Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467
On June 22, 1911, the day George V is crowned king, thirteen-year-old Billy Williams, called “Billy Twice," goes to work for the first time in the mines of his home in Aberowen, Wales. His one surviving sister, Ethel, comes to wish him a happy birthday and a good first day in the mines. She is in service to the local aristocrat, Earl Fitzherbert.
Billy meets his friend Tommy Griffiths and the two boys go off to the mines. Billy’s father, who is known as a socialist, and Tommy’s father, who is an atheist, are not popular with the mine managers. The boys are warned not to be troublemakers. Billy realizes that he is protected from harm by his father’s position as a union agent.
The boys are led to their workplaces by Rhys Price, who dislikes Billy because Ethel refused to “walk out with” (date) him. Billy and Tommy are given lamps designed so they will not spark an explosion in the methane from the coal seams. They ride down the shaft in a cage lift.
At the bottom, Billy breaths in the coal-dust-filled air, which explains why so many of the colliers (miners) are always coughing and spitting. Tommy is given the job of working the underground stables of the ponies that pull the drams (carts), which is the job he was hoping to get.
Led down into an abandoned section of the mine, Billy is given the task of cleaning out muck in a deserted section. Price checks Billy’s lamp, proclaims it “not so good,” and leaves him on his own.
Billy begins shoveling the muck into the dram. Before long, his lamp goes out. Since he is not allowed to have any matches, he is supposed to take the lamp to a lighting station to have it relit, but he knows he will not be able to find his way in the pitch-black mine.
He decides to stay where he is and wait for Price to return. He continues to work and after some time eats his lunch. The smell of food draws the rats to him, so he eats quickly. When he has finished, the rats leave and Billy continues to shovel. He suspects that Price planned this, but he also knows that he will not be left overnight out of fear of his father.
Remembering his mother (“Mam”) telling him that Jesus was always with him, even in the mines, Billy begins to sing hymns. It is several hours before Price returns for him.
As he leaves, Billy sees a bearded face and a pale robe. He silently says “thank you” and follows Price to the entrance. When he explains what happened, Billy says that he was not afraid because Jesus was with him, earning him his new nickname: “Billy-with-Jesus.”
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 477
In January 1914, Earl Fitzherbert (“Fitz”) and his difficult Russian wife, Bea, prepare for a visit from King George, who wants to know what the younger members of the aristocracy and diplomatic community are thinking. As he tours the wine cellar, Fitz feels a strong attraction to Ethel Williams, who is filling in for the ill housekeeper, Mrs. Jevons. Ethel does nothing to discourage him.
Ethel enjoys the responsibilities of a housekeeper and hopes she will be replacing Mrs. Jevons. Fitz’s sister, Maud, unexpectedly arrives, which worries Fitz because of her liberal political views. She greets Walter von Ulrich, an old school friend of Fritz and now a diplomat at the German embassy. With him is his cousin Robert von Ulrich, the Austrian military attaché. Among the other guests is Gus Dewar, whose father is an American senator.
After dinner, the talk is of the possibility of war between Germany and Britain. Gus Dewar brings up many reasons for conflict between the two nations. Walter von Ulrich points out that Britain and Germany are the only major European countries not seeking territorial expansion.
The following morning, Maud asks Ethel to go for a walk with her as a chaperone and they exchange gossip about political figures. They meet Walter von Ulrich, which is the purpose of the walk. As Ethel walks separately, she sees them holding hands and then kissing passionately until they are interrupted by the ground shaking.
Billy and Tommy, now sixteen years old, are working when they hear the explosion. They go down to rescue the trapped workers. It becomes clear that changes to the safety conditions required by recent laws have not been implemented. Billy gains a reputation as a hero for his efforts in the rescue operation.
Perceval Jones, the mayor of Aberowen, reports the details of the mine disaster to the king and Fritz. Ethel is brought in to give details she learned from Billy, including the lack of safety precautions. She boldly suggests that the king might make a low-key visit to the bereaved families, which King George thinks is an excellent idea. Ethel, who knows all the mining families, goes along to inform the king and queen about the people who have lost loved ones.
A week later, Billy takes part in the informal services at Bethesda Chapel, praying for understanding of the hard-heartedness of the mine directors, whose negligence caused so many deaths and injuries.
Earl Fitzherbert opens his gardens to the grieving community. Ethel has been made housekeeper because of her excellent management during the king’s visit. Ethel’s father, however, is not happy about his daughter being involved in “that farce,” as he calls the king’s visitation of the bereaved. Upset, Ethel goes inside and cries. Fitz overhears her and, as he comforts her, they kiss, giving in to their desire for each other.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 452
The following month, Fitz is summoned to the London office of Mansfield Smith-Cumming, an old friend of his father, on a matter of “national importance.” Smith-Cumming explains that he is with the Secret Service. Knowing that Fitz is taking his wife to Russia to see her brother, Smith-Cumming asks him to do some spying to determine the Russian preparedness for war, especially their railways.
In St. Petersburg, Fitz and Gus Dewar tour the Russian locomotive works, guided by Lev and Grigori Peshkov. Grigori recognizes Fritz’s wife Bea as the sister of the Russian prince who had killed his father.
A boy races into the shop, chased by his mother. The boy runs into Bea, who slaps him in the face. Dewar is disgusted by Bea’s behavior.
Grigori tells Dewar that he and Lev are saving money to go to Buffalo, where Dewar is from, to get jobs with the Vyalov family. Dewar knows that the Vyalovs are a criminal gang, but he tells Grigori simply that they employ several hundred people in their hotel bars.
Grigori remembers back to his childhood when the tsar came to his village. As the carriage approached, all the villagers knelt on the ground as the carriage rolled on without stopping. Grigori was upset that he did not get to see the tsar.
On his way home from work, Grigori stops a policeman from molesting a young woman. Dewar, who is passing by in a car with Fritz and Bea, stops and rescues both Grigori and the woman. Unfortunately, Dewar calls Grigori by his name, which means the police now know his identity. Dewar takes the two Russians back to Grigori’s home.
