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Authors: Allegra Jordan

The End of Innocence

BOOK: The End of Innocence
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Copyright © 2014 by Allegra Jordan

Cover and internal design © 2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design by Lindsey Andrews

Cover image © Mark Owen/Arcangel Images, Scisettialfio/Thinkstock, LiliGraphic/Thinkstock

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious and used fictitiously. Apart from well-known historical figures, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

The author is grateful for permission from the Harvard University Library Archives to use actual student letters in Chapter Thirty-Three. The author expresses gratitude to
The
Times
(London) for use of the brief excerpt in Chapter Five.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

www.sourcebooks.com

Originally published as
Harvard 1914: A War Romance
in 2012 in the United States of America by Gold Gable Press.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is on file with the publisher.

To Theodore, Jack, Jon,

and in memory of Rex B. Copeland, 1969–1989

Prologue
The Menin Road

Ypres, Belgium

Tuesday, December 1, 1914

Burial did not come easy for the dead of Ypres.

The broken men lay where they fell, their bodies strewn in the fields of southern Belgium: in Wytschaete and Hollebeke, Gheluvelt and Polygon Wood, Messines and Menin. The German soldiers interred the dead they could drag behind their firing lines during the waning days of battle. But in late November, after a massive, monthlong assault gave no rational hope of victory, commanders ordered the recovery of the dead to stop. Moving live men into no-man's-land was suicide. Rescue and burial, out of the question.

Instead nature absolved the field of its bitter crop in one sloppy storm. Rain soaked the ground and churned a viscous mud. The mud dislodged sandbagged walls, snapped telegraph wires, sucked off boots, and swallowed the bodies mired in the sodden terrain. As the rain turned to snow, the north wind scattered it across the graveyard, creating a new, uneven field. It was an imperfect burial.

During the early dawn hours of December 1, a young German signal corps soldier stood at the corner of two adjoining trenches. His short blond hair was uncovered; his helmet, the heavy and ornate cover of the uhlans, rested on the ground. The rain had soaked through his gray overcoat and dampened his tall leather boots. His thin nose dripped constantly, irritated by the smell of wet wool.

Lieutenant Wilhelm von Lützow Brandl, twenty-one, held a wire and a transmitter, but he had stopped working with them. Instead, he stood transfixed, looking over the wooden parapet at the snow blanketing the field.

All
gone
, he thought.
Builders, farmers, teachers, students. Is this how we end? Jumbled parts in a mass grave, swept under a clean white carpet?

The wind bit into his neck. It burned his bruised ear, and the quick-falling snow piled around his boots. But the question repeated ceaselessly in his mind, like a record's needle turning after the song is through, the machine's energy not yet spent.

It seemed like such a short time ago when one single death had brought his world to a halt. Mere months before, he'd been a student in America, at Harvard, when Max von Steiger, a fellow German classmate and childhood friend, had died. His death set into motion an unstoppable chain of events that had torn apart Harvard's campus. Now, on the front lines of war, there were too many dead to mourn just one.

“Lieutenant Brandl!” barked a voice from around the trench's corner.

He reflexively reached for his helmet. “Herr Captain, there's no signal.” He fumbled with the helmet strap, trying to get it in place. “These wires—”

“Brandl, you idiot!” Captain Grimber interrupted. Wils felt Grimber's hand grip his arm and pull him around. He cringed at the sight of the gaunt man's yellowed teeth and the smell of his stale breath. “Work without a helmet again and I'll court-martial you. Heinsel, mark him down. Half rations for Brandl.”

Wils scowled as the short, barrel-chested Lieutenant von Heinsel scratched his name in a small notebook behind Grimber.

The captain took the transmitter and crouched on the duckboarding, his canvas-covered helmet bobbing as he examined the equipment with a skill that eluded Wils.

The captain, like so many career officers in the Prussian army, thought that war brought out the best in people. His dull, cold eyes brightened when he spoke of a promised post in Paris. To get back there—for the German army had been close in October—the cables had to transmit. If they did not, orders from headquarters would not reach the front lines, and they would be blind to their enemies' movements.

Wils shivered as he looked at the captain's hollow cheeks. Grimber looked up. “Sit down. Heinsel will pull a new line and you will bury it. The weight of the snow will snap it by noon if you don't.” Grimber stood up and left for the barracks with Heinsel in tow.

As Wils waited for the new line, a haggard, square-faced sentry passed by, stepping quickly over Wils's snow-encrusted boots. Wils stared as the sentry craned his neck over the edge of the parapet, looking into the brightening gray horizon, and then left. Two soldiers rushed into the trench from the field carrying a large spool of barbed wire. They disappeared around the corner of the L-shaped trench toward the bunker. A group of soldiers with short spades and pickaxes slogged by next, blurry-eyed and muddied from the tops of their spiked helmets to the soles of their knee boots. One slipped on an icy patch of duckboarding, barely catching himself on the edge of the sandbagged wall.

