The Lily and the Rose

By: Jackie French

Chapter 1





When I was young on the North West Frontier men spoke of ‘when the war is over’. War does not stop on the day of ceasefire. Somewhere, always, the hounds of war snuffle in the gutters, hunting for the next battle.

Miss Lily, 1914





THE BAVARIAN SOVIET REPUBLIC, GERMANY, 30 MARCH 1919

HANNELORE


The attic smelled of mouse and long-ago-eaten musty apples. Hannelore crouched behind the upturned bed, pistol in hand, and listened to the rats scrabble below. Bolshevik rats, hunting through the snow-slushed street.

Hunting her.

On the floor below her, old Anna screamed. She gabbled a plea. A shot rang out, so loud an icicle dropped, spear like, from the roof beyond the attic window. One shot. You did not need two to kill an old woman in her bed.

The pleading stopped.

Hannelore had counted three shots since the rebels broke down the door. Helga and Joseph must be dead too. She was alone.

Footsteps scrabbled upstairs. Rats in big boots. Well-fed rats, in this land of hunger. Yells, crashes, as doors were flung open.

A year ago she had been Prinzessin Hannelore von Arnenberg. She supposed she still was, though the revolutionaries had abolished titles and ownership of property through all the Räterepublik, the Bavarian Soviet Republic. You did not need a mob of men to hunt for one young woman, but it was worth it to capture a prinzessin.

Hannelore had always known she must give her life for her country. She had thought that would mean a diplomatically useful marriage producing more diplomatically useful children. That future was gone. The men would rape her before dragging her to the firing squad. Rape was what men did, in war. But she would not let them rape her. If men behaved like rats, they deserved to die like rats. The pistol felt warm in her hand, enamelled pink, inlaid with silver. A prinzessin’s pistol, with six bullets.

The attic door crashed open. She waited till two figures stepped into the room. Two shots. Two bullet holes in two stomachs, the look of astonishment that men always acquired in that second when they realised their prey had won. Hannelore had nursed enough men in the war to know that a bullet to the stomach was lethal . . . eventually.

Other men paused at the doorway now — bearded, filthy, in the rags of German uniforms, their red armbands showing they fought for the Munich Soviet, hungry, but for power, not food. The older ones pushed the most junior forward. The Soviets were all equal, except, of course, they weren’t. Yet they still hesitated.

She managed to shoot four more of them. Six rats, bleeding, groaning on the attic floor now. Helga would have had to scrub away the blood, if they had let her live . . .

Her pistol was empty. But these fools obviously had not calculated how many bullets her pistol held, did not realise that she was helpless.

Which was exactly what Hannelore had hoped.

She was not going to let these men rape her, unless they liked to rape the dead. Even rats did not do that. Sometimes men did.

She stood so the bed no longer sheltered her and aimed her pistol at the door.

She felt the bullet that entered her heart as coldness, rather than pain. The one in her leg she hardly felt at all. Such foolish men, to waste a bullet in the leg.

She smiled as she fell. The Prinzessin Hannelore von Arnenberg was no use to the Bolshevik Republic now. And she had given her life for her country, as she had been bred to do, not this socialist republic but the earth, the trees, the people of her Germany . . .

Sophie would understand that, she thought vaguely, as pain burned a thousand fires through her body. Sophie knew how one might love a country, but despair sometimes of its people. Dear, Sophie. Happy Sophie, safe home in Australien among her kangaroos . . .

She never would visit Sophie now, Hannelore realised, as hands grabbed her, as cold turned to dark.





Chapter 2





For two years I created and managed three hospitals and a refugee centre. I was a person. Then the war ended. I became ‘just a woman’ again. No matter what society may decide, my dear, never think of yourself as ‘just a woman’.

Sophie in a letter to her granddaughter, undated





LONDON, 1 MAY 1919


‘Darling, you need a maid,’ said Emily, Mrs Colonel Sevenoaks, gracefully lifting her tea cup in her most perfect drawing room, its walls covered in pre-war pale striped silk. Emily inspected Sophie’s stockings, shuddered elegantly, and added, ‘Desperately.’

Sophie reached for another apple tart. They really were excellent. A sponge cake crowned with sugar-dusted hothouse strawberries took pride of place on the top tier of the cake stand; small currant cakes, watercress or celery and cream cheese sandwiches the lower tiers. The maids of honour and the apple tarts, adorned with cream, were presented on matching platters.