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"The End of the Kaiser" is one of several series of articles and stories that The Glasgow Sunday Post commissioned Edgar Wallace to write in the late 1910's—some under his own name, some under the house name "John Anstruther."
The editor introduced this pseudo-documentary series with the words:
Today we print the first instalment of an amazing document compiled by Edgar Wallace, and revealing the secret history of those tragic days which elapsed between Ludendorff's confession that the German Army was defeated and the flight of Wilhelm to Holland. This document is a translation of personal manuscripts prepared in Switzerland by Heinrich Berghmann, who acted as courier confidential to the German Emperor, and is now published for the first time, and exclusively in The Sunday Post.
There is no known historical record of an Imperial courier by the name of Heinrich Berghmann. A Boolean search of the Internet for this name returned no usable results. Indeed, "Heinrich Berghmann" is not, strictly speaking, a valid German name; to qualify as such it would have to be written "Heinrich Bergmann." There are several entries under this name in Wikipedia, but none that fits the historical bill. The name "Berghmann" does acutally exist (it is found in Belgium, for example), but, at the time of writing, it was not listed in any German telephone directory.
The series "The End of the Kaiser" has, until now, never appeared in book form. The present e-book edition was produced from donated image files of the The Glasgow Sunday Post.
Each installment of the series was printed with one or more illustrations. The present e-book is illustrated with a mixture of enhanced copies of the original newapaper photographs and identical (or very similar) higher-quality photographs from other sources.
The poor quality of the original newspaper scans precluded the use of optical character recognition (OCR) software to create editable text, so it was necessary to transcribe the complete work in order to produce this e-book. On a number of the scans parts of the text were almost of completely illegible. In some cases, the context made it possible to determine which word or words were used, and these have been inserted into the text without comment. In cases of doubt brackets have been used to identify words added by the editor.
—Roy Glashan, October 2016
To-day we print the first instalment of an amazing document compiled by Mr. Edgar Wallace, and revealing the secret history of those tragic days which elapsed between Ludendorff's confession that the German Army was defeated and the flight of Wilhelm to Holland. This document is a translation of personal manuscripts prepared in Switzerland by Heinrich Berghmann, who acted as courier confidential to the German Emperor, and is now published for the first time, and exclusively in The Sunday Post.
THERE was a time when I thought that I should spend my old age writing my reminiscences of a Court which has seen fewer changes than any Court in Europe. I had hoped to put on record a plain, straightforward story of progress and triumph, from the days when first William was declared German Emperor at Versailles to the culminating triumph of his grandson.
I think we Germans had every right to believe that our cause would prevail, and certainly we hard-worked officials, who are called "courtiers", who lived near to the heart of things, who saw Kingship at close quarters, who were acquainted with the extraordinary organisation which was called the German Army, who knew of the portfolios and pigeon-holes at the Ministry of War which were filled with plans and alternative plans, and who had victory bred in our bones—we certainly had no reason to doubt the issue of the Great War when it broke forth in July, 1914.
So what has happened has been a shocking revelation which has left us dazed and paralysed.
One does not know where to begin the tale of disaster which has resulted in a proud Empire being humbled to the dust, and every attempt to find a beginning for the narrative of defeat ends in a will-o'-the-wisp chase after dates which recede till they go back beyond William, yea, even to the Elector!
In calmer times and under happier circumstances I hope to set out the history of the House of Hohenzollern from the first of the great Brandenburgers to William. But to-day I am confining myself to recording the events which marked the actual period of downfall—i.e., the period between Ludendorff's fateful communication to the Emperor and his flight to Holland. That in itself must one day produce a literature of its own. At the moment it is difficult to offer a truly faithful account, as so many of the actors are un-get-at-able, and it is impossible to compare their stories with the facts as we know them. It is only by intelligent comparison that history can be written.
In this and those chapters which follow, however, I have got together a great deal of material which has never before been published. I have had to rely upon the hurried accounts which have been given to me by aides-de-camp, personal attendants, friends of mine at the various Courts, and I have had to verify these in the most hurried manner, sometimes journeying to great railway junctions in order to interview an illustrious personage who was passing through, and who very often resented being questioned in order to detail scraps of a conversation or to verify dates from their memories, and which they are in no great anxiety to revive at two o'clock in the morning!
Sometimes it has been a fugitive Lady-in-Waiting—one of the ladies of the suite of the Empress, who arrived in Holland after the Kaiser—who was very useful in giving me a great deal of information concerning the attitude of the Kaiserin to the revolution.
I HAVE endeavoured so to present this narrative that the joins do not show. Wherever a story outraged the probabilities I have omitted that story. Nobody knows better than I how false and ill-founded are some of the stories that circulate about the Kaiser and the Crown Prince; and whilst some inaccuracies may appear in this present history, as is inevitable from the rapidity with which I have collected my material, the intelligence of the reader will not be offended by the inherently improbable.
The Imperial Army Headquarters did not by any means echo the optimism of the official communiqués which were issued in June and July of last year. Yet there was a clique who never lost their confidence. They pooh-poohed any hint that their great plans would fail in the slightest particular. Curiously enough, these men were not members of Ludendorff's staff. And I say "curiously enough" because Ludendorff himself had not lost confidence. You know that the direction of the war was left in the hands of Ludendorff, and that Hindenburg was a secondary figure. The old Field-Marshal took his supersession remarkably well, or, as you Britishers would say, in a most sporting spirit.
He never put any obstacle in the way of his ambitious Quartermaster-General, and gave him the most loyal support that one man could give to another; nay, more than this, he helped by advice (when it was sought), by the sincerest friendliness and cooperation, to give Ludendorff the victory which would certainly have resulted in the old man's eclipse.
One day in July the Emperor sent for me to his villa at Fraincuse, the country seat he occupied at Spa. I found him walking up and down the garden, his hands behind his back, his head sunk on his breast, in the deepest meditation.
"Ah! Heinrich," he greeted me, "I heard you were in Spa, so I sent for you. I thought you were in Berlin."
I told him I had just come through with documents from the Accountancy Department which required the signature of the Quartermaster General. They were accounts of the Kaiser's personal expenses, which were borne on the payroll of the army. He smiled grimly.
"I think the Quartermaster General has too much to occupy his mind at this moment, Berghmann," he said.
HE was looking older than I had ever seen him before, and for the first time in my life I noticed that he made no attempt to conceal the infirmity of his left arm. Usually he puts his hand in his left pocket or carries it on the hilt of his sword, but now it was swinging loose, though it was still gloved.
We paced up and down the lawn. His mind was evidently occupied with great matters, for he did not speak for at least ten minutes. Then he turned to me suddenly.
"What are they saying in Berlin?" he asked.
"About the offensive, Majesty?"
The Emperor nodded, and I hesitated to reply, because the old spirit of absolute confidence had given way to doubt and anxiety.
"You need not answer," he said. "Those fellows want victory all the time. They would have a victory every week—yes, and every day—and nothing less than that will please them. We have put Russia out of the war, we have driven the British to the sea, and in a months' time we shall be in Paris. Does that not satisfy them?"
His voice rose in anger, and I made some commonplace remark about the ingratitude of civilians.
"It isn't ingratitude," he replied, "it's sheer ignorance. We have spent millions of pounds to educate the people of Germany to military necessities, and they are just as dense and thick-headed to-day as they were forty years ago!"
"Does Majesty believe we shall be in Paris in a month?"
The Emperor nodded.
"I am certain, Berghmann," he said emphatically, "this is to be the last great offensive. If the British continue after we have reached Paris they will be bigger fools than I ever thought."
"Has Majesty any news of the American Army?" I asked.
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
"The American Army! What is the American Army? No less than a mob, Berghmann. They have no discipline, no knowledge of military affairs, and they are already quarrelling with the French."
"Is the army of any great size?" I asked.
"What matters the size?" he replied impatiently. "A big mob or a small mob, it is all one. Discipline, discipline, discipline."
HE hammered in the air with his fist to emphasise the word.
"That is the only thing that counts, Berghmann. We know what we are going to do, and the Entente Powers do not know. They have no objective planned, and an army without any objective is an army half-beaten."
I was hoping that he would discuss the great scheme, but no! He was more reticent than I have found him. In true seriousness there was this about the Emperor which many of us found embarrassing, that he would grow so enthusiastic over some secret plan that he could not stop himself talking about it.
I went on to Berlin that night, and was summoned to Sanssouci by the Empress, who had heard I had come from Imperial Headquarters, and was anxious to know whether I had seen the Emperor. She had just recovered from one of the bouts of that nervous affliction which so distressed her and distressed the Emperor.
"How was Majesty looking?" she asked.
I replied that he was not looking as well as I had hoped to see him, but pointed out how anxious and difficult the times were.
"Your Majesty cannot expect the Emperor to be as bright and gay as he was in the old days," I said.
"Did he say anything about the offensive?" she asked anxiously.
I told her all that the Emperor had said, but she was by no means satisfied.
"Majesty does not realise how the feelings of the people have changed here," she said. "I wish you could go down to Trèves* and see the Crown Prince and tell him all you have told me".
[* Trèves: French name of Trier.]
I was rather surprised at this request, because there was very little that I could tell her. Nevertheless, she seemed to think that my impression of the Emperor should go on to the Crown Prince, and accordingly I sought permission from my chief to absent myself, and went on by the Duty Officer's train the following morning.
THE Crown Prince was out when I arrived. He had been up in the line, and was in consultation with the Divisional General commanding to the east of Rheims. I went to my lodgings about half-past seven; just after I had finished my dinner his aide-de-camp called for me, and said that the Crown Prince had returned and was very anxious to see me. I went across to the villa he occupied, and found him alone except for General von Einem.
He nodded pleasantly as I came in, and pointed to a chair.
"Sit down, von Berghmann," he said. "I hear you have come from Imperial Headquarters. Did you see the Emperor?"
Again I detailed my experience, and he seemed concerned when I described to him the emphasis with which the Kaiser had said that we should be in Paris within a month.
"I do not believe it," said the Crown Prince, shaking his head. "We can try, but we have given the Entente Powers too long a time to make their preparations for defense. They know our form of attack, and they know that we shall not vary it in the slightest degree. Then too, they have received enormous reinforcements."
"But the Emperor does not think much of the Americans," I said, and again the Crown Prince shook his head.
"I think the Emperor is very ill-advised," he said. "Most of the Americans are on my front or before the Duke of Württemberg. We had a better opportunity of testing their mettle than have the Northern generals, who have the Emperor's ear. As to the talk about their not being disciplined, that is rubbish," he said. "They are quite well enough disciplined to hold on to a position until they are wiped out, and that is the kind of discipline which is counting just now, when we are staking everything on breaking through. Half a dozen machine-gun posts which refuse to surrender will hold up a division at a crucial moment, and that has been our experience, both with the French and Americans. Of course, it is possible that we may break through by a fluke, as we broke through against the British in March, but I am certainly not sanguine. Are you, von Einem?"
Von Einem was in a bit of a quandary. It is the business of every general to be confident of the success of his chief's plan, and it struck me that von Einem did not share the Crown Prince's sentiments.
What followed the world knows.
The Crown Prince's view of the situation was accurate. We had those terrible battles of the Marne, where soldiers were slaughtered by thousands in the narrow pocket of the Tardenoise Plateau; we had the fearful attacks delivered by the British Army on the Amiens front; and finally, we had that supreme disaster, the loss of the Hindenburg line.
By this time I had been attached permanently to Army Headquarters as Courier Confidential to the Emperor, and I shall never forget the morning when the news came that the British Army were through the Hindenburg line.
"Impossible! Impossible!" said the Emperor. "It could not have been done so quickly."
He had just come back from a ride, and was standing by the horse when his personal aide-de-camp, Count Dohna-Schlodien, brought the news. He strode off into Army Headquarters, into the private bureau, and had the maps of that particular sector somewhere between Douai and Cambrai placed before him.
"If it is true, it is the most amazing military achievement of our time."
He thought a while, and added dejectedly—
"And it must be true."
Nevertheless, he did not believe that defeat was certain. He thought that he would hold his enemies on the next line, and the mere fact that he had provided such a line of defense seemed to encourage him. Like many another man, he gained confidence best by discussing with those about him the thing that he wanted to happen. I heard him say to General Groener—
"It is no more than we expected, for, if we did not anticipate retiring, why should we have troubled to build and protect our second and third lines? The British losses must have been colossal. I do not think that the British people will stand these sacrifices much longer. Something is sure to happen. We must never forget the miracle which saved us at Passchendaele."
But no miracle was to happen which would save the German Army from defeat, and it was in the middle of October that the dread truth became apparent to all of us, though not to the Emperor, who refused to entertain the idea of our being beaten, and persevered in his faith to the end. Then one day Ludendorff, who had been absent on a long tour of inspection, came back to General Headquarters. I met him at the station, and never in my life have I seen so great a change in a man's appearance as I saw in his. He drew me aside.
"Where is the Emperor?" he asked.
"He is at the villa," I replied, "and wishes to see you the moment you arrive. Will your Excellency drive over to him at once?"
"In what sort of a mood is he?" asked Ludendorff. "How has he been lately? What does he think of matters?"
He plied me with such questions as these, and I answered to the best of my ability. It was impossible to tell him what was the Kaiser's mood, because it changed from hour to hour and from day to day. Sometimes he would be buoyant and cheerful, full of jest and laughter, and at other times he would not be visible, and if anybody approached him he would be warned off by a meaning glance from Dohna-Schlodien, who lived a very strenuous, difficult life in those days.
"How are things at the front, Marshall?" I asked.
"That is what I want to see the Emperor about," said Ludendorff, who was always friendly with me, knowing that I was in most of the secrets of the Kaiser's personal cabinet.
"Has the Field-Marshal arrived?"
He always referred to Von Hindenburg as "The Field-Marshal," and to him there was no other in the world.
I told him that the Field-Marshal and General Groener had gone away to visit the Crown Prince.
"Then I must have missed them," said Ludendorff, "for I have just left his Imperial Highness."
MY auto was in waiting, and we motored straight away to the Villa Fraincuse. The Emperor was in the garden, wearing his long grey military overcoat, for the day was chilly, and he turned at the sound of our voices and acknowledged Ludendorff's salute.
Usually he would take Ludendorff by the arm and they would go into the house together, where they would hold a private conference, to which nobody was admitted. But on this occasion he did not for the moment attempt to go into the house, nor did he wave aside either his aide-de-camp or myself.
"Well, Ludendorff," said the Kaiser, "how do matters stand?"
"Badly," replied Ludendorff.
"Locally or generally?" asked the Emperor, his head bent on one side, his dark eyes fixed upon Ludendorff's face.
"Generally, Majesty," replied Ludendorff. "They will not give us any time. Attacks follow one another until one wonders where they get the men from."
"But you have held the Americans in the Argonne—they are still held?" asked the Kaiser eagerly.
He seemed pathetically anxious to learn that the Americans had made a big failure and I think that it would have solaced him in this, the most unhappy period of his life, to have learned that his views about the "American mob" had been justified by results.
"We have them in a terrible position," said Ludendorff, "but we cannot hold them. The infantry are overcoming by sheer courage the deficiencies of their staff work."
The Kaiser growled something, and for the moment it seemed to me that he was more absorbed in the sector where the Americans were fighting than he was in the general battle.
"What do you suggest?" asked the Emperor after a while. "I have told Mackensen to send me back every soldier he has in Roumania, and I think that I can get a few divisions from Bulgaria."
Ludendorff did not answer.
"What do you say?" asked the Emperor.
"Majesty," said Ludendorff. "I should like to see you alone for a few minutes."
I do not know what passed between them in the house, but it was two hours and a half before they emerged. Dohna-Schlodien and I walked up and down, and were joined by Ludendorff's staff officer, who had come up after reporting to headquarters. He was a very glum fellow, and uncommunicative, and was, moreover, in a very bad temper. So we could get nothing out of him except that the roads leading back to [Charleroi] were blocked with transport, and the activities of the Entente airmen were "diabolical".
LUDENDORFF had intended returning all the way by car, but the roads were so difficult that he had come on by special train from Maubeuge.
"When are you returning to the front, general?" I asked.
"Ask Field-Marshal," he replied abruptly. He was a very sour and bad-tempered man.
When Ludendorff and the Emperor at last emerged from the house I knew that the communication between the two had been of a very serious nature. The Emperor was staring into vacancy, apparently paying no attention to the low words which Ludendorff was speaking.
Presently the Emperor said—
"It can't be helped. God knows, I did not will it."
I think they had been talking about the war and the responsibility for the war, for "I did not will it" was a favourite phrase of the Emperor's when he spoke of the war.
To this Ludendorff made no reply, and presently took his leave.
"I want you, Berghmann," said the Emperor. "Attend to me in my private cabinet in half an hour's time."
I was very grateful indeed to get half an hour, because I was starving, it being an hour after lunch. In the mess room I met a number of officers, some of whom had accompanied Ludendorff on his visit to the front, and they had all the same story to tell. But the conclusions which they reached were different. There were many who thought that a line could be formed to the west of the Ardennes and on the line of the Scheldt. You must understand that what we were playing for was the winter.
We thought that if we could prolong the war for another winter some sort of terms could be arranged, and there was a possibility that the Allies would fall out amongst themselves. We had never lost this hope from the very beginning, and the downfall of Germany can be accounted for by the fact that the Allies kept their private quarrels until they had beaten us. Other officers did not believe that the line of the Ardennes was possible, because the mere holding of it meant that the armies were separated, and that there was no lateral communication between them.
THE figures showing the number of soldiers who had landed in Europe had now been published, but I think what impressed staff men most was not the actual number of soldiers that had come but the steady preparations which were being made in the [way] of dock construction, shed accommodation, new railways, which the Americans were laying down, and the general evidence that they were preparing for a long war.
A few months before we should all have laughed at this, saying how handy those sheds and railways would be for us Germans, but now we had forgotten all that nonsense, and we were taking a serious view of the intervention. We had made one big mistake when we allowed our writers and politicians to minimise the intrusion of the British, and that was a mistake which we did not want to repeat.
An officer named Major Swartz (of the General staff) who was one of the most pessimistic, said—
"Well, I hoped we were going to have the war finished this year, but I am afraid now that we are in for another winter campaign."
That was the spirit in which we met the situation. The worst we expected was that the war would not end until the next year. Not even the most pessimistic believed that we should be forced to acknowledge our defeat in the field.
When I attended the Emperor I found that he was just finishing a coded telegram which he had prepared with his own hands, and from his own private code, addressed to the Emperor of Austria. I do not know the contents of that message, but some day perhaps, when the archives of the Austrian Government are searched, we shall discover. He motioned me to keep silence until he had finished his telegram; then, when his own orderly had taken it away, he said—
"Sit down near me, Berghmann."
I obeyed him, and he looked at me thoughtfully.
"This is a terrible war, Berghmann," he said. "Think of the hundreds of thousands of lives which have been lost—the terrific sum of misery which had been inflicted upon the world by those who entered into frivolous alliances and compelled Germany to take up arms in defense of the Fatherland. Another winter campaign is before us, with all its attendant miseries, and, Berghmann, I can no longer be responsible before God for this terrible world catastrophe."
I MADE no reply, waiting for him to continue. Presently he went on—
"Even at the expense of my own prestige and the prestige of Germany, which is dearer to me than my own, I must make an effort to bring this bloodshed to an end," he said. "If sacrifices are necessary I am willing to make them. If Germany must make concessions, she must make them too. But one thing I am determined I will not do, and that is to allow another winter to pass without making some effort to bring the Entente Powers to a reasonable frame of mind."
He paused for about twenty seconds, and then he said—
"I have instructed the German Government to apply to President Wilson for an armistice."
I could hardly believe my ears.
That meant surrender—surrender of the great German Army!
Never before had such a suggestion ever appeared, such a possibility ever been canvassed, except, of course, in the enemy press. The Kaiser must have seen my consternation, for he smiled, and it was the saddest smile I have ever seen.
"It is the Field-Marshal's advice," he said. "He had already written to me on that subject, but I never thought that the need would arise. It has now arisen, my good Berghmann, and we must make the best of it."
"But why are we asking President Wilson?" I asked.
"I think it is a good idea to apply to Wilson," said the Emperor. "It will annoy the French and possibly the British, though I doubt very much whether the British will care one way or the other. They are not so particular about the punctilio of war as the French."
AN armistice! Of course, the possibility had been seen before. The Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary had already sent out a tentative note to the Powers asking for a meeting at a peace table, but most of those who were near the Emperor's person were under the impression that that was a ruse de guerre in order to put the Entente Powers in the wrong. And we knew, also, that Austria was in a bad way. But then Austria had never been anything else since the war started. She had embarrassed us in our military and our political plans to such an extent that the people in Germany never mentioned the word Austria without cursing.
"Have I Majesty's permission to communicate this confidentially to the members of the Staff?" I asked.
He thought for a while, rubbing his chin, and then—
"Yes," he said, "it will be public property in a few hours, and the Staff had better know. The members of the intimate Staff have already been informed by Marshal Ludendorff. It is incredible," he said, thumping the table. "When Ludendorff brought me the news I could have struck him. You know that I have been seeking for an end of the war, and yet an hour ago I had no idea, no notion, no dream that the war would end in the way in which it must do. Go now, Berghmann," he said briskly, and I left him to carry the news to the Staff.
They listened like men stricken with paralysis. Nobody could say a word. An armistice! The German Army, the finest military machine that the world had ever known, was beaten! An armistice which meant surrender! I cannot record the full effects of my news, because I had hardly broken it before the Emperor's own bodyguard came to me in haste. I returned quickly to the little cabinet where I had left His Majesty. He was sealing down a large envelope, which he had already addressed.
"Take this without delay to the Empress," he said. "You will then go on to Trèves and see the Crown Prince. The Empress will give you instructions and a letter to carry. There must be a meeting of my house to discuss this terrible matter."
So I carried away to Berlin what I afterwards discovered was a summons to every member of the Hohenzollern family to meet in secret council.
WHEN I got to Berlin I discovered that the Empress was there, having arrived the previous day from Potsdam. She had not risen at the early hour I reached the Palace, but later the Court Chamberlain summoned me, and I found Her Majesty in the small breakfast room, and handed her the sealed package. She opened it, and I saw that it contained several letters and about four sheets of paper, written in the Emperor's own hand. She read it through carefully, and from where I stood I saw that her eyes were filled with tears.
"Do you know the contents of this, Berghmann?" she asked.
"No, Majesty," I replied, though I could very easily guess.
"This is terrible, terrible!" she moaned. "I have always feared it would happen. Did you see His Majesty before you left, and how was he looking?"
It was the stock question which she always asked, and I replied, as I had replied a few days before, that the Emperor was looking not as well as I could have wished. That afternoon I was despatched to Treves again, and I think the Crown Prince must have been advised of my coming, for he met me at the railways station with only his A.D.C. In the waiting-room he broke the seal of the envelope I brought him and read the letter. Then he put it in his breast pocket.
"This will be an historical document, Berghmann," he said quietly. "I see that His Majesty has at last recognised what I knew was coming all along."
Just at that moment arrived an unwelcome diversion. An officer of the Staff came blundering into the room.
"Ten 'Tommies' sighted nine miles southwest, your Imperial Highness," he said.
"Tommies," of course, meant British airmen. Sometimes they were French, sometimes American, but to the soldiers of Treves a hostile airman was always "Tommy." There was a special dugout under the station, but the Prince did not come down until the bombs were dropping in the town. He was very cool. He seemed amused about something.
"THEY will take a quarter of an hour dropping their 'eggs,'" he said, "and then, unless the line is damaged, I want you to go back straight away to Berlin and tell Her Majesty that I will be at Bonn in a few days' time. Do you know whether all the members of the family will be present?"
That was the first intimation I had that a family council was projected, though I had guessed as much from the words which the Emperor had let fall at Spa. The Crown Prince William always took a flippant tone when the House of Hohenzollern was mentioned.
"I think too much is made of this Hohenzollern business," he said. "The Emperor will be well advised to fix his mind entirely upon Germany and his relation to the State. What the Hohenzollerns say or advise will make very little difference one way or the other. They are trying all the time to put the House above the State, and that has been the mistake all along. What does it matter what the Hohenzollerns say?"
"But Highness is a Hohenzollern," I ventured to remind him.
"And you're a Berghmann," he replied, "but if I ordered your execution because you were a fool, I should be unlikely to reprieve you because you were an excellent Berghmann."
It was curious that he should say this in view of what happened at our next meeting.
The raid lasted longer than we anticipated because the "Tommies" came by relays, and we were three-quarters of an hour in that concrete underground shelter, listening to the thud of the bursting bombs, one of which fell upon the railway station (though this I did not know until later) before the "all clear" signal went and we emerged into daylight.
"You may tell Her Majesty that I will communicate with Prince Oscar," said the Prince, "and tell her she must not worry."
He came down to the station to see me off, having ordered a special train for me. He followed me into the saloon and, taking me aside, he asked, lowering his voice—
"Did you see Her Imperial Highness?"
He was referring to his wife.
"No, Highness, I did not," I replied.
"If you do," he said, "and it is very possible if you stay any time in Berlin that you will, I wish you would advise me privately whether Her Imperial Highness intends to attend at Bonn on Wednesday."
"Have you any wish in the matter?" I asked.
"No, I don't think I have," he said, "only I should like to be advised, Berghmann."
AS it happened, although I did not expect as much, I did see the Crown Princess on my return to Berlin. She had come over to lunch with the Empress, and had brought her eldest son. The Empress very kindly and graciously asked me to share the meal, and a few seconds before we sat down she signaled me apart and said—
"We will make no reference to business until we are alone."
It was a dreary meal.
We talked about everything except the war and the disaster which was hanging over Germany. You can imagine how trite and flat our conversation was. Immediately after lunch I went off to the Empress' private apartments and there delivered my message. She made no comment, dismissing me with a kindly word of thanks, and I returned to the great apartment to find that the Crown Princess was waiting for me.
"You have just come from Treves?" she said.
"Yes, Highness," I replied.
"Did you see the Crown Prince?" she asked.
"Yes, Highness," I replied.
She did not ask me how he looked, and seemed very little concerned about his personal welfare. Indeed, she was at a loss as to how she should proceed.
"Is the Fräulein Zimmermann still there?" she asked.
The question took me by surprise. I had no more idea as to who the Fräulein Zimmerman was than if she was the woman in the moon!
"I know nothing whatever about the Fräulein, Highness," I replied. "Is she a secretary or a nurse?"
The Crown Princess laughed.
"No, she is neither secretary nor nurse," she replied dryly. "I know I can trust you, Berghmann, and I see by your attitude that you know nothing of this scandal. And you are probably the only man in Germany who doesn't."
Of course, I had heard all sorts of stories about the Crown Prince and his many lady friends, and at a later period in these stirring times I was to become more fully acquainted with the scope of His Royal Highness' friendships. But at that moment I was ignorant because I was out of touch with the Crown Prince's party; I had never been in personal attendance upon him; and, although I had, as was natural, met him scores, probably hundreds of times, it was only in the capacity of the Emperor's servant that I made his acquaintance.
NATURALLY the Court at Berlin was all in ignorance of events, but my mysterious coming was known. They tried their best to discover what it was all about, and frantic rumours were flying in all directions. However, I put them off with fairy tales, though I think nobody was deceived, and one or two, notably Slaebor, one of the Empress' secretaries, put the case very bluntly to me.
"The fact is, Berghmann," he said, "the game is up."
"What do you mean, Slaebor?" I asked innocently.
"The Prussian game," he replied. "We know it in Berlin. We are not such fools as we look."
I stayed at the Adlon, and had a message in the evening from the Empress, asking me to go over to Prince Max's villa. Prince Max of Baden had been appointed Imperial Chancellor, though the appointment had not as yet been announced. I had seen him at Great Headquarters, but there had been no occasion for our meeting. He did most of his work at a little house of his on the outskirts of Berlin—or rather, midway between Berlin and Potsdam—and he sent his auto to call for me at eight o'clock.
I think it is a thousand pities that Prince Max was not appointed before, because he could have steered Germany out of the mess into which Bethmann Hollweg and Michaelis and Hertling directed her. But he was too strong a man to stand the domination of Ludendorff or Falkenhayn, and for that reason he was never appointed. Though an aristocrat and a firm believer in the divinity of kings—or, if not their divinity, at least their right to govern independently of Parliament—he had a larger and more liberal education than Bethmann Hollweg or Hertling, the former of whom was appointed because he was the friend and companion of the Emperor at Bonn, the latter because he was a Bavarian and also because he could command the vote of the Centre.
THE moment I was ushered into Prince Max's presence and saw his calm face I knew there was no necessity for me to pretend anything. Here was a man who knew the truth, and, indeed, had forced others to see it.
"Well, Berghmann," he said. "You seem to have made a mess of it at Headquarters."
"Not I, your Highness," I replied with a smile.
"No," he said. "I don't think that even you could have made a worse mess than 'Napoleon' has done."
He always referred to Ludendorff as 'Napoleon.' I have always believed that Ludendorff was his bête noire.
"They still hope," he went on, "to this very day that the Entente will be fools enough to grant an armistice without guarantees."
"What guarantees will they require?" I asked.
"What other than the surrender of the Army, or at any rate, the surrender of war material?" replied Prince Max. "Ludendorff has a great plan to bring the armies back to the Meuse under cover of an armistice, to utilise Belgium, and to concentrate the whole army between Luxemburg and the Swiss frontier. I assure you these military men are children in their estimate of the psychology of their enemies. But I didn't bring you here to talk about the war," he said, with his quick little smile. "I understand there is to be a meeting of the family on Wednesday at Bonn. You're aware of that, I suppose?"
"I do not know what influence you have with the Emperor," he continued, "but it often happens, and history supports the statement, that people who are in close personal contact with kings have greater power than the highest officers of the State. I beg that you will not fail, if your opinion is asked, to impress upon His Majesty the inadvisability of insisting upon the continuance of the Hohenzollern regime.
"I find it most difficult to make Majesty understand that it is Hohenzollernism to which the Entente Powers most strenuously object. It will not assist matters if some other representative of the family sits on the throne. Rather will it complicate matters, because it will be a proof of William's insincerity."
It was the first time I had ever heard a high officer speak of the Emperor by his Christian name, and it came rather as a shock to me. I think Prince Max must have perceived this, for again her gazed at me with that queer little smile, and said—
"There are bigger things at stake now than questions of the Emperor's dignity, Berghmann. We have to save Germany, and by Germany I mean all classes. All classes," he repeated insistently, "and that includes your class and mine, Berghmann. You are a comfortable man; you have estates of your own—"
"A very small one, Highness," I laughed, "and your Highness would not even be aware of that but for the fact that it adjoins your own property at Baden."
"Great or small, it does not matter," he said. "It represents your all, and your interests must be as firmly protected as the interests of the German working man. What we have to guard against is civil war in this country. I have again and again urged upon the late Imperial Chancellor the necessity for combatting Bolshevism in Russia. Instead of this, they have given every encouragement to the movement, and created a Frankenstein monster which they can no longer control. But that, again, is not my business for the moment. What I want to impress upon you is the desirability of your urging the Emperor, if the opportunity offers, to drop all idea of perpetuating the Hohenzollern regime. Personally, I do not think it matters a row of peas what decision is reached at the family conference. The people are going to take it out of our hands to decide the form of government which Germany shall enjoy in the future without any assistance or dictation from us."
I was glad to get back to Great Headquarters without any further injunctions, warnings, words of advice, or commissions. As a matter of fact, the Emperor did not ask me my opinion once in a blue moon; and when he did ask me, it was only to confirm his own views, and any advice I gave him was not followed unless it happened to coincide with the decision at which he had already arrived.
The Emperor left for Bonn on the Wednesday morning, and arrived in the afternoon. The place of meeting was originally intended to be the Royal Villa, where the young Princes who were studying at Bonn usually lived.
But it was not in the Wörthstrasse that the historic council was held, but at the palace of Prince Adolphus of Schaumberg-Lippe.
Happily, any complications which might arise from the presence of the Crown Princess were (as I believed) avoided by reason of the fact that the Emperor had excluded all the women members of the Hohenzollern house from his invitation.
I NEVER knew there were so many Hohenzollerns in Germany. In addition to the Kaiser's sons there were all sorts of uncles and cousins, including representatives of the three cadet branches of the house. I believe that the only Hohenzollern who was not present was the King of Roumania, who, of course, was one of our bitterest enemies, in spite of the fact that we were officially at peace with Roumania. An invitation had been sent to him, nevertheless, as I learned at a later period, but he had rejected the olive branch with the most violent expressions of hatred of every type of Hohenzollernism.
I was not present at the first meeting, which took place at half-past six, and lasted until dinner-time. But I was there at the second, on the Emperor's invitation.