Grigori tells the woman, Katerina, of the time when the soldiers came to his village. His mother grabbed him and his brother and took off running, but they were captured by the police and dragged back to the gallows in the village market place, where the Prince and his sister, Princess Bea, sat in a carriage. They were forced to watch as Grigori’s father was executed along with two other men for allowing his cattle to graze on the Princess’s land.
As Grigori finishes his story, he cleans Katerina’s wounds and falls instantly in love with her. He tells her of the death of his mother, killed on Bloody Sunday in 1905 when the workers marched to the Winter Palace to plead to the tsar for redress of grievances.
Lev comes home and Katerina explains that her mother threw her out when she thought her new husband preferred Katerina to his own wife. Grigori notices that Katerina’s attention has turned to Lev and she all but ignores her rescuer.
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Billy Williams and his father argue over Billy’s growing spiritual doubts. They are interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Dai Ponies, the widow of one of the workers killed in the mine accident. She has received an eviction notice to make way for a current mine worker and has two weeks to find a new home for herself and her five children.
Mr. Williams learns that the widows of all eight dead miners are being evicted. Billy is outraged. He and his father confront Maldwyn Morgan, one the managers of the mines, who says the company’s negligence was not a contributing factor in the explosion. Mr. Williams’ arguments have no effect on Morgan, so a meeting of the union members is called. After much discussion, they vote to strike the following day.
Fitz and Ethel consummate their affair, careful to avoid pregnancy. Ethel shudders to think of what her father would say. She persuades Fitz to feed the children of the striking miners and learns that all the striking miners have been evicted.
Ethel gathers the widows together and convinces them to write a letter to the king, helping them with the wording. However, they receive no reply, and the villagers of Aberowen watch as the miners and their families are evicted forcibly.
Although only twenty eight, Walter von Ulrich hopes to be a German ambassador someday. He feels that his father’s generation has built their arrogance on the past. As Otto von Ulrich goes with Walter to be presented to the king, he talks with Señor Diaz of Mexico about shipping arms to the Mexican government, although America is arming those in rebellion against the new leader, General Huerta. Otto’s only request is that Mexico stop selling oil to Britain.
After King George greets Walter, Otto suggests that Walter keep up his friendship with Earl Fitzherbert in case the Conservatives ever return to power. They visit a charity clinic sponsored by Fitz and find Maud working there as Patroness. Walter nervously introduces her to his father. Otto at first is impressed with Maud but finds it disgusting that she is working with a Jewish doctor.
Gus Dewar now works as an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson. He is also having an affair with Caroline Wigmore, the wife of his former Harvard professor.
Gus receives news that a group of American sailors has been arrested by the Mexican government, sparking a crisis and putting Mexico and the United States on the brink of war. The news of the German shipment of arms to Mexico leads Wilson to order the invasion of Vera Cruz.
In the midst of the crisis, Caroline arrives to tell Gus that their affair is over. As for the impending war, Wilson is horrified to learn that the Mexicans are resisting rather than welcoming their “liberators.” The German government lodges a formal protest since the invasion is illegal by international law. Wilson is forced to apologize, much to the delight of the Germans.
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Grigori Peshkov finally has saved enough money to go to America and has bought his ticket from the Vyalov family, along with a letter guaranteeing employment in Buffalo. On the morning of his ship’s departure, Grigori must run from the police; they are looking for Lev, who is wanted for the murder of a man during a smuggling operation.
Katerina begs Grigori to help Lev. At the ship, Lev meets Grigori and asks him to give him his ticket to America. Reluctantly, Grigori does so, knowing that he has no choice. When Grigori tells Katerina that Lev has gone, she is furious with Grigori and tells him that she is pregnant with Lev’s baby. Despairing, Grigori promises to take care of her.
On the ship, Lev has to go by Grigori’s name, since the ticket and the passport are in his name. When the boat docks, he and the other emigrants sponsored by the Vyalov family disembark and learn that they are in Wales, not America. Lev gets a job as a strikebreaker in the coal mines in Aberowen. There, Lev recognizes Bea. He befriends her Russian maid, who promises him some food and tells him that Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, has been assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
In London, Walter von Ulrich knows that the assassination is a serious threat to Germany’s security. He meets Anton, a Russian contact, and learns that the tsar fears that war will lead to revolution, but it all depends on what Austria does. If Serbia is attacked, Russia will have to go to war.
The newspapers contain more information about the unrest in Ireland than the troubles in the Balkans. Walter meets his cousin Robert, who is intimate with the Austrian court. Robert tells Walter that the assassins were supplied by Serbian military intelligence. He also says that the Austrian emperor has written to Kaiser Wilhelm, stating his resolve that Serbia must be eliminated.
Walter goes to his father’s office and shares what he has learned. He then meets Maud at tea at the Duchess of Sussex’s home. Maud manages to get Walter alone in the library, but they are soon interrupted by Lady Hermia, Maud’s aunt.
Walter decides that he and Maud cannot go on meeting in secrecy. He knows his father will object to his marrying Maud, as he indeed does, pointing out that England and Germany will soon be enemies.
Later, at the charity clinic, Otto von Ulrich comes to see Maud, demanding that she break off her engagement with Walter. When he points out that Walter would be disowned for the sake of his father’s career and his own, Maud reluctantly agrees.
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Ethel discovers that she is pregnant. When she tells Fitz, he tells her that Bea is also pregnant. Fitz’s main concern is for his heir, who can only be by his wife.
Ethel contemplates leaving Aberowen. Maud shares with Ethel her own tragedy of having to give up Walter von Ulrich. Ethel meets with Fitz’s attorney, who explains that Fitz is offering her a pension at housemaid wages, provided she never attempt to contact Fitz. Ethel refuses the offer.
Fitz worries about what Ethel will do, fearing that she will tell his wife and cause her to have another miscarriage. Perceval Jones tells him that the tensions in Ireland are reaching a breaking point: Ireland has been promised independence, but the Protestants fear the control of the Catholic majority.
Bea tells Fitz that she wants to help out the Russian strikebreakers, who are being ostracized in the village. Fitz agrees since this will show that they are not taking sides, as they are already feeding the miners’ children.
