Chapter Fifty

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After one last check of each other's appearance, David and Maria left their room and rode the lift to the hotel lobby. He glanced at his watch as they walked across to the desk to leave the key. "Ten past. We're five minutes early."

"How will we recognise the driver? How will he recognise us?"

David handed the key across the counter to the clerk who looked at the tag's number, then pulled a note from the room's pigeon hole. "Mr Meier, your driver is the man in grey livery by the concierge desk."

"Thank you." David turned to spot him, then led Maria toward the driver. "That answers your question. Mine too." He patted her hand on his arm. "You're absolutely stunning, and it appears everyone else thinks so too. They're all staring at you."

"Or at you. The women must be swooning. My knees get weak every time I look at you."

The driver led them out to the motorcar and assisted them in. As they rode, Maria remarked, "This must be an electric auto, it's so quiet."

"It could be, I didn't see him crank the engine. This compartment might also be sound-proofed." He nodded to her tresses. "I love your hair up, I've not before seen you do it this way."

"This is the first time I've done it. The idea is from pictures of ladies in Grandma's magazines — their hair piled in curls. This is simply gathered on top, tied and allowed to fall. My curls do the rest."

"They do it beautifully, but you spent a lot of time twining and weaving it."

"More just playing with shape and balance. It was fun, and since it pleases us both, I must continue doing it."

After a short drive, the motorcar stopped under a porte-cochère next to a liveried man. He opened their door, assisted them out and led up the shallow steps and into the foyer. "What a splendid place this is," David whispered as they were directed across to the Ambassador.

"This is the couple I was telling you about, Edith," the Ambassador said. "David and Maria Berry." He extended his hand to shake David's. "This is my wife, Edith." After they had exchanged greetings, they were motioned along the reception line to Colonel Picot and introduced to his wife. After two more receiving couples, they were ushered farther into the vast room and offered glasses of Champagne.

"So far, your idea of just blending in seems to be working." She giggled and clinked her glass on his. "This is like my fairytale dreams. Here's to my Prince Charming."

They each took a sip and looked around the room. There were five other couples and two men, all spread out. "Did you notice the other three wives in the receiving line are named Missus?" David asked. "I guess keeping a distance. Looks as if everyone is keeping a safe distance in here as well. Who do you think would be most interesting to talk with?"

Maria did a slow survey of the room, assessing the others, then smiled. "You."

"I've thought it was you." He chuckled. "But of the others?"

"They're all far older than we. What about the fellow with the large muttonchops? He and his wife seem the least dour of the lot."

"I saw that. They look to be enjoying themselves. Shall we head over?"

"I've not before been to anything like this. Nothing even remotely similar, so I don't know what's expected. Maybe we should continue following the lead of the others."

"Could be they're all doing that too." He scanned the room again. "Look at their stances... And ours. Facing each other and seeming closed to others. Let's open a bit, stand closer to side-by-side and face out into the room. We'll have similar views that way, rather than opposite. God! You're gorgeous."

"And you still make me tingle each time I look at you." She lifted her glass to his. "To a quick end of the war." They sipped, then turned to face the room's entrance, and they watched another couple move along the receiving line.

"I wonder how many will be here." He looked at his watch. "It's almost nineteen thirty now."

The newly arrived couple was handed glasses of Champagne, and after pausing to look around the room, they headed toward David and Maria, who smiled and nodded as they approached. They fell into a trivial conversation for a minute or so before introductions.

"I'm David, and this is Maria."

"George and Mrs Skipworth. What brings you to Switzerland?"

"Maria was born here, and I'm on my way through to England. And you?"

"The railways initially, but I'm now Assistant Commercial Attaché here, helping with Britain's business interests."

"Good, I see you've already met," the Ambassador said as he joined them a short while later. "Mr Skipworth might be of assistance to you when you return. He has a long experience with railways in Britain, France and Switzerland. But let's not talk shop here. There's plenty of time for that later."

"Railway. We were up to the Jungfraujoch on Sunday," David said. "What impressive engineering there was in building that line."

"It's taken them sixteen years so far with their many setbacks, Skipworth replied. "The intention is to go all the way to the top of Jungfrau, but three years ago, they paused in the saddle seven hundred metres below the summit to earn some revenue. Now with the large drop in foreign travellers with the war, they've postponed the final three and a half kilometres of tunnel."

"The war has interrupted a lot of things. Changed so many lives."

"Your accent? American?"

"Yes, North American. I'm from Western Canada."

"You've some impressive railway engineering there. I'd love to see the Spiral Tunnels on the Kicking Horse. An elegant solution to the problem."

"That's only about a hundred and fifty miles up the valleys from home. I've been through them five times now. The last time on my way over here."

"That brings me back to my first question. What brings you to Switzerland?"

David looked at the Ambassador and saw his nod. "Escaping from the Germans."

"You had been captured?"

"No, I managed to avoid that as I made my way through Germany from Belgium."

Skipworth looked at David's suit and smiled. "I like the disguise."

"I've had a few changes of clothes along the way. Somehow I prefer this one to the others." He took another sip of his wine.

"I'll brief you tomorrow, George," Ambassador Grant Duff said. "I want you two to remain in contact." He turned to Maria. "My wife hasn't stopped talking of your gown, and I admit, I'm also impressed. From Paris?"

"No, from Bern, just along from the hotel. We found it yesterday as David was looking for a change from his escape clothes."

An aide approached the Ambassador and handed him an envelope. Grant Duff looked at the others. "Pardon me a moment." He stepped away from them, opened the envelope and unfolded the paper, nodding as he read. Then he turned and beckoned. "David, George... I want to introduce you to someone. We'll leave the ladies to get to know each other."

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