Of course, I was not present in any official capacity. It happened that the Emperor required some confirmation of the visit he had paid to Prince Henry of Prussia in the early part of 1915, at a time when Prince Henry was not particularly popular with the Great General Staff. On that occasion Prince Henry had made a statement, which he had put into writing, and which regularised the claim of his heirs to the throne in the event—and it was a very unlikely event—of the Emperor's children being killed in battle, and the children of the Crown Prince dying before they reached their majority.
It was a purely formal document, but somehow it had gone astray, and this was the Emperor's reason for calling me in. But between the time he despatched a messenger for me and the moment I arrived there had evidently been a grave difference of opinion between various members of the family.
WHEN I came into the room the Emperor was looking very white, as he always did when he was desperately angry, Prince Henry of Prussia was purple with rage, and the only cool member of the trio which seemed to be the focal point of the quarrel was, as usual, the Crown Prince.
The first words I heard on entering the room were—
"You will apologise to my brother, William, immediately."
"I think there is an apology due also to me," said the Crown Prince, without raising his voice. "I am sick to death of these innuendoes and charges about my private life. If His Highness talks of Zimmerman to me I shall talk of Krauss to him."
It was that Hohenzollern who is the brother of the King of Roumania who poured oil on the troubled waters.
"I think we can well afford to leave all personalities out of this discussion," he said. "We are now at the most momentous period in the history of the family, and it is absurd, and even criminal, to allow these private animosities to intrude. We are all human men and men of the world. We know how far the voice of calumny can reach, and it is a German proverb that malice loves a shining mask. Therefore, with all due respect to your Majesty, I think that the question of apology or counter-apology should be left over until some other time, and that we avoid recriminations."
The Emperor nodded and then beckoned to me.
I was able to confirm the date and the time when the document regarding Prince Henry's succession had been handed to the Keeper of the Imperial Archives, and I was turning to go when the Emperor called me back. "Sit down, Berghmann," he said; "you, who have been the custodian of so many of our troubles need not be absent from this meeting, and it would be best if we had an independent witness."
Frankly, I do not intend to disclose all that took part at that meeting, because much of it had to do with personal and private matters of a domestic nature, and I am one of those who deprecate back-stairs gossip. My motto is, if you must wash your linen in public, let it be your table-linen. I only record those speeches and happenings which bear directly upon German policy in its relation to this great disaster which has overtaken the house of my master and my father's master before me.
The meeting had apparently been called to decide whether the House of Hohenzollern should hand over the Kaisership of Germany to the head of some other reigning house, whether it should be given to the Hapsburgs, or whether its present holder, namely the Emperor, should make a fight to retain his position. This was the first occasion on which I had heard of the possibility of the Emperor abdicating, and it struck me as though I were in a dream to hear such a possibility mooted in the most matter-of-fact tones, not only by the Emperor, but by the Crown Prince and other members of the family. The person who seemed to me to be most concerned was Prince Henry of Prussia, who kept shaking his head and looking down at the table and saying:—
"That is a dreadful possibility."
I HAVE often thought that Henry was more truly Hohenzollern than any other member of the family, and my own observations of this historic meeting confirmed that judgement. Some remarks which one of the family let fall about Bolshevism revealed to me for the first time a secret of the East which had been hidden from us for a long time, and which had puzzled a good many other people about the Court.
One never understood why it was that after the surrender by Trotsky, and the signature of the peace terms, the German Army had not gone on and occupied Petrograd, thus saving it from the horrors which must, as we all knew, follow an unbridled control by Lenin. It was the Crown Prince who blurted out the truth.
"We have only ourselves to blame if Bolshevism does come to this country," he said apropos of some remark which had been passed expressing fear of the events which would follow an abdication. "You should have occupied Petrograd. The bargain you made with Trotsky was the worst bargain that has ever been made in this world. You had the Russian Army practically disarmed, and you could have marched without opposition into the capital. But in a stupid desire to be loyal to the murderers and thieves who betrayed the Russian Army you kept at a respectful distance, allowed Bolshevism to grow to its present enormous proportions, and now you must suffer the consequences."
The trend of the argument concerning the future was that, whatever else happened, the Hohenzollerns must stick together; and a resolution was passed confirming the Emperor as "Right Ruler and Head of the House," and stating that if the worst came to the worst, the Hohenzollern family would support one another with money and influence to the end.
"Of course, it may not come to the question of abdication," said the Emperor.
He was very serious throughout the meeting, and very nervous, too, as I could not help seeing.
"But, in the event of a great cataclysm, we must not only be sure that the family see eye to eye, but we must also ensure the support of all the reigning Princes of whatever house they may be. If it is necessary—and pray God it is not necessary that I should abdicate—then I must not go down alone and leave these rival houses to fight for the Imperial throne."
He appealed to me.
"Do you think there is any danger of that, Berghmann?" he asked.
"No, Highness," I said, astonished and a little flustered to find myself included in that august Council. "I think that if your Majesty were to abdicate—which, please Heaven, it will not be necessary that you should—all the other ruling Princes would follow your lead. The danger of Bolshevism would be recognised as clearly by their Royal Highnesses and Majesties as they are by you. I think, however, it would be advisable if I or some more worthy person had an opportunity of meeting the Princes and discovering exactly how they feel upon the matter."
"That is an excellent suggestion," said the Kaiser instantly, and even the crown Prince nodded his approval, though there was a mocking little smile on his lips, and that look of cynical amusement in his half-closed eyes which I had seen before. He seemed to say, "Old Berghmann has discovered a new way of getting a holiday!"
"YOU recognise this, gentlemen," said the Emperor, just before the meeting finished, "that this gathering may be altogether unnecessary. We must, however, prepare for the worst, because the worst now seems to be threatening us, and I have called you all together to ask your advice. I am deeply touched by the devotion you have shown to me as the head of your house. You bring with you the atmosphere of that lion-like loyalty which has ever characterised the mark of Brandenburg to its rulers, and if no miracle happens and the great tragedy is thrust upon us, it will help me to bear my bitter loss to know that, in the hour of my adversity, you assisted me by your confidence and unswerving love."
When the meeting broke up the Emperor signified that he had no further need of my attendance for that night, and on the invitation of the Crown Prince I accompanied him to the Grand Hotel Royal, where he had his apartments.
I forget now for what reason he wanted me. That matter has gone out of my head in face of the bigger and more dramatic happenings of which I was a witness. When we entered the vestibule of the hotel a member of his staff came forward and said something in a low voice. The Prince looked very annoyed and bit his lip thoughtfully, and then with a jerk of his head called me to him.
"You might as well be present, Berghmann," he said; "you know most of our secrets."
I didn't ask him what the trouble was, and I did not attempt to guess. I followed him up the broad marble stairs with their thick red carpet, and passed through the door of the Imperial suite into his private saloon. There was a lady waiting by the table. She was standing with her back towards us as we entered, but I recognised her before she turned and revealed the face of the Crown Princess. She bowed slightly to her husband, and favoured me at first with a little annoyed stare, and then, with an understanding smile, as the Crown Prince clicked his heels, stepped towards her, and, stooping, kissed her hand.
"I trust your Imperial Highness has not had a very fatiguing journey," said the Crown Prince, with a little sarcasm in his voice.
"I count no fatigue too great to serve the cause of the Hohenzollerns," said the Crown Princess with scarcely less sarcasm.
I began to feel uncomfortable, and was shuffling about in order to attract their attention to the fact that I was still in the room, but they needed no reminder.
"WHY have you come here?" asked the Crown Prince, dropping his tone of mock politeness. Nevertheless, he was deferential, firm, and very far from the flippant individual I expected him to be in the circumstances.
"I came to represent a Hohenzollern," she replied.
The Crown Prince smiled.
"One more or less would not have mattered," he replied. "There seemed to be hundreds of them there. Every Hohenzollern museum in the country has been ransacked, and there were some who looked as if they had come out of their graves to attend the meeting. But what Hohenzollern did you with to represent, madam?"
She looked him straight in the eye.
"I represent the only innocent Hohenzollern," she said slowly.
The Crown Prince laughed.
"An innocent Hohenzollern!" he said, "well, indeed, that would be a curiosity, and he would deserve a hundred votes. Who is the gentleman?"
"Your son," she replied.
The smile faded from his face.
"My son!" he repeated, and I saw his brows contract.
"Your son," she said, "the only innocent Hohenzollern, and the one who must suffer not only for the sins of the father and the follies of his grandfather, but for all the incalculable selfishnesses and brutalities of a long line of ancestors, which began in a moneylender and promises to end, so far as kingship is concerned, in a mountebank."
"Would you be kind enough to repeat that to my august father?" he asked sardonically. "You will find him at the Palace Adolphus—I think you will find him in the mood for that kind of conversation."
"It is not necessary," she said with a weary gesture, "but I repeat I came to represent your son and mine. What of him? I know enough of children to realise that, but for this dreadful war, there were the makings of a great king in my boy. He is clean, straight, honest—there is nothing of the Hohenzollern about him except his name and his ancestors."
The Crown Prince laughed.
"If he has not inherited a little politeness from my branch of the family," he said, "the poor boy is indeed bereft of manners."
"Has the Emperor abdicated?" she asked suddenly.
"So far as I know, he has not," replied the Crown Prince. "Are you so anxious to be Empress?"
She shook her head.
"I doubt whether there will be another Empress of Germany," she replied a little sadly. "There is only one hope for your House, and if I know the selfish and self-centered greed that has gathered together a monstrous self and mutual admiration society at the Palace Adolphus to-night, I know that that way out of their difficulty never occurred to them."
"And what is that way?" he asked.
"For you and your father to abdicate together," she said boldly. "Let the child be proclaimed Emperor. His youth will appeal to our people, and they may forgive in the child all that they execrate in his father and grandfather. It is your only chance, William."
She laid her hands on his arm, and her voice was pleading.
"The only chance you have to put yourself right with Germany and with the world."
He shook her hand off angrily.
"What rubbish you talk!" he said. "One would think that we were already beaten and that the British were marching up Unter den Linden. One would think that their divisions were already astride of the Rhine."
It was her turn to laugh.
"You will live to see that, too," she said earnestly.
"I shall never see it," said the Crown Prince, with a shrug, and, as it proved, he spoke prophetically.
I HAVE often wondered whether it was that interview the Crown Prince had with his wife at the hotel which wrought so remarkable a change in his demeanour and attitude. Hitherto he had been cynical, shrewd, self-assured, even flippant in the moment of greatest seriousness. Thereafter, his whole attitude seemed to undergo some change which is difficult to define. For two hours after his wife had left—the interview only lasted a quarter of an hour—he paced the floor of the saloon, uttering no word, immersed in thought. At first I was uncomfortable, and wanted to go, but he insisted upon my staying.
"The Emperor has no immediate need of you, Berghmann," he said. "He is going back to meet my mother, and will not return to Great Headquarters for two days."
I gladly acquiesced in his suggestion that I should return to his headquarters with him—the more so as I wanted to see at closer range the battlefield of which I had heard so much. The Crown Prince's army was in full retreat about this time, and were holding on by the skin of their teeth, as the saying goes, to the line of the Suippe in Champagne.*
[* They did not reach the Suippe line until two days later, and Herr Berghmann in this respect is in error.—Translator.]
I think the meeting of the Hohenzollerns was held on October 4; in fact, I am pretty certain it was the day that the appointment of Prince Max of Baden was announced in the press. We travelled back by the Prince's special train, and he invited me to breakfast with him. There were only himself, his adjutant, his secretary, and myself present.
"Yesterday was a memorable date in the history of the Fatherland," he said. "Prince Max has applied to President Wilson for an armistice."
This, of course, was no news to us, except that I did not know that the request had been actually forwarded through official channels.
"What has brought this situation about?" I asked.
"Primarily our defeat in the field," said the Crown Prince philosophically. "But a secondary cause has been the attitude of Bulgaria."
Bulgaria had asked for an armistice the week before this conversation took place.
"But I understood from the newspapers that King Ferdinand had formed a new Cabinet, and was determined to fight to the last," said I. "And I read in the Lokalanzeiger that we were sending an army of 200,000 to his assistance."
The Crown Prince laughed. It was the first genuine laugh of amusement I had heard that morning.
"What rubbish you talk, Berghmann!" he scoffed. "Surely you know the position of the German army! 200,000! I wish to God I had 200,000 men I could put into Champagne!"
This was news to us all, though, of course, we always expected that the old fox would get out and save his skin if the occasion arose.
"What we are trying to do," said the Crown Prince, "Is to get back all the soldiers that Mackensen has on that front. There aren't many who are fit to go into the line, for they are mostly Landsturm troops. We have a division of sorts in Bulgaria—the Emperor amazed me by telling me that there were three or four divisions there. It only shows how completely the Great General Staff have deceived him."
This was a staggerer to me, because the Crown Prince was, ex officio, a member of that staff, and he must have read my thoughts.
"I knew the strength of the German divisions in Bulgaria," he said, "but the Emperor never asked me, and I had very few opportunities of discussing that matter with him. In fact, I don't think that we have spoken about Bulgaria for six months. The Emperor goes to Ludendorff for all his information, and Ludendorff tells the story which occurs to him at the moment."
"Do you think there is any chance of your holding up the armies in front of you?" I asked, and he shook his head.
"NO," said he. "The Americans have got over the worst of their work. It's a very costly business both for them and for us, and honestly, I did not think they would do it, though I have never underrated their ability as the Emperor has. But they have improved by now, and the American forces against me are infinitely superior both in physique and energy—certainly in morale—to the troops I am commanding. In fact," he said thoughtfully, stroking his moustache, "I should say that any American division on my left wing is equal to any of my Guards divisions. No, Berghmann, that isn't the way out. If they depend on me to hold up the rush then the war is indeed lost. I could hold the French, because Foch is using them very sparingly. If I were to say what is in my mind I would tell you that to-day neither the British nor the Americans are losing anything like the numbers which we are losing. So far as I can gather from the description which Von Below supplied me with and the reports I saw at Great Headquarters, the British system of attack is the most economical that they have ever tried."
I did not see him after breakfast, and for the rest of the journey I had no opportunity of speaking with him.
"I don't know what has come over the Crown Prince," said one of his aides-de-camp just before the train ran into Treves. "I have never seen him so worried. What happened last night, Berghmann?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"You pretty well know."
"The Crown Princess?" he asked, and I nodded. "She is feeling very bitter against him," he said. "Her sympathies are much more Russian than some of us gave her credit for, and she will never forgive us for the part we played, especially in relation to the Russian Royal Family."
I found on arrival at Trèves that the Crown Prince had given orders to make preparations for me, and that a splendid suite was placed at my disposal.
"The stock of the Courier Confidential is rising," said Colonel von Wassermann, jokingly. "The position must be very serious in Germany."
Kohl, who acted as Master of Ceremonies, told me that I should regard myself as being of the Prince's suite until I was recalled, and I was required to attend at the Prince's headquarters at eight o'clock that night for dinner.
THE Crown Prince did most of his work in a little room overlooking a pleasant garden, which was somewhat disfigured by a massive dugout, into which the Staff retreated on the occasion of the too-frequent air raids. I found his Headquarters in a turmoil when I reached there.
The dinner itself was more like an office routine. Most of the officers had dined with one eye on a stack of papers which stood by the side of their plate, and telegrams and messages were arriving all the time. Von Einem was at the dinner, as also was Von Wasserfeld and a dozen other officers, and there was a running exchange of comment upon the news which was arriving. I remember particularly the news arriving that the French had taken Brimont Fort, near Rheims.
"Poor old Brimont!" said the Crown Prince's adjutant gaily. "Well, it has had a good innings, and Rheims will not forget it in a hurry."
It was from Brimont that Rheims was shelled so persistently, and by the guns in that fort was Rheims Cathedral destroyed.
"I don't know whether this will spoil your digestion, Highness," said a young officer who was, I believe, on the staff of Von Einem, and held aloft a thick pad of papers.
"They must be settled to-night. I will see them now," said the Crown Prince, looking up from his plate. "What are they?"
"Death warrants," said the officer cheerfully, and I distinctly saw the Crown Prince shiver.
"Give them to me," he said, after a moment's hesitation, and we passed these fatal documents along from diner to diner until they reached the Crown Prince. He pushed his plate aside, and laid them before him. I suppose there were twenty orders for shooting, and they all had to be signed by the Crown Prince before they became operative. Most of the men had committed severe breaches of discipline, such as attempting to desert or striking their superiors. A few were condemned for cowardice in the face of the enemy.
"There is a letter attached to the first which may interest Highness," said the officer. "It came to me this afternoon, and I put it with the other documents, because it made special reference to Highness."
The Crown Prince unpinned the grey notepaper and read it aloud. It ran:—
To the Illustrious and exalted Crown Prince William of Germany
Imperial Highness: In my despair and misery, and mindful of the love and affection in which your Imperial Highness is held by all soldiers, I make this last appeal to your clemency. Bitterly I regret having struck the under-officer Müller in a moment of madness. But we had been under a hellish fire for two days without ceasing. Forty men in a company of fifty had been killed by shell-fire alone, and I and five others, practically foodless and waterless and half-mad with terror from the shell-fire, turned upon Under-Officer Muller when he ordered me to go forward to occupy a machine-gun post, and knocked him down! Highness! I have a wife and four little children in Königsberg, and they, too, are starving. I have served the Fatherland faithfully since the very beginning of the war, and I have fought in the East and in the West, in Flanders against the British, and in Champagne against the French. I have the Iron Cross of two classes, and now I must face an ignominious and terrible death. Highness, a dying man, who to-morrow must face the firing squad, appeals to you as a comrade and father.
It was signed with the man's name and regiment.
The Crown Prince stroked his chin and took up his stylo.
"Poor devil!" he said, and was about to sign the death warrant, when he paused and stared vacantly down the table, and then, without a word, wrote, "Reprieved: Wilhelm Kronprinz."
He drew a long sigh as though of relief, and turning warrant after warrant, he wrote "Reprieved" on each one of them, and then handed the bundle back to the Adjutant.
"Who knows," he said, "whether some of us will not require reprieving in the very near future?"
He rose quickly, and left the table without another word, and we looked at one another. This was not the William—cynical, light-hearted, beau sabreur—we knew. But although we all had our thoughts, nobody, of course, was so discourteous as to comment upon his Highness' strange attitude.
Later in the evening, when we were taking coffee and smoking in the common-room, the Prince's Adjutant came and told me that His Highness was writing a long private letter to the Emperor, and that he wanted me to leave that night, find the Emperor in Berlin, and deliver it.
"His Highness is very sorry. He hoped you would be with him for a day or two," he said. "Do you mind going by motor car? The rails are blocked until to-morrow night."
At ten o'clock I was sent for to the Prince's cabinet, and found him very much in his old humour.
"Well, Berghmann," he smiled,
"The courier's life is not a happy one
When confidential duty's to be done."
He was misquoting one of Gilbert's operas which he knew almost by heart.
"And if you will be advised by me," he said, "you will not remind the Emperor he promised you that sometime in August you should eat your dinner at the Hotel Bristol and stable your auto in the Paris Opera House."
"Majesty never made that promise," I smiled. "He said he thought we should be in Paris—"
"And we're not," said the Prince lightly. "Oh, most assuredly, we're not."
Then more seriously—
"I want you to take this letter to the Emperor and bring back a reply. You may not return to Trèves, because it is possible we shall move our Headquarters; but as to that you will be notified. You had better inquire at the War Ministry—Hullo! There's a cursed air raid on!"
AS we were speaking there was a crashing of guns and a deep booming of dropping bombs.
"You'll find the dugout in the garden," said the Crown Prince. "I am going to stay here."
His A.D.C. and Adjutant dashed in at that moment and beseeched him to take cover, but he shook his head.
"Show Herr Berghmann the way," he said, but I could not very well accept his offer, and with a strange, sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach I sat with his Highness through one of the worst raids that his Headquarters had known.
Bombs were dropped all about the house, so close that the windows of his private study were smashed to smithereens. Throughout it all he smoked with apparent unconcern, carrying on a conversation, and only stopping as a polite man might stop when he was interrupted by some extra loud detonation which made speech impossible.
"It's a hell of a life," he said in English, after a near-by bomb had burst, and it must have been a terrifically large one, and that was the only comment he made on the raid whilst it was in progress.
"They will come again at two o'clock," he said, "if they are British, and at three o'clock if they are French. God knows what time they will come if they are American. They have no time-table!"
He gave me the envelope, and I put it inside my leather-lined pocket, and half-an-hour later I was bowling along a dark road north-eastward. I had had visions of doing the whole journey by motor car, and I was wondering what time I should get to Berlin, but this was not the idea. I had to go by car to Bonn, and at Bonn I joined a special train—special in the sense that it was a fast train for staff officers going to Berlin either on business or leave—and from thenceforward the journey was an uneventful one.
The business was to find the Emperor, who had gone away with the Kaiserin to spend a quiet day at the house of one of his friends in the country. This was an occasion when even a Court official could give you no information.
It was not until very late that night that I learned that the Emperor had returned to Potsdam, and went out to that town, only to discover that he had retired to bed for the night. There was nothing to do but to put up with the somewhat poverty-stricken accommodation which the Palace could offer me and wait until the morning.
It was after nine o'clock before I could see the emperor, who was an early riser, and then it was only by good fortune that I saw him before he left for Great Headquarters. His car was waiting at the front of the Palace, and he himself was dressed ready for the journey when I presented my letter. He looked at it with a frown, and turned it over, examining the seal.
"Is this from the Crown Prince?" he asked.
"Yes, Majesty," I replied.
Again he looked at it dubiously, then walked over to a recess—the interview took place in the little saloon which in the old days used to be used by the Empress as a reception hall—tearing off the cover as he went.
It was a very long letter, but he read it carefully, word by word, and his unfortunate staff stood looking impatiently at me, and from me to their watches. When he had finished the Emperor folded up the letter and put it in his overcoat pocket. He was evidently very angry and was muttering to himself as I went towards him at his invitation.
"This is preposterous, Berghmann," he said angrily. "Why didn't His Royal Highness make this suggestion at the conference at Bonn? It is by no means certain that the things he fears are going to happen. At any rate, I shall not carry out his suggestion."
"Will Majesty give me a note to take to His Highness?" I asked, for I knew the danger of carrying verbal messages. Put not your trust in Princes, says the adage; it would be better did it run, put not your trust in the memory of Princes; and I was by no means anxious to find myself a third party to a misunderstanding.
"No, I will not write," he said. "I have no time. There can be no ambiguity in my answer, Berghmann. You will tell His Imperial Highness that I say ‘No' to all his suggestions."
I bowed, and with that message returned to Coblenz, at which town I was informed the Crown Prince had taken up his residence.
I delivered my message.
"No, eh?" said the Crown Prince, with his little smile. "Well, I think the Emperor is a—I think he is not wise."
He never told me what his suggestions to the Emperor had been or what was the subject of the letter, but I surmise that in this letter the Crown Prince repeated the suggestion which the Princess had made at Bonn, namely, that both the Kaiser and his son should abdicate, and that the little Prince William should be proclaimed Emperor. This theory of mine is supported by a remark which the Crown Prince made to me later in the day. We were walking through the town—a very unusual exercise for His Royal Highness—when he said:—
"I don't think it really matters whether my son is Emperor or not. The days of Kings are almost played out unless they are Kings who have the good fortune to be protected by a constitution like the British King George. There will never be an agitation in Britain for a Republic because the Republic already exists. It is really a Republic with an hereditary President, and that, to my mind, is the most convenient arrangement."
I was in Coblenz three days. It was rather different from my idea of a stay in Prince William's Headquarters. I anticipated having some view of the battle front, but that hope was not fulfilled. I spent three days in Coblenz, during which time I saw nobody of importance, and only caught one other glimpse of the Crown Prince.
That is the way with couriers, who are either having a most exciting time, or are being so bored that life is unendurable. I was staying in the hotel which served as General Headquarters, and the Crown Prince had a room there, though he very seldom used it. My room was on the fourth floor, and was extremely comfortable, and except for the scare of air raids which obsessed the inhabitants of Coblenz and which was communicated to its visitors, I could have spent a long time there and benefited by my stay.
But I had orders to go back to Great Headquarters on the 10th, and on the night of the 9th I packed up, called at the Crown Prince's bureau, paid my respects and asked whether there was any message which had to go forward to Great Headquarters. Neither the Crown Prince, nor his Adjutant was present, but the non-commissioned officer wo acted as private secretary to the Adjutant informed me that the Crown Prince knew I was leaving, and had discussed with the Adjutant the need for sending forward documents which were called for at Great Headquarters, and had finally decided that the need was not pressing.
When I returned to my hotel room, I went to bed at ten o'clock, intending to rise at seven to catch the early morning train for the north.
Before I went up to bed I asked one of the Crown Prince's personal staff if there was any likelihood of my seeing His Royal Highness before I left on the following morning and he said no.
"I do not expect His Royal Highness back to-night, Herr Berghmann," he said. "I believe he has gone on to Metz, where he is seeing the Duke of Wurttemberg and Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria."
This was news to me. No love was lost between William and Rupprecht, and he was, I should have imagined, the last man whom the Crown Prince would have consulted in this moment of crisis. It happened, however, that this conference was not attended by the Crown Prince, as I discovered during the night.
IT seemed that I had only just got to sleep, though in reality I had been asleep for two or three hours, when suddenly the light was switched on in my room, and I awoke with a start to see a man standing at the foot of my bed, his elbows on the [foot-rail], looking down at me.
For a second I did not recognise him, for he stood between me and the light, and his face was in the shadow.
"Who is that?" I asked.
"It is all right, Berghmann," said a voice, and I saw that it was the Crown Prince.
I struggled up into a sitting position.
"Don't disturb yourself," said the Prince, walking round and sitting on the side of the bed near the foot-rail; "I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd come in and see you." He was silent for a few moments, then he [said]: "I haven't slept for two nights."
"Your Royal Highness should see a doctor," I said.
It seemed a trite kind of thing to say, but I could think of nothing else.
"I have tried all kinds of dope," he said—he had a habit of dropping into English—[a language] which I understood perfectly [well].
"I thought you were in Metz," I said.
"I started but turned back," he said. "I was in no mood to meet those prosy [???]. Berghmann, I am worried sick."
This was a new phase, and one which I had never observed before in his Imperial Highness.
"I can understand your anxiety, Highness," I said respectfully, "but perhaps matters are not so bad as they seem to you."
He shook his head.
"That kind of talk is childish, Berghmann," he said brusquely. "I know, and yet know nothing. Unfortunately I am a commander of armies, and I have an opportunity of seeing just how armies are feeling and [talking] and fighting. I have nothing to say against the way our Germans are fighting. But they're doing a lot of talking, too, Berghmann, and that talk isn't very complimentary to the Emperor."
I should have thought that the talk would not have been complimentary to the Crown Prince, who, with his uncanny habit of guessing one's thoughts, gauged my unspoken words.
"You are thinking that the Emperor is much more popular with the soldiers than I am," he said, "but that isn't so. Yes, I know I am supposed to be execrated and looked down upon by the men in the ranks, but the truth is, Berghmann, that officers and men trust me, when they do not trust the Emperor. You think that is conceit on my part, but it is not so. After all, common men may admire abstract virtue, but they do not love it. All the big characters in the world who have earned the affection of soldiers and of people have been men with more or less agreeable vices. My father is all virtue nowadays. He has become a demi-god at a moment when we want a man, and, failing any other, the soldiers in their confidence turn to me."
This may sound like boastfulness on the part of the Prince, and I have no doubt that he did exaggerate the attraction he had for his troops, but at the same time I must confess in justice to him that there was a great deal to be said for his statement, and I have seldom met a soldier who served under him in the armies who had an ill word to say against him, even though he had sent them to the most impossible of tasks such as they had in the battles of Verdun.
"GERMANY is passing away like a bad dream," said the Crown Prince, "and what is to become of me? I spend all my nights wondering what I could do, suppose the Hohenzollern dynasty is wiped out and Germany become a Republic, as I believe it will become. I have plenty of money, both in Germany and in the neutral countries, but I think I have a greater mission in life than to spend money. I want to do something. I can shoot, I can ride, I can play polo and most of the games that an English University man can play. I speak several languages, I know a great deal about finance—but how am I going to put my talents to a use?"
I let him speak on without interruption, and when he paused as he did to light a new cigarette from the burnt end of another, I said—
"I think your Imperial Highness too sadly estimates the situation. It is ludicrous for a member of the House of Hohenzollern to talk about what he is going to do in the future."
"It is ludicrous not to make preparation for the inevitable," he said with a hard little smile. "I want to do something." He blew rings of smoke up to the ceiling, then went on—"Do you know what I should like to do, Berghmann, if I am kicked out of Germany?"
"No, Highness," I replied.
"I should like to go to America and build motor cars on a big scale—the same as Ford builds them. There have been long articles in the British newspapers describing Ford's system, and it is a most excellent one. I should like to run a factory on those lines."
I laughed, but he shook his head.
"I am perfectly serious, my friend. Don't think that I am saying these things to pass a few midnight hours away. I have worked out a scheme of construction. I've had plans drawn by Siegleman, who is the best factory architect in Germany. I have had all the cost of the specifications worked out, and I think that with the expenditure of forty million marks it would be possible to create a gigantic industrial establishment which would pay big dividends."
"Especially if the Crown Prince of Germany were the managing director," I said good humouredly.
"That is the difficulty," said the Crown Prince, puffing smoke rings into the air. "I could not do it if I was Crown Prince, or if it was known that I was the Crown Prince, and I should not be satisfied with giving my money to someone else and asking them to run the business for me. It isn't profit I want—it's the work. I don't want to be known as the Crown Prince, though I have done little of which I need be ashamed. I had nothing to do with the making of the war, and every military scheme I have suggested would have worked out correctly had it been followed, and I am probably the only man in Germany who opposed the unrestricted use of the U-boat. When I say the only man in Germany I mean the only man in a commanding position.
"I knew when Britain came into the war we could not win. I knew that when America came into the war we should certainly lose and I have expressed that opinion time after time both in General Headquarters and in the Special Councils which have been held at intervals in Berlin. No, I don't want to be known as the Crown Prince. They saddle me with all sorts of crimes of which I am only partly guilty. Well, I must go along now, Berghmann, I am keeping you awake."
He switched out the light and went off, closing the door behind him, and I settled down to sleep. I don't know how long I was dozing when I heard the door open again, and this time it was I who stretched out my hand and put on the light. It was the Crown Prince. He was in his pyjamas and in his red dressing-gown which threw into relief the extraordinary pallor of his face.
"Did I frighten you?" he muttered, and his voice was hoarse and the hand that he raised to his lips was shaking. "I've had bad dreams, Berghmann, terrible dreams." He shivered and closed his eyes. "Oh, God! I never want to see another war, I never want to see another war! And I wanted one! We all wanted it in Germany! We all thought of the splendid fury of it, the thrill of it, ugh!" He put his hand in front of his eyes. "It is a hideous, filthy business, Berghmann. There is no good in it! None!"
He paced up and down the room in silence before he spoke again.
"I did not will the war, but I was glad of it. If I said that I was not glad I should be a liar. Every soldier is glad of war, just as every doctor is glad to see patients for him to try his skill upon. And I know that war is inevitable, and that war cannot be swept away as a factor in international politics; but, please God, I'm dead before the next war comes, and my sons are dead too."
HE stopped in his stride and, stooping, lit the little gas-fire in the room, then pulled up a big chair before it. He looked round, and saw my travelling rug hanging on a peg, and took it down.
"You don't mind my sleeping here?"
"Have my bed, Highness," I said, but he shook his head.
"No, no, no. I will sleep here. I am quite comfortable, but I will not go back to my room. I cannot sleep alone, Berghmann, I cannot sleep alone."
I put the light out and lay listening to his uneasy twistings, and presently, by his regular breathing, I knew that he was asleep. Only once he spoke, and then he muttered the word "Douaumont," and I knew that he was dreaming of Verdun, the greatest of his failures.
I SAW in one of the so-called memoirs of the period which I am reviewing, and which was published in a Scandinavian newspaper the other day, that the possibility of defeat, and all that defeat entailed came in the nature of a great shock and surprise to the members of the Imperial family.
From this, which was written by some know-all or busybody, who probably was no nearer to the Imperial Court than a Copenhagen garret, you might suppose that the question of defeat and all that it entailed had never been discussed in the Imperial family circle.
Nothing is farther from the truth. I think I am right in saying that, from the very day that war broke out, both the Kaiser, his wife and other members of the family, except perhaps the Crown Prince, foresaw the possibility of the gravest issue of the war.
Although the successes in March 1918 caused great elation, Berlin society was shocked by the news which leaked through later on of our terrible condition—soldiers refusing to fight, whole battalions marching away from the field, only the Guards faithful, etc., etc.