An hour passed and von Heinsel did not return. The snow had stopped, but the temperature dropped. Wils pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around his legs, trying to conserve his weak body heat. The acrid fumes around him hurt his lungs. His toes and fingers were numb. His eyes fluttered as he fought exhaustion from the cold.

He began to conjure a place where a light wind would rustle the ivy's brilliantly colored leaves, fanning them down one redbrick building, across Harvard Yard, and back up the tall columns of another. October would turn the Yard into walls of gold and red and orange. Smoke from fireplaces, dormant from a summer's rest, curled into the clear blue sky. There, he sat beside her on the library's steps, bathed in the sun. Lilac perfumed her dark curls. He lifted a ringlet and brushed it across his lips. Helen's eyes were royal blue and clear—bluebells on her light skin, like those in the fields behind his house. He laughed as she told him about her latest poem. He took her hands, and her face moved closer to his. Her breath felt warm against his cheek as she spoke, and her eyes looked steadily into his. He took her in his arms, felt her sweater, her bosom, against him. He could taste her kiss—soft and warm. The touch of her lips soothed him. It relieved the pain in his stomach and the hurt in his chest.

Suddenly, a flare shrieked into the air, close to his position. His body went rigid, and he looked furtively around his trench, expecting a shell. He waited and heard a distant explosion.

He shook his head. The corridor of that part of the trench had not changed. Muddy sandbags were still piled in front of him. The gray mist hovered in the air.

He put his hands over his face and closed his red, irritated eyes. He was hungry for her voice, her touch. He pulled out a ring on a chain around his throat and kissed it. He tried, but he couldn't summon her back.

The mud of Flanders had absorbed his dream.

Part I: 1914
Harvard

Cambridge, Massachusetts

And this is Old Boston,

The home of the bean and the cod.

Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,

And the Cabots talk only to God.

—John Collins Bossidy, 1910

Chapter One
Harvard Yard

Wednesday, August 26, 1914

It was said that heroic architects didn't fare well in Harvard Yard. If you wanted
haut monde,
move past the Johnston Gate, preferably to New York. The Yard was Boston's: energetic, spare, solid.

The Yard had evolved as a collection of buildings, each with its own oddities, interspersed among large elm trees and tracts of grass. The rich red brickwork of Sever Hall stood apart from the austere gray of University Hall. Appleton Chapel's Romanesque curves differed from the gabled turrets of Weld and the sharp peaks of Matthews. Holworthy, Hollis, and Stoughton were as plain as the Pilgrims. Holden Chapel, decorated with white cherubs above its door and tucked in a corner of the Yard, looked like a young girl's playhouse. The red walls of Harvard and Massachusetts halls, many agreed, could be called honest but not much more. The massive new library had been named for a young man who went down on the
Titanic
two years before. There were those who would've had the architect trade tickets with the young lad. At least the squat form, dour roofline, and grate of Corinthian columns did indeed look like a library.

The Yard had become not a single building demanding the attention of all around it but the sum of its parts: its many irregular halls filled with many irregular people. Taken together over the course of nearly three hundred years, this endeavor of the Puritans was judged a resounding success by most. In fact, none were inclined to think higher of it than those forced to leave Harvard, such as the bespectacled Wilhelm von Lützow Brandl, a senior and the only son of a Prussian countess, at that hour suddenly called to return to Germany.

A soft rain fell in the Yard that day, but Wils seemed not to notice. His hands were stuffed in his trouser pockets; his gait slowed as the drops dampened his crested jacket, spotted his glasses, and wilted his starched collar. The dying elms, bored to their cores by a plague of leopard moths, provided meager cover.

He looked out to the Yard. Men in shirtsleeves and bowler hats carried old furniture and stacks of secondhand books into their dormitories. This was where the poor students lived. But the place had a motion, an energy. These Americans found no man above them except that he prove it on merit, and no man beneath them except by his own faults. They believed that the son of a fishmonger could match the son of a count and proved it with such regularity that an aristocrat like Wils feared for the future of the wealthy class.

He sighed, looking over the many faces he would never know.
Mein
Gott
. He ran his hands through his short blond hair.
I'll miss this
.

His mother had just wired demanding his return home. He pulled out the order from his pocket and reread it. She insisted that for his own safety he return home as soon as possible. She argued that Boston had been a hotbed of intolerance for more than three hundred years, and now news had reached Berlin that the American patriots conspired to send the German conductor of the Boston Symphony to a detention camp in the state of Georgia. That city was no place for her son.