Ethel demands that Fitz buy her a house in London where she can take in a lodger. However, Ethel finally decides that she wants to go back home. Her mother is shocked at the news of her pregnancy, as is Billy. Ethel tells them that the father was a visiting valet who has since joined the army. Gramper, her grandfather, assumes that it is Earl Fitzherbert himself.
Her father is furious and orders her out of the house. He tells her that his own father was illegitimate and was raised in a brothel. He vowed that no such shame would be in his own family. Ethel leaves for London after all.
Walter begs Maud to come back to him. Maud cannot resist and Walter wants to talk to Fitz about their marriage, but Maud asks him to wait a few days until the Serbian crisis blows over. At church, Billy reads aloud from the Bible the story of Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery. When he finishes, he walks out of the chapel and never returns.
In late July of 1914, the Balkans are still simmering, so Maud and Walter’s engagement is still secret. Walter attends a meeting with Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, who proposes a conference with Britain, Germany, Italy, and France as mediators. Walter is optimistic, but his father thinks this is a plan to drive a wedge between Germany and Austria.
Walter learns from Anton that the Russians are preparing for mobilization. When it is announced that Austria has declared war on Serbia, Maud begins to cry, thinking of Walter going to war. A few days later, Maud tells Fitz that Ethel came in to the charity clinic. In the meantime, Russia begins to mobilize, and Germany prepares for war.
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Fitz, Bea, and Maud discuss the possibility of a coalition government comprised of Liberals and Conservatives, which Maud fears will make war more likely because it will leave very few to stand for peace. When Bea rushes from the breakfast table with morning sickness, Fitz tells Maud that she is pregnant. Maud congratulates her brother but wonders aloud if he will be alive when the baby is born in January.
At the German Embassy, Walter hopes that the British and the French can stay out of the war so that the conflict is confined to eastern Europe. However, this depends on France’s ability to maintain a position of neutrality. Germany has told Britain that, if she promises to stay out of the war, France will not be invaded. Fitz feels that this would be betraying British allies. France has a treaty with Russia, however, obliging her to fight if Russia does, which it seems is about to happen. If France enters the war, Britain then will feel no obligation to support her against Germany.
Walter tells Maud that France has rejected neutrality and is beginning to mobilize her army. He will be leaving Britain to join his regiment as Germany invades France.
Under Winston Churchill’s direction as Lord Admiral, the British navy begins to prepare for war. Maud and Walter attend Parliament to hear Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey’s address warning of Germany’s potential invasion of neutral Belgium, which would bring Britain into the conflict.
Afterwards, as they leave, Walter asks Maud to marry him, showing her the marriage license he managed to obtain at short notice. He says they should be married the next day as he will most likely have to leave as soon as the German army begins to move.
Maud worries about what will happen after the war starts. If Walter remains in Britain, he will be placed in a prison camp. If he returns to Germany and she goes with him, she will not see him at all. She writes a letter to him asking what his plans are after the wedding. Walter replies that he is leaving within a day or two, so they will have to keep it secret until after the war, which he anticipates will be short. He wants one night with her as husband and wife.
Maud manages to sneak out of the house and Walter picks her up in a car, where Maud is surprised to find Ethel. Her former housekeeper explains that she is to be her witness and Walter’s cousin Robert will be his. After the wedding, Walter and Maud go to the hotel for one honeymoon night. They learn that Britain has declared war on Germany; Walter must leave by ten o’clock the next morning.
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When Grigori Peshkov is called up to the army, his supervisor manages to get him a reprieve since his labor is needed on the home front. However, his clash with Police Officer Pinsky in his rescue of Katerina leads Pinsky to force him to join up anyway.
Katerina asks him to marry her so that she may get government assistance as a military wife. On their wedding night, Katerina offers to sleep with him, but Grigori rejects her, knowing that she is offering her body in payment, not out of love.
As his battalion meets the German offensive, Grigori’s fear soon turns to anger at the relentless barrage of bullets. The battle is nothing but confusion and Grigori is unable to make any shot count. He is surprised to find most of one ear shot off. It is not until after the fighting is over that he manages to shoot a passing German.
Walter details the casualties of the German victory to General Ludendorff. The Russian Second Army (Grigori’s division) effectively has been wiped out in the East, although the Russians have gained the advantage on the Western Front.
In Paris, personal grievances between the British and French commanding generals slow communication as the Germans march on the city. Fitz learns that the French government has fled Paris. He receives a call from Maud with the news of the London home front. Fitz tells her of his prediction that the war will be over, one way or another, in a few days.
Fitz receives intelligence that the German army is bypassing Paris and heading toward the River Marne. Fitz is frustrated by the British retreat, which will ensure the fall of Paris. He manages to get the commanding generals to negotiate, but this infuriates Colonel Harvey, his superior, who warns him that his advancement in the military is over.
The Germans are now forced to fight on two fronts, but the British army remains too timid. The French must compensate but do not have the resources to move the soldiers to the Front. French taxis are commandeered to transport personnel from the city to the war zone. On September 9, the German army begins to retreat.
In October, both sides begin to dig trenches. The Battle of Ypres in Belgium results in an Allied victory and the completion of a defensive barricade from Switzerland to the English Channel.
On Christmas Day, Fitz receives news that Bea has given birth to a boy. On the battlefield, the British and German soldiers visit and exchange Christmas greetings. Fitz meets Walter, who asks him to tell Maud that he was thinking of her on Christmas Day.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437
Although Ethel has found a lodger (Mildred, a bawdy Cockney girl), she works in a factory sewing army uniforms, saving up money for when her baby comes. She works for improvements in the workplace, much as her father had. She attends a union meeting at which Maud is the speaker in support of women’s equality. Ethel writes a letter to Billy, telling him of the woes of an unmarried pregnant woman working in the city.
The coal miners’ strike in Aberowen is over, but Lev Peshkov continues to work in the mines. He is surprised to see Spirya (who was his partner in cheating at cards on the immigrant ship) dressed as a priest. Spirya threatens to reveal Lev’s past unless he gives up card games. Lev plays one more game to win money for a boat ticket to America, but Spirya sees him and Lev barely makes it out of town on the train.