I had gone back to Spa after the events which I chronicled in my last chapter, and found that the Corps of Couriers had been increased to twelve, that is to say, had been more than trebled. This meant that, as Chief and as Courier Confidential to the Emperor, I had only the more important errands to perform; and the Emperor always retained me for the really vital journeys. This also meant, in effect, that I was held in reserve and practically given no work.
ONE morning the Emperor sent for me to his cabinet. I found him smoking a cigarette before a little wood fire, his hands in his pockets, his head on his breast. He turned his face to me as I entered the room and nodded in reply to my salute.
"I want you to go and see the Empress, Berghmann," he said, "and do what you can to reassure her. Her Majesty, as you know, has had a very bad nervous breakdown, and was making her recovery when fortune went against us."
I did not reply, but stood to attention, waiting for the Emperor to continue. He has a trick of breaking his instructions by little or long intervals of silence, which it is not discreet to interrupt. Now he was gazing moodily into the fire, turning over the something which had caused him to send for me. It was after an interval of about four minutes that he resumed.
"The Empress is full of schemes for improving our present terrible position," he said. "I think they are inept, but you must not tell the Empress this. She has written to me asking that you should be sent to her. I think Her Majesty wants you to go on a special mission. You will leave to-night."
I saluted and turned to the door, but he called me back.
"Before you go, Berghmann," he said, "I want to say this. One of Her Majesty's ideas is that if a courier could be got through into a certain country with which we were at war, and members of the Royal Family of that country could be interviewed, they would intervene on our behalf. I want you to humour Her Majesty in that idea, but please believe that it is wholly impossible, that the country she refers to is not only ruled by constitutional methods, and the actual power in the hands of its Parliament, but the Royal Families to which she will make reference are bitterly antagonistic to me and as violently our enemies as any people in Europe. I want you to be back by next Thursday if it is possible. That will give you a week. I am expecting His Imperial Highness," he added after a pause.
There was no need to ask which Imperial Highness, because practically the only one of his sons who had access to him in those last days was the Crown Prince.
I left not at night, but by the afternoon train, and reached Berlin on the following morning. There was a heavy block on the line, troop trains were being rushed down, and I passed scores of long trains laden with war material to replace that which had been taken by the Allies in the recent fighting. But remember along the line I could not help noticing that officers and men were equally depressed and equally hopeless.
THE Kaiserin was in the Royal Palace in Berlin, and I was shocked to see the change which only a few days had made in her appearance. She had not looked young for some time past. Ordinarily a plain woman, whose plainness, however, was relieved by a magnificent head of white hair, she used to carry herself with a certain regal dignity which was impressive. Now, however, she was an old woman. All the steel, the fire—such as it was—the imperturbable calm with which she was wont to meet every situation, had departed from her. Her face was haggard, her lips and hands trembled as she spoke, and she was sitting in a large invalid chair when I was ushered into the yellow drawing-room to meet her.
"My good Berghmann," she said tremulously, "what is the news? How is the Emperor looking?"
Those were invariably her words, and I replied in conventional terms.
"I have written to the Emperor. Did he show you my letter?"
"No, Majesty," I replied.
"I asked him to show you. I knew you would find some solution, my good Berghmann. You are so clever. I remember the way in which you found the silk I wanted, and how clever you were in organizing the Court concerts."
I might have told Her Majesty that the ability of a young man—for I was young in those days—to match silks and organise a concert when every artiste in Berlin was anxious to appear did not necessarily imply a genius for strategy.
"Majesty," I replied, "I know of no solution but that which Hindenburg alone can supply."
"Yes, yes," she said eagerly. "How clever of you to think that! That has been in my mind all night long. I have not slept for four nights, Berghmann. Think of that—not for four nights."
With a gesture she dismissed the ladies of honour who were about her. When we were alone she asked me in a whisper to see that the door was closed. I think by that she meant me to search beyond the door to discover whether there were any eavesdroppers. But at any rate, I did not take that extreme and uncomplimentary step.
"Berghmann," she said, her voice shaking, "the Empire is in the most terrible danger. Do you realise this?"
"Yes, Majesty. I quite understand that the future is menacing."
"Draw your chair closer," she said, and I obeyed.
"Berghmann," her voice sank, "is it not true that in moments of peril and crisis a woman's wit will often find a way out where men who are ever so much more clever have failed?"
"That is true, Majesty," I replied.
"I think I have found the solution. I believe that the Emperor has been very badly advised indeed. The ambitions of men to rise to great place have been the undoing of Germany and the Imperial Family."
I wondered of whom she was speaking, but she did not leave me any time to guess.
"I never trusted Ludendorff," she said. "It was a terrible mistake to take the command of the army out of the hands of its well-beloved general and place it under the direction of his lieutenant."
With this I was in complete agreement, and could say so with perfect honesty. I am sure that the troubles which have come to Germany have been brought about as much by the mistaken policy of giving Ludendorff a free hand to burn up the resources of the Empire as from any other cause.
"Hindenburg is the symbol of Germany's greatness," she went on, "and Hindenburg must be restored to favour."
"But, Majesty," I said, "the Marshal is in the greatest favour, and is in constant communication with the Emperor."
"That is not sufficient," she replied impatiently. "Ludendorff must be actually dismissed from the command of the army, and Hindenburg must be exalted to the highest rank. If necessary Majesty must make him a Prince, as he made Bismarck."
(As a matter of fact the Emperor did not make Bismarck a Prince but a Duke, but the Empress was always a little hazy even on the question of contemporary history.)
"I fear Marshal has been offended, but he must be appeased, Berghmann," she went on, "and I wish you to go to Coblenz to see him and ask him to make a supreme effort."
"But, Majesty," I said gently, "what can Marshal do? And would it not be better if such instructions came from the Emperor?"
She shook her head.
"The Emperor has told me I can do whatever I wish so far as encouraging Marshal is concerned," she said. "Go to him. Carry a letter which I have written. If that is not enough, Berghmann, you must tell him that you have seen me, that I realise that the situation can only be saved and our dear Germany relieved of its terrible danger if the soldiers know that he is again commanding them, and that his genius and wisdom is leading them."
Now, the very last instructions which I had received came from Colonel Hintz, who came with me to the railway station at Spa and told me, as from the Emperor, that I was to carry out to the letter any instructions which the Empress might give to me, unless they involved direct commands in relation to operations. So I bowed and expressed my willingness to leave for Coblenz at the earliest moment.
The Empress spent the whole of that afternoon writing in her private bureau. When I went there at five o'clock to take tea with her the floor was littered with torn and unfinished sheets of paper, but there was a thick envelope addressed in her own handwriting to "The Illustrious Field-Marshal von Hindenburg," with most of his titles displayed, including, significantly enough, the Order of the House of Hohenzollern.
When I got to Coblenz it was night, and there was no chance of seeing the Field-Marshal, who, I believe, as a matter of fact, did not sleep that night in Coblenz, but I sought and obtained an interview early in the morning at the Regierungsgebäude. He had been breakfasting with the District President at his residence just behind the Royal building.
I cannot honestly say that I noticed any change in the appearance of von Hindenburg. He was the same rugged, stern-looking man, with the same heavy, tired eyes and furrowed forehead, the same heavy movement of hand and body, the same brusque, booming voice greeted me, and the same resentful eyes watched me as I spoke. He took the letter of the Empress with a little bow, walked to a window, opened and read it, going back sometimes two or three pages to re-read and impress upon his mind some of the incoherent instructions which the Empress had sent in her terror and frenzy. Presently he finished the letter, folded it up, and put it in an inside pocket of his tunic. When he had rebuttoned his grey coat he walked back to the table, his hands behind him, his eyes fixed upon the ground.
"These are hard times, Herr Berghmann," he said (he would never call me by the honorary title of Captain, which was mine by right, and I have never finally decided in my mind whether this was an act of greatness or smallness on his part).
"They are very hard, Marshal," I replied.
"You are in the confidence of the Empress I understand," he went on. "Does your confidence go so far as to have been entrusted with the gist of this letter?"
"No, Marshal," I replied, "but I think I am aware of the trend of its contents."
"What can I do? It is too late, Berghmann. I have already told the Emperor that nothing can save us."
"But if you placed yourself at the head of the army again, Marshal?"
"I am at the head of the Army," he said grimly, "and what good am I doing? No Berghmann, those people who for the past nine months have been engaged in a policy of disparagement, and who have been spending their time in belittling my qualities—God knows they are not so many as people think—with the object of exalting Ludendorff, have rendered the country a very bad service. But please understand," he said quickly (roared would be a better word, because that was his way of speaking), "that I have no inflated ideas of my own value. I am thinking not of my own conception of my genius, but of the country's faith. The country must have idols, and it matters little whether they have feet of clay and heads of wood, so long as they who worship have faith. They have no faith in Ludendorff, and Ludendorff, before he essayed this mad adventure of his, never ceased to work that the faith of the country in myself should be destroyed.
"That is the whole tragedy of the situation, Berghmann. I cannot restore the confidence of the soldiers in ultimate victory. I have always known that this situation would arise if the Allies continued long enough. If we could only have kept the German people from the realisation of their defeat, we might have done anything because I am satisfied in my mind that the Entente Powers cannot last for another year, either on the point of finances or on the question of man-power. Ludendorff has not only exposed the working of Germany's military machine, but he has exposed its appalling weaknesses. His task, as I told him twelve months ago, was not to secure victory, but to avoid defeat, and in that sentence you may mark my military policy."
HE shrugged his shoulders and continued walking up and down the big room—it was in the Adjutant's room of the Royal building that this interview took place—and presently came to a halt before me.
"I could have avoided the knowledge of defeat, Berghmann. I can no longer do so. It is not a military problem which Germany is facing, but a psychological problem. It is not defeat, for we have been in defeat ever since the battle of the Marne, but the knowledge of defeat. If you can present a ready-made formula by which I can convince seventy million people that the Allies cannot win, I will put it into operation."
"What must I tell the Empress?"
He shook his head.
"What can I say?" he said helplessly. "You know how the situation stands as well as I do."
It was at this moment that there came perhaps one of the most dramatic moments that it has been my fortune or misfortune to live. There was a rap at the door, sharp and peremptory. Hindenburg looked up with a frown. Again the rap was repeated.
"Come in!" said Hindenburg harshly, and I could see the frown gathering between his eyes at this interruption.
The door opened, and to my amazement Ludendorff came in. He was wearing his long grey cloak, which was covered with dust, and apparently he had just arrived by motor car. He looked uncomfortably from me to Hindenburg, and after saluting the Marshal he said:—
"I didn't know you were here, Berghmann. Am I interrupting you? I have just come from the Crown Prince's headquarters. Can I see you, Marshall?"
"Alone?" asked Hindenburg.
"I do not think there is anything you can say that cannot be said before Berghmann," said Hindenburg.
"The matters I wish to discuss cannot possibly interest Herr Berghmann," said Ludendorff, and Hindenburg gave one of his rare smiles.
"They need not necessarily interest me," he said.
Ludendorff paused, as though he couldn't make up his mind what he was going to do.
"The situation is very irregular," he said at last, blurting the words in an ill-tempered voice. "I have just heard, Marshal, that you have handed to the General Staff a scheme for defending the Ardennes. That does not seem fair to me," he went on. "Let me stand or fall upon my own errors and my own orders."
"YOU have stood and fallen," growled Hindenburg. "As to the Ardennes scheme, it is an old one which was prepared three years ago, as you well know. I have not interfered in any respect with our schemes."
"I do not care what General Groener says," replied Hindenburg sharply. "It is sufficient that I should tell you that you have nothing to complain about. I do not think it is necessary to make any further explanation."
Ludendorff was nonplussed and hesitated. He was also very angry, as I could see. Hitherto I had only heard rumours of dissention between the two great men of Germany, and this was the very first time I had seen anything like signs of conflict between them. Clearly he did not wish to quarrel with the old Marshal, for his next words were of a conciliatory nature.
"I have a new plan for defending the Ardennes, and I believe that we can save the army in Belgium from any interference in their retreat. If the Ardennes are difficult to retreat through, they must be also difficult to advance through."
Hindenburg interrupted him with a gesture.
"Any plan for the defence of the Ardennes depends absolutely upon the enemy's will," he said. "The Ardennes are not defendable, once you have lost the Mormal Forest-Valenciennes line."
"If the weather would break," said Ludendorff hopefully.
"The weather will not break," snapped Hindenburg, "and besides, what if it does? You know who is your principal enemy—the British. You have seen what they can do in bad weather; they seem to revel in it, and our men do not like it as well. I don't think a break in the weather will help you, in fact, I am perfectly sure that it will lead to your destruction."
Ludendorff glanced at me, and then, "I have offered my resignation to the Emperor," he said.
"I know," he replied, "I advised the Emperor not to accept it."
A flush mounted to Ludendorff's cheeks.
"You seem to advise Majesty a great deal in relation to my affairs," he said.
Hindenburg turned round on him.
"You are speaking to your superior officer, General," he said quietly. "It is my privilege that I advise Majesty on many subjects which relate to the welfare of the realm. There can be no question of your retiring. You must see the thing through to a successful conclusion, or you must accept the responsibilities and consequences of defeat."
"What will they be?" asked Ludendorff, eyeing him narrowly.
Hindenburg shrugged, and with that shrug the interview ended.
The Marshal did not speak again till Ludendorff had gone, and then he returned straight away to the subject of the letter.
"You see how matters are, Berghmann. Although I am virtually in charge of the Army, I must still leave Ludendorff to finish his work. I cannot take over control of military movements whilst Ludendorff is in the field, and I do not see any advantage in my doing so. If you will return to me to-night I will have a letter written for Her Majesty. In the meantime I advise you to be reticent as to the object of your visit."
I took my leave, and did not see Hindenburg again. When I returned at six o'clock I found his adjutant awaiting me with a letter heavily sealed.
"The Marshall has been called away to Spa," he said, "and is sorry he could not see you before he went, but you will understand. This letter will explain to the Empress the Marshal's peculiar position."
WHEN I got back to Berlin I could not see the Empress. She had another bad attack of nerves, and her daughter, the Duchess of Brunswick, had been summoned to the Palace. Her Imperial Highness came to see me—a tall, willowy girl, rather pretty, but with something of her brother William's temperament—the Duchess had all the Imperial qualities of the Hohenzollern house.
"My mother is too ill to be seen. Is there anything exciting in this letter?" she asked, turning it over dubiously.
"I am afraid it is not a happy letter, your Highness," I replied. "It is from Hindenburg."
"I recognized the writing," she said. "Well, Berghmann, what is to become of all of us?"
I murmured some commonplace, but she did not allow me to finish.
"When have you to return to the Emperor?" she asked.
"The day after to-morrow," I replied.
"Then you can come with me to-night," said she. "I am going to know the worst."
"Does your Imperial Highness intend going to Headquarters?" I asked, a little aghast, because the Emperor did not favour these surprise visits.
She shook her head. Her blue eyes were fixed on mine with an expression of determination—a less charitable word would be obstinacy—which is the peculiarity of the Hohenzollerns.
"No," she replied. "When I said I am going to find the worst I am going to find it, but not through the Emperor. We will go to Madame von Stael."
It was my turn to be astonished. Of course, everyone has heard of Madame von Stael (I may be permitted to think that the "von" is an honorary title which the lady has adopted herself). She was known in pre-war days as "the Emperor's soothsayer," and certainly of all the fortune tellers I have ever met Madame von Stael was the most amazingly gifted.
"But, Highness," I said, a little shocked, "you cannot in these serious times—when every quality of Christianity is called into expression—consult a woman who—"
"Be silent, Berghmann," she commanded me. "We will go to Madame von Stael this evening."
ALTHOUGH I knew that the Hohenzollerns believed in supernatural manifestations, I had no knowledge of the Royal Family patronising Madame Von Staehl, and I confess I felt a little ashamed of myself when I found myself waiting at the Palace that evening to conduct the Duchess of Brunswick to a séance.
She kept me waiting three-quarters of an hour before she put in an appearance, and then I found her plainly dressed and heavily veiled. A small closed motor car was waiting for us at one of the side doors of the Palace, and we drove down Linden to the corner block where, above Kellers, Madame Von Staehl had her salon.
She was, I found, a short, stout, dumpy woman, evidently with some native blood in her, for her face was swarthy and there were tell-tale half-moons on her fingernails. She welcomed us with a certain familiarity which grated upon me, and which suggested that this was not the first visit which the Duchess had paid.
"I had Highness' telephone message," she said, ushering us into a large room furnished in the Oriental style with thick carpets and shaded lamps, "and I have given instructions that no other clients are to be admitted."
"Do you have many clients nowadays?" asked the Duchess curiously.
Madame Von Staehl laughed.
"Yes, indeed, Highness. All sorts of people—officers and their wives, who want to know when the war is going to end and whether they will escape."
She produced from a cupboard a large crystal bowl, and set it on an Indian table in the centre of the room directly under a powerful overhead lamp, and the Duchess pulled up her chair opposite to this fortune-teller.
You can imagine how foolish I felt at finding myself a participant in this nonsensical séance. But the Duchess was quite serious, and drank in every word that Madame Von Staehl uttered. The fortune-teller looked long and earnestly into the globe, and at last said—
"I see dark clouds gathering everywhere, and for you is a very great loss."
"My husband?" asked the Duchess quickly.
"No, Highness, he will come through the war alive. But you will lose in worldly estates."
"Shall we lose the throne of Brunswick?" asked the girl.
"I see no throne," replied Madame Von Stael. "I only see you wandering in a foreign land."
The Duchess shivered.
"That means we are going to lose the war," she said. "What of my father? What will happen to him?"
"I cannot see him very clearly, except as a fleeting figure appearing and disappearing amidst the clouds," said Madame Von Staehl. (I have endeavoured as far as possible to reproduce the conversation faithfully as it occurred, but naturally and necessarily there will be certain inaccuracies, because I did not take a short-hand note of the conversation.)
The Duchess asked many questions, mostly relating to herself, her husband, child, and relations, but not once did she ask about Germany and its future. I was angry at finding myself trapped into this nonsensical experience, and determined, on my return to headquarters, to complain to the Emperor. But when the interview had concluded Madame Von Staehl said a thing which made me change my mind.
"HAD Highness come to-morrow she would not have seen me," she said at parting. "I am leaving Berlin by the early morning train."
"Indeed!" said the Duchess. "Where are you going?"
"I am going to Spa," said Madame Von Staehl, trembling with pride.
"To see the Emperor?"
The woman nodded.
"Majesty sent for me this afternoon," she said, and I looked at the Duchess to discover what effect this surprising news had upon her. I was amazed to discover that she took it calmly and as a matter of course. Apparently this was not the first visit which Madame Von Staehl had paid to the Emperor.
"I hope," said the Duchess, "that you will be able to give my father a little better news than you have given me, though we all seem equally involved in the catastrophe which is hanging over us."
She slipped a banknote into the fortune-teller's hand, and just as we were going she turned around and asked—
"Has the little man seen the Emperor?"
Madame Von Staehl shook her head vigorously.
"Majesty sent for him but he would not go. Oh, what a terrible old man that is, Highness!"
"Terrible, and yet—" The Duchess hesitated. "Where is he now?" she asked.
The woman shrugged her shoulders.
"Who can tell? The little rascal! In prison as likely as not, or drunk, or talking sedition to the Socialists."
But the Duchess was not to be put off.
"Is it impossible to find him?" she said.
Whoever this person was who was referred to as the "Little Man" and the "Old Man," he was evidently not persona grata with Madame Von Staehl, for she replied shortly—
"I will inquire, if Highness desires."
I was rather piqued to discover that there was something about the Court which I knew nothing of. I had never before heard of the Little Old Man, and evidently disreputable Little Old Man, whose presence was so urgently required, but that was another curious characteristic of my master, that he did enjoy these little secrets which he shared with none. I ventured to ask Her Grand Ducal Highness on the way back to the Palace who the little man was, but she offered me no very satisfactory reply.
"Oh he's just a man who is rather amusing, but is not in favour just now," she said. Then suddenly. "I wonder if you could find him."
How I cursed myself and my stupidity in taking any interest in this person!
"I'm afraid I must be back at Headquarters on Thursday, Highness," I replied, "and I cannot give very much time for any but the Emperor's private business."
"But this is a matter which really affects my mother," she said imperiously, "and as it affects my mother it necessarily affects the Emperor. I will give you full particulars."
Later I was to meet the Little Old Man (who turned out to be no other than the Herr Professor Mannesmann, of whom all scientists have heard). Incidentally I may mention that if Madame Von Staehl went to Headquarters, I never saw nor heard of her. She was probably boasting and lying as all these theatrical charlatans boast, though I should believe that it is quite possible that His Majesty had consulted the woman on some previous occasion. Certainly her precious "gifts" bore no relationship to those of the Professor.
I awaited the instructions of the Grand Duchess with some impatience.
WHATEVER the instructions were to have been, however, they were never given. I was waiting that night in my room at the Adlon Hotel, when I was told that I must go to the Palace at once. This was about two o'clock in the morning. It was raining desperately, and as the Palace officials had omitted to send a car to fetch me, I had a three-mile tramp. To my amazement I was immediately conducted to the Kaiserin, who was fully dressed and alone. As a rule, she expressed no repugnance at awaking people at any hour of the night, but this time she was apologetic, and more normal than I had seen her for months past.
"I have been speaking to the Emperor on the 'phone," she said, "and he wishes you to go straight back to Headquarters."
Then, seeing the wet state of my clothing and the mud on my boots, she asked—
"Surely they did not forget to send the car for you?"
One tries to hide the deficiencies of other officials, so I made an excuse for the Master of the Stables, whose business it was to have seen that I was properly accommodated. But she brushed my excuses for him aside.
"It is monstrous," she said. "I will send at once to the hotel for dry clothing for you, and you may sleep at the Palace until seven o'clock. Your train leaves at eight."
I did not sleep in truth, but spent the remainder of the night talking to the Kaiserin. She was, as I say, very calm and normal, and spoke about the Emperor and her children pleasantly and rather amusingly. I say rather amusingly because Her Majesty is not ordinarily a lady possessed of any great sense of humour. She was very distressed about Prince Eitel's domestic affairs. As all the world knows, he and his wife did not get on very well together, she being much older than he and a terrible flirt. Eitel is the Kaiserin's favorite child. She stands too much in awe of the Crown Prince, and too vividly remembers the treatment by the Kaiser of his own mother to put much faith in William. And I have frequently noticed when she has been speaking to him that it was in a tone of deference rather than one of authority. The coffee was brought in at five o'clock in the morning, and then it was that she gave me some inkling of the reasons for my recall.
"YOU are not going to Spa, Berghmann," she said, "but to Cologne. Did I tell you that?"
"No, Majesty," I replied.
"Yes it is to Cologne that you go. The Emperor is meeting the naval chiefs, Von Hintze, Von Scheer, Von Capelle." She hesitated.
"Will Admiral Von Tirpitz also be present, madam?" I asked.
"That is a secret, and you must not know, even if I tell you," she said. "He will not be there in an official capacity, but rather as the Emperor's friend to advise him. We have still a fleet, you know, Berghmann. The army must never forget that our navy remains unbeaten after the glorious battle of Jutland."
I had my own views about the "glorious battle of Jutland." To me it has always been a miracle that we escaped. At any rate, there did not seem to be much prospect of the navy helping us out of our mess, because the British had built a number of new ships, as we knew—the most powerful in the world—and their fleet had been recently augmented by large squadrons from the United States Navy. However, it does not do to remind Royal personages of unpleasant things, so I was discreetly silent.
I found myself travelling westward with half-a-hundred members of the Ministry of Marine, including all the permanent heads of departments, the Chief of the Naval Intelligence; Count George Von Arco, the illustrious inventor of the Telefunken; and Count Albert Ballin, the head of the Hamburg American Line, who joined the train about ten miles outside of Berlin. I knew Ballin very well, and I was surprised at the change that had come over him. I never saw a more depressed or wretched looking man, and I am certain that though he was a great lover of Majesty it was not the little quarrel which he had had with the Emperor which had produced that extraordinary change in his appearance. He looked haggard, his eyes were bloodshot, his clothes, usually so neat and spruce, were uncared for, and he did little save sit in a corner of the carriage, his hands thrust into his pockets, looking out at the dreary landscape. I managed, however, to get a few words of conversation with him, because I knew that he more than any other man in Germany had a knowledge of the situation. Poor Ballin! I did not realise how soon he was to die by his own hand in despair at Germany's ghastly failure.
"I don't see what they can expect the navy to do," he said. "It was only by a fluke that we escaped at Jutland. Surely at this, the eleventh hour, they do not expect our men to go out and sacrifice themselves! They have had a fluke, and now they want a miracle. There is no more chance of wiping the British from the sea than there is of lifting Britain bodily and throwing it into Russia."
"How is the situation, Herr Ballin?" I asked.
"As bad as it can possibly be," he replied shortly. "There isn't even the ghost of a chance that we can escape the consequence of the supreme folly which made this war. It was madness, madness!" he cried. "I warned them against it, these infernal Junkers, but they would blood their swords and imagine that they were going to have a walk-over."
"There have certainly been some grave mistakes," I replied, more to lead him on than for any other reason.
"Mistakes!" he almost roared. "We could have put into the field an army of eight million, and what did we do? We put in less than two million on the assurance that we were going to rush through France and capture Paris in six weeks. The Entente say that we were prepared for war, and that we had been forty years preparing for it. Yes, so we had. But we were preparing for the wrong kind of war. If we had been ready for war, and understood what war would be, there would have been no question but that Germany would have come out on top, and that within a couple of months. I tell you, Berghmann, that Germany is ruined, and it will take fifty years to recover from this damnable war—if it ever recovers."
"Do you think that if the Allies win they will impose an indemnity?"
"What do you imagine?" he asked rudely. "Have you no brains? Did we not teach them that the lot of the conquered was to pay indemnity to the conqueror? Of course, they will ask for an indemnity. We taught them that at Versailles in 1871. We are ruined, ruined, Berghmann. The shipping industry—"
He snapped his fingers.
I think this was very nearly the last conversation on affairs that Ballin had with any private individual.
The weather had changed long before we got to Cologne, and the old city was bathed in the radiance of an autumn sunset when we drove from the station to the hotel where the conference was to be held. Nobody knew whether the Emperor had arrived, but, as a matter of fact, he had been in the town for the greater part of twenty-four hours.
On the advice of the Burgomaster he had not shown himself abroad because feeling was running very high in these Rhine towns. This was partly the effect of the Allies' persistent policy of air raids, one of the most brutal systems of intimidating the civilian population that has ever been devised, and one which will everlastingly stand as a blot upon the chivalry and humanity of our enemies.
(Herr Berghmann characteristically omits to mention the fact that air raiding as a method of intimidating the civilian populations was first practised by the Germans, and that the British attacks upon the Rhine towns were by way of reprisal.—Translator).
In the great dining saloon of the Hotel ____ we gathered at ten o'clock the following morning. I had discovered overnight that the Emperor was in Cologne, but his adjutant advised me that there was no need for reporting my arrival, and that the Emperor desired to be alone. At nine the following morning, however, I was instructed to attend the meeting, rather to my surprise, because I know nothing whatever about the navy, except that it has been a great expense, and that money which has been spent upon it might with profit have been used to strengthen the army.
In other days, of course, I should not have been allowed to participate in the Councils, or to have been an auditor, but we were now reaching the time when we were standing less and less upon ceremony, and many irregular things were done which would have horrified the old Court and Government officials of other times.
The Emperor sat not at the head but at the side of a big table, and accommodation was found for the Admiralty chiefs. We minor officials formed a sort of background, drawing up our chairs as near as we possibly could to the table and bending forward to catch every opinion which was expressed.
It has been said that the military chiefs participated in the Council of Cologne, but that is not true. There was a representative of the Prussian War Office present, but he was there deputising for the Financial Secretary of the Admiralty, who had been taken ill with influenza on the way to Cologne. Neither Hindenburg nor Ludendorff nor Groener were in the room, and, except myself, who was a civilian, and the officer to whom I have referred, the whole conference was made up of naval men.
The first part of the meeting was curiously like a Board meeting of an industrial company. The figures were produced, number of sailors, amount of provisions, munitions, etc.; reports were received on new construction, and there was a special report on the U-boat campaign.
IT was when this had been read by Von Scheer that the real "liveliness," as the British call it, began. After the report had been read by the Naval Secretary, the Emperor looked round at a vacant chair which was placed next but one to his own.
"I think we had better ask the Admiral to come now," he said, and at a nod from Von Hintze one of the secretaries left the room, and returned in about three minutes, during which no word was spoken, with the well-known, and at one time well-beloved, figure.
I must say that there was nothing dejected in the mien of Admiral Von Tirpitz, and all who say that he came cringing to that meeting are telling that which is not true. He was bright, buoyant, and cheerful. He had a smile for everybody, and accepted the Emperor's proffered hand as though it were his right. It is not true, therefore, to say that Von Tirpitz was ever in disgrace with the Emperor; or, if it was true, then, indeed, His Majesty was the most brilliant of actors, because I saw a genuine affection in his eyes as he gripped the Admiral's hand.
For the Admiral's benefit the figures were read over again, and he nodded at every item.
"Well, what do you think, Admiral?" asked the Kaiser. "Do you agree that the U-boat campaign has failed in its purpose?"
"Absolutely," said Von Tirpitz. "It failed because we went at it faint-heartedly and we delayed our operations until too late."
"The best thing we can do now," said Von Scheer, "is to recall the U-boats by wireless."
"I don't see what advantage that is. You only gain a day or two, and you might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. That would be a sign of weakness which would be tantamount to a confession of our defeat. No, I think that is a subsidiary question, and one which we need not seriously discuss. I take it that the object of this meeting is to decide what course to follow in relation to the fleet. What do you think, Von Scheer?"
It is curious what an extraordinary hold Von Tirpitz had over the situation to the very last, and, although he had no official standing, he was able to demand in that imperious tone of the acknowledged chief of the navy a statement of his plans.
"I think it would be madness to fight," said Von Scheer.
"You mean it would be madness to attempt to fight?" said Tirpitz with a little smile. "From what I hear the navy is not the best disciplined in the world."
Von Scheer frowned. That statement was, of course, a reflection upon him in the administrative capacity.
"The navy suffers from the same defect as the Eastern army suffered," he said. "It has been brought into contact with Bolshevism, which seems to me to be a purely German creation."
"That is not true," said the Emperor shortly. "I will not have that sort of talk. I abominate Bolshevism. I deplore the death of the Czar as much as any of his relations. I have done my best to check its growth. Nevertheless, I agree that if Bolshevism has found its way to our fleet it is because the fleet has been brought into contact with the Russians. The question is—How far have those pernicious principles affected the morale of our sailors?"
He looked at Von Scheer, who took a moment to consider before he replied.
"Majesty," he said, "some of the ships are beyond criticism. The discipline and morale is most excellent. In other ships I am not so sure. Majesty will remember that there have been several outbreaks, and that last spring we had to shoot a number of the ringleaders."
"The question is—Will they fight?" broke in Tirpitz impatiently. "And if they fight, have they any chance of beating the British?"
"What is your own theory, Admiral?" asked the Emperor, turning to Von Capelle.
"Majesty," said the Admiral frankly, "I do not believe the men will fight. There is open talk of the insanity of sending them to sea to meet the combined British and American navies. They say that it is our intention to sacrifice them in order to save our own faces, and that idea is widespread."
AGAIN a gloomy silence, and then began a general conversation—a very unusual thing at an important meeting of this description. Into the discussion the Kaiser's voice broke.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I am still in ignorance as to the exact position. Can anybody here tell me whether the navy will fight or whether it will not? What do you say, Henry?"
And then for the first time I saw, not sitting at the Council Board, as I had expected, but a little aloof, the Emperor's brother. I had not seen him for three years, and I knew at one time that he was in disgrace.
He passed his hand down his beard, a nervous trick of his, and replied shortly—
"The navy will not fight. It cannot be depended upon."
"Is that the report of the man who has been its Commander-in-Chief?" asked the Emperor sarcastically.
"That is my report," replied the Prince, "and I would remind Majesty that much has happened since I had control."
"But they must help us; they must!" said the Emperor vehemently, striking the table with thunderous blows. "I have spent the nation's money like water; I have devoted the whole of my life to building up this great fighting force, and that I was justified the battle of Jutland shows and proves. They have sworn loyalty to me and my house, and to-day they have an opportunity of fulfilling their vows. The navy can yet save us by bold and resolute action. It is nonsense to suggest that we should surrender our fleet intact! Do you imagine that the British would give up whilst they had one ship that could take the water and one man that could fire a gun? No, no! The British have again and again pulled themselves out of the fire by the courage and resolution of their naval leaders, and I expect the German Navy, which is trained in the tradition of Nelson, to save Germany from defeat and humiliation at the hands of its enemies. I appeal to you, gentlemen," he cried, with a sweep of his hand, "you who are intimately associated with the navy, and who know the sailors' hearts and know mine, to go to your ships, inspire your officers, and through them, inspire your men with the necessities of the moment."
