good idea, but his curiosity always got the better of him. A rich industrialist with a brief, abortive political career behind him and influential friends on the periphery of the court who kept him abreast of things, he liked to see what was going on himself. Especially now that he had lost all illusions of being able to influence events, he felt all the more compelled to witness them and thus had chosen not only to visit General Kuropatkin's headquarters and the Manchurian front – permission was more readily forthcoming than even a man of his standing had any right to expect – but also decided to make a detour through Moscow on his way back to St Petersburg. What he had seen in the East had saddened and enraged him. What he witnessed here frightened and encouraged him in equal measure. The people in their thousands had come to the zemstvo building on Red square to stand in the bitter evening cold awaiting word from within. Himself ensconced in the gallery – rank had its privileges – Witte had watched the proceedings with bemused detachment. The demands had been drawn up: an elected national assembly to make the country's laws, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. It was heady stuff, in Moscow at least, the stuff history was made of. Zemstvo delegates were reading to the crowds now, interrupted regularly by roaring applause. Little father Nicholas would have a fine surprise for breakfast.

Still, Witte was glad to have his first-class ticket out. He did not plan to wait around for the answer to this letter. History being made was messy business at the best of times.

16 December 1904, St Petersburg

The back streets of the capital were not a good place to be in winter. The snow and ice were rarely removed with the kind of regularity you took for granted on the Nevskiy Propspekt, and the darkness seemed only to be exacerbated by the few dim lights cast though windows not protected by shutters and drapes against the December frost. For the men skulking around the corner, though, the darkness was a blessing, however much they cursed the cold.

“There he is, the traitor!” The voice of the informer was sharp, putting a little too much emphasis on his hatred for the Emperor's enemies. As though he did this out of patriotism! Sergeant Shternmiler rolled his eyes in contempt. The greedy guttersnipe. But his information had been useful. There, stepping out into the dim light cast by a single lantern behind a drab, low cellar door, stood Father Georgy Gapon. A traitor, then! Conspiring with people he did not report on, certainly. Shternmiler did not recognise the young man at Gapon's side, but he did not need to. The house was well known as a meeting place for radicals. An Okhrana informer going here would have had to report on it. Gapon had not. Silently, Shternmiler signalled to his companions. Two stood ready to block the street, with two others already gone ahead to close in from the other side. A third watched their source closely. Nasty accidents had happened to policemen who trusted their contacts too much. Shternmiler stepped into the street and turned on his electric torch.

“Police!” His bass voice gave him an edge in such situations. “You are under arrest! Don't move!”

For one split second he thought it had worked. Then the youth at Gapon's side dodged behind the priest's body and dove for cover. The sergeant cursed. A flash at the other end of the alley lit up brightly, the report reverberating up between the walls.

“Idiots!” Shternmiler went down. He had to keep his light trained on the arrestees, and his men had been fools to fire into it. You could not hit a shadow! You ran a good chance at hitting the man holding the light, though. Next time, he swore to himself, he'd limit the blocking party to truncheons.

A revolver spoke in the alley. Two quick flashes, and a vitriolic curse behind Shternmiler as one of his men went down. Whoever the young fellow was, he did not intend to be taken alive. Shternmiler was happy to oblige. As he unholstered his pistol, another shot rang out, this time aimed towards the blocking party. The two policemen returned fire, and now his own companion, too, seemed to wake from whatever funk had briefly descended on him. A staccato of gunfire filled the street, lasting no more than two seconds. Both men collapsed on the ground. When the Okhrana sergeant came to Gapon, the young priest was still trying to pray, though his breath was almost gone.

22 December 1904, St Petersburg

The unscheduled train moved into the Finnish Station with slow, deliberate speed, controlled in near-silence by a careful engineer. The hall was almost deserted, with only a handful of travellers and porters waiting it out in the darkness. Early morning services would not resume for another two hours. As the wagons stopped along the platform, all third-class passenger cars, doors opened at the sound of a whistle. Heavily packed men in thick greatcoats, shaggy hats on their heads, spilled out in a momentary spell of disorder before falling into neat files along the platform. Rifles were handed out from the baggage car. From the window of the station manager's office, a young clerk looked out over the scene and winced. The strikers at the Putilov plant were in deep trouble. A quick succession of orders barked in Finnish, and the regiment marched out, bayonets already fixed. Stepping silently in unison, without the music, songs and banter one expected of a marching army, the troops almost seemed like a deadly, purposeful machine.

27 December 1904, Charlottenburg Palace

With the fire dying down in the chimney and an excellent meal behind them – excellent by the frugal standards of the Berlin court, that is - everyone around the table was in good spirits. Emperor Wilhelm, dining privately today, had made use of the post-Christmas lull to make invitations off the social schedule that usually governed his evenings. Sipping his wine, he looked around the company. Generals von der Goltz and von Falkenhayn, Admiral von Koester, and Walther Krupp von Rathenau were seated around his table, admirably relaxed in such august company. Smiling, he rose and raised his glass. Wilhelm was not much of an orator – his youth and inexperience accounted for much of that – but he liked holding speeches. Rathenau mentally prepared himself.

“Gentlemen,” he began, “the ancient Romans had the custom that in times of great need, men of exceptional ability were called upon to take the future of the state into their hands. These were times when the usual forms of government, the ponderous machinery of negotiation and deliberation, failed to meet the needs of the moment. These were the words: 'videant consules, ne res publica detrimenta capiat'. Let the consuls see that the state not suffer harm.”

The Emperor cleared his throat, sipped some wine and continued.

“Today, we face such trying times again, and in order for our country to emerge from them more powerful, safer and greater yet, we must place a similar burden on such men. That is why I have called you here. Gentlemen, you are the men in this realm – barring my uncle – whom I trust the most, and I intend to make you my fellow consuls in this great endeavour. Much of what I may ask you to do will be secret, some may be illegal. I may, in time, need to call on resources that are yours without being able to make repayment at the time. The Reichstag is slow and stingy in budgeting. Rest assured, all of you, that the gratitude of this country, and my own, will be yours eternally once we have mastered the crisis. Until then, I must ask all of you to keep in strict confidence everything and anything said here. Can I count on you?”

The four men stood almost simultaneously and agreed.

“You know that Russia's position is weak. General von der Goltz, you have already outlined plans to use her weakness. I wish to expand on them. If the Czar finds he cannot trust his people, or control his subjects, he will be busy for a decade or more recovering lost ground. Perhaps, later on, Britain may be amenable to prying loose some pieces of his Central Asian empire, even. Until then, we must coordinate our measures with the Japanese and hope for fortune to smile on us. It would not be the first time for pieces of an Eastern empire to gain their independence,” Wilhelm smilingly pointed to the map on the table, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania prominently outlined, “and it would be a nice irony of history if Nicholas were to join Abdulhamid in such company.”

General von der Goltz saluted crisply. “Your Majesty, I am your man. Command me whatever you see fit. We will lead the Russians a happy dance, we will!”

Koester and Falkenhayn were slower in their agreement. Rathenau quietly looked at the map for a moment. “Your Majesty,” he said carefully, “my fortune and my person are at your disposal. I trust no harm may befall my honour in such a venture.”

Wilhelm looked at his friend thoughtfully. “I promise you, Walther,” he said, “that I will do nothing that will reflect poorly on you, or on my country. But politics is not a clean business, you know that.”

“I know, your Majesty. I am not afraid of the occasional lie or secrecy. That is par for the course. I will bear a small crime in the service of a great good.”

“Excellent!” Wilhelm exulted. “Then it is settled. We will correspond privately, and occasionally meet to coordinate our actions. For now, we will continue as we have, and try to step up our support for the Poles. Later on, we may have to take things further – perhaps much further. We will see. But I believe we will be equal to any challenge. A veritable organisation of consuls!”

“collegium” Rathenau absent-mindedly corrected.

Wilhelm had not heard him. He raised his glass. “To a successful 1905, gentlemen!”
1905 Descensus ad Inferos

06 January 1905, Warsaw

Hershel Kanitzky liked Warsaw. He came through the town a lot on his travels through Poland, and he had always had a soft for its modern, vibrant atmosphere, its dolls'-house prettiness and cultural scene. Today, though, the place took its breath away. At the beginning of his stopover, he had wondered about the meaningless exhortation painted on house walls: “Patriotic Policemen!”. Later, as he walked away from the main thoroughfares, he learned the full text: “Patriotic policemen are blind, deaf, and mute!” Given the massive amount of illegal activity on display, they seemed to be. Polish constables walked idly by as houses displayed a riot of white and red, posters and handbills proclaimed a general strike, and young men sang patriotic songs in impromptu gatherings. The cynic in Hershel wondered how long they could keep it up, and what they would do once they tired of it. Still, the sight of the city in open, brazen revolt was stirring. Near the general post office, he spotted a group of gendarmerie, visibly nervous and clinging together tightly. The train station was guarded by apprehensive soldiers – Russians, from the look of it – but either there were not enough of them to check the passengers individually, or they had decided not to antagonise people. Hershel had even passed through without as much as a casual insult despite his visibly Jewish clothing. He wondered where the cossack cavalry was. There was a regiment stationed near the city, and they had often patrolled the streets, but today, they seemed to have melted away. It was hardly fair to the infantry pickets posted outside important buildings, for one thing.

As he approached his lodgings, the picture changed somewhat. The Wielkopolski barracks were locked down, the soldiers looking out from behind strong fences and walls at the people pointed ignoring their existence. In the less affluent side streets, grim-looking men in leather jackets and double-breasted greatcoats gathered on corners. Some of them openly carried rifles, wherever those had come from, and Hershel was almost certain the deep pockets of the leather-jacketed fellows also held unpleasant surprises for any gendarme that got too interested. There had been a demonstration three days ago, he was told, and the troops had not dared break it up. Of course, Hershel suspected that this was less a matter of cowardice than the failure to communicate or formulate clear orders that seemed to characterise the Russian Empire. Still, the people were in a festive mood – except, it seemed, for the Russians. And that was a sight: Russians ducking around corners, changing the side of the street when knots of Polish men came along, and generally trying to be inconspicuous. As a Jew, Hershel was familiar enough with the behaviour. It was what kept you alive in tense times. He had just never expected to see it in others. “Well,” he thought to himself, “that's what a pogrom brewing up feels like. See how you like it.”

A big man in the thick greatcoat that seemed to be the informal uniform of Polish franc-tireurs stepped up to him. For a brief moment, Hershel felt panic rise. Then, a bottle was pressed into his hands. “Drink, Zydki!”, the man shouted. He seemed to have done a bit of that himself. “Celebrate! Poland is free today. I am free, you are free!” The vodka was rough, probably the product of some rural distillery, legal or not. The aftertaste was sweet, though. Kanitzky had never thought the unrest to be anything but a nuisance for his work. Travel had become harder, and he had stopped bringing over papers. The way the Polish rebels looked at him gave him pause, though. They did not seem to actively dislike him. In fact, they seemed downright fond of him. Of course that could change in a heartbeat if things turned sour, but being some revolutionary's Zydki – little Jew – was better than the treatment he was accustomed to from Russian officials. If you could manage to stay on their good side, things might not turn out too bad.

16 January 1905, Berlin

The Berlin art scene has acquired considerably greater charm and interest with the growing patronage of Emperor Wilhelm III. This was visible today again at the opening of an exhibition of young German exponents of the Munich liberé movement. Works of the highest artistic virtue were on display at the newly opened Galerie Cassirer, supported by the generosity of Oskar Tietz, a friend of his Majesty, along with daring architectural designs and, it must be said, some items that appear more designed to produce controversy than to elicit admiration or raise the spirit. Though the visitors from Munich appeared uncomfortable in the less congenial climate of the northern capital, they found ready admirers in many quarters both for their art and their famously pagan joie de vivre.


On the margins of the exhibition, the emperor himself was seen in animated conversation with artist and writer Fanny Gräfin zu Reventlow, a young lady who joined the Munich circle under the most scandalous of circumstances. Her own graphic work is, in the opinion of your correspondent, undistinguished, though her writing enjoys some popularity for her fine sense of irony. What royal attention may mean for the further career of this most un-Prussian of Prussian noblewomen, your correspondent dares not speculate.

(Die Jugend)

... And you must know of this – the most embarrassing thing you could possibly imagine. You know I was invited to the vernissage of the Cassirer exhibition where Kandinsky made such a splash. It was a rather boring thing, altogether, though Lessing held a wonderful speech to open it, and I have to tell you I was so bored and so exasperated with the Berliners, they are such horrible prigs. Then I spoke to a young man who had said the most ridiculous things about some of the pictures, the count of Ravensberg, can you imagine? I did not think, I do not know what came over me, how I could not recognise him, though he was out of uniform, of course. And still, I see his profile every day, if not as often as I wish, and it must have been some form of blindness, what else could it have been? And arguing, we were actually arguing about the virtues of this art he prefers. His taste is not bad, for Berlin, not anywhere as philistine as most Prussians are, but he has a liking for such coldness, such hard, rectangular, technical lines that are all masculine and military, all mathematics and no soul. Surely I expect they will haul me away to the fortress soon, but oh, what a lovely argument we had! And he is smart, that at least I can tell you, a smart and soulful boy, really. It makes you want to take him away from all the soldiers and officials that surround him, make him see the wider world, but ah, no, that cannot be. And then, once I understood who he was and felt so sure I would never be able to set foot in Berlin again, I was about to pack my bags and leave early. You cannot guess what happened then. A footman from the palace - oh, what a ridiculous uniform the wear! - delivered a letter from the Count of Ravensberg. He signed himself that, Wilhelm Graf zu Ravensberg, and he has asked me to meet him for tea, on Friday. I shall have to find lodgings for longer, but what a moment! You would not know me if you saw me today, I am breaking out in cold sweat, worrying like a debutante. But do not fear, this Prussian ogre will not eat me alive. I have said before that I shall be my own woman, and I will not knuckle under for the sake of some palace protocol. But I am so curious to know what he will want. It was such a charming conversation we had, though I doubt he saw it the same way. ...

(letter by Fanny zu Reventlow, 17 January 1905)

24 January 1905


Demonstrators Demand Freedom for Prisoners. Hundreds Dead.

The streets of St Petersburg today run red with the blood of innocents as soldiers opened fire on tens of thousands of men come to protest the arrest of the Putilov factory workers' leaders in the St Peter and Paul fortress. The number of victims is as yet unknown, but it is believed that several hundred have died and thousands more are injured.

Yesterday morning, at the instigation of the Assembly of Factory Workers and, it is claimed, the Socialist Party, working men of St Petersburg assembled peacably to petition for the release of the surviving leaders of the Putilov factory strike, held at St Peter and Paul fortress. Carrying crosses and icons and praying along the way, they hoped to move the government to mercy. Yet, betrayed by the clergy that misled them and the monarch who purports to rule Russia for its good, they were abandoned to the bullets of the Czar's Finnish regiments and the the sabres of his cossacks. At 11:30, the first demonstration arrived at the St Peter and Paul fortress to find the street closed by a cordon of riflemen. As men bared their breasts, imploring the soldiers not to shoot their fellow compatriots, cavalry closed the street, driving the crowds forward against the troops who opened fire into the mass of bodies. Another column of protesters was attacked by the guards dragoons on its way to the Winter Palace, a third fired on by infantry before cossack horse sabred the fleeing survivors. As evening settled on the city, the toll of these horrors is yet unknown, and no word has emerged from the palace how the Czar seeks to defend this outrage. As all humanity clamours for an end to the inhuman despotism that crushes the Russian people, the people of France in particular must demand of their government an account of this strange alliance that binds us to a common fate with a ruler whose hands are red with the blood of his own subjects.


25 January 1905, St Petersburg

“NO!” Nicholas II was not given to outbursts of rage – the volatile monarch more commonly vacillated between confidence and despairing disappointment – but on this topic, he would not budge. He had made his decision, and no amount of pleading would move him. “Uncle Nikolai, I have thought the decision through and I will and must remove myself from the city. It is not a matter of safety, it is a question of principle! The Czar cannot remain among the ingrate, disobedient rabble. I will go to where my people, my loyal people, can find me when they call me.”

Grand Prince Nikolai stood in silent shock. His nephew had long been given to silly notions of Russian tradition and liked to imagine himself the paternal ruler of a childishly obedient, simple people, but so far, he had never allowed this fancy to dominate his decisions to such an extent.

“Please, your Majesty, Nikolai Alexandrovich, I beg you!”, he pleaded. “The mob has risen, the country is on the brink of anarchy! A strong stand is required now, a show of force. When the sprting offensive drives the Japanese from Manchuria, the taste of victory will drive such notions from the heads of the people, but until then we must remain here, stand firm and face the revolution like men from the blood of Peter the Great must. If you leave now, all will collapse!”

Nicholas shook his head. “Uncle, you do not understand. I do not leave from fear. It is not weakness, but moral strength! When Czar Ivan Grozny faced the ingratitude and rebellion of his people, he abandoned them to teach them the lesson that the Rus cannot be without its Czar. There was darkness, anarchy and chaos, and the people learned. The loyal people recalled him to rule over them, and they visited such retaliation on the traitors that Russia stood strong for a generation. I will await my people at Moscow. Until then, Uncle Nikolai, I must trust the administration of the city and its chastisement to loyal men.”

Governor General Trepov stood, trembling with fear. To the knowledge of everyone in the room, this may well have been the first time he ever contradicted his emperor. You had to give him credit for being a good servant, Grand Prince Nikolay thought. “Your majesty, I fear that his Highness is right. The people will not understand. St Petersburg may become unmanageable. There are already barricades in the streets, and we have lost soldiers and officers in the working class neighbourhoods. Without the strong hand of the Emperor here, in his palace, ruling the country, I fear we may lose control altogether.”

Nicholas II looked saddened. “Dimitri Feodorovich, my loyal, true, trustworthy Trepov. You give yourself too little credit. And what if I lose St Petersburg? We will retake it, retake it and return it to its rightful allegiance. It is hardly a Russian city at all, as it stands, too much Western filth in it. No, the city can do with a cleaning. Hold it for me, or try, and I will not hold it against you if you lose it for a time. But I must be the Czar of all Russia, not the Count of St Petersburg. I will go, and I will take my council and the general staff with me.”

Konstantin Pobedonostsev, standing in the background, nodded gravely. Grand prince Sergei Alexandrovich, commander of the Moscow military district, extended his hand. “Your Majesty, your train is ready. I will accompany you and your servants, and you need not fear a thing while you are under the protection of my troops. A regiment stands ready to guard your train, and the barracks in Moscow have been made ready to house your lifeguards.”

Governor Trepov bowed quietly. To say any more would have been treason to his mind. Come time, the emperor would return, and he would need a loyal man to reconquer his realm and root out revolution and disloyalty. Trepov would be ready then.

26 January 1905, Omsk

General Brusilov was a reasonable person, but waiting for his batman to return for over two hours from a trip to the railway station was enough to strain his patience. He looked over the newspapers and reports on his desk again and wondered briefly whether to get something else to read from his suitcases. His transit to St Petersburg was scheduled for 9:00h, but in winter, railways were never quite as reliable as they should be. Brusilov had fought in Manchuria and, even in the opinion of hostile superiors, had acquitted himself well. Why he was being recalled he did not know, but he had received his marching orders in winter quarters and made his way across the frozen breadth of Siberia to report to wherever he was wanted next.

The door opened and Corporal Yasimov entered, standing to attention nervously. “What is it?”, Brusilov demanded testily.

“General, I am sorry. There are no trains.” The young soldier sounded nervous, and Brusilov regretted his tone. Yasimov was a good man with a future as an NCO, and you could hardly blame him for the state of Russia's railroad network.

“Very well, then.” he tried to sound relaxed. “Have they been able to tell you when services will resume?”

Yasimov swallowed hard. “General, it's not an interruption of services. There are no trains. The railway workers are on strike. They have proclaimed that they intend to keep the system shut down until the Czar grants a constitution.I am sorry, Sir. There was nothing I could do.”

General Brusilov stood still for a long moment. His mind recapitulated the long lists and tables of figures he had gone over, freight for the troops, reinforcements and resupply for General Kuropatkin, ammunition, coats, boots, food, tents, guns and telegraph wire that he had shuttled through the railheads. He tried to shake off the horrible image of these thousands and thousands of tons piling up in warehouses and railyards, uselessly rotting in the spring rain as the army choked, its vital artery shut off. It was enough to bring a stronger man to tears.

“It's all right, Corporal. See if you can get us horses, and maybe some vehicle, if it's possible. I fear we will travel a good deal less comfortably from here.”

29 January 1905, Stockholm

Karl Weber's job was usually not exciting. As a representative for AEG, Sweden was a quiet posting. You could not expect much business in the country of Eriksson. Today, though, was more exciting than most – to be truthful, more exciting than Weber cared for. He had brought his guest to the port and boarded a launch to take him out to a ship waiting offshore, which was tricky business even if you had your sea legs. Weber had been in the infantry, twenty years ago, and the mysterious Mr Heikkinen did not seem any more comfortable. By the time they climbed to the schooner's deck, both looked slightly green and were grateful for the steaming mugs of tea the captain ordered brought up for them.

“Mr Weber,” the visitor spoke excellent Swedish, “I assume these are the tools you discussed with the patriotic club?”He pointed to the crates secured on the ship's deck.

“The tools we discussed are stowed below. These contain generators, just in case.” Weber felt extremely uncomfortable. One of the things he had not expected to be asked to do in his capacity as a commercial clerk was playing the secret agent. Heikkinen went down the hatchway to open a box, lifting out a Mauser rifle. He handled it far too competently for Weber's taste.

“These are excellent. Thank you, Mr Weber, and please convey my thanks to our unknown benefactors, too.”

12 February 1905, Berlin

...Yes, I am in love, I must admit it to myself. How impossible the thought, to love the representative of all I have grown to fear and despise, and yet, how true, how liberating, how right! Wilhelm, boy genius, the lord of this world – oh, what a stirring phrase, he IS the lord of this world in so many senses, the Lucifer of my soul! The heart of all things real. How could I not see this before, how not realise that as Apollo breathes where the arts dwell, so does Minerva animate the realm of all things that are and do? And how strange a thought, that the tender female anima should be so nobly represented by a male Godhead while the active, masculine principle thrives under the aegis, literally, of a Goddess! I must speak of this to Wilhelm, complex things are often so simple to him. Oh, to be in his company again – and how painfully sweet the wait! This promise is more precious than the dreary reality of a daily routine. Must I not count myself fortunate in that I will see him but rarely? Oh, calm is so hard to come by, what a day, what glorious days! How many more to come? I must not tempt fate, I must not! Should I die this instant, I must count myself fortunate to have lived this day! Oh, my dear Wilhelm, that you have chosen me! It must be fated, purposed by a higher power, how else? How can a woman be free when she feels this? No matter, I will be true AND I will be free. Free to be true! Poor Wilhelm, he will not have this freedom, constrained by tradition, obliged to marry for duty. Let him serve his duty, I will serve my love! Glorious liberty, not to be a queen!...

(diary of Fanny Gräfin zu Reventlow)

13 February 1905, Berlin

“You could have made a more – prudent choice.” Walther Rathenau was not judgmental, which was the main reason why Wilhelm had come to him for advice.

“I love her, Walther! It was not my choosing. But obviously, I cannot well follow her example and run off to become a painter in Munich. You haven't seen the garbage I produced in art class.”

The two men shared a chuckle. “You couldn't sell a painting if your life depended on it. But it's a good thing you can see that much. We can make arrangementsthat will suit you, I'm sure.”

Wilhelm hesitated. “The scandal...”

“Bah!” Rathenau dismissed the thought with a wave of the hand. “Scandals like that are the bread and butter of newspaper writers. Nobody cares! King Edward travels around with two mistresses in tow, and Leopold of Belgium carries on with a schoolgirl, at his age, now there's a scandal. Nobody will care, in the long run. Of course Gräfin zu Reventlow will be ostracised by polite society, but then... “

“She is used to that.” Wilhelm completed the uncharitable thought. As a divorcee, a single mother and a writer keeping company with artists and philosophers, Fanny zu Reventlow was only ever mentioned as a scandalous example of misconduct. Her writings had done little to alleviate the burden of public opprobrium. “What I am worried about is the right kind of people. Fanny lives for conversation. She would never agree to a retired, quiet life.”

Rathenau shrugged. “That's what I meant by a prudent choice. Ballerinas are just so much easier to maintain and replace, when the occcasion arises.” He quickly raised his hand. “No, I do not mean you should replace her.” With the practicality of a businessman, Rathenau had, of course, contemplated the notion. Fanny was ten years Wilhelm's senior. Now, she was a famous beauty, but ten years from now, the emperor might well be looking for an easy way out of his relationship, no matter how brilliant a conversationalist she might be.

“I think the best way would be to set up some kind of foundation. She can manage the funds, become a patroness of the arts and keep a literary salon. That way, she will have standing in the artistic world, and your meetings will not have to be furtive.”

Wilhelm nodded. “I think a house in Berlin should be manageable. The court holds some real estate that I have personal control over. But the funds for a foundation...”

“Don't worry about it. I'll set up something. And please, don't you give her the house. I can handle that end, too. It would feel like payment, and I doubt she would want that.”

The emperor nodded again. “You're right. Thank you, Walther. I do not know if I can ever repay you.”

“It's all right. And you are right, she is complicated. I hope she is worth it.”

Wilhelm looked up. “She is. She's even worth facing Uncle Albert's wrath over.”

19 February 1905, North of Mukden

Lieutenant Nagata Tetsuzan was proud. He had been told that he could be, to be entrusted with so important a mission so soon after his arrival at the front. He had been filled with a grave, quiet resolve to serve his Emperor with every fibre of his being when he had stood face to face with General Nogi, the victor of Port Arthur. However, above all, Lieutenant Nagata was cold, tired, and increasingly concerned he might also be lost. The old joke listing a lieutenant with a map as a legitimate battlefield hazard sounded increasingly unfunny. Reading the countryside in the middle of snowdrifts was hard work. One of his men was coming back from a reconnaissance, and Nagata desperately hoped for good news.

“Railroad tracks, Sir!” the exhausted Private Tanaka reported. Relief flooded through Nagata's mind. They were in the right place after all. “Railroad tracks, and an infantry picket.”

“Did they see you?”

“I don't think so, sir. They didn't react, and I was a fair way off.”

The lieutenant nodded. “Well done. Sergeant, you and the squad stay here, in the shadow of the hill. Corporal Hayashi, pick two men to go on lookout at the top, but carefully. Corporal Doi, prepare to report back to headquarters and guide more troops here. I will go forward myself to see who we are facing.”

He had the training, he had the binoculars. It was only fair. Still, Lieutenant Nagata cursed himself as he crept through the snow, slowly rounding the hill through the brush, staying out of line of sight as much as he could. The railway tracks ran through the valley before him, straight to the north, eerily quiet under the pale winter light. A group of soldiers had taken up position beside the track, set up a small shelter, made a fire, and seemed to be waiting for something. Carefully, Nagata worked his way down the hillside until he was close enough to make out details. Wrapped up in their greatcoats and swaddled against the cold, the men looked more like stuffed dolls, but the uniform coats gave them away. They were Japanese. Lieutenant Nagata's heart leapt to his throat. He rose, raised his hand and walked towards the picket, signalling the lookout to relax. The pickets knelt behind the improvised berm they had built and lowered their rifles.

“Who goes there?”

“Friend!” He shouted. “Lieutenant Nagata!” they did not fire. He slowly approached until he was within speaking distance and could give the password. One of the men still aiming laid aside his weapon, rose and saluted.

“Sergeant Matsuki, Sir. First Army. Are you...”

“From General Nogi's Third Army. Yes, sergeant. We have them in the bag now!”

22 February 1905, Moscow

Grand prince Sergei Alexandrovich, military commander of Moscow, did not find it easy to change his mind or reverse a course of action, so his decision of today had come as a surprise to many. Prince Georgy Lvov, his guest, was foremost among those to be thus pleasantly surprised. Lunch, music and pleasant conversation – Lvov was an accomplished conversationalist, and a very pleasant man, Grand prince Sergei admitted to himself – began the approach. Later, the two men would head out to the Bolshoi for a concert. A private theatre box was an admirable place to negotiate things. Seated in the carriage, flanked by mounted police, Grand prince Sergei began to outline his suggestion: “You understand, your Excellency, that an abdication is out of the question. The principle of autocratic government cannot be questioned. But his Majesty is interested in discussing options with the more moderate proponents of reform and come to an accommodation. I understand you are acquainted with some of them...”

Prince Lvov nodded cautiously. He was hesitant to enter the minefield of politics – not himself a revolutionary by temperament or belief, his involvement in the semstvo was based on his charity work more than anything else. But the Grand prince was appealing to his patriotic duty, and Lvov shared his concerns about the possibility of a genuine revolution.

“I cannot make any commitments on anyone else's behalf, obviously, but I will...”

The carriage slewed sideways. Duke Sergei instinctively ducked as he heard a horse neigh in pain. The first shots did not take him by surprise. Drawing his revolver, he raised his head to bring his eyes level with the window. The gendarme was down, his horse collapsed on the man's body. Two armed men approached the carriage, firing their pistols as they went.

“Assassins!”, the Grand prince shouted to Prince Lvov who seemed locked in fright. He raised the revolver and fired, noting with some satisfaction that the attackers seemed dismayed and confused to see him returning fire. Prince Lvov snapped out of his paralysis, looking out of the window to see what was going on. The two revolutionaries looked on in utter shock as they recognised the man. One of them reflexively raised his gun, but the other struck down his arm. “Idiot!” His shout could be heard inside the carriage. “Not him!”

Duke Sergei roared with anger. Firing again, he rose to shout for help, oblivious of the danger. There were two more mounted police with them. Where were they? One more shot, then another. A bullet spanged off the metal fittings of the coach. Duke Sergei took careful aim and felt sure he would have hit his target dead center if his leg had not buckled under him. He fell, momentarily confused in a tangle of noise, shots and hoofbeats. Two gendarmes had rounded the corner and opened fire straightaway. One of the assassins dropped, clutching at his stomach. The other ran. Prince Lvov had dropped to his knees, struggling to breathe. Blood seeped from his shirtfront. Sergei felt sure that he could not have been hit by the gunmen. He opened his mouth to berate the policemen for their stupidity just before he fell forward.

3 March 1905, Mukden

General Kuropatkin looked his best for the occasion. It was his first formal encounter with Field Marshal Oyama, and despite his obvious discomfort, his consummate skill at protocol showed in every detail. Encircled in the city of Mukden, he had failed in four bloody attempts to break out to the north. Rumour had it that some of his own regiments were refusing to attempt another assault. No reinforcements or supplies were coming into Vladivostok either, if the reports of local spies could be trusted.

“Marshal Oyama,” he declared in French, “in accordance with the agreement negotiated, I surrender the garrison of Mukden to the Imperial Japanese forces. The First, Second and Third Manchurian Armies are in your hands, sir.” He removed the sabre from his belt and extended his hand. Oyama declined the gesture.

“General,” he replied, “your men have fought valiantly.” He let the barb sink in for a moment. “Prepare your troops to disarm and entrain for Port Arthur for transport to Japan. They will be treated well.”

Kuropatkin saluted stiffly and left. Oyama turned to his subordinates. “And thus, history is made.”

The assembled officers stood silently for a moment.

“General Nogi, I will inform his Majesty that this victory is owed to a large degree to your quick and skilful maneuvering. I regret to say, though, that your lot is not to rest yet. My armies are exhausted, and I suspect it will take us at least until summer before we can resume large-scale operations. Your Third Army is still relatively mobile. I will detach all units still in fighting condition to join you. Your objective will be to move north along the Manchurian railroad. Ensure you are not outflanked, and use all due caution, but take as much of the line as you can before it is destroyed. If you can take Harbin, we will know that the gods favour our endeavour., nobody will fault you if you cannot.”

General Nogi bowed.

7 March 1905, Czenstokhov

Colonel Kaminer was trembling with rage. To say that he was not used to having his orders questioned would be a misreading of the situation. He was not an oldfashioned martinet who demanded unquestioning obedience from his men. But as an officer, he expected his soldiers to understand and carry out their duties to the best of their ability. The idea that they might simply refuse to do so had so perplexed him that he was reduced to helpless anger. There was no procedure for this, no regulation, and no instructions other than the iron commandment that it should not be allowed. Mutineers were to be punished. Disobedience was not to be allowed. Even so, Kaminer had felt certain that he could reason with his men. They were, after all, his regiment, troops he had lived and laughed with, whose worries he thought he understood and whose lives he had often tried to make easier and happier. He almost thought of them as his children, and could nmot bring himself to believe they might prove cowards.

“Grisha, it is not Manchuria.”, he addressed himself to the ringleader, Sergeant Shevchenko, who had raised the protest. “I don't know who gave you that idea. Our orders are to guard workl details on the supply route, along the Trans-Siberian railroad. The damned strikers make it necessary to move troops and equipment under guard. You will watch over prisoners and guard trains, not fight Japanese!” He could see, though, that the crowd was not convinced.

“Lies!”, one of them shouted, “Lies! We will be slaughtered by Nogi's machine guns!”

“We won't die for some officer's incompetence!” another yelled. “We're not cattle!”

“Go yourself!”

That stung. Kaminer turned to the shouter: “You dare...?! I will go! If you have to charge Japanese machine guns, I will be there beside you, and if we die, then I will lie in the same earth.”

“Bah!” came the reply, “officers always find a hole to hide in.”

The colonel drew his revolver. “I will not be accused of cowardice, you cur! You will obey my orders and return to duty, and I will forget this incident, but if i see one of you here in ten seconds, you will all suffer the penalty for mutiny.”

Time seemed to slow as Kaminer realised he had made a terribly mistake. The men would not leave. He could not retreat. A show of strength might save him – if he acted decisively. He raised the gun and brought the barrel to bear on Sergeant Shevchenko.

“You first, Grisha!” he said, his voice choking, as he squeezed the trigger. The shot never came. Colonel Kaminer stared in disbelief at the revolver on the white flagstones of the exercise yard. Pain pulsed through his chest and shoulder, and he realised he had fallen forward. Corporal Surkov, who had stood guard at the office, held a bayoneted rifle in his trembling hands, blood coating the blade. Sergeant Shevchenko's face was deadly pale.

“All right,” he muttered, “no going back now.”
13 March 1905, Brussels


“Price is unacceptable”, “Bloody legacy would taint Belgium forever”

Today, for the second time, the negotiations over the purchase of the Congo Free State have broken down as Parliament once again failed to produce a majority for the expenditures. While the Socialist Party has voiced almost unanimous opposition to the concept of a Belgian Congo, with a speech famously referring to it as the “blood-stained legacy of a tyrant passed on to sully our national reputation for untold generations”, concern over the excessive price demanded by king Leopold appears to be the decisive factor in the rejection of the offer by a significant number of Conservative representatives. Charges of unpatriotic behaviour levelled by supporters of the colonial venture were rejected categorically yesterday...

19 March 1905, Berlin

Karl zu Ammersleben, personal secretary to His Majesty Wilhelm III, efficiently laid down the files and documents required and bowed, symbolically, but noticeably. He never omitted the small obeisance that was, to an extent, his punctilious symbolic protest against the excessive informality the young emperor liked to affect in his inner circle. “Your Majesty, the papers, as you requested. Are you sure this is wise?”

Wilhelm managed a brief smile. “No, Mr zu Ammersleben, I am not. But since no course of action open to me appears wise, I might as well choose the one that appears honourable and send the lot packing. Sort of a Gordian knot thing”

The Reichstag had chosen an odd point to make, refusing to strip Rittmeister von Gernstorf of his immunity. The fool had, of course, refused to resign his seat. That alone was testament to the degree to which the automatic support of the Conservatives that Wilhelm I had enjoyed had eroded. That the Social Democrats and Zentrum party gleefully voted down the Liberals in their efforts to unseat Gernstorf was no surprise, of course. They were smelling blood and hoped to milk the continuing scandal for all it was worth, and Gernstorf was playing into their hands, with intransigent supporters cheering him on. Wilhelm's choice to dissolve the Reichstag was unconvincing as Bismarckian cunning, but it would do for a principled stand. And it rid him the permanent confrontation that a finely balanced parliament with no stable majority produced. It may have allowed him to rule with less interference than his uncle Albert had had to suffer in the final years of his regency, but it made for an unpredictable environment. You could never tell what budget items or laws would pass.

“Yes, your Majesty.” the conscientious servant assented. He obviously had different ideas, but zu Ammersleben was the product of a traditional, deferential conservatism that had all but died out in modern Germany: He genuinely believed that his monarch knew best, and it was not his place to question him. In some particularly hectic moments, Wilhelm envied Prussia's earlier kings for having been served by such men.

“I still think you haven't quite thought this through, Wilhelm.” Prince Albert remarked. “What will you do if the Reds win?”

Wilhelm smiled thinly. “They won't, uncle. And if they really do – you said it yourself, they've lost their edge. What have they been able to force though lately? Stipends for Reichstag members, tax exemptions for cooperative societies, mandatory fire brigades for large industrial premises – it's not exactly bloody revolution. A lot of it isn't even such a bad idea. They're naïve, but not dangerous.”

“If you say so.” Albert was unconvinced. “You know they will clip your wings, though.”