Billy goes to London to answer Ethel’s silent call for help in her letter. He finds her in labor and helps her give birth to a baby boy. Ethel accidentally tells Billy that Fitz is the father. Billy threatens to kill him.
Lev arrives in America, where the Vyalov family in Buffalo hires him. He is now fluent in English, but with a British accent. He makes money on the side by selling stolen goods on Vyalov property. Beaten by some of Vyalov’s henchmen, he is brought before Mr. Vyalov, who is impressed with Lev’s boldness.
In June 1915, the passenger ship Lusitania is torpedoed and sunk, killing many innocent people, including Americans. Although the public and the President are committed to neutrality, the United States moves closer to war. Gus Dewar, in his hometown of Buffalo for the summer, runs into Olga, a member of the Vyalov family. He becomes interested in her and wants to become better acquainted with her.
Mr. Vyalov makes Lev his chauffeur/bodyguard. Lev is attracted to Olga even though she is the daughter of his employer. Gus persuades his mother to invite Mrs. Vyalov to tea so that his relationship with Olga may become more formal and more serious.
Olga begins an affair with Lev, but she still accepts Gus’s proposal when he asks her to marry him. Mr. Vyalov has Lev kidnapped and brought to a warehouse, where Vyalov himself flogs him close to death. Olga is pregnant and her engagement to Gus must be ended, even though it has been announced and the wedding planned. Instead, Vyalov is forcing her to marry Lev, the father of her child.
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It is June of 1916 and Billy Williams is going to war. For the last year he was in training with the other men of Aberowen, but now there is a need for more soldiers as there is to be a big push by the British army. Billy’s father makes a feeble attempt to make peace with his son, knowing that it is unlikely he will return to Aberowen.
The armies of Europe are lining up on both sides of the River Somme. Walter and Maud have had no contact with each for almost two years. Walter spies on the preparations of the British army and reports that a major assault is being planned.
Maud runs a newspaper supporting better treatment of the dependents of servicemen; Ethel Williams is the manager. Together they have both ends of the social spectrum covered. They confront the woman in charge of distributing the “separation allowances” to wives of soldiers. She is withholding the money from women whom she feels are not morally fit. Maud is arrested when she refuses to leave.
Billy visits Ethel and Mildred before he goes overseas. Ethel’s baby, Lloyd, is a year and a half now, and Billy is the only one whom Ethel has told the baby's middle name: Fitzherbert. Billy is attracted to Mildred, despite (or because of) her crudeness and sleeps with her the night before he leaves.
Fitz is leading the troops from Aberowen, preparing for a massive push along the Somme. The French army was severely depleted at the Battle of Verdun and so they have few soldiers to spare, leaving the British army almost on its own.
Maud is fined one guinea for disturbing the peace, and she and Ethel plan the next campaign in their fight for women’s rights. Billy is surprised (and infuriated) to find that Fitz is the new commander of the Aberowen division. In London, Maud is awakened by the sounds of artillery in distant France as the Battle of the Somme begins.
Walter manages to sneak through enemy lines in his mission to gather intelligence concerning the number of British soldiers along the Somme. He is overwhelmed when he sees thousands of men gathered in one spot.
Fitz’s Welsh regiment waits in the soaking trenches for their turn to attack. When they at last move forward, German machine guns cut down most of them. Billy tries to calm down Owen Bevin, who is sixteen but lied about his age so he could enlist; he now wants to go home. Billy appeals to Fitz, who refuses to send Owen from the battlefield. Owen runs off and Fitz predicts that it will be worse for him when he is captured.
Billy tells Fitz his name, and Fitz realizes he is Ethel’s brother. As the troops advance, Fitz is hit twice, making Billy the highest ranking officer. He leads his men through craters to take out the machine guns. They retreat, and Billy finds to his regret that Fitz is still alive.
A week later, sixteen-year-old Owen Bevin is convicted of cowardice and desertion. He is executed by firing squad.
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After Lloyd becomes ill and she starts fearing for his life, Ethel decides to return home so that her parents can see their grandson. When she returns to Aberowen, she waits before going to her parents’ home. When she does, only Gramper is there. He is pleased to see her and his great-grandson. Ethel’s mother returns and also is glad to see them, exclaiming that Lloyd looks just like his Uncle Billy.
When Da Williams comes home he says he has no grandson, and Ethel leaves in tears. She is still in Aberowen when telegrams are delivered to the families of the soldiers killed at the Somme. Da, Mam, and Gramper watch as the post office boy passes them, meaning Billy is alive. Da looks at Ethel, and they run into each other’s arms.
In all, two hundred eleven Aberowen boys were killed at the Battle of the Somme. An interdenominational memorial service is held. Fitz is present, walking on crutches and wearing a bandage on one side of his face. Da Williams is one of the speakers and he quickly turns political, speaking out on a war that was chosen by a minority but fought and died for by the majority. Although there is some attempt to silence him, his words are met with thunderous applause.
Grigori Peshkov has survived the first two years of the war. He is not bothered by the brutality of the soldiers but by the stupidity, callousness, and corruption of the officers. Katerina gave birth to a boy, naming him Vladimir. He has heard nothing from Lev in America. During a confrontation with Austrian troops, Grigori leads his men to a place of relative safety, letting the officers bear the brunt of the gunfire. In the retreat, Grigori shoots his commanding officer in payment for his brutality.
Grigori is deployed back to Petrograd, which is the new name given to the capital in place of the German-sounding St. Petersburg. He is propositioned by a woman who has turned to prostitution to feed her starving husband and children. At first Grigori accepts, giving her a loaf of bread, but changes his mind when he thinks about her miserable position. She tells him of the increasing grip the tsar’s government has on the people.
Grigori fears that Katerina may have also been forced into selling herself to survive. When he finally forces himself to go home, he is met by an ecstatic Katerina. She introduces him to baby Vladimir. Katerina explains that bread is scarce and all prices have doubled. There is suspicion that the royal family is pro-German because of the German-born tsarina. Grigori dismisses this but he does think them incompetent. Katerina tells Grigori that she has learned to love him, and they finally consummate their marriage.