At that moment a messenger came in with a telegram, which he handed first to Von Scheer, who read it, and handed it to the Emperor. I saw the Emperor's face go white, and then he said in a dull voice—
"Gentlemen, two of our battleships have hoisted the red flag!"
WHILE the events which were recorded in the last chapter were in progress I was, as I say, in Munich. Ostensibly the guest of the King, I was in reality the guest of Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, who has not by any means an enviable reputation in Britain, where during the war he gained the appellation of "Rupprecht the Strafer," because he circulated copies of the Hymn of Hate* to his soldiers, and because of his frequent excitable outbursts against the Allies, especially during the time when the German hosts were meeting with successes which only proved short-lived.
* Haßgesang gegen England. A notorious poem written in 1914 by the German-Jewish poet and dramatist Ernst Lissauer (1892-1937). See Wikipedia. —RG.
Was schiert uns Russe und Franzos'?
Schuß wider Schuß und Stoß um Stoß!
Wir lieben sie nicht,
Wir hassen sie nicht,
Wir schützen Weichsel und Wasgaupass,—
Wir haben nur einen einzigen Haß,
Wir lieben vereint, wir hassen vereint,
Wir haben nur einen einzigen Feind:
Denn ihr alle wißt, denn ihr alle wißt,
Er sitzt geduckt hinter der grauen Flut,
Voll Neid, voll Wut, voll Schläue, voll List,
Durch Wasser getrennt, die sind dicker als Blut.
Wir wollen treten in ein Gericht,
Einen Schwur zu schwören, Gesicht in Gesicht,
Einen Schwur von Erz, den verbläst kein Wind,
Einen Schwur für Kind und für Kindeskind,
Vernehmt das Wort, sagt nach das Wort,
Es wälzt sich durch ganz Deutschland fort:
Wir wollen nicht lassen von unserem Haß,
Wir haben alle nur einen Haß,
Wir lieben vereint, wir hassen vereint,
Wir alle haben nur einen Feind:
In der Bordkajüte, im Feiersaal,
Sassen Schiffsoffiziere beim Liebesmahl,
Wie ein Säbelhieb, wie ein Segelschwung,
Einer riß grüssend empor den Trunk,
Knapp hinknallend wie Ruderschlag,
Drei Worte sprach er: „Auf den Tag!“
Wem galt das Glas?
Sie hatten alle nur einen Haß.
Wer war gemeint?
Sie hatten alle nur einen Feind:
Nimm du die Völker der Erde in Sold,
Baue Wälle aus Barren von Gold,
Bedecke die Meerflut mit Bug bei Bug,
Du rechnetest klug, doch nicht klug genug.
Was schiert uns Russe und Franzos'?
Schuß wider Schuß, und Stoß um Stoß!
Wir kämpfen den Kampf mit Bronze und Stahl,
Und schliessen den Frieden irgend einmal, —
Dich werden wir hassen mit langem Haß,
Wir werden nicht lassen von unserem Haß,
Haß zu Wasser und Haß zu Land,
Haß des Hauptes und Haß der Hand,
Haß der Hämmer und Haß der Kronen,
Drosselnder Haß von siebzig Millionen,
Sie lieben vereint, sie hassen vereint,
Sie alle haben nur einen Feind:
Hate against England.
French and Russian, they matter not,
A blow for a blow and a shot for a shot!
We love them not, we hate them not,
We hold the Weichsel and Vosges gate.
We have but one and only hate,
We love as one, we hate as one,
We have one foe and one alone.
He is known to you all, he is known to you all,
He crouches behind the dark gray flood,
Full of envy, of rage, of craft, of gall,
Cut off by waves that are thicker than blood.
Come, let us stand at the Judgment Place,
An oath to swear to, face to face,
An oath of bronze no wind can shake,
An oath for our sons and their sons to take.
Come, hear the word, repeat the word,
Throughout the Fatherland make it heard.
We will never forego our hate,
We have all but a single hate,
We love as one, we hate as one,
We have one foe and one alone —
In the Captain's Mess, in the banquet hall,
Sat feasting the officers, one and all,
Like a sabre blow, like the swing of a sail,
One seized his glass and held high to hail;
Sharp-snapped like the stroke of a rudder's play,
Spoke three words only: "To the Day!"
Whose glass this fate?
They had all but a single hate.
Who was thus known?
They had one foe and one alone--
Take you the folk of the Earth in pay,
With bars of gold your ramparts lay,
Bedeck the ocean with bow on bow,
Ye reckon well, but not well enough now.
French and Russian, they matter not,
A blow for a blow, a shot for a shot,
We fight the battle with bronze and steel,
And the time that is coming Peace will seal.
You we will hate with a lasting hate,
We will never forego our hate,
Hate by water and hate by land,
Hate of the head and hate of the hand,
Hate of the hammer and hate of the crown,
Hate of seventy millions choking down.
We love as one, we hate as one,
We have one foe and one alone--
—Translation by Barbara Henderson, 1914.
During all the years I have known him I have never seen him so distressed in mind, so short of temper and so petulant in manner as he was on the occasion of my visit. Of course, that was understandable, because the Royal Houses of Germany at this moment were in a highly nervous condition. But, added to all his other troubles, he has a deeper and more human reason for resenting the turn of Fortune's wheel.
"I know what you have come about, Berghmann. I have already received a letter from His Majesty which leaves me in no doubt as to the suspicions he harbours against my house. He thinks we of Bavaria harbour ambitions for the throne of Germany. Well, you can dispel his mind of that, Berghmann. If matters take the turn which we expect, the post of the Emperor of Germany will be one which no intelligent Prince will care to accept."
"THERE is some talk, Highness," I said deferentially, "of course. I am no statesman, and I do not understand these things very much. I can only repeat what I am told—that His Majesty the Emperor of Austria—"
"You can kill that stupid rumour too," said the Prince complacently. "The Emperor has certainly been here and seen us, but he and his country are in even a worse condition than we are in Germany. He cannot give help—he wants it. I see a ridiculous rumour has been spread that a new confederation of German States will come into being under the spiritual leadership of Austria. That is absurd. Austria is not in a position to engage herself in any of those freakish adventures, and certainly the times are too unstable to form another monarchy. We are all anxious, and naturally so. We have been loyal to Prussia, but Prussia is not Germany, and we have reached a point where Bavaria and Saxony and Wurtemburg must all strive to find a method by which they can avoid the overwhelming disaster which threatens the State, or rather, their State," he added as an afterthought.
"I thought all States were one, Highness."
"They were," he replied shortly. "Very soon they will not be. You Prussians think of the German Empire as something which has existed for thousands of years, a conglomeration of States under the direction of Prussia. Germany in reality is, and always has been, a collection of independent States, and though we have been somewhat hypnotised during the recent regime, we have never forfeited our right or our privilege to make independent representations, and, so far as Bavaria is concerned, to maintain a Minister Plenipotentiary at Foreign Courts."
He was so precise, and spoke in such a distinct and emphatic manner, that I realised he wished me to carry his message back to the Emperor, and on my return to my apartment I made a full note, so far as my memory served me, and I do not think I went far wrong, of the conversation so far as it related to the political position.
My talk with the King that afternoon was on very much the same lines and produced exactly the same statements, couched practically in identical language, concerning independent Bavaria and her right to determine her own destiny. The King, however, took a more gloomy view of the situation than the Crown Prince, and openly stated—and that in the presence of a number of officers who were in his salon when the conversation took place—that he was contemplating a very early retirement from Bavaria.
If this were merely a record of the exchanged views and diplomatic conversations (I am exaggerating my function when I liken myself to a Diplomat, but that loose description covers the occasion) the chapter I am now writing would be quickly ended. But as I said before, it was not wholly the grave national crisis which occupied the Crown Prince's mind and attention. He had recently become engaged to the young sister of the Grand Duchess Marie of Luxemburg, and although a great deal of ribald comment has been written about this match between a man who is over fifty and a young girl of eighteen in the French newspapers, yet I can affirm that, so far as the Prince was concerned, it was a love match, and that he regarded his young fiancée with something which was little short of adoration. He had been previously married to the Duchess Marie Gabrielle of Bavaria, by whom he had children, and he had always been a great favourite with the Grand Duchess.
Of her beautiful sister Rupprecht was enamoured, and his engagement was announced in 1917. There are many people in Germany who believe that the girl was forced into the engagement, but I think time will show that this is one of the canards which so actively fly about or roost upon the Royal palaces of Europe.
It was the prospect of losing not his throne but his fiancée, the fear that she had been induced to plight her troth with him because of the splendour which awaited her as Queen of Bavaria, that brought the greatest unhappiness to the Bavarian Crown Prince. He is a man of certain sentimentality, and I feel that I am rendering him no bad service when I reproduce three of the letters which fell into my hands in most remarkable circumstances.
And let me say here that I praise Prince Rupprecht even though, from the documents which came into my hands, I am satisfied that he was planning to betray the House of Hohenzollern and to set up, despite his assurances and protests, a new Wittelsbach dynasty upon the Imperial throne.
LET me tell the story of how the letters came into my possession. It was the practice of the German Foreign Office to maintain secret agents not only in countries which might possibly be enemies in the future, but also in the Courts of the minor princes and kings whose States constituted the German Empire. We had at the Bavarian Court a man whom I will call Kline, whose business it was to report to Berlin any unusual happenings and to assist the other officers of the Intelligence Department who might temporarily be in Munich on business. Very naturally, I communicated—or rather the Foreign Office communicated in advance—with Mr. Kline, who served in a rather lowly capacity as valet de chambre to one of the Prince's gentlemen. He brought me coffee to my room by arrangement, and then he told me in a few brief words all the gossip of the Court which he thought might interest me. There was no time to make any very lengthy or important communication, but he made it clear to me that he had something which it was absolutely necessary he should tell me, and so I arranged to meet him in a beer-house at Munich that same evening. I will not say that I disguised myself, but I certainly made myself as inconspicuous as possible when I strolled out of the Palace after dinner to my appointment. I found my man without any great difficulty, and he was in such a nervous state that I realized the news was of the utmost importance.
What he had to tell me was indeed alarming. The Emperor Carl had been canvassing Saxony and Bavaria with the object of forming a confederation of States under the aegis of German-Austria. This scheme had the approval of the Bavarians, but Carl was asked, as a reward for Bavarian support, that he should support the claim of the Wittelsbachs to the throne of Germany. It is probably known by the reader that the German Emperors do not hold their position by hereditary right, that is, technically speaking. In truth, it is a hereditary office, but according to the Constitution the German Emperor must be formally elected by the Kings and Princes of the State. In practice nobody ever questions the right of a Hohenzollern to this position, but in theory any German King can become a candidate, and it is known that the Wittelsbachs were deadly rivals of the Hohenzollerns for this distinction. Rupprecht, who was the chief conspirator, had demanded as a reward for his support of the Austrian scheme that the Wittelsbachs should replace the Hohenzollerns upon the throne of Germany, and that the King of Prussia should take a second place.
All this Kline told me in a few brief, crisp sentences.
"Have you any proof?" I demanded.
For reply he pulled a bulky packet of papers from his pocket.
"I have not had time to sort them out. If I did so I should only have aroused suspicion," he said. "These were put away in the Crown Prince's steel box, to which he goes very seldom."
When I got the packets into my room and had locked the door, I found that there were a number of letters addressed by various personages to the Prince, and that in addition there was a flexible manifold book made up of thin sheets of paper, which contained copies of all his correspondence. As those acquainted with Prince Rupprecht know, he wrote most of his letters himself, seldom dictating them, and inscribed them in a manifold book, keeping a carbon sheet even of his most intimate correspondence. I need not enlarge here upon the letters which dealt with his act of treason against the German State. It is sufficient to say that he would be convicted over and over again of conspiring with the Hapsburgs to overturn the House of Hohenzollern and set the Wittelsbachs in their place, and I say that with a full knowledge of my grave responsibility.
There were twelve short letters addressed to the King of Saxony, the Duke of Wurtemburg, and the Emperor of Austria, and one letter which was addressed to Herr von Bethmann Hollweg. But sandwiched between these were letters which must certainly be in the nature of a surprise to many readers of this narrative in view of all the reports about Prince Rupprecht.
The first of the three was dated from a château in France, but was evidently written in Munich after his return. It runs:—
"BELOVED, much against my will and intention, and contrary to all my expectations, I am back again in Munich, and it is extremely unlikely that I shall return to the front. I will not bother your dear head with all the quarrels and petty jealousies, the treacheries, to which I have been subjected. It is sufficient to say that the greatest blow to my heart is that I no longer oppose my body between you in your little boudoir and the English bulldogs who, I am sure, are waiting their opportunity to strike. I felt, so long as I commanded the armies which were drawn like a screen between you, my lovely rose of Luxemburg, and the enemies of our beloved land, that I was serving Germany in a dual capacity as lover and warrior. But now, alas! I can no longer have that satisfaction, though I hasten to tell you that there is no fear, for the armies are to be put under Von Below, who is a most excellent General and a greater strategist than I."
"I could not stay and occupy the hollow position of commander of the armies when day by day they were sapping my strength for the glorification of William. Day after day I have seen my poor Bayerns marched off to the slaughter of the Aisne, and day after day I have protested, now to the Emperor, now to Hindenburg (who has practically no authority), now to Ludendorff, who only shrugs his shoulders and says—'His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince is in need of men, and they must go.' What is going to happen here if the British attack? I will tell you. They are going to break through! When I told this to the Emperor he laughed, and said that the British had had so many heavy losses that they could never afford to attack and never will attack again. He doesn't know the British as well as I, for it has been my misfortune to be standing against them through four years of bitter war. But if the British losses were heavy, what of ours? I shudder to think of them. But that is enough of war and its horrors, my best beloved. For you my heart holds nothing, and my eyes see nothing but the very light of dawn, when your young life shall be in my keeping, and I shall take on a new lease of youth in the contemplation of your loveliness. Surely Eros is the god of youth rather than of love!"
This letter was evidently written before matters had reached a crisis, and when the well-known quarrel between the two Crown Princes was at its height. I am betraying no secret when I say that Prince Rupprecht, dissatisfied with the forces which were held at his disposal, refused any longer to be responsible for the safety of the line, and asked to be relieved of his command. This request the Emperor refused, whereupon, without any further communication with Headquarters, the Prince Rupprecht packed up his bag and left by special train for Munich, notifying the Emperor that he had placed the control of the armies temporarily under a General.
THE Emperor made every effort to induce the Crown Prince of Bavaria to reconsider his decision, but once a Wittelsbach makes up his mind he is rather a difficult man to move. The second letter from which I quote (of course, there were many which I do not think should be revealed for the gratification of a curious world, and I am only producing these three samples because they concern a charge which has been levelled against the Crown Prince of Bavaria and to support my contention that he was engaged in a political conspiracy) was written after his return to Munich, and when the clouds on the horizon were growing dark and menacing.
"Dearest (it began), I tremble for our future. What will you think of me without a throne? As for you, you will be queen always within my heart, enthroned, you sitting as light as thistledown upon the petal of my love's flower. And though I be a fugitive in exile, yet will I be the king of the world if you be my queen. On your lovely brow I will place a crown more precious than gold, the crown of my adoration, and you shall rule the kingdom of my heart and my soul. That is how I see matters, little doll, but alas! how will you view these things through your clear young eyes? Are you apprehensive? Do you fear? Is the future very black to you? Do you doubt? Have you a regret? All these thoughts crowd one upon the other in my tortured mind. Love is such a wonderful thing—more wonderful to me now in the maturity of my life than it has ever been before, more real and more wonderful. The memory of your supernal loveliness comes to me as a pleasure and a pain. The incense of your hair, the fragrance of your breath, the divinity of your poise, the beauty of your every movement—all these things I remember, and they tantalise, inspire, and depress me. Yet I cannot imagine that you, with your beautiful mind, can think less of me if by fortune's gambler throw I am bereft of a throne and country. That was not the message in your eyes that soft October night, when the moon shone mistily overhead and the little river ripped past our feet, and from the town below came the sound of soldiers singing—do you remember, my darling? Write to me soon, little doll. I am sending Baron von Zeiss by aeroplane with this—it is quicker than telegraph, and the posts are impossible, to say nothing of the fact that most of my letters which are coming through Prussia are being opened and read. An answer, I pray you! Quickly, quickly!—Thy lover and friend, Rup."
The answer to this letter was evidently of a favourable nature, for three days later, under the heading "Royal Palace," Prince Rupprecht replied:—
"Sweet lady, I am rejoicing at your letter, and the world has a new aspect. All things look bright and fair. For me the sun is always shining. Please thank your dear sister, the Grand Duchess, for her message. I am replying separately to that. It is monstrous that they should try to poison your ears with stories about me. The kind of life I lived when I was commanding the troops in Lille is an open book. I was seldom out of bed after eleven o'clock at night except when great events were going forward, and we were making preparations either to attack or receive an attack by the British. I never left my Headquarters except for two days in two years, not even to join our family at Christmas. But perhaps they are confusing me with a certain other Crown Prince! I think you know to whom I make reference. Thank you a thousand times for your sweet championship and your defense of me. I am almost glad that the accusations were made if they brought you to my side. I understand your dear letters perfectly. I know just how you feel, and I appreciate your wondrous loyalty. Does not H[eine] say that misfortune is a virtue, because it reveals our friends, and you as the dearest of all friends! We may lose power and our throne, but only temporarily. I am sure that the world will not go mad, and that Bavaria will not forget what she owes to the ruling race. Yes, beloved, there may be even a greater future for you than as Queen of little Bavaria. Who knows but that those pretty little hands may hold an Imperial sceptre! For the immediate future we are well provided. My father has ten million marks in Swiss banks, and I have almost as large a sum, part of which I inherited from my late wife, your kind words about whom touch me to my heart. Heaven bless thee and guard thee, my lily of Luxemburg."
ATTACHED to this communication were three closely-written sheets which I take to be part of the same letter and to have been added after the first portion was written. It may be that it was a separate letter, but at any rate the first communication bears no signature, whilst the additional part has no introduction. It ran:—
"Almost I shall be glad when the blow falls, when we know the worst, when our faces are set towards a land of exile. Worry and trouble weigh upon me like a wet blanket, affairs of State come up for discussion every moment, and there is always some new State affair to be considered. I am in no mood even to discuss the future of Germany. My mind is absorbed beyond all other questions with the future of my beautiful girl. I have told my secretary to go into Switzerland to find the most beautiful villa upon the glorious lakes, preferably upon those lakes which may be described as Italian, to lay out the grounds regardless of all cost, find me a nest worthy of so beautiful a bird! Of course, I did not tell him in these words. I respect your desire that we should not be surrounded by members of the old Court or by those who were accustomed to the old regime. I will deal liberally with all my old friends. They shall have such pensions and estates as I can give them, and I will see that my children are kept apart, that they shall not remind you of the days when another Princess stood by my side. I will respect your wishes in every regard. Truly shall the nest be well furnished! I fear we shall not be able to get good British furniture for a very long time. But we have good German furniture in the Palace which can be sent across the frontier. To make doubly sure, I will send it almost immediately. Pray for thy lover, whose heart goes out to thee with this letter. Let the shock of disaster come, I will face it gladly and cheerfully, keeping ever before my eyes thy bright, eager smile, and the glory of happiness, great and beyond comprehension, which is to come. Thine, Rupprecht."
I do not think that any impartial person can doubt either the strength of the Prince's love or his complicity in [the plot] to establish himself on the Imperial throne of Germany. The last letter proves conclusively that he was a participant in the conspiracy, and it is very [significant] that he could at this hour of stress and danger find consolation in such a pr[ospect].
When I reported this matter to Prince Max of Baden he shrugged his shoulders and said in English, a language which he often speaks in preference to German—
"Well, thank God, somebody's happy."
I thought it was a general remark applying to no particular person until the Prince spoke to me.
"You have come in time, Berghmann, to escort the Crown Princess to Prince William's headquarters. I wish you joy of your job."
THE Crown Princess was staying temporarily in Berlin with her mother, the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. I suppose that the Grand Duchess Anastasia was the only woman who ever came in or went out of Germany who had no respect for or fear of the Hohenzollern family, and many are the stories current in Germany of this Russian lady's sharp tongue.
The Crown Prince used to call her "The Grand Duchess Anathema," and certainly she was all that to him. She hated him for his treatment of her daughter, but most of all I think she hated him because he was a member of a House which was peculiarly abhorrent to her. It is not my place to discuss her likes or dislikes, or the justification for the same; I merely place the facts on record in passing, because I notice that some absurd chronicler has actually made the amazing mistake of recording a friendly conversation between the Crown Prince and his mother-in-law!
There have been a number of stories told about the Crown Prince's relations with his wife, and many of these are true. It would serve no useful purpose to pretend otherwise at this stage, the more so since it is my painful duty to detail certain happenings which I witnessed with my own eyes.
Although I say the Crown Princess was staying at Berlin, she was in reality staying at her husband's palace at Potsdam. There was a tacit agreement between the two that they should not meet, and when it was necessary for Prince Wilhelm to come home he would send his adjutant a day ahead to give the Princess warning that he was coming, and then there would be a great scurrying and packing of things in order that the Princess and (on rare occasions) her mother, who might be staying with her, should get away before he arrived.
The Prince himself was dividing his time between a little town in Rhineland and his Field Headquarters, which were changed almost every day. I had called to see the Kaiserin, but she was too ill to see me, but I managed to have a few words with the Grand Duchess of Brunswick, her daughter, who was attending to her mother's affairs and doing remarkably well, according to the gossip of the Court.
"THE Princess" (I think she was referring to Princess Max of Baden) "has told me that you are going with the Crown Princess to see my brother, Berghmann," she said. "Isn't it dreadful how these people disagree?"
I made an appropriate remark which did not commit me to any definite opinion.
"The Empress thinks that you ought to know exactly how the position stands," she said. "The Crown Princess has been trying to apply for a divorce."
This was news to me, and shocking news. Of course, there had been rumours to this effect, but this was the first official intimation I had received that matters had reached that pass.
"Last year the Crown Princess tried to leave her husband, and was arrested at the frontier when she was flying to Switzerland," the Grand Duchess said. "Of course, it is most undignified and dreadful, and my father, the Emperor, is terribly upset about it. Do you know the Crown Princess very well?" she asked.
"No, Grand Ducal Highness," I said. "I only know Her Imperial Highness as every member of the Court knows her."
I think there was no great love lost between the Emperor and his daughter-in-law, but on this occasion I think there must have been great justification for the grievance of the Crown Princess, because the Duchess did not attempt to excuse her brother. She sighed a little, and said—
"What a pity that at this terrible time our own family cannot compose their differences! You are going with Her Imperial Highness to visit my brother, Berghmann, and I do hope you will use whatever influence you have in persuading her to take a reasonable course."
I thought the chance of reconciling two people like their Imperial Highnesses, who had been quarrelling for years, was a very remote one. I have never understood why people in authority make these suggestions, and I sometimes think they offer them for the sake of having something to say. At any rate, I had made up my mind that I would not attempt to interfere in the domestic affairs of so mercurial a couple; and when I met the Crown Princess on the following afternoon I did no more than place myself at her service, hoping most fervently that she would have changed her mind as to the need for my accompanying her.
"You have been to Munich, I hear," she smiled; "and did you see Prince Rupprecht? Was he very much worried? I think all the Wittelbachs are a little mad, don't you? And that engagement! It is ridiculous that an old man like Rupprecht should marry a girl."
I murmured something.
"Oh, yes," she answered me in those quick, staccato tones of hers. "He's an old man. He's nearly fifty, and she's a child of about seventeen. He ought to be ashamed of himself."
"I think it is a love match, Highness," I ventured to murmur, and she laughed.
"Don't you know that all Royal marriages are love matches, Berghmann?" she asked drily. "Have you been at Court all these years and missed that important fact?"
"When I was married," she went on, "all the German press were unanimous on one point—that it was a love match. You've no idea of the ridiculous stories they told about my meeting with the Crown Prince by accident in a wood, and of our being ignorant of one another's identity, and of our falling in love like two ordinary people, and of how we went to our respective parents and told them that we could never, never, never marry the person they had chosen for us, but that our hearts were set upon someone we had met in the forest! I've got hundreds of press cuttings of that story, Berghmann, from the German, the American, and the British press. It's the prettiest little lie that was ever told."
She laughed bitterly.
"Love match!" she sneered. "Good God! Well, you have already seen some of the results of my love match—you were at Bonn, were you not, when I met His Imperial Highness?"
"I am going to see the Crown Prince to-day," she said, "and that is why I want you to be with me. The Emperor believes in your honesty, Berghmann, and I know that you will give him a faithful account of what is happening. He is certain to ask you, and that is why I want you to be present."
That explained, of course, the reason for my popularity as a confidential courier. I must confess that I felt a little glow of elation that the Emperor, who had hardly seemed to notice my existence, had formed this estimate of my character.
"Is there no way, your Imperial Highness—" I began, but she stopped me with a gesture.
"One word of advice I would give you, Berghmann," she said quietly. "I do not know what your instructions are, but it is quite possible that you have been asked to act the part of arbitrator between the Prince and myself. Do not fall into the error that any arbitration or any reconciliation is possible. Others have tried and have been disappointed, so as a friend of yours I would advise you not to do any more than act as a passive reporter of what you will hear and see."
"Your Imperial Highness has but to command me," I said.
"My mother is determined that I shall be divorced. You have no idea of what I've had to endure," she said.
By this time we were alone, the ladies-in-waiting having discreetly retired and left us in the tiny little grey boudoir which is the Crown Princess' favourite room.
"Of William's adventures with women you know as much as I, though probably not quite as much, because I have had him watched, and there is no limitation to his depravity…. His acts of brutality against me have been of the coarsest nature. He has struck me with no provocation except his own mad humour, and has used violence which could not be surpassed in the lowest classes."
Her bosom heaved in her indignation, and of course I said nothing. Happily, Her Imperial Highness did not make any further reference to her unhappy domestic affairs, either then or on our journey to Mainz, for which city we left by special train. She was very entertaining and very amusing, and I remember most of the serious conversation was about Russia. She felt the death of the Czar very deeply, and I do not think she will ever forgive the Emperor or her husband for having made that murder possible.
THE Prince was staying in a large house on the Windmühlenberg, an eminence which overlooks the Rhine and had the advantage of being undisturbed by the British raiders, since it was in a residential part of the town.
We were received at the station by the Crown Prince's adjutant, and drove up in two closed motor cars, being again received at the house by the chief of the Crown Prince's staff. Her Imperial Highness was ushered to a big drawing-room overlooking the limes-clad slope, and as she entered the door she half-turned and beckoned me with a gesture.
I dare say some of these fine officials wondered what I, whom they had regarded with more or less good-natured tolerance, was doing to be a witness to an interview which they could guess would be a stormy one.
We found ourselves alone in a big drawing-room, and it was characteristic of [the Crown Prince that it was several] minutes before he put in an appearance. Evidently he had been told that I was present, for he showed no sign of resentment, but, on the contrary, favoured me with a smile. For his wife, however, he had nothing but a straight, grim face.
"Well?" he asked harshly. "Why did you come? I thought after Bonn you would not desire any further interview."
"I have come to tell you that the thing must end, whether Germany emerges defeated or whether by a miracle she staves off defeat," she said firmly.
"What thing?" he asked.
"Our marriage," she said. "I have requested my lawyers to begin an action to annul our marriage."
He jerked his head impatiently.
"Have you come all the way to Mayence* to tell me this?" he asked. "Why, it is common gossip, and in point of fact Wiedland (his lawyer) had heard from your lawyers. You know the risk you take."
[* Mayence: French name for Mainz.]
"I know the threats you utter," she said. "You will marry again, and your son by the new marriage shall be heir to the throne. Unfortunately for you, William, you cannot alter the Constitution."
"Constitution! Bah!" he said contemptuously. "You take too exalted a view of the law, my good friend. And what has the emperor to say about your action?"
"He approves," she answered.
A look of astonishment came to his face.
"He approves?" he asked incredulously. "That's a lie!"
"Spoken like a perfect German gentleman," she rejoined bitterly. "Nevertheless, it is true, William."
"But it is impossible. The Emperor told me that he would not sanction it. You are not alone in desiring a divorce, my wife. I have asked the Emperor myself that the marriage should be annulled. Life has been hell upon earth married to a woman of your mental calibre, as he well knows. But he has refused."
"He has agreed now," said the Crown Princess calmly, "when I told him of your adventure in Strasburg—"
A cry broke from the Crown Prince's lips and his face went dark.
"So it was you?" he said wrathfully. "You—you cat, to carry stories about me to the Emperor. By God, I didn't even suspect you!"
Before I could realise what he was doing he had taken a step forward and gripped her by the throat, shaking her as though she were a rat. I ran toward them, but before my protest could have any effect he had thrown her from him, and she sank gasping onto a sofa.
"Go back to Russia," he exclaimed. "That is your place. You have been a curse to me ever since I knew you."
It was a long time before he could calm himself, though I was paying less attention to the development of his emotion than to the condition of the Crown Princess, who was rearranging her torn blouse with a hand that shook.
"Your day is near at hand, William," she said in a low voice. "For all the insults and humiliations you have put upon me you shall be repaid tenfold. You who were the pride of the army shall be the scorn of the army. You shall be left with the vulgar men whose methods you imitate."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't care what you say about me," he said. "Go on with your divorce. I welcome the day when we are legally separated. Remember that you lose your children."
"That is not the Emperor's wish," she answered, and a spasm of anger crossed his face.
"So you've arranged that too, have you?" he snarled. "Well, the Emperor must be getting into his second childhood—that is the only excuse I can offer for him. We shall see about the children. At any rate, no useful purpose will be served by this interview continuing. I am sorry I was rough with you, but you are a most exasperating woman."
I could not help feeling that this last expression was intended more for me than for the Crown Princess. He knew, of course, that I would make a report to the Emperor, and he wanted me to put as good a complexion on the matter as I could.
"Set me free," he went on, "and you will earn more gratitude than you have earned for the past five years."
"Free?" she laughed. "How can you be free, William, when you have engagements ten deep? You can never be freer than you have been with me. You can have no greater license than you have taken as a married man. Free! One would imagine that you had lived an honourable life."
"I am a man," he said complacently.
"And that is a libel on men, I think," she replied.
"Unfortunately," he replied sarcastically, "I was born in this beautiful country, populated by hypocrites who condemn me for sins of which they themselves are guilty."
I WENT back with Her Imperial Highness to the station and took my leave of her. I was returning to Spa that same afternoon to report, amongst other thing, the result of this interview.
"You saw what happened, Berghmann," she said. "You will tell the Emperor everything."
"Yes, Highness," I replied.
"I suppose now you are going back to the Crown Prince?" she said, as a thought struck her. "You must not let him talk you over. He will try to put as favourable an interpretation upon his attitude as possible, but you must remember, Berghmann, that what you saw was no unusual happening. I have been the victim of such scenes again and again, and you can see how impossible it is to live with William."
Her prophecy proved to be an accurate one because, returning from the Hosbahn,* I found an invitation awaiting me to dine with His Imperial Highness that night. The Prince was geniality itself, and after dinner he made light of the scene in the afternoon.
[Hosbahn. Presumably a typesetter's error for Bahnhof (railway station).]
"Women are only children after all, Berghmann," he said, "and we must not be too hard on them. I was foolish to lose my temper, but that woman would irritate a saint, and heaven knows I'm no saint. If the Emperor speaks to you about this," he said, lowering his voice, "I hope you will not give too tragic an account. After all, if you were a married man, which I perceive you are not," he said, glancing at my ringless finger, "you would know that these domestic jars occur at regular intervals, and that but for the quarrels and the makings up life would lose a great deal of its savour. Nevertheless," he hastened to explain to me, "there is no doubt that Her Imperial Highness is set upon a divorce. In ordinary times, of course, it would be impossible, because it would make such a scandal that my father would never allow the thing to go through. But now, in this great upheaval, when much more serious things are happening, he might be prepared to acquiesce in a scheme whereby we start fresh after the war, and I think it is extremely likely that the divorce will come into the Courts."
I felt the same, and said so.
"Don't think that it's all on one side," warned William. "She is not the most pleasant of ladies, and there are one or two little incidents in her own life which would make spicy reading for the Berlin papers, believe me."
I left him in the happiest mood, and he was profuse in his protestations of friendship when I left.
"You must come down very soon, Berghmann, before we clear out of Mainz and begin our strategic retirement to behind the Rhine. I will show you a little life which you will not be able to see amongst the dull people of the Emperor's staff."