The emperor shook his head. “If they can. Seriously, I am better off with the Social Democrats in rather than out. You pointed out to me yourself how important their constituency is, and you know how hard the Conservatives have become to work with. Half the time they will demand one of their pet laws to be passed in return for assent on anything. I'm fairly convinced they hate me more than the Reds do.”

Now it was Albert's turn to laugh. Freed from the punishing routine of imperial paperwork, though still Wilhelm's most trusted adviser, he had taken to reading the papers voraciously. “You're right there. I can't say why, but the Social Democratic press is quite fond of you. Some of the editorials in the Kreuz-Zeitung, on the other hand... 'youthful enthusiasm', “boyish optimism', 'reckless naivete' – if I didn't know any better,. I would say they were criticising you.”

Neither man mentioned the far less flattering words that völkische papers found for the emperor. A number of publishers had hinted darkly at Germanic traditions of elective kingship and the authority of imaginary ding-assemblies to punish treason even in the highest of places.

“Bismarck must be spinning in his grave.”

April 12 1905, Tokyo

Ambassador von Hintze sat in a lawn chair in the garden of his official residence. Secretary Oka, a man whose astute mind and conversational skills he had come to greatly appreciate, shared the afternoon's rest with the German representative. They were, as usual, discussing politics.

“I would advise taking the matter seriously.” Hintze counseled. “This Sun Yat-Sen is very far from an insignificant person already. Exile movements have played an important role in a number of European revolts and revolutions, and they can be influential far beyond what mere numbers would suggest.”

Oka considered this. “You have made your position on China quite clear. The question is, will the Chinese government thank us if we take steps to hinder Mr Sun from continuing his work?”

“Yes.” Hintze was adamant. “Of course, it will take coordinating. The imperial government is not known for its responsiveness, I am told, so a few pointers may be called for. But as a token of good faith, the proactive dismantling of a revolutionary cell would be most appropriate. China can be a valuable ally against Russia if the war lasts longer, as it well may.”

“Still, consider the humiliation many Chinese still feel over the war we fought against them. I do not think the Dowager Empress will welcome us with open arms.” He was cautious by nature, a born diplomat. Hintze could be impatient with such people, but Oka's objections were always reasoned, if sometimes unimaginative.

“The Dowager Empress may not be your primary concern, anyway. China has two great armies whose commanders are much more significant powers than the court today. And Chinese politics have demonstrated nothing if not remarkable flexibility. I am sure once the question of Mongolia entering Russia's ambit – along with Xinjiang and Tibet, if we can trust the plans that Colonel Druve discussed with the Dalai Lama – is raised, the Chinese government will come to see reason.”

“Yes, I agree, they will. I would have to do the same. You say the Dowager may be safely disregarded? I would be careful on this count.”

“Note, I did not say safely disregarded. She is still dangerous. But she will be dead very soon – quite possibly as soon as one of her political enemies can expedite it. Emperor Guangxu is still young and may well reign for many years to come. If I may make a suggestion?”

Oka eagerly leaned forward: “I am all ears.”

“Look to the Chinese forces in the South. When the Dowager dies, there will be a bloodbath at the court. Whoever comes out on top will have to rely on one of the army leaders. Right now, most of everyone's dealings are with Yuan Shikai. He is exactly wrong for you. His territorial base conflicts with your ambitions, and his forces were badly stung in Korea. Zhang Zhidong's Wuchang army may well answer your purposes better. Ever since the Tibet campaign, he has been able to build up a formidable establishment, and we already have numerous German advisers there training his troops. What he lacks is the funds to rival the Beiyang army.”

Oka was intrigued. Hintze could practically see his colleague's mind working. “With his position, Zhang would be acutely aware of the French ambitions to his immediate south. Might he be amenable to an amicable settlement in Manchuria?”

“The question may not need to be asked for several years, I am sure. And I do not say drop all interest in Yuan, just – keep an eye on the Wuchang army. Zhang is old, and if the Dowager had dared replace him, she would have. He may not be the person you need to speak with, anyway. The tea is very good, by the way”

Oka agreed.

06 May 1905, Warsaw

Hauptmann von Lowtzow still felt his head was spinning. Until a few days ago, he had spent his months in Poland trying to drill and train ragtag insurgents in the use of rifles and machine guns, tactics and logistics as best he could. He had walked in and out of “free” Warsaw several times, but invariably found the claims to control of the city less than convincing. Whatever the people might be doing in the streets, the Russians owned the railways and still inhabited the barracks. Then the First of May had come, and suddenly, things had changed. From what he had heard, the Russians had finally got their act together and decided to dissolve a large demonstration. As with so much they did, it was both too late and far too brutal. The occasional resistance that the cavalry troops met on the broad avenues of the inner city became more stubborn and effective in the side streets and working-class districts, and by the afternoon, the commander had called on infantry to help. Had the Russians struck immediately, they would most likely have routed the rebels, von Lowtzow was still fairly certain. However, they had taken a whole day to assemble their forces, and even they had deployed them in groups that were too small, and poorly coordinated. The officer wondered whether they might be having trouble trusting their forces, the way they apparently mixed units from different regiments. Rumour had it there had been mutinies in Czenstokhow and Lublin. The delay, though, had given the grandiosely named National Army (Pilsudski insisted in the new term) time to move men and materiel into the city, and they had, shockingly, managed to give the Russians a very bloody surprise. By the 4th, the Artillery Barracks were under their control and the last fighting force that could have stopped them was leaving Warsaw to regroup. Of course, Pilsudski had taken the opportunity to declare himself the head of a Polish provisional government and Warsaw the capital of free Poland.

The next day, journalists from every neighbouring country had begun flooding in, as had thousands of eager volunteers looking to join the cause. Von Lowtzow had been kept very busy trying to keep a handle on things like telegraph lines (most westbound ones were working), railways (the line through Thorn seemed to be useable, but the Russian garrison at Lodz made the connections to Ostrowo and Königshütte impassable), war stocks (enough rifles for three hundred men, to be distributed among better than four thousand volunteers) and the telephone network (it was incredibly convenient to simply call your forward observation posts rather than having to rely on runners). Yesterday, a reporter from the Daily Telegraph had shown up trying to interview him. That was a problem, of course – officially, he was Polish, and his Polish was barely good enough to pass for one to a British journalist.

Right now, the war council of the National Army was in conference with one Mr Zehntbauer, a representative of the Berlin chamber of commerce and agent for Krupp. He had some intriguing suggestions to make.

“You see,” he pointed out, “if the rail line can be kept open, we will be able to continue to do business. Basically, we will consider all companies and entities in this part of Poland as legitimate business partners, either on their own or through the offices of the temporary managers appointed by the provisional government for Russian-owned firms.”

“I am still not clear on the – scrap metal – you are offering?” Colonel Brianski interrupted.

Mr. Zehntbauer smiled. “The Krupp steelworks acquired a large consignment of superannuated military stocks. Gewehr 88, a few 77mm field guns, even howitzers, on the understanding we would dispose of them. They were replaced in the course of the military expansion and modernisation that has recently taken place and have been kept in readiness in the event of a potential resale. We will be happy to send them to any company here willing to contract for them, and what you choose to do with them afterwards is, naturally, not our concern.”

Pilsudski looked pensive. He did not like being dependent on the Germans, but the offer was almost too good to be true.

“What about payment?” he asked.

“I am sure there is sufficient specie in the government's coffers that were acquired during the liberation of the city.” Zehntbauer suggested. “As to later consignments – I believe the Berlin stock exchange would be open for bond sales.”

5 May 1905, Radun

Running towards noise was a new and somewhat exhilarating idea to Shloimo Ferber..He an d a few of the bolder members of his class at the yeshivah had gone out of their way to be good patriots, joining in every sing-along and throwing mud and bricks at the few Russians that showed their faces in the street, taunting gendarmes and occasionally congratulating the Polish National army fighting men that drifted into and out of Radun. The town was far from Warsaw, far from most of the territory held by what was charitably called the Pilsudski government, and far from anything you could call government at all. The pervasive feeling was one of tentativeness. Radun had no garrison worth speaking of. The gendarmerie had a post, even a fairly big one, but they rarely came out lately. The police and government officials were in sight, but they usually tried to do as little as possible. Nobody seemed quite sure what the future would bring, and the most rational response by Jews, Poles, Russians and Lithuanians alike was to avoid doing anything that could be resented by anyone. Radun lived in a kind of stasis.

Young patriots, of course, resented this and would happily try to provoke a response from the authorities. A few days ago, someone had thrown a brick through the window of the courthouse. A gendarme on guard had shot at the thrower and hit a Jewish pedlar. Resentment had been building for a fair while, and a number of Jews, half surprised that they were, in fact, welcome at this game, had joined the Poles in causing trouble. Shloimo liked trouble, he found. Turning the corner to see what was going on, he watched a crowd of people milling around in front of the gendarmerie post. Smoke was billowing out of a window. Two young men – presumably, recent prisoners - were carried on the shoulders of the mob. Shloimo could not see what had become of the gendarmes and was not keen on finding out. There were no gunshots. Files and books were torn up and strewn over the square. Apparently, the post had been given up. With growing disappointment, the bokher-turned-rioter found there was little to do but join the party when David Waczlavik pointed to the stable doors. “Over there! Let's get in!”

Apparently, the gendarmes had left their post in haste. The gate that opened onto a side street was wide open, and a few enterprising Polish looters were already leading out the horses that had been left behind. Shloimo led his impromptu force inside the building. He was not quite sure what he was looking for until he spotted it: guns! Of course, the gendarmes had guns, and they had forgotten, or neglected, to take along the lot of them. In fact it looked as though they had been preparing for a siege, the way they had stocked up on ammunition. Shloimo had never handled a gun, but he was quite willing to learn, and he figured he would need one to do so. A few quick commands (and a slap or two to get their attention) were enough to concentrate the minds of his hangers-on to the task. Each man grabbed a rifle, some two (they were heavy), and four or five stuffed revolvers into their coat pockets. Then he decided to load them with ammunition boxes. Back in the courtyard – they went three times to haul out more of their prizes - they found a wheelbarrow to bring home the treasure, secured with some rope and a lot of balancing. In a late moment of thoughtfulness, David decided to throw an old horse blanket – muddy from footsteps – over it, but that did not stop the one armed man in the yard from challenging their departure.

“Zydki!”, he shouted. “You don't know how to use these, anyway. Leave them for the National Army. We can use them.”

Shloimo would never be quite sure whether the source of his courage was the exhilaration of the moment, the reassuring weight of the revolver resting on his right thigh, or the fact that he was, in effect, leading ten men against the Pole's single self.

“Fuck you, Polack. We're keeping them.”, he growled. As they staggered down the street, scrambling to keep the overloaded wheelbarrow upright, other looters appeared on the scene.

Nobody seemed minded to stop them. He idly wondered how to explain his acquisitions to Rabbi Landauer. He had no other place to bring the weapons, and there was no way they could keep this a secret even if his fellows could keep their mouths shut.

09 May 1905, Paris

“Gentlemen”, Prime Minister Cavaignac addressed his assembled ministers: “we have come, I believe, to a decision point. The coming Congo conference will give us a victory, and with a victory, the Patriotic League can face the election with confidence. I must advise you, though, that British resistance is intransigent. Today, I received as letter from the Danish government with an offer of mediation. They suggest a partition of the Congo free state among several buyers, including the French, Portuguese, Belgian and British governments. This route, I believe, will be viable, though we must and will negotiate hard for the entire territory. For this reason I believe you, Mr Syveton, best qualified for the position of emissary.”

Minister of the Interior Syveton, a well-known parliamentary brawler, nodded. He could be relied upon to negotiate hard and give ground grudgingly.

“You are authorised to agree to a partition, but if you see any opportunity to prevent one, I will support your every effort to do so. Note, though, that we are pressed for time. You all have heard the news from Russia.”

Cavaignac helplessly gestured towards a pile of newspaper clippings and diplomatic cables on a table near the window. Then, he demonstratively paused to sip from the glass of water placed by his side, regaining his voice and composure before he went on: “Our ally is proving a broken reed, I fear. There is every reason to think that Russia may not recover from this internal unrest. Even if she does, though, her military defeats will have reduced her international standing for many years to come. If Czar Nicholas loses his throne, we cannot rely on the new Russian government honouring any treaty obligations towards us at any rate. Therefore, even if the agreement to be had in Lisbon will give us the mouth of the Congo and its main lower run, you may relinquish claims to the southern interior. But we must have the river mouth. Promise an open-door policy and free trade to all, you know there are ways to get around that. But give us the Congo! Our influence in the Belgian parliament is still strong, and we may prevail on them to refuse the purchase,, or sell on their gains. But if we control the river, it will not matter either way.”

“Monsieur, rely on me. I will be glad to serve on this mission and gain France new territory without the terrible effusion of blood that a war would mean. But, Monsieur, what of my ministry? Who will take care of my duties while I am away? You understand that my position is a responsible one, especially while the radicals are so forcefully on the attack.”

Clemenceau's party had made frightening gains, and bloodcurdling promises. If they won the next elections, the military, the church and the business community would all face terrible blows. There was talk of secularising all schools, and it seemed that ever since the cruiser sale debacle, even some conservative voters would be happy to take that chance. It was, indeed, a time of decisions for France.

“Monsieur Syveton, I will place the choice of interim minister entirely in your hands. You have my full confidence. In your choice, bear in mind that you may well be selecting your permanent successor, though.”

Syveton froze momentarily. Successor?

“Gentlemen, it is no secret to you or the world that my health is not the best. Though duty may compel me to stand for office again, nature will not allow it. Come back with a victory, and you will be the natural choice. We need a fierce man to face down a tiger.”

Minister of War Deroulede glared at Syveton.

15 May 1905, Radun

Yossel Rabinovich had always felt sure that revenge would come. It was not that he had resented Shloimo's raid. He had himself spoken in favour of arming themselves and resisting Russian rule. Unlike others in his school, though, he had never harboured the optimistic delusion that trashing a gendarmerie post would be all it took to be free, and he had been right. The Russians had come back. A column of infantry had moved into Radun to exact vengeance. Because the commander had been a reasonable man, he had given the community five hours to turn over the ringleaders for trial. Because he had been a Russian, he had also chosen to exempt the yeshivah from his reasonableness. Someone had seen Shloimo take away the guns, and as a result, the Russians now wanted Landauer and all his senior students turned over. The unspoken announcement was that there would also be looting, rape and arson. For some reason, it seemed not to have occurred to him that the Jews might fight back. That was how Yossel found himself ensconced in a window on the upper floor of the yeshivah with a rifle he had barely had time to learn using and a seriously grouchy mood. To his surprise, he found that this fighting thing was not really hard. He wondered secretly why the goyim made such a big deal of it.

Initially, he had been as jittery and terrified as his friends, for all their bravado and big talk. Climbing the stairs, he had very nearly turned around and walked away. If he hadn't had to go past the noncombatants in the back rooms on the lower floor, he might well have. But it occurred to him that the problem was simply lack of concentration. Fighting, per se, was not a challenging thing. You pointed the gun and pulled the trigger, the bullet did the rest. You just had to put your mind to it, push the distractions aside and get down to work. A damned Chassid could do it. They did it all the time. Yossel was still unsure whether it was appropriate to recite Scripture, but he knew a lot of sections by heart that lent themselves easily to concentrate the mind on the bloody work that lay before him. Peering over the window ledge, he overlooked a mass of angry, disappointed and confused goyim, milling about or seeking cover in their fur hats and green coats.

“Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against...” bolt back and forth, the round clicked into place. “...Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out...” aim, carefully “...of Machir came down governors...” hold breath, BANG!, down, chamber the next round “and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen...” aim, the man crouching behind the cart taking aim at the lower windows, “...of the writer.” hold breath, BANG! Next round, “And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar...” aim, an officer – officers were good targets, “...and also Barak:” BANG! The green-clad, sabre-wielding figure fell, clutching his stomach. Low. Aim higher next time. Yossel ducked, his lips moving almost of their own accord. “He was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great...” Up again. Two of the soldiers were trying to set up a machine gun. One was giving them orders. Calm now. “...thoughts of heart. Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions...” BANG! Missed!. Down, reload, “... of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on...” Up again, aim carefully, “...the sea shore, and abode in his breaches. Zebulun...” BANG! Down went the commander. Down went Yossel. “...and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field. The kings came and fought...” up again, by the window ledge, and the machine gunners had abandoned their post. Gunfire still raged. Another soldier, careful aim, “...then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.” BANG! Down. “They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The river of Kishon...” chamber the next round, up again, the Russians were retreating now. “...swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon.” BANG! One went down. “O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.”

Things quieted down after a few more chapters. Surrounded by spent cartridges, and with an ache in his shoulder that would bloom into agony over the next few days, Yossel Rabinovitch idly wondered what the big deal was about baptisms of fire. Shloimo would be insanely proud, of course. But they would have to leave anyway. The Russians would be back.

18 May 1905, encampment west of Plock

Captain Wito of the Polish National Army looked at his German adviser, Lieutenant Schwerdtfeger. The story appeared too far-fetched. “You are sure there were none of our troops involved?”, he asked. “We do not always keep track of every unit.”

“No Sir.” The messenger, Corporal Shimanski, was adamant. “The Jews did it. I was in Radun at the time and all the NA men in town were hiding. I didn't see the defense myself, but some people who live near the school described it to me. It appears they had rifles and revolvers, and the Russians were complete fools. Just tried to walk in. One rifleman especially just picked off Russian officers until they gave up. Then the NA came out and sent them packing, but we couldn't have done it without the Zyds softening them up for us.”

Wito shook his head. “Who'd have thought. What do you think, Lieutenant?”

The German nodded cautiously. “I suppose if they weren't expecting resistance, it could just have caught them wrong-footed. What kind of unit was it, anyway?”

Wito looked at Shimanski. The young man seemed to concentrate hard. “Infantry from the garrison in Woronow. I don't know which unit in particular.”

“And I suppose nobody thought of questioning prisoners.” Schwerdtfeger remarked with quiet resignation. The concept of 'prisoner' seemed difficult for many of the Polish rebels to grasp.

“No, Sir.” Shimanski seemed puzzled by the interjection.

“Anyway, that goes some way towards explaining it,” Wito pointed out to the German officer. “The troops at Woronow are shit. All the combat worthy units were drawn out for Manchuria and Siberia. Still, it's an impressive feat, twenty Jews with rifles against a hundred Russian infantrymen. I think we should get in touch with whoever is running the outfit.”

Schwedtfeger was pensive. “If you allow,” he said after a moment's thought, “I think I know exactly the person you may need. I'll have to send a message to Warsaw, I think he's still with the NA artillery there. Feldwebel Lewin may want to talk to these people.”

“Go ahead. I'm sure they can use any help they can get.”

28 May 1905, Paris

“Have you seen this, Doctor Nordau?” The young assistant tossed the paper on the desk almost casually. Published by the Polish national government, French papers on Polish events were on sale in Paris freely despite the fact that the French government had cracked down hard on the Polish exile government as a favour to their allies in St Petersburg. Aside from refugees (who often preferred the originals), a large number of Frenchmen sympathised with the rebels rather than the Czar. Nordau, though, did not much care. “A Polish rag.” he noted with disapproval. “What of it? Another pogrom?”

That was uncalled for. The Polish National Army had tried hard to keep the Jews safe, and Doctor Nordau readily acknowledged as much when he was in a better mood. However, in his experience Polish papers were half unsubstantiated reports of improbable victories and half begging screeds for funds. Very little in them was worth reading. Nonetheless, he folded open the page his assistant had placed in front of him and studied the article. “Radun...” he murmured. “Most interesting. Most interesting indeed.” After a few minutes, he stood abruptly.

“Thank you, Felix.” he said. “This is very much what I have long hoped to read. Now, please close the office for the day. I need to do some writing. Mr Herzl will love this story.”

Doctor Max Nordau, the renowned physician, had been a journalist in his younger years, and he retained both his skills and many of his contacts. By the evening, letters to the editors of the Vossische Zeitung, Neue Freie Presse, New York Times, Illustrated London News, L'Aurore, and the Jüdische Zeitung, as well as to his friends at Bar Kokhba Berlin and Dr. Theodor Herzl. Such news, he decided, needed broader distribution.

30 May 1905 Radun

Yossel Rabinovich was more tired than he thought he would ever be. After what people had taken to referring as the “Battle of Radun”, he had felt more proud and happy than he could remember in a long time. Then, Feldwebel Lewin had shown up. The defenders of the yeshiva had initially seen him as a kind of accolade, a sign that they were now not only accepted as equals by the National army, but even rated their own German. Lewin, though, had turned out to be anything but a boon to their fragile egos. Asked if he would make soldiers of them, the tall, wiry German had looked around and pronounced with terrible finality: “No. You're fucking franc-tireurs, and you'll never be anything else. I'll make you less shit at it, though.”

The following days were spent in a mixture of exhilaration and agony. Yossel had assumed you had to somehow take care of a rifle, much as you did with a cart or a cast-iron stove, but he had been utterly unprepared for the obsessive compulsion with cleanness that the German enforced on his charges. Neither were the bokher ready physically or mentally for the punishing exercises that Lewin put them through. Their numbers, swelled by eager volunteers after they had seen off the Russians, began to shrink again after they started running around the town with rock-filled backpacks every morning. They were young men, many still in their teens, but nothing in their lives had prepared them for this. On the plus side, though, Shloimo was a lot less annoying, and the men who remained after a week seemed both more determined and more credible as a fighting force than they had been before.

Yossel was unsure what to think of their tormentor. He looked in his thirties or forties, possessed of the kind of wiry frame that often conceals enormous strength, and his voice could terrify. His Polish was poor and heavily accented, and he spoke Yiddish badly, in the way many Germans thought they could get away with. Every second word from his lips seemed to be dirty, but hardly anyone ever even thought of questioning his right to insult, bully and even occasionally strike them. He radiated authority the way Rabinovich had known a few highly regarded rabbis to do, and in a way this seemed right. It was, after all, what they had always expected Germans would be like. It was not until they learned he was Jewish that true culture shock set in. It took Yossel several days and considerable mental preparation to broach the issue how a Jew could choose to be a soldier.

“It's easy.” Lewin had pointed out, much to everyone's surprise. “It's an easy way of making an honest living. I'm not cut out to be a professor, and where I come from, universities aren't where you go anyway. I guess it's different for you. My family would never have paid for studies. They wouldn't even pay for a decent school. The army did, though. They gave me schooling and reading time. Of course I had to work hard, but you have to work hard at any job. As a soldier, you never have to worry where your meal and bed come from, your employer doesn't go under, and your customers don't walk away. And in the end, you get a nice pension to go with your medals.”

Yossel could see the point. The prospects of a yeshiva graduate, even if he was among the finest, were not rosy. Artisanal self-employment, the fate of many of his peers, meant perpetual money worries and often enough dire poverty. Few would ever be rabbis, and the mythical days when rich families pushed their beautiful daughters to marry the brightest scholars were over, if they had ever existed.

“And you got to be serzhant, as a Yid,” he asked, using the Russian rank. “Don't people mind?”

“Not all of them, at least. Life isn't fair, I'll give you that. Being Jewish means you're never going to be an officer, at least in the Prussian army. They do things differently in Bavaria or Wurttemberg.”

The details of the German military's insane federal structure still confused Yossel. Why could they not just have an army, like proper countries did? “So, why not serve there?”

“Because if I am going to be a soldier, I might as well be a proper one. The Prussian army is where a man can be a real soldier. Bavaria is just play-acting. And it's not like the king of Wurttemberg would be tripping over himself to commission a poor Jewish kid lieutenant. It's tough for a poor Christian, just like for a poor Jew, they don't like officers who aren't fucking gentlemen.”

Yossel shrugged. Such was the world. He still felt that living in a country where not being promoted to officer ranks counted as having it bad was all right by him, though Shloimo had insisted that in the United States, Jews could be generals.

“What about your men, though?”, Shloimo asked. “Don't they care?”

Lewin laughed, harsh and dry. “Yeah, some do. For about ten seconds. I'm their Feldwebel, and it doesn't matter if a Jew or a fucking Hindu makes the water in their arses boil.”

That argument seemed completely consistent, as far as Yossel was concerned. If German soldiers had men like these to train them, it went some way towards explaining their famous fearlessness. Cossacks and poilus were nothing in comparison. With the questions out of the way, Lewin started reminiscing, and it turned out he had had a fairly interesting life. Of course he was not old enough to have fought in a real war, but he had seen fighting. None of the recruits around the watchfire knew much about the Wuchang Army, but the feldwebel had trained them and fought with them until his regiment marched off to magnificently exotic Lhasa and he was recalled to Tsingtao and then Berlin. He was also a surprisingly smart man. He did not read much, but he had read manuals and theoretical works on tactics in German, French and English. The confidence with which he told them not only what to do, but why to do it astounded the yeshivah students. Here, Yossel thought, was a man who took war as seriously as a gaon took his gemorah. When you looked at it from this perspective, fighting did not seem all that alien an idea any more.

02 June 1905


Your Country Needs You!


To be formed at Chicago in support of the Polish struggle for freedom against Tsarist tyranny. The brigade welcomes volunteers of the ages between 18 and 45. Men of polish blood, aid the defenders of the homeland! Join in the struggle for liberty! All enlistees to receive board and lodging as well as training and the most modern weapons. Transit to Poland to be arranged by the brigade command.


Join today: Enlistment office at Chicago, 33 Alexander Street

“What do you make of this?” Wilhelm asked General von der Goltz, pointing to the poster.

“Apparently, some American Poles are quite rich and have decided to go one better on us. They are setting up their own army.”

Von der Goltz snorted dismissively. “It will take more than a mob of patriotic youths to make a military unit. I don't believe this will ever come to anything more than an expensive Polish shooting club.”

“What if it does?” Rathenau asked. “The Japanese didn't think Pilsudski's gang would do more than dynamite some railway lines and tie down a few regiments of regulars.”

The general looked pensive for a moment. “I guess the National army could use these folks. Even if their fighting skills are as lousy as I expect them to be, they will already have esprit de corps. Do we know how many people we are talking about here?”

Wilhelm shook his head.

“In that case, I don't expect much more than a hundred. Most of these 'brigades' turn out to be companies.”

Rathenau stroked his chin. “Remember the Rough Riders, general. America is a funny place. You can have an easier time finding as thousand men for a play regiment than a hundred for the regular army. The question is, what do we do if they turn up?”

Wilhelm hesitated. “We can't welcome them officially, of course,” he said, “but we should really encourage that kind of thing.”

Von der Goltz objected: “We would be at fault even by allowing them to pass through out territory. Allowing a foreign military to move through your land is a casus belli.”

“What military unit?”, Rathenau replied. “You said it yourself, general. An expensive Polish shooting club. I am sure nobody can object to these gentlemen travelling through Germany on their way to their – erm – hunting holidays in Poland. No more than they could to a surprising number of Germans of Polish descent deciding to visit friends and relations for extended periods of time.”

Wilhelm grinned. A fair number of the German military advisers in Poland hailed from Posen and Silesia, and had been granted indefinite leave of absence for family visits by surprisingly understanding military authorities. “Sounds fine to me.” the emperor announced. “If there is anything else we can do to make their stay in Germany more comfortable, let me know. We are a welcoming country, after all.”

14 June 1905

It was not how Yossel had imagined leaving Radun. In a way, it was both infinitely worse and exhilaratingly better. Worse, because he left without any of the degrees, recommendation letters and good wishes that accompanied a graduate on the arduous quest for employment. Rabbi Landauer had promised to vouch for him if he ever had the opportunity to take his semikha, but even if it came to that, how likely was he to find his old teacher again when the war was over? But for all that, it was also better, because Yossel Rabinovich left his yeshivah a free man. True, a free man who owned nothing in the world except for his clothes and books, a few coins, a blanket that a kind-hearted woman had given him, and a rifle his friend had stolen. Yet, somehow the rifle made all the difference. Yossel felt ten feet tall sometimes, wearing the red and white armband of the National Army, and he even bore the insults of Feldwebel Lewin with pride. He could look at the future as something that belonged to him, not something that threatened him. At least, some of the time he could.

The men and women who went along with the Jewish self-defense militia (Lewin had laughed any suggestion to label themselves a “battalion” to scorn) appeared to all the world like all of the untold number of Jewish refugees who had walked the streets of Russia over the past decades, hoping to find somewhere safe, or at least safer than they had been. Nobody expected Radun to be safe. The government could not tolerate the affront to its authority; more and more soldiers would come, and the end, no matter how long it took, would be defeat. A few had elected to stay behind and hope for the Czar's mercy, but most had chosen to come along with the militia. They were what made this refugee trek different. Nobody bothered them, though they could not be sure whether that was because of their weapons, or because they looked too ragged and forlorn to be worth robbing. Most had heard tales of extortion, robbery and rape from people who had been driven out of their homes in the past, but Radun had been safe enough that most inhabitants had never experienced it themselves. Now, even the most obstinately traditional found the protection of armed men comforting, and the militia, often blamed for their misfortune, moved up in their estimation. What was even more exciting, Yossel found, was that others trudging down the same dusty road asked to join them. Jewish families, but also goyim whom the Russians had driven from their homes were heading west, and they hoped to be safe under the protection of the convoy. A convoy, not a trek, was how Lewin had taught them to think of it, and how they increasingly came to view it. Several more young men asked to be part of their force, and after some initial misgivings, were allowed in, Lewin took the opportunity to load them with the heaviest baggage he could find and armed them with sticks in lieu of rifles – even after the generosity of the Radun National Army cell, there were not enough to go around. And yet, they seemed not to mind. Yossel marvelled at the idea. He was sure, if he had not given the question much thought beforehand, he would have walked away after half an hour. Instead, these youngsters hid the red, raw stripes along their shoulders where the packs had bitten and exercised with their wooden sticks as earnestly as if they were taking seder. Slowly, guardedly, and ever growing, their convoy approached Warsaw.

14 June 1905, Lisbon

...The king of Portugal, obviously standing to gain much from the proposed solution, was more than happy to open the Congo Conference with the suggestion forwarded by the Danish court. This was, to put the matter succinctly, that the people of the Congo should be divided up equitably between the European powers from whose humane decision to entrust them to the hands of King Leopold they are still recovering. It is evident that, with the French insisting on their contractual right to the first purchase of untold millions of human souls, the negotiations can be expected to be both long and arduous. The representatives of the great powers are bracing for an extended stay in Lisbon through the months of the greatest heat, but we are assured that an ample supply of chilled drinks and fresh fruit will protect their fragile health. As to the subjects of their gentle ministrations in the Congo, we know of no chilled drinks made available...

(Vorwärts article)

03 July 1905, Zarskoye Selo

To my Russian People

In these days of our great struggle against a foreign enemy who has treacherously attacked Russia, a great evil has befallen my dear fatherland. Disloyalty and rebellion threatens to destroy all gains our heroic army has made and undo the might of Russia, through the treacherous acts of foreign foes and internal traitors. To safeguard the future of my country, the welfare of my people and the honour of my army, I call upon all Russians of good will and true patriotic spirit: Defend your country and your monarch! Rally to the flag, and stand ready to strike at invaders, traitors and subversives wherever you find them! The hour approaches when Russia's gallant army will crush the foreign hosts that have attacked us, and when treason and rebellion will be rooted out from the Russian earth. We pray for this hour to come soon, and trust in God to grant victory to the Czar of all Russians and his loyal people of true orthodox faith. Do not stand aside in this great struggle!

Nicholas, Czar

Grand prince Sergei Alexandrovich, still slumped in the wheelchair his injury forced him to use, looked at the printed page bearing the words of his brother Nicholas with resolute determination. This would make matters clear, it would make the lunatic and misled masses understand that their emperor expected their obedience, and that no form of rebellion or remonstrance other than humble petition could be tolerated. Too many had had their heads filled with nonsensical Western ideas of a democratic patriotism, a loyalty that questioned the might of the ruler in the treacherous guise of humble service. Trepov had done a marvellous job printing hundreds of thousands of these, and they would go up on walls throughout the empire. They had to be distributed widely, even to the most remote of villages, to reach the true Russian patriots unsullied by the corrosive influence of modernism and socialism. The men of the soil, the orthodox believers who had always upheld the throne of their Czar with their strong shoulders and carried the country on their patient backs, not the uppity rabble of the stinking, industrial cities with their degenerate habits and their vodka-addled, overeducated minds. The St Petersburg governor was a genius for this kind of work. Pobedonostsev may have helped Nicholas to draft the text, but he had smoothed it, made it easy to understand, and provided the picture block prints and stories that illustrated it to the simple-minded. Russia would awaken, and in waking, rid herself of the foreign filth that had too long infested her body politic. Prokurator Pobedonostsev laid aside his copy to remark, in a quiet, husky voice, “It is perfect, Your Majesty.” Grand Prince Nikolai Alexandrovich, standing aside in a window niche, fought for composure. He was aghast. The Rus? Czar? Subjects of the true faith? Was Nicholas going insane? There would be blood. The Grand Prince was terrified for the people on whom the wrath of the Russian mob would descend, and even more for the rulers of the country. Trepov and his henchmen were masters at creating outrage, but they had little regard for the future. Ivan Grozny, Nicholas had reminded him, had returned from his self-imposed hermitage to lead his loyal people again. Grand Prince Nikolai had vainly tried to make him understand what devastation had followed Czar Ivan's death. He prayed that such horrors could be avoided.


04 July 1905 Darmstadt

The clink of expensive cutlery on fine china and animated conversation made a pleasant background to the private visit of the Count of Ravensberg to the home of Ernst Ludwig of Hessen-Darmstadt. Wilhelm enjoyed these occasions, not only because they allowed him to be away from his duties, but also because he could freely spend time with Fanny zu Reventlow. Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig not only proved an understanding host, he had a reputation for amorous adventurism himself that made any scandal around Wilhelm pale into insignificance. As a patron of modern art, he shared Wilhelm's liking for clear lines, uncluttered design and simplicity. As a man of the world, he had much to teach the innocent emperor. The exhibition grounds of the Mathildenhöhe, the art colony he had set up in Darmstadt, held fascination not only in the works depicted, but also in proving that once you had established your bona fides as a genius, you could apparently get away with anything. The comparison with Berlin's prim and dull official society was as stark as could be imagined.

On the morning of the second day, the company was relaxed and happy. Ernst Ludwig was newly married, his charming wife still happy in the first bloom of their relationship, and Wilhelm had been able to spend a day and a night with Countess zu Reventlow, something that his schedule in the capital rarely allowed. Once the host had discovered that his guest was happy to debate substantive issues, the conversation over the breakfast table turned to current events.

“I hear it is quite terrible.” Ernst Ludwig opined. “The Berliner Illustrirte ran articles about the refugees in Poland. They have practically nothing, and no consulate or government to turn to.”

Wilhelm agreed. “The interior ministry studied the situation. Thousands of people already crossed the borders, and they fear many more will. It was suggested that we set up temporary camps to control the flow and return them once the situation normalises. The main problem is that we can't really control camps this big. There isn't enough police, and there isn't enough money, apparently.”

Fanny snorted derisively. “Bureaucrats! How is there enough money for the Siegesallee, but not this?”

Ernst Ludwig tried to intervene, but Wilhelm spoke first: ”Different budgets. The money to help would have to come out of contingency funds, and we don't have that much ready cash. Anything bigger would require a Reichstag vote, and as you know...”

The new Reichstag was about to be elected. The Poles, as a commentator had put it, had picked a bad time to be starving. Fanny bit back the retort that the emperor could allocate funds by decree. These were things you only did in a serious emergency, and starving foreigners did not count as a serious emergency. Albert, she thought, might have had the gumption to stand up to the political class. Wilhelm was more cautious. Of course, she mentally corrected herself, Albert also did not care much about the humanitarian concerns of other people. “I hope at least private donations can be sent there.”

Wilhelm nodded cautiously. He and his consuls had, in fact, been instrumental in establishing the Polnisches Nothilfekomittee, an organisation that funnelled aid to Poland. Of course, its leadership was also in close contact with the National Army, and a fair amount of the donations turned out to come in the form of tinned meat, hard biscuits, instant pea soup, greatcoats and boots. He was careful not to channel arms through this conduit, but otherwise, it was fair game.

“I don't really have all that much.”, he pointed out. “The Hohenzollern property belongs to the family. I can't just cut into that. And it would be rather inappropriate if the emperor went and called for donations from the rich.”

Duchess Eleonore spoke up now. “How about donating part of the royal art collections? Auctioning it off could raise a lot of money, and I am sure many other collectors would follow suit.”

“You're just after his impressionists!” Fanny teased, but the idea struck her as good. She prepared to turn her most imploring eyes on her lover, but found him already convinced.

“Good idea!” Wilhelm said. “I am sure a lot of people in Berlin would be happy to part with some of their collections for a good cause. And I will be able to get rid of some of the trash my ancestors accumulated.”

“It should certainly raise its market value.”, Duke Erst Ludwig pointed out with quite un-noble business acumen. “A lot of newly rich philistines will pay through their nose to own something that the kings of Prussia collected.”

“Oh, well. In that case I won't feel to guilty for what I will sell them. Some of the stuff is absolutely ghastly.”