She was understandably distressed, although he was certain the reports in Germany made the situation sound worse than it was. The papers there would miss that Harvard was welcoming, for instance. If the front door at Harvard was closed to a student due to his race, class, or nationality, inevitably a side door opened and a friend or professor would haul him back inside by his collar. Once a member of the club, always a member.

But Boston was a different matter. Proud, parochial, and hostile, Boston was a suspicious place filled with suspicious people. It was planned even in pre-Revolutionary times to convey—down to the last missing signpost—“If you don't know where you are in Boston, what business do you have being here?” And they meant it. Wils kept his distance from Boston.

Wils crumpled the note in his hand and stuffed it into his pocket, then walked slowly to his seminar room in Harvard Hall, opened the door, and took an empty seat at the table just as the campus bell tolled.

The room was populated with twenty young men, their books, and a smattering of their sports equipment piled on the floor behind their chairs. After three years together in various clubs, classes, or sports, they were familiar faces. Wils recognized the arrogant mien of Thomas Althorp and the easy confidence of John Eliot, the captain of the football team. Three others were in the Spee Club, a social dining group Wils belonged to. One was a Swede, the other two from England.

The tiny, bespectacled Professor Charles Townsend Copeland walked to the head of the table. He wore a tweed suit and a checked tie and carried a bowler hat in his hand along with his notes. He cast a weary look over them as he placed his notes on the oak lectern.

The lectern was new with an updated crest, something that seemed to give Copeland pause. Wils smiled as he watched his professor ponder it. The crest was carved into the wood and painted in bright gold, different from those now-dulled ones painted on the backs of the black chairs in which they sat. The old crest spoke of reason and revelation: two books turned up, one turned down. The latest version had all three books upturned. Apparently you could—and were expected to—know everything by the time you left Harvard.

It would take some time before the crest found its way into all the classrooms and halls. Yankees were not ones to throw anything out, Wils had learned. He had been told more than once that two presidents and three generals had used this room and the chairs in which they sat. Even without this lore, it still wasn't easy to forget such lineage, as the former occupants had a way of becoming portraits on the walls above, staring down with questioning glares. They were worthy—were you?

Professor Copeland called the class to order with a rap at the podium. “You are in Advanced Composition. If you intend to compose at a beginning or intermediate level, I recommend you leave.”

He then ran through the drier details of the class. Wils took few notes, having heard this speech several times before.

“In conclusion,” Copeland said, looking up from his notes, “what wasn't explained in the syllabus is a specific point of order with which Harvard has not dealt in some time. This seminar started with thirty-two students. As you see, enrollment is now down to twenty, and the registrar has moved us to a smaller room.

“This reduction is not due to the excellent quality of instruction, which I can assure you is more than you deserve. No. This new war calls our young men to it like moths to the flame. And as we know moths are not meant to live in such impassioned conditions, and we can only hope that the war's fire is extinguished soon.

“If you do remain in this class, and on this continent, I expect you to write with honesty and clarity. Organize your thoughts, avoid the bombastic, and shun things you cannot possibly know.

“Mr. Eliot, I can ward off sleep for only so long when you describe the ocean's tide. Mr. Brandl, you will move me beyond the comfort of tearful frustration if you write yet another essay about something obscure in Plato. Mr. Althorp, your poems last semester sounded like the scrapings of a novice violinist. And Mr. Goodwin, no more discourses on Milton's metaphors. It provokes waves of acid in my stomach that my doctor says I can no longer tolerate.”

Wils had now heard the same tirade for three years and the barbs no longer stung. As Copeland rambled, Wils's mind wandered back to the telegram in his pocket. Though a dutiful son, he wanted to argue against his mother's demands, against duty, against, heaven forbid, the philosophy of Kant. His return to Germany would be useless. The situation was not as intolerable as his mother believed. These were his classmates. He had good work to accomplish. The anti-German activity would abate if the war were short—and everyone said it would be.

“Brandl!” Copeland was standing over him.

“Sir?”

“Don't be a toad. Pay attention.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come to Hollis 15 after class, Mr. Brandl.”

Thomas snickered. “German rat.”

Wils cast a cold stare back.

When the Yard's bell tolled the hour, Professor Copeland closed his book and looked up at the class. “Before you go—I know some of you may leave this very day to fight in Europe or to work with the Red Cross. Give me one last word.”

His face, stern for the past hour of lecturing, softened. He cleared his throat. “As we have heard before and will hear again, there is loss in this world, and we shall feel it, if not today, then tomorrow, or the week after that. That is the way of things. But there is also something equal to loss that you must not forget. There is an irrepressible renewal of life that we can no more stop than blot out the sun. This is a good and encouraging thought.