He chuckled as though at an amusing thought, and his chuckle was in my ears as the train pulled out of Mainz station. I did not guess how soon I should go back with him, accompanying him in perhaps the most remarkable tour that any responsible head of a Government has ever engaged in.
THE difficulty of my position as a reporter of the scene I had recently witnessed lay in the fact that I had three people to satisfy. Though kings are notoriously averse to the truth, I did not doubt that His Majesty required as faithful an account as I could give. I could not lose sight of the fact, however, that in the Crown Prince I had a future Emperor of Germany to deal with, and I did not wish to antagonize him. Nevertheless, I was not deaf to the appeal of the Crown Princess' womanhood, and I felt that, come what may, I must tell the Emperor everything. If I had my doubts as to the kind of story the Emperor wished me to tell, they were dispelled by his first words when I met him next morning.
"Now I want the truth about Wilhelm and his wife," he said. "I have no doubt that Wilhelm has given you his version, and Her Imperial Highness gave you hers, and that you have received injunctions from both to tell a certain story and confess certain facts."
"So far as Her Imperial Highness is concerned, Majesty, I have only instructions to tell the truth."
"I will not question you as to what His Imperial Highness suggested," he said grimly. ‘Now tell me all that has happened."
Briefly but faithfully I recounted the conversation, the attitude of the Prince and the Princess, and the attack which he made upon her. He closed his eyes and shook his head wearily. Evidently he had heard these stories before, and had probably—though this I doubt, but some say to the contrary—witnessed such outbreaks.
"It is very deplorable," he said. "I am not so good a German that I approve of wife beating, though I am probably one in a thousand. They say that Russian women like being beaten, but evidently my daughter-in-law is not one of these. What did they say about the divorce?"
I told him this also, and he shrugged his shoulders.
"It cannot be helped. The smaller scandal must be included in the greater," he said. "Our grand misfortune is so [bad] that what are family differences in comparison? Yes, it is quite true what His Imperial Highness said, that I am willing for the divorce to go through. I am tired to death of these quarrels, Berghmann, and since Eitel is determined to end his matrimonial career in the Divorce Court I might as well let the whole of the dirty linen of the Hohenzollerns be washed at the same time."
He paced up and down the room with quick, nervous strides.
"There is a certain grotesque humour in it all," he said. "Who would imagine that I, the Supreme War Lord of the German Army, should be discussing at this moment the question of my children's domestic affairs!"
He smiled as at some grim thought, and then he said with a twinkle in his eye—
"Berghmann, do you know America well—have you any friends there?"
"No, Majesty," I replied. "I have a brother who went to America some years ago. He knows a great number of Americans, but I am wholly unacquainted with the country."
"It is a pity," he said. "If you had any influence in the United States perhaps we could induce President Wilson to make a new 'point'."
"What is that, Majesty?" I asked, catching his humour.
"That the junior members of the House of Hohenzollern should be all divorced by the Peace Conference," he said. "It would be the only point to which I could subscribe."
IF you ask me what matter stands out in my mind with the greatest distinctness, of all the great happenings which crowded one upon the other in those dark days when Germany's fate was being decided, when the great Empire which Bismarck had built was crumbling under our eyes, and the greatest of the Hohenzollerns was standing on the brink of disaster, I should say the extraordinary attitude which the Emperor adopted in the middle of October toward certain factors of the situation which hitherto we had regarded, if we had regarded them at all, with indifference.
Since much is certain to be made of this, and since it may also be adduced as evidence of the Emperor's insanity or his unfitness to rule the country when that happy day comes for his restoration to the throne of his forefathers, let me set forth as nearly as I can remember all the circumstances which led to an extraordinary development in his character.
It was one morning after I had returned from my visit to Mainz, and had given my report to the Emperor on the position of affairs between his son and daughter-in-law, that I was returning from riding—a constitutional which I permitted myself every day of my life if it was possible—and met the Emperor, who was also returning from a ride, accompanied only by his adjutant. We rode side by side down a steep road which leads to the château where His Majesty had his Headquarters.
"I have been reading a book, Berghmann, which I do not remember having seen before. Possibly you know something about it."
HE took from his breast pocket a paper-covered volume, which was printed in English, and was called "My Life at Wittenberg Camp: By an Escaped Prisoner." I think the story was one reprinted from the columns of a London newspaper, and caused something like a sensation amongst the British when it was first printed.
"Yes, Majesty, I have seen it before," I replied.
"But are these things true?" he said, tapping the book on the pommel of his saddle.
I hesitated. Of course, I had reason to believe that there was a great deal of truth in the charges which had been levelled against the Commandant of Wittenberg about the treatment which British prisoners had received whilst they were there.
"If it is really true," he went on, "then it is very strange I have not heard of this before."
I pause here to remark that possibly His Majesty's memory was at fault, and possibly mine, for I seemed to have a distinct recollection that the whole question of Wittenberg Camp came up for discussion at one of the meetings at which I was certainly not present, but which I attended in the outer lobby. This was in 1916, I think. Since then the British press had been filled with stories about the ill-treatment of prisoners, and we had got almost bored with the many charges which were made against us.
There had been a very large number of escapes, due to the ingenuity of the British soldiers, but that too had become a commonplace feature of the war, and one scarcely troubled to think about these escapes, regarding them as normal circumstances in an abnormal situation. Therefore I was surprised when, on top of this reference to the book, the Emperor suddenly said to me—
"They have not treated me well, these prison commandants. They have placed upon me the responsibility for their behaviour. Surely all the world knows, Berghmann, that we do not take the best men to command prison camps in the rear of the line!"
He said no more. I did not trouble to wonder why the Emperor suddenly closed this subject, because it was one of his peculiarities that he would light upon a matter for discussion which was well outside the range of our daily conversation and experiences. It was, for example, no unusual thing for him to open up, without any preliminary, a discourse on the glass-working art, or upon the heliocentric theory of the heavens. Nobody will deny his versatility.
But afterwards, in the course of the talk with his adjutant, I discovered the reason his mind had been led to this subject. A few days before, whilst riding in the wood, he had seen a man bolt into the undergrowth, and had ridden him down, to discover that he was a British Tommy who had escaped from a German prison camp, and missing his way to Holland had reached Belgium.
The few officers who were with him surrounded the fugitive, and the man was brought before the Emperor and questioned. He was a bold fellow, by no means in awe of His Majesty, and joked and talked about his experience, and explained to the Emperor how he had lost his compass, and, the night being overcast, had been unable to consult the stars.
It was the sort of experience which very naturally interested the Emperor immensely, but when the man had gone on to talk of the sufferings of prisoners and the threats of vengeance they had made, and, questioning the man more closely, had discovered something about the state of the British prisoners' minds in relation to Germany, he became very depressed.
He ordered the man to be taken back on to a farm in Germany, where he would be well treated. The man was escorted to a farm in East Prussia, which was the property of one of the officers who was in attendance on the Emperor that morning.
THIS experience had made a very deep impression upon the Emperor. In his highly-strung state he was prepared to see a vengeful British prisoner behind every bush. Special orders were issued to strengthen the cordon which was drawn about Spa.
Other orders were issued to the officers commanding the field armies that, in the event of their taking prisoners during their retreat, and those prisoners being British, they were under no circumstances to be passed through Belgium in the Spa region, or if they were so evacuated they must be under a strong escort to ensure their being kept together.
This sudden craze for finding British prisoners became a joke at Headquarters, and one of the favorite amusements of the younger officers when they met one another was to whisper mysteriously—
"Have you seen a Highlander?"
I think the Emperor's alarm must have been fed by Professor Mannesmann, who had been to Brussels and returned with awful stories about the threats which had been made by British prisoners who had read of the death of Nurse Cavell. At any rate, at a Staff dinner, which was attended by the Professor and presided over by the Emperor, he raised the question of Cavell—a most unusual circumstance, since matters of high State policy were never discussed in public.
"Bissing alone was responsible for the death of the nurse," he said. "I had no knowledge that she had been sentenced, or even that she was under trial. The American Ambassador has admitted that Bissing stated that even had I intervened Nurse Cavell would have been shot, and that he had no intention of bringing her case to my notice."
"I think it was a great blunder to shoot her, a great and terrible blunder to shoot a woman. It did more to excite British public opinion against Germany than any single happening in the war."
"Is it not your experience, Majesty," asked General Stoner, "that most of the things which have incensed Great Britain against Germany have been more or less unnecessary and profitless from the military point of view."
The Emperor nodded.
"I wish I had time to investigate this prison question," he went on. "Do you not realise that, if these statements are true, every man who leaves Germany is a propagandist against Germany and will remain so all his life, teaching his children to spread the gospel of hatred against our country?"
The conversation and the dinner generally were interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Ludendorff, who had come through unannounced owing to the breakdown of the telegraph. The Emperor left the table hurriedly, and soon after the dinner party broke up. I was not on duty, and spent the evening playing bridge with a small party of friends which I had made in Spa.
I was going to my quarters and making my way along the dark streets, answering the challenges of our sentries, when a voice hailed me. It was the voice of Krutz, the secretary to the Emperor's adjutant.
"Is that you, Herr Berghmann?" he asked. "I have been looking for you."
He then told me that there had been extraordinary happenings at the château which the Emperor occupied. Two shots had been fired, one bullet passing through the window of the library (happily he was not there at the time), the second bullet striking the window of the bedroom and passing across the bed, smashing a looking-glass which hung upon the opposite wall.
"The Emperor is in a great state of mind," said the secretary," and the captain of the patrol has been placed under arrest. They have dug the bullet out, and it is undoubtedly a British bullet, so, you see, His Majesty's misgivings about British prisoners are not altogether without cause. My own theory is that the bullet was fired by some Socialistic German soldier, and that a British rifle, of which we have many, and British ammunition, which is plentiful, has been used in order to disguise the act, but that was not the theory of His Majesty."
Notices were printed in German and English warning escaped British prisoners that to venture into a certain prohibited area, the center of which was Spa, would involve a death sentence, even though they were apparently unarmed. This notice was to be found on every road leading to Spa and plentifully nailed to the trees in the little woods which abound in this part of the Ardennes. The most extraordinary precautions were taken that they did not penetrate into Spa itself. The guards on the road were trebled, patrols increased, and a new cordon of sentries placed round the Emperor's château.
THESE elaborate precautions may be ascribed to cowardice, but there can be little doubt that at this time the Kaiser was less than normal. The protracted negotiations, the long and anxious consultations, the knowledge of inevitable ruin—all these things were preying on his mind, and I believe that he seldom slept more than two hours at a time. So that we must not condemn him too hastily for the terrors which were frankly childish in my eyes and in the eyes of his own staff. And to some extent he was justified by an amazing occurrence that happened after these measures of precaution had been set into shape.
The Emperor's dressing-room was on the first floor of the château, at the back of the house, looking over the park, which sloped down from the house to a river. This little river was patrolled by picked men, the path itself was picketed, and all approaches from the road were so carefully guarded that it seemed impossible that any unauthorised person should gain admission.
But for all these precautions, the Emperor's valet, going into his bedroom to lay out the bed for the night noticed the muddy impressions of a large boot which were clearly seen against the background of the violet carpet. It was obviously not the Emperor's boot, nor was it the valet's, and only the Emperor and his valet used this room.
The valet went below and reported to the officer of the guard, and two detectives from the Emperor's suite went upstairs and made an examination of the footprint. Then it was found that the French window leading out on to a small balcony above a porch had been forced. A search was made in the grounds, and near a shrubbery was found a pair of old, muddy boots. These were brought to the Emperor, who had been informed of the happening, and he examined them.
"These are undoubtedly British military boots," he said, "and you will probably find, when you make an inspection, that the man has taken a pair of mine with him."
It was a ludicrous situation. You are to visualise this energetic search of the grounds about the château, and the gossip, the theories, the excitement, and then contrast this little sensation with the enormous fact that the whole of the German Empire was at that moment falling to pieces, the German army was in retreat, and in many places whole divisions were running away, that we were on the verge of world-shaking events which would practically wipe Germany from the map, which would wrench great provinces from her dominion, and would reduce her to the level of a third-class Power.
On the one hand, you have, as I say, this cataclysm; on the other, this petty sensation affecting only half-a-dozen men. And yet I assure you that we forgot the war, forgot all the great controversies, forgot the visit of Ludendorff, who was known to have come to Headquarters with his resignation in his hand, and concentrated all our attention upon a mysterious British prisoner, who had been in the Emperor's bedroom, had discarded his boots in the shrubbery, and had, as His Majesty very rightly and shrewdly theorised, stolen a pair of the Imperial boots.
This happened in October, and I wonder how many people in the far distant cities of the world, whose eyes were fixed upon the European theatre of war, and who were wondering and speculating in their minds as to what the Emperor was thinking, and just how we at Headquarters were feeling—I wonder, I say, if these people could have believed, even in their wildest moments of imagination, that we were concerned, not with the fate of Europe, but for the moment with the fate of the Emperor's boots.
But I can assure you it was no laughing matter for us. It was indeed a tragedy for one unfortunate man, the officer commanding the piquet, who was next morning found shot by his own hand in a near-by wood, the disgrace of having allowed an enemy to break through the cordon being too much for him.
A battalion of the Emperor's own bodyguard was sent out to beat the wood and make a systematic search. Every house in Spa was visited, but no sign of the delinquent visitor could be found.
The Emperor became irritable and worried, had outbursts of temper, and would not go riding unless he had an escort. He avoided open windows, and generally speaking, would not put in any appearance unless he had two or three men of his staff immediately surrounding him.
The British prisoner idea became more and more of an obsession. One day when I had taken a document to him to sign he put down his pen and looked at me.
"Berghmann," said he, "I wonder if you realise what will happen if we are beaten? There are in Germany over 150,000 British prisoners. It will certainly be one of the enemies' terms that these men shall be immediately released. How can we organise the quick evacuation of such a large number? The country will be filled with wandering soldiers all full of malice and hatred against the Fatherland and particularly against me.
"You know, Berghmann, that I have been very kind to such prisoners as I have met. The man I saw the other day in the wood, for example, I treated like a human being—he cannot say anything against me personally. I think that somebody should send an account to all the prison camps of my meeting with that British soldier in the wood."
We never saw the mysterious man who came into the Emperor's room, but it was the theory of Major Ledbieter, of the German Military Police, who came down to investigate, that the man had all the time been concealed upon the roof of the chateau and that the presence of his boots in the shrubbery could be accounted for by the fact that he threw them there from the roof.
There was a great deal to support this theory, and an examination of the flat roof showed signs of footmarks, and the Major was also able to demonstrate the possibility of boots being thrown such a distance. At any rate, the man was never captured. Doubtless he is now recounting his exploits and displaying the Emperor's boots to his admiring family circle in Britain!
AS I have said, extraordinary precautions were taken to keep away from Spa and its neighbourhood such prisoners as we captured in the course of the fighting. In the course of the counter-attacks it necessarily followed that a large number of Britishers came into our hands. Ordinarily these would have passed up by way of Maubeuge through Belgium, but orders were given that they should be evacuated through Luxemburg.
Such an order, had it been carried out, would have placed an intolerable strain on our resources, because the line through Luxemburg was already congested, and was one of the few which were still open to us, as the Americans, working up from the Argonne, and the British, pressing forward by way of Merval Forest, were hampering our lateral communications.
Not only were the routes of the prisoners from the battlefield to the internment camps carefully arranged, but orders were also given that British prisoners who might be working in any of the great towns between Spa and the Rhine were to be moved elsewhere.
It had been the intention of the Emperor to retire to Cologne, and in preparation for such event orders were given that the Cologne Gaol, which was used as a detention camp for British officers, should be cleared, and that the prisoners should be sent to Bremen and to some of the interior camps. This would have involved a great many terrible hardships, and it is in a way fortunate that subsequent events made these steps unnecessary.
THE tremendous events of October were occupying our minds to the exclusion of all other things, when one night the Emperor walked into the room of his adjutant, pale and agitated. He had been to bed two hours. His adjutant, who was sitting up through the night to finish reading the reports which come through from the army generals, and a précis of which he had to write for the Emperor's perusal on the following morning, looked at him in astonishment as he rose and saluted.
"I have had a horrible dream, Charles." (His Majesty always called his adjutant by his Christian name.)
He sat down in a chair and helped himself to a glass of wine from the sideboard.
"I dreamt," he said, "that I was a prisoner in one of our own camps, and nobody was aware of my identity. The terrible thing was that even the Commandant did not know me, and I lived in hourly terror of the British soldiers finding out who I was. It was horrible, horrible."
The adjutant did his best to soothe him, and even suggested sending for the royal physicians, but the Emperor would not hear of it.
"No, no, it is nothing. They worry me, worry me, Charles. You know, better than any other man, that I knew nothing of the horrors which are supposed to have been seen in German camps. I have been in the field all the time, and I have not had the opportunity of visiting every camp. They say we are starving the Russians to death. Is that true? Do we ill-treat the British prisoners? You must telegraph to all the camp commanders, and demand an immediate investigation. Every commandant who has treated men with brutality must be brought immediately before a court-martial. That is my order, Charles. Will you see that it is carried out?"
The adjutant told me that His Majesty spoke wildly and almost incoherently, and his dream had apparently made a deep impression upon him. When I was told the following morning I thought it right to get Hindenburg on the telephone. He was in Cologne at the time, and as he had asked me very earnestly never to hesitate to consult him if anything went wrong at headquarters I felt no compunction in calling him up. He seemed concerned by my news.
"How is the Emperor's general health?" he asked.
"OTHERWISE he his well, Marshal," I replied. "But can you give me some assurance that there is no danger?"
"What do you mean by that?" asked the Marshal. "If the British prisoners are worrying him, I think His Majesty may disabuse his mind of fear. I have given strict orders that no prisoner shall pass through Spa or near Spa, and the reports I have from prison camps are to the effect that the men are very cheerful, and harbour no particular grudge against the Emperor. All their grievances are against local commandants, whom I am replacing as far as I possibly can. I have questioned some of these prisoners, and I have not heard any of them speak particularly against the Emperor. I wish you would take the first opportunity, Berghmann, of assuring His Majesty on this matter."
Very discreetly I passed the message on, but I could see that the Emperor, moody, ill at ease, and nearly worn out with worry and anxiety, was not greatly impressed.
"It all comes down to this, Berghmann," he said. "The British are our worst enemies—the most resentful, the most hateful. The same spirit of loathing seems to animate all classes of society, and it is only to be expected that the prisoners, and particularly escaped soldiers, who are threatening me, should be embittered and revengeful. I have made many mistakes about prisons," he went on, "but it may not be too late to rectify my errors. You understand the British, Berghmann."
"Yes, Majesty," I replied, "I understand them rather well. I have spent many years in London, and I know a great number of society people and Government officials."
The Emperor nodded thoughtfully as he said—
"There may still be some hope, but if there is it is not to be found in Paris or in Washington. Our only chance, Berghmann, is with the British. They are people of our own blood and kind, we are all of the great Teuton family. I am determined to make an appeal to my friends, for I still have friends—in that island. Attend me in my cabinet at four o'clock this afternoon, and do not speak to anybody of what I have said."
So out of the fear, this unnatural and abnormal fear, of British prisoners there had arisen in the Emperor's heart a great hope. He was like a drowning man clutching at straws, but the British straws seemed to him to be very substantial.
THE versatility of genius has the appearance from a distance of being vacillation. The Emperor is one of the most versatile men in the world, and one cannot blame the uninstructed observer if he also believes that he is one of the most unstable.
At one moment we find him planning new schemes for gaining the friendship of his enemies and making the world safe for the peoples of the world; the next moment he is a pacifist of pacifists, with a benevolent idea for reconstructing Europe on pacific lines, full of ideas for the re-creation of industry and the development of national and economic life; the next moment we see him immersed in huge military schemes having as their object the undoing of whatever mischief is worked by a bad peace—that is, a bad peace from the German point of view.
There had been some strikes and rumours of strikes in Essen, and His Majesty decided to pay another visit to that armament town. He took with him, in addition to myself, two of the secretaries to his Civil and Naval Cabinet, and we left Spa by special train in the morning, arriving at Essen in the afternoon.
To all appearance the town was in its usual condition of busy activity, and there were certainly none of the demonstrations which the Emperor's staff had feared. Everywhere he was greeted with "Hochs" and signs of the deepest respect, and I challenge any person who is acquainted with Germany and the German people to deny that even to-day, with a war against us, the Emperor is unpopular. He is a great and a sacred figure to millions of Germans, and will be to the end of the chapter, and whosoever makes a statement to the contrary is departing wholly from the truth.
We were met at the station by Frau Bertha Krupp von Bohlen, her husband being indisposed. "Bertha," as we call her familiarly in Germany, is a woman of singular charm when she likes to be charming. She is also a very masterful and difficult lady to get on with, but as she stands in great awe of the Emperor, and as I have only met her while a member of the Emperor's entourage, I have not seen any of those demonstrations of temper with which she is popularly credited.
"Alfred Krupp," the Emperor once told me, "Was my dearest friend, the most maligned man in the world. The Social Democrats had nothing too bad to say of him, and the stories of his life in Capri are most infamous. Believe me, I knew Alfred better than any other man in Germany knew him, and those stories were lies."
With whatever affection and loyalty I invest our relationship, I cannot quite accept this assurance, and I can only imagine that the Emperor did not know as much about the late Alfred Krupp as I. But that is by the way.
FRAU Bertha was in her most charming mood, though looking very worried, I thought. She told His Majesty that there had been serious labour troubles, mostly about food, but that the situation was now well in hand, and that her staff had assured her there was no cause for apprehension.
She was invited to lunch in the Royal saloon. She sat on the Emperor's right, and I was seated immediately opposite to her. His Majesty made no attempt to conceal the nature of his conversation. He questioned her closely about the output of munitions, which had fallen off considerably, though of course it did not all emanate from Krupp's.
"You must be prepared at a moment's notice to cease making armaments," he said. "I was glad to learn from your letter that your new motor car factory is in full swing again."
"We are badly in need of rubber," said Frau Krupp. "That your Majesty knows. If we could only get rubber in this country we should be quite prepared to turn out the best motor cars in Europe at the lowest price."
It is not generally known, I may here remark in passing, that it was the intention of Krupp's to put a motor car on the market which would be cheaper than the Ford car and yet be of a better and more classy pattern. (I use the word "classy" in its vulgar sense, as it is the most expressive I can think of.) There was also a new type of 6-cylinder car, the construction of which had been undertaken by Krupp's, and the machinery for making which had been installed. This was to be a car which sold on the market at £300 (6000 marks), and was undoubtedly a work of genius.
After discussing at some length the plans for the future in regard to the flooding of the markets of the world with German goods, the Kaiser dropped a hint that that was not really what was at the back of his mind.
"But whilst you devote your mind to the industries of peace, Frau Bertha," the Emperor went on, "do not forget that war is a biological inevitability. You cannot eradicate war by legislation or by Leagues of Nations or by any other fantastic proposal.
"You must never forget that the supreme argument is the argument of battle. It has been from the beginning of time, and will be until the end of time. If you do not calculate upon this you are liable to lead yourself into a grievous error.
"Therefore let your engineers continue their study of high-velocity guns and projectiles, let your chemists continue their work in discovering explosives of a new and more terrifying character, let your brightest brains devote their minds to the business and practice of war, because war is a necessity which human society can never dispense with."
The Emperor spent the rest of the day at the works, and dined with Frau Bertha and her husband that night. There followed one of the most important conferences that had been held in Germany for many years—that is to say, as apart from the war conferences which dictated the process of the many battles in which we were engaged.
THE Emperor had the various directors of Krupp's to the meeting, and certain decisions were taken. I was not privy to the discussions, and all that I know about them was discovered more or less accidentally.
I do know that it was decided that a number of submarines which were at that time in course of construction should be dismantled as hastily as possible, that the engines should be put into store and described as marine engines in order that they might not be taken over by the Allies.
I also know that 800 new guns were sent to eastern towns—or rather, the order was given that they should be sent—to be stored against the day of Germany's necessity.
There was at this time on the Eastern front a very considerable amount of artillery and munitions, which had been either purchased from the Russian Bolsheviks or captured by us in the course of our advance on Riga. Orders were given for the disposal of this, because it was generally recognised that if the German Army was compelled to surrender the Allies would demand the handing over of all stores and munitions which we might have in stock.
After all, it is a very simple matter to conceal a gun or two in every small town, or to side-track a trainload of shells, and I should say that many are the old coach houses and furniture stores in East Prussia and in Saxony which at this moment contain a gun and its limber all ready for use if the moment ever arrives when it is necessary to defend the Fatherland against her enemies.
Krupp's built aeroplanes, and had several subsidiary companies in various parts of Germany engaged in the same work. After the conference instructions went forward to these minor departments to stop assembling machines, but to continue the construction of the parts, so that they in Germany should have material for thousands of high-power aeroplanes which could be assembled in a few days.
I know myself that a week before the armistice was signed truckloads of giant aeroplane engines were being despatched to the centre of East Germany, and as the engines are the principal thing, you might almost say that we have thousands of aeroplanes which have never been put together, but which are practically ready for use.
THESE are the decisions which were reached at the secret council at Krupp's, though obviously there were others of which I have no cognisance. The Emperor did not speak a single word about the result of that meeting, except to make an oblique reference to the preparations which were being made by Krupp's to capture after-the-war trade.
I have heard it said that the Emperor is financially interested in Krupp's, and holds a large number of shares. This may be the case. It has often struck me that His Majesty took a larger interest in Krupp's than even its national importance justified. But I reject with scorn the brutal suggestion that the Emperor favoured war because he had a financial interest in Krupp's.
If that interest existed, it was small and probably connected not with the armament but the shipbuilding side of the firm. He had big holdings in German and American shipping companies, and subscribed generously to all new industrial issues.
Never forget that the Hohenzollerns were immensely rich, apart from their incomes from the State Treasury. They had been great landowners since the days when their kingdom did not extend beyond the Mark of Brandenburg. Thrifty, shrewd, and business-like, with true German thoroughness they had built up great financial reserves, and even were they not kings and emperors they would, by reason of their wealth and prosperity, have occupied a foremost place in the world of German commerce.
All His Majesty's private business, his relationship with companies, share investments, etc., were recorded in a private ledger, which was fastened by two locks. I have never heard that any person save the Emperor himself ever saw the interior of that book, which he carried about with him wherever he went. When the book was filled up it was deposited in the vault of the Deutsche Bank, and another new book was started.
These ledgers were specially made for His Majesty by a Berlin stationer, and I have often suspected that in addition to his cash account the Emperor also used the ledger for the purpose of jotting down a most intimate diary. I do know that before the books were deposited in the vault of the Deutsche Bank sixty or seventy pages were invariably cut out by the Emperor himself and burned, so I think I am right in assuming that there was something more than mere cash transactions described on those pages.
I am reminded of this volume by the fact that in the train going back from Essen the Emperor spent most of his time in going over his book and making notes on a spare sheet of paper, which he locked away in the book when he closed it. It is reasonable to suppose, therefore, that the secret meeting was utilised for statements of the financial position, and by general deduction I gathered that that fact was not unpleasant.
But the ordinary business of the company was, I am certain, a minor matter compared with the other great issues which were discussed, and the other great plans for the future which were made. At every station at which the train stopped there was waiting a batch of telegrams, all of which, I knew, emanated from Essen. These were carried to the Emperor's private saloon, where he was in consultation only with two members of his intimate staff.
When we reached Headquarters there was another batch, all in code, awaiting discussion. So I think I am safe in saying that the matters which came up before the Essen conference were of the utmost importance. The future may reveal that that meeting in Frau Krupp's drawing-room was by far the most vital that was held in the last month of the war, transcending in importance even those conferences which ultimately led to the surrender of Germany.
But a most surprising thing happened. I was aroused from my sleep at three in the morning by an orderly, who told me that there was a K.S. message on the telephone. This meant a message from the Emperor himself, and, slipping on my dressing-gown, I made my way to the bureau, shut the door, and took up the 'phone.
"Is that you, Berghmann?" said His Majesty's voice, and when I had replied in the affirmative he said—
"Take a car to Pepinster, and meet a special train which is coming in from Aix. Bring the person who arrives by that train, together with her attendants, to me."
"Yes, Majesty," I replied.
"You will not mention your mission to any member of the staff, and you will tell your chauffeur to observe the same secrecy. The train is due to arrive in an hour and a quarter."
"Yes, Majesty," I replied, and hastily donning my clothing, whilst my servant aroused my chauffeur, I made preparation for the journey.
PEPINSTER is really the junction for Spa, on the Verviers-Croissons line, and my car swung into the station yard just as the special train drew into the station. In fact, I had not time to get on to the platform to meet the visitor before she appeared outside the station building. There was no need for me to ask who it was or to puzzle my head as to her identity. Although she was heavily veiled and plainly dressed, I had no difficulty in recognising Frau Krupp von Bohlen.
She was accompanied by two men, so muffled that I could not recognise them, though I do not expect that the world would be very startled if their identity were revealed, for they were apparently merely directors of Krupp's, who had travelled with her to assist in the business she had on hand.
She said not a word, but stepped into the car. I sat myself by the driver, and we drove back through the dark lanes to Spa, stopping only once to extinguish our lights when the military patrol showed a red lamp signaling the approach of enemy aircraft. This sort of thing was the merest routine to me, and almost mechanically the driver pulled the car up to the side of the road, switched off the dim lights, and we waited. I heard an agitated whisper behind me.
"What is the matter, Her Berghmann?"
"It is nothing, madam," I said soothingly. "The danger lights have been shown."
"What is the nature of the danger?" she demanded hoarsely.
"It is merely enemy aircraft, madam," I replied.
"Enemy aircraft?" she gasped. "Do you mean to tell me you don't regard that as danger? Where shall we go? Is there no place we can hide? Can we be seen? Where is the airship?"
I stepped down into the dark road, narrowly escaping falling into the ditch, for it was a pitch black night, and only the stars shone in the skies.
"There is really no danger, madam. It is a nightly occurrence," I replied. "Probably the aeroplane is not nearer than twenty miles away, but we show the lights when we signal their approach to this district as a matter of routine."
She opened the door of the car.
"Let me get out," she said. "I am stifled in here."
I assisted her down into the centre of the road, and I could feel her shaking in every limb.
"I hear nothing," she said at last in a tremulous voice.
"There is nothing to hear, madam," I replied. "In a few moments the patrol on that hill will show a green light and we may proceed.
But the green light was not shown. Instead there came the steady buzz and hum of an aeroplane, which increased to such a volume that I knew that not one but many bombing planes were coming our way. She also heard the noise, and I thought she would collapse. She touched my arm, and her trembling actually shook me.
OF course it is not a pleasant experience to be under hostile aircraft for the first time in your life, and this, I guessed, was Frau Krupp's first experience—an estimate which she immediately confirmed.
"I have never been in a raid," she said huskily. "I was not in Essen when the Frenchmen came over. Do you think they will drop bombs on us or anywhere near us?"
"No, no, madam," I said, doing my best to calm her. "There is really no danger. I expect they are on their way to Liège to bomb the aerodromes about there. There are certainly no military establishments near here, and the British are very careful."
"Very careful?" she said.
I then explained to her a fact which is not generally known in Germany, that when the British bomb a military establishment they take the greatest care that nothing but the military establishments are hit, a proof of which one has seen again and again in such places as Ghent and Bruges.
The noise increased to a deep, thunderous buzz of sound, and I thought the lady on my arm would have fainted.
"It is dreadful, it is dreadful," she stammered.
I must confess that it struck me as being a remarkable situation. Her was I in the middle of the night being clutched by a woman who had sent out millions of tons of death-dealing instruments, who without any compunction had loosed upon the world the most terrible weapons of destruction, who had herself sanctioned the creation of the biggest bombs that the world had ever seen until the British started their infernal "1625."
Millions of money had she stored in her bank, great mansions had she built, magnificent country estates had she laid up, and all the proceeds of war and its terrors. And yet here she was, shaking like an aspen on the arm of an unknown man, clinging to me with a desperation almost of despair, just because half a dozen "Tommies" were up aloft on their way to an early morning bombing.
Of course, they passed us without taking any notice of us. Probably had they seen us in broad daylight they would not have stayed to have dropped so much as a Mills bomb on our heads.
I will say this of the British, that they were thorough workmen, and when they set out on a job they were not to be diverted by any side issue. The noise passed, and I had almost to lift the lady back into the car.
She was in a state of collapse when we reached Headquarters. Briefly I explained to the Emperor, and a fleeting smile passed over his face.
THEY were in conference until nine o'clock, at which hour Frau Krupp left, still heavily veiled, for Verviers. I accompanied her on her journey, and at Verviers, where we had to wait ten minutes whilst the train was being shunted to the platform, we had a little conversation in the waiting-room which was specially set apart for her. She asked me if I had any shares in Krupp's, and when I told her that I had not she said—
"You must not think because the war is over that Krupp's will not pay dividends, Herr Berghmann."