09 July 1905 Lisbon

Elihu Root was sick. He was sick with the heat and stuffiness of the Portuguese capital. He was sick of the grandstanding of all the greedy European politicians, sick of the sanctimonious preachiness of the French and British, sick of the Belgian bombast and the unctuous slickness of the Portuguese angling to dismember the Congo. He was above all sick of the way every uninvolved principality on the continent seemed to horn in on the discussion to extract its own pet concession. That was why, on this hot, pointless, stifling day of haggling over the tributaries and courses of the Lualaba River found on the various maps the powers had brought, he had accepted the request of the German legate von Jagow for a private meeting on the Polish crisis. Root had gained a positive impression of the young man during the interminable days of the conference, though his very youth and junior position indicated that Germany did not regard the Congo question as terribly important. Other nations had sent ministers, not undersecretaries. Still, Jagow was smart, calm, and careful. His interest in the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Poland was not new, but Root suspected that he had been given instructions to address it more actively. Most likely, this showed the hand of young Emperor Wilhelm, who tended to be much more active in international affairs than Albert had been. Generally, the youth had taken admirable, if often unrealistic stances.

“You are correct,” the secretary of state parried a strategic compliment, “that the United States is known for its generosity towards the unfortunate throughout the world. And it is with great pride I can say that committees for Polish relief are already collecting money and preparing shipments of aid. I have to admit, though, that I am somewhat surprised to find Germany taking so – generous a stance in this matter.”

Von Jagow understood, and decided to be honest. “Mr Root, you must understand that we are concerned over the outcome of this crisis. Yes, Prussia is a partitioning power, but we have no designs whatsoever on Polish territory. It is true, though, and I hope you will be willing to inform your president accordingly, that, should an independent Poland emerge, this would be in our interest. Understand that we are in no way expressing aggressive intentions towards Russia. We do not look for war. But the rebellion is a fact with which we have to contend.”

Root nodded. He could see the point. An independent Poland would, by default, be Russia's enemy, and thus Germany's friend, since she would need her protection. That much made sense, and he was glad that Berlin understood it. Still, he was not entirely sure he approved of upsetting the apple cart. The Poles could have chosen a better year to rise.

Von Jagow continued. “At this point, though, our main concern is the situation of the civilian population. Russia has denied permission to cross the border to all foreigners, and the reports that reach us indicate that the situation in Poland is dire. We are in the process of setting up temporary camps for refugees inside Germany, but – you will understand we cannot allow them to stay permanently.”

“You wish us to take them in?”, Root asked.

“It would be a possibility, but I doubt many of them would wish to go. In any case, while this would be appreciated, it is not a solution for the numbers we are talking about here. Of course we can issue transit papers for people who want to go and can afford the passage...”

“There are charities that will pay for the passage, and I am sure the American public will be welcoming to those poor souls.” Root informed the German. “We should set up formal channels to process the requests as they come.”

“Indeed.” Von Jagow made notes. “The Prussian interior ministry will be responsible, but I am sure this will not be a problem. I will forward the matter to Berlin. No, our primary concern is whether you would be able to persuade the Russian government to allow Americans to provide aid directly. As I said, the borders are formally closed. There are intrepid souls who do cross, of course, and we can hand over food and clothing at crossing points controlled by the rebels, but any organised effort is made impossible.”

Root thought about his interactions with the Russian government. He sighed. “I will put the matter to my president, and Mr Roosevelt will no doubt do his best. He is sympathetic to the Polish cause himself. However, I do not estimate our chances highly.”

Von Jagow nodded. “I feared as much. That brings me to another point. German aid committees have informally begun cooperating with the Catholic Church to distribute aid. We believe that this could be a very promising avenue, but – Prussian diplomats do not enjoy great standing at the papal court.”

Root smiled knowingly. The legacy of Bismarck could be a heavy one. “You think we could enter into negotiations?”

“If it were possible? Your country is home to millions of Polish Catholics, and your motives are above reproach.”

“I will put the matter to Mr Roosevelt, and I am sure he will agree. There is one question, though: A large number of the refugees, I am told, are Jewish, and thus the Catholic Church would be ill-placed to assist them. You have thought of taking up similar contacts with Jewish charities?”

Von Jagow gave him a look of astonishment and gratitude. “We have not, Mr Root. But I am sure we will. Thank you.”

15 July 1905, St Petersburg

Sergeant Shternmiler was a worried man. It was not that he objected to loyalty in principle. He was, after all, an Okhrana officer. But the people that had come out to proclaim their faith in the Czar and his government after the proclamation was published did not fill him with great confidence. Of course, neither had the proclamation, but that was politics for you. You had to use big words. It had just sounded a bit too – desperate. That was probably the word. Especially from a government otherwise not accustomed to admitting that problems even existed. But the main problem he had on his plate, right now, called itself the Patriotic Union of Russia, and it stank, in many cases literally. There was the occasional young gentleman with something to prove, of course, silly Slavophile literati and brawlers whom the army hadn't wanted, but by far the majority of his charges were the dregs of St Petersburg. Some, he suspected, were fugitives from the law, some he knew to be criminals who had been protected from the police by working for the Okhrana, and many were just nasty fellows in a general sort of way. They did a lot of marching around with crosses, candles and icons, which was all right as far as the sergeant was concerned, and some had gotten themselves into bruising encounters with the revolutionaries who owned large chunks of St Petersburg. The Okhrana officers were under orders to provide them with weapons, liquor and the descriptions of known enemies of the state and let them loose. Those who were sober and intelligent enough were also given training whenever the time allowed, but that was not often. Some had already killed each other with the rifles and revolvers provided by the authorities, a few even accidentally. This was no way to fight a rebellion.

It was not that Shternmiler objected to violence on principle. He had killed in the past and was perfectly happy to do so again. Traitorous scum deserved no better. But he preferred to run an operation quietly, observing his targets, making arrests where necessary in a civilised fashion, and trying to turn his opponents to his purposes. Some could even be rescued. The Okhrana had a few officers who had been Social Revolutionaries in their misspent youth, and the sergeant respected them highly both for their skills and the courage of their convictions. What sat ill with him was the disorganised, emotionalised, utterly unprofessional way they were going about this. Neither skill nor cunning was involved. They were turning loose an army of thugs in the hope they would do damage to the right people. In some ways it was working. The lukewarm, fair-weather revolutionaries were more careful now they knew what could happen to them and their families if they got too noisy. Workers' wives and daughters no longer felt safe using suburban marketplaces, which meant the strikers could not supply themselves as easily. The streets no longer belonged to the rebels uncontested. All of this made sense. But nagging worry remained in the back of Sergeant Shternmiler's head. You won the fight against rebels and anarchists by being more organised, smarter and more methodical. He had always lived by this motto. How anyone could hope to beat a rabble with an even worse mob was beyond him. He doubted that the Patriotic Union had the numbers to simply swamp the rebels if it really came down to a stand-up fight. And why wasn't the army doing this? Where on earth was the army?

18 July 1905, Berlin

A Polish Holiday

Visitors to the remoter parts of Posen will lately have noticed a number of changes to the lovely countryside. Farmhouses have their doors locked, and the fair maids whose charms so alleviated the rigours of a long ride are rarely seen walking their careless way along the tree-lined streets. The reason for this ominous change, hard though it seems to fathom, is that the government of Prussia has chosen to expend a large, if undisclosed sum of money to provide free holidays to any Pole who makes it across the border. While one has had to get usaed to any number of stranger ideas in recent years, the thought that this kind of generosity from the taxpayers' purse should be extended not just to layabout workers of our own nation, but to foreigners as well, is astonishing beyond anything even the Social Democrats have proposed. The camps set aside to allow the assorted company of rabble-rousers, agitators and their women and children to relax safe from the attentions of the Russian authorities are being built with public funds and, since even the most kind-hearted gentlemen of the government must be aware of the thievish proclivities of the Pole, lightly guarded by the police. What future events may bring for the wages of agricultural labour, the safety of livestock and the virtue of German peasant girls remains to be seen. Meanwhile we await with bated breath the disclosure of the cost of this enterprise.


19 July 1905, Berlin

It was not often that members of other factions came to visit the fearsome Socialist August Bebel in his office. To see the Polish representative Jan Brejski, who was a union man and a Socialist, was not too great a surprise, but Ferdinand von Radziwill, conservative, nobleman and prince, was a rare bird in such company. The issue that had brought the men was weighty.

“Mr Bebel,” Prince Radziwill implored, “we must have your party's support for a supplementary budget in the new Reichstag. There is no other way to manage the relief for the Polish refugees.”

Bebel was flattered. The two assumed – as, truth be told, did he – that the SPD would play an important role in the next parliament, and they had decided to request his cooperation in advance. No doubt this was wise. There was no chance that the conservatives, the liberals or the various splinter parties would rally behind their cause, and while the Zentrum most likely would support relief for the refugees, it did not have the votes on its own. There was no guarantee that even with the SPD and Zentrum, the Polish, Danish and Alsatian factions and perhaps even some left liberals they would have enough votes, but the chances were good. Surprisingly good, in fact, now that the conservatives had started running candidates against each other in many districts. And try as he might, Bebel could see very little wrong with the scheme.

“Is the situation really as dire?” he asked.

“Sir, it is far worse than that. I have read letters from residents who have seen the camps. We cannot fault the government for trying, but the means are utterly inadequate. Many of the refugees have neither a roof over their heads not even the most basic of food. Tents are in short supply, wells are fouled almost as soon as they are dug, and the few houses that are built are crowded with the weakest and sickest. We have heard of doctors closing their practice to work in the camps for free, but there are not enough drugs, not enough beds, not enough of anything. Once proud farmers sit begging in the streets. Girls, mere children, sell their bodies for a loaf of bread. We cannot solve this situation except with a great and concerted effort of the government.”

Bebel nodded. He was no stranger to human suffering, and his long-standing animosity against the ethnic factions channelling working-class votes away from their natural party notwithstanding, he was inclined to agree.

“Gentlemen, you have my vote and my voice. Let us see if we can bring help to these unfortunates.”

He paused, as if for effect. “There is one matter, though. I am told that much of the relief is currently being distributed through the churches. It is my belief that this has alienated even a few reasonable liberal representatives, and it will make persuading my party to vote for an increase harder than it should be. Would you be amenable to changing this?”


22 July 1905, Paris

My Dear Dr Nordau,

... and though I am, of course, personally in entire agreement, I regret that current circumstances do not permit me to take a public stand on the matter of the Russian Jews. This is, I assure you, not a matter of my own convenience, but you must be aware that the coming elections, to be held perhaps even sooner than next year, will decide the fate of France more forcefully than perhaps any in its history. The question today is no less than whether France will continue a bastion of liberty in Europe, or whether, in the guise of patriotism, tyranny will overwhelm her defenses more surely and more finally than any exterior foe could. In this struggle, all my energies and efforts as a true patriot must be first and foremost on the preservation of my country's freedom. This does constrain me in other areas, though, and much as it pains me to say, this is perhaps the most forceful constraint laid upon me by the exigencies of the political climate: the word Jew has become a violent poison in today's discourse. It is apt to make French voters insane. Therefore do not, Dr Nordau, ask of me to put the future of my country to such grave peril by speaking up – honourably, but futilely – for the fate of such distant unfortunates and thereby consigning to clerical obscurantism and aristocratic tyranny my own countrymen. ... as you yourself have noted, the German government has been more active by far in such affairs, but you must understand, too, that an emperor does not face the test of public elections. Wilhelm III is a man of honour, I grant, but he stands to lose neither his office nor an ally by taking a stand that, if adopted by any French government, would lead to the loss of both. Perhaps it is, at this junction in history, indeed the fate of the Teuton to be the saviour of Eastern Jewry, and if it is so, humanity would for once have just cause to thank his race. ...

(letter by Georges Clemenceau to Dr Nordau)

23 July 1905, near Uliasutu, Outer Mongolia

Sergeant Jiang Jilie crested a low hill and halted, carefully scanning the landscape. Infantry scouting was a poor idea as far as he was concerned, but the loyalty of much of the garrison's native cavalry was in doubt since Bogd Khan had had himself declared independent ruler. It was a stupid idea, Jiang fumed, and it meant that a lot of good men on both sides would die. Even a year ago, the thought of a Russian-backed Mongolian kingdom looked possible, but between these twelve months lay the utter defeat of Russian arms by the Japanese army at Port Arthur and Mukden. Anyone who read the newspapers could see that Russia was a broken reed, a wounded beast helplessly flailing about. But the Mongols didn't read the fucking newspapers. Which put him out here at the arse end of nowhere, doing the job a cavalryman should be doing. To think he had hoped for a quiet billet training backward troops in the modern ways of the Beiyang Army. Now he would be facing not just the lousy climate and awful food of Mongolia, but also the threat of hostile warriors and defecting troops from his own side. He did not see how the war could be fought, with so much desert and steppe between the Chinese and the rebels. He certainly did not feel he should be here, risking his life in so pointless an endeavour. Apparently, the governor had decided that honour had to be satisfied by attempting a push towards Kobdo, where Bogd Khan and his spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama had holed up. Honour be buggered, Jiang decided as dust blew into his face. Nothing here. He could just trot back to his commander and report that much. A real soldier would have taken in the realities of the situation and prepared for a decisive strike, with modern riflemen, artillery and machine guns, not tried his luck with the scrapings of local garrisons. But if he lived to see the next year, then he would see a campaign. The Wuchang Army was too proud of its little walk into Lhasa, scaring away the Dalai Lama. Let the Beiyang boys show them how to do it properly. They would bring him and his damned tame Khan back to Beijing in a cage. And the Russian officers, too, if they stayed long enough to let themselves be captured.

23 July 1905, Warsaw

The packages were amazing. Shloimo Ferber had at first thought he was the victim of a poor joke when the delivery came. Apparently, they had simply been handed over to the National army at the German border with instructions to forward them to the “defenders of the Radun synagogue”, and for once the thieving bastards in the rear echelon had actually forwarded them to the right address. Of course 'address' was putting a nice face on a pretty ugly reality. The refugees from Radun were housed, if that was the word, in a warehouse on the outskirts of Warsaw, along with many others. They had been lucky to come early, too – after the National Army had evicted every Russian family they could find, confiscated commercial space, and converted railway stations into makeshift housing to make room, refugees arriving now could at best hope for a tent somewhere in the meadows (the parks were full), or the advice to continue to the border and try their luck with the Germans. Shloimo suspected the main reason they had been allowed to keep their relatively comfortable lodgings was that their little militia had held together, and they were now doing guard duty for the National Army. A few of the men had left, mostly to join combat units of the NA – and who would have imagined that at the beginning of the rebellion? But a solid core of thirty had stayed on. The Warsaw military council had even alotted them rifles from the stockpile the Germans had sent over, and Lewin was still training them. The rest of their people, housed in cramped quarters on the upper floors, tried their best to scrape a living, but jobs were rare in the city and the irregular issue of military rations often represented the only food there was. And now this.

The surprised and delighted recipients had opened the crates in the courtyard, at first concerned whatever might be inside. Some had suggested the Okhrana had sent them a bomb. The cargo documents, for what they were worth in this chaos, identified the sender as Bar Kochba Berlin, which made absolutely no sense to anyone. Yet whoever Bar Kochba might turn out to be, he was a friend. Tins of tobacco, coffee, tea and sugar emerged from the first crate, to be greeted with rapturous shouts of joy. Yossel Rabinovich could barely contain the enthusiasm of his peers to tear into the consignment right away, but he managed to convince them to hold off. Much as they all missed their luxuries, these things were worth far more as barter goods. Continuing to the bottom, they found flannel shirts and underwear, coats, and leather shoes. A lot of the clothes seemed awfully flimsy, the kind of thing a fashionable citydweller would wear, but they were welcome nonetheless. A second crate contained, along with more tobacco and sugar, some chocolate and a consignment of shirts and ribbons bearing blue stars of David. This had the assembled company stumped for a moment, until they found an accompanying letter finally cleared things up. Apparently, they had become famous. The German press had written about their battle with the Russians and their subsequent flight from Radun. Bar Kochba Berlin, it turned out, was a Jewish sports club whose members had collected money and gifts to support their brethren in their plight. Neither Yossel nor Shloimo were entirely sure what to make of their talk of “muscular Judaism”, “the strength of our forefathers” or “Muskeljude versus Talmudjude”, but they were not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. By the end of the day, the militia had agreed to issue a roll of tobacco and a small ration of tea to each member, with extra for men supporting families. They had also received clothing and shoes, so that every one of them nor boasted both a summer jacket and a winter coat rather than having to go out in their greatcoats in the sun. The shirts were useless at the moment, designed as they were for the football pitch, but the ribbons made for a handy identifying mark slung around the hat or tied to the arm over the red-and-white NA band. All the rest of the gifts, along with the books and stationery that had been included, were handed over to Rabbi Landauer to use for the common good of their small community. Shloimo and Yossel got together to pen a letter of gratitude which, after some debate, they decided should be written in Hebrew and sent to the German border along with one of the NA supply units that now regularly used the railroad to Thorn. From there, it could be mailed (How strange the idea of using something as pedestrian as the postal service looked now that their world had been turned upside down).

26 July 1905, south of Kharbin

The row of flatcars moving into the improvised railyard that Japanese engineers had laboured for months to produce seemed endless. Lieutenant Nagata Tetsuzan watched the trains pull into their designated berths, careful not to stare. After endless months entrenched barely short of Kharbin, this was supposed to be the decisive, battlewinning arm. Bought in Germany, shipped halfway around the globe and delivered to Port Arthur, spanking new Krupp 24-cm howitzers rolled into the station, their squat, stubby muzzles pointed at the sky. Compared to the 11-inchers they had used at Port Arthur, these were at best modestly sized, but there were so many of them. No newspaper would give you exact figures, which made sense, but the order had been large enough, it was rumoured, to require its own bond issue, subscribed to by British, German and American well-wishers.

Nagata felt happy contemplating the idea of renewed combat. He was not exactly excited – unlike some men, he did not enjoy violence – but he relished the idea of being useful, serving a purpose in the greatest confrontation his country had seen in his lifetime. He understood the strange race they had been engaged in since the winter, and now saw the chance of winning it decisively. If the Russians managed to get their internal problems under control and moved their European army corps east, they could still win. To stop this, the Japanese had to restore their own battered forces to battleworthiness before that time. In the home islands, recruits were being drilled, units assembled, supplies stockpiled and reserves mobilised in anticipation of the next great clash. The Russians, he was sure, had to be just as frantically clearing up their railroad and lining up their armies. And all the while, the remnants of the last titanic battle had been sitting here. After a mad rush towards Kharbin, General Nogi's third army – or what still went by that name, after they had absorbed every unit still deemed battleworthy at the time – had been stopped and entrenched south of the city. Ever since, the Russians and Nogi's men had been glowering at each other over their parapets, digging in deeper, and waiting. Nagata was not entirely sure what to think of the situation. He had known Nogi as a courageous leader both at Port Arthur and in the crazy race to bottle up the Russians at Mukden that followed. Now, he was carefully husbanding his men, begrudging even patrols into hostile territory. What if a single push could bring down the Russian army? It was the only force between them and Vladivostok. Then again, what if they failed? Nogi's Third Army was also the only battleworthy Japanese formation in Manchuria, though the Second Army had recovered enough to detrain from Semulpo. If they were destroyed, General Rennenkampf could just stroll down Liaodong peninsula to retake everything they had paid so dearly for. No, it made logical sense. It just felt wrong.

German instructors stepped out of the passenger railcars, each accompanied by a Japanese artillery officer as interpreter. They were civilians, of course, employees of the Krupp trust, but they had a military bearing. Reserve officers, Nagata guessed. Probably here to learn as much as to teach. His opinion of the Germans had risen sky-high in recent months. Their observers were brave and smart, their government's informal support invaluable, and their weapons tended to be top-notch. Just like the navy bought from Britain whenever it could, the army preferred German equipment, from the expensive Zeiss field glasses General Nogi had given him as a reward for leading the unit that linked up with the Fifth north of Mukden to the enormous Krupp guns. To Nagata, it looked like the German horse was winning the race, too. He had relished the handover of Port Arthur to the navy, relegating the proudly white-clad officers to the role of policemen over a crowd of prisoners and recalcitrant civilians as Nogi took his forces north. The great decisive battle had never come, and a Nelson without a Trafalgar was just an expensive ornament. Meanwhile, Field Marshal Oyama had received a snuffbox that had once belonged to Frederick the Great from the German ambassador. The army had gained considerable prestige in these trying months, and Nagata was determined to enjoy it when he returned.

02 August 1905, Berlin

“Mr Ullstein?” The messenger boy had entered the office quietly, holding a rolled-up paper. Louis Ullstein, simply known as 'the boss' since he had taken over the newspaper branch of his father's publishing empire, was not to be disturbed lightly, He looked up, curious what might have brought about this incident.

“The editor of the Berliner Illustrirte sends me. He says you might be interested in this.”. A fresh copy of the Allgemeine Zeitung, opened to the requisite page, was placed gingerly on the desk. Sometimes, Louis thought, they overdid things. There would surely have been no problem in bringing him the copy the Illustrirte had used. The article itself looked interesting, though. He had, of course, read of the clash at Radun and the way the Jewish students had defended their yeshivah (even though the German press kept calling it a synagogue or a seminary). Now, the Berlin sports club Bar Kochba had taken up a collection for them and sent a parcel of goodies into Poland in the hope it would be delivered to the right address. Incredibly, it was, and now they had forwarded the letter of thanks from the group to the paper. The story, the article claimed, was also covered in the Stimme and the Jüdische Rundschau – well, the Zionists would make a big deal of it, wouldn't they. No, Ullstein decided, it was a big deal all by itself. There they were, translated from the Hebrew they had written in, Salomon Ferber and Joseph Rabinowitz (and Louis was willing to bet a considerable sum they would not recognise these names as theirs). The matter-of-fact way they described the distribution of the gift to their families – no, he saw, their civilians – was lovely, the perfect moral example if you were going to present a hero. And they kept writing of the Jewish Defense Militia, so it looked like their unit - unit, group, gang, mob, whatever it was – was still active. Most interestingly of all, they were not asking for anything. At least, not openly. Either these young men were very clever, or they were very brave and naïve. Either way, it would make great copy. He decided to forward a clipping to Rathenau, who was always looking for worthy people to throw money at. More importantly, he wanted his papers to be in on this.

06 August 1905

The streets of St Petersburg had changed. For one thing, you saw a lot fewer policemen and soldiers around, of course. Wearing a uniform in public was not exactly dangerous, outside the red districts, but it was not something that endeared you to the people, either. Most would be willing to ignore the wearer, but if someone was not, there was no guarantee for a favourable outcome. The troops stayed in their barracks, with only occasional patrols along major thoroughfares, mostly by mounted cossacks. Nobody doubted that Okhrana agents were around, but the most common representatives of the Czar's power that people would meet were the men of the Patriotic Union – the “black hundreds”, as they had taken to calling them. When they showed up in force, carrying their crosses and icons, most St Petersburgers gave them a wide berth. When they were in small groups, or alone, they meant trouble.

Valentin Suvoy was well aware of the problem, naturally. His father ran a butcher's shop, and the difficulty in sourcing animals to slaughter had only been compounded by the rampant epidemic of crime that swept the city. You could say whatever you wanted about the bastards, but cops served a purpose all right. In their absence, the people needed to take care of such things themselves. It ate into time budgets already strained, and it made otherwise reasonable people do unreasonable things. Suvoy had accustomed himself to the thought, and immediately headed out towards the noise and commotion that told him something needed attending to. He would never have considered any such thing a year ago. Back then, taking an interest could get you into trouble. Now, it got you respect.

In a side street, an elderly woman was shouting at a knot of men. They were holding down a thoroughly disreputable-looking man, the kind you could find in any Russian city. Thick beard, long, rank hair parted in the middle, blouse and pants made from rough homespun. A village boy who neither made good nor went home, but stuck around for the liquor and the easy pickings from anyone weaker or more naïve than he. Valentin himself was city-born, but his father had recounted stories about what could happen to young men – and women - from the countryside when they came to the town looking for opportunity, and men like this one featured largely. He looked around. A girl – she looked maybe sixteen, dressed shabbily the way the children of factory workers did – was curled up on the gound, sobbing, her face bloody. The man struggled against the grip of his captors, shouting out: “Let me go! In the name of the Czar, let me go! I am a Patriot, I am doing the work of the Czar! Let go!”

One of the men – he recognised Grigory Bashkin from a nearby haberdashery – cast a questioning look at Suvoy. He reached out and tore a small medallion from the captive's collar. Valentin looked at it: a tiny, nickel-plated disc showing the Virgin Mary, the engraving much too high quality to be one of the gewgaws they sold to pilgrims. The letters did not mean anything to Valentin. “I am an agent of the All-Russian Patriotic Union!” the thug shouted. “Let me go, or the army will come looking for me. Let me GO!”

That decided it. Valentin looked him coldly in the eyes and spat. “Fuck your Czar. Fuck your Union.” Then he turned to the crowd that was slowly assembling. “This scum tried to rob and outrage a girl! Let's give him justice!”

With slow deliberation, he loosened the butcher knife in the scabbard at his belt. Good thing he already had his leather apron on. The criminal's shouts turned to feverish shrieks as his captors held him down.
08 August 1905, Warsaw

Yossel Rabinovich – Lieutenant Rabinovich – still felt rather self-conscious about their new endeavour, but in retrospect, he figured the plan made sense. Feldwebel Lewin had come up with the idea, and characteristically, he had spoken to his old commanding officer, who had talked to Lowtzow, who had spoken to Pilsudski, who had liked it. Rabinovich was not sure howee much string-pulling this kind of thing required, but he had been surprised how smoothly it had gone through. Some people in the NA had been upset, apparently, some because they had wanted the Jews to serve in the regular units, others because they didn't want them armed at all. But as of three days ago, the Jewish Self-Defense Militia was the National Army's Jewish Independent Self-Defense Company, and its current job shifted from patrolling the streets to tramping round refugee camps to recruit volunteers. Shloimo was in command, Lewin told him what to do, and all the lads from the original unit basked in reflected glory. What was even better, they had been given their own number and chitties, so instead of occasionally having an NA cart drop off rations, they could draw their own from the quartermaster directly. The Germans had promised them a rifle for every man and enough ammunition to train with, and the NA leadership offered recruits its usual deal of daily bread and vodka rations, and all the mud you could eat. Yossel was floored by the response.

Of course they had not really thought their expectations through. As far as they were concerned, Jews didn't fight. None of them had considered the situation that thousands of uprooted, destitute, unemployed young Jewish refugees found themselves in. Any opportunity to support themselves was welcome, and the chance to do it while fighting the people who had driven them from their homes looked like a godsend. In the end, they had had to turn away volunteers simply because they could not manage the numbers. Now, they had been given – appropriated, really – a part of the artillery barracks and started drilling their newcomers. Yossel was surprised how great the gap seemed. They had only had a few weeks' worth of training with their weapons themselves, but they felt infinitely superior to the stumbling, fumbling fools they were now placed in charge of. 200 men, give or take a few, most young, many poor, all Yids, trying to turn into a military unit. It would not have been thinkable, but in the liberated city that seemed to have turned into an armed camp, where thousands of young men were turned into what passed for soldiers these days, it did not look out of the ordinary.

Another important point was that they had a good spirit to guide them – their own Puck, he called himself, though most did not really understand what that meant. Michael Hartriegel was a journalist, though from the way he went about his business, you would think he was at least a secret agent in the stories Shloimo so loved. He, too, was Jewish, and totally different from either Lewin or any of the Jews Yossel knew. He spoke practically no Yiddish and didn't pretend to. His Polish was poor, but it worked well enough for most everyday interactions. Of course Yiddish and German were mutually intelligible, but a Yid who spoke none of his native tongue still astonished Yossel. And Hartriegel KNEW things. Where Lewin came from the barracks and knew almost nothing outside of its confines, the journalist was a man of the world. He had been to Paris, to London and even to New York, and he lived in Berlin, where, apparently, he knew everyone. Initially, his talk of being able to pull all kinds of strings had been met with doubt, but after he managed to get off a telegram on the first day, money for Rabbi Landauer from a Jewish charity had arrived as though by clockwork. He had also convinced them to set up a formal synagogue community (they had, of course, brought their Torah, but not thought of designating a room in their cramped quarters the 'synagogue') so that their German benefactors would be able to use Rabbi Landauer to funnel regular support. It seemed to be how the whole thing worked, both for Poles and Jews: Go to your pastor, get your charity. They were by no means rich, but already a lot better off than most of the other refugees they knew, and they had hope. Now, to go and kill a few cossacks. To listen to the raw recruits in the evening, that would be the easiest things in the world.

09 August 1905, encampment northeast of Kharbin

...Following which, the Japanese attacks intensified, supported by artillery fire in such a volume that the casualty rate among defending units exceeded what could by any measure be considered sustainable. Entrenched concentrations of heavy artillery, which proved impossible to effectively silence through counterbattery fire or dislodge by cavalry or infantry assault, destroyed field fortifications to allow well-coordinated assaults to capture and defend sections of the trenches south of Kharbin. After several counterassaults and a cavalry action to retake enemy-occupied field positions held by Japanese infantry, it was decided in council that in order to maintain the integrity of his Majesty's sole remaining East Asian Army, the positions surrounding Kharbin had to be abandoned. The movement of forces proceeded in an orderly fashion, under the protection of light cavalry screens to prevent enemy interference, and succeeded at recovering the majority of warlike stocks. The remainder were destroyed. Troops left behind to deny the enemy the use of the city have to date reported that Kharbin, though encircled, remains in their hands. This, combined with the fact that no attempts were made by enemy cavalry to attack or harass the army, suggests General Nogi's forces fear a direct confrontation.

It must be stressed that, as the retrograde maneuver was carried out without contact with enemy forces and under no compulsion, but solely with the aim of maintaining the army in being, there can in no way be a question of regarding the events of the past weeks as a defeat. Kharbin remains under the control of its Russian garrison, prohibiting the enemy's use of the east-west railway line running through it, while the bulk of the forces have withdrawn to strategically advantageous positions blocking Nogi's route of advance towards Vladivostok. In expectation of timely reinforcements, the ability to relieve Kharbin and advance along the Manchurian railroad towards Port Arthur with a view to the recapture of the port remains in our hands. It is with this goal that I urgently request the dispatch of a minimum of two European army corps to the army's current field encampments with the utmost dispatch. ...

(from General Rennenkampf's report to Nicholas II, delivered by courier to Blagovyechensk)

14 August 1905, Paris

The day could not have started worse. Minister of War Paul Deroulede, sweating profusely in his black cutaway, was finding himself without a ready channel to prime minister Cavaignac. He could hardly be expected to leave Paris while bad news came flooding in, and, health concerns or no health concerns, he was not sure it was right for Cavaignac to just relocate to Vichy for a few weeks. There were things you did not entrust to the telegraph, after all. As a result of this problem, he had spent an exquisitely uncomfortable hour dictating his thoughts on the current political situation to his private secretary for despatch to what political wags had taken to calling the Vichy government. Damn Cavaignac and his illness, damn Syveton and his ridiculous diplomatic mission, damn the August heat and the Germans and their intrigues. He was an unhappy man.

“...thus, to conclude.

One, it is in our immediate political interest to publicise as widely as we can the fact that the current crisis in Russia is manufactured by German and Japanese cabals, and does not reflect any genuine popular will or desire. We must, however, in the process ensure that our sources of information are not compromised. The military intelligence has suffered greatly through the machinations of the Jew Dreyfus and his accomplices, and its assets are greatly diminished. No risk must be taken in this field. Thus, we must concentrate our efforts in providing analyses and opinions to friendly news organs. No leaks of documents obtained by our services or such that may be of use to the enemy are to be condoned.

Two, we must rely on Russia to back our claims to the Congo and cannot allow our alliance to be weakened by the news coming out of the country at least until such time as the African question is settled to our satisfaction. We must therefore emphasise the role of unfriendly British, German, American and Jewish-owned papers in manufacturing such reports. In the event that a transfer of the Congo proves unachievable, the loss of international prestige would be considerable, and the risk of severe losses in the coming elections would rise. We must, in that eventuality, be ready to consider a stance of elevated hostility towards Germany, and, if possible, initiate negotiations with Britain on neutrality in any future continental war.

Third, it is the considered opinion of the military intelligence service that Germany will not be inclined to declare war on us as her interest have shifted entirely to the East. Any conciliatory offers on Berlin's part can and should be disregarded with safety, and receive little play in the press. Still, we must not disregard the favourable role a war could play in determining the outcome of the coming election, and I therefore recommend preparing for the possibility of managing an escalation through clandestine and diplomatic means as outlined earlier in the letter. Germany's engagement in Russia means that her forces will be distracted in a second theatre of war, which should allow us the opportunity of striking hard and extracting considerable concessions in the peace negotiations. A favourable settlement of the Congo question would allow us to make colonial concessions to Britain in return for a neutral stance, but it is my opinion that even with Britain entering the war, we will be able to conclude hostilities quickly and to our overwhelming advantage.

Fourth, in the event of such a war with Germany, the opportunity must be taken to implement further measures limiting the influence of internal enemies. This regards especially freemasons and Jews, but also Socialists and other malcontents. Indeed, it is this aspect that may prove of the greatest lasting benefit to France.

Leaving these matters to your consideration I remain your friend and ally

Paul Deroulede”

He nodded to the young man talking dictation. “Thank you. I will require a copy in longhand on my desk by two o'clock, in time for a courier to deliver it to Vichy tonight. You may take the rest of the day off after that.” The minister hoped he, too, could do so, but the growing pile of official dispatches on his desk suggested otherwise. That damnable Wilhelm had a way of keeping people busy. Maybe he was trying to kill them all by neurasthenia?


15 August 1905, Constantsa, Romania

The captain of S.S. Clarissa Dunway was visibly upset. Consul Grenville was used to putting people at their ease, but in this case, he found his role reduced to taking the report and complimenting the man for his forethought in coming to him. He was quietly sure, of course, that HM Government would once more not do anything, but at least he would have a clear conscience for having fowarded the facts as they stood. Russia was awful.

“And you are sure it is as bad as was reported?”, he asked

“Every bit.” Captain Hardy did not seem the oversensitive sort. “I have taken on some passengers seeking to escape, and I assure you, had I had the capacity, I could have taken hundreds more, no matter the price asked for passage. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of their statements, and everything I saw ashore supports them. The Patriot Union is doing bloody work in the Jewish quarters. I hardly thought I was in Europe, sir.”

Consul Grenville was disturbed. Odessa was home to tens of thousands of Jews. A massacre would be a horror almost beyond imagining, something to join the history books alongside the Bulgarian atrocities or the Congo. “How may dead?” he asked, fearing the reply.

“I saw a number – I suspect a few dozen – with my own eyes. But the great majority of the Jews are not dead, to hear my passengers tell it. They were driven out of their homes, many mistreated and outraged, and plundered, but they are alive. How long they will stay it is doubtful, of course. They are homeless and friendless, and the weather will not stay mild forever.”

The consul considered this good news. “Thank you for coming to me, captain. You did well. I will see what I can do.”

20 August 1905, Paris

... It is, we sigh, to be hoped that, since diplomatic custom and political caution oblige our nation's government to leave the evil machinations of the German Kaiser and his Jewish cabal unpunished, fate will in some manner or other intervene on the side of the white, Christian nations of the Occident. Is it, we ask, too much to be hoped for that some man of conscience, incited by the voice of the blood and the consciousness of his race, would take the issue into his own hands? Would not the death of Rathenau, the spider at the heart of this grand and vicious conspiracy against all Europe, be more than amply justified? Could we, in truth, even find it in our hearts to judge the man who raised his hand against the Kaiser? As we see Russia driven to ruin at the hands of the Asiatic horde, the Pacific Ocean fall to the yoke of the yellow race, and Germany, the spiritual home and heart of the Jew, rise to the pinnacle of might to threaten the tranquility of this continent, what other hope may we entertain for a peaceful resolution?...

(Jules Guerin in l'Antijuif)

22 August 1905, Tsarskoye Selo

“Your Majesty!” Doctor Alexander Dubrovin spoke with the hushed tones of genuine awe. The man was not accustomed to appearing at court, and the idea of an audience had overwhelmed him. Nicholas was the soul of courtesy. He rose from his throne, stepped down to the supplicant to encourage him. The poor man was nearly in tears.

“Dr Dubrovin, what news do you bring? What ails the people of Russia?” the Czar asked, theatrically. He had heard and read of the rising demagogic star, leader of the Russian Patriotic Union, and found that they spoke the same language. Nicholas understood his love of Russia, old, true, great Russia, the Rus, of the Czar, and of the people, the earth and the peace. Grand Prince Nikolai Alexandrovich had opposed his appearance in court, of course. He ridiculed such notions, was angry at Nicholas for using the title Czar and kept pushing him to reconcile himself to an accommodation with the semstvos and the rebels. The scum. The traitors! No, the Czar was the Czar, and whenever he wavered in his resolve, he needed men like Dubrovin around himself to steel his nerves. Prokurator Pobedonostsev and prefect Trepov and dear, brave Sergei all understood this. Dubrovin looked to be another such man. And he had taken it uipon himselfg to bring what he called the Letter of the One Hundred Thousand, a message to the Czar from his people. Nicholas was thrilled at the vindication..