“Write me if you go to war and tell me what you see. That's all for today.” And with that the class was dismissed.

* * *

Wils opened the heavy green door of Hollis Hall and dutifully walked up four flights of steps to Professor Copeland's suite. He knocked on a door that still bore the arms of King George III. Copeland, his necktie loosened at the collar, opened the door.

“Brandl. Glad I saw you in class. We need to talk.”

“Yes, Professor. And I need your advice on something as well.”

“Most students do.” The professor ushered Wils inside.

The smell of stale ash permeated the room. The clouds cast shadows into the sitting area around the fireplace. Rings on the ceiling above the glass oil lamps testified to Copeland's refusal of electricity for his apartment. The furniture—a worn sofa and chairs—bore the marks of years of students' visits. A pitcher of water and a scotch decanter stood on a low table, an empty glass beside them.

Across the room by the corner windows, Copeland had placed a large desk and two wooden chairs. Copeland walked behind the desk, piled high with news articles, books, and folders, and pointed Wils to a particularly weathered chair in front of him, in which rested a stack of yellowing papers, weighted by a human skull of all things. Copeland had walked by it as if it were a used coffee cup.

“One of ours?” asked Brandl, as he moved the skull and papers respectfully to the desk.

The severe exterior of Copeland's face cracked into a smile. “No. I'm researching Puritans. They kept skulls around. Reminded them to get on with it. Not dawdle. Fleeting life and all.”

“Oh yes. ‘Why grin, you hollow skull—'”

“Please keep your
Faust
to yourself, Wils. But I do need to speak to you on that subject.”


Faust
?”

“No, death,” said Copeland. His lips tightened as he seemed to be weighing his words carefully. His face lacked any color or warmth now. “Well, more about life before death.”

“Mine?” asked Wils.

“No. Maximilian von Steiger's life before his death.”

“What the devil? Max…he, he just left for the war. He's dead?”

Copeland leaned toward him across the desk. “Yes, Maximilian von Steiger is dead. And no, he didn't leave. Not in the corporeal sense. All ocean liners bound for Germany have been temporarily held, pending the end of the conflict in Europe.”

Wils's eyes met Copeland's. “What do you mean?”

“Steiger was found dead in his room.”

“Fever?”

“Noose.”

Wils's eyes stung. His lips parted, but no sound came out. “You are sure?”

As Copeland nodded, Wils suddenly felt nauseous, his collar too tight. He had known Max nearly all his life. They lived near each other back in Prussia; they attended the same church and went to the same schools. Their mothers were even good friends. Wils loosened his tie.

“May I have some water, please, Professor?” Wils finally asked in a raspy voice. As Copeland turned his back to him, Wils took a deep breath, pulled out a linen handkerchief, and cleaned the fog from his spectacles.

The professor walked over to a nearby table and poured a glass of water. “How well did you know Max?” he asked, handing the glass to Wils.

He took the tumbler and held it tight, trying to still his shaking hand. “We met at church in Prussia when we were in the nursery. I've known him forever.”

“Did you know anything about any gaming debts that he'd incurred?”

Debts? “No.”

“Do you think that gaming debts were the cause of his beating last week?” asked Copeland, sitting back in his desk chair.

Wils moved to the edge of his seat. The
prügel
? Last Wednesday's fight flashed into his mind. There had been a heated argument between Max and a very drunk Arnold Archer after dinner at the Spee dining club. Max had called him a coward for supporting the British but not being willing to fight for them. It wasn't the most sensible thing to do given Archer ran with brawny, patriotic friends. On Thursday at the boathouse Max had received the worst of a fight with Archer's gang.

“It was a schoolboys' fight. They were drunk. Max was beaten because Arnold Archer was mad about the Germans beating the British in Belgium. Archer couldn't fight because America's neutral, so he hit a German who wouldn't renounce his country. These fights break out all the time over politics when too much brandy gets in the way. People get over their arguments.”

“Didn't Max make some nationalistic speech at the Spee Club?”

Wils's back stiffened in indignation. “If Max had been British it would have gone unnoticed. But because he was German, Archer beat him.” He paused. “Max was going to tell the truth as he knew it, and thugs like Archer weren't going to stop him.”

Copeland tapped a pencil against his knee. “How well do you think his strategy worked?”

Wils's eyes widened. “Being beaten wasn't Max's fault, Professor. It was the fault of the person who used his fists.”

“Wils, Arnold Archer's father is coming to see me this evening to discuss the case. His son is under suspicion for Max's death.”

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