"I never expected that, Frau Krupp von Bohlen," I replied, "but you must understand that shares in Krupp's are at a high rate in the market, and it is almost impossible for an outsider to get any kind of holding."
"If you will be good enough to accept a thousand shares, I shall be most happy to give them to you. His Majesty spoke very kindly of you, and suggested that I should give you a directorship when one became vacant."
This was indeed news to me, and very gratifying news, and I could make no appropriate reply.
"I hope you left Majesty well and happy," I said, and she smilingly nodded.
"I think he is more cheerful now," she replied. "These are difficult times for all of us, Herr Berghmann, and particularly so for me with my large industries and the number of workmen who are dependent upon me. I hope to see something of you in the future," she said just as the train came in. "Perhaps we shall meet in Holland."
"In Holland?" I stammered.
She looked at me with uneasiness.
"Don't you know—" she began. Then— "When I say Holland I mean some other country, for we shall all want to get out of Germany to take our holidays," she corrected herself quickly.
It was the first time that Holland had been mentioned in connection with our future, and I must confess that a little chill crept to my heart at the thought that the day was near when we might be exiled from our native land.
IN an earlier chapter I have told how the Crown Prince William promised me that I should accompany him on a tour which was to give me a new insight into life. From this I gathered that our erratic young Prince meant to show me the fast side of life, with which, Heaven knows, he was well acquainted. I am no prude and no hypocrite. We Germans are clear thinkers and reason logically. And indeed there was such a lax spirit of morality abroad, even in the days before the war, that any protest which I might now make would sound hypocritical.
I have said before that the news of our disastrous position in the field came as a series of shocks. One was prepared for the worst, but yet did not expect it; and when I was summoned by telephone to wait upon His Imperial Highness, I did not imagine that the news he would give me, not directly but rather by inference, was that all was lost. I went immediately to the Emperor's cabinet, but he had left to visit the 9th army; and, after a consultation with his second adjutant, I decided to go back to Berlin, leaving a message for His Majesty telling him that the Crown Prince had sent for me. I could do this with greater safety because the Emperor had never expressed any reluctance for me to act on behalf of His Imperial Highness, and indeed on one occasion (soon after my return from accompanying the Crown Princess to his Headquarters) he said he wished that I could see more of him and could learn something of his mind. I might have told His Majesty that, dull as were the times at Imperial Headquarters, they were quite exciting enough for me.
To my surprise I found the Crown Prince waiting on the station for my train when it came in. I did not imagine for one moment, of course, that he was waiting for me, and I was amazed to learn that this reason was the object of his presence.
"I want to see you, Berghmann," he said, "before some of these other people get at you."
I did not know who the other people were, but I guessed that he was referring to the friends and delegates of his wife, and in this I proved to be correct.
"I will tell you in the car," he said, and led the way out through the station, where his own private car was waiting.
He was not on that occasion accompanied by an adjutant or attendant other than his chauffeur, and I fancy that his presence at the station was unknown except to a few of the officials. When the car had started he plunged straight into the matter next his mind. He had arrived, he told me, only the previous day from Headquarters, and he had met Majesty at the Army Headquarters of Von Below.
"I don't think there can be any doubt, Berghmann," he said, "that we are in the soup."
He used this phrase in English, as he frequently did when using slang terms. The term was rather strange to me, and I repeated it.
"I mean we are finished, Berghmann. There is a chance that the whole German Army may surrender. Ludendorff has told the Emperor that it is impossible to get the army back through Belgium, and equally impossible to evacuate the material we have behind us through the Ardennes. It can only mean either surrender or the acceptance of the most oppressive terms of an armistice."
"Your Imperial Highness shocks me," I said, and he laughed.
"WHY should you be shocked?" he demanded rudely. "Good God! You're at Headquarters. You know all that is going on, and you know even better than I how hopeless the position is. Do not be shocked, my good Berghmann. You alarm me. If you are shocked at this news, I am going to shock you worse to-night."
He smiled a little crookedly, and I waited, wondering what he was going to say next.
"You know that the Crown Princess has started divorce proceedings against me? The Emperor has given her his consent to do so."
I knew this. Indeed, it had seemed inevitable after their last unpleasant meeting.
"Her Imperial Highness," he said, speaking very carefully, "is particularly anxious to cite a lady in her divorce proceedings whose name I am as anxious should be kept out of the Court. I think you know the lady to whom I refer."
In truth, however, I was ignorant, and I said as much.
"I believe you," he said. "In that case I will not enlighten you. It is sufficient that I should tell you that this particular lady is so dear a friend of mine that I would sooner my wife were dead than that she brought such a terrible accusation against her in the open Court. She is a friend, remember that, Berghmann, if the person is ever referred to—only a friend."
As I did not know the lady's name it would be rather difficult for me to champion her, but I did not express this thought, because I felt that His Imperial Highness might imagine I was anxious for information.
"It is possible that within a week," the Crown Prince went on, "I shall be out of Germany, and with me the whole Imperial Family. I imagine that my wife intends to remain behind, and I am certain that, whether I am an exile or not, she will go on with her divorce suit. In these circumstances, Berghmann, I desire that she shall have the necessary proof to procure freedom."
"I quite understand that, your Imperial Highness," I said, inwardly quaking, for I began to realise what he wanted me for.
"There are some women in this city and in Germany," the Crown Prince William went on, speaking musingly, "for whose names and reputations I am not so jealous. I do not mind if the whole world knows my friendship with them, and if you do your duty, my good Berghmann, and report as faithfully to the judges as you report to the Emperor the whole world will know."
I opened my mouth to protest against the suggestion that I was carrying tales to the Emperor, but he stopped me with a laughing gesture.
"You did your duty as I expected you to do, Berghmann," he said, "and as it is an honour to do to the head of the Imperial House. I imagined that you would tell the Emperor all there was to be told, and you would have been an unfaithful servant if you had not. I respect you for it, Berghmann," he said, patting me on the back, "and now you shall bear witness as faithfully in my behalf."
He was not staying at the Imperial Palace, but in a beautiful villa which I had visited before, the home of one of Berlin's merchant princes, who, on more occasions than one, had placed a big and princely suite at His Imperial Highness' disposal.
The plan was as follows. I was to amuse myself in the afternoon visiting any friends I wished to visit, though I was instructed that under no circumstances was I to reveal the fact that I was the Prince's guest. In the evening we were to dine together at the house, and afterwards His Imperial Highness, accompanied by me, was to make a tour which was designed to be the most extraordinary tour that any human being ever took.
THAT afternoon, however, was not spent exactly as he had planned. I was leaving the Crown Prince in the drawing-room, sitting on one chair with his feet on another, a long cigarette- holder in his mouth, when I very nearly bumped into a man who was coming into the room as I was trying to get out. He brushed me aside with scant ceremony and a scowl. It was only necessary to see that sallow face and that bald head to know who my rude visitor was. I stood still, because the Prince at that moment called some instruction which I had not heard. He glanced lazily in the direction of the newcomer, and, with a nod and a smile, said—
"Hullo, Uncle Tino! What are you doing in Berlin? You foolish man! Switzerland is a pleasant place, and if you are not careful you won't be able to get a train back."
"Is your father in Berlin?" asked King Constantine angrily.
"I'm hanged if I know," said the Prince. "Ask Berghmann. He's the man who keeps note of the Emperor's movements."
Tino looked round and vouchsafed me one glance, which was by no means friendly.
"What is the position?" he asked, addressing the Crown Prince again.
"I don't know," shrugged the Crown Prince, "I never read the newspapers."
I observed his studied insolence, and I remembered hearing that he and his uncle, the exiled King of Greece, were never on very friendly terms.
"So it's come to this, then," said the King of Greece bitterly. "I have sacrificed my throne, I have endangered my own life, and all for nothing."
The Crown Prince laughed shrilly, which he always did when he was angry and amused at one and the same time.
"Sacrificed your throne!" he cried scornfully. "What rubbish. You know jolly well you have sacrificed nothing. Whoever won this war, Greece was bound to come out on top. If we had won it, you'd have gone back on the throne. As the Allies won it, your son remains. If ever anyone played both sides, you did. I wish I had a little kingdom outside Germany," he added, puffing a ring of smoke to the ceiling.
"What do you know about statesmanship?" roared King Tino. "You talk like a fool, William."
"Leave my reputation alone," snarled the Crown Prince. "It is not for people like you to sit in judgment upon men like me. Eh, Berghmann?"
I was in that embarrassing position where I could agree with nobody, and with a mumbled excuse I made my escape and did not hear the end of the interview. I asked the Crown Prince later in the day delicately what His Majesty had said, but he only laughed. I dined with him, and at his request I came in evening dress, wearing a smoking jacket and a black dress tie, which was becoming fashionable in Germany just before the war, and was quite replacing the old white tie which German gentlemen wore when they were dining at restaurants or parties where ladies were present.
HIS Imperial Highness was very gay at dinner, at which there was nobody present but his adjutant and myself. He drank a prodigious amount of wine, some of the finest champagne I have ever tasted being placed upon the table.
"It isn't loot, you know, Berghmann," he chuckled. "To read the French comic papers you would imagine that I had spent all my time robbing the cellars of France. This champagne was in my cellar before the war started. What do you think of it?"
Of course, there was nothing to say but that it was the finest in the world, and he nodded, and for a moment looked grave.
"I wish that I could get some of this stuff out of the country," he said, "but I shall probably have all my work to get out myself. I want to go to Switzerland," he said after a pause, "but that may not be possible. For a long time I have suggested to His Majesty that Spa was the worst place for Imperial Headquarters, because in the event of our defeat, we had no choice of exit, but must go to Holland. However," he said, raising his glass, "what is the use of worrying about the future—the night is ours," and he began to hum the Carnival Song from a light opera which was very popular in Berlin at that time.
After innumerable brandies and scores of cigarettes he looked at his watch.
"Come along, Berghmann," he said gaily; "come and collect evidence, my old friend. By Heavens! I'd like to be in Court and hear you describe what you'll see to-night!"
The car that was waiting for us was a big touring car, and we tore at a tremendous speed through the streets into the suburbs, and out into the open country. I suppose we had been less than half-an-hour on our journey when the car turned from the road through a great gate, up and avenue shaded by trees, and pulled up before the broad steps of a large mansion which I had never seen before, and which I quite failed to recognise. The windows were in darkness, but that was not remarkable, since it was generally known in Berlin that the British had built a bombing machine which could reach Berlin, and preparations had been made to deal with an attack. One of those preparations was naturally the shading of all lights.
The Prince got down, said a few words in a low tone to his chauffeur, and he and I mounted the steps together, I, wondering what the evening was going to bring forth. To my surprise he did not ring or knock, but opened the door with a key which he took from his waistcoat pocket, and we passed in. The hall was large and spacious, the floor was covered with thick carpet, a divan ran down one side, and light came from an Oriental lantern in the roof. There was no sound, and, having closed the door behind us and passed through a little dark lobby, we ascended the broad stairs, also thickly carpeted, the walls being hung with scimitars and shields of Eastern design.
On the first landing were three doors—one to the right, one to the left, and one immediately in front of you as you came up the stairs. It was towards the centre door that His Imperial Highness went. Again he took from his pocket a key and again we passed, this time into darkness. I found that the darkness was more or less artificial. There was a small lobby inside the door, and when His Highness had switched on a light I could see that it was heavily curtained with blue or black velvet. He pulled one of the curtains aside and showed us a beautiful rosewood door, and on this he knocked. Almost immediately it was opened by a girl. She was extremely pretty. On seeing His Highness she dropped a curtsey, and we walked into the room, which was a very large one, and, like the hall and the stairs, furnished in an Oriental fashion. Half-a-dozen great Persian lamps hung from the ceiling, which was carved in the Moorish fashion; there were divans about the walls; a few low tables in the centre of the room, and a gilt couch, of the First Empire style, the only incongruous article in the room.
THE Crown Prince lost no time in explaining the object of his visit—that he was leaving Germany, and that he had no alternative but to say farewell.
His lady friend took the news quite calmly and showed signs of indifference.
Very soon we continued our journey. The next place of call was also a country mansion, but this time there was nothing furtive or secret about its upkeep. The windows blazed with light, and the country road for a quarter of a mile was lined with motor cars. Evidently by the sound of music which greeted us as we drove up the broad avenue there was some sort of dance or reception on and on the broad stone terrace we saw the silhouettes of couples and heard the laughter of men and women. The car did not pull up at the main entrance, but made a circuit of the house and stopped before a long French window. The Crown Prince alighted and whistled, and almost immediately the window opened and we entered a small drawing-room.
The lady who had let us in was very surprised to see me. She was tall, Junoesque, and by every standard beautiful. She was a shade dark, which suggested to me that she was from the south of Germany, and her speech betrayed her Bavarian origin. A cold, haughty girl, I judged her to be twenty-six, and by the profusion of jewels she wore and the stateliness of her poise I guessed that she was a member of one of the noble houses of Germany. Perhaps I could say more than this. Perhaps I could give names, but let me be this much discreet, and say that I only "guess." Nor if I am brought to Germany at the insistence of the Crown Princess to testify on her behalf, will I betray this lady.
"Do you wish to see me alone?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"I am going away, gracious lady, and I have come to take my farewell," he said.
"So you telephoned," she said. "What is wrong? What do you mean?"
"What does it all mean? It means we are in defeat," said the Crown Prince, "and for the time being our pleasant relationships, which have lasted for eight years, must cease."
"I do not understand why you make so outrageous a statement, William," she said haughtily, "and that before your servant."
"He is not my servant at all, if you refer to Berghmann," said the Crown Prince. "He is the Emperor's confidant. And if you desire to know why I am so frank I will tell you, Madame. It has come to my knowledge that you have written to my father, and that you have supplied him with interesting details of a certain adventure, in which you did not take part, but of which you had cognisance. That was an act of treachery to me, and I feel no longer bound to play fairly with you. My wife contemplates a divorce, and since you are so anxious to serve the Imperial House, as you have told my father, how better can you serve me than by taking your place as co-respondent? It is not the first time, Baroness," he said with a bitter little smile, "that you have occupied that position in the Berlin Courts, and I do not see why you should feel aggrieved that I have given you a further opportunity for notoriety. Believe me, madam," he went on sternly, "I am fair and loyal to those who are fair and loyal to me. Those who betray me I betray. I will say good-night!"
Without another word he stepped through the window on to the lawn. She followed him eagerly and laid her hand upon his arm.
"William, you are not going like that," she said pleadingly. "Send your man away. I want to speak to you."
He shook his head.
"You are only one of many calls I have to make," he said gaily, "and if you are so anxious to speak, let me suggest that you go to Imperial Headquarters and speak to my father. He will be glad of any further information you can give him. Failing this, you will see my wife, who would welcome you, and who might indeed be induced to forego her natural desire to cite you in the cause she brings before the Berlin court. Good night!"
We left her, a stony figure, standing like a statue on the edge of the dark green lawn, the moonlight showing her face pale and strained.
I thought that the night's adventure was over, but William, who was still bright-eyed and clear of speech, laughed when I suggested this.
"The best of the night is to come," he said, and we went on to the house of a man whom I will call Levi, which William had left to the last. Here we found waiting the most extraordinary company that I had ever seen. In preparation for this farewell visit of his William had telegraphed to the furthermost ends of Germany and assembled every woman to whom he had made love who was willing to suffer the humiliation of putting in an appearance at a dinner which Levi himself had given, and a reception, at which his Imperial Highness had promised (very naturally) to attend. It is possible that a very large number of the women who were present had no idea that they would be a member of the company. Probably they thought that they would be alone for a last tender farewell of the man who had played such havoc with their hearts.
I afterwards discovered that a number who had come earlier in the evening, discovering the true state of affairs, refused to accept the humiliation and made their way home again, but a goodly number, from shamelessness, from bravado or sheer indifference to William's or anybody else's opinion, had remained to meet him.
In the hall Levi met us—an obsequious little man—who bowed and scraped and handed His Imperial Highness a list which William checked carefully.
"So she did not come," he said, "and she went away. Good! I didn't expect many to stay. I am surprised that so many have remained. There must be something very fascinating about you, Levi," he said sardonically.
The little man bowed himself almost double. William took my arm, and together we walked into the big salon where the women were assembled. There were no men at all except Levi—that was the extraordinary feature of the gathering. There were women of various ages and of various degrees of beauty. There was not a plain woman there, and I suppose there must have been twenty in all. They were all beautifully dressed, and I should imagine all German. I have heard a great deal of the Prince's penchant for certain French actresses and an American actress, but on this particular occasion I neither met French nor Americans.
I was comically like a parade inspection as he passed through the little group that thronged about him, shaking hands with one, patting the cheek of another, saying a word here and a word there, generally a word reminiscent of some happier times and under happier circumstances.
"Ah! You remember that evening at Baden-Baden, you little rogue.... I am so glad to see you, Fräulein. You look almost as beautiful as you did that day in Venice. You remember?... So, you have come all the way from Königsberg, my little Freda. Dear old Königsberg! I wonder whether I shall see it again."
The light of dawn was in the sky when we took our departure, and the Prince fell back with a weary sigh upon the padded seat of the car.
"Well, Berghmann," he asked, "what do you think of them? By Heaven! The Princess—the lady to whom I made reference, and whose name I do not want to appear—is worth a hundred of them. Do you think you have sufficient evidence to secure Her Imperial Highness her divorce?" he asked with sarcasm.
"Twenty divorces, your Imperial Highness," I replied. "I almost agree with Her Imperial Highness that you should have been a Sultan."
"I wish to Heaven I had been," he said gloomily. "The Sultan of Turkey for preference. I should have made lots of mistakes, but there's one I wouldn't have made, Berghmann."
"What is that, Highness?" I asked.
"I should not have drawn Turkey into this war," said he.
I CAME to breakfast the next morning with the Crown Prince, though it was at an hour when most respectable people are finishing their lunch. He was very bright and buoyant, and did not give me the impression of being greatly troubled by the approaching disaster which threatened his Empire.
"I have had a long telegram from the Emperor, Berghmann. It has taken me some time to decode. I have almost forgotten the family code," he said. "We have used it so seldom in the past ten years. Do you know Switzerland very well?"
"Very well indeed, Your Imperial Highness," I said.
"I think you can cut that 'Imperial Highness' out," said he, using one of those Americanisms which he was very fond of employing, "and just call me William. Do you know the Safe Deposit in Berne?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Then I may have a job for you," he said. "I have 'phoned the Foreign Office and told them to get your passports ready. The Emperor wishes you to carry some of our personal property into Switzerland and deposit it there. I have a number of my own possessions which can go at the same time."
"Is the danger so imminent?" I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know how close it is, but I should imagine the position is hopeless. I am going to see His Majesty at Spa the day after to-morrow, and I think that he has a very cheerless tale to tell. At any rate we must be on the safe side. I have some money in Switzerland, and I have a great number of shares invested through Swiss brokers. I have also heirlooms"—he smiled—"which I have acquired in the past few years, and which I should like to see in a place of safety, and you are the man to carry them there."
I was then to discover for the first time that most of the Royal Family had sent their valuables not to the vaults of the Deutsche Bank, as did the Emperor, but to all manner of queer places. There must have been a concerted movement amongst the members of the Royal House, and it is probable that the Emperor's private secretary had communicated simultaneously with all the branches of the family in various parts of the country, for I found extraordinary activity going on, which, unfortunately for me, took the form of calling me up on the telephone every few minutes. This became such an intolerable nuisance that I complained to the Crown Prince.
"I cannot be expected to carry all these things into Switzerland."
"All what things?" he asked.
"Well," I said, "I have just been requested by Prince Oscar and his lady to take a bit of old furniture!"
The Crown Prince laughed.
"My poor Berghmann," he said, "what do you expect you are going to do?"
"I don't understand your Imperial Highness," I replied.
"How do you imagine you are going to carry these treasures into Switzerland?"
"In a bag," I said, feeling rather vague about the whole matter.
He roared with laughter.
"What you are expected to do, my dear friend," he said, "is to take control of two train loads of material which will leave the general goods station this evening."
"Two train loads!" I cried in amazement.
"That is the first installment," he said. "You must not think that we Hohenzollerns have converted all our treasure into diamond tiaras and ropes of pearls. I have some wonderful Napoleon relics which I must get out of Germany as soon as possible. Then my brother has some extraordinarily good furniture which was taken from France in 1871, and bequeathed to him by Prince Frederick William. When you get to Switzerland you will check the arrival of the goods, and see that they are properly stored. We have arranged for storage in Berne and Lucerne."
"But, Highness," I said aghast. "His Majesty did not intend that I should go to Switzerland and stay there."
"I know that," replied the Crown Prince, "and I am in communication with the Emperor on the subject, and will speak to him further when I see him at Headquarters."
The Crown Prince made a few inquiries as to the extent of the work I was expected to undertake, and I think was pretty well convinced that no single individual could cope with the requirements of the Imperial family.
Trains were advised as coming from all directions, carrying family heirlooms, pictures, precious furniture, rare carpets, etc. They were coming from Prussia, from Saxony; almost every princely family had requisitioned a railway truck to get their property away. Nor was this saving of goods entirely confined to the princely families. The Junkers also were making preparations for the trouble which they knew now was inevitable. All sorts of motor cars and army lorries, which were so needed at the front, and even ambulances were requisitioned by our princes to carry off the articles which they feared might fall into the hands of the Allies or, even worse, suffer destruction at the hands of the Bolsheviks.
I did not go to Constance or Schassenhausen, but I am told that there were extraordinary scenes witnessed at the frontier, that goods trains packed with all sorts of portable articles were side-tracked and waiting their turn to cross into Switzerland. I am told also that the Swiss authorities were compelled to send a special staff of Customs officers to assess the value of these various properties, and the work of checking them went on day and night. Afterwards, I believe, an arrangement was made by which the checking was all done on Swiss soil—that is to say, in the interior and not on the frontier. Special seals were put upon the cars, which were not broken until the central authorities came to inspect their contents. What made it so very difficult for the Swiss was that the same sort of thing was going on across the Austrian frontier into Switzerland, where the Grand Duke and even the Emperor himself were sending their heirlooms to a place of safety.
I pointed out to His Imperial Highness the impossibility of dealing with bulky packages such as the various families were sending through to Switzerland, and I reminded him that he had spoken about the safe deposit at Berne. He nodded.
"I'M afraid we shall have to let the heirlooms go, or I'll get my own people to look after them," he said. "There are some things I should not like to lose, and some things which I certainly want if I am going to set up house in Switzerland."
This conversation took place in his private study at the Palace. He got up from the desk where he had been writing, blew clouds of cigarette smoke, for he never ceased from smoking, and walked across to the corner of the room, where a large steel safe was let into the wall. He searched his pockets, and pulled out, at the end of a long chain, a small bunch of keys.
"Keep both those two doors closed, Berghmann. You'll find a key in one; lock it. You may bolt the other."
I obeyed him, wondering why this excessive secrecy, since nobody was likely to walk into the Crown Prince's private rooms unless they had been specially invited, and then not without knocking.
He watched me, and did not attempt to open the safe until I had finished the operation. Then he inserted the key, turned the handle, and the big steel door opened.
"This is what I want you to take away," he said, taking out a cedar-wood box about eight inches square and eight inches deep.
He put it on the table and unlocked it with another key from the bunch. As he lifted the lid the four sides fell outward, they being clasped together by the action of the lock. They were lined with dark blue velvet. It is a curious fact that this I noticed first before my eyes rested on the magnificent jewel which lay in the centre, held in place by velvet clips. It was a crown!
It was, in fact, the most beautiful crown that ever I have seen, and I have personally inspected most of the crowns in Europe and I am an authority upon Royal regalia as everybody who read my books knows. But it was a crown unlike any that I had ever seen. Both in shape and magnificence of design, in the chastity of its carving, in the profusion and splendour of its precious stones, it was incomparable. Unlike other jewels of this character, there was no red stone set on the whole of its surface. Nothing (with one exception) but diamonds, and mostly diamonds as big as one's thumbnail, surmounted by the most perfect emerald I had ever seen.
I could not restrain an exclamation of delight at the sight of this beautiful thing. In shape it was more like the Austrian crown than any other, but it was certainly neither German nor Austrian, nor in its general design did it bear any resemblance to the British—to my mind, one of the finest crowns in the world.
The Crown Prince enjoyed my amazement, and stood watching me with a smile on his face.
"But, Highness," I gasped, "what a beautiful thing! Is it His Majesty's?"
He shook his head.
"It's mine, Berghmann," he said. "I had it specially designed for me, and it was made in Paris nine years ago."
"But," I protested," if your Highness has a crown—"
"This has a special significance and a special purpose," he said, and then there began to dawn upon me the memory of an agitation, and a great deal of irresponsible talk which had been prevalent in Germany a few years before, and which I had then dismissed as being frivolous and unfounded. That talk inferred at the time that His Imperial Highness was not on good terms with the Emperor, that in fact they were at daggers drawn, and that the Army were supporting the Crown Prince William as against His Majesty. The reader will remember that there were wild threats of setting up a new King of Prussia as against the Emperor, and of something which was tantamount to rebellion on the part of the son against his father. Matters had reached a crisis when His Imperial Highness was inspecting the royal jewels, as is customary once in every two years, and had found fault with the shape of the German Imperial Crown. The Emperor got into a rage.
"YOU need not criticise it, William. It is probable that you will never wear it."
"I hope I never shall," said His Imperial Highness, and that was the conversation which was exaggerated and widely advertised throughout Germany.
Of course, now I remembered and understood. When the Crown Prince had said that he would never wear the Imperial Crown, he spoke no more than the truth, for he had already planned a crown of his own, and it is possible that the order had already been executed when he uttered his threat to the Emperor.
I looked at the wonderful bauble, worth a king's ransom, and could only shake my head in speechless admiration.
I will be frank and say it was infinitely superior to the Imperial Crown, though, of course, quite modern.
"It is worth six million marks," said His Imperial Highness, "and you may well believe that I do not wish to send it to Switzerland by parcel post!"
"It will be a very heavy responsibility to carry such a beautiful article, Highness," I replied, "and I think I had better start as soon as possible and get it over."
"I agree with you," he said.
"Does His Majesty know that you have this?"
"I told him a year or two ago, and he was interested. In fact, he was amused," he smiled, "but he expressed the same admiration for the Crown as you have."
I left that afternoon with my precious burden for Berne, at which city I did not remain for more than half an hour, after depositing the package and receiving the authenticated receipt from the managing director of the safe deposit. I reached Berlin at eleven o'clock that night, and His Highness had not returned from visiting his Army Headquarters. He came in at two o'clock in the morning and I remained up, as he had left a message that he wished to see me before he went to bed. He was looking very serious, was wearing his field kit, stained and rain-sodden, and he seemed tired and more moody than I could remember him. The servant brought him a large glass of China tea and a Kümmel, which he drank, and then, leaning back in his armchair and stretching his booted legs to the fire, he asked—
"Well, Berghmann, you took that little thing away?"
For answer I gave him the receipt, which he examined closely and placed in his pocket-book.
"What is the news from Headquarters, Highness?" I asked.
He shook his head.
"Very bad, very bad," he said. "At the back of my desk you will find a long case. Bring that to me, Berghmann."
The long case looked like one of those cases in which swords of honour are presented, and this it proved to be. When he had opened the polished lid there was revealed a long, straight cavalry sword, which the Crown Prince took out with a smile and examined. The sheath was of silver, the hilt was thick gold, studded with large rubies, whilst the sword knot, by its weight was evidently of pure gold.
He drew the sword from the sheath with a flourish. It was a beautiful blade, engraved in the best Damascene style. Along the blade ran an inscription, which he read with evident amusement.
"This sword was presented to the Crown
Prince William beneath the
Arc de Triomphe on the occasion of his entry into Paris, December, 1914."
"What do you think of that?" he asked. "A little premature, eh?"
He looked at the sword dubiously and then at me.
"HEAVEN knows what I'd better do with this, my good Berghmann," he said. "It was intended as an heirloom, but missed fire. The truth is that this was to have been given to me by a deputation on the occasion of our entry into Paris. A special committee was formed, and I was to have been met at the Arc de Triomphe, and there the presentation was to have been made. Now what the devil am I to do with it? I can't burn it," he said whimsically, "I can't leave it to my enemies. I can't take it away with me, and I don't want to give it to you or anybody else."
He sheathed the sword and put it aside, and I do not know to this day what happened to it. Very likely it went with certain other little relics to the glass factory in Westphalia where the Hohenzollerns had all their personal property destroyed, for the Emperor makes a point never to allow furniture from the Royal Palace or any articles which he has used to be resold second-hand since an enterprising Berlin shopkeeper had made a small fortune by retailing pieces of the Emperor's old shirts as souvenirs to his loving admirers!
The only other matter I remember clearly about that interview, for I was very tired, was that the Prince took a lot of money from his desk—hundreds of thousands of marks in American and English money, curiously enough. I remember seeing two big stacks of banknotes which he stowed away in various pockets.
"I do not know to the minute when I shall have to bolt, Berghmann, and one must be on the safe side. Now I think you can go to bed."
Although I went to bed and slept the sleep of the more or less just, I do not think His Royal Highness closed his eyes that night, for when I came down just before lunch his equerry told me that when he had come in in the morning the room was blue with cigarette smoke. His Royal Highness was still sitting in his top boots before the fire, his head on his breast, but quite awake.
The other member of the Imperial family on whom I attended with the object of assisting in the safe deposit of valuables was the Kaiserin. Her nerves were quite gone and she was pathetically helpless.
"I do not know what I want to send away, Berghmann. Isn't it dreadful?" she moaned and wailed. "I have nothing really of value. Could I take the furniture of my boudoir? I have money, but should I draw that from the bank? Surely our good German people are not going to rob us? They are still going to give us our allowance? I have an estate in Silesia. Do you think I ought to do anything there?"
WITH these and a thousand other questions she plied me, and I offered whatever advice I could. I suggested to her that she simply devote herself to the most precious of her possessions and arrange for them to be put in a place of safety. Although I knew that I was wanted at Spa, I volunteered to take anything she desired to Switzerland, or into Holland. But she could give me no satisfaction. When she came to the things she wanted to take away, they were of the most puerile and useless description. Old pairs of shoes and old clothes that her children had worn; every sort of useless rubbish that she had accumulated in the course of her life and that she seemed to cherish for some incomprehensible reason of sentiment—these and other articles she suggested, all the time stopping to bemoan her fate.
"Surely it can't be true, Berghmann! Have you seen Marshal Hindenburg lately? Does he think that the situation is so bad? Do you think it possible that our good German people will allow His Majesty to abdicate—a Hohenzollern! Why, it seems impossible. It is the end of the world for Germany when a Hohenzollern is no longer on the throne!"
As I have already said, I knew that the minor princes were making preparations for flight, that the royal family of Saxony had just moved a car-load of valuable old armour and jewels, guarded by twenty of the Saxon bodyguard. With majesties and highnesses one could deal and find them reasonable, but the little princes were a great trial to those charged with the task of sending valuables out of the country, until His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince got to hear of the bother they were giving the officers and came down on them with an iron hand.
Although they feared the Kaiser, they feared Prince William even more. He had a ruthless and irresponsible way of dealing with differences, and I believe he sent a wire to all the extortionate Princes telling them that he would burn their heirlooms or turn them over to the poor if they gave the railway authorities any more trouble.
I have reason to believe that, although a vast quantity of property was smuggled out of Germany, not a quarter of the cars laden with booty and loot ever left the country. Where they are now I do not know. They may be side-tracked or reposing in some small country station yard, where one day they will be recovered by the curious investigator.
I was glad indeed to get back to Spa. In the few days I had been away I had been traffic manager, storekeeper, jewelry expert, and commercial traveler, and it was with a joyful heart that I found myself in the train, empty-handed and my mind unworried by the fate of this or that valuable entrusted to my care for despatch.
"The Emperor wishes to see you at once," said Klauss, who met me at the station. "You are to hold yourself in readiness to go to a certain place."
"Not Switzerland again?" I groaned.
"No, not Switzerland," he laughed. "Somewhere near. In fact—" He checked himself. "Anyway, you will find out."
I gave His Majesty a brief account of all that had happened.
"You seem to have had a very strenuous time," he said. "I am glad William has stopped those people from making fools of themselves. The thing now is not to try to save your furniture but to save your House, Berghmann," he said, and I know that he was speaking rather of the Imperial House than any erection of bricks and mortar.
He stroked his chin thoughtfully, and then asked rather a surprising question.
"Do you know Mannesmann?" he demanded.
I could not understand the connection, and was till more puzzled when he continued—
"I have sent for him to come here. Perhaps there is still hope."
His voice, however, was low and suggested extreme nervousness, and I myself began to wonder what new and more dreadful event he had reason to fear.