“Your Majesty!” the petitioner repeated, tears now openly streaming down his face. “Your people lie in agony! Seduced into treason by Jews and freemasons, led into darkness by Poles and Germans! They live in constant fear of the next day, like sheep without a shepherd. The churches stand empty, gossudar, and the thieves' dens are crowded! The land cries out: Forgive us, our Czar, and lead us to greatness once more! Lead us!”

He had a good voice. Even Grand Prince Nikolai had to admit as much. Nicholas stood, touched by the sentiment, and made ready to reply when Dubrovin rushed forward to embrace his feet. The guard were momentarily shocked, then stood back as the Czar signalled all was well. He laid his hand on the supplicant's head in a comforting, fatherly gesture and flashed a triumphant look at the Grand Prince who watched the scene, no move betraying his emotions.

“I have heard you, Dr Dubrovin.” Nicholas said. “I have heard the cry of the Russian people,, and I will come back to you – I must. Tell my loyal Russians that I have not abandoned them, not in my heart, and not in my spirit. We will cleanse Russia of this scum, cleanse it and lead it to new greatness. I thank you, Alexander Ivanovich Dubrovin!”

The look that Dubrovin gave his Czar was one of utter devotion, like a puppy looking at his owner. For all his strength of will and energy, he was utterly subservient to his ruler. Exactly the kind of man Russia needed, thought Nicholas. A strong, loyal, true believer. And he could hate. Hate would be needed in the coming confrontation. Nicholas himself was only too painfully conscious of his emotional limitations. He was inclined to forgive, gentle, and desirous of being loved by all. A man like this would be useful to remind him of his duties. Extending his hand, the Czar helped him to his feet in a gesture worthy of the stage. Dubrovin was careful to stand on a step lower than the monarch. Even in paroxysms of joy, he understood the importance of symbolism.

“Stay with us, Dr Dubrovin. You will speak to my loyal people, and lead them in their fight. You and your Patriotic Union, you will be the iron brooms that sweep the foreign filth out of Russia.”

27 August 1905, Berlin poor, beloved Wilhelm, set upon from all sides. Yesterday he despaired of being a German. He had, he said, thought himself a German because he knew he was not an old-style Prussian, but now he says he does not even know his own people. “I am the bastard child of Sanssouci and the General Staff” he said, and oh, how sadly right he is. When I suggested he have souper at Sanssouci more often, he did not understand what I meant. These teachers of his have no idea what they are doing. But now he is resolved, he will follow in the footsteps of Frederick the Great, to talk to men of letters, artists, philosophers and scientists in his spare time. I so hope that when these wretched elections are done, he will have time for all of this, and dare I hope, selfish me, more time for us, too. But I must content myself. His soul and his mind hunger, and he must be allowed to sate this need. Oh, how I detest the narrow-minded, number-crunching fools who taught him, never once thinking to educate the man when they trained their king! Art and music, literature and poetry, the human soul and the realm of beauty all were closed books to him. One day, soon, perhaps, the time will come when he can go to a gallery as the emperor, even. Until then, he will be the Count of Ravensberg, and I his Gräfin Reventlow. ...

(excerpt from Fanny zu Reventlow's diary)

29 August 1905, London

“We are in agreement, then?”, Walther Krupp zu Rathenau asked. The men around the table nodded. They were all hard-headed businessmen and politicians, not given to sentimental nonsense, but he knew that they, too, had a conscience and desired to do the right thing. It was one of his strengths that he could make people see things his way, make them understand what was the right course of action. Today, he had come with a modest proposal from the German government that amounted to little less than a small-scale Völkerwanderung. The Jews of Odessa, homeless after the largest pogrom in living memory and defenseless should their tormentors choose to finish what they had started, would be offered sanctuary. It had taken weeks of labour, getting the shipping space together, bribing and cajoling officials, and Rathenau was still sure that had he needed the agreement of the Reichstag, or even an elected government, he would never have received it. Sometimes, a despotic regime was just fine for getting stuff done.

Assembled around the luncheon table were aristocrats of the money world – the head of Elder Dempster, the European agent for Jacob Schiff's Kuhn, Loeb & Co., a secretary of the foreign office, two Dutch bankers, a French coal magnate and a representative of the Rothschilds. Not all of them were Jews, but all of them had the common humanity to want to help the victims of Odessa. A series of articles in the Evening Standard and the Times had started a groundswell of sympathy, and though a number of publications tried their best to go against it, most newspaper readers shared the sentiment. Rathenau had been able to finagle German permits for temporary stays – anything more would have proved impossible. It was, in effect, much like what the French did with the political refugees they had from all over Europe: they let them in, but tried to ensure they were no burden to public finances or an embarrassment to the government. In theory, the Odessan Jews would remain Russians and would be expected to return to Russia once they could safely do so. Everyody knew that that part was so much fiction. As far as Rathenau was concerned, they were welcome to stay in Germany, of course – a few ten thousand more or less would surely make no difference. But he also knew that nobody, not even Emperor Wilhelm, could politically afford to allow that openly. Once they were on German soil, though, things would just run their course. Maybe the Americans would even take in some. Kind hearts had paid passages for Polish Jews stuck in Germany, too. Until then, he would disavow all plans to make anyone a German and forcefully insist that this was nothing but common humanity. There would be enough support from the liberal press. Even the Social Democrats would have to back this scheme. He relished the irony.

For now, work began. His agents in Constantinople had already corralled a few tramp steamers that could be had for cheap. Ottoman authorities had agreed that the refugees would be allowed to land before being passed on to Germany, either by ship or by train. Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Servia had agreed on allowing transit in sealed trains. A HAPAG passenger ship and a Bremischer Lloyd liner were scheduled to arrive tomorrow, and there would be two American freighters that a New York Relief Committee had chartered, filled with clothing, food and furniture. Depending on how many of the Jews of Odessa wanted to come, they might be able to make their journey in one go, though standards of comfort would be minimal. The authorities in Odessa had already been furnished with trivial sums in facilitation, more promised on completion of the embarkation, and Rathenau foresaw no problems. Surely, if they wanted to be rid of their Jews, it was only logical they would happily let them go?

01 September 1905, Berlin

The map was turning red and black with alarming speed. It was a discouraging sight, enough for Prince Albert to studiously look away, but the anodyne lists of telegraphic returns were hardly more pleasing, only less graphic. The Kartellparteien were being slaughtered. This had not come unexpected. Wilhelm had tried to cushion the blow by scheduling the election far from the von Gernstorf scandal, but the story had refused to die. The Polish crisis had added to the strength of liberal sentiment in Germany – the conservative papers' insistence on non-interference and calls for submission came across as tone-deaf, increasingly so with each of the atrocities the Ullstein press reported. The Conservatives themselves had also helped their demise by tearing themselves apart, much like the Liberals had a decade ago. In many districts previously thought safe, established candidates with a strong royalist, authoritarian found themselves opposed by more vocal critics of the emperor who advocated a distinctly nationalistic, hyperpatriotic policy. In a few cases these völkische politicians had even won seats, though in most cases they had merely spoiled what had looked like secure conservative victories, giving seats to Liberals, Social Democrats, and Poles. Liberal gains did little to alleviate the debacle.

“At least we will have clear majorities, I suppose.” Wilhelm quipped. Even now, Zentrum and the SPD looked headed for an absolute majority, or as close as made no difference. Of course, socialist firebrands and ultramontanist clericalists made strange bedfellows, but years in opposition had taught them to rub along, and they agreed on enough things to make an effective legislative bloc.

“Good thing I don't need to reign with that Reichstag.” Albert said blandly. “You really swapped bad for worse when you dissolved the last one.”

Wilhelm nodded ruefully. “I don't exactly look forward to my new cabinet. It will certainly be interesting.”

“You can still ty to face them down, you know?” Albert pointed out.

“Dissolve the Reichtag again? Surely not.”

“Not dissolve. Appoint a compromise chancellor and stick by your choice. There is no provision made for a parliamentary review of appointees. We used to ask for advice, but it was a matter of courtesy.”

Wilhelm thought about it. “I don't think the confrontation would be worth a Bismarck-style crisis” he said, “but I guess it's worth a try. It would have to be someone uncontroversial, someone who gets along with people. Eulenburg maybe?”

“He's certainly good at that kind of thing. I'm not sure he would want the job, but it can't hurt to ask.”

“With luck, we'll have some time anyway. And with the elections out of the way, we can start resolving the Polish problem and the Congo in earnest.”

Albert sighed. Wilhelm had a way of not taking domestic politics seriously enough. Well, he would learn.


12 September 1905


Today's conclusion of the Lisbon Congo Conference represents the lowest point in the recent history of Belgian government. The pusillanimous objections of Liberals and the cheeseparing economies of old-school Conservatives have ensured that, instead of securing the riches of the Congo for Belgian enterprise and thus placing our country in the circle of European powers of note, the Free State was divided among the political vultures that settled in Lisbon to devour their prey in temporary unanimity. Many will today regret declining His Majesty's offer of selling the Free state to Belgium, even over French objections, as the monetary and political price of allaying such objections would surely have been far less than the loss of prestige, of treasure and of future opportunities for greatness that this sale finalises. With it, Belgium has been consigned to a perpetual existence not as a power of note, but as a minor nation of little concern to the leading countries of the future. We must also ask, and forcefully so, whether King Leopold in truth was acting in the best interests of the Belgian nation when he agreed to the sale which, after all, was in his power to decline. ...

(Le Soir, Brussels)


With the publication of the final note of the Lisbon Congo Conference, the future of Central Africa is taking shape. The terms of the agreement, negotiated over several months in the Portuguese capital, provide for a sale of the Congo Free state to a consortium of Britain, France and Portugal, the Tripartite Consortium, and its subsequent partition. The purchasing price, jointly and severally guaranteed by the three parties, is to be paid in instalments over the course of ten years. In return, King Leopold has agreed to cede sovereignty in the territories of the Congo Free state completely and unequivocally to the Tripartite Consortium as of 1 January 1906.

The territorial division of the Congo Free State has been agreed by the principle of adjacency to extant possessions. Portugal will acquire a territory bordering Angola, delimited by a line running east from Boma to the Congo river, then by the course of the Congo and Lulua, including a small stretch east of the Lulua to the present boundary between Zambia and Angola. The French portion will encompass the majority of the Congo river valley itself, including the entirety of Equatoria. Britain stands to gain Katanga, located between the Lukuga and Lualaba rivers, and East Kasongo to the north extending all the way to the shore of Lake Kivu. This makes France by far the largest beneficiary, and its share of the purchase price is commensurate.

It must be noted that agreement on the partition would not have been possible without the readiness of the German government to transfer the Ruanda territory, formerly of German East Africa, to Britain in return for the cession of the Solomon Islands. The acquisition of this stretch of territory linking Kasongo and Uganda has finally allowed the realisation of Sir Cecil Rhodes' long-held ambition of a contiguous British territory in Africa from the Cape to the Nile. With the finalisation of the transfer treaty, the last obstacles to the dissolution of the Congo Free State have been removed, and it is to be hoped that good governance and humane civilisation will finally penetrate the dark heart of Africa.

(Daily Telegraph, London)

Tropical Fever? can only question the reasoning of our government in swapping the unexplored, potentially rich and geopolitically pivotal Burundi territory for the Solomon Islands which, while adequately mapped and suitably tropical, are hardly inviting and unlikely to ever generate more than the most stinting of revenues. What wisdom there is in allowing a rival, however unthreatening and however useful in other fields, to realise his long-harboured ambition by giving up your own remains to be seen. London is not known for the value of its gratitude. ...

(Kreuz-Zeitung, Berlin)

13 September 1905, Berlin

“Why the Solomons, your Majesty? I can understand throwing the British a bone, provided we get something in return,. but what good was that swap? Why do we need them?” Walther Krupp von Rathenau was less exasperated than genuinely curious, which made a nice difference from a multitude of conservative commentators whose righteous ire was only held in check by their ingrained habit of deference to authority. Wilhelm smiled.

“Well, you probably guessed that we are getting some things. First of all, we get to be rid of a headache. That really was the main reason I did it, by the way. This Congo thing was threatening to spiral out of control. The French would not settle for anything less than they got, and the British wouldn't let them have it for fear of Paris ending up in control of Africa. It really was the only way I could see that would give the French their victory and let the British have something that weighed equally heavy in their eyes. Sir Cecil Rhodes was an inspired madman, you know. He dreamed big, and his dreams still fascinate the British political class. I got the idea from Albert, incidentally, though he thought I should sell the land.”

“Why didn't you?” Rathenau had wondered about that.

“In company with Leopold, Denmark and Spain? I couldn't afford the loss of face. To be honest, I wouldn't have minded the cash for another few battleships, but we're not that hard up. The Liberals and Conservatives want colonies more than they want reasonable government, and I have to defer to that sentiment at least a little. Of course they feel insulted at the Solomon Islands, but I couldn't see what else to take? The British don't have much African territory they can spare. Walvis Bay would have been nice, but far too small. We're working on a swap to make that possible, by the way. Any possession in America is out of the question. It would upset the United States too much, and there is no way we could defend any Caribbean island against the US Navy. Anything in Asia we might have wanted is too valuable for the British to give up, and just taking a bit of Malaya or Burma would have been too obviously placing our fate in their hands. So, it was the Solomons or the Fijis, and the Solomons fit better with out existing possessions.”

”Like there weren't any better options...”

“They're all owned by others. Walther, I would have loved to negotiate for the Sandwich Islands or Tahiti, Timor or Madagascar, but they happen not to be British. Anyway, the bigger prize is not mentioned anywhere in the swap. You know that German firms have been investing heavily in the Ottoman Empire for a while now...”

“Oh yes.” Understanding dawned on Rathenau. “A Berlin-to-Baghdad railway?”

“Something of the kind, anyway. The British government has agreed to raise no objections to any such undertaking. I suppose they will be busy enough fileting up East Africa. We have that much in a bilateral treaty, secret, of course. Then there is the matter of Portuguese possessions. You know they may be forced to sell, and the British are interested in buying. We would be ready to support their plans in return for them letting us have some. Those could be worth it. Macao, Timor and Angola would be on the table if London gets Mocambique and the islands, and Paris would be offered Guinea-Bissau in return for their agreement. That is all so much blue-sky dreaming, of course. We've made no treaties of any kind. Imagine if the Portuguese found those... “

Rathenau shuddered. “So you've basically fattened up Angola for the slaughter at the Congo Conference? Why allow the Portuguese this gain? They certainly didn’t have the clout to enforce it, did they?”

Wilhelm shrugged. “Maybe. To be honest, the Portuguese colonies question was brought up by the British. They would need third parties to make it look less like naked robbery. No, the Portuguese were quite shrewd when they called the conference and had the Danes suggest the partition plan. It saved face all around and gave them land they could never have gotten otherwise. If they manage to pay their instalments in time, they may also get to keep it.”

Of course, Portugal paying its obligations was a dodgy proposition. There was a reason that King Leopold had insisted on ensuring his payments through the Tripartite Consortium rather than dealing with the three powers separately. With Lisbon effectively being all but owned by British banks, a forced sale of its colonial empire was not an unlikely outcome of another default.

“And then, there is the matter of a mutual defensive treaty.”

Rathenau sat down hard.

“A mutual.. Wilhelm, I mean, majesty, seriously?“ The grin on Wilhelm's face was expressive far beyond words.

“We are in the very early stages of negotiating. Ambassador Lascelles and uncle Albert have been very busy. Of course you don't get this in return for a few square kilometres of Africa, but the chances are good this time. The British are seriously worried. Admiral von Koester thinks I should push hard, but I'd rather not risk it. Imagine – an alliance with Britain.”

Rathenau shook his head in wonder. “You right bastard. And to think the French probably believe they won the Congo conference.”

18 September 1905, Paris

Georges Clemenceau was shocked. It was not that he had put the idea of provoking war for electoral gain past his opponents, but to have it in writing was another thing. The lengthy letter on his desk was as chilling as it was incontrovertible. Always assuming it was genuine, of course.

“What do you know about the provenance of this document, exactly?” he asked his visitor. Francois Lavoisin was a fiercely pro-Masonic provincial stalwart he had done business with before. Useful connections, not too much in the brains department, but dependably loyal and personally unambitious. Clemenceau liked him, but that did not mean he trusted him.

“We have sympathies in unlikely quarters,” Lavoisin pointed out. “And it is remarkable what people will leave unattended in train compartments. I was wondering about the possibility of a forgery myself, but it just seems too – damaging. Anyone who forged a letter would surely suggest collusion with the Germans, not belligerent intent.”

Clemenceau nodded. “I see your point. Yes, I will make some enquiries, and then we will see if we cannot use this to light a nice, brisk fire under Cavaignac's arse. Thank you! France owes you a debt of gratitude, Monsieur Lavoisin“

He quietly resolved that if the next election did work out to his advantage – and given this twist of fate, it just might – then Lavoisin would be in line for the Legion d'Honneur. They'd find a reason.

20 September 1905, St Petersburg

People of Russia!

Who gains from your poverty?

Who profits from your disunion?

Who reaps the harvest of the blood you shed?

FOREIGNERS and JEWS are fomenting dissent to destroy our country. It is the goal of the GERMANS and JAPANESE to dismember our provinces and ravish the Russian earth! It is the aim of the JEWS and FREEMASONS to destroy our monarchy and to turn all power over to their plutocratic international finance. Russian patriots, do not be blinded by the lies of their servants. Behind the Socialist and the Democrat hides the German and the JEW! Patriots of Russia, fight the German and his Japanese catspaws! Crush the Jew and his Socialist puppets!

The ink was still drying – you could smell the freshness of the print. Ivan Durnovo, minister of the interior, scanned the crude, but eye-catching layout of the handbill. He was not entirely sure who was responsible for this one exactly. Governor Trepov ran his 'black' presses, but so did Dr Dubrovin of the Patriotic Union. And of course, there were real loyalist underground organisations. The way this one harped on about the Germans suggested it might have come from one of those. Either that, or the powers that be had decided to raise the pressure on that front.
21 September 1905, Vichy

Godefroy Cavaignac was tired again. The French system did not really allow for a chief executive to fall ill. Work followed you wherever you fled. He had forced his body to obey, willing himself to last to the end of the term. Indeed, to have lasted this long filled him with great pride. His coalition, looking so powerful outwardly, was fissile. He distrusted Deroulede, both his ambitions and his intentions. France would not stand another emperor, he was sure, and that man had both the cunning and lust for power to be one, and the blindness not to see that the age of Napoleons and Maximilians was over. Syveton was better. But Syveton was also febrile, a hot-headed and aggressive fellow. Too pushy. And he alienated the monarchist wing of the conservatives. There was nothing for it, Cavaignac would have to last. Without him, there would be too many leaders and too few heads. If only he could rein in Deroulede long enough to bolster Syveton, the two could check each other. One or the other would emerge, chastened and steeled, a worthy successor.

He sighed and looked at the papers again. Intelligence reports of negotiations in Berlin between the British ambassador and that damnable eminence grise Albert. It looked like a nightmare would come true. Secretary Devray sat by his side, almost pathetically eager for his wisdom, a worthy, loyal man. He knew as much about politics as Cavaignac, even if he did not understand half of it. A useful trait in someone who routinely dealt with sensitive papers. Even he knew what the talks could mean, though.

“The British mean to make war on us, then?” he asked, half afraid of the answer.

Cavaignac smiled avuncularly. “Not necessarily, though it is possible. They are afraid is the likelier explanation. You see, they have been watching the Japanese war as eagerly as anyone, and they do not like what they found. Their fleet may turn out to be worth a lot less than their admirals figured.”

Devray frowned. “Surely, theirs and ours.”

“Theirs more so, Devray. Look at the facts. All the expensive battleships shooting at each other, and in the end, they are sunk by mines and torpedoes. The Russians lost one elderly ship to gunfire, and the Japanese none. They will have to scramble to build more torpedo boat destroyers. You know, even back in the army I always felt sure the jeune ecole had it right,. If only I had never listened to those gold-braided fools wanting their big ships, I would now have a force to destroy the Royal Navy. But even so, we are far more dangerous to them than they thought. Their coasts are within range of even the smallest of our vessels. They know it, and we know it, so they seek reinsurance. Especially since they must realise we have been building submersible torpedo boats, and there is nothing in their arsenal to stop them. Yes, Devray, the British are rattled. They have spent themselves nearly to ruination on a wild goose chase. Otherwise, they would never approach the Germans. The pride they must have had to swallow coming out of their splendid isolation.”

The younger man nodded. “So, there will not be a war?” He sounded relieved.

“Not immediately. If I can help it, not at all. London is not the main enemy. We can be content with our gains in the Congo – that was as glorious as a war won. But we must ensure we can act against Berlin with a free hand, or we will have signed away Alsace-Lorraine in perpetuity. I shall approach the British ambassador with a treaty of mutual neutrality in the event of a war involving Germany. Perhaps we will have to throw in some sweetener, but if we can allay the fears at Westminster sufficiently to make them back off from a German alliance, anything short of all of West Africa will have been worth it.”

Devray prepared to take dictation. The great tactician was back.

22 September 1905, Berlin

Sir Frank Lascelles felt the weight of history on his shoulders. The agreement they were in the process of hammering out might well become his most lasting legacy, for good or ill. Prince Albert of Prussia was a terrifying negotiator under that kindly, old-world exterior. Not hostile, but demanding. Lascelles hoped he would take this point well.

“I'm afraid, Your Highness, that France is all we can agree to. The treaty I was charged to discuss is specifically a defensive alliance against France, and HM Government cannot agree to its extension to any other powers. Surely, such an alliance is in your interests as well.”

It made sense, of course. You did not buy flood insurance if you didn't live near water. Britain needed France insurance, not Russia insurance. The problem was getting it without making the Germans realise how much of a supplicant he was. But he had a fair idea that Albert had made this request entirely with the intention to exact a price for backing down.

“We are, however, ready to extend and prolong our neutrality agreement of 1896. Full friendly neutrality in all conflicts Germany and Britain enter into, unless one should declare war on an ally of the other. The British government would also be willing to assume active responsibility for the naval protection of German shipping through its waters against all enemies.”

Albert nodded, studiously sucking his pipe. Yes, this would be acceptable. Of course he would have preferred the kind of blanket alliance that Austria-Hungary had made, but that was illusory. Britain and Germany both had too many commitments and too many imponderables to commit to unlimited mutual defense. And Wilhelm's damned meddling in Russia had not made things better. British bookmakers were already laying on poor odds for a Russo-German war within three years.

“I think His Majesty will find this acceptable.” He finally said. “You have, in turn, given thought to the exclusion of third-party nonbelligerence?”

This mattered to him. If Germany found itself at war with France through its treaty with Britain, he wanted to exclude the possibility Russia would declare on Germany only. London would gleefully take the opportunity to consider Russia neutral vis-a-vis itself and leave the hard work of fighting it to Wilhelm's army. It was what he would have done himself if the roles were reversed.

“Yes,” Sir Frank conceded, “we can accept this clause in turn. Once our two nations are at war, a declaration of war on either by a third party will without fail be considered a declaration on both.”

Albert nodded. “Then I think we have our agreement in principle. Let's leave the haggling over details to the undersecretaries. I will bring it to His Majesty for approval tomorrow.”

22 September 1905, Paris

...having reviewed the terms of the offer, I am convinced that it should be given favourable consideration by HM government. I append a copy of the letter by Prime Minister Cavaignac, verbatim as received, and especially seek to draw your attention to the aspect of a prospective agreement on the division of African and Oceanian territory that may be entirely advantageous to us. It is my opinion that the French government's internal concerns and their trepidation of a conflict with Germany supersedes any ambition to continue the naval competition they have been pursuing over the past decade. Prime Minister Cavaignac's readiness to relinquish the nation's alliance with Russia with regard to claims to territory in Central and Eastern Asia may appear unconvincing at first sight, but both the current state of the Russian Empire's internal politics and the recent conclusion of the Congo Conference make it a viable, even arguably a wise course of action purely from the perspective of statecraft. We must therefore consider it both genuine and serious. In view of the fact that, following recvent international agreements, few areas globally remain outside the sphere of interest of the great powers, any potential for future rivalry will be greatly diminished. It thus appears a stance of mutual neutrality, leaving both nations to pursue their own goals unhindered by the other, would appear a desirable option. ...

(Despatch by Ambassador Sir Francis Leveson Bertie)

24 September 1905, Paris


Prime Minister Found Dead in his Bed! Vote on New Government Impending!

This afternoon, Godefroy Cavaignac was found dead in his drawing room by a servant. The prime minister had previously struggled with recurring bouts of muscular weakness, but his doctors had assured the public on numerous occasions of his overall good health. His tragic death at so crucial a time for our country is much to be lamented, doubly so since it leaves the question of his successor in office open. We can expect spirited debate in the assembly tomorrow, and it remains to be hoped that one of the prospective candidates will be able to gain a majority of deputies soon. ...

29 September 1905, Berlin

“I believe we have it, as they say, in the bag.” Emperor Wilhelm III looked inordinately proud of himself as he surveyed the set of notes for his speech.

“So, your Majesty, you are still bent on appointing me ambassador to your government?” Philipp zu Eulenburg, a consummate diplomat and far more personable than his luckless cousin Botho, was not above the occasional joke, but this remark was his way of testing the imperial mood. He remained somewhat unsure whether the emperor understood the magnitude of the change he was contemplating.

Wilhelm almost giggled. “Ambassador to my government! That's a good one. You must tell it to uncle Albert some day, Philipp. Yes, I am adamant. We need to put this cabinet on a viable footing, and if appointing the ministers the Reichstag wants is the way to do it, then that will be it. Don't worry. I have a little say in who I put into office still.”

There was some truth to that, but to a traditional Prussian, the agreement that he had reached with the Reichstag majority still had to look like a surrender. Yes, he retained the power to dissolve the assembly whenever he saw fit, and he could, in theory, appoint ministers over their objections. Prussia's majority in the Bundesrat also gave him effective veto over all legislation, a tool that Albert had used sparingly and Wilhelm, so far, not at all. They were still a very different country from Britain.

“More than that, Sire.”, Secretary zu Ammersleben noted, putting the sheets of paper on the side table in slightly better order. “You must realise that the constitution gives you the right to appoint and dismiss ministers as you see fit, and your agreement to consult with the Reichstag does not materially detract from this power.”

Wilhelm turned, more forcefully than he may have intended. “Nonsense! I don't want to hear about this again. I will not risk the happiness of my people and the future of my dynasty over a cheap procedural victory. The gentlemen of the Reichstag have my word as emperor that I will hear them and listen to them. In fact, I plan to say so ... right here.” The carefully ordered papers fell into disarray again as the young ruler pulled out a sheet from the middle of the stack and pointed out a much-annotated passage. “As in the days of the first, great German empire,” it read, “the rule of a king was sealed and made whole not by the anointing hand of a bishop nor by the passing of crown and orb from father to son, but by the acclamation and consent of the free people, so must the government of this, our beloved German Empire be a matter for all those it touches, a great, holy duty that the heaven places on the shoulders of the few men so selected, but one that they cannot undertake without the assent, the assistance and the advice of those they govern.” Flowery tones, owing more to the erudition of the new chancellor than the brief and often abrupt prose of his imperial master. Nonetheless, the part about “consent” came from him.

Zu Ammersleben looked away, mortified to have drawn His Majesty's displeasure, but content to have registered his disapproval. True, no legal change had taken place, but the way the empire actually worked increasingly bore at best a tenuous relationship to how the constitution said it was supposed to work. Creating a precedent, however unsupported, that the Reichstag got to vote on cabinet appointments was not going to be easy to reversed. Unlike many conservatives, zu Ammersleben was certain that the emperor would very soon wish to do exactly that, and find himself unable without triggering a constitutional crisis to rival the 1860s. Others had given up hope that Wilhelm would ever see reason and, given his youth, foresaw a dire future.

“I certainly hope you know what you are doing here, your Majesty.”, Philipp zu Eulenburg said. “I am quite ready to put whatever talents I have at yopur disposal, but I am no Bismarck. If things fall apart, I won't hold them together with fine words and polished memoranda.”

Wilhelm waved the objection away. “We've talked about this. It is time we got away from the idea that any one person can run the state. It is just too complicated for that to work. We haven't had military command in the hands of a single leader for half a century, and the general staff has worked admirably, but nobody seemed to think it would be a problem to let the emperor do all the government work. Even my uncle couldn't. I need a cabinet of people who understand their fields and can do real work there, without anyone looking over their shoulders. And I will need you to be my connection with them. That way, I can concentrate on the important issues and leave the day-to-day work to the experts.”

“Until they screw up, you mean?” Philipp zu Eulenburg had a lower opinion of technocrats than his emperor.

“If they do, I will be there to take them to task, anyway. What has me more concerned is majorities. The Zentrum faction is largely behind the people I have in mind, but even after we've agreed to give two seats to SPD men, you will have to talk them round to it, I'm afraid. Some of their delegates are a bit intransigent.”

“I still think the votes of the Kartellparteien should be enough to save us from having to work with them at all.”, zu Eulenburg remarked. He harboured no personal animosity towards Social Democrats as people, indeed, both he and Wilhelm had gained a surprisingly favourable impression of the men they had met over the past weeks. He did disagree with their politics in almost all respects, though.

“We've discussed that, Philipp.”, Wilhelm said curtly. “They are patriots, and they represent an important part of the country. I won't ignore them.”

Of course, the truth behind these noble sentiments was that Wilhelm – hard though he had found it to admit to himself – did not trust the conservatives. These people might be loyal and brave, but whenever he had interacted with them, he had found them spiteful, nasty, and wedded to a mental attitude that held everything he loved in deep disdain. Had the emperor permitted his mind to consider a party affiliation for himself – unthinkable though the idea was – he would have had to admit he was a liberal. Not a crazy left-winger, of course, but a thorough believer in the virtue of progress, the odiousness of obscurantism, and the wonders of science and technology. The faction of junkers and estate holders with its dated rituals, its privileged way of life and its snobbish exclusion of everyone not familiar with the social shibboleths of the Kadettenanstalt disgusted him. He could work with them, of course, much like his uncle had been able to work with Social Democrats, but he never felt he could trust them, much less love them.

“Anyway,” he muttered half to himself. “How much worse than your cousin Botho can Bebel be?”

02 October 1905, London

In charge of a sub' or a midshipman,

Wi' a thing they calls a crew,

A-flying the ensign at the stern,

The same as the big ships do,

She darts about in the shallows and mist,

To seek the most dangerous prey,

And carries the sting that battleships fear,

In her low hull, slender and grey.


Harwood E. Steele, 'Ballad of the Torpedo Boat', printed in Boys' Own Paper

We cruised all f-ing day long,

Chasing targets all in vain,

The weather f-ing awful,

F-ing fog and f-ing rain,

Our skipper f-ing crazy,

Charging everything in sight,

And we beached her on the Isle of Wight!

Ain't the Navy f-ing awful,

Ain't the Navy f-ing awful,

Ain't the Navy f-ing awful,

We beached her on the Isle of Wight!

(hectographed lyrics entered in evidence at disciplinary proceedings against gunner's mate J. S. Thompson of H.M. Portsmouth torpedo boat squadron. The ditty, titled “Battle Hymn for Torpedo Boat Maneuvers”,became widely popular throughout the fleet)

06 October 1905, St Petersburg

Sergeant Shternmiler's daily routines tended towards the orderly. When he was not out on investigations or training the execrable Patriotic Union goons that the government had landed on his doorstep, he spent the morning interviewing contacts and the afternoon reading and compiling reports. There was much more of that lately, now that St Petersburg had descended into near-anarchy. They had a so-called Workers' Council and a city semstvo and even a soldiers' council, though the attendees tended to disappear to Siberia at short notice. The garrison was in hand, more or less. As he dipped his pen into the inkwell, the heavy cast-iron stove in the corner radiating comfortable warmth into the small office he called his own ever since his division had been moved to the outskirts, a knock on the door sounded. Shternimler rose. “Enter!” he called out.

To his surprise, a lieutenant in full uniform followed by two gendarmes came in. He perfunctorily returned the punctilious salute he received and opened with a worrying question. “Are you Sergeant Shternmiler?”

“I am, Sir.” The sergeant's mind raced. What was this about? He had been present at a few instances when Okhrana men were arrested, and the outcome was rarely pretty, but he knew that this never happened without good reason. What could the man want with him?

“I am Lieutenant Karapov from the Moscow branch. Sergeant, you are no doubt aware of the destabilising activity of foreigners in our government and administration.”

Shternmiler was puzzled. “I am, Sir. We have had Finns and Poles causing a great deal of trouble. But how...”

“Sergeant, by order of the interior minister, it has been decreed that until the end of the current crisis, all people of foreign extraction are to be kept away from responsible positions in government.”

Foreign extraction? Responsible positions? As the import of the sentence dawned on Shternmiler, he protested: “I am Russian, Sir! A born Russian, loyal to His majesty the Czar! My parents were born in Zarizyn”

Karapov gestured him to calm down. The gendarmes took position on either side of the door, with a clear view of everything in the room. “Sergeant, I have reviewed your record, and it is impeccable. Indeed, I have wondered why you have not been promoted to greater heights earlier. Rest assured this measure does not reflect ill on your person or your efforts in any material way.” He looked almost sad. “The government will find a use for your talents in some position. Until it has, you are at liberty to return home, visit your family. You will continue to draw pay on suspension, so your material needs will be taken care of. When all of this is over, we will see what opportunities present themselves for your further career. Your services will still be needed, after all. Until then, Corporal Yusenko will be taking over your duties. Please apprise him of anything he may need to know.”

Shternmiler saluted, tears brimming in his eyes.

10 October 1905, Warsaw

Marian Kukiel – General Marian Kukiel of the Polish National Army, though he still found that part hard to believe – was known by his men to enjoy the comforts of command. His suite in liberated Warsaw was well appointed, and general Pilsudski came tro visit quite frequently to sample some liberated wines and delicacies provided by appreciative patriots, and talk shop. Sitting in the deep armchair by the grand fireplace that last year warmed a Russian officer, the leader of the Polish uprising looked unusually troubled.

“We must have Lodz, Marian.”, he repeated. “Whatever the cost, whatever the difficulty, we must have it. If we fail, we are lost.”

Kukiel nodded. “I know. I'm assigning every unit that can be spared already, Josef. There are only so many men we have here, though. Training them takes time.”

“We don't have time. Perhaps it's time to think of an alternative strategy, anyway. You understand, even if Lodz falls, it may do no more than buy us time.”

The presence of a large Russian garrison this far into Free Poland was crippling for any attempt to act like anything like a real state. Men and messages could move in and out of Lodz, but the NA was limited to operating in hiding. The railway lines were closed – effectively to both sides, given the difficulty the Russians had finding railwaymen willing to break the strike – and the troops still patrolled into the countryside. Just a few days ago, a cossack column had cut up the Czenstochau regiment in an ambush nobody had expected. Things were getting out of hand, even as real siege lines began to close around the city.

“Holding Lodz will mean we can finally act like a real government. Appoint administrators, operate police, stop skulking in the shadows.” Kukiel protested.

“For how long, Marian?” Pilsudski was doubtful. “say the city falls this month. We have the winter. Then, the Russians come back. I would love to believe that the Russian Empire will just fall apart, but I can't. That year will decide the issue. 1906 is when Poland lives or dies. And if we can hold them off, what of 1907? What of 1908? Russia will not just disappear.”

“But the Germans...”

“The Germans may already have done everything for us they ever will. Marian, we are the weakest link in the alliance. Truth be told, we still are nothing but a tool in the hands of Germany and Japan, and the kaiser can discard us whenever he chooses. Wilhelm means well, but would he really risk war with Russia? Would you, in his stead? He has done all he set out to do, caused pain for Russia at little cost. We cannot expect the Germans to fight our war for us. They may yet join in, but we have to have plans in case they don't.”

General Kukiel was silent for a long while. He tried not to think about the possibility of facing the Russian offensive alone. It would come. “What do we do?” he asked almost plaintively. “We can always go back to the underground, but our men, our units.. ”

“Exactly. Marian, I want you to begin negotiations with the Czar. In secret, of course.”

Kukiel was aghast. “Never! Josef, you have no conception what you are asking! Order me to fight to the death, send me to the front, I will gladly give my life for Poland. But I will not betray her.”

“Die gloriously, dammit, it's what we've been so good at all these years. Don't worry, Marian. It will make a grand story for our writers to tell – the ones that didn't go to Siberia for life, anyway. We will not lack for courage. And the survivors will be lionised in the clubs of London, how gallant, what patriotic spirits to die so valiantly for their country!” He let the sentence hang in midair for a moment. “Screw that, Marian. What I want them to say about us is what bastards, what mean, cold, calculating Machiavellian sons of bitches to win their country's freedom this way. I want to be remembered for winning, not for trying, because in this league, it's not about how you play the game. Let them sing songs about Kocziusko, I want to go like Bismarck. So, damned well do as I say, or I will find someone else to do it, even if I cannot trust him as much.”

“What do you want me to do?” Kukiel asked, flustered.

“For now, just open a channel. Try to see what concessions are open. We are going to have to hurt the Russians a lot more than we have if we want them to give up something real, but we will. If we are lucky, we'll never need to go that route. But if the Germans leave us hanging, try to get the best agreement you can. I'll go to London and make speeches, and you stay and watch that the Russians honour their end of the deal.”

