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.‘The years have been hard ones.’‘Hard years, my arse,’ retorted Hervieu, whose baptismal name had actually been McAliester.‘Not so hard, or they’d have made you near as bald as mesel’.’ He ran a hand over his slick pink dome.‘Here’s you wi’ a head of hair a schoolboy would envy! I heard ye’d quit the Firm.’Asher looked him straight in the eye.‘You heard correctly,’ he replied, putting great significance into his tone.‘I have had nothing further to do with Whitehall, nor do I wish to.’‘Ye’ve come to Petersburg for your health, then?’‘I have.’‘Aye, well, winter in the Arctic circle’s a good time for that.Where you staying?’‘You can leave a message for me at Phlekov’s.’ Anyone who worked St Petersburg quickly learned that half the stationers’, cafés, and news-stands in the city were operated by petty bourgeoisie who for a few kopecks would act as mail drops for the Devil.Phlekov’s on the Voznesensky Prospect was far enough from the Imperatrice Catherine to give Asher a good chance of observing if he’d picked up a follower.But even the Germans hadn’t the money to keep an eye on every letter drop in the city.‘I’ve told them my name is Weber.’Hervieu didn’t trouble to ask what name he’d told his landlords.He’d been in the Department a long time.‘Who’s in charge at the Embassy?’ Asher asked, and for a few minutes he slipped comfortably back into the old shorthand: what’s the new chief like? Who have the Germans got in town these days? Are the Russians any more efficient than they were back in ’94? (What a hope!) Secret police as much a nuisance as ever? Is a Revolution still being plotted, or did that fizzle out when they got a Duma? He dared not ask after German scientists – God knew what ham-fisted enquiries would be launched by the Department or what the results would be – but it was good at least to check the territory.‘What do things look like from London?’ the tobacconist asked in return.‘I get word from the Embassy, but wi’ censorship, an’ all the diplomats bound and determined not to speak a word agin’ the Old Country, I’ve always got it at the back of my mind to wonder if I’m bein’ lied to.’‘They’re idiots,’ said Asher harshly.‘And you are being lied to.We all are.Britain builds a new class of battleships, so Germany’s building them too.Germany gets nine-inch guns, so France must have them or die.And to everyone who points out that a war between our coalition and their coalition is going to be Armageddon – like no war ever seen before – we get only, Well, we must protect our interests abroad, and – God help us – Dem Deutschen gehört die Welt.The world belongs to Germans.It’s the Germans who’ve said, We want territory even if it belongs to foreigners, so that we may shape the future according to our needs, but it might as well have been Asquith and those imbeciles in Parliament.War makes mankind strong, and God save us from a world without the manly training of combat! And if you want peace – or talk about how to avoid this manly training – you’re a Socialist or a degenerate, or in German pay.Sorry,’ he added, shaking his head.‘Coming through France and Germany always affects me—’‘It’s readin’ all them newspapers.’ Hervieu laid a comforting, red-furred paw on Asher’s hand.‘Of course the lot of ’em are barkin’ daft, but you’ll never convince ’em of it.and lied to or not, as long as the Germans are comin’ at us, for whatever reason, you know we’ll fight.So what can we do?’Asher whispered, ‘What indeed?’ He grasped Hervieu’s hand.‘Thank you.’‘Anythin’ else I might need to know?’‘Not that I can tell you right now.’The bright-blue eyes looked sharply into his for a time, hearing the gaps in his information, but understanding as only the Crown’s Secret Servants could or did.‘For King and Country, then.’‘For King and Country.’ Asher sketched a salute at the older man, pulled his fur-lined hat close over his naked scalp, and stepped out of the frowsty little shop into the cold, silvery glitter of the street.What can we do? Asher stepped out of the way of a peddler like a giant ball of old clothes, who bore like a battle standard a pole bedecked with gaily-colored mittens.The words were the wheel on which Asher’s soul had been broken.Yet it was good to know that at least someone from the old Department knew he was in town – and would make enquiries if he didn’t report himself in.In an odd way, he felt himself again.The distaste at traveling with Ysidro – at knowing who and what he was – shifted its perspective, though did not become any easier to understand.Did the fact that the vampire took his victims singly while the governments of Germany and England and France proposed to do so wholesale alter the sin of their deaths?Or make partnership with this man more, or less, foul than partnership with the Foreign Office?He didn’t know.For King and Country.Asher hated the words.FOURAt seven Asher changed his shirt, donning beneath it the little forearm-sheathe he’d had made for him in China, though instead of the hideout knife he’d worn in those days, he equipped it with a silver letter-opener, sharpened carefully to as much of an edge and point as the soft metal would take.He found a café near the Engineering Academy that served a dinner of zakuski, borscht, and smoke-flavored caravan tea for a rouble.An old-style porcelain heating-stove blazed at one end of the little room, but near the windows it was like sitting outside on a sharp spring morning in Oxford – yet Asher chose one of the small tables there and watched the passers-by in the square before the Mikhailovsky Palace in the chilly evening light.Schoolgirls with long fair hair hanging out from beneath hats and scarves brushed elbows with the ragged women who worked in the sewing factories and cigarette factories and factories that made boots for the army.North of the river – what was locally called the Vyborg-side – and east of the handsome houses of St Petersburg’s eighteenth-century core, these factories ringed the city, turning out guns, battleships, uniforms, tents, and buttons for the biggest army in the world.Between, behind, around the factories lay the slums: the largest, the filthiest, and the poorest in Europe.Asher wondered if they had changed as little as the city’s center had, in the seventeen years since he had been here last.Street after unpaved street of squalid tenements, the slums sprawled into what had been the countryside, the air above and the dirty snow underfoot reeking alike of coal smoke and sewage.Even here you could smell it.And within that ring of squalor were all the offices of the government’s thousand petty bureaux – offices of the Church, offices of the regulation of each province, offices of the railroad and of Army procurement and of the regulation of schools and the regulation of finances and the regulation of Jews.Clerks in tight-buttoned coats shivered like Bob Cratchit as they scurried to catch trams, trailing banners of smoky breath.Students lurking along the pavement pushed crudely-printed handbills into their hands, for a rally or a revolution.Elderly men hawked hot pies, cups of tea, aprons, scissors, umbrellas, second-hand shoes.Gray-faced shadowy men from the Third Section took surreptitious notes on everything they saw.Daylight dwindled.By ten it was dark, and Asher made his way to the chilly electric glitter of the Nevsky Prospect, which led towards the river [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]