I HAVE spoken in a previous chapter of a mysterious little old man whose influence in German Court circles was considerable, though that fact was not generally known.
I did not expect that I should ever come into contact with this strange personage, but on the night after we returned to Spa I was ordered to go to the railway station to meet "Professor Mannesmann." When the train came in I looked around for some learned-looking person, but without success. The only civilian who alighted was a stout little man, with untidy black whiskers, who wore enormous spectacles, and I should not have noticed him but for the fact that he was loudly abusing the military policeman who was examining his passport and permit.
When I realised who he was I quickly made my way to him. A few words from me to the guard released him from their embarrassing attentions. He was a very truculent little man, who wore a shiny silk hat at a rakish angle on one side of his head, and who was otherwise dressed shabbily. His frock-coat was a little too big for him, and the sleeves hung down over his wrists. He wore a great sky-blue cravat, in which was fastened a tie-pin bearing the Imperial monogram, and a heavy gold watch guard hung upon his black velvet waistcoat, which bore a number of stains. It is more difficult to describe his swagger and his general insolence of demeanour. As he strutted along by my side, you might have imagined that the whole of Spa, and not a little portion of Germany, was his personal property.
"I have had a filthy journey on a filthy railway," he growled, "and if I'd had any dream I would never have come. What the devil does William want me for?"
I was shocked at his familiarity.
"If His Majesty has sent for you," I said sternly, "there is no more to be said."
"No more to be said for you, my fine lackey," he boomed, "but I am not a Court official. I am Mannesmann—Professor Mannesmann of Heidelberg—and if William had taken my advice he wouldn't have been sending for me now except to pat me on the back."
I HID my anger as well as I could, though I should have liked to have boxed his ears, and showed him the way to the motor-car which was waiting, and all the time he was talking volubly.
"Everything I have predicted has come true," he said. "I told William that the British would fight. He didn't believe me, relying upon these jackasses of his who are constantly supplying him with false information. I told him that the Russians were a negligible quantity, and that he need not worry about them, and yet he diverted the greater portion of his army to fighting an enemy who was already half-defeated before the war started."
I was not pleased to hear this uncouth, untidy man discussing such high matters of State business with such ease and familiarity and insolence. I do not share the average German's adoration for the professional class; indeed, I feel something of the contempt which our officers have for these people. Never in my life was contempt so thoroughly justified in my mind as during the drive back to headquarters, for the little man did not stop talking all the time. He had a skin as thick as a rhinoceros, and whenever I got an opportunity of putting in a word, which was infrequent, my remarks, cutting as they were, seemed to have no effect upon him.
"What you people on the General Staff lack is brains," he said. "I told William when the war started that he was gambling with a baby army to kill a giant. Your clever fellows were certain that they were going to walk through France—and why? Because the mobilisation was so perfect and so rapid. But what was the mobilisation, my good friend? It was the work of dead hands. The men who planned the great gathering of soldiers and material had been in their graves these fifteen years. When Moltke died the General Staff died—mark that."
"You do not seem to have a great opinion of the Emperor's military genius," I said, maliciously determined to put him in the wrong, and never imagining for one moment that this nondescript would criticise His Majesty.
He roared with coarse laughter.
"William isn't a military genius; he's a political genius. William is all rant and rhetoric—you ought to know that. William is the slave of his staff, and knows no more about warfare than a Prussian lieutenant, and probably less than some Prussian lieutenants. Oh, you sycophantic lickspittle! Thank God I wasn't born a courtier."
"It is something to be born a courtier," said I icily, "if it is only because one of the essentials of the position is that one should be a German gentleman."
"There's no such thing as a German gentleman," he replied shortly. "Gentleman is a label you have stolen from the British without troubling to copy the article labelled."
I WAS very glad when at last the car drew up before the door of the villa where the Emperor was staying. Professor Mannesmann swaggered out of the car, his hands in his pockets, his grotesque tall hat on the back of his head, and stood staring round.
"Come this way, Professor," I said.
I had orders to take him immediately to the Emperor's cabinet. His Majesty had just finished dinner, and was sitting at his desk when I tapped at the door and was admitted. He rose, came towards the Professor with outstretched hand and such a smile of welcome as I have rarely seen upon his face.
"Come in, come in, Hugo," he said. "Sit down by the fire."
The little man grunted.
"Rather different to the last welcome you gave me, William," he said, rubbing his hands before the blaze.
I almost gasped to hear him address His Majesty in this familiar way. That he should speak lightly of the Emperor on our way, when we were alone, was, if not natural, at least understandable. Indeed, I had made up my mind to complain to the Emperor's equerry on the subject, but I saw now that it was unnecessary. The Kaiser did not resent the familiar style of address, but laughed softly. Then, apparently seeing my astonishment, he said in that manner of cordiality which was so unusual in him in these days—
"Hugo is an old friend of mine, Berghmann, and is allowed to take liberties. We were at school together, were we not, Hugo?"
The other nodded.
"Yes, we were at Bonn together in—what was the year?" said the Kaiser reflectively, stroking his chin. "It seems a thousand years ago. Hugo, Bethmann Hollweg, and Von Jagow were classmates at Bonn. Do you remember when we tied you up to the rafters by your wrists and prodded you with a broom handle?" he laughed.
Professor Hugo Mannesmann growled.
"Dirty pigs, dirty pigs!" he snarled. "I hated you all from that day."
"Now, now, Hugo!" The Kaiser slapped him on the shoulder. "You know you're exaggerating."
"What do you want of me?" asked the Professor.
"I want your views on the situation," replied the Emperor. "You probably know the position. Prince Max has asked President Wilson for an armistice."
I was feeling rather uncomfortable. It was customary for His Majesty to dismiss me with a word, but up to now the word had not been spoken. He must have noticed my embarrassment, for he suddenly nodded to a chair, and I gathered that he wanted me to be present at the interview.
Before the Professor replied he took from the tail pocket of his frock-coat a large wooden pipe, which he filled with tobacco, which he carried in a twisted paper. He had taken off his silk hat, and disclosed a great mane of grey-black hair and a big bald patch on the top of his head. He lit his pipe with a slip which he tore from the paper in which the tobacco was wrapped, and was puffing out great clouds of blue smoke before he replied.
"When this war broke out," he said at last, "you sent for me. You asked me how long I thought it would be before your army was in Paris. You also offered me a position on your Intelligence Staff, which I refused, for militarism in all its forms is opposed to my principles."
The Emperor nodded.
"I told you," the Professor went on, "that your army was too small, that you would not get to Paris, and I also informed you that Britain would strike, and that, once Britain struck, the war was lost."
Again the Kaiser nodded.
"You were beaten," said the Professor with ghoulish satisfaction, "the moment the British Navy took up its battle station in the North Sea. You did not agree with me, and your brother told me I was a fool."
He paused, but presently resumed—
"I have been right all through. I shall be right to the end. I can tell you exactly the position without your explaining it. You are on the verge of great disaster, your army is being pushed back to the Ardennes, and the military occupation of Germany by the Allies is not only a possibility but an absolute certainty. Through Carl you have attempted to get a kind of peace which would be tantamount to a German victory, and you have found that the Allies were not so foolish as you imagined they were."
I never expected they would accept Carl's terms," the Emperor broke in meekly.
"Of course you didn't," scoffed the Professor. "At least you are a student of Bonn, and you have some brains."
"What do you suggest?" asked the Emperor.
"I suggest that you bow to the inevitable, that you abdicate your throne and get away to Switzerland."
The Emperor looked at him, and I half rose from my chair. At least I expected an angry outburst on the part of His Majesty, but in this I was disappointed.
"You offer a very drastic suggestion," said His Majesty mildly.
"There are no others to offer," replied the Professor.
The Emperor paced the room moodily, his hands behind his back.
"I am almost sorry I sent for you now, Hugo," he said.
The other chuckled.
"I should have come anyway. In fact, I had written a letter asking for the permits and the other tomfoolery which seems to be necessary before one can get out of Germany when your summons arrived. As my infernal fortune-telling daughter can get permission to come to Headquarters to read the hands of your great oafs of staff officers, I don't see why I should be put to so much trouble."
This was the first intimation I had had that Madame von Staehl was the daughter of the professor. Apparently there was no love lost between them, and I subsequently heard that they had only met once in thirty years, and on that occasion they had quarreled so violently that the police had to intervene.
The Emperor was looking at Hugo Mannesmann with keen interest.
"Why were you coming, Hugo?" he asked. "It doesn't seem like you to—"
"To put myself forward," finished the Professor. "No, but I had news, and not very good news."
The eyes of His Majesty narrowed.
"Well?" he asked harshly.
For a little time the Professor made no reply, but puffed stolidly at his pipe. I watched him with a great deal of interest, and I must confess I felt a little uncomfortable, because instinctively I knew there was important news coming, and I realised that it might be blurted out before I could make my excuses. But the Emperor made no response to my signal, which was literally a signal of distress.
"YOU have a wonderful son, William," said the Professor, knocking out the ashes of his pipe, "a great and enterprising boy."
"To which son are you referring?" asked the Emperor coldly.
"You have only one son who has any brains, although the world thinks otherwise," said the Professor. "I am speaking of William."
"Well," said the Emperor as the Professor paused.
"Look to your throne, William. God knows, the Allies will leave you little claim to it, but your son will leave you less."
"Now, you have either said too little or too much," said the Emperor. "I must know everything."
The Professor was filling his pipe again, and he did it methodically and at his leisure.
"There isn't much to be told," he said, "but William is conspiring to bring about a coup d'état."
(On a later occasion I had a curious confirmation of this story from the lips of the Crown Prince himself.)
"In other words," said the Emperor, "he will get himself proclaimed Emperor. How far has the plot gone?"
"The conspiracy is widespread," said the Professor, "and I first heard of it through a young protégé of mine, an officer in the Guards, Von Veltheim, of whom you have heard. Whatever view the world may have of the Crown Prince, he is popular enough in the army, and his soldiers swear by him."
"They used to swear by me," said the Emperor with a faint smile.
"Well, they are not swearing by you now, if it is any information for you," said Hugo Mannesmann brutally. "In fact, you are not very popular. William, on the contrary, is the hope of the military caste. You see, Majesty, for all your speeches and warlike utterances, the army has never wholly trusted you. They thought you were afraid to declare war, and they have never forgiven you for the apology that the sword was thrust into your hand. Now, young William has always been a war-maker, and the army knows if the nation doesn't know that William was against the Verdun attack, because he hadn't sufficient men, and that you and Falkenhayn overrode him. The army knows that William was against the attack on the British in March, and was all for thrusting down to Paris, a thrust which might have succeeded. Here again he was overridden by Ludendorff. The army knows that William was against the attack in April, which brought the army to ruin."
"The attack against Bethune?" asked the Emperor, and the Professor nodded.
"The army knows all these things, and William has in consequence got a reputation which is not equalled by any other staff officer. They think he can save Germany from destruction."
"BUT what of the plot?" asked the Emperor impatiently.
"I tell you that both the army chiefs are in it," said Mannesmann. "William has been making regular visits to Frankfort, and he has contrived to meet the chiefs both of the eastern and of the western armies."
"I swear that Von Below and Marwitz are not in this," said the Emperor explosively.
"But Von Hutier is," said the professor, "and so is Sixt von Armin and so is Bernhardi. It has gone so far that they have sent a special envoy by way of Switzerland to endeavour to get into touch with the Entente Powers and discover whether your supersession would be regarded in a favourable light by our enemies and whether in that event we shall get better terms."
The Emperor paced the apartment, his hands behind him, his head upon his breast.
"They are mad, mad," he said, "but I have suspected this for a long time, a very long time, and, Hugo, I have prepared for it."
It was the professor's turn to be surprised.
"If this war ends, as it is likely to end, I have received private information that the Allies will place me upon my trial. Hugo, I ask for nothing better. I have documents to prove that I had no part in this war, that the sword was literally thrust into my hand, and by William."
It was a dramatic statement, made with the emphasis and ringing sincerity which is the Emperor's quality. The professor looked at him incredulously.
"You have documents to prove this, then be sure," he said grimly, "those documents will never see the light of day. I tell you, William has agents everywhere, even in your own palace."
For the first time in many days I saw the Emperor genuinely amused. There was in his eye a twinkle of triumph.
"There again you underrate my intelligence and my audacity," he said, "a few weeks after war broke out I sent to a neutral country a package containing my private papers. Those papers were there until a few days ago
"Then foreseeing this supreme act of treachery, I resolved to recover the documents. As you can understand, they are vitally necessary to me.
"Amongst my personal agents," he continued, "is Captain Baron von Mainz, whom you have met."
"A cub," growled the Professor; "he was rude to me at Bonn."
"A cub, but a brave one," said the Emperor quietly. "He has been of inestimable service to me and to our Fatherland, and now he is to render the supreme service. He is to save my name from the guilt of war. Instructions have been sent to the person (a German) who is holding these documents, and I have received a code message to say that Von Mainz has received them. To-day or to-morrow, Mannesmann, he will be here."
AFTER giving me instructions that everything possible was to be done to expedite the Baron's journey the Kaiser dismissed me. I immediately got in touch with the frontier officials, but could get no definite information. When later in the evening I reported to the Emperor he was lying fully dressed on his couch in the sitting-room, with only the collar of his tunic unfastened. He took the paper on which I had written the memoranda, and glanced at it.
"Is this all you can find, Berghmann?"
"All I can find at present, Majesty, but Intelligence are taking the matter up, and will make a special effort to supplement this information in the morning."
"You look tired. You had better go to bed," he said. "Ludendorff will be here in the morning, and there may be work for you."
He did not dismiss me, but fell into one of those reveries which are characteristic of him, and I stood waiting until he emerged from his dream.
Suddenly he sat up and, looking at me with a kindly smile—the kindliest and most gracious that he had ever given me—he added:—
"We work our servants very hard these days, Prussia and I, but I have a feeling in my poor bones that the end of our day is near. Then you can have a long rest."
"Please God, your Majesty," I replied, "that day will be long postponed."
He shook his head without a word, then with a nod dismissed me.
When I saw him next morning before setting out on another mission he was in high spirits. "I have had information, Berghmann," he told me. "The Baron has crossed the frontier. He will be here in a few hours."
I murmured a few appropriate words, saluted, and took my leave.
What followed I did not witness—perhaps happily so. I am indebted to Captain von Wessell, on the staff of General Sixt Von Armin, for the particulars which I have obtained. Some five miles from Spa a train was bombed by a French squadron. Nothing was left of it but wreckage.
The Kaiser had been out motoring with Mannesmann, Von Wessell being in attendance in another car. On the way back to Headquarters he passed the scene of the disaster, where salvage men had just commenced operations, and drew up to inquire.
"A troop train, Majesty," they told him.
THE Kaiser heaved a sigh of relief, then grew grave again. "But it may delay Von Mainz," he said.
Mannesmann had meantime descended, and was examining some of the bodies that had been extricated from the débris. The Kaiser called to him impatiently. He walked slowly back, and at the sight of the expression of his features the Emperor's own face grew pale.
"What is it, Hugo?" he cried. "Not—?"
"Yes," replied the Professor, "Von Mainz is there. See, he was wearing the ring you gave him at Bonn," and he placed the trinket in the shaking hands of the Kaiser. "That is all there is to identify him. His body is burned beyond recognition."
"And the papers?"
Mannesmann shrugged his shoulders. "Burned too, doubtless. But they are searching."
The Emperor alighted and remained beside the railway till dawn, while the little party of salvage men searched for the papers that were of so supreme importance to him. Von Wessell says he was hoping against hope to the last. But at length he had to acknowledge that further search was useless.
Then, pulling his cloak about his shoulders, he turned and strode without a word towards his car. That day he locked himself in his cabinet and would see nobody. Prince Max of Baden, who had come down specially to discuss the Wilson peace terms, or, as he called them, his "fourteen points," was kept waiting till eleven o'clock the next morning. When he was admitted to the Emperor's presence he was shocked by His Majesty's appearance.
"Majesty does not look well," he said.
"I am not well, Maximilian," replied the Emperor, and yet I am well."
"I have bad news for your Majesty," said Maximilian.
"You cannot tell me worse than I know," said his Majesty.
I SUPPOSE it will be regarded by his enemies as a piece of sheer hypocrisy when I say that the Emperor was a sincere admirer of Britain and British institutions. I will go farther and say that when Britain made war against Germany the Emperor was pained beyond expression. His views about the British I am able to place on record. I joined him in his cabinet at five minutes to four, and found him at a desk covered with sheets of closely-written handwriting. He was in a better mood than I had seen him for some time past.
Physically, despite stories published in French and British newspapers, he was a strong man, and could stand fatigue and real hard work better than any member of his staff. But he was, and is, the slave of his mind. He is healthy or unhealthy according to his mental state. "Hope" was an elixir which never failed to act upon him.
Not only the desk but the whole of the floor space was covered with paper, some of which with his usual habit he had thrown down, and some of which he had destroyed or intended to destroy. Despite what might be said to the contrary, I protest that my master has always been correct in his attitude toward foreign Governments, and he has never attempted to get behind those Governments by appealing to officials or to personages who had a certain amount of influence with those Governments. To support my contention I have the greatest pleasure in reproducing a number of the letters which His Majesty wrote, almost word for word, suppressing only the persons to whom they were addressed. That they were not sent to their destination does not affect the issue. I merely wish to show the spirit in which His Majesty approached his British "friends".
The letters were given to me to copy with the object of correcting their spelling, because His Majesty, though he had a perfect mastery of English, was rather weak on spelling. They subsequently remained in my possession owing to events which I will later describe at length, and were never dispatched, because matters had got to such a pitch that it was impossible to send these forward without seriously compromising the position of his Government.
The first was addressed to a man whose name is well known in England.^
My Dear X,—You must realise something of the terrible position in which Germany stands, and in which I, as the head of the Fatherland, participate. You can imagine the blank despair which fills my heart, and the agony of mind with which I watch our approaching dissolution. I have said in public and in private that I did not will this war, and there was never a truer word placed on record. At this moment it is not expedient to discuss the many causes which led to the war, but I do not imagine that you, as a sensible man, can be blind to the growing menace of the Pan-Slav movement, or in your impartial moments that you could believe that I could have taken any other steps than to mobilise in view of the threat which the mobilisation of the Russian Army afforded. But now is the moment when all true friends of mine, however loyal they may be to the country of their birth or adoption, can do something to help Germany in the hour of her direst trial. A Germany humiliated will be a Germany anxious and eager for revenge. With the example of Alsace and Lorraine before your eyes, can you recommend or raise your voice to support the dismemberment of Germany, the humiliation of her Princes, and the beginning, as it would prove, of a new and more bloody conflict in the future? I beseech you, my dear friend, to use whatever influence you have—and I feel sure that that influence is a great one—to save us from the consequences of a peace of revenge. Our worst enemies cannot deny our Kultur or the enormous service which Germany has rendered to the world of art and science. To remove Germany and German world influence would be to rob humanity of a great and uplifting asset. I desire a clean peace and a just peace, and it cannot be clean if it is not just. Let the burden fall upon me if any burden must fall. Let me give my life for the Fatherland, and expiate the follies of those who brought about this terrible war. I salute you in all affection and regard. Remember that posterity will judge not only me but those who in this hour of Germany's trial had the opportunity of assisting the land which gave them birth, or which, if it did not give them birth, gave them parentage, and, believe me, posterity will not judge me more harshly than it will judge them.—Your affectionate friend, William.
The second of the letters was addressed to a financier whose name is also well known in America and on the Continent.
Dear X,—I am sending this by a special messenger through a neutral country, and am hoping it will reach you. The end of the war is in sight. What troubles await us! What financial ruin stares us in the face! Have I not often told you that war would bring ruin in its train? You must not forget that victorious Entente Powers mean an independent Poland, and that if Poland is independent your enormous interests in that country will be sacrificed. I have seen your name as a subscriber to large sums in the American War Loan. Do you not realise that your money will be lost unless a peace is secured for Germany which will allow her to rebuild her shattered finances and contribute to the sum of world prosperity? I beg of you to use your great influence not only upon members of the Senate and Congress, but upon members of the American Government, with whom I know you are in the closest touch, that this tragedy—not alone a tragedy for the world, but a tragedy also for civilisation—may be averted.
THE third letter was written to a prominent member of British aristocracy.
It is unnecessary to give this letter in detail, but it is interesting because the letter was shown to me and I had a long discussion with His Majesty. It was an appeal to the British aristocracy, pointing out that if the Emperor fell and the aristocracy of Germany fell with him the British noblemen could hardly expect to maintain their supremacy.
"Where are the landowners in Russia? Where is there land? It has vanished, as it were, from the face of the earth and is no more seen," said the Emperor, pointing out the evil effects of Bolshevism.
One passage I remember which seemed in contradiction to the letter I have quoted, in the course of which he said of Russia that "the common people, louts and ruffians, murderers, and inspired persons, have seized all the great properties which were once in the peaceable possession of men who had inherited them from their ancestors and had worked them for the benefit of the people."
"I think this will appeal to his Lordship," said the Emperor.
"But will he not publish this letter?" I asked. "You know how treacherous these British people are."
The Emperor looked thoughtful.
"Of course, there is that danger," he said, "and the worst of these British people is that they have an altogether misguided sense of patriotism. Yes, as you say, Berghmann, there is a possibility that even these men whom I have entertained at my own table would send the letter to the press, and that would be little short of disastrous."
"Would it not be better, Majesty," I suggested, "if a trusted agent went to London and saw his Lordship, giving him the gist of the letter?"
The Emperor shook his head.
"If he would divulge the letter he would betray the agent," he said. "No, no, you are quite right. We cannot trust these British, and I am even doubtful as to whether I ought to send the letter to—. But I think I should point out to these British aristocrats what they are risking by Germany's failure. The wave of Bolshevism which is growing in Europe must certainly spread to Britain sooner or later. It would have been there a long time ago but for that cursed strip of sea which separates the British Isles from the Continent."
That was an astounding theory, and I had never heard it before.
"Oh yes," said His Majesty in reply to my question, "the North Sea keeps out of Britain something beside the invader. It keeps out Continental customs, good and bad, and it also excludes a good deal of Continental thought. And mark my words, Berghmann, neither the English Channel nor the North Sea will keep out Bolshevism."
At any rate, he was not satisfied with his letter, and tore it up, and I think he wrote two or three before he concocted one which satisfied him. I have never heard what was the fate of this message, but I have been told that it never got through; indeed, there is some sort of story of its having been stopped by the censor.
Not content with this letter, however, His Majesty wrote several others, some of which are certain to have reached their destination. He concentrated his attention mostly upon the landowning classes and those holders of ancient names and estates who would be most affected by a social upheaval.
"Landowners, Berghmann," he said, "are the most conservative class, in whatever country they live and have their holdings, and a conservative class hates change and will do a great deal to prevent that change being brought about. If I could not only have a heart-to-heart talk with the landowners of Britain I think I could settle this war in a way which, if it was not satisfactory for me, would at least save Germany from disaster."
"Has Majesty no friends associated with British labour?" I asked, and the Emperor nodded.
"I have many such friends, Berghmann, but what use are they to me? You have seen the accounts of pacifists' meetings and you know the fate which overtook men and women who tried to present Germany's case."
AFTER dinner, I again saw his Majesty. He had written some other letters, one of which he immediately passed to me with an order to read it.
My Dear X.—Do you remember out conversation some years ago at the fancy dress ball at—. I was dressed as a gentleman of the 17th century and you as one of the old friars. We talked of the Balkan question, and I was able to convince you that the intentions of myself and of my cousin of Austria toward these distracted people were those of the loftiest philanthropy. But nobility of aim has no recognition but in Heaven. The peoples of the earth are against me. Germany is beaten to her knees; her greatness is crumbling into dust. Can this be allowed? As a student of European history, must you not recognise that the fall of Germany will be fatal, not to herself only, but to all Europe? Our services to the race have been inestimable. Our literature is the most noble in the world, our philosophy the most elevated. We have led the way in the peaceful paths of commerce. We have perfected the science of war. You must do your best to ensure so much real and solid greatness being preserved for the good of the world; surely Britain must realise that we are necessary to her. Look at the figures of the pre-war imports. Look at the prices. It would be madness on the part of your country to crush utterly a country from which you can buy so much and so cheaply. Let us have peace, my dear X, peace quickly and on favourable terms. We can let you have in a fortnight after its conclusion all the goods that you have so long been deprived of. It is time now that we two great nations, burying our mutual differences, should set ourselves harmoniously to repair the ravages of war.
A peace of resentment will not accomplish that, but will prevent it.
"That," remarked the Emperor, "is, I think, very sound reasoning, and should not fail of having an effect."
"These British people are very stupid, Majesty," I suggested. "I have heard that they did not appreciate the cheapness of the goods we sent them before the war. I think they call it 'dumping'."
"It is not easy to know what to say to these people, Berghmann. As you mention, they are so liable to misconstrue. There is another letter here."
He passed it across to me. It was addressed to a British gentleman who had been known to him before the war, and who had fought against us since. On one occasion he had been wounded, and had fallen into our hands, spending two years in one of our prisoners of war camps before he was released.
My Dear X, —You who have known me before will be able to judge in how far I have been to blame for the nightmare of the last four years. I did not will the invasion of Belgium—her own obstinacy in face of Germany's polite and reasonable requests was to blame for all that happened there. I did not will war with Britain—I never expected her to fight. We went to war unwillingly with your great people; we have waged it without malice or hatred. You who have been our prisoner of war can testify to the good will that still persisted in German bosoms towards the British in spite of the accidents of war. You can testify to our candour, kindness, and chivalry. You can deny the slanders that have so assiduously been circulated against the German Fatherland. You can assist in the establishment of a just peace. Such a course will not be contrary to your duty as an officer. It will be in the true interests of the country that you serve. Depress Germany and you disturb the balance of power in Europe.
I so far forgot myself as to shake my head.
"What does that mean, Berghmann" cried the Emperor sharply.
"I beg your Majesty's pardon," I stammered, "but—but—"
"Go on," the Emperor said, speaking a little more kindly. "I gather that you do not think the letter likely to appeal to —. You are wrong; these British have good memories; they do not forget benefits."
"Nor injuries, Your Majesty," I was emboldened to add.
He looked up inquiringly, then with the swiftness of intuition so characteristic of the House of Hohenzollern he grasped my meaning. "He has not been well treated?" he questioned.
"I am afraid not, Majesty."
"But he was an officer, Berghmann. I know that soldiers were not very well cared for. I discovered it by accident just a short time ago—you remember, Berghmann. And the matter has been put right now. But did the Camp Commandants ill-treat the officers too?"
"I am afraid so, Majesty. This officer," and I tapped the letter I had just read, "has published an account of his experiences as a prisoner of war in Germany since his return to Britain. I have read it, and I do not think he is likely to be at all sympathetic."
"It is terrible, Berghmann. How these Camp Commandants have betrayed me. I do not know where to turn."
Recovering from his momentary depression, however, he passed on to the other letters he had planned. He projected some twenty addressed to various political, ecclesiastical, and noble people of Britain. Only a few were actually written, and, as I say, they were not dispatched. The reason why his work was interrupted may be explained.
He had received a message from Field Headquarters that the Americans, much to our surprise, had forced their way through a very strongly fortified barrier in the Argonne.
Against the Americans on our left we had made the most tremendous preparations, and so long as we could hold them in the Argonne there was hope. Therefore when the news came that they had broken through, and that their heavy artillery was shelling the lateral railway, which was really the life cord of the German Army, something like a wave of despair swept through the staffs of our armies. The Emperor, at any rate, interrupted his letter-writing and went by motor-car to consult with Ludendorff, and Hindenburg was summoned to a council, which, I believe, was held in Strasburg. I was not present, so I cannot speak with certainty. At any rate, it was from Strasburg that the Emperor telephoned me, telling me to go to Berlin, see the Empress, and take with me the letters which he had written. To make absolutely certain that my journey was not in vain, knowing that the Empress was very restless, and was moving about the country from place to place, I telephoned to Berlin, very fortunately, because Her Majesty was on the point of leaving to stay with her daughter. She deferred her journey till I arrived, and read the letters through.
"I do not know whether it would be wise to send these," she said. "They are in the nature of State documents, being addressed to responsible persons, and I think it would have been wiser if His Majesty had confined himself to his private friends in Britain. What about Lord— and Mr. —? They have always been most kind to His Majesty indeed, and we entertained them the last time they were in Berlin. Then there is Lady— and Mrs. —, who are friends of William, and whom I met at Baden-Baden in 1912."
She seemed to warm to the idea, and I have never seen her so interested for a very long time. It was a new interest, I suppose, a new vista of hope which had opened, for she began to remember old friends in Britain, rattling off their names at a rate which I was quite incapable of following or noting. She particularly mentioned one Lord Mayor of London whom she had met, and who, she thought, was "a very intelligent person."
There were ladies who had been interested in the German Hospital in London, and she produced, after a long search, a list of patrons to a theatrical performance on behalf of German charities. This performance had also been given in London. She kept her secretary busy turning over old correspondence in order to swell the list, and in the meantime she outlined her plan, which was to send a trusted official to Amsterdam with the letters and to post them from there.
I pointed out to Her Majesty that the British authorities opened and censored all letters coming from neutral countries, and especially from Holland. Such correspondence was likely to be confiscated, on the ground that it was propaganda, and that, in addition to the confiscation, the people to whom the letters were addressed would probably be notified, and would be compromised and accordingly antagonised.
Nevertheless, she insisted on drafting a letter which should be the basis of all the letters that were sent. The letter was a frank appeal for sympathy and help, and I cannot honestly say that I approved of it, because it seemed beneath the dignity of the Empress to write such appeals to commoners. Nor could I see what useful purpose would be served, and as gently as possible I suggested this to Her Majesty. She was somewhat discouraged, but, as I learnt from people at the Court, she was not altogether put off her project, because after I had left she wrote with her own hand three letters, one of which came into the possession of the British postal censor and seriously annoyed the lady to whom it was addressed—the wife of a member of the British Parliament.
WHETHER it was the Emperor or the Empress who had confided their plans to outsiders I do not know, but certain it is that in a few days the members of the entourage of both His Majesty and Her Majesty were talking very brightly and hopefully about "our British friends," and all that they would do for Germany. There arose an extraordinary pro-British party both in the field and at the Court (by "in the field" of course I mean at General Headquarters), and it was amazing to hear the mild and kindly views expressed about the British, remembering some of the things which were said in the old "Gott strafe England" days.
Ludendorff's military secretary, whom I met at a later period, remarked upon this laughingly.
"So we have many British friends, Berghmann," he said. "I was not aware of the fact!"
"Nor I, General," I smiled.
"And yet, when you come to think of it," he said thoughtfully, "there is nobody else in the world to whom we can turn. We can never mix with the Americans, because the Americans are too impossible and they are absolutely ignorant of the very elements of diplomacy. The French hate us, and we really have nothing in common with the Latin peoples. The Russians, even supposing that there was a Russian nation, are barbarians, and the Court is more or less ignorant and mentally undeveloped. It is only from the British people that we can expect an understanding. And by 'expect' I mean 'hope for.'"
This conversation occurred some time afterwards. I went back to Spa to find that the Staff were talking very generally about the help which they might get from the British. That is one of the weaknesses of our German character, that the wish is father to the thought, and we no sooner see the possibility than we imagine the thing has happened. Half-jokingly and half-seriously we talked of "our British friends," but that genial "love one another" feeling was not so general the next morning, for in the night our British friends sent a squadron of twenty aeroplanes and bombed us, the bombardment lasting from eleven o'clock at night until three in the morning!
I HAVE mentioned previously a Professor Mannesmann, who had enjoyed the confidence of the Emperor to an extraordinary extent. Though attached to Headquarters, he occupied no official position, and used to spend most of his days wandering about the country collecting geological specimens, and seemingly oblivious to the fact that there was a great defeat in progress.
He was one of those incongruous characters who insisted on wearing a tall hat, even in the battle area, and he was known to the Belgian peasants as the "Mad German." He was passionately fond of little children, though I fear our Germans had not made themselves as popular with the children of Belgium as they might have done. It was no infrequent sight to see Professor Mannesmann trailing a dozen ragged village children past the outraged sentries up to Headquarters, to the very door of the Kaiser's château itself! Once His Majesty came out and found Mannesmann with about twenty children all standing agog watching the door. When His Majesty appeared Mannesmann roared—
"There you are, my children, there he is! You said you wanted to see him, and didn't I promise you I'd fetch him?"
"What nonsense is this?" demanded the Kaiser angrily, but softened when the Professor explained that the children had expressed a desire to see the great man who had conquered their country.
"Well, what do you think of him, my little ones?" asked Mannesmann, and one little boy, plucking up courage, said—
"He isn't as big as I thought he was," and that made the Emperor roar with laughter at the time.
