Jacob reined the carriage to a stop in front of the town hall, and after he had tethered the horse to the rail, he beckoned David to follow him. "Haven't been here for a while, but was very familiar with it as we expanded the estate vineyards fifteen and twenty years ago." He opened the door and stepped through. "There's likely no change since then."
David explained to the clerk they were trying to value a piece of property and wished to see the records of recent transactions of agricultural land, of vineyards and of rural houses. He stood at the counter copying pertinent information into his notebook as documents were presented. Once satisfied he had sufficient, they thanked the clerk and headed back to the carriage. "That was simple. Much easier than I had thought."
"We can leave the carriage here." Jacob raised his arm and pointed. "The bank's along in the next block."
David opened an account using Jacob and Maddie's address for his. He presented his remaining forty-four Marks, seventy Pfennig for exchange, which yielded forty-eight Francs, forty-six Centimes. Thirty Francs of this he deposited to the new account.
He spoke with the accountant about getting a better rate for the deposit of a bank draft for over eleven thousand Marks. "We'll have to send it to Zürich for settlement, but you can be assured that the exchange rate will be more favourable than we've given you today. We'll receive a rate by cable and allow you to approve it before you commit."
"Would there be a significantly better rate for a draft of two hundred and thirty thousand Marks?"
"Much more favourable to you. Close to ten percent premium."
As they walked back toward the carriage, Jacob said, "That's an enormous amount. Not my business, but I'm curious."
"I see where Maria gets her curiosity." David winked at Jacob and laughed. "The first was my commission for helping Bethia negotiate the sale of her slaughterhouse. I got her two hundred thirty thousand, well over double what she had been willing to accept for the property."
"Well over double. How? Pray tell."
"I'd been studying business and finance in university before the war. It was easy for me to calculate fair value."
"So that's what you're doing with the information you jotted into your notebook. I was curious."
"Maria's curiosity is never withheld." He chuckled. "She just blurts out the questions. So innocent. God, I love her."
"So with your education, your obvious intelligence, the leadership Maria and Rachel were telling us about, why were you enlisted as a private, rather than as an officer? From what I understand, other countries don't follow the practice we do here."
"Rachel and Bethia also questioned this. It was a confusing time. I came down out of the mountains in mid-August and learned of the war. Two weeks later I was enlisted in the Army on the other side of the country, nearly four thousand kilometres away."
"That was quick."
"I'm told there were forty thousand volunteers in the first few weeks. They took thirty thousand of us and put the remainder into reserve. A lot of confusion as Canada tried to learn what a modern army is." He laughed. "They didn't have uniforms for us until the fourth week of training."
"But when you go back..." He paused and looked at David, then shook his head. "Takes huge courage to go back after what you've been through."
"That, or huge stupidity." He laughed. "Especially having fallen in love with Maria. That's the most difficult —"
"You needn't go back, though. No one need know you're here."
"Yes, that's true, but I'll know. That's the problem. I'll know."
"Integrity. Fortitude. Selflessness. Honour. All noble traits. Take your time to prepare, then when you're ready to go back, do it in a way that forces the Army to recognise your strengths, your initiative, your integrity, your intelligence and your leadership skills. Inform them of your educational background. You'd be a huge waste used again as trench fodder. You can offer so much more as an officer."
David nodded as he climbed into the carriage. "I've been trying to figure out a way to approach this. Probably best to contact the Canadian Embassy in Bern. Am I right, the capital is Bern?"
"Yes. But you must be careful. As part of our neutrality treaty, we're obliged to detain and hold any foreign soldiers who enter Switzerland. You'll need to travel with Jacob's birth certificate, and you'll need to identify as Jacob David Meier, not as..." He looked at David. "Funny, I don't think I got your surname." Jacob clucked a few times and flipped the reins to get the horse moving.
"Berry, David Michael Berry."
"There's talk of a better passport system here later in the year. With the war and the ease of modern travel, most countries are now introducing a more standardised document with photographs. The current identity systems are too open to abuse." He laughed. "That's how you got out of Germany."
David nodded. "I'm glad the new system hasn't been introduced. That would have foiled our clever ruse."
Jacob reined the waggon to a stop at the edge of the market. "We'll see what early vegetables there are. This is my favourite time of the year as they begin appearing, ending the dependence on the root cellar. Asparagus, new potatoes, thinned carrots, whatever." He picked up a basket from the back of the waggon, then led the way.
After buying the basket full, they went to the butcher and then headed along the street toward the cheese shop. As they passed the bookstore, David pointed. "That's what I need, a postcard to send home. Tell my family I'm alive and well."
Farther along the street, while Jacob selected some cheeses, David sat at a table and wrote a simple message:
19 May 1915
I'm safe, well and with friends here. More later.
He addressed the card to:
Mr & Mrs Berry
PO Box 20
When Jacob joined him at the table, David showed him the card; a picture of Schaffhausen and the Alps. "Read this. Ensure it doesn't compromise my safety here, but will relieve my parents' worry. It's been over three weeks now, and they surely will have received word informing them I'm missing. It'll be closer to a month and a half by the time they receive this."
Jacob nodded as he read it. "To the point. Concise. Untraceable. I like the card — labelled with the location. A bit obscure, but they'll be able to look it up." He pointed. "The post office is just along to the left. Let's mail it and head home." He shook David's shoulder and laughed. "From the passion I've sensed Maria has for you, she's likely there by now."
YOU ARE READING
In the early months of the First World War, a young Canadian soldier uses quick thinking and ingenuity to evade capture after being wounded fighting in Flanders. While escaping through Germany to the Swiss border, he becomes intimately entwined with...