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The Battle of the Somme lasts until November and Ethel checks the casualty lists daily, fearful of seeing Billy’s name. Mildred announces that she wants to start her own business as a seamstress. Bernie Leckwith, a Jewish librarian, regularly visits Ethel, even though she earlier rejected his offer of marriage. Like Ethel, Bernie is a reformer, but he believes it will take a revolution to effect any change. He repeats his offer of marriage to Ethel, but she is still reluctant.
Woodrow Wilson narrowly wins re-election as Gus Dewar watches nervously. Rosa Hellman, an anarchist, visits him; she warned him when he became engaged to Olga and was proved right. She tells him that Olga gave birth to a girl and that Lev runs one of Vyalov’s nightclubs.
The next morning, Wilson sends Gus to Berlin. When Walter returns there, he finds his mother struggling to maintain her standard of living but insistent that she throw a party for him. He is surprised to find Gus Dewar as one of the guests. Gus explains that Wilson wants Germany and the Allies to hold peace talks.
Walter’s mother tells him that his cousin Robert is missing, meaning Walter could be next in line to the family titles. She wants him to marry Monika von der Helbard, one of the old aristocracy. Walter tells his father of Wilson’s request for peace talks; Otto von Ulrich dismisses the idea but agrees to pass it on to the Kaiser. Walter asks Gus to deliver a letter to Maud. At a party at Fitz’s country home in Aberowen, Ty Gwyn, Gus does so.
Fitz is unable to return to combat because of his injuries, so he is assigned to naval intelligence. Bea has become more distant, focusing her attention on her son and regaining her interest in her Russian heritage. Fitz reminds her that she has a duty to bear him children.
Fitz goes with Maud to a meeting in the East End, where he sees Ethel. He speaks to her, but they both maintain a very formal tone. He asks her to meet him the next day and Ethel reluctantly agrees. He offers to arrange for her to watch a Parliamentary debate now that her childhood hero, David Lloyd George, is Prime Minister. He also offers to set her up in a large house complete with servants and tutors for Lloyd if she will be his mistress. She tells him that she will think about it.
Ethel invites Fitz to a meeting about the peace talks. Billy, who is in London on a week’s leave, publicly condemns the officers’ (specifically Fitz’s) competence and honesty. Ethel attends Parliament when Lloyd George rejects Germany’s offer of peace talks. In outrage, Ethel stands up and shouts out the names of the boys from Aberowen who were killed. She is dragged out of the chamber.
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After the rejection of peace talks, Walter fears the entry of the United States into the war, which the new policy of unrestricted warfare is sure to guarantee. The Foreign Minister proposes offering U.S. land to Mexico to keep America distracted.
Fitz learns of the Zimmerman plan through an intercepted telegram. He gives the information to Gus Dewar. The details include a return of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Mexico if Germany wins the war, as well as the intention of encouraging Japan to invade the American West Coast.
After Fitz’s renunciation of peace talks, Ethel decides to marry Bernie Leckwith. She realizes that she and Bernie are soul mates in a way that she and Fitz never could be. She feels ashamed of herself for even thinking of being Fitz’s “kept woman.”
Through Gus Dewar and back channels, Wilson releases the contents of the Zimmerman telegram. Wilson wants to enter the war but has been re-elected on a peace platform. The telegram quickly changes public opinion of favor of war.
Grigori and Katerina struggle to survive and to keep baby Vladimir healthy. Bread is rationed and workers go on strike. The tsar dissolves the Duma (parliament) and calls out the army to end the strikes. Grigori and some others attack the police instead. Grigori shoots Pinsky in the leg, but his nemesis manages to escape. He kills a sniper, making him a hero of the people. The Russian Revolution has begun.
Grigori is horrified by the rape, violence, and looting, wanting there to be some kind of order. A soviet (committee of representatives) is formed. Grigori unanimously is elected as a member, but he is frustrated by inaction over practical matters such as bread for the starving people. The Duma regroups and is in conflict with the soviet, but the soviet emerges as the true power since it controls the military.
Grigori manages to return home to a very worried Katerina. He warns her to stay out of the streets. They are overjoyed at the news that the tsar has been forced to abdicate.
Walter’s parents are still trying to get him married. They celebrate the overthrow of the tsar but are worried about a democracy in Russia. Billy and his comrades also rejoice at the news. Fitz, however, is horrified at the idea of overthrowing a monarch, and Bea falls to pieces when she hears, fearing for the safety of her brother. Ethel and Bernie are cautiously optimistic. In America, Lev Peshkov cheers the Revolution. Gus Dewar tells President Wilson that he hopes that, in the end, the Russian people will benefit.
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Walter finds himself attracted to Monika von der Helbard despite his marriage to Maud. He and Monika discuss the new Russian government’s announcement that they will continue to fight. Despite his own attraction and her obvious interest in him, Walter keeps Monika at arm’s length, even though he knows that her feelings are hurt by his distance.
After finding an article about Maud in his wallet, Monika guesses that not only is he in love with Maud but is in fact married to her. Despite her pain, she promises to keep their secret. Walter writes a letter to Maud in code, telling her that his family wants him to marry someone and that he has been forced to tell their secret.
On April 6, 1917, the United States declares war on Germany. Walter’s only hope now is for the Russian government to collapse so that the anti-war group will take control.
Exiled Russian revolutionaries in Germany take the train back to Russia, going north through Scandinavia. Lenin is the leader of the group and Walter goes along as a low-level German observer, wondering if Lenin will gain control of the government. On the train, Lenin acts like a dictator, albeit a benevolent one, which causes Walter to wonder how he would rule Russia. Walter bribes Lenin to overthrow the government and take Russia out of the war.
When the train stops in Stockholm, Walter is overwhelmed to find Maud waiting for him. It has been almost three years since they last saw each other.