“They won't. Josef, they never have in the past. The Russians will just promise us the moon and take away everything once they can.”

Pilsudski sighed. “They may. But look at how much we have achieved. If they know what danger a future Polish rising could pose, they will want to avert it. Keep them honest through fear. We'll have to keep the combat organisation alive underground. But it'll be better than any deal I could get after having my Thermopylae in the ruins of Warsaw palace.”

“It's still not fair!”

“Do you want me to leave it to Dmovski's gang? If they have their way, we'll all be speaking Russian.”

General Kukiel shook his head. What needed doing just needed doing.

12 October 1905, Moscow

“It's pretty horrible, overall.” Grand Prince Nikolay Alexandrovich liked to keep abreast of events despite his marginalisation. What his associates told him was not encouraging. Baron Rosen, newly relegated to the palace administration, was only the latest to draw a bleak picture of the Czar's efforts. “It has caused a fair number of ripples in the diplomatic service, and apparently, we haven't been too badly affected.”

That much was true. The secret police and gendarmerie had seen a thorough purge, and the army and navy had relegated many officers whose parentage was in any way undesireble relegated to less exalted posts. Only a few diplomats had lost their posts, though a number of foreign office staff had been reassigned away from secret files and positions of importance on the strength of having the wrong family ties. Not for the first time, the Grand Prince wondered if his Czar knew what he was doing.

“The worst part is that to his Majesty, it looks like the strategy is working.” Rosen was icily sarcastic. “Look, no further defeats! You can even fool the damned Japanese into retreat, and all it takes is a few ten thousand unfortunate souls who will now starve in Kharbin.”

To Nikolay, the story was the epitome of all that was wrong about Russia, and all that was grand about it. General Kaulbars had come up with the idea that, since it was proving increasingly impossible to move trains along the Siberian railroad, you could limit the freight on the rails to supplies and march the three army corps he wanted to Manchuria. Men and horses, he figured, had legs for a reason. The truly amazing thing was that it had actually worked, if you discounted the casualties and the inevitable scaling back such ambitious plans usually suffered. The Russians had walked along the railway lines until, one fine morning, they had surprised Japanese sentries and gone on to relieve Kharbin. In future history books, it would no doubt seem like the most natural thing in the world, a glorious feat of arms. That was, unless the garrison now stuck in Kharbin was starved into surrender. The railway strike was getting worse, not better. Trains often moved with engineers forced to work at gunpoint. The Japanese still held the line to Vladivostok. No doubt Kaulbars would next ask for another corps to walk there. Grand Prince Nikolay wondered why the man still had his job.

12 October 1905, Potsdam

“’It is with regret that I must conclude His Majesty King Edward will not countenance any consideration of a marriage between Princess Beatrice and Emperor Wilhelm.' - well, there we have it. Can we now get back to serious business?” Wilhelm laid down the letter from his envoy to London on the desk and looked around. The assembled dignitaries were quiet for a moment.

“Does he say why?”, Prince Albert asked cautiously. He had been a proponent of the match and still considered it advantageous.

“Apparently, he won't allow her to wed an adulterer.” Friedrich von Damendorff, who had been instrumental in early negotiations, acidly remarked. There was a notable titter around the table. Albert guffawed.

“Well, if uncle Bertie is so concerned with the niceties of female honour, at least when it comes to his family, we shall have to consider other options.” he said. “Wilhelm, have you given any thought to Princess Olga of Hanover? It may go some way towards healing the rift between our families, and she is a beauty.”

“...if rather difficult.” von Damendorff interjected.

“Gentlemen,” Wilhelm said, “I am sure you are all viewing this with the detached amusement of someone who watches the Khan select his hareem, but I cannot avoid feeling a bit like some prize bull at auction. Olga of Hanover, Cecilia of Mecklenburg, even Wilhelmina of Orange keeps being bandied about...”

“You know that Wilhelmina is impossible!” Albert interrupted.

“Fair enough. But I am tiring of this whole game. Uncle, I know that I can't marry for love, and I will do my duty by the Reich and sire an heir, but please, at least grant me the favour to find the whole affair tiresome. And to say so.”

Albert sighed. It was no secret that Wilhelm did not look forward to matrimony, and the task of convincing him did not rest easy on the shoulders of the prince whose own marriage was, at best, a convenient arrangement. But by common consent of the court, it was time.

13 October 1905, Potsdam

“Are we in agreement, then, General von Falkenhayn?” Wilhelm asked. He had read the after-action reports that the general staff had produced following the autumn exercises – Kaisermanöver, the press was beginning to call them, though Wilhelm rarely did more than observe from a distance. The volumes of analysis that followed were usually much more to his liking. The general nodded. Ever since he had become head of the emperor's personal army staff – he had vacated the post of minister of war for a political appointee - he was much more closely involved with decisionmaking. Wilhelm was not given to meddling with professionals too much, but he loved his toys. Sometimes Falkenhayn suspected he was a little too fond of the newfangled stuff simply because it was new, but even so, that was a welcome corrective against the ingrained conservatism of the officer corps. The general did not like to think of himself as a reformer, let alone a modernist, but by the standards of the Prussian army, the entire general staff was composed of radicals.

“The judgement of the observers was ridiculous. The cuirassiers would never have made it across the infantry's field of fire, armour or not. What they are trying to do is save their precious cavalry regiments from the chopping block. If the bullets had been life, the 61st and 14th would have simply ceased to exist, and that is not even counting the artillery.” Falkenhayn did not get angry easilym but he loathed unprofessional conduct in his fellow officers.

“What worries me more,” the emperor observed, “is that the infantry found it so hard to get into the trench system. The Nogi mortars worked well, but the casualties still would have been horrendous.”

The army had set up a siege situation, designed roughly along the lines of Port Arthur, to test a number of new ideas that were being mooted. The spectre of troops smashing headlong into prepared defenses was haunting the men in field grey, and while ideas were being produced in prodigious quantities, so far, the solution was proving elusive. Specialised engineer infantry companies equipped with hand grenades and a few of the portable Nogi mortars that observers had lovingly sketched and photographed at Port Arthur were doing well enough, as was heavy artillery, at least in theory. Down at Jüterbog, the artillerymen were trying out ways of making a 34-cm shell go through over a metre of reinforced concrete. The army's new Minenwerfer were also good at bashing in obstacles and flattening firing positions, but all of these things cut both ways, and nothing, it seemed, was an answer to the machine gun. Wilhelm was already determined that if they could not be beaten, then his army would at least need thousands more of the infernal machines.

“It's what our studies indicated, Sire.” General von Falkenhayn was being diplomatic. “Future wars are a contest not so much of two nations' armies as of their productive capacities. Whichever side can provide the technical solution to a battlefield challenge first, whichever can throw a greater weight of metal and as greater number of bodies at the other, will be victorious.”

Out on the field this autumn, they had tried everything, including purely experimental things. A dirigible had dropped bombs on the defenders' fortified positions, which the observers rightly ruled ineffective, given their wild inaccuracy and small weight. Light armoured cars, each armed with a machine gun, had performed better than they would have in real life, Wilhelm supposed. Observers rarely ruled a hit deadly on anything armoured, but he knew from tests at the DAG factory that bullets had a way of finding weak spots. In the end, the commander of the attacking force in the maneuvers had become impatient and ordered an all-out assault on two weak points in the defenses.

The observers had ruled it a success, but a terrible slaughter as well. The casualty rates they projected would have made the Japanese blanch. The cavalry charge into the heart of the defenses thus opened was the crowning glory of the affair, a grand show for foreign observers and guests of honour. General Baden-Powell, a personal guest of the emperor, had recalled a comment dating from the Crimean War as he acidly remarked: “C'est magnifique, mais c'est ne pas la guerre.” Wilhelm had to admit that he had been right.

”We cannot get rid of the heavy cavalry.”, he sighed. “At least, not yet. And they cost a fortune. You know, general, that I could equip two divisions with machine guns and mortars for the cost of one cuirassier regiment?”

Falkenhayn nodded. “The divisions don't want them, though, your Majesty.”

Wilhelm shook his head dismissively. “The senior officers don't, general. From everything I read and hear, the men love them, and I can see why. But the cost is going to be horrendous. The army expansion next year will cost us dearly.”

Falkenhayn nodded again. He was no longer minister of war and thus had no more dog in this fight, but the details of the 1905 expansion bill had been a matter of concern for him. Almost everyone in Berlin agreed that the buildup was needed given how dangerously unstable Russia seemed to be and how hostile France was becoming. Even the Social Democrats were backing the added numbers, not least because it meant more career opportunities for non-nobles and more workers in the ranks. They resented the charge that industrial workers shirked their duty and took every opportunity to insist on an equitable application of the draft in city and country. What nobody could agree on, though, was where to find the money.
15 October 1905, Fan-Tcheu (South of the Tarim Basin)

... Steppe warfare is an amazing thing, by far grander and more exhilarating that I had thought it previously possible for anything to be. Take, if you will, the high veldt multiplied by a thousand, and you will have an impression of the grandeur and majesty that surrounds us in this ancient part of the old world. Surrounded by the oldest civilisations known to man, there is still nothing civilised about this masculine and unforgiving world from whence the East, from time to time, drew the barbaric vigour with which to refresh the enervated blood of its decadent peoples. This land breeds horsemen of superb skill and daring, men as undemanding as they are brave. Inured to hardship from an early age and habituated to war through centuries of tradition, they are as fine and as savage a warrior race as I have yet seen.

What we are waging here is what you might call a distilled essence of war. Between us and the enemy, there is no intervening landmark or city, no human habitation to remind us of the pursuits of peace or touch our hearts at the pity of civilian suffering. It is but us, them, and many hundreds of miles of empty land, the perfect war of maneuver, like a chess game of the old Hindoo gods. Little wonder this land brought forth such methodical genius of maneuver. And though they are my charges and my allies, I dare say this fine battle is wasted on the Chinese. What little there is military about them is all a citydweller's fight, suited as they are to the infantry, engineers and the technical branches. I have yet to find one Chinaman who could truly master horsemanship. Fine as our own Uighur auxiliaries are, I would so much more readily have the Mongol and the Cossack that our enemy fields today. In truth I sometimes wonder whether it is not the greatest feat that the Russians have shown the world that they were able to preserve the true qualities of a martial race in these offspring of their people. As hard, as merciless and as courageous as the Mongol, they are at home in this land in a manner that white men rarely, and the Chinese never become. Had they more, I would be in greater doubt of the ultimate outcome, but the Japanese have rattled poor Nicholas so much he can barely spare the men for his little empire-building scheme in Mongolia. The Beiyang army is as fine a fighting force as you can hope to make of Chinamen, who have not a martial bone in their body, and as Kitchener did in Egypt, we will use it to grind down better men with more. Our supply depots are filling up, our barracks teeming, and the next spring will see us off to Kobdo. ...

(Letter by Captain C. Rutherford Williams, observer with the Chinese Army in Mongolia)

17 October 1905, Berlin

“We have it.” Prince Albert had been a changed man ever since his return from London, his usually stern face brightened by an infectious smile. Kicking off his boots in the emperor's office, he almost fell backwards into an armchair and puffed happily on his cigar. “We have it, Wilhelm! Twenty years of waiting, and we have it in the bag. The Friedrich-der-Große-Verein will be celebrating the day for decades to come.”

“A pity I can't tell anyone about it, really, isn't it.” Wilhelm remarked somewhat acidly. He, too, was deeply relieved to have the treaty signed and sealed, but the British requirement of keeping it secret until such time as it suited Whitehall to publish it was an acute embarrassment. He could have used a political victory to take the heat off his government in the Reichstag. “That way, I can be shouted at for doing the right thing as well as making mistakes.”

Albert grunted dismissively. “Be glad you have a treaty, Wilhelm. I have it on good authority the French were trying to run interference at ther last minute. If Cavaignac hadn't died, we might still be begging at Uncle Bertie's door.”

“I am glad, uncle.” Wilhelm did not want to provoke a row. “It's just that I could use the support these days. You know it's a madhouse in the Reichstag. Yersterday, the national liberals were trying to hold the army expansion budget hostage over a vote for six new battleships. The Zentrum and the Social Democrats meanwhile have come to the conclusion that what we need for the military budget is not a new bond issue, but a new inheritance tax. And the Conservatives walked out of the chamber when the house voted pay to delegates. It's like Paris, only without the flair.”

Albert chuckled. The kid thought he had it bad... “You should have seen it during the Bismarck years, Wilhelm. They're downright civilised by comparison.”

“Well, maybe. But I don't have to like it. I mean, the Conservatives used to be the reasonable ones. Now they are getting huffy about paying a minimal tax, and trying to stop us building canals. Seriously!”

“Wilhelm, don't forget they have interests, too. Just because they are generally obedient, they are not your property. A lot of the Conservatives are from noble families, live on the income their landholdings generate, and serve in the army. You have already threatened their lifestyle by your stance on non-noble officers, just like I hurt them when I lowered tariffs on food. Building the Elbe-Weser-Rhine Canal is a great idea, but it will mean their products will face even more competition from imported grain and potatoes, and it isn't like their estates are very profitable as things stand. I know counts who travel in third class. You will have to give them something.”

Wilhelm pondered. It often concerned Albert how little feel the emperor had for the concerns of the landowning class. He was not anti-rural per se, just almost oblivious to the realities of a Junker's existence. Part of that, he ruefully admitted, was that the boy had grown up almost entirely in the city, and in court. He knew the army well, but hardly ever met the noble officers he dealt with there socially on their own turf. His favourite company were the haute bourgeoisie, intellectuals, movers and shakers, people who rarely had to worry about the wages of Polish harvesters or the price of shipping potato spirit to Hamburg. If he had to do it again, Albert thought, he would have to make sure Wilhelm got a more balanced view of things. His conception of what a Junker was seemed almost cartoonish at times.

“I cannot veto the inheritance tax,” Wilhelm finally decided, “and I will not let them take away the canal project. But there must be something else – maybe raising credit. I also thought that it might be a good idea to have the sons of noblemen go to university more often. I don't begrudge them their livelihood, but they cannot have it by taking from equally deserving people.”

“Some would say that's the whole point to having a nobility.”, Albert quipped.

“Social Democrats!” Wilhelm checked himself. “No, they're not as bad as I thought, actually. The ones I met, anyway. I'm sure they are keeping some away from me. You can do business with them. The funny thing is, when I talked army plans with von der Goltz and Falkenhayn, the ideas we came up with look a lot like what the Social Democrats are advocating.”

“Minus the part about ending the monarchy, I suppose...”

The emperor conceded the point with a shrug. “I guess that's a big issue. But I'm still surprised they were so reasonable.”

“You have to remember who your friends are, Wilhelm.” Albert cautioned. “Sometimes, being backed to the hilt by someone who is wrong a lot of the time is worth putting up with a lot for.”

“Maybe.” that was Wilhelm's way of saying 'not really', Albert knew. He wouldn't push the issue.

“I haven't told you the strangest thing yet.”, he continued. “We've had a request to explain where our experienced NCOs are disappearing to.”

“You've had what?”

“It's from a Social Democratic delegate. I told you, they take a real interest in the military, especially the welfare of soldiers, and one of them officially requested the government explain how it intends to handle the expanded draft of 1906 with so much of the training cadre missing. I have no idea how he found out...”

“Have you considered talking to General von der Goltz about it?”

Wilhelm shook his head. “I don't think we need to do anything illegal. The question is valid, and I suppose you could find out that much from talking to recruits. We have been sending an awful lot of good NCOs on leave to Poland. From what I gather, a journalist noticed it and wrote to his delegate”

Albert considered the reply for a moment. “Wilhelm,” he pointed out earnestly, “I don't mean you should have von der Goltz's boys do anything to the man. I mean they should recruit him. Obviously, he has talent, and not many do.”

18 October 1905,

Territory of the Markovo Republic

Officers of the Czar's government are not welcome.

The Republican Peasant Council

(sign on a side road between Moscow and Volokolamsk)

20 October 1905, Tokyo

... It is from these intimations that I must conclude the Japanese government is fully aware its victory places it in an unenviable position. While we know that its diplomats have repeatedly attempted to open negotiations with Russia both immediately and through the intermediary of third parties, among them Switzerland, Italy and Bulgaria, none of these overtures has been met with success or even any indication when and on what terms the Russian government might be amenable to an agreement. None of this has been made known to the Japanese public, not only because of the intransigence of the Czar, but also, and perhaps more so, due to the great sacrifice that has been asked of the nation as a whole and the concern that what may eventually result from the settlement may seem incommensurate. (...)

... The military situation, while superficially favourable, is fraught with grave threats for the future. The Japanese troops today holding Liaodong peninsula and the Manchurian railway are in effect a different army from the one that conquered the territory, both through the corrosive effect of a protracted and indecisive conflict and through the large influx of reservists and painful casualties among experienced and trained first-line troops. The manpower reserves of Japan, while considerable, are not unlimited, and the military leadership has already expressed concern over the quality of the class of reservist now drafted for frontline service. Hence the efforts, at first sight counterintuitive, on the part of the general staff to reduce casualties both strategically, through the avoidance of sieges and pitched battles, and tactically, through an effort to limit dependence on infantry assaults and increase the use of artillery, placing greater emphasis on small-unit actions and stationary warfare in earthworks. This approach has so far served them well, producing a relatively static confrontation in which cavalry raids and occasional exchanges of fire remain the primary form of engagement while the Japanese maintain their hold on the railway lines both east and south of Kharbin, effectively controlling access to Manchuria from both sea and land. It has, however, also left numerically inferior Russian garrisons in control of both Kharbin and Vladivostok, both targets of considerable value which the Japanese army, constrained by its manpower crisis, has failed to secure, and a Russian army at large in the field.

In addition to a pervasive shortage of manpower, Japan's war effort faces fiscal constraints. The state's receipts are insufficient to fund the continuation of the land war, and while bond issues have so far found a ready market in many countries, a military reverse at any point may now well lead to a shift in sentiment. Individual buyers in the English-speaking world and Germany may still be willing to purchase Japanese debt based on a political aversion to Russia, but both institutional and savings investment is likely to decline steeply if the outcome of the war is cast into doubt. It is thus of the greatest importance to move investors to purchase Japanese bonds if the conflict is not to end inauspiciously for want of money. (...)

The principal risk to the Japanese remains the prospect of a Russian commitment of further troops from Europe, currently rendered difficult by internal unrest. It is doubtful, however, that either the political will or the logistical capacity for such a course of action exists in Russia. The dilatory response of the government to Japanese peace overtures remains baffling, in view of the potentially very light terms of a negotiated settlement. This opportunity may well pass beyond the Russian government's grasp with the arrival of both newly drafted recruits and further reservist units in Manchuria. The imperial government has repeatedly stressed its commitment to victory and, given the demands it has made of its people, may find itself obliged to gamble for greater gains than have previously been mooted. An especially crucial concern will be the fate of Vladivostok, a port which the Japanese forces have so far neither invested nor closely blockaded. Should the fortress be taken, it is improbable in the highest degree that Tokyo could agree to a return to Russian sovereignty without significant loss of face with its own population. To date, Japanese forces have entered Russia proper only on a few occasions, limiting themselves to reconnaissance missions and raids against enemy supply lines. This may change, both in order to provide their government with bargaining power in future peace negotiations and to satiate the demand of the public for further victories. Whether it is wise for the Japanese forces to undertake such thrusts, or for the Russian to permit them, is doubtful. ...

One aspect of Japanese diplomacy that, while technically secret, is widely discussed among the diplomatic corps, is the possibility of a Chinese entry into the war. The Russian involvement in recent revolts in Mongolia and Tibet has been poorly received in Peking. Japanese efforts, supported no doubt by other powers with interests in the region, must therefore be to move the government towards a declaration of war against Russia. The principal problem this involves is, of course, the relatively recent hostilities between these two countries, the consequent Japanese control of Formosa and the more recent defeat of the Chinese forces by an international coalition of forces including both Russia and Japan. The court in Peking has little appetite for further humiliation, nor great reason to trust their prospective co-belligerent. If assurances by a third party could be made, an accommodation regarding the future status of Manchuria and Formosa might benefit the Chinese cause and further the interests of Japan in this war. ...

(Letter by Ambassador von Hintze to Emperor Wilhelm III)

22 October 1905, Berlin

Heavy drapes and a massive stove kept the harsh, wet cold of the evening out of the drawing room. For the men seated around the polished oak table, all reasonable comfort was provided. Cigars and brandy, coffee for those not partaking, and an ample supply of writing paper to make notes. They were here for business.

“I do not think, Mr Hugenberg, that your ideas will find a majority in our party.” Reichstag Fedor von Spiegel remarked icily. “Your convictions may be above reproach, but your choice of words has gone far beyond the merely distasteful. No patriotic man can read this and not feel his anger raised.”

The journalist thus chastised appeared duly remorseful at first. “I know, I have on many occasions gone beyond the boundaries of good taste and good conduct. But I must say in my defense that provocation has been ample. More than ample! You know as well as I what course the country is steering today, and what dangers lie along that route. Shall I be quiet, leaving us to founder on the rocks to spare the feelings of gentlemen? I think not, Sir. I will proudly bear the opprobrium of my betters if I have served my purpose as the prophet of national awakening.”

A murmur of approval rose. Hugenberg was impetuous and in many regards inexperienced, but he was a powerful voice in the Alldeutscher Bund and wrote fiery prose that was read far beyond the organisation's scope. His attacks on the government had become more fervent and more sweeping over the past years, but that reflected a wider frustration. He was not alone. Heinrich Claß, writer and journalist himself, raised his hand to call for silence before coming to his colleague's support.

“Gentlemen, it is easy to condemn our friend for speaking his mind to freely, but I challenge any of you to say he is not right. Germany has been made subservient to England. Jews do surround the throne. Liberal and Socialistic agitation is penetrating all sections of society and eating away at the foundations of the state. We are being turned into a spineless, decadent, urbanised proletarian society where authority is made a laughingstock and power flows solely from possession of credit and Jewish gold. All these things need to be said, and I hope we can still rely on your support ifgg we occasionally go further than propriety demands.”

Von Spiegel shook his head gravely. He was a conservative of the old school, and the very thought of speaking ill of the imperial government disgusted him, much though he might see worth criticising. He often despaired of the route his party and its callies were increasingly taking, and this meeting was doing nothing to allay his misgivings.

“Well, it is true, that much we can agree on!” Emil Kirdorf spoke up, assertive as ever. Spiegel sighed. If this was old Prussia, a man of his background – industrialist, 'manager', vulgar money-grubber – would hardly have dared open his mouth in the presence of statesmen. Now, he was considered a man of importance and needed humouring.

“Look at the Socialists!” he continued, finding his favourite topic with dispiriting ease “Democratic, treasonous, criminal mobs that Bismarck combated with the sabre and bayonet are not only crowding into our parliaments, they are now considered seriously as ministers. The Emperor himself speaks with them! I cannot fathom how any true German patriot will give them anything but a bullet. We must tell the people who these men are and what peril they place our country in. Everyone, no matter what their position, must understand the danger to our people by the enervation, the division and mongrelisation that these people advocate.”

Ernst Fröhlich, a junior delegate, rose. “You say 'No matter what their position', Mr Kirdorf? Surely you are not implying...”

“I am!” Kirdorf was not going to be intimidated. “Sir, do you know the epitaph of General von der Marwitz, do you not? 'He chose disgrace where obedience would have brought dishonour', Sir! So must we.”

“You would ask us to dishonour our oaths of loyalty? Where does it end, Sir?”

Hugenberg rose, with characteristic impetuousness. “It ends where the good of the German people demands it, and no sooner! Every German man knows in his blood that he must obey the leader that providence sets above us. There can be no question of this, we are a loyal and selfless people. But when a king is found wanting, where those in power act in bad faith or on poor counsel, it is the duty of all right-thinking subjects to correct them.”

Furious, von Spiegel jumped to his feet. “That is treason, Sir!” he shouted. “No less than treason! You may thank the unknowable wisdom of god that you need not fear justice at the hands of the state, but do not think I will tolerate such talk a moment longer!” Grabbing his cane, the gesture spoiled by the fumbling recovery as it slipped from his hands, he strode towards the door. Ernst von Heydebrand followed, to the dismay of many who stayed seated. The great man had said little throughout the evening, but his support could be vital in the Reichstag. Still, the rest of the men stayed.

“Well, then, Sirs.” Hugenberg spoke up after quiet was restored. “There go honourable gentlemen, and we must deplore they do not see their way to supporting our cause, but this shall not lessen our determination. No, Mr Kirdorf and I have asked you here precisely because we believe that this rift, painful though it be, must not be papered over. When the day comes, I want to be able to say I was true to Germany above all, whatever other powers I may have to recuse my obedience to.”

23 October 1905, Lodz

You did not fight over a modern city. That had been the first thing General Brianski had heard from his German advisers, and it still stuck in his mind. You doubly did not fight in a city. Cities were fragile treasurehouses that, if left undamaged, produced everything modern armies ran on. They were also meat grinders that swallowed up regiments and spat out wounded and dead. So what the fuck was he doing?

The first days of the offensive had gone off fairly well. The Russians had the advantage in artillery, but they were low on ammunition and morale. Von Lowtzow had advised him to concentrate his guns in one sector to break the lines, but his troops had threatened to mutiny if they were deprived of their artillery support even with a purely defensive mission. That had been the first instance Brianski had decided to break the rules. He had no intention to send his men to make targets for Russian gunners, so they went on the attack under cover of morning mist or dusk, in small groups along a broad front, the way they had attacked the barracks in Warsaw. Lowtzow had predicted a disaster and told him to prepare fallback positions, but the move had worked. The second attack gained a lodgement in the Russian trenches east of the city, and on day three, they had control of a road. That left the Russians sitting behind hedges, in houses and factory buildings, hastily dug foxholes and improvised gun emplacements. Today was the day, he decided, that he would break another rule, and he would break it hard.

Standing in the middle of a suburban road between the husks of burnt-out cottages, the general was aware that he was still running an insane risk. The Polish National Army had no fancy uniforms, no staff gallopers or aides-de-camp and no colour guard to draw hostile attention, but neither did they have the organisation and structure that kept the field-grade officers of other forces well behind the sharp end of the fight. Instead, their tradition all but demanded generals show their faces among the men they led. If that meant taking a bullet for the fatherland, then you just had to accept that. Brianski was no coward, but he felt that this was the stupid way of doing things. Wearing his heavy cloth cap and greatcoat, he tried hard to project the image of just another NA man. Surrounded by a bevy of carbine-toting horsemen and aides with maps and binoculars, the effort was a lost cause. You just had to hope any Russian riflemen nearby had something to occupy their minds. It was a hell of a way to fight a war.

In the middle distance, he could hear artillery, the metallic bark of the old German 77mm guns the had been given and the dull roar of the Russian M1877. You quickly learned to tell from the sound when a shell was coming your way, but Brianski still winced at every shot. This was supposed to be their city. Every shell smashed Polish homes, burned Polish property, destroyed potential war stocks. A runner came in to report, out of breath and visibly elated. Good news!

“Major Rabinovicz sends his regards, general, and he has foothold on the railway line. He requests reinforcements and more machine guns and ammunition.”

Rabinovicz – that was the crazy Jew, wasn't it? Brianski had never thought that they had it in them, but the Jewish regiment that had come along was performing well. He guided his horse along the side streets his guide chose – main thoroughfares tended to attract fire – until he reached the railway line, where he and his staff dismounted. It was not what his handler would have advised him to do, but Brianski still found it hard not to go and see for himself. Too many reports of victory turned out to be fabrications by officers bent on furthering their careers. Carefully, the men walked along the side of the embankment, shielded from view and the occasional random shot or shell that passed overhead. The thick of the fighting was elsewhere. It seemed that the Russians had either not yet discovered the problem, or were ignoring it.

The railyard that the messenger led them to was indeed relatively quiet, and populated by men in the typical NA coats. Two of the men posted on guard at the entrance also wore the blue-and-white ribbons of the Jewish regiment, and they did not seem unduly alarmed or frightened, so the success story seemed to actually be true. Brianski ordered an aide-de-camp back to his nominal headquarters to fetch ammunition and reinforcements. Let Hauptmann von Lowtzow worry about how to get it here, the cold-hearted bastard was liable to still be sitting there pushing markers over the map. The general strode purposefully forward, his steps only occasionally hampered by the uneven ground. A knot of men seemed to be loading a row of flatcars. Then, the major himself came to greet him.

“General! How good of you to come yourself, Sir. We have been able to secure the railyard and a section of the track, but we expect a counterattack soon.” He gestured around. Men had taken up positions behind walls and embankments, and two machine guns were visible, pointing in the general direction of the enemy. Nothing much had happened yet, it seemed, but the men were ready for the fight. Brianski found himself continuously reassessing his opinion of the Yids. They had the makings of fine soldiers. Not that other NA units could not have done this, but – not all of them could have, and that was the point. “Now, if I may introduce you...” Rabinovicz seemed a bit overeager, but completely collected. The man was incapable of physical fear, it seemed. “This is Mr. Theodore Hyrcanus Grynszpan. He and his men have a suggestion for a machine-gun locomotive.”

The man the major pointed out was a tall, wiry fellow in a cloth cap, leather jackets and fashionably striped trousers. Brianski noticed he was wearing neither bagdes nor identifying marks.

“One of yours?”, he asked Rabinovicz.

The officer shook his head. “Mr. Grynszpan is a Bundist.”, he stated, as though that explained everything. Brianski decided to leave it at that. Plenty of people from inside Lodz had been willing to support them. Whatever this man's reasons were, he'd take his aid. Grynszpan did not look like a Jew, he thought. At least, not like you'd imagine one. His face was clean-shaven, his hands big and workmanlike, and the revolver stuck in the waistband of his trousers – he wore the shirt tucked in, townsman-fashion – looked well used. Not that Brianski was concerned with such niceties. He had worked with a lot of the rougher urban fighters in the days before the NA had become what passed for a real army. It just seemed strange.

“The device was his idea, by the way.” Rabinovicz continued. “I hope you'll approve the use of the extra machine guns, Sir.”

“Device?” Communication in any army at war was patchy. In the Polish National Army, it was still largely a matter of luck. “What device, major?”

“I'm sorry, Sir. I thought my message had reached you. Mr Grynszpan has suggested improvising an Egyptian English machine to move guns along the railway tracks so that we can get into the centre of the city more quickly.”

“It's called an armoured train!” Grynszpan interjected. Brianski was tempted to think of it as civilian manners, but any number of army men would interrupt their superiors just as freely. “If you read any book less than four hundred years old, you'd know about useful stuff, too.” It seemed to Brianski that he added something less than complimentary about yeshivah students under his breath. Jews were a strange bunch – everyone looked down on them to some degree or other, but nobody could disdain a Jew like another Jew. He decided to intervene before Major Rabinovicz did anything rash: “All right, an armoured train. Well, it could be worth trying. Tell me how it is supposed to work, and how long it will take, all right? Please, Mr Grynszpan.”

The Bundist smiled broadly. “General, it's simple. There isn't much we can do right now anyway, not with the time we have. If you give me a week and a proper workshop, I can make a real armoured train. But this locomotive,” he gestured towards a massive and ungainly engine, “is massive enough to withstand most of anything likely to hit us. If we hitch flatcars to the front, with cloth bales strapped to their sides for protection, we can mount machine guns and even a cannon on them. A few cars behind for infantry for dismounting when we have to clear out resistance. It would be better with real armour plate and proper turrets, of course, but...”

“It will be better than nothing.”, Brianski finished the sentence. “And the Russians won't expect it. I hope.” Grynszpan's enthusiasm was infectious, and Brianski was prone to that disease himself. “What does your German say?”

That was the crucial question more often than not. The German advisers, while solid fighting men, were prone to be cautious and plodding. They thought like a regular army, with reserves and deployment times and the ability to reinforce gains at leisure. Brianski had ruffled feathers before treating their advice like – advice, not orders.

“He's not happy, Sir.”, Rabinovicz volunteered. “Sergeant Lewin thinks the contraption is too vulnerable to artillery and will boil its crew alive. He prefers probing along the rail line on foot, with artillery following behind.”

“Sounds like the way a German would do it.” the general commented drily. “All right, Rabinovicz, give it a try. I can spare you a few machine guns, and I'll reinforce your pocket here. The railyard's worth holding even if it costs us.”

Major Rabinovicz saluted absent-mindedly. He was already going through his calculations. Brianski had seen him in action before, and the man scared him. He utterly lacked any kind of drive or esprit, but equally any sense of fear. Was that how Jews fought? It was a frightening idea for someone who relished the animal thrill of victory and struggled to control the leaden grip of fear every time the shooting started.

“There is something else, Sir.” It was Grynszpan again, speaking out of order, as usual.


“Smallarms, Sir. The people of Lodz are not fond of the Russians. Certainly not after the way the commander behaved during the siege. If I can get them rifles, I'm sure I can find you a good number of volunteers to give them a good, nasty headache.”

No doubt he could. How many of the rifles the NA would ever see again was another question. Civilians were volatile, and usually greedy. “How many do you think you can find?”, Brianski asked, mentally taking stock of what he had on hand. With German supplies coming in, he didn't have to shepherd each gun as closely as he would have otherwise, but just giving them away was out of the question. Maybe some captured Russian stocks, if he could get his hands on them. They had a few Nagants taken from prisoners or dead.

“We are maybe a hundred active Bund men in the city, general. I can reach half of them today, even if the streets are fought over. Everyone knows two or three reliable people. But once we start giving out guns, more will come. They really hate the Russians.”

Brianski decided it was worth the risk. “Orders to headquarters,” he dictated to an aide. “We'll need another two or three companies here, whichever are still uncommitted.” The NA did not exactly work like a regular army yet, though God knew he had tried to make it. Units often decided to self-deploy in the general direction of a fight, or – more rarely – away from it. Keeping reserves was an iffy business. “And send four of the the machine gun section forward, they should still be in the trench line. And as many Russian rifles as you can find lying around.”

Grynszpan smiled. “Thank you, Sir.”, he said. “We'll make the bastards sorry today.”

27 October 1905, Paris

My dear and honoured friend,

I am writing to you in dark times, times when the hope for peace is dimming and the intentions of our enemies are becoming ever more threatening. Perhaps you will think I am mad for believing myself capable of affecting the great events of our time, and I often doubt myself, but I cannot go to my grave knowing I have left this untried. Surely, Emperor Wilhelm himself, you know, is a Hohenzollern and a Teuton of the purest blood, just as the oldest noble families of France. His youth and his earnest spirit make him impressionable, but I have seen little to suggest that there is evil in him. I cannot believe a man of such heritage should be beyond rescuing, even if the claws of Judah have pierced his flesh from birth. And so I believe this effort must be made, undertaken by one whose blood can call to his, who understands, as you and I do, the power of ancestry and the fundamental fates of our race.

Do not, I beg of you, share this knowledge with any, even the most trustworthy, for the eyes of treacherous Israel are everywhere today. I do not yet know myself how I will do this. I have written to the man several times, but no answer was granted me, no doubt through the influence of the court Jews, Rathenau's cabal. Thus I believe the last recourse shall be a gesture of trust in the wisdom of his blood; I shall throw myself on his mercy, imploring him to understand how his policies are threatening the future of the white peoples of Europe and the future of the world itself! He is, I have learned, a man of artistic tastes – have I not said he cannot be so thoroughly Judaised that blood will not out? And I hope that perhaps when he is at his pleasures incognito, I shall be able to speak to him. I must trust my life to that certainty, that he himself will not condemn to death unheard a fellow Teuton. Ih he grants me but the time to make him see, I shall have triumphed, and humanity will thank me as its saviour. If not, at least I will have tried. I do not know what I shall do if his answer is negative, I do not, my friend! But I must pray it is affirmative.

Speak to no soul! We shall meet again in peace, or never.

Your affectionate friend

Jacques Lavassor

30 October 1905 Berlin

... It is especially due to the tireless labour of our delegates that the 1905 military bill is to be a true reform bill, not merely an extension of unthinking militarism into the future. The expansion of the military force – and in this regard, the arms of the future, artillery, engineers and infantry – which many of our comrades have long opposed is a stark necessity in the face of the Russian threat, and must be viewed as such. A veto, as was proposed by many, would have achieved nothing and further alienated our party from the political process at this crucial time when, for the first time, we are recognised as partners by most factions in the Reichstag and without. Our support, on the other hand, made possible genuine advances in the army. As of this year, the degrading punishment of tying up shall end, as will the shameful treatment of serving soldiers by one-year volunteers. Noncommissioned and officer careers will be opened to all candidates based on merit, with exams to be taken following the end of mandatory service. If this means our one-.year volunteers will have to work a little harder, I must say the prospect does not unduly perturb me. Hard work has never been bad for anyone, as the better classes never tire of reminding the proletarian, and that should apply to gentleman soldiers as much as the regular kind.

Yet as our greatest victory we must count the establishment of the annual reporting requirements. However much this has been dismissed as symbolic – and the red firebrands do not like it – the idea that the five army inspectorates have to give annual account to the Reichstag will allow us to to counteract negative developments early and to make crucial decisions even while we retain the quinquennate. To hope for annual military budgets would have been too much.

