Bern, Switzerland — Sunday, 13 June 1915
At ten past five, David and Maria arrived in Bern and located Hotel Bernerhof. After they had registered and had been shown to their suite, David returned to the lobby to ask about the location of the Canadian Embassy. The concierge was unfamiliar with it, and after combing through his directories, he said, "I'll inquire for you Sir, and have the information sent to your room."
David gave him the room number, then walked up the gracefully curved steps which framed the vast open stairwell, admiring the architecture and the decorative wrought iron as he climbed. Maria was on a chaise longue by a window in the sitting room when he came in. "I'm reading the history of the hotel." She held up the pages. "It's fascinating. When it opened, this was considered the finest hotel in Europe."
He knelt and kissed her. "When was that? When it opened."
She turned to the first sheet and scanned. "In 1858, just after the new Federal State House was completed." She pointed out the window. "You can see its dome across there and all the other Government buildings. It says they were all built when Bern became the capital, and all the famous people stayed here — emperors, kings, presidents and other foreign dignitaries on their official visits."
She got up, took his hand and led him to the plaques on one of the walls. "Emperor Nicholas and Empress Alix of Russia stayed in this suite of rooms, and this plaque, Emperor and Empress of the British Empire, Edward and Alexandra, and this one, Emperor Napoleon the Third of France. We'll have to have them put up a plaque marking the visit of David and Maria of Heaven." She giggled then turned to hug him. "What a heavenly day this has been. The mountains. I've never dreamed of such splendid vistas."
"Places like that are what keep drawing me back into the mountains. But the freedom and the feeling of being fully alive and part of it all, that has been my great joy up there. We'll share that. We'll explore together, but first, we must stop this damnable war."
"Did you get directions to the embassy?"
"No, he's unfamiliar with it. He's enquiring and will let us know. We can go out walking to explore the city while we wait."
"We can ask others along the way for directions to the embassy." She shuffled through the papers on the desk. "There's a map here somewhere I looked at earlier. Ah, here it is. There's a medieval section which looks interesting." She held the map out to him.
"There's the German Embassy." He scanned the map further. "And the French. There, the United States and Britain." They both pored over the map to find many more embassies, but couldn't see the Canadian one.
"Maybe the British Embassy represents us here. We're a small country, and foreign offices are expensive to run."
"Canada isn't small. It's vast. Must be five thousand kilometres across."
"About thirty-three hundred miles east to west and the same north to south, that's a little over five thousand kilometres wide and high. It's the second largest country in the world, but our population is among the most sparse, only seven million people. Switzerland has more than half that number in less than one percent of the space."
"So the largest is the United States?"
"No, not at all. They only pretend they are. Russia's the largest, then Canada, then China. The United States is the fourth, slightly larger than Brazil and Australia."
"You know so many things. Your head is full of information."
"I've always been interested in geography, and in history."
They went out walking in the early evening, taking their coats for the expected chill. Maria recounted what she had read, "The hotel is in the old town, on a long rocky promontory that causes a sharp buckle of the Aare River. It was the defensive nature of the site that led to Bern's establishment here in the twelfth century."
They paused at a viewpoint to look at the mountains of the Bernese Oberland on the southeastern horizon, lit golden by the low sun. David stood behind Maria and wrapped her in his arms. "There, straight ahead. That's Jungfrau. We were in that saddle only six hours ago." He turned her in his arms, and they kissed.
After a long, silent embrace, they continued strolling along Rue des Gentilshommes, looking at the old half-timbered houses and reading dates carved in door lintels and enamelled on plaques attached to walls. "The history sheets said some of these date back into the fourteen hundreds. We'll have to find a guidebook; surely there's one. I'd love to explore through here more thoroughly."
"The oldest buildings I knew in Canada before the war were from the 1850s in Victoria. Few buildings in Vancouver are older than thirty years." They walked around Münsterplatz, admiring the Gothic architecture of the cathedral and marvelling at its great height, before heading back to the hotel as the evening began chilling.
As they strolled arm-in-arm across the lobby, the concierge stepped forward. "Herr Meier, if I may, Sir. I've found that all Canadian diplomatic affairs in Switzerland are handled by the British Legation. It's rather close to here. I've had a note placed in your suite, along with a map with the British Embassy's location marked."
They thanked him, picked up the key and headed up the stairs. "That makes sense. Canada didn't declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. Great Britain declared it for us since we're still under their dominion as a part of the Empire. King George is also the King of Canada, and although we're separate and have our own government, we're still dependent in many ways."
David unlocked the door and ushered Maria in. "A bath and some exercises before we dress for dinner?"
"You've been reading my mind again."
He lay back in the deep tub of hot water with her between his legs as his hands slowly explored her hills and valleys. She sighed and purred. "You play me as a maestro plays his musical instrument, lovingly enticing resonance from it."
"You're as fine an instrument as has ever been. A finer person than I've ever imagined possible. And, my God, your body. I still tremble each time I look at you. Come, let's finish here and resume on the bed. Enjoy some amuse-bouches before dinner."
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...