Grigori is on hand to welcome Lenin home. Lenin’s speech to the crowd urges them to start a world revolution, not one confined to Russia. He preaches the overthrow of the provisional government and a withdrawal from the war, just as Walter had bribed him to do.
Lev’s marriage to Olga has taken a turn for the worse. She thinks he is “low-class,” but he reminds her that he used to be the chauffeur. He hires Marga as an entertainer and soon begins an affair with her. Vyalov, Lev’s father-in-law, catches them “in the act” and fires Marga and punches her. He transfers Lev to the management of a foundry. Lev objects, but he is terrified of Vyalov. Lena, Lev’s mother-in-law, is in love with him and constantly flirts with him. Lev loves only his daughter, Daisy.
Gus Dewar learns that the Buffalo Metal Works laborers are on strike. Not only is the foundry vital for the war effort, but it is also where Lev now works as a manager. Gus goes up to Buffalo to settle the strike. He orders Vyalov and Lev to meet the workers’ demands, claiming the power of the government during wartime.
Lev continues to see Marga but is caught once again, this time by Vyalov, Olga, and Daisy. Vyalov forces Lev to join the army, hoping he will be killed. Lev taunts Gus on his civilian status, but Gus informs him that he has signed up with the National Army.
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Ethel and Bernie are true soul mates working toward the same goals. Ethel has no regrets about their marriage. Bernie hopes to run for Parliament as a Labour candidate. They discuss the increasing possibility that at least some women will be given the right to vote. Maud is not optimistic, suspicious that Parliament will only pretend to give women suffrage. She is proved right when the bill gives only women householders over thirty and wives of householders the vote. Ethel is willing to settle for what they can get and keep on working, but Maud calls her a traitor to the cause. The two friends go their separate ways.
The war is going badly for the Allies, and French soldiers are becoming mutinous. Russia is an unknown quantity as the government remains unsettled since the revolution. Bea receives news that her brother Andrei has been wounded, his arm amputated.
Fitz attends a political dinner where the talk turns to women’s suffrage. Perceval Jones, once mayor of Aberowen and now its representative in Parliament, says Conservatives support the current bill because it shuts out the young women laborers who are usually socialists. Fitz is against the whole thing and, like his sister Maud, is not in favor of compromise.
Bea tells Fitz that she wants to go to Russia to see Andrei. Fitz sees this as an opportunity to observe conditions in Russia for the Foreign Office. Ethel views the House of Commons victory for women’s suffrage with some regret that she and Maud are no longer championing the cause together. Passing by, Fitz warns her that it will be defeated in the House of Lords.
Walter goes to the Russian trenches to investigate the current mood of the soldiers, which is uniformly against continued fighting. In Petrograd, Katerina is now pregnant with Grigori’s baby, which makes Grigori even more determined to provide a more just world for his children. He does not like Lenin but knows that he is a man of action. He receives word that Lenin is to be arrested, so he warns him to flee.
Walter sneaks into Petrograd disguised as a Russian peasant. He runs into Grigori at the train station and they discuss the position of the Bolsheviks in the government. Followed by a policeman, Walter manages to kill his pursuer. The Conservatives start a counterrevolution against the Bolsheviks, as Grigori had predicted.
Fitz and Bea arrive at Andrei’s home and are warned of the possibility of the local peasants rising up. The warning is too late and the peasants attack the house that night, killing Andrei and his wife. Fitz and Bea just barely escape.
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Walter blames his father and his father’s generation for the prolonged war. The American Expeditionary Force landed in France in June 1917, despite the arrogant assurances of the German leadership that it would not. All now depends on Russia withdrawing from the war.
Grigori rises in the emerging Bolshevik Party. Katerina is miserable as the birth of her baby draws near. In an attempt to break up the soviets, the government decides to send the Petrograd garrison to the front. Lenin and Trotsky argue over the merits of a coalition government.
The leader of the Russian provisional government, Prime Minister Kerensky, is on his way out. Trotsky is seen as the new leader, and Grigori is at his side as he very subtly takes over.
Lenin remains in hiding to avoid arrest. The two men begin plans to storm the Winter Palace and arrest the ministers of the provisional government. When the assault is complete and the Winter Palace is in control of the Bolsheviks, Grigori stands on the spot where his mother died and sees the revolution as his own personal revenge against the tsarist government. He is undone when he finds that Lenin has settled for compromise with the moderate Mensheviks, but the agreement falls apart and the Mensheviks walk out, leaving the Bolsheviks in control.
Grigori’s joy is tempered when he sees that Pinsky, his nemesis, has joined the Revolution. Katerina gives birth to a girl while Grigori is busy fighting; she sent a message to him that she was giving birth, but he ignored it. She is bitter that she had to have the baby with the help of the midwife they both hated.
In March 1918, Germany and Russia agree to an armistice, signing a peace treaty at Brest-Litovsk. Walter believes that Germany is now close to winning the war. American reinforcements in France continue to grow, however.
Walter has been reassigned to the battlefield as the fighting has become crucial in the final days of the war. On the fog-covered no-man’s-land, Walter’s company faces Billy Williams and the boys of Aberowen. When the fog lifts, the gunfire begins. The Germans split and come at the British from both sides. Billy and his men retreat.
Walter and his troops take over the British trenches, admiring the homely aspect of them, as if the British had lived there for months. They find food, giving the lie to reports that the German blockade of England was effective. The soldiers eat their fill, having been short of food for a long time. Walter realizes that the German army has regained all the territory lost in the Battle of the Somme.
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Fitz holds a house party for those who are opposed to the new Russian regime. Among the guests is Winston Churchill, a Liberal despite being a descendant of the nobility. Churchill and Maud trade barbs over the “freedoms” of the socialist government, much to Fitz’s chagrin. He and Churchill both fear the spread of socialism.
Despite Fitz’s warning, the House of Lords narrowly passes the bill on limited women’s suffrage. There are also efforts to reform (limit) the House of Lords. Fitz’s son “Boy” is now three but is ill during the house party. Bea is eight months pregnant. When the doctor arrives to check on Boy, he announces that Bea is in labor, having miscalculated the timing. She gives birth to another boy.