You will, however, no doubt derive the greatest pleasure from hearing how the emperor intends to pay for all of this. Surely it is as clear to you as it is to me that it will be a long time until we see the sons of factory workers graduate from Lichterfelde cadet school, for all they would now technically be entitled to sit the entry exams. But even today, as the Junkers still hold the reins of the army as tightly as they ever did, they will have to pay a larger share for their precious toys. The Reichstag has voted, and the emperor has agreed to, an imperial inheritance tax to fund the military expansions to come. You should have heard the squeals from the right! They were hoping to pay for it all with a bond issue, producing more national debt to funnel tax money into the pockets of the capitalists and rentiers, of course. Well, we did not give them that, and neither did they manage to stop the inspectorate reporting. I must say I was half convinced the emperor would veto the whole thing and just bull into another constitutional crisis. I don't think the Zentrum people would have had the stomach to stand it. But he did not – I continue to be surprised by Wilhelm.

I do not know how closely you have been following events, but you must have noticed that our new emperor is quite the modernist. Of course, he is no Socialist or even democrat, how could he? But he believes in all kinds of things that give the Conservatives conniptions. The Prince Regent was fascinating enough, with his love of industry and science, of course, but Wilhelm is a man of true scientific conviction, even scientific romance. One cannot help but wonder what the future will bring for our fatherland when he truly comes into his own. Already, he speaks highly of the polytechnic institutes of France and the inventors of America, and he has invited scientists and engineers to Sanssouci to instruct him. Even people like Professor Weber! But enough of this, I am telling you today of our victory and delight in the bile that the Junkers are directing our way. ...

(letter by Social Democratic Reichstag delegate Kurt Eisner to an Austrian friend)

“Your Majesty, it is rather disturbing.” General Falkenhayn was careful in his choice of words. Colmar von der Goltz had used more colourful language. Criticising their supreme commander did not come easily to either man. “If we make the running of the army subject to the approval of the Reichstag, we could end up having Socialists and Communards dictate our NCOs how they may train their men. I am uneasy with the provision, Sire, I feel compelled to say that.”

Wilhelm nodded. He had expected as much. Swallowing this bitter pill was something to ask, and it spoke highly of the professionalism of the general staff that they did. Many a line officer had been less muted, and less circumspect, in voicing their criticism. There had been duels and demotions. Two particularly vocal critics of His Majesty's intentions had even been cashiered for insubordination, much to the glee of the Social Democratic press.

“I understand, general. But I hope you understand that we had no other choice but to agree. We need the military expansion, and you may imagine my surprise that the Reichstag agreed to this. We also need a modern military, as you yourself have stressed repeatedly. A regular report to the Reichstag is a small price to pay for their agreement and support in this endeavour. You will find it has plenty of enemies on the right, after all.”

Falkenhayn nodded. He was more concerned about the extreme conservatives than many other officers, and the thought of having to navigate betweren opposition from both flanks concerned him. “I suppose we still are allowed to write our own reports.” he noted.

“Indeed, general. I am sure you can be creative.”

“Which leaves the question what to do with General Ludendorff.”

Wilhelm winced. He disliked doing things like this. Ludendorff was a good man, an officer of undistinguished birth, but distinguished qualities, a modernist in an army where horseflesh-and-cold-steel believers were still the norm. Falkenhayn had slated him for higher commands already. Unfortunately, Ludendorff also fancied himself a political visionary on a grand scale, and was increasingly forward about voicing his views even where they did not square with those of the government.

“I would rather not lose him, general. From everything you said, he seems a useful man.”

Falkenhayn nodded. “We don't have enough officers who understand how modern weaponry works. Ludendorff was always good at that kind of thing. I had him do the study on motorised transport from the last Kaisermanöver, and it was pretty good.”

“Then we'll need to think of something. The problem is, if we keep him around Berlin, he'll just write more of his books.” Wilhelm absently toyed with a file binder on his desk. “Maybe we could send him off to Africa.”

Falkenhayn looked up. “Your Majesty, that might work. Were you thinking of Südwest?”

Wilhelm shook his head. “No. He'd take that as a reward. Not to mention he would badly interfere with the government. Leutwein has requested the army leave him alone, mostly, and I cannot see Ludendorff riding with our Herero scouts to fight the Nama. He'd go for a real campaign against them, which we cannot afford. I'm thinking Ostafrika. It's largely quiet, and the railway projects will appeal to him, if nothing else.”

“I don't think he will get along with governor Solf, though.” Falkenhayn cautioned.

Wilhelm shrugged. “He will have to. I cannot always take account of the sensibilities of every officer in my army. This way, if there ever is a war, I can bring Ludendorff home and use him on the scale he needs to be used. Until then, he can build railroads in Africa.”
31 October 1905, Berlin

Prince Albert, Emperor Wilhelm and Prime Minister von Bethmann-Hollweg made an intimidating triad. Ensconced behind the massive desk in the great office at Charlottenburg palace, they could put the fear of God into kings and princes of the empire when necessary. Factional leaders of the Prussian Landtag were no great challenge. Invited to the palace, warmly welcomed and led through the wide, echoing corridors down to the grand office, Professor Hermann Paasche, Detlev von Bülow, Otto Fischbeck and Witold von Skazynski representing, respectively, the Zentrum, National Liberals, Freisinnige and Polish party, were duly softened up well before they met their exalted hosts. Bewigged manservants opened the great doors while guardsmen stood to attention. Professor Paasche had met the Emperor before and knew that Wilhelm privately preferred to use the private office on the upper floor, adjacent to his apartment, but even he could not help being awed by the occasion. Emperor Wilhelm rose as the men entered, dressed as usual in the dark blue regimentals of the Foot Guards. Prince Albert to his right wore navy blues, Prime Minister von Bethmann-Hollweg a dark suit with the insignia of the Order of the Black Eagle. At the end of their long walk, the four representatives bowed and gratefully took the seats offered. Wilhelm, thankfully, did not believe in making people stand in his presence.

“Gentlemen, welcome.” the emperor began. “I am glad you could come. There is a matter I need to discuss with you.” A clerk, quietly officious, handed them each a sheaf of papers. Paasche scanned the header and checked a sharp intake of breath. Preußische Wahlrechtsreform! That Bethmann-Hollweg had been pushing the project had been an open secret, but that he had the backing of the emperor was new. The men exchanged glances.

“I believe you may have expected something like this. I do realise that this may be an awkward time to be debating such issues, but the fact is that it will need addressing, and it is thus I ask for your support in the matter.”

That was his style, too. He was good at it. Of course he could have ordered them, and probably gotten away with it, too. Paasche knew there were more than enough conservatives willing to do as they were told by their ruler. But Wilhelm preferred to work with people who shared his convictions. Even if it took effort and compromise to convince them, sometimes. It helped that the emperor was smart, but Paasche had heard unpleasant things about the all-highest temper, too.

A short span of silence. Fischbeck had already opened his papers and was scanning the bill – lawyerlike, with quickly darting eyes, looking for the devil in the details. Paasche followed suit. The proposed reform was – interesting. Instead of the traditional model of assigning representatives to voting classes, it would give additional individual votes to people based on rank, educational and professional attainment, property and income. Fischbeck, typical for the man, could not help but ask: “Your Majesty, Highness, Excellency, this is a most interesting proposal. May I be permitted to ask why now?”

Albert smiled. This was not the worst of approaches. Wilhelm liked to explain his devious schemes, and he relished them being appreciated. Skazinsky and Bülow also looked curious.

“Well, gentlemen, I would like to tell you this was due to a sudden urge to bestow a just and equitable system on my people, but you realise that that would not require any such urgency. No, to put it simply, time is pressing. The Reichstag is still in the process of reforming itself, but they will get around to the states soon enough. I am certain, gentlemen, that I can trust you to agree the current system, whatever its merits, is obviously anachronistic.”

The men nodded in unison. That had been their argument for a number of years now.

“You equally understand, I am certain, that Prussians are constitutionally unsuited to democratic institutions. They are not a mercurial people and much happier being led by men who understand what they are doing.”

Nods again. Germans in general, and Prussians in particular, did not seem the type. Even the Americans had ended up at war with themselves after 70 years of democracy, and everyone agreed that if anyone could manage democratic government, they could. Nobody wanted that here.

“I do not wish to see universal suffrage in the Landtag. If it is the will of the parliament, well, I can tell you in confidence that I will not risk a crisis over opposing it. But what I wish to have is a system that is fair, balanced, and tailored to the needs of our realm. Prime Minister von Bethmann-Hollweg will introduce the bill to the Landtag, and from there it will go its way. I hope I can rely on you to move your colleagues to vote in favour,”

Paasche found himself nodding. It was not the perfect solution – he would have preferred more emphasis on education and property and less on rank and title – but it was better than what they had, and better than what the Social Democrats would give them. A furtive glance at the others showed him they, too, seemed to think much the same. The delicious prospect of angering the conservatives and pre-empting the Socialists just added to the appeal.

04 November 1905, Potsdam

The smell of cigar smoke lay heavily over the map table. General von der Goltz was famous for his generosity with fine tobacco – a habit acquired during his years in Turkish service - and his attitude to formality had increasingly come to resemble that of his emperor. General von Falkenhayn, usually a stickler for ceremony, was present as a guest and, despite technically outranking the intelligence chief, humoured him. He was here to learn, not to criticise the personal foibles of a good officer. Von der Goltz's Polish bushwhackers had been turned into a formidable force, it seemed, and their German advisors had interesting tales to tell.

“It wasn't really a plan or anyone's idea.” Hauptmann von Lowtzow detailed his experiences with the assault tactics that had taken down the Russian garrison of Lodz. “The problem was that the Polish troops were too undisciplined to carry out a conventional infantry assault. I had initially advised General Brianski to concentrate his artillery and push back the defenders, but that was the counsel of desperation. The National Army continues to field practically only light artillery, and not enough of that. Instead, he sent his men forward in small groups, the way they were used to fighting the Russians in the months of franc-tireur warfare. Conventional wisdom said they should have been defeated en detail, and often they were, but the number of assaults and their great vigour told in the end. Russians often found themselves cut off, with enemy troops in their rear, and surrendered to much smaller forces. Towards the end of the battle, the defense was in complete disarray. But the most striking feature was the depth to which these troops could penetrate. Sometimes, twenty or thirty men would load up with ammunition and grenades and march off into the darkness, to show up a day or two later inside the city itself.”

“Indeed.” Falkenhayn seemed concerned. “Would you say that this tactic could be successfully used against our own fortresses, hauptmann?”

“No, Sir.” Von Lowtzow did not hesitate. “The fall of Lodz was as much the result of Russian failure as of Polish valour. Their troops were of poor quality, mostly garrison regiments, their artillery and field communications outdated and their discipline had eroded after months of living beleaguered amongst a hostile populace. A vigorous and well-coordinated defense can easily intercept such assaults. Up to a certain number, at least.”

“What number do you have in mind?” Falkenhayn was sharp.

“I don't know, general. The situation is too new, and I could not get too good a look at things at the front. But I would say that sending ten or twenty such troops against a frontline of a few kilometres should produce results. The troops would be close enough to support each other if necessary, and once the defenders are tied down in one place, they could be outflanked in another. With artillery to support them, I think such scouting pelotons would have a real chance of breaking into field fortifications. What they would do once they are in there, though, is beyond me. The Poles could take ground, but rarely hold it. In the end, they won because the Russians cracked, and that was as much a matter of the city rising up against them as of the National Army coming in.”

“Yes, I heard. That armoured train seems to have worked wonders. We may need to keep in mind how intimidating technology can be. Anyway, thank you, hauptmann. I look forward to reading your report on the battle.” Falkenhayn gingerly pushed an ashtray aside before he placed yet another binder on the table in front of himself. “Now, these Jews...”

Von der Goltz chuckled. “Who would have thought they had it in them, eh, general?”

Major Bergschmidt, one of the advisers to the National Army headquarters, rose. “Sir, I think it is fair to say we were all surprised. But the situation is not entirely inexplicable. The Polish army is a strange creature. Whole regiments consist of university students, and maybe a quarter of its number are szlachta, noblemen at least by name. But a lot of the men are unruly and many of the recent recruits are peasants, often illiterates. Despite our best efforts, we have found it hard to send enough advisers who are fluent in Polish, and even those that are have had problems making their charges understand complex orders. Officers who are attached to Jewish units have had no such problems. Almost all the men are literate, and they speak Yiddish, which is practically German. Many can also read German. Jewish soldiers are popular as interpreters, and many Polish officers trust them with machine guns and cannon. They are a higher quality of recruits, also because they can tap a large reservoir. Despite everything, there are not a lot of Jewish soldiers.”

“The language issue, I understand.“ Falkenhayn cleared his throat. “But that is not the whole story, is it?”

“No, sir. A large part of this is due to the history of the Jewish self-defense militia – that's what they call themselves. Their commanders are quite exceptional young men. I have personally met Salomon Ferber, and I must say his enthusiasm and charisma are remarkable. He also puts a premium on discipline. Apparently, they had a Jewish feldwebel attached to their unit in the early days who instilled proper military values. Almost all the original fighters command at least a platoon now. It is rare to see a Polish unit as disciplined and well-led as the Jewish militias.

“They also have friends in Germany and Austria.” von der Goltz added. “Jewish organisations have donated a fair amount of money to keep them clothed and fed. Last week, some bright guy auctioned off decorations and arms taken from captive Russian officers in New York and realised over ten thousand dollars for the cause.”

Falkenhayn shook his head in disapproval. He knew this was the kind of thing von der Goltz did, and did well, but he preferred to hear as little as possible about it.

“I am still concerned about the way the papers write about them. Is this anything we are helping, general?”

“No.” von der Goltz shook his head. “My office is not behind that. The papers print whatever they take an interest in.” Falkenhayn could be trusted, but he didn't need to know everything. Not that he would have believed the kind of things that the Consuls were up to.

“All right, then. The next question is, of course, what the future holds for the National Army. They have done remarkably well, but I doubt that this will continue. What is your opinion, Hauptmann von Lowtzow?”

The officer rose again and turned to face his superior. “I'm afraid not, Sir. In the first year or so, the Poles were fighting at a great advantage. The Russian troops were unprepared, in many cases had garrisons lost their best fighting units to Manchuria or guard duty on the railways and canals. I don't think anyone expected the National Army to do so well. In addition, the Russian command was preoccupied with the war against Japan, and the military capabilities of Russia limited due to mutinies and rebellion. This will not last. Personally, I cannot understand why the Czar does not make peace with Japan and move his army west to crush the rebels. Mopping up the poles afterwards will be a matter of an army corps or two, less than is engaged in Manchuria now. The Polish army is courageous and well led, but it cannot hope to stand against a real military force. It has only irregular cavalry, little artillery, not enough machine guns, no officer corps and too little discipline. We cannot provide everything.”

Von der Goltz frowned. He had come to much the same conclusion and desperately hoped the Japanese would stay in the war. If there was to be the ghost of a chance of actually prising Poland loose from Russia without declaring war on St Petersburg themselves, it would require a thorough and humiliating defeat. Otherwise, the whole operation would go down in history like a replay of the Mexican adventure, with heroic episodes and a sordid, bitter moral.

“If the Russians do not make peace, how long...”

“Two years, I guess. Maybe three, it depends how bad the rebellion gets. But unless we get a full-blown revolution with guilloutines and everything, there's not a chance the NA can stand up to the Russians. Even if you gave them our entire stock of machine guns and heavy artillery, they don't have the organisation to use them.”

Von der Goltz pondered that for a moment. A real revolution... If it was to be the only chance, it might be worth the risk. He decided to bring it up at the next meeting of the Consul Organisation.

06 November 1905, Railyard #2 South of Kharbin

General Nogi had dressed for the occasion. instead of the plain regimentals in which his men usually saw him, he wore the feather-plumed hat, broad sash and sabre of his rank. The incongruous richness highlighted to every observer how grey and haggard his face had become. Standing erect on the platform, he watched the train bringing his successor slowly roll to a halt. Soldiers came to attention as General Kuroki Tamemoto stepped out of the carriage, followed by his adjutant and two aides. Saluting smartly, the successor, immaculately turned out in his creased and pressed uniform, covered the few steps between the door of the carriage and the entrance of the building. Then, in a disarming gesture, he bowed deeply.

“General Nogi, your services to the emperor are of incalculable value. It is an honour to relieve you.“

For a brief moment, Nogi wondered to what degree this was aimed at the journalists hovering in the background. The man radiated sincerity, though. He returned the bow, momentarily at a loss for words. Tears shone in his eyes.

“General”, Kuroki continued, now clearly speaking to the press, “His Majesty has requested your return to Japan to be honoured as you deserve. It is my duty to take over command and continue your labours as best I can.”

“Thank you.” Nogi regained his composure. “My forces are at your command. I give you a brave and strong army, ready to do the Emperor's bidding.” For all his surprise at the respect Kuroki had shown, he could not resist a parting barb. “Husband it wisely, general.”

A 'more aggressive stance' was what the orders had called it. Nogi was accorded all due thanks for his achievements and replaced with a commander the government thought more likely to use his forces assertively. It was, to a degree, a measure of despair, faced as the Japanese government was with an intransigent enemy and a frontline frozen in place. Still, Nogi could not help wonder how many of the men who criticised him for his caution would have stood the shelling on 200-Metre-Hill or the gruelling march to close the Mukden encirclement. For all their claims of pusillanimity, he too clearly remembered the heaps of corpses, the artillery-churned soil red with blood, and the smell of the battlefield. The young men of Port Arthur came to him in his dreams. That, he had to admit to himself, was also part of the resentment he felt towards Kuroki. He might have the reputation for aggressiveness, but he was an innovative tactician, careful not to expend his men without good cause. Nogi's own memories were of helpless despair as he threw wave upon wave of men against the entrenched Russians to die. Perhaps, Kuroki really was the better general. The thought that these tens of thousands could, but for him, still be alive was nearly unbearable.

08 November 1905, Berlin

Dear Mr Hugenberg!

It is with great regret and deepest concern that I address these lines to you. As a loyal subject of the German Empire, I am aware that it is my duty to support and obey the government in all things, and I have always taken a patriot's pride in this. Yet, as the ravages of modernity, the plagues of ultramontanism. liberalism and anarchy are engulfing Berlin, I have often felt moved to raise my voice in disagreement, in modest, but firm correction of the aberrations an inexperienced ruler may be led to by poor or wicked counsel. In this, I know that I stand at your side, and my admiration for your principled courage is boundless.

However, the cause for my current dismay is one of greater significance. As a subject, I know my duty and will do it as best I can at the place fate has assigned me. As a patriot, I will speak and act within the circumscribed sphere of my own life to the best of my fatherland and people. Yet fate has seen fit to place on me a burden I cannot myself bear alone. It is of no account or interest how, but I have come into possession of a number of documents pertaining to the private proclivities of Chancellor Philipp zu Eulenburg that have left me unspeakably shocked. The magnitude of the discovery, the possible repercussions should they become public knowledge, or the terrible evil that the continued secrecy could bring as the cancer of perversion festers at the highest ranks of our government – all this is too much for myself to make a decision. My limited understanding of the affairs of state allows me but one course of action – to seek the confidence of a patriotic man of proven honour and courage. You, sir, are this man, and I hope you can forgive me for placing this burden on your shoulders. I ask no reward but that I have done right, no regard but the quiet knowledge of my act in anonymity, and knew of no other way to do my duty by my country, my emperor and my people.


A well-wisher

Alfred Hugenberg dabbed the beads of sweat from his brow as he surveyed the treasure trove on his desk. Letters, notes, there were even photographs. Photographs! You would think they were the filth of Paris gutters, but for them showing men of the highest rank and esteem. This was explosive. Struggling to regain his composure, he pulled a manila envelope from the drawer of his desk, carefully placed the entire content of the parcel inside, and sealed it. Hugenberg did not call for his secretary before it had been deposited in the safe mounted on the wall behind his office couch. Fate had delivered the chancellor into his power. What to do with this? He would need to consult with his associates. But the coming winter would be a bleak one for many enemies of the German people in Berlin.

09 November 1905

“Why the HELL did he go and do this? WHY!?” Wilhelm's throwing arm was nothing much, and the newspaper he catapulted across the office disintegrated in a rather anticlimactic fashion rather than striking the wall. Von Ammersleben stood silently watching. He knew better than to intervene. General von Falkenhayn, uncharacteristically without his full regalia in the imperial presence, looked on with quiet gratification. He had expected as much.

The problem, as he had almost come to expect, bore the name of Ludendorff. Because he was a career officer, and a rare bourgeois one in a shark tank full of vons, he was acutely interested in the next war. Like everyone in political Berlin, he assumed it would be with Russia. Von Falkenhayn was hesitant on that count since he could see not good reason to go to war with the Czar, but he had resigned himself that it might well happen months before he had learned of the depth of Germany's involvement in the Polish rising. Since Ludendorff was not only ambitious but also smart, he had come up with ideas for the war that were fairly practical. Some were so good that the general staff much preferred their Russian counterparts not to learn of them. And that was the problem, because Ludendorff, for all his brains, was not as smart as he thought. He had sold the whole thing to a paper.

It was, Wilhelm realised after his first outburst of rage, nothing like treason. Ludendorff had never been near the real war games aimed at Russia. He did not know the plans the general staff kept in their drawers. He even had taken the trouble to fictionalise the whole thing, with an insane pan-Slavist Czar Ivan as the villain and a youthful, dashing German general as the hero. It still came far too close to the real thing for comfort. And since the public was lapping it up, you could hear people on the streets of Berlin chatting amicably about whether it was better to go around the Pripyet Marshes north or south, and how many battleships it would take to shell Kronstadt into submission. Schoolboys doodled campaign maps into their atlases. The postwar plans for a German-ruled, Germanised Eastern Europe that dominated the final chapters – complete with the hero marrying a Volga German girl and settling down on an estate in Ukraine – were the talk of the town. Even the Reichstag's conservative faction had decided this would be a good issue to debate. It helped them distract their colleagues from the reform agenda and some even hoped to draw the Polish delegates to their side this way.

Wilhelm, of course, preferred people not to think about what was happening in Russia all that much.

“We can't well send him to the Solomon Islands, can we?”

Falkenhayn smiled thinly. The emperor had his sense of humour back, at least. “East Africa should be enough. But we will have to bring home the message that this was a bad idea.”

“I don't think we can stop him from becoming a star to the Pan-Germanists, now. Veto all foreign decorations and give him none, that should be a start. I'd rather not freeze him out of the service entirely, though.”

“Agreed, your Majesty. We need men like him. He was slated to go to Heeresinspektorat IV before he started running his mouth, but now I don't think he's got a chance.

“Oh, well.” Wilhelm felt defeated. “Let him sit in Africa for a whike and see if his admirers don't find someone else to send love letters to.”

Falkenhayn saluted and picked up his briefcase. The emperor turned to the window, then back.

“One more thing, general.”

“Yes, your Majesty?”

“People will be talking about war with Russia, so I suppose journalists will start asking officers questions. We should have something to tell them.”

“Sire? The general staff does not give interviews.”

“I know. That might be the problem, at last in part. I am not suggesting you open your war plans to them. Maybe it would be better if a civilian politician did it, anyway. People will be less ready to listen to a lone crazy voice if they have something more official.”

11 November 1905, Zarskoye Selo

Grand prince Nikolai looked out over the snowy gardens, sipping his tea. On days like this, he found it almost unbelievable that the world beyond the palace walls was really as insane as it had evidently become. Since Nicholas seemed determined to keep him away from an active role in the military, he was reduced to giving advice that was never taken, reading papers and reports that were ignored as often as not, and drinking tea. Today had started auspiciously: He had been able to avoid the increasingly ubiquitous pest, Dr Dubrovin, spoken a few rational words with the Czar, who had agreed that, in principle, it might be a good idea to take one war at a time, make peace with Japan and concentrate on the rebels at home, and spent a relaxed morning at his desk doing what passed for work now that his actual tasks were handled by underlings. Lunch had been delicious, as was the way of Zarskoye Selo, where the kitchens were built according to the Soyer method and staffed by French chefs, and tea took place in good company. Grand Duke Mikhail had arrived. It helped enormously to have a kindred spirit to talk to. You never knew , speaking to subordinates, which “yes” meant yes, and which meant yes, Sir. as if Russia had not been a paranoid enough place before the revolts.

“It's not just a story.”, he pointed out to Mikhail, “There are German agents in Poland, helping the rebellion. Probably in Finland and Lithuania, too. I always suspected it, of course. The rebels were far too successful, and too well armed.“

Mikhail looked genuinely shocked, the way only a Russian could be when he found out something that the papers had been saying for months was actually true.

“We caught one a month ago. It's somewhere in the reports the army inspectorate sends me. A cossack unit ambushed a Polish rebel band and took some captives. One of them spoke Polish so badly they became suspicious and brought him in to headquarters. It turns out he's a German lieutenant from Gnesen, volunteered for this duty.”

“But... if that's true, why do we allow it? I thought it was just....”

“An excuse for our military's dismal performance? I'm not sure if it ever was meant that way, I wouldn't exclude the possibility. But it's true. So what do you want us to do,, declare war on Germany?”

“We could!”, Mikhail was genuinely incensed. “This is an act of war!”

Nikolai wondered when he lost the ready ability to feel angry about the many things that called for it. He supposed it had something to do with what they called the Russian soul. Sometimes, he hated it more than every other aspect of the Russian Empire. Sighing, he answered in the resigned tone that had become his hallmark in recent months: “I suppose it could be a casus belli, really. It would even make a convincing one if we could go to the public and present it as a surprise. Do you see the problem with that?”

Mikhail nodded. The same expression of resigned frustration spread over his handsome face.

“If we hadn't spent the past year telling everybody German agents were aiding our enemies, I guess we could hope for some righteous indignation now that we have proof they actually are. How is that for an edifying fable: The boy who cried spy.”

Nikolai raised the chased silver cupholder and sipped his tea. If he had not had the practice at bearing up, it could have brought him to tears.

“What does Nicholas say?” Mikhail asked. He was referring to the Czar. His brother was not on the best of terms with him. Nikolai sighed. “Mikhail, I'd take it as a favour if you did not discuss it with him. Nicholas is entirely capable of convincing himself declaring war on Germany is what he needs to do now.”

The two men looked at each other. Mikhail was not the military expert Nikolai was, but he understood the realities of the situation well enough. Many ultrapatriotic writers had called for a war against Germany to unify the nation and create a common purpose for the Slavic peoples of Europe. Even if the liberal citydwellers would flock to the colours, war was unlikely to appeal to the Socialist factory workers whose strikes were already crippling the war against Japan. Not that any of this would matter when the Russian army met the German one. Some wag on the general staff had coined the term “massacre of the innocents” for what they envisioned. Any Russian officer worth his salt planned for a defensive war.

“You know, uncle Nikolai, I sometimes wonder. Are we just watching Russia being destroyed?”

Damn his Slavic soul! “Don't worry, Mikhail.” Nikolai answered in a voice calmer than he felt. “Russia has survived far worse. In a few years, this will pass and things will be back to normal.”

“I know,” Mikhail said, “but I mean, aren't we obligated to do something? Nicholas sometimes makes me worry.”

Grand prince Nikolai looked up sharply. “Mikhail Alexandrovich, do not mention such things in my presence ever again. Do you understand me?”

Mikhail nodded.
14 November 1905

General Pilsudski relished hard work, but sometimes things seemed to conspire against him getting anything done. The problem was, mainly, that running a revolutionary army was rather different from governing a country with established institutions. The NA men were not accustomed to the kind of deference and discipline an organisation of several ten thousand required. Too many were unwilling to take the words of a subordinate when they expected their leader to make a decision, and you could not always trust the subordinates to do as they were told, either. The Germans weren't much help in this situation. They mostly shook their heads in despair and muttered dark things about Polish noblemen. The Social Democratic Party had had to do something like this, mostly by multiplying supervisory and policy bodies. Pilsudski still hoped to avoid that kind of divided responsibilities. That meant having to keep track of a mountain of paperwork while simultaneously keeping in personal touch with everyone on the Army Council. Sleep did noit feature largely.

A knock on the door interrupted his reading. It was nothing unusual as such, but the urgency and insistence told him that this was someone who expected to be heard. His guards usually had more decorum. Before had quite finished calling on the visitor to enter, General Kukiel walked into the room.

“What's the matter, Marian?” Pilsudski asked. “You look like you've seen a ghost.”

It was true. The young man's face was ashen and he seemed shaken. “Can we talk?” he asked with the usual lack of ceremony.

“Sure. Don't worry, my adjutants are all trustworthy.”

“Right. Well, you remember when you asked me to keep in touch with the Czar's government?”

Pilsudski nodded. So far, the contacts had availed little. The Russian government had made it clear they were not interested in negotiating anything, except maybe what Siberian village they would exile the Polish leaders to.

“Well, today one of my staff corporals came in and told me he had grabbed an agent provocateur. A man who had tried to pass on a letter accusing me of treason. He was lucky they hadn't killed him. the thing is, it wasn't a Russian operation. I've read the letter, it describes exactly what I did.”

Pilsudski's eyes widened. “Damn. Where is the letter?”

“I burned it. Couldn't risk it lying around.”

“Good. And the man who brought it?”

“The guardroom. I hope. I had him arrested, with strict orders not to kill him.”

General Pilsudski grabbed his coat. “Come, Marian. I need to see this fellow.”

Kukiel's headquarters in the old artillery barracks was not far from the citadel, and Pilsudski's automobile took them there quickly. As he swept into the guardroom, surprised sentries coming to ragged attention, the general stopped on the spot, staring. In the opposite corner, a soldier on either side, slumped a prisoner. His jacket was torn, blood spots covered his shirt front and his face looked badly bruised. Still, Pilsudski thought he recognised him. The man's eyes lit up as he saw the visitor.


Kukiel went pale. “You know him?”

“I think so. We went to school together. You can release him. I'll speak to him.”

The guards looked worried. A tall sergeant in a fur cap asked: “Should we give him back his gun, too, Sir?”

“Not yet.” Pilsudski felt reasonably safe, but he was not going to run silly risks. Kukiel led them into his office, with the guard leading the prisoner after them. He was walking, but it did not look like he would be able to stand on his own, at least for a while. the soldiers set him down on a chair almost gingerly and retreated, leaving Pilsudski and Kukiel alone with the captive. Looked at in proper light, he looked even worse than he had in the guardroom. Teeth seemed to be missing, and the whole face had a lopsided appearance. He pulled a handkerchief from his shirt pocket, spat out some blood, and turned to speak to them.

“I take it you don't believe me, then, Josef?”

“Is it really you?” pilsudski asked incredulously. “Dzerzhinsky, wasn't it?”

The man laughed bitterly. “It's me, Josef. I kept better track of you than you did of me. This puppy general here, though,” he gestured at Kukiel, “he's rotten. I don't think you'll believe me, but you should read the evidence I have before you take me out the back and shoot me.”

“Evidence?” Pilsudski asked. Kukiel nodded. “He wrote about letters he had. I haven't seen them, of course. I guess my men weren't exactly gentle, but I didn't tell them to look.”

Dzerzhinsky's eyes widened. “You know? You ... bastards. It's a double cross operation, isn't it? I should have figured it out.”

“Yes. I'm sorry, Felix. I had no idea you were around, otherwise I'd have given you a billet, at least.” Pilsudski was generous to his old friends wherever he could.

Kukiel looked worried. “I'm sorry. I had no way of knowing...”

The prisoner shook his head. “It's all right,” he said. His face attempted something that looked like a grin. “I should have known you'd be trying to fool the Okhrana. I guess if it worked for me, it must have worked for them.”

“We hope so. Look, Felix, what you did was dangerous. You should go to hospital. If you want to stay on afterwards, I'm sure I can find you a billet on my staff. I can use smart people.”

Now, Dzerzhinsky laughed. “Dammit, Josef, you're making my point for me. You don't know shit about me. I could be an Okhrana agent or an assassin for all you know, and you invite me on your staff? It's a miracle you're still alive.”

Pilsudski frowned. “You aren't a Russian spy, Felix. I know that much.”

“I guess you'll have to trust me on that. But you will do the research, I hope? I'm a Socialist, a radical, and I don't agree with your silly nationalist notions. I also don't like you working with the Germans. but you guys are the best chance we've got in Russia now, and I will stick with you if you'll have me.”

Now Kukiel looked doubtful. “A Communist? Josef, are you sure?”

“Felix is all right. I know him from school. He was always too clever by half. But I'll trust you to do the background checks if you want.”

A blank stare was the response. General Kukiel might be brave and patriotoic, but he was not an experienced underground activist.

“Josef, you don't need another staff drone.” Dzerzhinsky pointed out. “What you need is counterintelligence. Your organisation has got to be riddled with spies and informers. Let me help you find them. You know I can”

Pilsudski shrugged. It couldn't hurt. “I don't want you to be going after Polish patriots, though. No matter if they're Socialists or Royalists or what have you. No infighting.”

Dzerzhinsky imperceptibly shook his head. “Sure.” he said. “We're all in this together.”

17 November 1905, Brussels

Philippe Count of Flanders Dead! National Day of Mourning

...the death of this much-beloved national figure has also presented the parliamentary opposition with a quandary. Many had hoped to gain a majority of votes on the projected removal of King Leopold on the strength of the prospect of Count Philippe's succession. With the dark cloud of the Congo sale still hanging over the head of Belgium's least popular king, it has nonetheless now become a near certainty that Leopold will live out his days on the throne of his kingdom, regardless of what his subjects may think of the man or his policies. ...

(New York Times)

18 November 1905, Warsaw

Rabbi Landauer looked up from his books. these days, he didn't have much time for proper studying. most of what he did was write begging letters, thank-you notes, and lists of needed supplies when not distributing what their small community had and assigning quarters to refugees. A precious few hours of gemorah were welcome, even if they often came at the expense of sleep. Today, it was not to be. A militia NCO had knocked and was now entering the room, respectfully doffing his cap. Landauer didn't recognise him, but that didn't mean anything. The expansion of the unit meant that even in high command ranks, not everyone was from his old yeshivah. With NCOs – you could become an NCO for showing up knowing which end of the rifle was which. The young man might be from the village next door, from deep inside Russia, or from the throngs of Odessan men who had made it across the border from the German refugee camps. You couldn't know that kind of thing.

“Rebbeleben,” he began, visibly uncertain whether to adopt a military bearing or fall back on traditional honorifics, “Captain Yankovic sends me. He has a message from General Ferber saying we are to prepare to receive refugees, as many as we can manage.”

Landauer sighed. What did Shloimo think they were doing exactly? The unit had already been moved away from the old barracks, with just a nominal command staff remaining. Ferber was away somewhere near Lublin with about a third of the men – or was it a quarter? Landauer was no longer sure. Rabinovic's men were in winter quarters in Lodz, where he was raising a Bundist unit, something the rabbi dispproved of. What soldiers the Jewish self-defense militia had in Warsaw were mostly recruits being drilled. They had many of these. But the larger number of people top take care of still were refugees. Jews were coming in from villages and towns all over Eastern Poland and even from Russia, telling the same tales of persecution, disapülacement and violence. It looked like the Czar had lost patience with the children of Israel, or maybe the Russian state was going through a particularly nasty bout of madness.

“Oh, well.” Landauer was, at heart, a practical man despite his spiritual calling. “Does he say anything about how many he will send us? We can try to makle room for the worst cases.” He worried about anyone having to spend the winter under canvas, but if he had to, he would send men to live in tents so that women, children and old people could have their old rooms. Food and fuel – that would be an issue, too. But he was not so worried about that any more since donations had started coming in. There wasn't always enough to go around, true, but there was usually enough not to starve. Some of the parcels came from America and England, too.

“Rebbe,” the NCO shifted nervously. “I think it's going to be bad. There's been a ... big ... incident. A riot, I mean. The Russians...”

Landauer's eyes narrowed. News of pogroms were commonplace these days. Such hesitation was foreboding. “Where?, he asked.

“Kiev, Rebbeleben.”

The Rabbi's shoulders sagged. There were tens of thousands of Jews in kiev. The thought of all of them, homeless, desperate, starving, making their way towards him and his hopelessly inadequate supplies... “God in heaven. Kiev!”

He would need to write more begging letters. And pray.

19 November 1905, Berlin

“It really doesn't look all that great, does it?” Rathenau pushed back his glasses and focused on Emperor Wilhelm in a manner that came just barely short of accusing. He was right. The situation in Poland was far from encouraging. True, the NA held large areas of the country. They had triumphed over a disorganised, demoralised and distracted enemy and even taken the city of Lodz against something that could charitably be called military resistance. They had several active rail links bringing in supplies from Germany – technically, all of it was still labelled “scrap metal”, “surplus goods” or similar, but if anybody was fooled, the state of Russian intelligence had to be more parlous than even General von der Goltz assumed. The problem was the future.

“No, Walther, it doesn't.” Wilhelm admitted. “But I have to admit I was never sure we would see an independent Poland. And we have made great gains. I think if the Poles can hold out for a year, Nicholas must negotiate some kind of deal. So they get something, too.”

The emperor sounded bitter. Regardless of what he might say now, in the heady summer days everyone had thought there would be an independent Poland. The end of Russia had been openly discussed. Winters in Eastern Europe tended to concentrate the mind.

