Colonel Picot escorted David and Maria to his office and showed them to seats. "I cannot see Ottawa refusing our request. They continue to be desperate for new officers."
"You mentioned OTC in England, Sir. Would that be Officer Training Centre?"
"Close." Picot chuckled. "Officer Training Corps. They're at the larger universities and offer year-round training for student-cadets; those aspiring to military careers. For the past while, they've been conducting four-month commissioning-from-the-ranks programs."
Picot rose and paced back and forth. "Tomorrow evening you'll be more comfortable in a lounge suit, David. I don't know who else will be attending, but the dinners are generally rather formal affairs."
"What's a lounge suit, Sir?"
"A good business suit, like this. It's an Army term, and now society's name for a smart day suit. You'll need one for your training and during your service. It's part of an officer's wardrobe, required for times and activities when wearing your uniform is not suitable."
Maria looked at the fine cut of his suit, then tilted her head. "And when might wearing a uniform not be suitable?"
"Good question. An officer is seen by most as an example or as a model of behaviour, so while in uniform, his every action is closely watched. A lounge suit allows him to be more relaxed in public."
"Is there a good clothier in Bern? I'm sure there must be many. I have nothing but the clothes I wore escaping over the mountains."
"There are two excellent ones just along in the next block from your hotel and several more within a short distance. It's not like Savile Row or Jermyn Street in London, but there are many from which to choose. Some of them are bespoke only, though most now have a selection of suits already made."
"What colour is preferred?" Maria asked.
"Dark. Navy blue is popular. Black, I find a bit severe. The new soft collars on shirts are seen more often now and are certainly more comfortable than the high. The clothiers will know what is fitting."
Picot stopped his pacing and sat. "You'll need to draw an advance of funds to cover your expenses until we've received your pay records from the War Office."
"There's no need of that. I've more than sufficient."
"If you're certain... I have many messages to draft and get off to Ottawa and London. With the time difference, there should be replies from Ottawa in the morning and from London by midday. Come back at fifteen hundred tomorrow to satisfy your curiosity, and we'll continue with arrangements. I'll escort you out now."
Maria was silent for a long while as she and David walked back toward their hotel, then she pulled his arm and nodded to a bench. "Let's sit here and talk. I'm still in shock from the glimpses of what you had experienced. They keep flashing across my mind. I haven't been able to stop them, and they make my knees weak."
They sat, and she stared into his eyes. "You keep so much hidden inside. I had no idea of the depth of the horrors you've been through." She shook her head. "No idea at all."
"War is not a pretty thing. Sixty thousand casualties in that battle alone, and that's only on our side. The Germans likely suffered as many or more." He took her hand and caressed it. "I'm one of the lucky ones, I was only lightly wounded and was able to evade capture. Let's consider the bright side. Had I not been wounded and trapped behind the lines, I would never have met you."
"You always see the good in things. It amazes me how you do that. Hold me for a while."
He pulled her to his chest and stroked the back of her head. "It does nothing but drain our energy if we concentrate on bad things, if we dwell on the negative aspects. Far better to look at the positive. Find the good in each situation. There's always some good."
"What was good about lying in the mud for hours with your face ripped to shreds, with rats and crows scavenging the dead bodies all around you and the Germans talking of slitting your throat?"
"I was alive. I was able to think, I could still see and still move. Those are all positive things. Take the positive and build on them."
She nodded. "Sounds clear... But to do it. To have the strength, the will, the drive to carry on from that. You had so little at that point."
"That's another positive aspect. I was on my back in the mud, so the direction to begin moving was obvious, unless I wanted to dig a tunnel." He laughed. "Let's go find a clothier so you can play with dressing me, and we can find a gown for you."
She let out a deep sigh and sat up. "I cannot find words to express the depth of my feelings for you. Words seem so inadequate to..." She raised a hand to wipe a tear, then their mouths merged.
A while later, after they had examined the displays in the windows of several shops, she squeezed his arm. "I think the one back there on the corner, l'Homme Véritable, has the flair that would match your character."
Inside, David explained to the man who greeted them that he needed something suitable for dinner tomorrow with the British Ambassador. The effeminate man introduced himself as Pierre, the owner. "We would prefer to build one for you. Your shoulders are very broad, and with your slim waist, it will be difficult to modify an existing suit coat to have it hang properly."
"How long would that take?"
"Normally two or three days, but if you're available for several fittings without delay, we can have it by late tomorrow afternoon."
David nodded, then looked at Maria as she spoke. "Show us your finer cloths, tell us which cuts are the most fashionable."
After they had selected a bolt and a style and David had been measured, Maria asked, "Where might I find a suitable gown for tomorrow evening? I've brought nothing with me."
"Two doors along the street, a new shop named La Mode Giselle. She's doing some exciting things."
A few minutes later, while Maria was in the back room changing into a dress Giselle had recommended, David looked at others on the racks and selected three. Maria came out to model the gown and to examine herself in the mirrors. "It seems rather cumbersome, and it hides my shape."
"It makes you look older. Too much older." David held up three dresses. "What about one of these?"
"Those I've designed from the new fashion in Britain," Giselle said. "No crinolines or other underskirts. Gives more freedom of movement and matches the need of women working for the war effort. These evening gowns are an extension of that freedom, but I was thinking their sleek elegance is still a little avant-garde for the British Embassy." She looked at Maria and smiled. "Perhaps with you in one of them, the British Embassy will be ready." She nodded. "I've now invaded the French and the American."
Ten minutes later, Giselle was pinning tucks and darts in the waist on the rich ivory gown. "We'll let it out a bit up here so your bosom isn't so compressed. Emphasise the fullness. We'll have it ready for a fitting tomorrow at eleven."
"How about eleven thirty? David has a suit fitting at eleven."
"That would be fine. I'll lay out a selection of accessories for you to peruse when you return."
David paid the fifty Francs deposit on the gown, and they headed out into the street. "I love the way it makes you look like a goddess. But I see you as a goddess in anything... Or nothing. Particularly in nothing." He laughed. "Shall we go play with you in your nothing?"
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...