I mention this happening because thereafter the Emperor constantly used that expression. It was the one he employed to me when he called me to his Cabinet on the Thursday afternoon before the meeting of the Council.
"Have you seen the maps and the rail route, Berghmann?" he asked. "I want you to go to Holland. Did you find the place on the map?"
"Yes, Majesty," I said. "Captain Strauss told me that would be my destination."
"Good," said His Majesty, and then it was he told me the story of Professor Mannesmann and the children.
"The fact is, Berghmann, that I am not perhaps as big as people think I am," he said, "and I feel that I am going to do the smallest thing that any Hohenzollern has ever done."
I did not ask him what that thing would be, but I guessed that he contemplated flight. I comforted him with references to other exceedingly ignominious doings on the part of his ancestors, but he was not to be cheered.
"I AM not so big as people think I am," he said bitterly, "and certainly not as big as I thought I was myself. Circumstances have been against us, Berghmann. The army is defeated at the very moment when I contemplated ending the war by a German victory. I had Mannesmann's daughter here yesterday. I beg of you not to let him know that she was here. She is Madame Von Staehl, you know, the card-reading woman. A commonplace trickster, Berghmann," he said impatiently. "She predicted a flight, which, of course, she knew would happen. She predicted also that I should return in splendour to Germany and be re-crowned Emperor."
He looked at me oddly.
"What do you think of that?" he asked.
"Majesty, such things are possible," I replied firmly. "I cannot believe that God would allow so great a catastrophe to overcome the world as the obliteration of the Hohenzollern House."
"Perhaps you're right," he replied moodily. "But that I must leave is now inevitable. You will attend me to-night at the Council."
"Is it a Council of War, Majesty?" I ventured to ask.
He shook his head.
"It is a Council of expediency," he answered grimly. "Marshal will be here, and Ludendorff. Prince Max arrives at seven—you must arrange to meet him, by the way, Berghmann. Erzberger and the political people—they are all coming."
He was unusually communicative that afternoon. He told me of the messages which had gone backwards and forwards across the ocean to President Wilson, and President Wilson's reply to our request for an armistice, and gave me a brief sketch of all that the British and French newspapers had said in reference to the terms on which Germany desired a cessation of warfare.
All this time the British were pushing on, sweeping everything before them; the French on their right had so narrowed the margin of Germany's safety that a defeat in the field was a ghastly inevitability.
With the story of Professor Mannesmann in my mind I was interested to meet that worthy on my way back to my quarters.
"Hullo, Berghmann!" he roared—he could never talk in an ordinary speaking voice—"When does he skip?"
"I don't quite understand you, Professor," I replied.
"When does he bolt?" he asked impatiently. "Take that look of innocence off your face, my good friend, and try to speak the truth for once in your life. I know it's asking a great deal of a courtier to be guilty of that eccentricity, but try!"
"I haven't the slightest idea," I replied heartily.
"It's very likely you're speaking the truth," he said, "but I can tell you that everybody at Headquarters is packing up. There are two special trains waiting at Spa station day and night, and on trolleys behind those special trains are motor cars in case the journey has to be completed by road. Look at that!"
He pointed with his stick down into the valley, where a great column of blue smoke was rising slowly from the earth.
"Do you know what that is?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"They are burning regimental and army records. That's ominous, eh, Berghmann?"
It was certainly not the most cheering sight, but possibly he was mistaken. I ventured to suggest as much.
"Mistaken!" he roared. "Do you imagine that I, a Professor with a mathematical mind, would be guilty of a speculation which was not based on facts? Go down and see for yourself. I have been there all the morning. All sorts of records, my poor Berghmann. Records of victory, plans for Paris, wonderful schemes as to what was going to happen to the French people when the Crown Prince William established his headquarters at the Hotel Bristol."
"They're all going up in smoke, Berghmann. The Emperor fears few things, but he certainly fears ridicule."
I found afterwards that the old man had spoken nothing but the truth. I certainly had no time to make a personal investigation. At seven o'clock that evening a special train arrived from Berlin carrying the chiefs of the permanent departments, with Prince Max of Baden, who was his usual cool, balanced self. Erzberger and Von Hintze came by the same train, as did General Groener, Admiral Müller, and Von Pohl.
It has been said that Von Kuhlmann and Von Bethmann Hollweg attended this Council, but I can definitely state that neither of their Excellencies was present. I chatted a while with Prince Max, and took him down to his lodgings, informing him that His Majesty would dine with him at 8:50. At nine o'clock another special arrived, carrying, to my surprise, the Crown Prince William, whom I certainly did not expect to see again so soon. He was very cheery, and waved his hand when he caught sight of me, inviting me into his motor car. I must say this of the Crown Prince William, that whatever attitude he may have adopted to other people, he has invariably been a charming gentleman so far as I am concerned, and has treated me with the greatest consideration.
"THIS is the great winding-up meeting, I suppose you know, Berghmann," he said. "A meeting of Germany's directors, who have decided to bring Germany into liquidation."
He paused and smiled.
"And leave somebody else to pay the debt," he laughed.
Then he asked quickly, "Has Prince Max of Baden arrived?"
"Yes, Highness," I answered.
"Good," he said. "You know why he has come?"
"To attend the council," I suggested.
"Something more than that, Berghmann," said the Crown Prince seriously. "He has come with the Emperor's abdication in his pocket, and the Emperor will sign [the] abdication to-night."
I felt a cold shiver run right through me.
"In whose favour, Highness?" Is it your intention to take the throne?"
He shook his head.
"It is unnecessary to ask me that, Berghmann," he said quietly. "You know that I am not very popular with the German people and particularly with the folks in Berlin. They are hypocrites and blackguards, every one of them. Naturally they do not want a man who they think is a hypocrite and blackguard to take the Emperor's place. The Emperor holds his position in the hearts of the people by—what do you imagine?"
"By genius?" I suggested.
"Partly that," he said, "but rather by his piety."
This was a new idea to me, and I suppose my silence was a note of interrogation to His Imperial Highness.
"You doubt that?" he said. "Then read His Majesty's speeches. It is supposed in Germany that he is intensely religious. His Majesty has done everything possible to foster that illusion, and has never made a speech in his life without some reference to the Deity or to Germany's holy mission. No, Berghmann, they will not have me for Emperor—they would sooner have the devil."
"Is it your Highness' son?"
A hard little look came into his face.
"Not even my son," he said. "That is a matter which I do not want to think about, so we'll change the subject."
"I am exceedingly sorry—" I began.
"It's not your fault, Berghmann," he said. "It is my fault and my wife's fault. I have done that boy a terrible injustice, but, please God, some day he shall reign over Germany, and be a better King than would be his dissolute father."
You could never be quite sure whether His Highness was speaking sarcastically or in earnest, but upon this occasion he was, I think, more serious than he had been with me before.
THE famous Midnight Council was held in a big saloon at the Emperor's château, and I had many surprises that night, for people whose presence at Spa I did not expect were to be found there, including Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, the King of Saxony, the Duke of Württemburg, to mention only three of the reigning Princes.
Hindenburg, a dour, imperturbable figure, sat on the Emperor's right hand, and passed only an occasional comment. After the military position had been discussed, and Ludendorff, in a nervous, irritable way, had given particulars of the position in the field, the real object of the meeting came up for discussion. There was a tense, excited feeling in the air, and when the preliminaries were over there came a dead silence as though nobody seated there could break it. Sitting immediately opposite the Emperor, who was at the middle of the table, was Prince Max, and all eyes were turned on him. He is, as everybody knows, bald, and he has a trick of smoothing the bald patch on the top of his head with his hand when he his nervous.
I think, however, the calmest man present was the Emperor himself when Prince Max put his hand hesitatingly into his inside breast pocket and drew out a long, folded paper. It was the Emperor who spoke.
"Now, Max," he said, "you have heard the military position. Let us know exactly how matters are on the home front. What does the Reichstag say?"
"Majesty," said Prince Max, a little huskily, "the Reichstag leaders are unanimous on one point."
"And what is that point?" asked the Emperor.
"That you should abdicate."
The Emperor nodded slowly.
"They really desire that I should abdicate as Emperor of Germany?"
He said these words clearly, and laid emphasis on the last three words.
"Not only as Emperor of Germany, Majesty, but as King of Prussia," said Prince Max.
"Is that necessary?" asked His Majesty.
"I think so; otherwise the Entente Powers will imagine that we are insincere."
"What does it matter?"
It was the voice of the Crown Prince that broke the silence which followed.
"It seems to me that if your Majesty is no longer Emperor of Germany, the Kingdom of Prussia lacks a head. The two offices are inseparable."
"I do not agree with you," said Prince Rupprecht with asperity. "That is an illusion which your Imperial Highness has carefully fostered. It does not follow that because your Majesty resigns from the Imperial throne, you must also step down from the Throne of Prussia."
Prince Max turned to Prince Rupprecht, who was on his left, and laid a detaining hand on his arm.
"I think that is a matter which should be discussed at a later period, if your Royal Highness will allow," he said. "At present the more important question of His Majesty's position is under discussion, and until that is settled I do not think we need discuss the possibility of a successor. I can tell you, gentlemen, that it is to the office as much as the man that the Entente Powers object, and that when a Hohenzollern ceases to be Emperor of Germany we shall not look for a successor."
He said this in a tone so emphatic that Prince Rupprecht flushed.
The Emperor was looking at the Prince steadily.
"This is not the first time that a Wittelsbach has intervened in a moment of his country's crisis to secure some personal advantage for his own house," he said. "It will be agreed by all who know the circumstances, and who have no illusions, that the downfall of the Hohenzollerns means the downfall of all the princely houses of Germany."
There was a little murmur from the various princely representatives at the table. I think they hoped until the last that the abdication of the Emperor would satisfy all the requirements which the Entente expressed.
"Does Majesty think there is any chance that we may recover?" asked the King of Saxony.
"Not in the field at the present moment," said the Emperor. "You have heard Marshal Ludendorff and Marshal Hindenburg, and I am sure that you will accept the view of these geniuses that the position of the army is hopeless. Gentlemen, Germany is threatened with revolt and Bolshevism, and you must be prepared to see the country go through a chaotic period, from which wise leadership will rescue it. A reaction will come, and upon the crest of that wave we shall return. These are dark days, and can only be met in a spirit of hope and fortitude. They must be met, too, in a spirit of unity."
There was a murmur of agreement at these sentiments. Whilst the Emperor was speaking, Prince Max had unfolded and smoothed out the great sheet of paper which he had taken from his pocket. I only saw it from a distance, but it had a wide margin, and was covered with large legal writing, and I saw that at the bottom there were spaces for seals and signatures.
"This, I presume, is the deed of abdication?" said the Emperor.
"YES, Majesty," replied Prince Max. "I think you will realise how bitterly I regret that it has been my lot to place such a thing before you. I wish I had never lived to see the day," he said, speaking with emotion.
The Emperor smiled. He took the paper and turned it round.
"It is not your fault, Max," he said.
There was a long silence whilst he read the document, his head upon his hand, his eyes slowly travelling along the lines. He took up a pen, dipped it in the ink.
"Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia," he muttered, "for all time!"
He put the pen down, and looked round the board from face to face. Every eye was fixed on him as, with a little shrug, he affixed his signature to the document.
"Let me see that, will you, please, Herr" demanded the Imperial Crown Prince.
I had never heard him use the term "Herr" before when addressing his father. I think there were many present who thought they were going to witness some dramatic outburst, and amongst those must have been Prince Max of Baden, who did not comply with the request of His Imperial Highness for some time. The Crown Prince merely read the document, and handed it back without comment. Again came that deathly silence, and I think there were tears in every eye. Then the tactful Prince Max broke in upon our reflections.
"There is one important question that I should like the Council to consider," he said, "and that is the safety of the Imperial family."
"The safety of the family?" asked Ludendorff, stirred from his own trouble by this extraordinary statement.
Prince Max nodded.
"I do not think that any of you gentlemen who have studied the foreign press in the past month can have formed any other impression than that the fate of the Imperial family hangs in the balance. The Entente statesmen are becoming more bold in their demands, and more outrageous in their suggestions. I do not think it would be fair to disguise from your Highness and Excellencies that His Majesty is in some danger."
The Emperor nodded. Evidently Prince Max of Baden and he had discussed this matter.
"But what is the nature of the danger?" asked Prince Rupprecht tremulously.
"THE danger of a trial," said Prince Max. "The Entente are out for vengeance, and they are pouring the vials of their wrath upon His Majesty. The only suggestion I can offer is that the Emperor makes his escape from Europe by submarine."
"To whither?" asked Ludendorff.
"To South America," said Prince Max. "I have arranged for an ocean-going submarine to be off the coast of Holland, and I believe it is possible that the whole of the Imperial family can be carried safely to the Argentine."
"I cannot approve."
It was Hindenburg's gloomy voice.
"It is sufficient that His Majesty goes to Holland. He must leave his fate in the hands of his loyal servants. We cannot afford to take the risk involved, because we know just how dangerous is submarine travel, and I for one will not expose His Majesty to that terrible hazard."
"I agree with Marshal," said the Crown Prince. "The idea, if you will forgive me, Max, is a little fantastic. You offer us a long and difficult voyage, and, supposing we escape the mine barrage and the vigorous British cruisers, at the end of that voyage there is the possibility of being arrested through pressure being brought by the Entente upon the Argentine and brought ignominiously back to Germany. No, I think the plan we discussed privately before the meeting, namely, that His Majesty should retire to Holland, and that I should endeavour to reach Switzerland, is by far the best."
"I must first go to Berlin to see the Empress," said His Majesty suddenly. "I cannot leave Germany alone."
"THAT is impossible, Majesty," replied Von Groener. "It is positively dangerous for your to attempt to reach Berlin. There is a very wild spirit abroad, a revolution in the air, and, as Majesty knows, the seamen at the Baltic ports have hoisted the red flag."
A spasm of pain crossed the Emperor's face.
"I cannot go alone," he said huskily. "What! Leave my wife at the mercy of revolutionaries? Never!"
"I assure your Majesty there is no need to be distressed," said Hindenburg. "We have arranged that Kaiser-true troops should be in constant attendance upon Her Majesty, and I vouch for her safety with my life."
"To leave alone!" muttered the Emperor, his strong right hand clawing at the paper before him. "No, no, I can't do it. She must meet me at Cologne."
"Majesty," said Groner, "the line between here and Cologne is in the hands of a new political force called the Spartacists. I am afraid there is nothing else for Your Majesty to do but to submit to fate."
The Emperor bowed his head as in despair. Suddenly he rose.
"Gentlemen, it is destiny," he said. "Do with me whatever you will."
He went alone to his room, and I did not see him again that night. I had a parting drink with the Crown Prince, who decided to leave by motor-car for his headquarters and take his chance of getting across the Swiss frontier if necessary. We tried to deter him, pointing out how dangerous it was in the disorganised condition of the army, but he would not listen to our warnings. He left at three in the morning, the great car bounding through the darkness and the sound of his peculiar siren becoming fainter and fainter.
We spent a long night superintending the loading of the train for the Kaiser's last journey. As I stood upon the dark platform issuing my instructions I could not help thinking that he had trodden the soil of Germany for the last time.
I HAD been under the impression that it would fall to my lot to negotiate with Count Bentinck of Amerongen for hospitality for His Majesty. In this, of course, I was mistaken, because negotiations had, I found, already been made, and all that I was called upon to do was to make the final preparations for His Majesty's arrival.
Since the Emperor was due to leave in the morning by a special train, and as no preparations had been made to send me ahead, I worried a little, thinking that some little things had been overlooked. I made inquiries of the Emperor's adjutant and his personal secretary, but neither of these gentlemen was able to give me any information. They endeavoured to still my misgivings by telling me that His Majesty had spoken of me as accompanying him on the journey, so therefore he evidently did not expect me to go ahead.
Professor Mannesmann, with whom I had a cup of coffee at half-past five (I did not sleep the whole of that night, you may be sure), was very philosophical and cheery, and in spite of the little fellow's outrageous views in politics and the divinity of kings and such other painful matters, which I did not want to discuss, he was distinctly cheering.
"Well, Berghmann," he said, "you're at the end of all your troubles and I'm at the beginning of mine. I am at heart a Bolshevik, and I cannot imagine that I can keep out of the new movement which is spreading through Germany. That means that, sooner or later, I shall come to the block and the axe, and off will go my ugly old head, flop!"
"But if Bolshevism is to succeed, Professor," I said, "What danger is there for you?"
"The danger which attends all people who are prominent in the early stages of revolution. The people who make revolutions never benefit by them. Have you not read your history? Where is Kerensky? In exile. No, no, Berghmann, I know that I am going to get into serious trouble, and I know that any sacrifices I make will be perfectly valueless because, sooner or later, the Hohenzollerns will return to Germany."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I'm afraid I do," he said soberly. "Hohenzollernism is a disease which runs in the German veins, and our people can no more rid themselves of their desire to be governed by tyranny than they can rid themselves of their passion for lying."
"You haven't a very good opinion of your fellow countrymen."
"I've no opinion at all," he said, "that any person who likes Germany would care to hear. It is my misfortune that I was born a German, but I have been endeavouring to rid myself of the taint throughout the whole of my long and useful life. Yes, William will come back," he said, "make no mistake about that. The Entente think they can bind him down, but they are in error. He will come back because he fulfils a demand, and it is the demand of the German people. You, at any rate, will live to see the day when they will acclaim him as a conqueror in the heart of his Empire, and if you believe anything else you're a fool as well as a lackey."
I had got so used to him now that I never took offense at these at these uncouth remarks of his. I merely contented myself with suggesting that he should come to Amerongen with the Emperor.
"It is very likely that I shall," he said. "I have a few words to say to William before I leave him, and I dislike Belgium most intensely. I have come to the conclusion that nothing would have served us better than to have left Belgium alone, not only for moral but for material reasons. I hope I shall never see Belgium again after I leave it to-day."
I ATTENDED His Majesty at an early hour. His valet told me that he had slept very well during the night, and I think that the act of abdication had removed a great load of worry from his mind, and, in many ways, had a cheering and not a depressing effect. At any rate, he was laughing and joking with his staff on the lawn before the breakfast room when I joined the group.
"I wish I had learnt Dutch instead of English," he said. "It would be of use to me. What good has the English language been to me, except to read the abuse of the British newspapers? Is there any news of the Crown Prince?" he asked.
"He is held up at Maubeuge, Majesty," replied his A.D.C. "I think that His Imperial Highness will come back."
A gleam of amusement was in the Emperor's eyes.
"I think he will," he agreed drily, "but, believe me, he will not give up the attempt to get through to Switzerland very readily. He is determined to get to Switzerland, not because he admires the country, which is very beautiful, but because, as I have reason to believe, he has a little friend waiting for him there."
There was a broad smile from all those assembled around His Majesty. The Crown Prince's penchant for the fair sex was no secret, and least of all was it a secret from the General Staff.
His Majesty questioned me closely as to the preparations for flight, what provisions, and particularly what amount of sugar had been put on the train. He said that sugar was very scarce in Holland, and he did not want an outcry against his suite eating the Hollanders out of house and home!
"I think the air will suit me, and I shall be able to get some wood-chopping," he said humorously. "You know I am very fond of felling trees, Berghmann? I learnt the trick from the English statesman, Gladstone, who kept himself in vigorous health through cutting down the trees in his park. Groener will tell you that I have cut down scores of good trees in East Prussia, and he has never paid me for doing it."
There was a roar of laughter, and in this light spirit of badinage the breakfast passed. It was not a long process getting the suite aboard the train. All the morning the servants had been loading up packing cases and trunks, and the last piece of personal luggage was on board when His Majesty's car pulled up at the station. There was a little delay while the car was being trucked. Presently the guard's horn sounded as the train drew slowly from the station.
There were only a group of Belgians just outside the station platform who saw us depart or took any interest in our proceedings. They looked at us with curious eyes, and one of them shouted something which, I think, was insulting, but the exact text of which was lost owing to the noise the train was making.
The Emperor went straight to his private saloon, his secretary attending him with a big armful of British newspapers which had arrived from Holland just before we left. I amused myself with Von Bresbner, one of the A.D.C.'s, in playing a little, quiet game of piquet. The train moved very slowly, and stopped an unconscionable number of times. The most extraordinary rumours were afloat, some being that all the culverts had been mined by the Belgians, others that an ambush was to be attempted and that a rail had been pulled up, but I should imagine there was no foundation for any of these statements. All the culverts and bridges were well guarded by German soldiers of trusted battalions. The only genuine scare was, as usual, through hostile aircraft, which was reported to be approaching and which compelled us to pull up in a tunnel only long enough to cover the centre of the train. The Emperor insisted on getting out and walking through the tunnel to observe the oncoming flight. It was a beautiful sight, nearly thirty British aeroplanes in V-shaped formation taking part. They took no notice of us, contenting themselves with bombing a railway junction which we had just passed. After a while the train moved on, and it was only by a fluke that it did not move before the Emperor was aboard again. As it was, he had to run and swing himself on board in the darkness of the tunnel.
So far from our journey being a dismal one, I can testify that the second breakfast, which was served about eleven o'clock, was a hilarious function, the Emperor being as cheerful as anybody and cracking jokes even with myself. The only morose man of that party was Professor Mannesmann, who sat at one end of the table, his elbows rudely placed upon the cloth, eyeing the Emperor from time to time with a lowering glance.
"ANYONE would think you were going into exile, Mannesmann," said the Emperor.
"I am," said the little man with a growl. "I am going to exile myself in the most uncomfortable place in the world—Germany."
They greeted this sally with a roar. Our frivolity was turned into anxious seriousness a few seconds later. We were in the midst of a conversation about Cologne Cathedral and the marvelous way it had escaped in the raids, when suddenly there was a crash, and the table in front of the Emperor was covered with splintered glass. There was no need to ask what had happened. Somebody had fired a shot, and the bullet had passed within a few inches of the Emperor's head and had smashed a pane of glass on the further side of the saloon in making its exit. The Emperor did not move a muscle. He just shaded his eyes and looked out of the window as though searching for his opponent, but the train was now moving on at such a pace that it was next to impossible that we could have seen the would-be assassin.
"That was a narrow escape," said His Majesty coolly. "Steward, will you please clear away this glass?"
Naturally we discussed the matter with great vehemence. Some thought it was a stray shot, probably fired from a distant aeroplane; others believed it was a deliberate attempt on the part of a Belgian franctireur to assassinate the Emperor; others thought that it was some stupid sentry who had shot at a suspicious person, not realising that the train was in his line of fire. But whatever doubt we might have had about the accidental character of the incident was soon dispelled. Ten minutes later another bullet crashed through the window, or, rather, the casing of the window, only cracking the glass and splintering a cluster of electric globes which were fixed to the roof of the saloon. From the direction of the bullet it was evidently fired from a position lower than the train level. The second bullet did not go anywhere near the Emperor, and when, a quarter of an hour later, not one but three shots were fired, practically simultaneously, it was clear to us that the nature of the flight was known, and that systematic preparations were being made to assassinate the Emperor before he reached Holland.
THE train was stopped, and the aeroplane which was accompanying us and was circling overhead at the time was signaled and ordered to descend to a lower level. The telegraph mechanics who accompanied us were ordered to tap the wire and to call up all the station commandants along the line, instructing them to send soldiers to search the fields on either side of the railway. We then went on to a small wayside station, where the cars were taken from the trucks and put on the road. We thought it would be best if the Emperor went by road, making a wide detour of the railway and picking up the train again up on the Dutch frontier. He very much objected to this, but we were so urgent that at last he agreed, and, accompanied by his adjutant and equerry and an armed soldier, he went off and we continued our journey by the train.
We were advised by the officer in charge that it would be perhaps best if we either abandoned the royal saloon and took one of the rear carriages, or if we lay down upon the floor. The latter, however, seemed so undignified that we decided upon going to the rear carriages, where the servants were travelling, and in this course we were very sensible, because between the station where the Emperor left us and the place where he rejoined the train we were fired upon eight times, and in each case it was the Royal saloon which was the objective of the assassin.
I HAVE since learnt that there was a wide-spread plot to kill the Emperor before he could leave Belgium, and that at the head of this plot was a non-commissioned officer of the German army, who was probably financed with Allied gold. At any rate, he did his best with true German thoroughness and persistence. Not only was he aware of the time when the train would pass every given point, but he was also in possession of a plan of the train, as he knew exactly the seat at which the Emperor would sit. I have also learnt that the shots were fired by men who were apparently civilians working in the fields, who had their guns in the furrows beside them, and when the train came abreast they had nothing to do but to lie down, take up their rifles, carefully aim, shoot, put their rifles down, and go on with their toil. One of the servants in the rear carriages made a statement to the effect that he had seen this happen twice, but owing to there being no communication between the servants' quarters on the train and the Royal saloon he was unable to inform the officer in charge of this sinister happening.
The Emperor's journey was uneventful. We had some time to wait for him before he came, and of course that time was a period of anxiety. But he turned up, and we crossed the frontier toward the evening.
Evidently we were well expected, because the Customs officers on the frontier gave us no trouble. We were received by officials who saluted His Majesty in the name of the Queen of Holland and by Count Bentinck himself. It was on the frontier where we spent the night in the train, that Professor Mannesmann took his leave of us. I found that we were carrying a motor-car specially to take him to his destination. He shook hands with the Emperor.
"Goodbye, William! You and I may never meet again," he said. "I fear that you are not at the end of your tether, and that there are very big days in store for you. For me the world is growing restricted and narrow, and soon I shall fall over its edge. You have always been a good friend of mine; I have tried to be a good friend to you. Go with God!"
And stooping abruptly, he lifted the Emperor's hand and kissed it. That was the last I ever saw of the Herr Professor, but not the last I have heard. There have been various rumours—one that he was shot during the Spartacist riots in Berlin; another that he was executed by the Red Government of Munich—but I have not yet been able to procure definite information. The adventures of this little man in the revolution would, I feel sure, make startling history. Please God he lives to tell that story, for he is a man whom, despite his peculiar unpleasantnesses, I sincerely like and admire.
I cannot confirm the story which is so generally believed that when we had at last reached our destination and the Emperor descended on Dutch territory he was greeted with hisses and cried of "Down with the assassin!" On the contrary, he was greeted by the peasantry with every mark of respect, and he certainly did not remain long enough at the railway station to evoke a demonstration.
WE reached the chateau at last. A dank, grim, forbidding place it seemed to be on that November day, when the country was swathed in white mist and the stark branches of dead trees flashed through the fog to meet us as we sped along the featureless road, to vanish again in the enshrouding mist.
The Emperor's gaiety had vanished. He looked ill, tired, and old. He leant heavily on the arm of Count Bentinck as he stood on the broad slope and peered toward the garden, fast disappearing in the gathering darkness. Then he singled me out and beckoned me with a jerk of the chin.
"Wait in my cabinet," he said. "I have something to say to you, Berghmann."
A big study had been placed at His Majesty's disposal, and it was there that I waited for the greater part of an hour before the Emperor put in an appearance. He was wearing military uniform, and so rapidly does his appearance change with the changed condition of his mind that he looked younger even in that hour. He closed the door softly, and walked to the big open fireplace, where a log-fire burned cheerily. Pulling a chair to him, he sat down.
"Berghmann," he said, "you are going back to Germany, partly because his Excellency Count Bentinck cannot accommodate a large suite, and because it will be necessary to find room for Her Majesty's staff when they arrive in a week's time. I know that you are a writer," he said with a smile, "and I do not doubt that you will find the extraordinary events which you have witnessed too tempting to be left at rest. I had thought of forbidding you to write, or, if you wrote, forbidding you to tell anything but a colourless story of these events. But I feel that this is the moment for truth, and nothing which you can record, either of myself or of my family, will in any way hinder me, if it is recorded faithfully, as I am sure you would set it down."
"You may be sure, Majesty," I said in haste, "that if your Majesty does not desire that I should write I will not write the history—"
He stopped me with a gesture.
"I do not wish that," he said. "Be as frank as you like. There is no truth you can tell which will be objectionable to me."
I bowed, wondering what was coming next.
"We had nothing to lose—as a result of matters being cleared up and the old illusions being destroyed," His Majesty went on. "When we start our new Germany, as in truth we shall start it, we shall begin building on a foundation of truth. There are men and women in Germany, Berghmann," he went on kindly, "who may think that your record will be in the nature of disloyalty to me and to my House. I shall take the earliest opportunity of disabusing their minds of this fallacy."
"I do not like leaving your Majesty," I said. "Can I not live in the village? I am not a poor man, as Majesty knows, and I have money in the Dutch banks."
He patted me on the shoulder.
"IT is good of you and generous of you, Berghmann, but no, I must decline your services. Some day in the very near future I shall need you. Sit down for a moment," and when I had obeyed, "The time of madness through which we are going will soon pass, Berghmann," he said. "There will be a period when I shall be execrated and my House will be violently attacked on all sides. But do not forget that the men who are hated by the German people are not members of the House of Hohenzollern. Even His Imperial Highness, whose indiscretion I deplore, is not hated, though he has angered the good, sober bürgerlich by his [folly]. Even in the countries of our enemies, where I am mortally detested, you may find a change of opinion as the months drag on. They are united to-day—France, Italy, America, and Great Britain—and are fighting together like comrades-in-arms, but already one has seen the rift in the lute. In me they have a common enemy; in Germany they have a common victim. But when the peace terms come to be discussed and settled it will not be natural if these people, who represent three different races and three different schools of thought, do not quarrel amongst themselves. You will discover, Berghmann—and I make this prediction as the result of my historical studies—that, as these dissensions arise, even the bitterness against myself may slowly but surely [die] down. They will want to hang me and try me, and my friends may well be alarmed, but I assure you there is no reason. That [wish is] a natural phenomenon which accompanies the end of all great wars. I shall never be as much hated and execrated as was Napoleon, and possibly history will deal as leniently and as kindly with me as was done with the captive of St. Helena. But remember this always, that I am loved in Germany. I do not say this from any mistaken idea as to my own qualities. I am stating a fact. I am loved because I am of the ruling House which has guided Germany to prosperity in the days gone past. And I believe I may be sent for by the German people to lead them again back to those vanished days. Germany will be great again, and it will be great under—a Hohenzollern, I trust.
"DOES Majesty intend returning at an early date?"
"Not an early date, Berghmann," he said. "It may be long before I return. And, believe me, I do not return to re-establish a new military party. I come back to urge forward the industrialists to their best efforts, so that the Germany we knew and loved, the Germany of prosperity and happiness, may be built on the wreckage which this war has occasioned."
I left him soon afterwards to go to the village to despatch a telegram to the Empress, from whom messages were reaching Amerongen every hour. It was there that I learnt that the Crown Prince had been turned back and had shared our experience, namely, that he had been shot at, and was coming at full speed to the Dutch frontier. I returned to Majesty with this news, and it seemed to worry him. He sent immediately for Count Bentinck, and together they wrote a message which was forwarded to Amsterdam.
"The Emperor is very worried," his adjutant told me, "about the coming of the Crown Prince. He does not want him here, and evidently the Dutch Government do not want him either. It is a thousand pities that his Imperial Highness did not get through to Switzerland. His presence here at this moment will grate terribly upon the Emperor's nerves."
Later in the day I learnt that a home had been prepared for his Imperial Highness in one of the Dutch islands. I have not seen him from that day.
AT three o'clock the next afternoon I went to take my farewell of His Majesty, and found him in the garden sitting alone, though the day was cold. He was clad in his long fur cloak, and sat with one knee crossed, smoking a cigarette and looking into the dark depths of a little artificial pond which had been built into the ground. He looked up with a start as I came, and raised his eyebrows.
"I am going, your Majesty," I said, and I could hardly keep my voice from trembling.
"Going, Berghmann? Ah, yes, I remember. Of course," he said. "You are going back to Germany."
He offered me his hand, and I kissed it.
"You will see many friends of mine, and they will ask you questions as to the future. You may tell them with all boldness what I say. Think of me, my dear Berghmann," he said, almost gaily, "sitting here dreaming new dreams of a greater and a wiser and a happier Germany. A Germany without Army and without Navy" (he made a wry little face as he said these last words), "but a Germany great through the efforts of her people to establish their nation again amongst the Great Powers of the world. And I feel sure that God will spare me to this end. Goodbye!"
I held his hand again and walked down the gravel path, and turned by the great iron gate to look my last, as I feared, upon a man who, more than any other, fashioned his own fate and fashioned it tragically. Perhaps the day will dawn when he may return to his people, and out of the ashes of a burnt Germany may arise, phoenix-like, a new and more wonderful nation. Perhaps the Emperor's end is not yet, and his glory has yet to be crowned, but for my part, looking on that proud figure sitting gazing pensively into the dark pool, I felt that I had seen the end of the Kaiser.
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