“Anyway,” General von der Goltz gruffly interjected, “we came away with the advantage. Even if the Russians retake all of Poland next year, they'll have suffered for it. The industrial base is already damaged, and they can hardly expect to retake the cities without doing more of that. They cannot trust the population, and we'll most likely see thousands of highly qualified workers emigrate rather than return to Russian rule. That's years off of their armaments schedule.”

Wilhelm nodded. He didn't fancy himself a Realpolitiker, but that didn't mean he refused to acknowledge such things existed. “I'd still like to see some kind of victory. They trusted us. They fought side by side with my officers. I can't well abandon them like this.”

Von der Goltz shrugged. “That may mean war with Russia, your Majesty.” he pointed out. It was a prospect he could view with the equanimity of a professional officer. Rathenau winced. “I don't want to go that far. But we can give them the wherewithal to strike back hard. Hard enough, maybe, to make St Petersburg think twice.”

“Once would be enough, really.”, Rathenau quipped. “But where are we going to get all of that wherewithal?”

Wilhelm looked slightly puzzled. “It's worked so far, hasn't it?”

General von der Goltz looked pained. Rathenau smiled a bitter smile. “Majesty,” they both began. The general gracefully allowed his civilian counterpart to precede him.

“The effort we are making right now is running us ragged. We've pulled trains off schedule and ordered the output of whole factories. Some of the ammunition and gear was drawn from military stores that weren't supposed to be surplused for years. Replacements for these are already being purchased out of 1908 allowances. Pilsudski keeps asking for more every month. Now it's machine guns. And that is just the military side. Feeding and housing the refugees is fiendishly difficult. It's not really the money – we're doing that openly, so we can get donations from abroad and even vote it into the budget. But getting the food to where it's needed ... have you ever been to Poland? We can usually get it to the railyards on our side of the border, but beyond, it's a nightmare. Trains, panye wagons, dogcarts, boats and mules. And our transport needs are competing with those of their army. Every load of grain we send is a load of war stocks we don't. We won't get all of them through the winter. Unless we invent some kind of miracle machine that shits railtrack, they'll starve and freeze in their thousands.”

“Ghastly.” Wilhelm conceded. “Do you think that was part of their plan? Sending all the Poles and Jews fleeing, I mean?”

General von der Goltz shook his head. “No, Sire.” he said decisively. “The Russians know that if our own war effort were to depend on it, we'd let the lot of them starve without batting an eyelid. It would just make them look bad. Not that I think Nicholas and his generals ever thought of this kind of thing. They aren't that smart. No, we think they're just trying to find common ground here. Reestablishing their rapport with the Russian people.”

Rathenau nodded. It was a topic he had studied over the past months, with the help of confidential documents he wasn't supposed to have. For a system as antediluvian as the Czar's, the Russians were being remarkably modern. Some of it reminded him of what Abraham Lincoln had done in the war. Some dark, hellish version of Lincoln that was bennt on enslaving people, but still,m it was politically astute.

“The Czar doesn't have much common ground with the Russian people.” he explained. “He's become very unpopular, even though it seems he considers himself a beloved and paternal ruler. But he has found that a common enemy can bring him together with his people, or at least with part of them. That enemy happens to be the Jews. By all accopunts, this Patriotic Union is growing rapidly. We thought it was just some kind of rabble designed to fight fire with fire, but they're drawing real support from people who matter. A people's movement, you could call it.”

The völkische Bewegung had its own adherents in Germany, and not all of them were well-disposed to the Jews, either. Seeing something like this raise its head in Russia was sinister. Its success – considerable, as far as everyone knew – was frightening.

“A rabble's not a substitute for an army.” von der Goltz cautioned. “From all we know, there are still strikes in all parts of the country. The railway network only works well where the army has taken charge. God knows where they are getting this year's taxes from. And the government is hesitant to deploy troops from nearby military districts into Poland, which suggests they aren't sure they can trust these units. We've seen mutinies in the summer. Several regiments have basically dissolved, the Tschenstochau garrison among them. I don't think they are in a fit state to win the war next year, no matter how many of their black hundreds they raise.”

According to newspaper correspondents, the people in the cities called the Patriotic Union men the “black hundreds”. Von der Goltz wasn't quite sure where they got the idea from, but it sounded suitably sinister. The papers loved it, and many liberal ones were full of lurid tales of the atrocities these thugs committed.

“Well,” Wilhelm returned the discussion to its origin, “in that case it should at least be possible to prolong the standoff if we give the Poles the tools theys need. Pilsudski was writing about machine guns. Walther, you said there was a problem?”

“Yes, your Majesty. We cannot get enough.”

Wilhelm looked puzzled again. “Don't you make them? I mean, Krupp?”

Rathenau suppressed a sigh. “Yes, we do. Not long enough to have an inventory of outdated models, though. We could send the Poles cannon because we purchased them back from the army as scrap when they mustered out. Most of the Model 1877 were still good, just old. No such luck with MGs. The army is buying our entire production for several years out, in fact. Every last gun we make has been contracted for.”

“What about other suppliers?”, the emperor asked.

“Every company in Germany faces the same problem. They're hiring every machinist they can get. And we can't go abroad with an order that size. Aside from the publicity, the market is not that big. The price would go through the roof if word got out.”

Wilhelm shook his head. Then, an idea struck him. “What about the Mexican rifles?”


“A few years ago I was in Switzerland. We bought a handful of Mexican machine rifles for the garde du corps regiments. They aren't as good as a real Maxim gun, but apparently they worked well in tests. It's just that nobody knows what to use them for. I think they still had a consignment for sale, and they wouldn't draw attention.”

Rathenau scratched his chin. “I guess we can try. At least it won't bankrupt me.”

20 November 1905, St Petersburg

Citizens of St Petersburg

By Imperial Order

The sale of bread, groats, spirits, firewood, oil and coal in all major cities will be subject to strict regulation in order to ensure a fair and just distribution to all loyal subjects. Only licensed premises may sell any of these items from 01 December onwards. The supervision of this decree and the fair distribution of supplies will be placed in the hands of the Russian Patriotic Union.

Any attempt to sell the abovementioned articles without a license and plaque displayed prominently will be punishable by imprisonment. Any attempt to buy these articles from non-licensed vendors or obtain them from outside the city limits will be punishable by confiscation and fines.

Trepov, Governor General of the Military District

20 November 1905 Zarskoye Selo

The early snow was brilliant on the lawns outside the window of the Alexander Palace. Nicholas enjoyed the sight so much the garden staff had been ordered to leave it undisturbed. No footprints marred the smooth, white expanse. It reflected the weak sunlight brightly enough to dispense with lighting even in the late afternoon. Seated in a widow alcove, the Czar looked out, momentarily lost in thought.

“I am sorry,” he turned back to Grand Duke Mikhail. “You were saying?”

Mikhail seemed tense. He had hoped to talk to his brother without Dr Dubrovin who, now that pobedonostsev's health was failing, was an ever more frequent presence at any kind of political discussion. This had, sadly, failed. Dubrovin sat at the opposite end of the alcove table, studiously stirring his tea while he listened to his Czar's words with an air of cloying deference. The man practically worshipped the ground Nicholas walked on.

“Nicholas, I was questioning the wisdom of these orders. Please do not take this amiss, but I do wonder whether you were properly counseled when you signed them.” There were things you only got away if you were a Romanov. There were things you couldn't even be sure to get away with if you were, but Mikhail was willing to run the risk. Nicholas sighed heavily. That was a bad sign.

“Mikhail, you don't understand. I do not enjoy being cruel. It is a duty laid on us by heaven to bring these people back to proper obedience. Please, do not think me a bad man for admitting the chastisement God requires.”

The grand duke shook his head. “That is not what I meant, Nicholas, and you know it. I have little love for the rabble. But your decree is dangerous. It is not wise to provoke another outburst of public anger. We may not survive it.”

There was a momentary silence. Dubrovin looked up. He seemed on the verge of saying something when Nicholas answered. “You are afraid of them, Mikhail. Don't be. These people are like dogs that have been ill bred and ill used. They will not harm you if you are strong.”

“Is that why we are still here and not in Peterhof?” Mikhail could not stop himself from asking. The Czar's face flushed.

“We will return, Mikhail. I don't know if it is worth the trouble, really. St Petersburg is a diseased, rotten kind of place. I would much rather rule from Moscow. But return we will. Now we have the power in our hand to strangle this treason.”

“We won't like this. Look at the situation, Nicholas. We are winning. Half a year ago, would you have thought we would still be in the war? Would you have believed our loyal men could march through St Petersburg and live? We are winning because we can outlast the rebellion. It has no aim, no structure and no money. The worst thing you can do right now is to give them a common goal!”

Emperor Nicholas began to rise, checked himself and sat down again. He seemed more sad than angry now. As though to a petulant child, he patiently explained once more: “Mikhail, don't be a fool. You've said it yourself. They have no goal and no leaders. By the end of this winter, we will have our cities back. Then the villages. Then the provinces. Then Manchuria. Have courage and confidence in providence, my brother. God is with our banners.”

“God maybe, but how will we pay for those banners, Nicholas? Our tax revenues are vanishing. The army will be calling up its recruits, how many will come? How shall we pay for our army in Manchuria if not with the taxes of the people you would starve? We have to regain their loyalty. Many would gladly return if we offered it.”

Dr Dubrovin cleared his throat. “Your Highness,” he pointed out, “loyalty is the people's duty, not their choice. Everything the empire needs – its food, uniforms, gold, iron, brass and coal – comes from the Russian earth whose sole ands autocratic ruler is the Czar. He commands all itz brings forth. His Majesty need not negotiate with anyone for what is his.”

Nicholas nodded, his eyes dreamy. “There, Mikhail. You cannot say it better than that. Do not worry yourself over figures and sums.” He motioned for the grand duke to leave. Mikhail rose, disappointed and angry. In the corner of the alcove, Dr Dubrovin smiled thinly.

22 November 1905, St Petersburg

Workers, Soldiers and Artisans, Defend Your Lives and Families!

Two days ago, the bloody despot that calls himself our rightful ruler ordered that we shall be starved and frozen until we return meekly under the yoke. These murderous orders, we now know, were issued in every large city of the realm. the imperialist government knows where its most dangerous foes are, and will stop at nothing to crush the spirit of the industrial proletariat. They will not desist until we are slaves or corpses, our homes looted, our wives and daughters whores and our will broken. Along this course, they have chosen to destroy with us all those who happen to live in our cities, artisans, soldiers, professionals and merchants. It is time for us to make common cause. read this order, understand its import and know that the hand of the Czar is murderous. Understand that there can be no compromise and no middle ground! People of St Petersburg, the Workers' Council invites you to join us in the struggle and secure all our lives.

(handbill designed by Leo Trotsky, reprinted in the Izvestiya)
28 November 1905, Potsdam

Ferdinand Prince Radziwill was no stranger to court circles, but being invited to the emperor's Sanssouci rounds was not a common experience for anyone. The residence outside Berlin had been a favourite of Empress Victoria and had not changed much since the days of Wilhelm's beloved mother. The fine pastel shades, the paintings and delicate Louis Quinze furniture and the extensive gardens were still in place, though they had a slightly down-at-heels look, as though not too much attention had been paid to their upkeep. Wilhelm did not like too many people bustling around his retreat, and did not mind the gardens getting a little overgrown or the paintings collecting some dust. In his mother's days, the palace had been kept immaculate by a silent, invisible host of attentive lervants, but standards of discipline among the staff had declined since.

Radziwill had come with a measure of apprehension. The emperor was known for his intellectual penchants and usually invited scholars, scientists and other leading lights to his informal soupers. While the prince knew he was no mean political mind, he had never fancied himself more than competent and certainly had no ambitions that way. Thus, he wondered whatever the plan behind his invitation might be. When the guests were ushered into the Audienzzimmer, he quickly found himself enlightened. Waiting along with the emperor, in his usual plain regimentals, were Prince Albert in a somewhat more splendid naval uniform, and General Moltke. The guests included Ferdinand Prince Radziwill (who had come wearing a plain black cutaway with none of his decorations), several other leading lights of the Reichstag's government parties, Professor Aleksander Brückner, and the noted geographer Professor Friedrich Ratzel. He had read some of both men's writings, and quickly understood that the subject of the discussion was going to be Russia. As a leading advocate of military intervention, this was aimed at him and his fellows.

The supper itself was, as was reputedly always the case, of excellent quality, but frugal. After a soupe cressy and a course of ham, roast beef and pigeons, the good professors began their lectures in earnest over dessert and brandy. The setting was infomal, smoking allowed – there were no ladies present today - and questions encouraged. Radziwill noticed that the emperor himself, smoking the thin cheeroots he had taken up on his visit to India, did not drink. The lessons of the day were dispiriting.

“The railway”, Ratzel explained, tracing the network over a wall map of Western Russia, “makes very little difference in practice. The fundamental fact with which every war against Russia must contend is distance. Between the few lines there are lie areas whose size rivals that of whole European countries. The central function of ;Moscow as a hub further complicates the use of the railway network for both attack and defense, but the fundamental problem remains the size of territory. The distance between the easternmost point of our borders and St Petersburg is equal to that between Berlin and Vienna. The distance to Moscow is almost that to Constantinople. And a conquest of either of these cities will place an invading army but a little distance into the entirety of the country.”

“You are saying a victory is impossible, then?” Radziwill could not help asking. Professor Ratzel shook his head briefly.

“No, not impossible. However, the popular imagination shaped by certain publications,” he did not name Ludendorff, but the shadow on Moltke's face spoke volumes, “is certainly wrong about how such a victory could be achieved and what it would entail. I am sure you are aware of the theory of industrial war and its implications for future warfare. You will note that this was developed in Poland. The Russians are well aware of it. Their army is larger than that of any potential enemy, and their resources are considerable. The strategic design of the Prussian army throughout the past century has been aimed at delivering an early and fatal blow. Such a strike aimed at Russia might well destroy any military forces in its path, but it would fail to achieve the destructive effect it has had on Austria and France. Its military reserves are too spread out, its government centres too remote. Capture St Petersburg, and the country will continue resisting from Moscow. Take Moscow, and it will defend itself from Sevastopol, Novgorod or Zarizyn.”

He paused for effect. “Gentlemen, the general staff has, I am certain, made plans to this effect I am not aware of. I would, however, direct your attention at the one military defeat Russia has suffered in a defensive war as a paradigm. The ultimate outcome of Japan's is yet in the balance, and here, too, we can observe the factor of distance and dispersion weighing in on the Russian side. Japan's army has reached Russia proper only in occasional raids, and is already overstretched with holding its gains. There is little reason to think that, but for scale, a German attack would fare differently. Note, then, the successful blow struck against Russia in the Crimean War.”

Moltke spoke up. “The Crimean War was a defensive victory, Sir.”

“Perhaps from a political point of view, but in purely military terms it found enemy troops on Russian soil. This, as an aside, illustrates the value both of sea power and of militarily relatively insignificant allies, in that they may provide access to territory and staging areas. My main contention would be, though, that in limiting their operations to a small part of Russia's territory, the allied powers were able to maintain control of events and bring to bear the concentrated advantage of their more modern militaries. The Russian forces could not be applied successfully and were subject to attrition.”

Radziwill felt his heart sink. Yes, the Crimean War had been a victory, but what kind of achievement had it represented? Russia had lost nothing of value. “What,” he asked, “would be the purpose of fighting a war only to return to the status quo afterwards? Do you genuinely see no options for a victory?”

“I do.” Professor Ratzel was firm on this point. “If a war were fought with a limited goal in mind and aimed at securing solely this, it would be possible to fight it concentrated in a small enough theatre to retain control and dominate the area, but large enough to inflict painful defeats. Choose an area too small – this, I believe, is the error Japan has made – and the Russian state will be able to ignore and losses it sustains until its numbers grind down the enemy. Make it too large, and space defeats your efforts. the key is to address the issue of willpower. Attrite Russia's will to continue suffering defeat, and you may get the concessions you seek. But do not live with the illusion that you can attrite its capacity to resist to the degree it becomes your prey.”

To his horror, Radziwill saw Moltke nod. The emperor was doing his best to keep what Americans called a poker-face, but he, too, seemed convinced. What hope the prince had held out for his Polish brethren began to shrink.

28 November 1905, Berlin

Hugo Stinnes was always ready to be impressed by effective displays of power, and the Berlin villa of Walther Krupp von Rathenau was the kind of place that excelled at this. He had come here a few times before, but never for an occasion quite as official. The Villa Hügel, he remembered from an earlier occasion, radiated pomp and circumstance. It was the kind of place an emperor might feel at home in. No, he corrected himself, an emperor as people imagined he should be. Wilhelm III wasn't into bombast. But the Berlin villa was different, a dark, sombre, masculine place where the very walls radiated earnest dedication and hard work.

Seated in broad leather armchairs and smoking fine cigars, business negotiations could be a pleasure. Rathenau knew this as well as Stinnes, and had all the required paraphernalia of upper-class masculine sociability at hand. Served by an attentive and silent manservant, the two went into the final rounds of what they had been discussing for a while now.

“I agree you have a point,” Stinnes said, “and it's not like I'm unwilling to go along, but I still think you're giving too little room to private initiative. You are too wedded to your idea of the state as some kind of all-powerful patron.”

Rathenau smiled and nodded patiently. “I know, and I cannot say I entirely disagree with your idea. Still, you know that things have changed. It isn't the nineteenth century any more. You can't build a world-class company from scratch. Today, you need size and integration to survive, and the only way wee can get that without engaging in self-defeating elimination is by cooperation. The state is the only entity strong enough to lead that kind of development”

“Spare me the oration, please. I know that. I'm in favour, actually. We have to get the government to pay proper attention to the needs of industry. Germany's future lies on its factory floors, not its farms. The sooner some people in Berlin understand that, the better. But I am still worried about the influence of the Social Democrats and Zentrum people. Admittedly, you know politics better than I do, so I'll defer to your judgement, but it sticks in my craw.”

Rathenau nodded again, this time with more emotion. “You don't need to tell me about them. After what they did to my father-in-law, you can bet I'm not keen on Reds. But that's how we're doing it at Krupp, too: keep them reasonably content, and you don't have to worry so much about revolutionary firebrands. That is why I'm in favour of paying higher wages. A working man with a savings account and a mortgage is a man with something to lose.”

“No problem there. I'll trust you that we can make this work. The Socialists have been building up all kinds of cooperative ventures, maybe that could be something to look at?”

“Oh, yes!” Rathenau's eyes beamed. “They're digging their own grave there. I can understand their motives, but from a political point of view it's stupid. The more concessions and security they can get for the workers, the less reason they have to vote Socialist. There are some in the party who understand it, but the majority don't. Or maybe they've given up the dream of revolution. I have met some Social Democrats who were quite reasonable at court.”

Stinnes did a double take. “They are admitted to court? I thought it was more exclusive than that.”

“Not with Wilhelm.” Rathenau spoke from experience here. “He cares more about your function than your birth. They are Reichstag members, so they are eligible. Of course he's not inviting the crazies, but still.”

Stinnes shook his head. Berlin had changed in the past few years. Maybe there was a chance they could get this to work after all.

“The economies of scale and the advantages in international competition will pay for the wage increases easily. In many fields, we can pool research resources and negotiate prices together. And we'd be rid of the problem of individual companies undercutting the market.”

That was the sales spiel that drew the industrialists. For the government, the emphasis lay on reliable supply chains, international market dominance, and strengthening social cohesion.

“A policy to favour manufacturing over agriculture.” Stinnes still seemed slightly dubious. “Well, it would only be fifty years late.”

If they could get it to work, it would finally give industrialists the political weight and social status they felt they deserved. It would also improve plannability and favour integration, creating the kind of company structure that was needed to play in the big leagues. American industrialists with their supertrusts had demonstrated how it was done. If their inherent weakness of a purely short-term profit-oriented model could be avoided – and Rathenau was sure that it was possible – they would be building Germany's future greatness.

“Let's give it a try.” He said. “The government is sympathetic. Wilhelm is no Manchester liberal like Albert was. He is willing to countenance a bigger role for the state. And the Social Democrats will agree if the workers get something out of it. They did with Bismarck's insurance plans, too. If we are going to make it work, now is the time.”

Stinnes shook his hand. “I'll talk to my friends and associates. If we need and Industriepolitik, I'd rather see you and me run it than a bunch of Reds or Junkers.”

29 November 1905, Tokyo

... What lasting gains are to be had from this triumph remains to be seen, but it certainly illustrates the continued ability of the Japanese military to inflict damage on the Russian forces despite their difficulties. General Kuroki's capture of Kharbin is not, to be honest, as much of a military achievement as it is made out to be in the local press and, no doubt, will be in the papers of London and Berlin. From every account I received, the garrison of the city was in a poor state. With General Kaulbars' unwillingness or inability to lift the siege General Kuroki had put in place, surrender was only a matter of time. Reports from the frontline observers regarding the infantry tactics used may yet be interesting as I was given to understand they used approaches copied from Polish rebel forces in Lodz., but the outcome was not in question. It is thus more a moral victory, and one that the populace stood in dire need of. Celebrations of General Kuroki have had the unfortunate side effect of disparaging the achievements of General Nogi, who brought the forces to Kharbin in the first place. I have heard from a well-informed source that he was expressly forbidden from committing suicide in the traditional manner by the emperor. ...

... It must be considered by far the more significant achievement of Japanese diplomacy that the Empire of Korea has repudiated its treaties with Russia and, by entering into an alliance with Japan., has in effect declared war on Russia. It has been argued in the past and continues to be said in public that the military resources of the country are insufficient to amount to any great power, we must bear in mind that in terms of manpower, they are conysiderable. I am personally of the opinion that the relative quiet with which the press has greeted this agreement is largely due to the fact that Japan feels it a humiliation that Emperor Gojong of Korea should be negotiating such terms after his country had seemed certain to be reduced to the status of a protectorate following victory over Russia. Certainly, it is a notable achievement and worthy of no small measure of admiration. Korea's future may be uncertain, but it is no longer one of dependence and subjection assured. Indeed, should Korean forces acquit themselves well, the japanese may have to come to a fuller reassessment of their position vis-a-vis their neighbour which holds the promise of being beneficial to both parties ...

... a further element worthy of your consideration, not least with regard to the future safety of the Tsingtao treaty territory, is the increasing role of the Chinese Hunghutze mercenary forces under Zhang Zuolin. It has been true for some time now that large parts of Manchuria were effectively governed by these robber bands, but the use the Japanese have been making of them has increased in scope as their own military capabilities have dwindled. Zhang Zuolin's men now control large parts of the countryside, making Russian incursions into Japanese-held territory all but impossible. Their achievements have become semi-legendary, with reports no doubt exaggerating their fearsomeness, but it is not claiming too much that they are worthy and equal foes to the cossacks, filling the gap in the Japanese force structure that the absence of a truly formidable cavalry arm had left open in the past. The ambitions of Zhang, technically a colonel in the Chinese army, though in effect the commander of a mercenary legion in Japanese employ that may well number in excess of ten thousand horse, must be a matter of concern to us as they are to both the Japanese and Chinese. His authority is currently as much based on being the conduit through which Japanese money and arms flow to his men as on his past fortune de guerre, but by all accounts he is a formidable leader and a dangerous schemer. his troops are receiving not only leadership of a professional calibre, but also training in modern tactics by the Japanese, something that is evidently a matter of some concern and not what had been planned initially. Though this may be irregular, I would consider it advisable for the Imperial Government to initiate independent contact with Zhang for the purpose of evaluating his future policy stance and amenability to cooperation. ...

(Letter by Ambassador von Hintze)

30 November 1905, Simbirsk

“It's not something that needs concern us too greatly”, Sergeant Shternmiler pointed out to his men. Privately, he was of the opinion that no aspect of his new assignment was something that needed to concern him greatly. He had not, at least, been relegated to complete inactivity like many others, both soldiers and civilians, of non-Russian extraction had. But his new assignment was disappointing at every level. Perhaps, he told himself, he had been used to too much of a good thing. A respected officer in the St Petersburg force, assigned high-profile political investigations and even covert operations, he had gained an exaggerated sense of his own importance. Russia, he had tried to convince himself, was a big country and needed good men everywhere. Yet every piece of experience in his posting conspired to hammer home the message that he had been relegated. Parked, like an unwanted locomotive on a side track. Oh, he was being treated with the kind of deference he was quite unaccustomed to from his earlier position, no complaints there. At the arse end of Kazan, an Okhrana sergeant was somebody. He was invited by wealthy families and got to dance and converse with ladies hungry for conversation with someone who happened to not only speak French and German, but also have first-hand knowledge of how you did things in the capital. Even his official quarters were spacious and well-appointed, a world away from the pokey two-room flat he had inhabited for the better part of ten years. It was just that in the end, none of this mattered. At least not more than a day or two. He was comfortable, he was deferred to, he was even able to carry on a discreet affair (more, he admitted to himself, to exercise his skills at clandestine business than for any real interest in the lady). He wasn't doing anything worthwhile, though.

The question on the table today was the kind of thing that concerned the gendarmes here greatly: Were they to interfere with the increasing number of barter deals with which cityfolk (who had had a bad year, with the railways hardly running at all and fewer people buying their goods) tried to ensure they had food for the winter. Shternmiler himself was in two minds about the whole business. He was from the countryside himself, though not from peasant stock, and felt a small measure of satisfaction that the high and mighty urbanites actually had to defer to the farmers who grew their bread for one. On the other hand, if the system had deteriorated to the point that it was impossible to take their grain from the peasants – and it certainly looked that way - then the consequences would be immense. He understood the world well enough to know that Russia depended on the tax take in cheap grain and hard labour its countryfolk provided. The harvest had not been bad – he would have heard from his family if it had been. But even in Simbirsk, amid the good black earth of the Volga basin, grain was short. The trainloads that landholder families used to sell for shipment down the river or up the rails to Moscow were rare. Sales were relatively free here – the ridiculous orders that only good patriots were to be allowed to buy bread had gone unimplemented when the governor announced that as far as he knew, everyone in town was a good Russian. But even so, some days there was no bread to be had in the bakeries. Of course, he and his men did not go hungry, but he had his ear to the ground; a growing number of people did. And there was practically nothing that could be done. He was forbidden from taking his gendarmes into the villages to enforce sales, as he had suggested a few days into his new post. Now that he realised how badly control had slipped, he even admitted that the decision had been correct. Without the military to back them, the gendarmerie would have been dead men in short order. And the soldiers were not to be had. Rumour had it that the garrison was unruly, and while some units remained reliable, too many of them were away guarding railway lines and canal locks. What was left was policing the marketplace to discourage hoarding and price gouging. And that, the sergeant reflected, was what the eyes and ears of the Czar had come to: Glorified market overseers.

“Let them barter.” he instructed his subordinates. “Everyone needs to eat. But try to see what the going rates are while you are at it. And step hard on anyone trying to pull a fast one.”

The blank looks greeting him told him more about his force than he wanted to know.

“If you catch anyone selling sawdust for flour, watered-down milk, or mouldy grain, I want you to bring him in. We need to teach that kind of people a lesson early.”

The men nodded, saluted and trooped out of the station room. Not for the first time, Shternmiler asked himself whether it really was too late to take his wife and children to America. They didn't have an Okhrana there, of course, but working for Pinkertons might be possible. And it couldn't be worse than this.

01 December 1905, Helsingfors

...Today, the fateful hour of decision has come for our people, and it is with full confidence in the native courage of the Finnish people and the justice of our cause that I now call on all men of Finnish blood to throw off the yoke of the Russian oppressor. The blood of our martyrs calls for revenge! Finnish men, do not let your women and children starve at the command of a tyrant! Finnish soldiers, do not fire on your brothers! ...

(Finnish Declaration of Independence)

“...We cannot but extend our sympathy to the brave Finnish people in their fateful hour of battle. These men, courageous and principled all, have long sought to reach an accommodation with the imperial government. Their demands were few – the recognition of their own tongue, the vote in their own parliament, and an end to the cruel measures with which the government of Nicholas II vainly tried to mould them into Russians according to the taste of their ruler. Today's declaration, as is often the case, does not mark their victory in this conflict, but only its onset. Hard times and uncertain days still lie ahead before – if ever – the Finnish nation will be born. But the effort is more hopeful today than it long seemed, not least through the example of the Polish revolt and the upswell of international support to which this has given rise.

Your correspondent himself today walked the streets of Helsingfors to ascertain what impact, if any, these words have had, and found their power considerable. Armed men are about, both of the Red Guards and the Protection Corps, embraced and cheered by the police and unchallenged by the garrison's soldiers who limit themselves to guarding their own barracks. Gunshots were heard earlier, and while no certainty can be had, it is rumoured that the harbour authorities and governor's offices have fallen to the rebels. We hear in the streets of improbable triumphs, the mutiny of Finnish regiments in St Petersburg and the bones of cossacks already bleaching in the sun under Viborg's walls, but it can be said with absolute assurance that even if no Finnish government yet has full control of the city and country, the Russian one has lost this control today. ...

As seems so often the case in Russia today, the gravest enemies of its rule come from its own ranks. It is Colonel Gustav Mannerheim, a highly decorated soldier of the Czar whom many a British Indian officer fully expected to face in battle in the Himalayas one day, who has become the public face of this revolution. While his judgement remains to be tested, neither his bravery nor his devotion to his people can be called into the slightest question. It is heartening to see the joy with which the hard and often bitter men of the Social Democrats greet him as their leader, with what ease and forbearance he can unite them with their rival Young Finns. “Today,” as he writes in his declaration to the Finnish people, “I know no parties or tongues among us. today, I know only Finns!” ...”

(The London Illustrated News)

07 December 1905, St Petersburg

After several days of calls on the population of St Petersburg to march on the palace, the exhortations of the Workers' Council have been followed. I have been unable to ascertain exact numbers, but a large body of protesters bearing banners and icons moved towards Zarskoye Selo this morning. I have despatched Attache von Bargen to see what, if anything, would come of this, but he has not reported back yet. There have, however, been reports from several civilian witnesses, including two German expatriates, of a disastrous confrontation. The group of protesters included both a number of organised petitioners and a large body of armed Socialists. Tensions between the two groups were high from the beginning and they split en route. At Srednerogatsk, they were confronted by local members of the Patriotic Union who, after orders were given to disperse, reportedly attacked the leading petitioners, killing and injuring many. Witnesses speak of wanton cruelty and suggest rape. The Patriotic Union in pursuit of fleeing petitioners then encountered Socialist protesters and engaged them, not expecting them to be armed. They were routed after a brief firefight and pursued several kilometres down the road, where two companies of the Preobrazhenko Regiment offered them succour. Anger in the city is at a high pitch, and groups of armed men are seen marching out towards Zarskoye Selo at irregular intervals to reinforce the protesters. An unconfirmed rumour originating from the telegraph office at the Finland Station states that Nicholas and his government have departed for Moscow. At this point, very little can be substantiated, and it would be pointless to telegraph every story making the rounds in the streets, but it appears that the government has lost control of its capital for good.

(diplomatic cable from the German embassy, 15:23h)

... Mr Aschberg, representative of the firm of Woermann, reports being accosted by mutinous soldiers in the streets. He observed a firefight over the Neva bridges which were raised on orders of the governor and guarded by cossack cavalry, but are now lowered and guarded by Finnish rifles and – by his description of their uniforms - Wolhynia Guards infantry. A number of lynchings have been witnessed by German citizens now sheltering on our premises. Regrettably, we have reason to believe that Attache von Bargen will not return from his mission of reconnaissance. He is reported to have died in a firefight on the road, his papers handed to the porter by a Mr. Andresen, a German merchant sailor who is now a member of the local Workers' Council. The situation appears out of control.

(diplomatic cable, 17:42h)

The embassy has been formally notified that the government of his Majesty Emperor and Autocrat Nicholas II has been temporarily relocated to Moscow. I marvel at the resourcefulness of the despatch rider who delivered the news. Preparations for a relocation of myself and Attaches von Kuhn and Ellensbach are being undertaken. Rumours of a battle between the Socialist revolutionaries and the guards continue to fly. Given the state of the railway and roads, I do not expect the move to Moscow to be possible in less than two weeks and request permission to temporarily appoint our Moscow Consul diplomatic charge d'affaires to the Russian government, such as it may be.

(diplomatic cable, 19:08)

Protesters are now returning to the city, and we are receiving a better account of events over the past 24 hours. Following the departure of Emperor Nicholas, his family and minister, the guards withdrew from the blocking position they had taken up interdicting the road. A resourceful commanding officer left a small group of soldiers to tend watchfires, which ruse not being discovered until early in the morning allowed his men to evade a disastrous confrontation with a mob of armed revolutionaries now numbering in excess of 10,000. Their advance to Zarskoye Selo was unopposed, and they are now in possession of the imperial palaces where, by all accounts, they proceeded to inflict considerable property damage. The anticlimactic nature of the resolution has created a jumpy atmosphere in the city. Most German citizens have returned to their homes, but it seems unlikely life will return to normal anytime soon. There are reports I am in the process of confirming that the men of the Finnish Rifles whose contribution to the maintenance of order in the early months of the year have made them widely unpopular are being entrained to Helsingfors where they aim to join the provisional government. I have taken it on myself to despatch Attache Ellensbach to initiate informal contact with the Workers' Council in order to establish how they intend to proceed in running the city. At this point I must commend the courage of this young man whose colleague met such a tragic fate only hours before. ...

(diplomatic cable, 08 December, 08:56h)

09 December 1905, Paris


Prime Minister Deroulede's Secret Plans for War Unveiled!

Death and Destruction to Gain Votes!

... This body of letters dated August 14 has come into our possession through the brave act of a patriotic man who chose to remain unknown in his service to the Republic rather than collect the undoubtedly lavish rewards their authors would have given him. They were dictated and signed by then Minister of War Paul Deroulede, addressed to the late Prime Minister Cavaignac, and copied out on official ministry paper. A thorough inspection has proven them to be genuine, and we invite any independent experts to satisfy themselves as to their authenticity. Their explosive content is such as to defy credibility: indeed, had we not the certainty of their origin, we would have to consider them preposterous fiction. Politicians of the highest rank, entrusted by the French people with high office, conspired to lead our country into a destructive and disastrous war for no purpose other than to garner votes in the coming elections. indeed, on more than one occasion does the author go so far as to suggest that these might be the last elections France would ever see, as his Bonapartist fantasies of autocracy should be realised through the bayonets of an army of obedient mercenaries and the frenzy of a populace driven mindless from the privations of war.


(L'Aurore, purportedly authored by Georges Clemenceau)
10 December 1905, Paris

“ even if these letters are genuine – a claim for which, to date, we have only the word of a known associate and supporter of a proven traitor – we must ask in what way they reflect poorly on their purported author. Would it be in that they call for war with Germany? How can any true Frenchman think this amiss? Have we really become so far removed from our fathers before whose bayonets the dynasts of old Germany trembled? Have we so fully embraced our truncated existence that we willingly forsake the captive provinces of Alsace and Lorraine? No, this is not France! France need not fear war, but craven, purposeless peace that fritters away its national strength and dulls the edge of generations of its manhood. To wish for a war that ends this fat, cowardly indolence that is bought with the piecemeal abandonment of our future glory, a war that clears the stuffy air of old, staid Europe and makes room for the ascent of our vigorous race, is no crime. It is nothing more than to wish for our country what she needs. To wish for peace, peace without honour, without aim, without purpose or function, is the dream of the coward and the gormless, soulless, nationless Jew! ...” Jean Bayrou put down his copy of the Libre Parole. His boss and editor, Georges Clemenceau, shook his head in mock despair. “I was wondering when that would come.” he remarked acidly. Looks like we touched a nerve, no?”

It did indeed. The reactions in the papers of the Ligue Patriotique varied from outraged to frenzied. Clemenceau picked up another clipping from his desk. “How about this one:”, he said, “'Look into the purse of the pacifist and you find in equal measure the poison of Ullstein and the gold of Rothschildt!'” The great man focused on his secretary and said with his inimitable mock sincerity: “A rewarding career, Jean. It is not too late to change jobs.”

Bayrou did not find the situation entirely humorous. The Ligueists had made it clear enough that if they had their way, France would have no more room for such things as opposition papers. Finding new employment might be the least of his concerns in that event, though.

“Here's another one,” Clemenceau continued, lifting up a particularly Catholic paper: “'...The infidel and the Jew, knowing in their hearts that their death is doom, fear war and conflict. But the true Frenchman, the descendant of Vercingetorix, of Clovis and Rollo knows in his soul that all things must die, but the glory of great deeds is alone eternal!' ... I wonder what His holiness thinks of that particular doctrine.”

Bayrou chuckled. Sometimes, those writers could get carried away with their own rhetoric. Of course this also happened to him and his allies on occasion, but at least he had no dogma to defend.

“You look glum, Jean.” his editor pointed out helpfully. “Don't. They are already squealing, and we'll hear more of that come the election. There are more letters to publish, too. Every little drop helps.”

Bayrou sighed inwardly and buckled down to work. Sometimes he wondered what living in London would be like. He hoped he wouldn't have to find out next year.