At Churchill’s request, Fitz meets with Mansfield Smith-Cumming (known simply by the letter “C”) of the Secret Service. C enlists Fitz in the attempt to overthrow Lenin. He sends Fitz to Vladivostok to meet with the Cossack leader Semenov.
Gus Dewar does not make a smooth adjustment to the life of the army but needs to do well to disprove people’s doubts about him.
President Wilson calls for a new world order led by a league of nations. He prepares a list of fourteen points to be resolved at the end of the war.
On the troop ship carrying Gus and other American troops overseas, Spanish flu breaks out and claims several men. Germany’s army is advancing with the front now at Rheims, north of Paris. The British army is pinned down in Flanders.
Walter’s troops reach the River Marne. Gus’s division also arrives there to hold the defense. In the fighting, Gus proves he has the makings of a useful officer.
Walter is dismayed to see that American troops have arrived to reinforce the French. Gus’s friend Chuck Dixon is killed, bringing the personal implications of war to Gus. He dreads giving the details of his friend’s death to Chuck’s family back in Buffalo.
A bullet breaks Walter’s shinbone. The Germans retreat from the Marne. Walter wakes up in hospital to learn that the Americans have taken up the position on the south bank of the river. There is another American victory at Bois de Belleau.
Walter returns to his parents’ home to convalesce. New tanks appear at the Battle of Amiens, promising a formidable weapon in warfare. Otto von Ulrich tells Walter at the end of September that the military commander Ludendorff wants an armistice.
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Maud has lunch with Lord Remarc, a junior minister in the War Office. He tells her that Britain resents being bypassed by Germany in favor of America in armistice talks as well as British disagreement with colonial rights in Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Maud learns that Fitz’s meeting with the Cossack leader Semenov was a disappointment.
Billy and the Aberowen boys are shipped to Vladivostok. Fitz is in command and explains that their mission is to protect Allied arms now that the Russians have declared peace with Germany. They are secretly going to Omsk to support the anti-Bolshevik movement. Billy is upset that their mission has not been approved or even announced to Parliament.
Lev Peshkov is also back in Russia, much to his regret. He blames his lack of self control with women. He makes money selling military goods to the Cossacks, not forgetting his promise to send money to Grigori so that he can go to America. Lev is reassigned as an interpreter in Omsk, four thousand miles into the interior of Russia.
Ethel receives a coded letter from Billy telling her that he is in Russia with Fitz. Ethel and Bernie argue about the Bolsheviks, Ethel fearing that Lenin could become as big a tyrant as the tsar. Bernie is the leading Labour candidate from Aldgate, but Ethel has been nominated by the women. She is considering it, which angers Bernie. As Maud worries about Walter’s fate, Lord Remarc tells her that the Germans have agreed to an armistice.
It takes twenty-three days for Billy and the Aberowen Pals to reach Omsk. Billy finds the countryside unexpectedly beautiful. Omsk is the headquarters of the anti-Bolshevik movement, and the citizens exuberantly greet the American soldiers.
Gus Dewar’s platoon is fighting at the River Meuse when they hear of the cease-fire at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918. Gus orders Corporal Kerry to throw a grenade on the barn roof. He does so but is killed by gunfire just seconds before the cease-fire takes effect. Gus feels guilty at exposing Kerry to danger despite knowing the war would be over in five minutes.
Bernie feels betrayed by Ethel, but she knows she would be the better candidate. Ethel tells him that she is declining the nomination, not because she is submitting herself to her husband but because she is pregnant. She sees the irony in the possibility of a woman being elected to Parliament but having to decline because she is having a baby.
London rejoices at the end of the war, but Walter fears that Germany is facing a revolution as the Kaiser abdicates.
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Bernie is still bitter about Ethel being considered the better candidate. Ethel is angry at his bitterness. Lloyd George announces that he will continue with a coalition government during peacetime. Bernie sees this as traitorous to the Labour party, which soon announces that it will campaign against Lloyd George.
Maud sends a letter to Walter, not sure that the mail service between Britain and Germany has resumed. She is horrified by the anti-German sentiment at home. She and Ethel still have not made up. At a meeting, Bernie is interrupted by demands that he explain his views about throwing Germans out of Britain. He gives a half-hearted reply.
Woodrow Wilson becomes the first President to leave the country while in office when he goes to France to present his Fourteen Points. Gus is with him, detached from the army. He worries about Wilson’s declining health. He meets his journalist friend, Rosa Hellman, who fears that Wilson has jeopardized the conference by not bringing any Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress.
Bernie loses the election since the Liberal candidate supports the coalition. Ethel blames Lloyd George, but Bernie blames himself. He is a thinker but not a leader. The coalition wins the election by a landslide, although the Labour party does pick up a few seats. Bernie predicts the end of the Liberal party. Ethel writes an article warning Parliament to keep its hands off of Russia.
Maud goes to Paris, having received no reply from Walter. She talks with Lord Remarc about war reparations, which are so excessive that Germany will never be able to repay them. This is the plan: to keep Germany subjected to the conquering nations.
Gus attends the League of Nations conference, amazed that the draft of the covenant is written within ten days instead of weeks, months, or even years as was predicted. Wilson wants a draft to take back with him when he returns to America on February 14. Things look questionable, however, when France proposes that the League have its own army. This will not be approved by the United States, which would not allow its soldiers to be under the command of another nation.
Racial equality is placed in the covenant; this causes problems for Woodrow Wilson, who is prejudiced against “Negroes.” Compromises are made to move forward. In Paris, morality and fashion begins to change dramatically. Gus and Rosa confess their love to one another.
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The anti-Bolshevik White armies continue to fight with the unofficial assistance of Fitz and the Aberowen Pals, among others.
Fitz reads the British papers, delighted that Winston Churchill has been named Secretary of War since Churchill is a hardliner when it comes to intervening in Russia. Fitz is worried that information of their operation is being leaked. When he sees that Ethel Williams is leading the “Hands Off Russia” campaign, he realizes that the leaks are probably coming from her brother Billy, who is still under Fitz’s command in Russia.
