Küsnacht, Switzerland — Thursday 10 June 1915
David returned to the lorry to fetch the basket and the bags while Maria began telling Michael and Mary about the events of the past six weeks. "...so I took him home to meet Mama and..." David heard before his return with the basket of wine interrupted her.
Michael went for glasses and a corkscrew and soon returned.
"Start with the Riesling," Maria said. "It's the lightest."
He opened it and poured the five glasses, passed them around then picked up his glass, swirled it and brought it to his nose. "The lightest? This is very big." He sipped it then smiled. "I've not before had this intensity and complexity in a Riesling." He picked up the bottle and read the label again. "A fine year, 1911, but the wine..."
"This is the simplest one." She smiled at him. "Shall I continue with the story? There's wine involved in it."
He nodded, and Maria continued.
At Maria's first pause, shortly after the clock had struck three bells, Mary put her hand up and looked at Maria. "Push the buzzer, Michael. That was seven thirty and we should get dinner started." She looked around the table. "We've some stream trout from the market. How would you like it?"
"The Weißburgunder would love à la meunière," Rachel said. "I could do it if you wish?"
"No, Murielle will. She'll be here in a minute — we've just rung for her." Mary swirled her glass and nosed it. "This wine is almost as complex and intense as your story. If this is the simplest, I look forward to..." She paused as squat, grey-haired woman stepped out onto the patio.
"Murielle, s'il te plaît. Les truites à la meunière... Murielle, please do the trout à la meunière."
"Oui Madame. Pour quelle heure?... Yes, Madam. For what time?"
"Quand il est prêt. Nous mangerons à l'intérieur... When it's ready. We'll eat inside."
Murielle nodded and went back into the house. Mary looked at David, then at Maria. "So continue. Did Bethia get what she wanted for her slaughterhouse?"
"No, she didn't..." Maria paused and smiled. "She got more than double what she wanted."
"More than double?"
"Much more." Maria continued the story as they moved inside to the parlour when the patio began to chill and she finished it at the dining table as they enjoyed an entrée of white asparagus and mayonnaise with the Gewürztraminer.
"So that's why you've not written in many weeks," Michael said. "You were so busy escaping, then relocating two households while you restored a third. I'm amazed you had time to sleep."
"There was so much, and it was happening so fast, we forgot to write," Rachel said. "I was reminded when I saw your letters a few days ago as we packed up Gottenheim."
"I'm so impressed with your adventures. With the way you poured so much into such a short time. And your wines." Michael savoured another sip. "This Gewürztraminer is spectacular."
Maria smiled, then pointed to the third bottle. "Wait till you've tasted the Tante Bethia's Weißburgunder."
They sat chatting long after dinner, Michael and Mary asking questions to further their understanding of recent events. The conversation turned again to David's plans. "It's very noble and honourable of you to even think of going back, but to actually be doing it..." Mary shook her head. "With everything you have here, with Maria's love of you and yours of her, with your financial independence, your youth, your health..." She shook her head again. "To leave all this and throw yourself again in front of the Huns."
"I swore an oath of allegiance to help defend the Empire against this Germanic aggression. I cannot back down on that."
"Yes, but must your defence be by throwing yourself in front of their guns?" Michael asked. "There must be other ways to honour your oath. From all we've heard of your abilities, you're far too valuable to go back to the trenches."
"We've talked a lot of this. Both Bethia and Jacob brought up the idea of convincing the Army that I should be an officer."
"From my experience in the Swiss Army, you certainly have the qualities required. Far more."
"You were in the Swiss Army, Grandpa?" Maria looked at him. "I didn't know that."
"Every healthy man in the country between the ages of twenty and forty-eight must be. After we had immigrated from England, I had to take my initial ten weeks of training and then do the annual refresher courses and exercises. With every healthy man trained and armed, we're able to maintain our neutrality."
"How long did you serve?"
"Twenty-six years." He laughed. "During my first six years, it was an average of a week and a half a year. Then I was selected for commissioning. As I rose through the ranks, my responsibilities had me serving longer each year. Had I not been commissioned, I would have served less than ten months in total."
David did a quick calculation. "This is now my tenth month in the Army."
"Then maybe you should quit." Maria tilted her head and looked into his eyes. "Would they allow you to do that?"
"I wouldn't think so. Besides, I couldn't live with myself if I did." He looked at Michael. "To what rank did you rise?"
"I ended as an Oberstleutnant, that's Lieutenant-Colonel in British terms. I ran the marine division in this sector. Life is much better as an officer, but there are substantially more responsibilities, with many depending their safety, even their lives on our decisions."
"I've seen that, and I'm drawn to the challenge. I now need to find a way to approach the Army that lets them know I have more to offer than I have so far given as a private. First I must clear my mind and allow ideas some room."
"Maybe some time out on the lake tomorrow will allow your mind to clear. I often find new ideas as I sail," Michael said. "Have you sailed before?"
"I was very active in the sailing club at University School. Three years since, but I'm sure I remember. I loved playing with the tides and the currents."
"We've neither tides nor currents here. It's much less complex with only the wind to play with. Much more time to do nothing but move with nature."
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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...