12 December 1905, between Wittenberge and Spandau

Dear Mother,

I do not quite know how to begin writing you of the amazing things that happened on our arrival in Germany. It will upset Father, I am sure, but you must understand, what he thinks of the Germans belongs to an earlier age. When we booked passage through Hamburg, we were all concerned whether we would be allowed to pass through at all. You will remember, I told you about my talk with Sergeant Rust and how we were officially designated a hunting party to get permission to bring our rifles. On the ship, we even tried to cook up a story to tell German customs if they asked us, though I don't think anyone thought they'd really believe it. In fact, we never needed do anything like it, though. On the ship, there were a few Polish Germans, some of the stewards and sailors, and they sounded a hurrah for us when we docked. One of the cooks liked us, too – gave us good grub, leftovers from First Class. And that wasn't the end. When we came ashore, there were officers waiting for us – it turned out they were customs and railroad police. Everybody was quite worried, but the customs officer just told us to take whatever we would need for the next three or four days from our luggage. He put lead seals on the crates and suitcases and gave us each a paper that allows us to take them through Germany as long as they are unopened. He never checked, whatever we told him was in there, he just wrote it down. The railroad police meanwhile talked to the representative of the shipping line and they said that since we were so many, we would be put on a special train that would go directly to Torun. It is all covered by our tickets. Then they said we would have to go to a place called Veddel to get overnight quarters. We hadn't planned on that, our original train to Berlin was supposed to leave that evening, but again, they had everything taken care of. So we put our stuff on wagons and marched out, like we practiced back in New York, four abreast and in nicely dressed ranks. It wasn't very far, but the way was amazing. we had people cheer us and shake our hands, and one man gave me a parcel with sausages and bread. At first I thought they were Poles, but a lot of them didn't speak a word of Polish. Sergeant Rust speaks some German, and he says they were mostly German Socialists. He said they all hate the Russians like sin and are great admirers of the Polish struggle for freedom. Make of that what you will.

It wasn't far to the Veddel, and we were put into barracks. The sergeant said this was where usually emigrants from Russia are quartered before they go on the ships. It's not what you'd call roomy or luxurious, but clean and orderly, and they gave us hot food and even beer, two bottles per man, for free. And Captain Poniatovsky came to meet us. The Germans introduced him as a commercial travveller who knew about Poland, but when we were alone, he told us he was an officer of the National Army come to welcome us. There is no way the Germans didn't know that. And now comes the most amazing thing. Poniatovsky had lined up a market for us. Do you remember how I complained our rifles were no good? Old Springfields was all we could get in the States. The German salespeople were all civilians, at least they looked like it – it's hard to say in this country, almost everybody is a reserve officer or under-officer the way they are militia colonels in Virginia. Only they are real soldiers. But they sold us Mauser rifles and revolvers, boots, coats and tunics, bullets, tools, spades, picks, everything we could have wanted. Poniatovsky asked us to spend all our war chest and said the National Army would take care of our supplies from now on, so the Colonel bought us all we could afford. I have a new Mauser now, it's beautiful. I cannot wait to use it on the Russians.

(letter by Cpl. Kreisky of the Kocziusko Brigade)

15 December 1905, Liebenberg

Nobody doubted that Chancellor Philipp zu Eulenburg was a bright and capable man, but few would have said he relished his work. Most weeks, he preferred to leave what he could to his ministers and spend the time thus saved on music, literature, or hunting. Little enough tended to happen in December anyway, with the government settling into winter and hunting season drawing the quality out to their country estates. Philipp zu Eulenburg would readily admit to not having a clue how Social Democrats spent such days as he walked up to Liebenberg castle through the gummy, freezing mud, the shotgun slung over his shoulder. He had friends over to visit, but sometimes, going out alone was a great pleasure. Of course when you did, it would be after small game. You did not bungle your way through the underbrush alone when someone might be out there waiting for boar with a rifle. No matter what his detractors might say, there was much less chance of the count being mistaken for a quail or hare. The point, at any rate, was to catch a breath of fresh air and assemble your thoughts, not to kill anything.

As he rounded the corner of the path leading onto the lawn of his palatial residence, fully expecting a bustle of attentive servants to meet him - or one at the very least – he spotted a motor car on the path. Personally, he intensely disliked these noisy, ugly things, but he knew that many people close to the Emperor loved them. None of today's guests did, though, which suggested that someone had come up from Berlin. Philipp zu Eulenburg increased his pace. News from the capital rarely was good. His premonition indeed turned out to be right. Anxious servants met him at the door, ushering him into the drawing room without even taking the time to remove his boots or change his jacket, let alone get properly dressed. Still flushed from the cold and mud-spattered from the knees down, the chancellor found himself facing a deadly pale Prince Albert holding crumpled copies of Berlin newspapers.

“Phili,” he asked without introduction or greeting, “is this true?”

Flustered, Eulenburg took up the papers the prince held out. Kreuz-Zeitung, Staatsbürger-Zeitung, Norddeutscher Anzeiger – all good conservative publications. Even the ones by that odious Hugenberg. Then the headline on the second one struck him like a blow to the stomach. 'Scandal in the Chancery! Eulenburg Accused of Unnatural Vice!'

He dropped into an armchair. “Well,” Albert said, sternly looking down, “is it true?”

“It ... I ... I haven't read all these articles yet, Your Highness.” the chancellor stammered. “I cannot say ... I mean, I would need to look at the articles and...”

“Any of it?” The question was hard. Albert rarely used this tone, but when he did, admirals and ambassadors quailed. Philipp zu Eulenburg collapsed into himself like a punctured balloon.

“Yes, Your Highness.”

For a moment, Albert was speechless. He blanched, then reddened with incoherent rage. Tears were steaming down Eulenburg's face as he struggled to sit up again.

“Have you completely taken leave of your senses? Do you realise at what risk you have put Wilhelm's government with this? What damage you have done? Philipp, I know you are not stupid, are you insane?”

Eulenburg staightened his back. “I am sorry, Your Highness.I am. But I thought you knew... you must have. I would never have accepted ... we were careful, Albert. I was!”

“Not careful enough, obviously.” Albert contained his rage, but his voice was steely. “Philipp, you know that nobody cares what you do on your holidays in Italy, or who with. But this is an entirely different matter. I want you to tell me exactly what in these reports is true, and what is not. Good heavens, half the names in here... Kuno von Moltke ... this could touch Helmuth.” He breathed deeply. “Philipp, we have worked long and hard to dispel the idea that Wilhelm might have unnatural inclinations. We have put a lot of effort into building a coalition of the political centre. Both of these causes may now be lost. You must understand that this is not just a private matter of yours. It could – no, it will destroy your government, and it may take down your Emperor. This could see us at war within a year if we cannot stand up to the conservatives. I must have your full cooperation now.”

Philipp zu Eulenburg nodded. “Yes, Your Highness. I will write down everything for you. I trust it is for youre use only?” It was more begging than negotiation.

“Nobody will ever see it, Philipp. But I must know what is truth, and what is lies. We cannot be caught defending an untruth.”

“Yes, of course. And you will expect my ... I mean, if there can be a solution...”

Albert shook his head sadly. “There will be no solution to this, Philipp. Only an end, one day. there may be consequences far beyond your loss of office. I will not seek revenge, and neither will the emperor. But we cannot shield you from the legal and social consequences of what you did.”

The chancellor nodded. Article 175 would come into play. 'Unnatural fornication between men or with animals'; it would mean prison and dishonour. A shadow of gloom slid over Eulenburg's handsome face. “Your Highness, I will write down everything. His Majesty will have my letter of resignation today – you may take it to Berlin if you wish.” He straightened his back and set his lips thinly. “And I will end this affair with what honour can be salvaged.”

Albert nodded. “Philipp,” he said, his voice catching. “You know I do not ask this of you.”

“I know.” Eulenburg paused for a moment. “I do. It is only just, for the damage I have done. And maybe some will remember me the better for it.”

He rose. Abruptly, Albert embraced him. Then they parted, the prince heading for the salon, the chancellor for the library. He sent the maid dusting the books to call for his bodyservant. There would be papers to burn. The gun, he knew, was in the desk drawer. A pointlessly romantic gesture, he thought, or maybe a dark premonition. Today, it would see use for the first time.

18 December 1905, Lodz

The clanging of hammers and screech of metal on metal was becoming the background music to the lives of everyone in the Jewish Battalion. Major Rabinovicz did not know too much about these things, but he felt sure that what Grynszpan and his Bundists were doing was important – and after the success they had had with their armoured train, who was going to argue? In fact, the army had decided these were the thing and put Grynszpan in charge of making them. He had scratched together his bundist militia to form the core of his outfit and taken control of the railyard, and then had called on Rabinovicz's men for security. The major hadn't complained: the quarters were nicer and more spacious, not to mention warmer than elsewhere in the city, and it had become obvious he wouldn't be coming back to Warsaw this winter. Somewhere in the process, they had commissioned Grynszpan a captain and designated his unit the First Railroad Battallion. The NA leadership was generous in throwing around designations, but stingier when it came to things that cost money. None of his men had uniforms, so they used the surplus armbands Rabinovicz had brought along. Many of them were Jewish, and those that weren't had no problem with it – or at least, none they dared voice within earshot. Less than half of them had regulation arms, though everyone had at least rustled up a revolver or shotgun. Dressed in their leather jackets and workers' caps, they made a startling contrast to their greatcoated guards, but warmth and vodka made great equalisers.

Grynszpan, it had turned out, was a gifted engineer – or tinkerer, which was what the situation called for more often than not. He and his men had figured out ways of riveting boiler plate on to flatbed wagons and producing workable gun carriages from rails and floorboards. They had produced two cars with revolving turrets for Russian M1877 guns and armoured sponsons for machine guns, and one that would hold a mortar (if they ever got it delivered). They had alsop, on the whim of Grynszpan who had been reading up on German military maneuvers, put machine guns on two motor cars they had liberated from previous Russian owners. General Brianski now drove around in one of them. He had not thought to send them another MG to replace the one they had fitted on the car, though.

“Nippy out there, isn't it?” Grynszpan opened the conversation, squeezing into the cramped office that served him and Rabinovicz as their headquarters. the oven was practically glowing. Having no limit on their fuel ration was a perk of manning a railyard. Rabinovicz nodded absently. He was reading through requisitions and organisation tables. That was his way of doing things, of course. Grynszpan thought it was silly.

“Being German again?”, he needled. “You know, your Germans don't really have the answer to everything.”

Rabinovicz nodded again. “M-hm. They're pretty good at beating the Russians, though. That matters to me.”

Grynszpan shrugged. “I though that, too. But you realise they've been sitting on the solution for their gun truck problem for a year now and not noticed yet? They can be just as dumb as anyone.”

Rabinovicz looked up. Grynszpan's opinions on command procedure weren't much, but he could be trusted to know his technology. It was always worth discussing that with him. “The what?”

“Gun trucks. I've been reading the papers. The Germans have been trying to put guns on trucks for a couple of years now. Not only they, but especially. The problem is that guns kill your suspension. A railcar can just about take one. So they've been doing the same thing as everyone and put machine guns on motorcars. It works, but it's nothing to write home about.”

“They armour them, though, don't they?” Rabinovicz was interested now.

“Sure. as well as you can, anyway. The details are secret, but any idiot can see you can only put so much weight on a car. Anyhow, at the same time, they've been doing a lot of work with small mortars. Nogi mortars, they call them.”

“I know those. Didn't we make a couple?” Rabinovicz recalled stories about the sheer terror of test-firing lathe-turned wooden mortar tubes. That the Japanese had used them was a measure of their desperation as much as anything.

“They have metal ones. And here's the thing: a mortar that size has got to have a pretty powerful charge. Not like an artillery gun, but enough to put a shell through a door, or even a poorly built wall.”

He paused as if expecting the penny to drop. After a second or two, he deigned to explain. “That's all you want in most cases. Put one of these mortars on a truck and you have as close to artillery as you are going to need.”

Rabinovicz smiled involuntarily. He could just see how the Germans would have missed that. The engineer continued: “If you want more punch, you could also get some old anti-torpedo boat guns. Anything you could put on a mast top would work on a truck, too, I guess.”

“You should talk to Lewin.” he suggested. “I'm sure there is some kind of form to fill in if someone has a bright idea.”

18 December 1905, Berlin

Another day, and another round of dreary news. I have been trying to keep abreast of the situation in the Polish camps on the border, and it is horrid enough. I really don't know how people live under those circumstances, but they do. More come almost every day. I was so happy to have managed to raise some money, and there was much more from other charities and donors, but it is never enough. If only the government could do more, but there is nothing budgeted for it. Oh, had we only asked the Reichstag for funds before. They are so stingy, but at least there would have been a chance. Now they will never agree. Wilhelm has already exhausted his meagre fund for special occasions, and he tells me he cannot divert much more from his estate. He really cannot. And I suppose he must be planning something, too, something he will not tell me about. But oh, what poor shape he is in now. All of Berlin is talking about the scandal. The chancellor has shot himself, the ministers are in an uproar and Wilhelm tells me Prince Albert hasn't spoken to anyone in two days. He is quite beside himself for want of advice, and I can give him so little. All the press is falling upon him, and the papers have demanded he abdicate and make his brother emperor. Oh, I felt guilty to hear this the first time, I half hoped he might, so we might have more time together. But he never will. Wilhelm is a man of duty, he knows what fate has decreed as his lot. I feel only so weak not to have more to give him. Words are weak, and the comfort of my body will avail little against the weight of his worries. And to think when he spoke of having to marry to dispel the rumours, he almost cried. How I despise these self-righteous apostles of virtue, always salivating for the next bit of scandal fit to claw to pieces their fellow men. I wish I knew more of Berlin, for surely they are just as bigoted liars and secret fornicators as those we had in Munich. What shall the future bring? Wilhelm is so alone now. I hope that Rathenau will come again soon, he will know what to do. The ministers and staff are useless, worse than useless. Kuno von Moltke, they say, will retire, and may be court-martialled. People were throwing eggs at him when he rode out today. Everyone seems only to wait for the chance to take another's post. What an awful city Berlin is. ...

(Diary of Fanny zu Reventlow)

19 December 1905 Potsdam

“Well,” General von Falkenhayn pushed away the coffee cup and looked at his friend across the table, “What do you think, Mackensen?”

Between them lay a thin manila folder and a letter outlining the newly created position that His Majesty was offering the general. With Wilhelm, an offer was just that – Falkenhayn knew he could realistically decline. It would mean no promotion this turn, but it would also keep him on the general staff, where commands and promotions were more easily had than elsewhere. By contrast, nobody was quite sure what an office of military technology and research would do, other than please the emperor's schoolboy enthusiasm for giving his army the newest toys.

Mackensen shrugged, jiggling the braids on his trademark Hussar uniform. He always looked slightly out of place in staff circles, where spartan simplicity was the norm, but you could see his point. With no von to his name, he had something to make up. “I don't know. What does Schlieffen think?”, he asked.

“Schlieffen is a wonderful traditionalist,” the general replied, “and convinced that this is largely a waste of resources. Nothing we could possibly invent, he says, will make a n appreciable difference in the greater scheme of things. The fundamentals of warfare stand.” Falkenhayn paused. “I'm not that sure, myself.”

“So, why not accept? You'd have your own fiefdom to run, a secure position for life if no war comes. And admit it, you are interested.” Falkenhayn had been running the general staff's materiel procurement department where new weapons were evaluated and contracts written. Initially, he had balked at the assignment then, too, but he found that the emperor took a strong personal interest in new weaponry and frequently consulted with him. It had drawn the envy of a few officers of greater seniority whose more prestigious billets drew less of the all-highest enthusiasm. Mackensen himself would have accepted the slot, but as a career cavalryman with his strong suit in operations knew he would never be offered it.

“I might well be parking myself behind a desk forever, August.” Falkenhayn fretted. “I'm not too old for a field command yet, but if war comes and I spend it playing with machine gun cars in Jüterbog, I'd never forgive myself.”

“Well, what did the men who gave the navy its steamships think about that?”, Mackensen asked. “Imagine: you could oversee the introduction of an entirely new type of army. Look at it from that perspective one, Erich. You'd do a lot more good than you can back in Potsdam.”

Falkenhayn nodded. To a cavalryman like Mackensen, the idea of a motorised army was naturally appealing. He was more sceptical himself, but unlike many of his colleagues, he found machine guns, cars and airships challenging, in an abstract fashion. How would you integrate them into the strategic doctrine? How address them tactically? As far as he was concerned, these things were given too little thought.

“I suppose you are right.”, he admitted. Then he picked up the folder again and thoughtfully traced the fateful lines. Chef des neu zu schaffenden Heeresamtes für Wehrtechnik und Forschung im Range eines Generalleutnants. Well, it would be something new.

20 December 1905, Daressalam

The port of Daressalam was shrouded in morning mist, palms waving picturesquely and native porters unloaded ships and bumboats plied the waters. Ludendorff dabbed his neck and forehead with his handkerchief, cursing the tropical weather. And this was WINTER? He did not look forward to the coming years. Neither was he terribly impressed with Governor Solf who had come to meet him at the port. A shortish man with thinning hair and a notable double chin, his soft, round features and gentle hands visibly contrasted with the officer's muscular bulk. He had read up on the governor, a lawyer and scholar, and a defender of the natives' right to indolence and primitivism. Started out as a tax manager and stayed on to run Ostafrika when they recalled his boss. His superiors thought the world of him, apparently – the emperor had lauded the “System Solf” to the high heavens – and he was a capable diplomat, but it was evident to Ludendorff that the man did not understand rulership. His assumption was vindicated on hearing that he did indeed have a military problem to solve for his new commander.

“Liwale!” he addressed his officers after a brief introduction. They, at least, seemed suitably impressed with the celestial figure of a general officer descending from the refined spheres of Potsdam into their midst. ”The town must be relieved. That is our first and foremost objective, and I fully intend to achieve it this winter. Any suggestions, gentlemen?”

“General, I don't think it is wise to concentrate our efforts on a single military target.” that was Major Johannes, an officer who had already fought local tribes. Ludendorff nodded attentively.

“The rebellion seems to be mostly a matter of widespread disaffection and agitation by negro medicine men. There is no single leader or army we could find, and the attackers dissolved after their first siege of Liwale failed. The post is still at highest alert and the request for relief is urgent, but to our knowledge, there haven't been any further attacks. What we must consider is hardening all other potential targets. From what we hear, the negroes are especially angry at the cotton planters. We need to be ready to protect plantations”

“Very well, Major.” Ludendorff replied. “How do you suggest achieving this security? As far as I am aware, my command is limited to about 600 men. I do not see how we can build up a massive presence throughout the rebellious country.”

Governor Solf set down his glass of ginger beer on the map table and pointed out: “Do not forget the native contingents. We rely too much on Askari, General. They are frightfully expensive and often behave beastly towards the locals.”

“Sir, rugaruga are damned unreliable.” Johannes countered, barely hiding his exasperation. His experiences with native mercenaries had been poor, especially compared with the highly disciplined and thoroughly trained Askari the colonial Schutztruppe relied on. Solf nodded mildly.

“I know that, Major. But I was not talking of your hired bullyboys. I am certain we can motivate loyal chiefs to raise their own forces in our support, as a matter of fact.”

Ludendorff noticed that Major Johannes did not seem convinced, but kept quiet. He had himself decided that some native contingents would be required, but was not yure yet how to best recruit them. If Solf had loyal chiefs in mind, he would have to find out.

“Very well,” he said, “the protection of the local whites will be our first priority. I believe a demonstration of our military strength should serve the purpose. Major, how many men, whites and Askari, can we safely spare for a march to Mahenge, Liwale and Ssongea? We can pick up native porters and auxiliaries along the way if we want to, but it is voital that the local chiefs see us in battle array. Any resistance or signs of rebellion along the way will be punished swiftly!”

Solf nodded pensively. “General, I can send along a few translators and assessor Vehring. He is very good with the natives. You should not have much trouble.”Ludendorrff gave him a perfunctory nod of thanks.

“But please consider,” he continued, “many of the chiefs you will encounter are proud and warlike men. You may have met the negro porters and Sambos of Daressalam already, but I assure you, they are not at all like those. Think of them as somewhat like the ancient Germans, and you will get further. The inland tribes can be dangerous, but they can be reasoned with if you respect their pride.“

Ludendorff smiled. Men! Maybe this posting was not so bad after all. He had spent much of his career hoping to lock blades with the cossack, dreaming of a clean, clear-cut kind of fighting where his enemy was as much a man of war as he was. If he now had to look for it in the tropical highlands of Donde province instead of the snowbound plains of Russia, then so be it.

“Governor, I will not refuse any fighting man who will stand with the flag of the Emperor! I will punish all rebels and bandits as I find them, but a loyal warrior need fear nothing from me or my men.” His pose made Solf regret there was no photographer on hand, but something told him one would be on hand when the expedition moved out. Whenever that would be – Ostafrika had its own rhythm, and assembling troops in such numbers could easily meet with delays of all kind.

“Will you be taking ship to Kilwi?”, he asked.

“I don't think so, Sir. The most important point is that the natives must see our power with their own eyes. In fact, I am of a mind to request some extra troops from Berlin. Soldiers could do with some seasoning in battle, and the authority of the emperor will be helped along by the sight here.”

Solf smiled wanly. “You'll be out of luck there, general.” he explained. “Berlin is cheeseparing its colonial commitments. Even Leutwein has had to fight his war in Südwest on a shoestring budget, and I think the only reason we still have the colony is that the Herero make such fine auxiliaries. Ostafrika has been a peaceful place since the 1880s. We will just have to rely on our own ingenuity to keep it that way.”

The message hit home. Ludendorff did not seem happy at the prospect, but you could see the brain behind his massive, meaty starting to work almost immediately.

“Well, gentlemen!” He turned to the assembled officers with one last disapproving glance sweeping over the ginger beer bottles, ash trays and discarded uniform caps littering the mess table. “We will prove ourselves in battle with barbarian savages. In this great enterprise, I will expect no less of every man under my command than to represent the finest ideals of Prussian soldiering. We will be paragons of all military virtue at all times. Men for the negro to rightly look up to. This unit we will be forming shall be referred to as the Mahenge relief column, and the headquarters for this war will be designated Oberkommando Ostafrika. And the men of Ober Ost will be the finest soldiers this part of the world has seen, or they will answer to me, gentlemen.”
21 December 1905, Moscow

The Kremlin may have been awe-inspiring, but Grand prince Nikolai also found it both stuffy and musty, the views too constricted and the labyrinthine structure exasperating. Of course, part of this was due to the fact he did not wish to be here. He was used to roaming the country on inspection tours or working away in his offices in St Petersburg and still resented the Czar's increasing fixation on having his trusted officials in his immediate vicinity. At least, he told himself, he could still rely – somewhat - on the confidence of his emperor, even though he frequently disagreed with him. He had lost enough good men to the pointless bouts of distrust that Nicholas suffered. Dieterikhs and Druve were gone, Rennenkampf had retired to his estate, and Mannerheim ... Nikolai still could not understand. He had tried to shield the man from the Slavophile purges that had begun in the second year of war. He had even written a personal note to Nicholas imploring him not to dismiss the man. Wounded pride was a terrible thing, and Mannerheim had pride in spades. Still, to betray his ruler like this was unthinkable. Nikolai shuddered at the thought. After this war was over, he regretted, Mannerheim would be executed. Nothing less would do.

A knock on the ornate doors made the grand prince turn his head. A page opened and ushered in General Alexei Brusilov, the man he had asked to see him today. A slight man with an almost comically wide handlebar moustache, Brusilov had been commander of the cavalry officers' school in St Petersburg until the war. Since then, he had been sent hither and yon by the army, a man great things were expected of, but who had not yet been found a place to do them in. Nikolai had decided to appropriate him temporarily when he moved through Moscow. Brusilov saluted and stood, ramrod-straight, expectant.

“Take a seat, general.”, Nikolai invited him,”I will have the page bring us tea.”

The general sat down somewhat fussily and said his thanks. He did not seem ebntirely happy to be here. it made sense, Nikolai thought. Nobody was, really. Brusilov was a kindred soul, someone who yearned to do useful things. He decided to start the interview off by plunging in at the deep end.

“General, I have called you today to discuss the pacification of Poland and Finland following a peace settlement with Japan.”

Brusilov's eyes widened.

“I take it you have given this matter thought. General, how do you feel about the prospect? You may speak freely. I am looking for your opinion to build mine.” This kind of thing had become more necessary to say lately. The general still hesitated before speaking.

“Your highness, needless to say I am not happy with it. I wish we had beaten the Japs, and truth be told, we should have beaten them. But that is, of course, beside the point, Your Highness. The war has gone badly for us, and we should take our lumps and put our house in order before worse things happen. What are we going to lose, anyway? Sakhalin and Manchuria, these do not really matter very much. I know others think differently, of course, but I never shared the belief that possessions in the Far East would be very profitable or important.”

The circumlocution was aptly chosen. Nikolai was intrigued by the position, too. “Why would you say that, general?”

“Simply put, Your Highness, because there are too many Chinese. The land has potential for development, maybe more so than Siberia or Bokhara, but no European power will be able to hold it in the long run. Any investment we make in Manchuria now will, in fifty or seventy years' time, benefit the Chinese. We might as well concentrate on developing what we already hold and settling it with enough Russians to safeguard it for the future.”

“So, you would favour a peace with Japan?”

“No, Your Highness, but I think it would be wise to make one. In a few decades' time we might return to the issue. Japan is not a powerful country, and we are. But we gain nothing from continuing to stick our ... hand in this mousetrap.”

Nikolai chuckled. “I was in the cavalry school, too, general. And I agree with you. I have hope that we will be able to settle the conflict with Japan soon and return to put our own house in order, as you say. What are your suggestions for this?”

Brusilov hesitated again. The page returned with teacups and served, giving him welcome breathing room. Finally, he mustered his courage: “I am not a politician, Your Highness...”

“I am asking you as a soldier.”

“Well, Your Highness, I'm afraid I can't see how it can be done all at once. I've seen what things are like along the Siberian railway and in Moscow, and I can only guess what Warsaw or Helsingfors will be like. Or the countryside. Unless it is a lot less bad elsewhere, the first thing you will have to do is restore order in the country. The cities are less urgent. This is important to remember: the cities can only live if the country feeds them. I think the government actually has that part right, though whether we really need to be quite so... rigorous...”

“ open to debate.”, Nikolai completed the sentence. “I understand. we will see whether this policy is not subject to revision at some point. More importantly, do you judge it effective?”

“Yes, Your Highness. Indubitably. The great weakness of the cities is that they may be able to organise, but they cannot support themselves. It is the equivalent of interdicting the enemy's supplies, like the cossacks did for Napoleon or ... well, it works.” He stopped short of pointing out that the Japanese hunghutze had done it to them. Nikolai was a forgiving commander by all accounts, but there were limits to what you could get away with.

“Anyway, the point is that it is an effective strategy. The people need to find food, which means they won't be available to do anything else. I've heard there are people's councils in a few places that are trying to work out distribution, but I doubt they can make it work without an organised fighting force. But it leaves the second step unaddressed. the countryside.”

Nikolai stopped him. “You would say this is enough to reduce the cities?”

“Militarily, yes. By spring, it will be possible to march into most places and restore order by opening the bakeries. But politically, the resentment may be a problem. As I said, Your Highness, I'm not a politician...”

The grand prince nodded. There was no point insisting on the general making a pointless and dangerous criticism of his emperor's policy. He had given his professional advice and his opinion was his own. “You were talking about the countryside.”

“Yes, Your Highness. This will mostly be a punitive operation. The peasants are not organised even at the regional level. It's almost every village for itself. Turning out with overwhelming force will easily break their resistance. A company of light cavalry could pacify a district in a few months. Of course it will depend on how much force we are willing to apply. If we are looking to let bygones be bygones, or even make some accommodation, restoring order would be much easier. But either way, it will be possible. Not pleasant duty, though.” Unlike the grand prince, Brusilov knew what punitive expeditions were like: the begging relatives, the crying women, flogging backs raw and bloody, the wanton destruction and brutality, soldiers often drunk and resentful of their duty, the rapes, shootings and random brutalisations. He hated it. Nilkolai nodded his understanding.

“To do this, we will need to reassure ourselves of the army, of course. I believe the cavalry is sound. Most of our problems came from infantry, often garrison troops. These need to be moved away from their bases. Marching them is a good way of restoring discipline, and if it is done under cavalry guard, we do not risk mutiny or mass desertion. reliable troops can be used to garrison resisting cities and unreliable ones brought into safe ones, after a few months under canvas. That should be enough in most cases.”

Nikolai took a note. “Very good. Continue, please. What of the resisting cities?”

“They will be hard. Not impossible, but it will take troops and artillery, I think. A show of force will not be enough. but after this winter, there won't be many left. Most people will be ready to submit when the offer is made.”

“How long do you suppose all of this will take, then?” Nikoilai asked, anxious for the first time. He did not relish the thought of carrying war and destruction into his own cities.

“I think that we will be lucky to be finished by the coming summer. It is more likely to take the whole year. That is my greatest concern, I must admit. By the time we are ready to move against Poland, the rebels may be firmly entrenched.”

“You do not think it would be possible to retake Poland simultaneously, by the same strategy?”

Brusilov shook his head hesitantly. “I am not sure, Your Highness. But I doubt it. The Germans are supporting them, after all. They have organisation. If we strike the Poles in one place, they will withdraw there and hit us elsewhere. The Russian rebellion has no structure, but theirs does.”

“Thank you, general.” Nikolai rose and shook the surprised man's hand. “Thank you for your honesty. I will ask one more thing of you: write downn your plan in a memorandum.” He raised his hand. “Do not worry, General. You are assigned to my staff, I will ensure you can get access to any information you require for the purpose. Yes, this is going to be political, but do not worry. You are on the right side.”

23 December 1905 , Berlin



Having weighed the potential ramifications of a unilateral declaration of war against Russia, it is conluded that the risks significantly outweigh any possible benefits at this time. This is the case both in view of the odium that would attach to the initiator of a purely preemptive war for no reason other than favourable position, and of the political and military facts facing the German government at this juncture. This all-highest decision is predicated on the following considerations:

The moral, being that to declare war lacking sound casus belli must be considered a criminal act against all civilised humanity that Germany may not become guilty of. The damage to the government's reputation both within and without the country would be such that even the most comprehensive of victories would do little to restore or compensate it. For a country in a still precarious position of power threatened by potential alliances to both the east and west, this risk is unacceptable, especially with a view to the importance of the English-speaking countries to our continued security. The importance of public opinion in these cannot be overestimated. All this to be considered prior to the fact that the act would be personally disagreeable to me.

The foreign political, being that the architecture of our primary alliances is purely defensive. The public treaty with Austria-Hungary makes provision solely for a declaration of war by Russia on either party, but does not obligate either to support a declaration made by the other on its own initiative. it must be considered at the very least doubtful that Vienna can be convinced to join so risky an enterprise from its current position of weakness, doubly so since the continuing power of Pan-Slavic sentiment stirred up Russia within its own territories and its Balkan neighbours presents it with a complex political problem. The secret agreement with Britain, in turn, obligates both parties to support the other in the event of a declaration of war by France, but it is highly unlikely that any British government would be willing or able to honour such a commitment in support of a perceived aggressor, with the French declaration of war triggered by its own commitments of alliance. In this event we would be faced with a war on two fronts against powerful enemies, relying for our continuing access to raw materials on the benevolent neutrality of Britain in the face of superior enemy naval strength and having to divide our forces. Naval and military dispositions have been outlined above.

The domestic political, being that such a move would force the all-highest government at a time of the greatest turmoil to engage a Reichstag known in its majority to oppose the initiation of a preemptive war. A dissolution of the Reichstag and possibly military rule may be considered, but represent extreme means that should only be used in the event of being forced to apply them. No choice by the all-highest government should entail such desperate measures. Thus, this would necessitate reliance on the parliamentary support of conservative and national parties known to favour war, requiring concession s to be made to them that would, in sum, endanger the internal peace of both the Kingdom of Prussia and the entire German Empire.

The military, being that despite the current weakness of its government, the Russian military remains in being and capable of mounting an effective defense. While the ultimate outcome of the confrontation is open to little doubt given the state of the Russian military establishment, the breadth of territory and weight of losses that the sheer size allows it to absorb before being compelled to seek terms makes a quick victory improbable. While engaged in such a war, Germany's western flank would be vulnerable to French attack, with the need of defending this quarter hampering our ability to deploy our full military power against a weakened Russia as envisioned by some.

Given these circumstances, it is the considered decision of the all-highest government at this time not to engage in war with Russia.

In consideration of the courage and desperate plight of the Polish and Finnish patriots having risen to liberate their countries, it is incumbent upon us to undertake to support their cause by any means that honour and custom allows. [pencil mark on Krupp zu Rathenau's copy: Bastard!]

The all-highest government., mindful of its obligation as a civilised European power to maintain the peace of the continent, will initiate the formation of an international great-power conference to settle the question of Poland and Finland. It is the opinion of this government that a form of internal self-government acceptable to all parties should be considered a sufficient and equitable solution.

(memorandum by Wilhelm III, hand-typed by Secretary von Ammersleben for distribution to senior cabinet and entourage members)

26 December 1905, Hamburg

Departed from port this day: SS Hedwig Laeisz. Destination: St Petersburg. Cargo: Grain, legumes, sugar, tinned meat. Recipient: For charity distribution. Charter: Consumer Cooperative “Produktion”.

27 December 1905, Gatchina

The barracks of the blue cuirassiers were more of a home to Grand prince Mikhail than Moscow ever could be. On returning to his regiment after his long stay with the itinerant court, the young man found a sense of purpose and usefulness he had missed during these long months. Of course, his rank precluded him from any real danger, but he was at least taking part in the plans and preparations being made. The trip through the snowbound hills alone had been a thrilling ride – the railways from St Petersburg were unsafe, occasionally patrolled by armed Socialists, so he had detrained well south of the city and made his way on horseback and by sleigh, accompanied by a detail of the life guards. These poor fellows were now sitting idle in the guardrooms of Gatchina Palace where their charge came only to sleep. Mikhail preferred to spend his days with the officers of the garrison, drilling troops, talking tactics and strategy, readying for the advance into the city. It felt somewhat like a siege, but he had something useful to do.

Right now, seated in the creaky but comfortable chairs in the map room of the commanding general's residence, he was talking strategy with Colonel Denikin. Mikhail fopund himself impressed by the infantry officer, though he often thought that the man's arrow-straight rectitude and devotion to the letter of the law would have made him happier in the Prussian army than in that of the Czar.

“The cuirassiers will have to stand back. It's not about your person, it is a matter of tactics. we do not expect to be dispersing rioters or protesters, where cavalry sabres are useful. The rebels in St Petersburg are going to fight us from the moment we set foot in the city. Heavy cavalry would only make a target. Sir.”

Mikhail nodded. Personally, he felt sorry for his regiment, but it was obviously right.

“Don't worry, Sir. There'll be enough for them to do once we're going up against the Germans.”

The grand prince smiled grimly. One of the less appealing aspects of the secrecy that surrounded Russia's government was that everyone thought they had the secrets figured out. Of course, his brother had increasingly frozen him out of the deliberations of the State Council, so it was entirely plausible Denikin might really know something more than he. He decided to probe a bit.

“What makes you so sure, colonel? We aren't even finished with the Japanese yet, and that's not been going that well lately.”

You could talk that way to Denikin. He was uptight and sometimes prickly, but he would not snitch on a fellow officer. Certainly not one with the political connections to make it risky, but even on general principle. If he couldn't tell you something, he'd tell you so.

“Sir, it's obvious.”, he pointed out. “We cannot let the kind of insult they inflicted go unpunished. Preparations are under way, and the situation is favourable.”

That was news for Mikhail.

“Look at the dispositions. The emperor has called on General Sukhomlinov to command operations in the “Western Theatre”. They sent a circular to pretty much everyone. No new troops are being sent east. I'm confident we will have peace with Japan soon, and then we will go to Berlin.”

Of course, Mikhail had been thinking along those lines himself. The appointment was out of the ordinary, and many commanders of military districts had been upset. Of course the official line was that he would be reorganising command as part of the coming military reform. Mikhail was certain it had more to do with restoring order in unreliable units and quelling mutinies. He was sure that there had been more of these than the press admitted, though even he was not privy to exactly how many. Sukhomlinov did not strike him as an ideal choice to fight a war, much more so to coordinate and organise an institutional effort.

“I think that may be more to do with the rebellion. You know it must be worse than the papers allow.” A quick gesture taking in their environs pointed to the obvious: if over ten thousand men at Gatchina – reinforced by the remaining loyal forces from St Petersburg and Zarskoye Selo – could not just take back the city, then things were a lot worse than the national papers said. Who knew what it was like in Kiev, in Minsk, Odessa, Vilna or Novgorod? Not good, they all supposed.

“The rabble is not a real enemy.” Denikin replied. “I suppose you know more about what is happening at the court anyway, but it won't take us more than the spring to clean up this mess. We are mainly waiting for the troops to be in position, they we'll restore order. And then, what better way to restore Russia's position in the world and unite the country than to beat the enemy who inflicted this crisis on us in the first place?”

“I don't know a lot more than you do, actually, colonel.” Mikhail pointed out. Denikin seemed unconvinced. “The emperor believes in keeping important information in as few hands as possible. everyone is told only what they need to know, and there are no exceptions for friends and family.”

The grand duke did not exactly radiate conviction. Denikin seemed puzzled for a moment.

“It is – regrettable that His Majesty should forgo the advice of an able military leader.”, he said in the end. Mikhail glanced at his face. The man seemed entirely serious. That was worth remembering.