The Bolshevik Red army attacks, and Fitz is sure they will win the civil war. Lev Peshkov, still working as an interpreter, disappears.
Grigori works alongside Trotsky. He urges the leader to use political rather than military measures. The White leader Denikin is in favor of private property, which means that peasants would have to return land that they gained in the Revolution. Spreading this information should turn peasant support to the Reds.
Lev shows up at Red headquarters, having been arrested and taken prisoner. Grigori hardly recognizes him, seeing him as an American soldier. He sees that Lev’s casual attitude about people he uses is still prevalent.
Lev gives Grigori the money he has saved up for his brother to go to America, but Grigori refuses it, intending to stay in Russia. He offers to get Lev back into normal Russian life, but Lev intends to return to America. Grigori takes Lev out to no man’s land and drops him off, letting him find his own way back to the White army.
Billy Williams is court-martialed for revealing military secrets. Billy questions the legality of the court just as he questions the legality of the military operation in Russia, which he accuses Fitz of making in his own personal financial interest to regain Andre’s property for himself and his son. Billy is found guilty and sentenced to ten years of penal servitude.
Walter writes a letter to Maud from Versailles since there is still no postal service between Germany and Britain. Walter is appalled when he read the terms of the Versailles Treaty, which places full blame for the war on Germany and limits its ability to defend itself. Walter unexpectedly meets Maud in the park. They discuss how they are going to announce their marriage.
Gus and Rosa talk of the news that Lady Maud Fitzherbert is married to a German, which Gus had suspected all along. Rosa announces that she is still an anarchist, which Gus sees as impractical. When Maud goes to the opera, she is hissed at by the other social elite and runs out of the building. She agrees to go back to Germany with Walter.
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Gus and Rosa return to America with President Wilson and then go up to Buffalo so that Rosa may be introduced to Gus’s parents. Mrs. Dewar has always been critical of women in whom Gus has been interested, so he is very nervous about what her reaction to Rosa will be.
He warns Rosa that his mother can be a snob, but Mrs. Dewar seems genuine in her welcome, explaining that she knows Rosa’s brother, who plays violin in the orchestra of which she is a board member.
Rosa’s parents come to dinner and the two families become acquainted. The men discuss the League of Nations, which America wants to reject. President Wilson will travel around the country, reaching out to the public rather than to the politicians. Gus worries about Wilson’s health with the punishing schedule he is undertaking.
At dinner, Gus asks Mr. Hellman’s permission to marry his daughter, which he gladly gives. When Gus proposes to Rosa and presents her with an engagement ring, Mrs. Dewar begins to cry.
Gus and Rosa both go with Wilson on his whistle-stop campaign around the country. After three weeks of incessant speaking, Wilson’s health breaks down and the tour is cancelled.
Gus discusses his plans to join a law firm specializing in international law, while Rosa will continue her job as a reporter covering the White House. Since Wilson’s treaty is sure to fail, Gus worries that their children will have to fight in another world war.
Lev returns home to Buffalo and his daughter Daisy. While staying in his father-in-law’s house, he keeps Marga in a separate establishment since she has given birth to Lev’s son, whom he names Gregory. He is repeatedly unfaithful to both his wife and his mistress. He manages nightclubs, which are now facing the Volstead Act and Prohibition.
When Vyalov finds out about Marga and her baby, he physically attacks Lev, but Lev fights back viciously, causing Vyalov to collapse with a massive heart attack.
Lev takes the money he earned selling military goods in Russia and heads for Canada. In Toronto, he contemplates his options and comes up with a plan, but it requires his wife Olga’s cooperation. He trades his stolen car for a truck, which he fills with cases of Canadian whiskey, and heads back to Buffalo.
He finds out that Vyalov has died. He convinces Olga to tell the police that Vyalov attacked him and was not killed directly by Lev. She agrees only because her father’s businesses are failing due to Prohibition and Lev can keep them going by selling illegal liquor. He plans on making a fortune.
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Billy Williams is held in a military prison in London. Although it is more comfortable than many of the places he has slept in since before the war, he has no communication with anyone on the outside except through the newspapers.
He reads an article by Mildred revealing to the public the details of his wrongful imprisonment. It presents Billy as a hero and a victim of the same type of injustice against which Britain fought.
During the summer of 1920, the Bolsheviks are at war with Poland. Fitz feels that Britain should intervene on the side of the Poles, but public feeling is against this. At a dinner party (which is less elaborate than those before the war), Fitz publicly berates Lloyd George to his face. The prime minister, however, dismisses Fitz’s opinions as irrelevant.
Thanks to the efforts of Mildred and Ethel, Billy is released and returns to Aberowen to marry Mildred. He is welcomed home as a hero, but he finds that his hometown seems smaller to him and he does not quite belong. He speaks to the crowd, promoting the platform of the Labour Party.
Ethel and Bernie have heated discussions over the Bolsheviks’ advances. In Russia, the Bolsheviks lead a more comfortable lifestyle than the common Russian people do, to Grigori’s dismay—even though he and his family live inside the Kremlin in the apartments of a former lady-in-waiting.
Grigori tries to use his power as a member of the Central Committee to release a friend falsely accused of treason, but he sees that the brutality of the tsars has returned in the guise of the Bolsheviks.
By 1923, Maud and Walter have two children and are living middle-class lives in a small house. Inflation is gradually pushing them toward poverty. The Munich Beer Hall Putsch highlights the conditions in Germany. Walter’s cousin Robert announces that he has joined the Nationalist Socialist party, commonly called the Nazi party.
Maud is forced to play piano at a jazz club to help the family survive. She is billed as “Mississippi Maud.” She glories when someone gives her a dollar tip, which is worth a trillion marks. A loaf of bread costs 127 billion marks. She and Walter read that the Nazi leader who tried to start a revolution in Munich has been arrested and jailed. His name is Adolf Hitler.
Fitz speaks out against Billy in the Parliamentary elections in Aberowen, but Billy wins by a landslide. So does his sister Ethel. She runs into Fitz while she is with Lloyd. For the first time, Fitz sees his son.